Even if you’re a brick-and-mortar store, having an online presence is essential in today’s retail landscape. Having a strong website is one of the best things you can do for your new business.
Creating and maintaining a website has gotten a lot simpler in the past several years, particularly if you want to offer e-commerce shopping options. Many POS systems, such as Shopify or Square, come prepackaged with everything you need to build a website. Choosing the best platform for your e-commerce site will likely be an important factor when choosing a POS system, or vice versa.
Here, we’ll walk you through key considerations in setting up your new website—and show you how to leverage your online presence to boost your business’s profile and profit.
Step 1: Determine what features you’ll need
Before you start putting your website together, it’s important to know what features are the most important for your business. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
Do you plan to sell your products online?
This decision will dictate many of the other choices you make for your website! Having an online store can be a great way to build a customer base less limited by geography. You can also allow customers to purchase orders online that they’ll pick up in-store. But adding an e-commerce component to your business also requires the capacity to package and mail orders quickly, which may depend on what type of space and staff you have.
How would you like to connect with your online audience?
Telling stories is one of the best ways to connect with potential customers. Some ways to do this are through blog posts (that can double as a newsletter), or photos and videos. Make sure you choose a website platform that best aligns with the content you want to create.
What else would you like your website to accomplish?
Do you want your website to be able to provide discount codes? Give you useful analytic data to apply to your online marketing campaigns? Highlight regular updates or special offers? Make a list of these things and keep it handy while you are putting the site together.
Which parts of your website would you like to create yourself, and what do you need to outsource?
Building a website gets more beginner-friendly all the time, which is great news if you are a committed DIYer. At the same time, you’ve also got a long to-do list leading up to getting your physical store up and running. If you have the budget for support with your website or product photography, having an expert-looking website can boost your credibility and sales.
Explore website platforms such as Shopify, Square, BigCommerce, and Wix and pick an option that offers the features you need. Remember, it might be as simple as going with your POS provider.
Step 2: Collect inspiration for your website
Once you start thinking about pulling your own website together, you might start to browse other websites with a more critical eye to see how they’ve organized their products, what their checkout process is like, and how easy it is (or isn’t!) to find what you are looking for.
Notice what aspects of different websites draw you in—maybe you’re inspired by a very browsable, curated collection or charming blog articles. Equally important is to notice what sites you quickly leave—maybe because you can’t find what you are looking for or the site doesn’t work properly on your mobile phone.
Collect screenshots of beautiful design, and make note of intuitive navigation choices. Whether you are designing your website yourself or handing it over to a pro, having a direction in mind is helpful.
Step 3: Outline the sections of your website
Now that you’ve got a sense of what you’d like your site to look like and how you want it to function, you can figure out what content you need! Remember that you can always add new pages later, and it’s best to start yourself off with something manageable—while not neglecting any of the key elements your customers will be looking for.
Here is a checklist of basic pages to get started with:
On every page: header and footer
No matter what sections of your site someone lands on, there are things you want them to be able to quickly find. You can put these items in your header and footer! Here are some recommendations for each.
- Header: This should be kept pretty clean and simple, but include all of your site navigation, as well as a search bar for the site.
- Footer: Usually given a bit more screen space than a header, a footer is a great place to include your address and hours, a way to subscribe to your newsletter, a link to your social media channels, as well as your store’s Shipping and Privacy policies.
A landing page
The look and feel and tone of this page should feel a bit like stepping in the door of your shop. This is a great place to embed social media content, highlight featured products, and include photos of the outside and inside of your shop.
An About page
People love a story, and this is the chance to tell yours. What path did your life take that led you to open your shop? How did you choose to open the type of shop that you did? What do you love about the community your shop is in?
A navigation menu for online buying
If you decide to sell products online, it’s key that products are easily discoverable. If you have a larger assortment, this means having clear categories and a search bar. If you have a smaller offering, one page might be enough. Either way, make sure the pictures and descriptions are clear and engaging.
A contact page
While you will have your address in the footer of every page, a designated contact page is a great place for things like an embedded Google map, phone number, and contact form.
Step 4: Create the content for your website
You will want to have at least started to pull your website copy together—from product descriptions to the copy for your About page—before you start to work on the site itself. That way you (or your designer!) can have a sense of how much space you’ll need for text.
Determining your brand voice is the first step to writing the content for your site. Customers often respond well to a combination of enthusiasm and expertise. While it can be tempting to let yourself get overly descriptive and flowery in your language, it is important to keep web writing short and punchy. Pasting your draft into a tool like the Hemingway App can let you know how you are doing on that front. Aim for a readability level of grade six to eight—even if the target market for your store is people much older.
If you’re feeling stuck, one way to get started is to record yourself speaking about your business. This will capture a genuine and conversational way to express the information. Then, use online tools like Otter.ai to have the audio recording transcribed. While it will likely need a fair bit of editing (and probably contains more than one hilarious inaccurate transcription of what you’ve said), this can give you a great jumping-off point for website copy.
At this stage, gather the photography you’ll need. Consider having images of your space, your products, and your team (bonus points for including your shop cat or dog—everyone loves a mascot!)
Step 5: Design and build your website
If you’re working with a web designer, you’ll hand over your content and let them get to work. But if you’re going the DIY route, don’t worry—you can create a pretty robust website using drag-and-drop interfaces that are generally beginner-friendly.
To get started, head over to the website platform you selected in step one. Browse the design templates available and choose one that accommodates the layout and content you decided on in steps three and four. Make sure the template you choose is mobile-friendly and responsive—this means your website will adjust appropriately to different screen and browser sizes.
Next, apply your shop’s aesthetic and branding to the template you chose. Still need to build your shop’s brand? Create a logo, play with color palettes, and browse typography using web-based design tools like Canva, Stencil, or Adobe Express. When deciding on the look and feel of your website, aim to make the design in line with your physical space.
Then, using all of the navigation and content decisions you’ve already made, use the platform’s tools to build out your website!
In addition to the design choices you’ll implement at this stage, there may be some administrative setup—particularly if you’re going to have an e-commerce feature. Setting up payment options and shipping zones can be complicated, so don’t be shy if you need to chat with the platform’s customer service team.
Step 6: Drive traffic to your website
There are plenty of on- and offline promotional tools that can help direct customers to your website. Let’s explore a few:
Email is a great tried-and-true way to get the word out, and successful email marketing requires a subscriber list. Start by setting up a way to collect email addresses from your customers (checkout is a natural time to ask). Popular options for email marketing are Mailchimp and Constant Contact, but there are many options, depending on your needs.
Whatever option you choose, you’ll be able to add a simple form on your website to allow visitors to subscribe. Be sure to take the time to set up an automated welcome email when a customer first subscribes to your email list. This is a great place to give an overview of your business and even offer a new-subscriber discount.
Then, create a newsletter for your subscribers. Perhaps you send an email weekly, biweekly, or monthly. Think of your newsletter as an opportunity to build a relationship with your customers. Avoid being too salesy—create content that is both interesting and useful to your audience. You may choose to include tips on how to use the products you sell, spotlights on your favorite brands, Q&As with one of your staff members, or even a personal anecdote. Build a connection with your subscribers by letting them see a bit behind the curtain—you’re a small business, but you’re still human!
Another way to drive traffic to your website is through social media content. Consider taking lifestyle photos of your products in a seasonal setting or creating themed moments around celebrations such as Pride and Women’s History Month. If your store isn’t open yet, try a countdown to opening day or offer behind-the-scenes photos of your renovation. Be sure to list your website link in your bio and in any content (for example, an Instagram story) that allows linking. You can also publish to your social media accounts on your website so your audience can seamlessly explore all of your content.
Finally, you can bring visitors to both your website and your physical location by listing your business on sites like Google, Yelp, and TripAdvisor. These sites have large user bases searching for businesses in their area, so it’s a great way to get discovered by potential new customers.
Step 7: Keep your website up-to-date and effective
Once the process of building and populating a new site has all come together, celebrate your accomplishment and use that momentum to keep your website updated.
It’s a good idea to switch out imagery every so often to keep your site fresh. Luckily, if you embedded your Instagram on your website, any new posts you make will automatically refresh on your website.
It’s just as crucial to make sure key information on your site is always kept up-to-date. Did you get a new phone number? Change your opening hours? Make sure these changes are reflected on your website.
You can also monitor the performance of your website to see if you should be making functional updates. Set up tools like Google Analytics and make it a habit to review the data. These stats will show you the traffic coming to your website, how they’re finding you, what pages they’re looking at, and how long they’re staying. You can even track what they’re searching for and see if they buy anything. This information will allow you to make ongoing improvements to your site.
With an appealing and current website, you can make a good first impression, attract more first-time visitors, and keep customers engaged for a long time to come!
Are you opening a new retail store? Read more about Open with Faire and learn how to apply for up to $20,000, with 60-day payment terms, to stock your new shop.