Beginning tools for e-commerce

Many of us in the LBM industry are either former builders or are familiar enough with the building trades to know that you can’t build anything worthwhile without the proper tools. That includes websites. As you get your company set up to start selling products online, you’ll want to make sure you’re starting out with the proper tools.

The main tool you’ll need is what the industry refers to as your website platform. Think of it as setting up a retail store, and you have to decide how you’re going to display your products. Are you going to make it from scratch using a community edition software, or are you going to buy one that’s complete that comes preset with a lot of updates available? In that latter situation, you’ll pay a monthly fee for the service.

Other software may be free, but you’ll have to do a lot of legwork, such as find a host. The challenge is you’ll have to know enough about how that software works to be able to do it well enough on your own. Of course, with that comes the assumption of security risk. You’d best be sure that you or someone on your payroll is certain they know what they’re doing when it comes to security against credit card breeches and other forms of hacking.

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You also can’t underestimate the scope of your website setup. Not only do you want secure transactions, you have to ensure the server you choose is able to handle many transactions simultaneously.

Of course, you’ll need your domain name or names registered, and that normally encompasses your email addresses. Don’t forget also that you may need more phone numbers. You’re no longer going to be a local company. With a website, you’re a national or even international retailer. You might want to consider a 1-800 number that comes in for your staff to answer exclusively online retail questions.

Likely you’ll want to go with a packaged service when you purchase your domain name that will help get your servers set up and configured. Most lumber dealers I’ve spoken to just aren’t confident that they have the initial knowledge to set it up on their own. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, but you should know that if you buy a packaged service, they’ll set up your servers and configure them, but it’s a more expensive way to get started. Basically, you’re trading your money for their time and server space. Still, even with the cost, it’s a good way to get into e-commerce without having a lot of experience or staff on hand to help.

Even when you purchase a package, a lot of the setup doesn’t happen by itself. You’ll need to be familiar with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM). It’s one thing to have a website. Now that you’ve got one and it’s on a server, people have to find it. For that to happen you have to show up in search engines. Of course, the best one is Google. In order for you to show up in Google, you have to get your site ranked. Google doesn’t just put you on the first page of results unless you do a lot of things right. Google wants you to publish content on your site that is relevant to what people are searching for.

You’re going to need to have other software tools to help support your new website. Probably the most predominant is Excel. You’ll have to import and export data to manage your pricing and, so on. You also may want to use a photo editing software, as you’ll need to size images correctly. Photoshop is probably the best known of that group.

As you start working on your website, you’ll want to learn how to use tools such as paid searches. Be cautioned, that there are a lot of scams out there that will promise first page ranking on Google for free. I can almost guarantee that any service offering that is a scam.

You’ll need to remember that it’s going to take time to build your website. It’s not going to happen in a weekend, or a month, and it might even be a year before you start to get some search results through organic Google search ranking.

Remember, you’re starting from scratch. You’re learning the tools and you’re building your business. It’s brand new, kind of like building a new store while also working on getting customers in the door.

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