eCommerce is on the rise and many want to get in on the trend. To build a successful eCommerce business requires hard work and dedication. But starting an online business can also be tricky. There are many factors that you need to consider before you start an online store.
In this comprehensive article, we’ve covered every detail you need to know before you start an eCommerce store.
We talk a lot about eCommerce stores for value-added resellers (VARs) in this article as VARs do make a huge chunk of our customers. Our platform is adaptable and has all features and capabilities required for enterprise selling. Hence, the popularity with IT and office supply VARs.
- What is a VAR?
- I am not a VAR. Is this eCommerce guide still for me?
- 1. eCommerce support
- 2. Secure eCommerce sites
- 3. Design and templates
- 4. eCommerce product catalog
- 5. Rich content for products
- 6. eCommerce cost and transactional fees
- 7. Marketing your online store
- 8. Tight back end eCommerce integration for order processing
- 9. eCommerce freight calculation
- 10. Payment gateway integrations
- 11. Product pricing
- 12. Easy to use
- 13. Performance and data backups for your online store
- 14. eCommerce hosting
- 15. Scalability
- 16. Responsive design
- 17. Search responsiveness and filters
- 18. Analytics and reports
- 19. Configuration handling
- 20. Bundles handling
- 21. Upsell and cross-sell
- 22. Must-have features in an eCommerce platform.
- 23. B2B eCommerce features
What is a VAR?
A VAR is a reseller who adds some form of value to a product and offers the end-users a turn-key solution. Eg. selling laptops with installed software according to customer specifications.
I am not a VAR. Is this eCommerce guide still for me?
If you are not a VAR, this article will still help you as we’ve covered every aspect of selling online and every loophole you must know before you choose an eCommerce platform and build an online business.
Read on, you will get a lot of key takeaways from this guide, even if you are not a value-added reseller.
With the onset of eCommerce and the need for every business in every industry to have an online store, B2B resellers find themselves struggling to start an eCommerce store because of complex B2B processes which we’ve outlined in our article How Resellers can Overcome Challenges of B2B eCommerce Adoption.
Our guide will help you choose the right eCommerce platform that not only supports all the unique requirements your VAR business has, but also enhance them, automate them and make your life easier.
Read along or jump to any section. You can also download this guide as an eBook.
1. eCommerce support
We understand the time constraints you have, and the travel that is required of you and your sales reps. To manage an eCommerce platform in a scenario where you are always on the go might seem overwhelming, especially without technical knowledge.
Check whether the eCommerce platform is easy-to-use and if a non-technical person can manage the platform. However, support should be available if required.
Many eCommerce platforms do offer additional support, BUT there also is an additional charge for this.
With the low-margins of your VAR business, getting charged for support every time will eventually hurt your margin. Read the fine print and ensure that you get support if needed at no extra cost.
“Always deliver more than expected.” Larry Page, co-founder of Google
At VARStreet we always endeavour to give our customers that little bit more. Always! We offer unlimited support and we’ll help you start your eCommerce store and guide you as you grow.
2. Secure eCommerce sites
While large companies are mostly in the news for data breaches, it is the small and medium-sized business that hackers frequently target. Data security is becoming one of the biggest concerns among consumers.
While starting an online business is pretty easy, keeping it safe from hacking, phishing and other cyber-attacks is often overlooked.
The onus of taking appropriate measures to secure transactional information is on retailers. The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) stipulates that all businesses that process payments online MUST be PCI compliant.
Trust badges on your eCommerce site ensure customers that your site is legitimate, and their data is secure. Confirm if the eCommerce provider frequently has security audits before you start using them.
3. Design and templates
“Web design is not just about creating pretty layouts. It’s about understanding the marketing challenge behind your business.”
Ensure that the eCommerce platform allows you ample design freedom to customise it to suit your corporate branding. You do not want your branding to clash with that of the eCommerce platform.
Check that you get a good number of free templates to choose from, and know the fees if any for additional widgets. It should be easy for you to customize the store according to your brand colors, add your logo etc.
Need a completely end-to-end customised store? We at VARStreet have developed our own theming language, which gives you 100% control of your storefront, so you can customize every aspect of your shop.
4. eCommerce product catalog
One of the biggest challenges in a VAR business is managing the product catalog. The VAR product catalog is complex, enormous and dynamic, due to which most of you do not stock inventory.
The complexity is magnified as most VARs work with multiple distributors. Hence, it is critical that you either get a tool that does the catalog aggregation for you or you do it yourself.
Either way, aggregating the catalogs from multiple distributors into ONE robust catalog will completely transform the way you conduct your VAR business, making it super easy to price and source right always.
Will you have to pay to scale?
Another challenge is finding an eCommerce platform that supports products that run in the millions. Majority of the eCommerce platforms available will NOT support a product catalog that big.
“Majority of the ecommerce platforms available will NOT support a product catalog that big”.
A lot of eCommerce platforms allow you to scale your product portfolio and add additional products at a fee. The additional cost can restrict you to scale, thwarting your growth.
No additional cost to scale with VARStreet!
VARStreet comes integrated with 7 million SKUs from 45 + distributors. You do not pay additional fees to increase your catalog size. If you are an IT or office supplies VAR, VARStreet is your best bet, just saying!
Can you add your own products?
Other than the catalog size, you may want to sell services like installation and training, or custom products. Check if the eCommerce platform allows you to do so.
Additionally, you probably do not want to sell every product from the catalog on your eCommerce store due to manufacturer restrictions. At the same time, you would want these products in your offline catalog, available for quoting to your customers offline.
If this feature is important to you, ensure that the eCommerce platform provides it.
5. Rich content for products
One of the prerequisites for online sales is good product content. An eCommerce site that does not provide good content will not sell.
High-quality product images, product description and standardised technical specifications are crucial for a smooth eCommerce experience, not just for the seller but for buyers as well.
Buyers want to look at products images, compare products, and view tech specs before making a purchasing decision.
The problem that VARs face in this regard is that rich content is expensive.
Top eCommerce businesses spend thousands of dollars to obtain rich content for their eCommerce store. Most VARs find this a huge cost, and shy away from starting an eCommerce store, or make do with shoddy content which does more harm than good.
“We at VARStreet identified this problem and integrated with industry leaders in rich content like Etilize and IceCat to give our customers rich content for FREE”!
Some of the world’s largest manufacturers like HP, distributors like Ingram Micro, resellers, e-tailers, retailers like Staples, marketplaces like Amazon and search engines rely on Etilize for high-quality product data, custom SKU development, and merchandising capabilities.
6. eCommerce cost and transactional fees
Do you have to pay a transactional fee or a percentage of sales to the eCommerce providers?
Do they charge for additional features, widgets, plugins etc?
Is support charged extra and if yes, how much?
How expensive is it to scale?
These are some questions you need to ask your eCommerce provider.
Your VAR business operates on low margins, and you do not want fees and charges to eat into that. If most of the features necessary to run your VAR business are a part of the application, you will not need to pay for extra features or to scale.
A lot of available eCommerce platforms appear inexpensive, but what most users do not realise is that the price advertised is the base price.
Adding features, plug-ins and widgets on top of that cost more. Support is charged too, so you think you start at a low-cost but eventually incur more as you scale.
7. Marketing your online store
Having a great site is pointless if it is buried deep in search results. You want an SEO friendly ecommerce software solution which enables your ecommerce store to rank high in search results.
Some important factors when looking for an SEO friendly eCommerce platform include:
- Is the eCommerce store SEO enabled?
- Does it allow you to add a blog to your website?
- Can you use your own domain name?
- Can your customers leave reviews?
- Are you able to create landing pages?
Catalog export is another absolute MUST-HAVE feature if you want visibility amongst all the digital noise. Do not compromise on this one.
“You can’t just open a website and expect people to flood in. If you really want to succeed you have to create traffic.”
Joel Anderson, CEO, Walmart
VARStreet offers a host of marketing features to market your eCommerce store.
Some eCommerce integrations you need to ensure are available:
Integrations with marketplaces
Social media integration
Can you sync your products to your social media and tag products in your posts? Can you share discount codes and coupons on your social media?
Email marketing tools
Email lists are a powerful asset for eCommerce websites to aid in customer acquisition, lead nurturing and repeat purchasing.
Does your chosen eCommerce platform allow you to collect data, build lists, create email campaigns or automate your email marketing strategy?
Can you connect your eCommerce product listings with blog posts so that you can add a ‘Buy Button’ and sell through affiliate marketing?
If you are still with me, great! Awesome if you continue reading or just a reminder, you can download this as an eBook too!
8. Tight back end eCommerce integration for order processing
So, you have a great eCommerce store, and the orders start coming in! What next?
Keeping track of orders manually and forwarding them to the distributors for fulfilment will not only get overwhelming once your business grows, but it also takes away from the entire purpose of automating business processes.
Orders on your eCommerce store will automatically get sent to distributors of your choice based on the rules set by you. The distributor can then ship the order directly to the customer.
This cuts down delivery times and eliminates room for error. It also gives you the freedom to be away from your business for a while.
9. eCommerce freight calculation
All shipping couriers base shipping rates on a variety of factors including:
- Package size
- Package weight
- Origin country
- Destination country
And additional shipping options like tracking and insurance.
To have a successful eCommerce business, you always need to keep an eye on your profit margins. Freight represents a significant expense for eCommerce businesses, if you don’t do your research, freight can kill already low margins
Before you finalize your pricing and strategy for your eCommerce store, map out all costs associated with getting your products into your customers’ hands. Many eCommerce businesses are shocked by how quickly the little charges add up.
Find an eCommerce platform that comes readily integrated with a host of shipping companies for real-time freight calculation. Plus, the ability to override these figures and add your own freight rules.
10. Payment gateway integrations
Payments are central to your eCommerce ecosystem, and yet payment issues are among the top reasons for shopping cart abandonment.
Slow checkout processes and lack of available payment methods discourage shoppers from continuing with the purchase.
The payment options your eCommerce platform must offer are:
- Multiple payment options which include PayPal, credit and debit cards.
- If you are a global entity or wish to grow your eCommerce store internationally, you need to offer local payment gateways as well.For example, many European countries prefer bank transfers using their online bank accounts. China has Alipay and UnionPay, while M-Pesa is popular in many African countries.
Allowing your customers to pay via methods they know and are familiar with helps reduce hesitation during the checkout process.
You also need to factor in credit card fees while pricing your products. American Express charges more than other types of cards. How much you will pay depends on your payment processor and the pricing model you’re on.
Look out for hidden charges and research well before choosing a credit card processor.
11. Product pricing
The sheer size of the IT and office supplies catalog, and the multiple sources makes pricing products extremely challenging. Look for an eCommerce platform that lets you set rules-based pricing.
It is crucial that you can decide mark-ups on rules based on brands, categories, sub-categories etc instead of a universal mark-up.
For example, if the margins for accessories is a lot higher than the margins for laptops, you need to set differential mark-ups for both. A universal 5% mark-ups for all products will be detrimental to your business. The same rule applies to brands as well.
Variables that affect product margins
There are many variables that also affect procurement, and eventually margins. For example, when working with multiple distributors, all offering differing prices for the same products, the eCommerce platform should have the ability to select a distributor for fulfilment of the order based on the ‘lowest price offered’.
If only it was that simple. Eh?
Let’s take a real-life example. Say Ingram Micro offers the lowest price for a laptop, but SYNNEX has a promotion where they give you 1 laptop free for a purchase of 5, you would want SYNNEX to fulfil your order, as in the bigger picture, that gives you a better profit.
Let’s add another variable. The BlueStar warehouse is closer to the customers’ address and hence you will not be charged heavily for freight. And they have a similar promotion to SYNNEX.
Now BlueStar becomes your distributor of choice!
Choose an eCommerce platform that can manage all these variables, set rules and rules to override as well.
12. Easy to use
As a reseller, you may or may not have the technical expertise to start and manage an eCommerce store. Our stats tell us the balance is tipped towards the non-technical. And that is what holds a lot of VARs back from encashing on the eCommerce wave.
What you need to look for is an eCommerce website that has a robust backend and is simple to use. A user-friendly back end that permits you to set price, freight, tax and distributor rules will ease out a lot of processes for you. Prebuilt widgets and predesigned templates will help you design your store in no time.
“Having one tool like VARStreet, that controls it all from one place is a blessing for your VAR ecommerce business”.
13. Performance and data backups for your online store
Page load time
Page loading time is an important part of any website’s user experience. It is an important factor when it comes to search engine rankings.
“How fast your website loads is critical but often a completely ignored element in any online business and that includes search marketing and search engine optimisation.
And that includes page load times on mobile devices: The average time it takes to fully load a mobile landing page is 22 seconds, according to a new analysis.
Yet 53% of visits are abandoned if a mobile site takes longer than three seconds to load. That’s a big problem.” Google
47% of consumers expect a web page to load in 2 seconds or less and 40% of people abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load.
A 1-second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions.
If an eCommerce site is making $100,000 per day, a 1-second page delay could potentially cost you $2.5 million in lost sales every year!
As with all assets in your VAR business, your eCommerce store needs to be protected.
You do not want your store to become inoperable due to accidental data deletion, malicious attacks, or rogue apps making unwanted changes or in some cases, deleting the entire store.
As a business owner, data backups and online security should be your TOP priority.
The purpose of a backup is to recover the code and data to your store. But the type of backup you use, and the speed of recovering it, depends on your hosting provider or platform.
The host’s disaster recovery process should at least get the servers back. Check the eCommerce platform’s policies on these crucial issues that could plague you if you’re caught unaware.
14. eCommerce hosting
There are various hosting options available but choose one that is preferably cloud-hosted. Cloud computing in eCommerce enables the business to look big virtually and operate extensively.
One of the biggest perks of cloud-based hosting is its scalability. Cloud hosting allows businesses to scale at a faster rate and support spikes in demand.
The cloud system also serves as one of the best available options for backing up consumer data on your company stores.
Price is also a huge reason for the popularity of cloud-based solutions, as they offer more ‘bang for your buck’ than any other hosting option.
As a business owner, you aim to grow your VAR business exponentially. A successful eCommerce store will grow year-over-year and hence, it is imperative to look for an eCommerce platform that can scale alongside your business.
You should be ready to handle a large volume of sales with the same efficiency that helped make you successful when you were smaller. This involves planning for scalability before it happens.
You also want to be ready with solutions for fulfilment, accounting and warehouse management or CRM and ERP systems that can be scaled upward.
As an entrant in the eCommerce business, you do not want to pay for unnecessary features and storage. But as your business takes off, you want an eCommerce platform that can scale with the increased demands of your business without charging you exorbitant fees for doing so.
Set yourself up for success by planning for eCommerce growth before it happens by choosing an eCommerce platform like VARStreet that will not limit you.
By 2021, mobile eCommerce sales are predicted to account for 54% of total eCommerce sales. 60% of searches are done from mobile devices and, often those searches result in sales.
As long as consumers have a mobile phone, they can shop anywhere they want.
Even traditional buying from a brick-and-mortar shop is influenced by consumers looking up additional information on a product or for better deals online via mobile phones.
Google favors websites that have a responsive design. If your eCommerce platform doesn’t optimise your store for mobile devices, it will get pushed down in rankings and search results.
This is a sure-fire way of losing a significant number of potential customers.
17. Search responsiveness and filters
A typical IT or office supplies VAR has millions of products available on their eCommerce store. Even to customers familiar with your site and business, looking for what they want will not be very easy.
A powerful and advanced search engine is critical to ensure that your customers find the right product easily and quickly thus enhancing the shopping experience for your customers.
Advanced search filters help customers to refine their search based on stock, price, discount, brands, categories etc.
What is a parametric search?
Parametric search allows you to add your own product attributes which customers can use to refine search results.
Parametric search is a guided search that will give customers the ability to restrict a search based on properties of the item they’re looking for.
For example, customers can search by a specific attribute like colour, style, size, or manufacturer. Searching for multiple criteria simultaneously allows customers to be really specific and helps narrow down a massive product catalogue, efficiently and effectively.
Some customers will arrive at your store with a clear goal and knowledge of exactly what they want. Parametric search will help them find the products instantly, leaving them highly satisfied.
Some may come not knowing what they want or what a product is called. Parametric search will help them zero in on what it’s called by filtering for attributes.
“Parametric search capability for your ecommerce website adds value to your business and leaves your customers with a positive shopping experience”.
Advanced search also helps customers find products that are compatible with each other. This is important when buying IT products, software or ink and toners.
There is also the opportunity for more upsells and cross-sells as well as impulse buys, positively impacting your bottom line.
18. Analytics and reports
Reports and analytics are essential to formulate a data-driven marketing and sales strategy.
With the right use of analytics, you can easily find out what is working on your website, who your customers are, their demographics, location and interests. You get a detailed insight into what’s working on your eCommerce store and can optimise your high selling products.
Abandoned shopping carts data can aid you to alter your strategy to ensure you do not lose sales.
Using reports and data correctly will help you develop a winning strategy. And measuring your store’s performance against a well-defined set of KPIs will help you improve your VAR business.
VARStreet’s eCommerce platform has an in-built reporting and analytics feature that gives you all of the above and a lot more as it also collects data from offline sales via our sales quotation application.
19. Configuration handling
Many products require customers or sales reps to configure them before they can be bought or sold. A desktop is one example where customers have differing needs for a RAM Size, hard disk capacity etc.
An eCommerce platform that caters to IT VARs must offer configurable SKU’s that customers can themselves configure on your eCommerce store.
20. Bundles handling
Product bundling is one of the most effective marketing strategies. Bundle a few products together, offer them at a discount and watch the sales go up!
Ask your eCommerce providers if they offer the feature to bundle products or products and services together.
21. Upsell and cross-sell
The ability to upsell and cross-sell is critical for the success of any business. Check if the eCommerce platform has features where you can set rules to show ‘Related Products’ and ‘Similar Products’.
22. Must-have features in an eCommerce platform.
There are some features that have now become a basic requirement in an eCommerce store. They are –
Reviews and Ratings
Consumers look for ratings and reviews regarding the services and products before making buying decisions.
Help influence purchasing decisions by promoting and marketing customer feedback on your eCommerce store.
Reviews and ratings on store also help businesses increase visibility on Google, increase trust and drive more revenue.
Discounts and Coupons
The capability to configure discounts on products or to add coupon codes to get deals.
Abandoned cart handling
The average documented online shopping cart abandonment rate is a scary 68%.
For every ten customers that put an item in their cart, about seven of them will leave the site without completing the purchase.
Check if the eCommerce platform generates reports that enable you to address abandoned carts.
Live chat is the fastest channel of online contact and can turn browsers into buyers. It is instant customer service and known to increase conversions.
Integrations with accounting systems and ERP software
Does the eCommerce platform support integration with your existing ERP or POS systems?
It is essential that a business fully integrates all systems so that the inventory and pricing information is available to customers and staff in real-time.
Many eCommerce platforms support one-way integration or batch updates. The best eCommerce software for your business will be a platform which equips two-way, real-time flow of data allowing you to operate efficiently as a business in several of your key processes.
If you do not use ERP software or are looking to transfer all your business requirements to an eCommerce platform, you need to be armed with specific tools to successfully continue doing business.
The functions of an eCommerce software that you would also require are accounting, inventory management, shipping and freight calculations etc.
Seamless integration with distributor catalogs
The best eCommerce software solution for your VAR business will be one that also seamlessly integrates with multiple distributor catalogs.
The level of integration would depend on your business needs, look for a platform that best fulfils all the requirements of your fundamental business processes.
“The perfect ecommerce platform for the VAR business should have the ease of use and functionality for your B2C buyers and at the same time accommodate the complexity of your B2B processes.”
23. B2B eCommerce features
Most VARS also have B2B customers and if you do, these are some B2B eCommerce features you will need:
Catalog by login
This feature is important if either you do not wish to show all your customers all the products you offer, or your customers do not wish to be cluttered with products other than the brands they frequently buy.
For example, Customer A requires only desktops by HP, you can set their catalog to show them only desktops by HP and hide every other product in your catalog.
Pricing by login
Not all your B2B customers are on the same price structure, and hence your eCommerce store cannot reflect one price for every customer.
The price that customers see needs to be dependant on their login information, and for this to be a possibility, seamless integration between your eCommerce store and CRM is important.
Store look and feel by login
This is a handy feature to have if you want to offer customers a store with their branding.
For example, if you have various big brands as your customers, you can design each one’s store with their branding.
Personalized shopping experience
A personalized shopping experience for your B2B customers with updated account information, customer-specific pricing, order history, and a tailored product catalog.
Ability to create customer-specific landing pages with customers branding, if required.
Multiple stores to the same back end
If you deal in different product lines or work in different geographies, you should be able to create multiple stores with different URL’s that can be controlled through the same back end.
If you deal with B2B and B2G customers such as large corporations, government agencies, educational institutions etc., make it easy for them to buy from your eCommerce store by providing a PunchOut connection to their procurement system.
How Does a PunchOut Catalog Work? Learn more here.
If you sell to government institutions, then the eCommerce platform should handle specific government needs like contract catalog.
You would need to create contracts and upload only contract items to the catalog. An eCommerce store that allows you to create contract catalogs with CLIN handling, contract pricing and also other compliance functionalities like 508 Compliance is mandatory.
You need to also provide various government-specific payment methods on your eCommerce store.
VARStreet supports VARs for hundreds of state and local contracts including some large federal contracts like DHS FirstSource, Netcents, SEWP, DHS Eagle, ITES, ECS etc. We also have a unique Bid Support Package tailored for GovEd VARs.
The VAR business also has functions like quoting, order processing, catalog management and CRM amongst others. To efficiently run an eCommerce store, you need an eCommerce tool that easily ties into the other tools you use.
Otherwise, you will end up managing your customers and catalogs on two different platforms. Not only will it be expensive, but can you imagine the anomalies, the frustrations and the scope for things to go wrong?
VARStreet has built an all in one business management and eCommerce platform for the VAR business. Look no further than VARStreet to start an eCommerce store.
“VARStreet is your one-stop-shop solution for all your VAR business functions”.
Follow the checklist above to choose an eCommerce platform that will best suit your needs and get started on eCommerce success. Let us know if this article helped you and if you did manage to read till here, kudos to you! We would love to hear your thoughts.
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