Building an Online Store

So you have decided to take the plunge and build an online store, or you want to upgrade your existing store. Developing a retail website which supports your overall business is not an easy task, you have to deal with a number of different issues:

  • Changes to existing business processes to fit the digital world
  • Unfamiliar, fast-changing technology
  • Designing the site to support your particular strategy and target customers
  • Incorporating new tools such as social media to promote your site

You must address these with the same attention you would when opening a new branch store in the next town. Here are some things to think about as you begin your website project.

Set Specific Goals and Objectives

Before you start, know exactly what you want to accomplish in terms of your business objectives. Too often website projects suffer from feature creep. As the project progresses new features are added, taking longer and costing more. At the beginning set specific priorities for what you must have to meet your objectives and what is nice-to-have but can be set aside for later.

Pick a Broad Project Team

By their nature, website projects require a variety of skills: designing the offering, specifying processes, preparing content, writing code, and project management. To cover all of these you will need several people, usually some internal and some brought in for the project.

Make sure one person is in charge, ideally from the business side and not the IT department. Conversely, the project elements in website development are relatively straightforward, but there can be significant technical complexity, so a project manager having both business and technical skills can be valuable.

However you select the team, you must dedicate sufficient resources for the project in terms of time, people and budget.

Business Needs Determine the Technology

Too often the IT group tries to select the technology to be used, even before the website is designed and specified. You must specify and describe the business requirements first, then use these to determine the best technology approach. In general select tools and techniques which are widely used and supported in your business sector. Avoid custom tools developed by a single developer. Project teams can break up, and you do not want to be dependent on a single person or firm to complete your project.

Spend Time on Design

It is tempting to put a few ideas down, then begin coding the website and make changes as you go. But this is the wrong approach. It is much easier and cheaper to make changes on paper instead of a recoding the website.

Allocate enough time and resources to thoroughly develop your website design, business processes, and feature requirements to meet your objectives. Use tools such as flow diagrams, wire-frames, demo websites, and test scenarios to determine how you will operate your online business.

Finally prepare a good set of specifications and webpage descriptions for the developer. The better you tell them what the website must do, the better they can build it.

Content Preparation will be Challenging

From experience, the longest, hardest part of a website project is preparing the content: text, graphics, photographs, video, etc. Not only will you have to obtain the content, it must be put in the proper formats for a website.

The main reason this is so challenging is because much of the content must come from people currently running the business. Collecting and preparing content is another task they have to add to an already full plate.

Make content preparation as easy as you can to help them produce good quality, relevant material.

Control Graphic Design

The look-and-feel of a website is the most visible part and has great impact on the visitor experience. Spending time on this is important, but too often graphic design becomes an end in itself, going out of control and increasing costs. At the beginning establish a graphic design process so that the design will be ready when needed.

Don’t Forget Testing

A website has many new parts: layout, navigation, processes, forms, etc., not to mention the complex technology running it. Allow enough time to properly test the website before you launch it. The best test is to ask people who have never seen the website before to do a simple task, then watch them. You will quickly see how things clear to the project team are totally misunderstood by those outside.

A good rule of thumb is that 10% of your project resources should be devoted to testing.

Remember, the more time and effort you put into planning your project, the better your website will be. It is much easier and cheaper to make changes during design than to recode a website once it has been launched.


Read Charles Crouch’s other articles here.

One thought on “Building an Online Store

  1. Nice article Charles well written and good information. Great comment about testing and agreed it is at least 10% of the total development effort. The other issue that is often missed is the ongoing maintenance. For open source development our guidance is 50% – 60% of the initial costs on an annual basis. For hosted and proprietary software solutions maybe 5% – 20% of the costs annually. The high end if dedicated and managing servers. To often we see companies who fail to budget or undertake maintenance leaving themselves open to vulnerabilities and other compatibility issues.


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