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E-Commerce Website Design and Development 101 for Small Retail Businesses

Until two years ago, e-commerce adoption for small businesses in Australia has been relatively slow. But consumer behaviour changed almost overnight, and retailers needed to pivot quickly to keep up.

Small retail businesses are now looking to expand their shop fronts to e-commerce and take advantage of multi-channel shopping habits.

Leading Edge Retail provides insights and advice on starting an e-commerce journey, including a step-by-step guide on building an e-commerce store from scratch with Shopify tips on common e-commerce problems to watch out for.

What is e-commerce?

E-commerce is the selling and buying of any goods or services online. Today, anyone with access to the internet through a laptop, mobile phone, tablet or other devices can be part of the e-commerce ecosystem.

There are six different types of e-commerce, and the best approach will be based on the goals and objectives of your business:

1. Business to Consumer

The most common and widely known type of e-commerce happens when a business, like a retail store, sells a product or service to a customer. The COVID-19 lockdowns have led many consumers to purchase items online, and several small businesses in Australia had to adapt to the market needs and demands quickly.

2. Business to Business

A and od example of a business-to-business e-commerce transaction for a retailer is when inventory is ordered from suppliers through a wholesale marketplace or a subscription to an email service provider for email marketing campaigns. These transactions often have higher costs, involve several decision-makers, and take longer to close.

3. Consumer to Business

Have you heard of the gig economy? This is where most consumer-to-business transactions come in. These transactions usually occur when an individual can offer services to a business. This could include a social media freelancer getting clients on Upwork or Fiver, a content creator getting paid for a TikTok post or a photographer getting hired through his website to take photos of a new product.

4. Consumer to Consumer

If you’ve bought something on Facebook Marketplace before, you know what a consumer-to-consumer e-commerce model is. It’s become quite common and is one of the easiest side hustles for small businesses to earn a few extra bucks. Visitors to the site can buy and sell new and used items on different platforms, from eBay, Amazon and Gumtree to Etsy.

5. Business to Administration

This type of e-commerce happens between businesses and government agencies. A good example is the FinOps start-up Data-Driven working with Transport NSW to help reduce their cloud spending.

6. Consumer to Administration

This transaction occurs on government agencies’ websites when information is exchanged between the government and consumers. For example, a business owner who has filed their tax return using the ATO platform would be familiar with this e-commerce model.

Why is e-commerce important for small retail businesses?

The pandemic brought about new consumer shopping behaviours, which has led to the explosive growth of online shopping. E-commerce has changed how people research and purchase products and, more importantly, engage with brands.

Most consumers’ purchasing journey starts online, so if retailers don’t have an e-commerce store, they’re losing customers and money.

Shoppers today are looking for speed and convenience and businesses that can’t meet these expectations will have a tough time. In Australia, e-commerce revenue is projected to reach USD 32.3 billion by 2024, representing a year-on-year increase of 15.5 per cent.

So, are brick-and-mortar stores a thing of the past?

Of course not. Retail stores and e-commerce sites work together to provide customers with a seamless, enjoyable omnichannel experience. Data retailers collect online can help them understand their customers better and make profitable changes in their physical stores.

For example, say you have identified best sellers from your online store. This insight can be used to place these products in high foot traffic areas in the physical store to maximise sales.

How to take your brick-and-mortar store online?

Here’s a step-by-step guide on starting your e-commerce store today. No d sign, coding or advanced tech skills required!

1. Register for a Shopify account

Building an e-commerce store doesn’t have to be complicated. Shopify makes it easy by providing you with all the tools, integrations, and customisations needed for a retail store. Shopify also offers a free 14-day trial for all new users so you can get comfortable with the platform before making an investment.

2. Choose a Shopify theme

A theme is a website template that can be used for your store. They are usually designed according to e-commerce best practices. Free and paid templates are available, so choose one that will resonate well with your customers.

3. Design your pages

A standard e-commerce store will have an About Us, Policies and Contact Us pages, in addition to the Category and Product pages. T e most important thing here is the user experience, so make sure users can find products and information easily.

4. Upload products

This is where you’ll probably spend most of your time. You’ll need to write the product title and description, upload images, set prices and variants and specify quantities available. I there are a lot of different products, they will need to be organized into categories or collections.

5. Add payment gateway

Connect payment options you want to offer. There are over 60 payment options available within Australia, including a few ‘buy now, pay later’ service providers.

This is also where you set your payout schedule and choose between daily, weekly and monthly, depending on your cash flow needs.

6. Add shipping settings

Australia Post can be easily integrated into your Shopify account, which helps automate post rates and generate shipping labels, saving loads of time. You can also try Shopify Shipping to get discounted rates from Sendle.

7. Set up your billing information

Provide a credit, debit card or PayPal account where Shopify bills will be charged. You won’t be billed until your free 14-day trial ends.

8. Connect your domain

The website domain is the virtual address for your online store. Typically, it will be the name of the store. For Australian-based businesses, choose a address. If you don’t own a domain yet, you can purchase one from or

9. Launch your store

And you’re done! All you need to do is hit publish. Congratulations, your store is live, and customers can start placing orders.

Top five e-commerce challenges for small retail businesses

Building your online store is only the first step. Keeping your website updated and driving traffic to it are also equally important. Now that the store is online, it’s time to understand the common challenges retailers face.

1. Forgetting setting up policies and processes

As with a physical store, certain standards and systems for your e-commerce store must be established. For example, which delivery partners are you working with? What does the digital invoice look like? Where is customer data being saved and how is this being shared with third parties? What are the terms and conditions? Do you have updated privacy and cookie policies?

Most small businesses new to e-commerce put these policies and processes aside, thinking these documents are just ‘nice-to-haves,’ but they’re not. They are required for every business and are critical to protecting your business legally.

Free templates are available online if you don’t have the resources and time to create these documents. In addition, Shopify has tools and policy generators specifically for small retail businesses.

2. Not spending time on customer service

Retailers who ignore online customer service are better off not having an e-commerce site. The reality is customer service plays a huge role in your business’ growth and success.

Your shoppers will always have questions and you need to ensure they are answered quickly or they’ll lose interest and leave your site without buying anything. To avoid losing customers, pay attention to common questions and set up an FAQs page on your website.

Don’t forget to add an email address or a phone number for customers who need to talk to you. Plus, set expectations and specify how long they must wait for a response. If you see requests for immediate assistance, consider having a live chat on your website.

3. Not setting up security controls

Small businesses are more susceptible to cyber threats because of fewer resources and a lack of security expertise. From phishing attacks to stolen credit and debit card information, these cyber security issues can hurt your business reputation.

Making sure systems and software are all up-to-date, choosing secure passwords, setting two-factor authentication for accounts and regularly backing up data are just a few simple measures to keep your online store safe and secure.

4. Not paying attention to marketing

So you’ve built a beautiful and well-functioning e-commerce store but you’re not getting any sales? Like your physical store, no one can find your online store if you don’t do any marketing.

Advertising on social media, Google and other websites can help you attract customers and reach more people. Though it comes with a price, online advertising can be affordable if you know your customers and their needs.

It’s also possible to get people to visit your store without investing in ads but this will take more time and effort. Effective use of social media and an SEO-optimised content strategy will help drive organic traffic to the site over time.

To start, try posting on social media when launching a product or holding a sale, sharing your e-commerce store on Facebook groups and forums, writing blogs about the business and products and using keywords that the audience usually uses.

5. Not keeping up with new technologies

We’ve seen how digital technologies have disrupted industries rapidly over the past few years and it will only get more advanced.

For retailers, it’s essential to keep up to date with industry and technology trends to remain competitive. Attend conferences and webinars, consult with experts, and learn from peers. If you’re getting overwhelmed, ask for external help and support.

At Leading Edge Retail, we know our Members have limited time and resources so we provide them with the tools, services and support they need to grow their businesses. For those struggling with e-commerce, our Leading Edge Digital services are the perfect solution.

Our plans empower small retail businesses and build their confidence to run e-commerce stores. When you sign up, you will have weeks of training, monthly one-on-one support with Shopify specialists based on your needs, workshops and a supportive online community.

Final thoughts & takeaway

Not having an e-commerce store is no longer an option for retailers wanting to remain competitive. An online store will complement the physical store, allowing you to provide customers with an omnichannel shopping experience.

It may be daunting for many small businesses starting from scratch, especially with limited time and resources. However, you can become a successful online business with the right tools, support from experts, customer knowledge and basic tech skills!


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