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How to Start an Ecommerce Website in Toronto

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Toronto can be a competitive place when it comes to getting any business off the ground, but starting an ecommerce website in the GTA has many advantages. You can reach customers from outside of the city’s borders, and connect with new target audience members you wouldn’t be able to with a brick and mortar store. That’s a world full of revenue potential, but you need to make sure that your website speaks for itself enough to attract them.

If you’re planning on making a name for yourself online, or are looking to bring your physical storefront into the online space, you’ll need an ecommerce website that can make that happen for you. Sure, you likely already know this, but you’re probably wondering where to start.

This guide will take you through every step you’ll need to take when it comes to starting an ecommerce website in Toronto, from configuring shipping methods to creating a stunning design that helps you stand out.

Get Your Business Organized First

Firstly, before you start thinking about ecommerce website design and all of the exciting things you want to include in your new online home, you need to decide on a few things. If you’ve come far enough to decide to set up an ecommerce website in Toronto, you’ve likely already figured out what product or service you’re going to sell. Your next steps are figuring out your business model, plan, budget, and logistics. Once you have an idea of how your business will operate, you’ll have a better idea of what you’re going to need out of your website.

The last thing you should do is register your business. Just because it’s an ecommerce website without a brick and mortar store doesn’t mean you can get away with not registering as a legal business. Reach out to a company like Enterprise Toronto if you need assistance with this step or aren’t sure how to go about getting set up.

Create a Content Strategy

Any good ecommerce website needs a good content strategy planned before you get to the design stages. Even if you don’t have any content ready just yet, you need an idea of how you want to communicate to your customers and what audience you’re trying to target.

Start by creating buyer personas for your ideal customers. Who are you planning on targeting? If your business has already been established and you’re moving to an online home, you likely have an idea of your current customers and which type of people are interested in your product. However, if you’re a brand new business building from scratch, you won’t have any company data to go from, so you’ll need to do a lot of research on what kind of problems you’re going to be solving for people.

Next, think about those buyer personas and determine what content will resonate with them, and what content they will need to make purchasing decisions. You’ll want to make sure all of your website content checks the right boxes and provides enough detail to communicate your value. This will also come into play when you create your branding in the next few steps.

Lastly, do some keyword research before you start writing anything. Use tools like Google Keyword Planner to help determine target keywords you can use to build your SEO strategy. With an online business, SEO will play a major role attracting customers, so you want to make sure you do the right research and find the right information to create strategic, targeted content.

Decide Which Ecommerce Website Platform to Use

There are plenty of options out there to choose from when it comes to picking the right ecommerce platform to build your online home. If you’re not entirely sure which one will work for you, read our guide to the best ecommerce platforms for small businesses.

Here’s a question you should ask yourself first: are you going to use a website developer to help set up your website? Some ecommerce platforms are easy to use, even if you don’t know anything about developing, and allow you to choose from different templates so your shop is set up in no time. Shopify and BigCommerce, for example, let you choose different options and are pretty user friendly to navigate. 

However, if you work with a good Toronto-based website developer, you open more doors to more platforms, and you’ll also be able to implement custom options that work specifically for your business. Websites such as Magento and WordPress feature open-source software that allows developers to create custom codes and plugins so you can display your own online space proudly. 

Get Your Domain Name

Your domain name is where your customers are going to find your website. Of course, this is an important step to take to make sure you secure that domain name and give your new website a place to live. Fortunately, with the rising world of online businesses, domain names are easy to get and readily available. Most of the time you can get one through the ecommerce platform you choose to use (more on that next), so you don’t even have to take any extra steps.

The best thing to do is make sure your domain name matches your company name as closely as possible so it’s easy for your audience and future customers to find you. This is excellent for your SEO strategy as well as for customer experience and conversions.

Discover Your Brand’s Identity

You’ll need a website design that matches your brand’s identity and tone, and that you’ll be able to use consistently throughout all of the facets of your marketing strategy. That means that your design should showcase your brand in a way that stands out to your audience and potential customers, and that design should be prominent in your overall ecommerce website design.

Is your brand fun and quirky, friendly and comforting, or professional and serious? These are the kinds of questions you’ll need to ask yourself when you’re choosing the elements of your site design. You need to make sure your design is cohesive and carefully constructed to be both stunning and user friendly at the same time.

This includes everything from your logo to the colours you use. Don’t just go with your favourite colour. Make a strategic decision based on colour psychology. For example, the colour orange is known to stimulate appetite, which is why many food companies use it in their branding. The colour blue represents trust and reliability, which is why many banks use it.

In terms of design, you’ll want a website that’s easy to navigate but also showcases the amazing products and services you sell. A graphic designer can easily help you find a solution that will bring all of the elements of your brand to light and create a gorgeous online space for you.

Make Sure You Have The Right Pages

Once you have a design scheme in mind and an idea of your brand’s tone and message, you can plan out the pages you’ll include on your site. It’s important to know which pages you’ll need first, as you’ll need to plan out some design templates or communicate with your development team about your needs. 

For this, you’ll want to build an initial sitemap. A website sitemap is essentially a list of the pages you want to include on your website and how they’ll link to one another if necessary. You can create it however you want, but most people prefer using either word processors or visual charts.

Every ecommerce website should always include the following elements:

  • Homepage 
  • About us page 
  • Product or service pages
  • Checkout or shopping cart pages
  • Contact page 
  • Legal pages 

The following pages are not essential to running your website, but are a really good idea to include for added value, user experience, SEO strength, and overall design:

  • A blog
  • FAQs
  • Category overview pages 
  • News and media page 
  • Product features
  • Reviews and testimonials
  • Individual service pages (if applicable)
  • Job or careers page (if applicable)
  • Search results pages

Take Care of the Legal Requirements

As an ecommerce website, your entire business will exist online, which means you need to adhere to a different set of legal rules than a brick and mortar store. You need to make sure you are covered and protected against liability and any potential issues with customers that may come up. 

Here are some of the elements you’re going to need detailed on your website for your customers to see: 

  • Terms of Service: A detailed agreement between you and your audience outlining the requirements and guidelines for using your website. In Canada, it’s not mandatory to have one, but it should be a necessity to keep your business protected legally as it serves as a contract for use of your website. 
  • Privacy Policy: This page is legally required under Canada’s privacy law, and should outline to your customers how you collect, store, and protect their personal information. If you don’t include this page, not only could you lose your customers’ trust, but you could also face repercussions or penalties from the federal government. 
  • Return Policy: Not a legal requirement but an important component for online sales, a return policy should be implemented somewhere on your website. Make it clear and easy to understand so your customers don’t have any issues with the process. In some cases, a return policy is a big part of a purchasing decision. Even if you don’t have a return policy, you can have a page detailing this so customers are aware.

Hammer Out Transaction Details

After you choose your ecommerce platform and settle on a design style for your site, you’re going to need to make some decisions regarding the details of how you’ll sell your products. These decisions should be made before development begins so you can make sure you’re building a site that works for you.

Shipping Methods

Of course, you’ll need to know how your customers are going to be getting their purchases, but depending on which option you choose, this can result in extra costs for either you or your customers. Some ecommerce platforms and plugins can actually integrate with shipping companies such as Canada Post so you don’t have to worry about calculating shipping costs, printing labels, and other tasks. Another option you can try is dropshipping, where your products are stored in a warehouse or manufacturer’s location and they handle the shipping for you. If you want to stick to the Toronto market specifically, you can always consider local delivery as well. For smaller companies, this is a great way to add that personal human connection with your customers and establish some great relationships.

Payment Gateway

Another important consideration is choosing how your customers will pay you. Your payment gateway is the payment processing solution you will implement to accept payments, transfer them to your account, and finalize purchases. You want to keep the options available for your customers, as not everyone prefers to pay the same way. Popular options in Canada include Stripe, PayPal, and Moneris.

Bring Your Website to Life

When all the groundwork and planning is done, it’s time to take action and build your ecommerce website. If you’re working without a developer and aren’t really knowledgeable about how to code a website, this is where those pre-designed templates and easy-to-use website platforms come in. They usually have all the options ready to go for you, and you can customize from there. With this process, your customization options are sometimes limited, but it is easy to get up and running.

However, if you are working with a developer, they will easily take over this process for you and build your custom ecommerce website from the ground up. A developer can handle all of the additional details as well, such as setting up an SSL certificate, creating user accounts for your customers, establishing mobile responsiveness, and integrating a good search function.

Set up Metrics Tracking Before You Launch

The last step you’ll need to take before you launch and put your business out there for the online world to see is making sure you set up metrics reporting tools to track your progress right from the beginning.

Google Analytics is the most common and widely used software for tracking your website’s traffic, audience behaviours, and more. All you need is a Google account, and you can get your tracking code set up in the back end of your site. Additionally, you’ll want to get set up with Google Search Console. This is where you’ll check your site’s performance in Google, including indexing and SEO results. You can set it up the same way as Google Analytics, using a piece of code in the back end.

Other plugins you can get with different ecommerce platforms offer a variety of metrics to track and analyze so you can always have up to date information on how your site is doing. Remember, this isn’t a one-and-done process. You should always be monitoring your website and maintaining it for optimal performance.

Get Professional Web Development When You Need it

It may seem like an expensive option to work with a professional web developer, but your ecommerce website is an investment that will pay off in the long run. Don’t think of this as an up-front cost you have to navigate through. Think of it as your new online home that’s going to generate profits for you and help your business grow in ways you never even imagined. 

Our web developers at Web Sharx have years of experience helping startup businesses just like yours navigate through the cutting edge industry of ecommerce business in Toronto. We’ll take care of many of the steps above for you so you can focus on getting your amazing products and services ready to generate sales. 

Get a quote now and see how easy it is to get your ecommerce website up and running in Toronto, or anywhere else you happen to be.

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