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Building your website or online store

Doing business online means different things to different businesses. For some it’s the place to sell products and services. For others, it’s to showcase what’s offered at a physical shop.

Either way, you’ll need to be wherever your customers are online. This could mean having your own website, your own space in online marketplaces, or both.

Be sure you’re ready to go online

Most businesses benefit from some sort of online presence. It can increase sales and make it easier for people to do business with you.

Before you start, think through your strategy. Which products or services will you take online? Who will your customers be? How will customers find your website? What sort of experience will you give them? How will you protect their information?

Planning to do business online

Choose your online platform

Are you ready to build your own website, or does it make sense to set up shop in an existing marketplace, like Trade Me? Ideally, you’ll do both, to maximise your brand visibility and reach more customers. But maybe you’d like to start with one and expand to the other later. Here’s a few pros and cons to help you decide where to start.

Sell on a marketplace

Pros

Cons

  • Getting started is fairly quick and cheap (or even free).
  • The marketplace is already full of potential customers.
  • Platforms are designed to be easy to use — it’s simple to add new items or change prices.
  • No worries about the technical side of things — a dedicated team takes care of all that.
  • You’re less responsible for any security issues.
  • You compete with many other sellers.
  • Less leeway for branding and personalisation.
  • You may have little or no opportunity to directly communicate with your customers (meaning fewer marketing opportunities).
  • Shoppers may focus on products more than sellers, so it may be harder to get your brand known.
  • You pay to list each item, plus a commission for every purchase.

Join an existing marketplace

Use your own website

Pros

Cons

  • Total control over every aspect of your business.
  • Brand and personalise your website and decide what features to include.
  • Direct contact with customers.
  • Better opportunities for marketing and building customer loyalty.
  • Options to analyse customers’ behaviour and adjust to fit it.
  • Create discounts and sales whenever you want and promote them clearly.
  • More control over how data is stored and protected.
  • A website can be costly and time-consuming to set up and maintain.
  • Extra costs might include a web agency or freelancer to help you.
  • Customers won’t know your website exists at first — you’ll need good marketing to build awareness. 

Build your own website

Sell on both

Selling on marketplaces and via your website means you are more likely to be where your customers are. Customers tend to spend more on brands with multiple sales channels. This approach is often known as omnichannel retail.

Other benefits include:

  • more website visitors as marketplace customers click through to your site — and vice versa
  • centralised control over all the places you sell in NZ or overseas.

Omnichannel retail simplified (external link) — Shopify

Join an existing marketplace

An online marketplace is a site with products from many sellers. You set up an account, create your own space, and start selling straight away. Many marketplaces have step-by-step guides to help you.

New Zealand examples include:

International examples include:

Choose a marketplace (or multiple marketplaces) popular with your customers. For example, if you want to export pure New Zealand honey to Europe, choose the marketplace most used by European foodies.

Check any marketplace you want to join has good cyber security measures in place. Do they keep their data encrypted? If they have a security breach, will they tell you?

Selling tips

With limited leeway for branding and personalisation, make every word and image count:

  • Include excellent images. High-quality photos give a good impression.
  • Write clear product titles. Include your brand name, keywords people search for, and specifics to help customers tell the difference between similar products. For example, NZBrand Natural Shampoo for Dry Hair, Orange and Vanilla, 320ml.
  • Write engaging product descriptions. Let your brand voice shine and focus on the benefits to the customer. Be concise, but answer any likely questions. Use bullet points to itemise features or selling points.
  • Follow style guidelines for each marketplace carefully — they often offer tips to get the best results.
  • Be honest — customers don’t like it when a product doesn’t match its description.
  • Respond to customer queries and feedback promptly.

Case study

Find the right fit

Te sells printed t-shirts and hats from a small shop. They also have a growing presence on social media, especially Instagram. Social feeds help to promote new designs, but fans have no way to buy the products online. Te sees a clear opportunity to make the most of current and future audiences by starting an online shop.

Te isn’t sure what to do first: build a website or join an existing marketplace. Te talks to a few customers instore to find out where they buy other hand-printed t-shirts — and searches online to see where similar products are sold.

Te finds an online marketplace focused on handmade art and design. It showcases a wide range of Aotearoa designers, so Te’s t-shirts are a great fit. It’s free to open an account and start selling, with just a small commission for each sale.

Te starts by selling just a few t-shirts online while working out the logistics of packaging and delivery. It takes time to build up a solid customer base, and a few delivery issues need sorting at first. But with few upfront costs, the marketplace is a good way to try out online selling.

Building a Te’s Tees website can happen a bit later, when it’s time to market to a wider audience. In the meantime, Te makes sure to connect existing Instagram fans to the online store with regular posts about new designs and deals.

Build your own website

Creating your own website has never been easier, with many do-it-yourself platforms and tools to choose from. It does take time and patience to get set up though. You may decide you’d like an agency or a freelancer to help with things like branding and technical details.

Before you start, check out tips for protecting your website and your customers’ information. CERT NZ, the official cyber security agency, has a handy 12-point checklist:

Protect your website (external link) — CERT NZ

Choose the right platform

You’ll need a website platform that lets you create, edit, and publish your own content. You have plenty of options, so do your research carefully. You’ll need one with a good reputation that fits your technical and design abilities. Also look for:

  • good support, eg help forums
  • strong security features, eg two-factor authentication, quick resolution of security issues
  • good point-of-sale solution (so you can easily link your in-person sales with your online platform)
  • help to gather and analyse your customers’ data easily
  • support for any growth you expect — you don’t want to be rebuilding in a year’s time.

Make sure it suits your ideal customers.

Define your ideal customers

If you plan to sell via your website, you need sales functionality. Most platforms either offer this, or allow extensions or plugins.

If you’re building an online store from scratch, consider starting with a platform specifically designed for e-commerce. 

Make sure your chosen platform offers mobile-friendly designs, so your website adapts to the screen size of any device — desktop, tablet, or smartphone. This is crucial, as most customers buy online using mobile devices.

Is your webpage mobile friendly? (external link) — Google

Get a domain name and matching email

A domain name is a unique name that identifies an internet site, eg business.govt.nz. Choose a name that’s unique and simple. It should be easy to remember and reflect you well. It could be your business name or a keyword related to your business.

1. Understand domain names

Domain names (external link) — Digital Resources

2. Check your business name

ONECheck helps you make sure your chosen name is available.

3. Register the name with an authorised registrar

Authorised registrars (external link) — Domain Name Commission

4. Get a matching email address

Link your domain name to an email address (external link) — InternetNZ

Secure your site

Make your site secure by enabling HTTPS on every page. This means your web traffic is encrypted, preventing anyone from accessing or changing any information that should be private.

Benefits of making your website use HTTPS (external link) — CERT NZ

Choose payment methods

You can provide your customers with one or many different ways to pay you. Some methods are easier to set up than others, so it’s worth understanding the options and knowing the best place to start.

To find out more, click to expand each accordion.

Payment gateways

Payment gateways process transactions securely. They fend off hacking by providing encryption between you and your customers.

Gateways can process either:

  • bank-to-bank transfers, eg Poli, Account2Account
  • credit and debit card payments, eg PayPal, Windcave.

Some gateways need an online merchant account — a bank account specifically designed for e-commerce.

A merchant account can take time to set up. Your bank may want evidence of an established e-commerce business first.

Some gateways don’t need an online merchant account. Instead, they hold the money you make in a central location until you transfer it to your bank account. PayPal and Stripe are trusted examples of this type of gateway. You can get them up and running in half an hour and be ready to receive payments.

Before you start selling, test your gateway. Be confident your customers will have a smooth payment experience.

Microfinance gateways

Microfinance gateways allow customers to pay in instalments, eg Afterpay. You receive your payment immediately, while the company behind the gateway takes on all of the risks.

Not all microfinance gateways integrate with all e-commerce platforms, so check the various options carefully. 

Manual bank transfers

A manual bank transfer involves giving customers your bank details and waiting for them to pay you. It’s best to wait until the money arrives in your bank account before completing the order.

This method is the least automated. It can slow down your process and increase the time your customer waits between purchasing and receiving.

Give your bank account details privately to each customer. Avoid posting your details more publicly — eg on your Facebook page.

Create clear navigation

Create categories on your website to help your customers find what they need. Keep categories simple and name them in obvious ways. Look at similar businesses and check their website categories — could something similar work for you?

Website Content Architecture 101 (external link) — UpShift

Create your content

At a minimum, you’ll need the following pages:

  • Homepage — a place to access everything else from, plus discover current offers and promotions.
  • About page — tells customers something about you, your business, and your staff.
  • Product pages — where you explain everything about the things you’re selling.
  • Contact page — shows your phone number, store location (if you have one), and a contact form so people can ask questions or send feedback.
  • Returns and exchanges page — sets out your returns and exchanges policy, eg what things customers can return or exchange, and what they’ll get in return.
  • Deliveries page — sets out your delivery policy, eg how long delivery should take and whether packages will be tracked.

Follow these tips for creating good content:

  • Use good-quality images and avoid generic stock photos.
  • Be concise. Describe your products fully, but in as few words as possible. Avoid jargon.
  • Focus on the benefits your customer will get from your business.
  • Only include a news page or a blog if you can update it regularly.
  • Add videos to showcase how products work.
  • Think about common questions people ask. Answer these questions — and make the answers easy to find. You won’t need an FAQ page if you provide information in the right places on your site.

Integrate with social media

Link your website with social media to:

  • engage your customers
  • build an audience for your social media
  • improve your search rankings
  • let your customers recommend your products or services to their friends and followers.

Integrating your website with your social media (external link) — Digital Resources

Set up analytics

Website analytics are essential. It’s a wealth of information you can use to measure your performance and improve your site. You can delete content no-one clicks on. Update pages to be more useful. Add content your analytics show is missing. And measure if campaigns or promotions drive more sales.

Useful analytics include:

  • how many people visit your site, and for how long
  • which pages are most popular
  • if visitors are new or returning
  • search terms people use
  • if people click on marketing campaigns
  • dollar value of each sale
  • social media stats
  • where you rank in internet search results.

Google Analytics (external link) — Google

Start marketing

Once your website goes live, let your customers know. Talk to them. Send emails, post on social media, add signage to your shop window and any company vehicles, and add your site to Google’s local listings.

My Business (external link) — Google

Web traffic doesn’t happen by magic. You need to drive it with ads, email marketing, and other methods.

Advertising to online customers

Strengthening relationships with customers

Having an up-to-date website is essential for modern businesses. Use this tool to reflect on how well your website is meeting the needs of your customers and how you could improve it.

At the end of this assessment you’ll get:

  • a better idea of your website’s strengths and weaknesses
  • practical tips and links to expert advice.

5 - 10 minutes

Self assessment: Your business website

Online presence

people at desk

Did you know...

75% of users judge the credibility of a business based on the design of its website, according to research from Stanford.

How important is your website to your business?

Online presence

woman at computer

Did you know...

As of January 2018, around three-quarters of people in New Zealand aged between 16 and 64 had recently searched for a product or service to buy online, according to Statista, The Statistics Portal.

How much does your business use a website (your own or another) to sell products or services?

Search and discovery

business woman

Did you know...

Consumers feel that companies with brand-specific email addresses are more likely to be professional, credible, responsible and trustworthy, research by Colmar Brunton shows.

How important is your domain name to your business?

Search and discovery

people at desk

Did you know...

If you’re not at the top of the search results, you’re missing out. Websites listed on the first Google search results page get 92% of the interaction from an average search, according to Chitika, Online Advertising Network.

When someone searches online for your type of business, how well do you rank in the results?

Up to date

Tool man at desk

Did you know...

Around 40% of people will stop engaging with a website if the content or layout is unattractive, according to research by Adobe.

When was the last review of your business website?

Up to date

business woman

Did you know...

The majority of internet searches come from mobile devices, even if a desktop device is available, according to Google.

How mobile-friendly is your business website?

Content

Tool group talking

Did you know...

Nearly 40% of people will stop looking at a website if the images won’t load or take too long to load, according to Adobe.

How would you describe the content on your business website?

Content

woman business planning

Did you know...

Google encourages website owners to produce original, high-quality content, since that’s what’s best for web users.

How involved is your business in managing or editing the content on its website?

News, blogs and social

woman at computer

Did you know...

Businesses that blog 11 or more times a month get more than four times as many leads as those that blog half as much, according to HubSpot.

How important are regular news stories or blog posts to your business?

News, blogs and social

group of people

Did you know...

Almost half of the world’s population is on social media, according to Hootsuite.

How well is your business website linked with your social media accounts?

Tell us about your business

Just one last step before your self-assessment results. So we can shape future tools and services around your needs, please tell us about your business size, location, age and industry.

Link your online store and accounting software

To get a clear picture of how your online business is tracking, link it to your accounting software. Your software can help track sales, costs, cash flow, and inventory.

If you don’t yet use accounting software, now is a good time to start. It can make selling online a smoother experience for you.

Trusted providers include:

Xero accounting software (external link) — Xero

MYOB accounting software (external link) — MYOB

Get started with business finance:

Introduction to business finance

Make web content easy to find

Customers need to find you easily online — ahead of your competitors. It helps to adapt your web content so search engines like Google rank you better in search results. This is known as search engine optimisation.

It’s a bit of a specialist skill, so consider getting professional help. But you can get started using these techniques:

  • Include words and phrases customers are likely to search for. For example, an Auckland-based hairdresser will use the words ‘Auckland’, ‘hair’, and ‘hairdresser’. This should come naturally if you write in a simple, honest way about your business and what it offers. Avoid stuffing your pages with too many keywords. This can sound forced and unnatural, and may negatively affect your search rankings.
  • Regularly add fresh content, eg customer reviews or blog posts.
  • Add videos.
  • Encourage customers to share your content on social media.
  • Get other businesses to link to your site — and link to them.
  • Make sure pages load quickly.

Learn more:

Keep your content and tech updated

Fresh content:

  • gives your customers a reason to return
  • encourages search engines like Google to rank your site higher in search results
  • can become part of email marketing and online marketing campaigns.

Review the functionality of your site regularly too. Technology changes quickly — make sure your site is keeping up. You need it to stay secure, work well, and be appealing.

Optimise your website to increase sales

Reviewing your website (external link) — Digital Resources

Keep customers’ information safe

Good cyber security is crucial for your online business. Make sure you know how to:

  • keep customer data safe
  • reduce the likelihood of cyber-attacks
  • reassure your customers, eg provide secure payments, display logos of any security systems you have in place.

To understand the risks and steps you can take, explore these resources:

Set up logs to record issues

Logs record all the actions that people take when they access your website. This information can be really helpful when things go wrong.

But logs often aren’t turned on by default. You may need to turn them on — it’s best to do this before issues arise. Having complete logs will help to diagnose and resolve any issues quickly.

Set up logs for your website (external link) — CERT NZ

Get help with cyber security issues.

Get help with cyber security issues.

CERT NZ is a government organisation that helps resolve cyber security issues. Reporting an issue will help your business as well as others.

Report a cyber security issue (external link)  — CERT NZ

References to specific businesses

At times business.govt.nz refers to specific businesses to make our resources more effective and easier to understand. We do this on the advice of our independent expert partners, including the New Zealand Business Performance Panel. However, we do not endorse any third-party private-sector businesses.

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