Ask an expert: How to set up an e-commerce business for success

4 minute read

Building a successful e-commerce business is no small feat, and can be a daunting endeavour for a merchant of any size to take on. To ensure that everything runs smoothly, merchants must address a multitude of operations aspects before they even start selling. What platform choice is best? Where should your business sell? Which shipping provider is right for your business? These are just a few basic questions that require solid answers from the outset.

Tackle e-commerce with an insider’s perspective

Nobody knows the challenges and rewards of building an e-commerce business better than Luke Miszczyk. As the Director of Parcels and e-Commerce Integration at Canada Post, his team provides consultation services to hundreds of Canadian merchants each year to help optimize their e-commerce and shipping operations. We spoke with him to get a better understanding of all the considerations, operations, and moving pieces necessary to succeed in e-commerce.

Luke and other experts like him regularly share their insights into e-commerce trends at Canada Post’s exclusive event series for growing e-commerce businesses — GROW.

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Thanks for weighing in on this, Luke. We’re excited to hear your perspective on what today’s merchants need to build a successful e-commerce business.

My pleasure. I live and breathe e-comm, so any chance I get to talk about it makes me happy.

Well, let’s start at the beginning then. What are some of the first considerations merchants need to make when building an e-commerce business?

The first thing you have to do is narrow down what you’re going to sell. Does it fill a gap in the market? Is it something unique? Will you create the product yourself, go through a wholesale channel, or maybe even explore dropshipping? These are some of the first questions you need to ask yourself. Having good answers can help you stand out from your competition and succeed.

Let’s say that we’ve answered these questions already. What should our next steps be?

Next you’ll want to build your online store – don’t fret, it isn’t as difficult as it sounds. Luckily for merchants today, there’s been some monumental leaps forward in technology in recent years that make these next steps easy:

1) Choosing your platform

This is the first step in the process. There are a host of platforms available on the market that can help you build your online store. Free trials are your friend at this stage. Take the time to try out different platforms before you commit so you can get a feel for what works best for you. If you intend to ship with Canada Post, look for a platform that integrates with our shipping tools, like Shopify or Squarespace, or explore a comprehensive list of all the e-commerce platforms that integrate with us. Integration with your platform of choice will make managing and tracking your shipments more straightforward.

2) Designing your site

This is where you get to experiment with the look and feel of your website. Many platforms have a selection of attractive website themes that you can choose from and customize. Pick one that aligns with your brand and desired functionality and start there. If design isn’t your thing, consider hiring a website designer to ensure that you put your best foot forward online. Your website will be a big part of your business – it has to be attractive, functional and easy to navigate.

3) Adding products to your site

You’ll want to use high quality photos, create useful and accurate product descriptions, add prices and stock quantities, as well as load all of this into your product catalogue.

4) Setting up payment

This is an important step that requires consideration. Decide if you want to enable credit card payments and/or alternative payment options like PayPal. If you plan to ship internationally, you might want to look into other options depending on where you’ll be shipping.

5) Setting up a shipping policy

A shipping policy should be your last step. This is when you decide how much you want to charge for shipping, who you want to handle your shipping, and then set up the terms within your platform of choice. You’ll want to clearly communicate all this information to your site visitors as it will matter to them and may influence whether or not they will shop with you or a competitor.

After all that you’ll be ready to sell!

Thanks, Luke. It seems pretty straightforward when you lay it out like that. 

You mentioned deciding how much you want to charge for shipping. How should a merchant determine what the right price is?

Well there are a few things to consider. Shipping costs are based on the following:

  • shipment origin
  • shipment destination
  • size and weight
  • delivery service
  • delivery options added

With all of these factors taken into consideration, you have 4 main pricing options for shipping:

  1. Free shipping
  2. Minimum purchase threshold
  3. Flat rate shipping
  4. Real-time rating

So, now we know how to determine how much we should charge for shipping. Can you tell us what’s involved in actually preparing an order for shipment? After a merchant receives an order, how should it be processed and managed?

Every merchant has to create their own efficient systems for this. It’s critical to test these systems and ensure that they are fully operational before the launch of your online store. That way you’ll be ready to spring into action after you receive your first order.

A huge part of order management is prioritizing which orders to address first. Most businesses choose to prioritize orders by receipt time and date – this method is known as  First In First Out (FIFO). Some choose to prioritize orders by speed of delivery (for example, express shipping gets first dibs), or customer service factors like returns or exchanges.

After that, it’s all about order fulfillment. This is the stage where you or your team members will physically prepare your orders so they are ready to fly out the door. This involves tackling 3 key areas:

1. Fulfillment (pick & pack)

Fulfillment is when you actually package orders to be shipped. This can be done in a warehouse, a storage room, or even a garage or a spare bedroom!

It’s key to set up stations for each stage of the fulfillment process. This will ensure that you’ll be able to get your orders in and out in no time. The majority of Canadian online shoppers expect fulfillment of their order to be completed in one day or less, so efficiency is key in this process.

You’ll also want to choose the right pick and pack method that makes sense for your space.

2. Shipping label and creation

Once your order is packed, in a box or envelope, you need to add a shipping label to it so it can be processed and delivered by your shipper. Canada Post has several free shipping tools that let you print labels – anywhere from a few to hundreds per day. We’re also integrated with many of the leading third-party shipping solutions that will also let you print labels.

3. Getting it to the carrier

After your package is labelled, you need to get it out the door and into the hands of your carrier of choice.

If you have only a few shipments per week, just bring them to one of Canada Post’s 6200+ outlets.

Moving more volume? Canada Post’s pickup service will let you focus on your business’ operations while we take care of shipping. Pickups at your warehouse or fulfillment location can be scheduled on demand or on a regular schedule to ensure your packages make their way to customers in a timely fashion.

That’s so convenient! So, the package is now en route – are we done? If there’s anything left to do, how would you characterize this final stage?

In a word: overlooked. It’s a common misconception that the work is done once the package is shipped and in transit. If you give special attention to these 3 final stage areas, you’ll have a competitive advantage:

1. Tracking

Customers want to keep an eye on their delivery as it makes its way to them. You can enable tracking for your customers’ orders by embedding software in your website with Canada Post web services or with e-commerce platforms that have Canada Post tracking as a feature; or you can direct customers to and provide them with a tracking number.

2. Delivery experience

Customers appreciate having some control over how their order is received, and you’d be wise to offer them options that make receiving less of a burden. Canada Post is a great partner in this regard because it delivers to every address in Canada AND offers services like FlexDelivery – which makes it possible for customers to request delivery to parcel lockers in apartments and pickup at more than 6,200 post offices across the country.

3. Returns

A lot of businesses overlook returns – but a good returns policy can actually drive customer loyalty and increase conversions. It’s critical to have a clear returns policy for your business from the outset, and ensure that your customers can find it with ease on your website before they even reach check out. Canada Post has an in-depth returns guide that can help you build your policy and turn it into a competitive advantage.

Returns are the final mile in the shipping marathon. Once you create your policy and set up your process, you’re ready to cross the finish line.

I hope you’ll give a lot of attention to these systems, stages, and operations. If they’re managed effectively, your e-commerce business will be on the path to growth and success.

If merchants want to learn more about establishing and running a successful e-comm business, where are some places they can look? 

Canada Post has a lot of great resources for merchants of all sizes. My favourite go-to option is our e-book, Mastering Your E-Commerce Operations. It’s a robust tool that expands upon all the topics I’ve just covered and many more.

Thanks, Luke! This has been a really eye-opening look at what merchants need to succeed in e-commerce.

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