Selling products and services online has been paramount to the survival of many companies during the Covid-19 crisis.  Big brands have been spending heavily to improve their online offerings and many small businesses are staying afloat by online trading.

I have been asked so many times in the past few weeks about adding e-commerce to websites that it is clear many small firms and charities have been slow in upgrading their websites to sell their goods and services online. But it is not too late to start – or improve what you already have.

Here, I answer some of the questions I have been asked recently, give some guidance on how to start trading online and attempt to answer the $64,000 question – how much will it cost?

Let’s start with some of the conversations I have had with people dipping their toes into the e-commerce world for the first time. Some are their questions, and some are mine.

How many products or services do you have to sell?

Believe it or not, this can have a huge bearing on the amount of development work. Do you have standard lines – for example shoes that come in different sizes and colours; are you a charity shop where the goods sold vary from week to week; or are you a service provider?

The reason we ask this question is that all this needs to be understood to make sure that the system you use is capable of managing your needs BEFORE deciding on a shopping platform.

I  have an existing payment gateway – can I use it for e-commerce

If you already have a payment system and it is already working for you, it makes sense to keep it. If you haven’t, then understanding the options is important to steer you in a direction that works best for your company.

What forms of payment do should I accept?

From PayPal, Amex, Visa, Mastercard, Stripe, Bitcoin, and direct bank transfers, there are many ways for a customer to pay depending on what your company can accept. If you are just starting, you may want to trust to stick to major card companies and PayPal.

How will you ship your goods? 

This is more complex than many people first realise. Understanding the elements behind your shipping and returns policy is crucial to your bottom line, the experience your customers get, and how they perceive your service. Take time to consider all the options such as free shipping, free shipping above a certain price mark or a paid-for service.

Equally – if not more important – is how you handle the return of unwanted goods and build the process into your e-commerce platform. There are many ways to do this and in general, there is always a trade-off between customer service and cost, both in shipping and web development costs, so it is important to work out your returns policy and manage the risks before you start trading online. owH

Do you want us to add all the products as we build the shop, or just a few to get you going, and add the rest later?

Any good web developer will provide a scalable website that can grow with your business, so whether you want to put all of your goods and services online, or start small with a test and learn approach depends on how you want to approach online sales and marketing.

Starting with 5-10 products will take a lot less time than adding hundreds or thousands of products. But doubling the number of products doesn’t double the cost, as there are many ways costs can be reduced, particularly if the product lists are in a machine-readable format (usually some form of a spreadsheet). These can be imported in bulk, including images if the product lines are not likely to change.

Every business and set of products is different. It may be that none of the above fit your products and the way you sell them, and you need something else entirely. The important point is to consider this before you choose the platform you intend to use, as not all options will be available on each platform.


There are many aspects to creating or adding e-commerce to a website that will influence the final cost of the project. As with any website work, if you have a fixed budget for the project, let your developer know upfront so they can better assess which areas to prioritise the funds to achieve your specific goals.

If you are thinking of moving some or all of your products from a “bricks ’n’ mortar” store to e-commerce, considering these questions will help your chosen website developers give you an accurate quote and save time and money.

With e-commerce, the world really is your oyster. If the quote is more expensive than your budget allows, don’t be shy to discuss this with the developers as they will help you prioritise which features are essential, and which are ‘nice to have’. Perhaps look at developing your website in phases so you can start selling as quickly as possible to generate revenue which can fund the next round of improvements.

If you are considering adding e-commerce to your website, I would be happy to chat through the issues and give you a competitive quote that will get you trading online quickly and safely.