Creating and exploiting a SellerDeck website – Part III

Creating and exploiting a SellerDeck website – Part III

25th July 2011

Our final part of this short series focuses on website operations, disaster planning, and online strategy for e-commerce businesses.

Taking Operations Seriously

Even the smallest e-commerce business needs a professional approach to its website operations, support, and disaster planning. It seems natural to invest quite a lot of effort and money into these aspects of a bricks-and-mortar shop, but it’s all too easy to put your head in the sand and hope that an online shop will just keep running for ever. Unfortunately, all websites have inherent risks and weaknesses, and problems can quite easily jeopardise an entire business.

Make sure you have a “remote control” facility for the PC used to manage your SellerDeck (previously known as Actinic) store. We tend to use TeamViewer for this. So if you’re unable to physically reach the PC for some reason, you can still update the site and process orders.

Run an entirely separate development or test instance of your shop, and make sure you test out changes here before implementing them in the live site. You don’t need an extra SellerDeck software license for this, incidentally. It’s startling that some retailers will carry out major changes such as an SellerDeck version upgrade on their live sites without testing first.

Use quality hosting. SellerDeck shops don’t need a sophisticated hosting environment, so shared hosting services at £10 per month often have all the technical specifications and capacity needed. However, these services usually have very limited support, and at times of crisis this can make the difference between an e-commerce business failing or staying afloat. Look for hosting with telephone technical support (where you can speak to an engineer, not just a call handling agent), and consider hosting your site on a server of its own (or shared with a small number of other sites). Some more expensive services will offer you a Service Level Agreement, whereas cheaper shared hosting usually offers no SLA or indemnity for your lost trade.

It’s wise to register your store’s domain name with a specialist, third-party registrar (such as 123-reg, LCN, UK Reg and many others) rather than with your host. Apart from the full control that this gives you, this allows you to redirect your web traffic (or email) to a different hosting service in the event of a major hosting disaster. Otherwise, if your domain name is bundled with your hosting you’ll lose everything at once.

Carry out proper disaster planning and then carry out a dry run. For example:-

  • Keep a cheap hosting service on “standby”. Then you can be ready to redirect your domain name to it, upload your site there, and stay in business if your host fails.
  • Keep a PC ready on standby too. Install an exact replica of your Actinic software and site build on it, ready to import a snapshot of your site if your main Actinic PC fails. Using a notebook PC for this is a good idea for flexibility.
  • Be ready for a power or internet connection failure at your office or shop premises. Prepare arrangements for running your SellerDeck site from a different location using a different ISP.
  • Back up your site as frequently as necessary. For most stores, this will be daily. Keep copies of backups long term, so you can roll back your site as far as needed if necessary. It’s not always the last back-up that is needed – sometimes you might need to access files that were created a week, a month or six months previously. Bear in mind that certain files may not be backed up by the SellerDeck snapshot utility, and that you may need to save these separately.
  • If your SellerDeck site includes an integrated WordPress blog, make sure you also back up the blog’s database and files frequently too.
  • Store backups off-site, so your backups are still available in the event of fire or theft. Burn a back-up to a CD or DVD every month.
  • Keep a copy of your core SellerDeck software and its license key readily available.
  • Export your SellerDeck network settings file and store it safely for reference.
  • Keep a second Payment Service Provider (PSP) ready to use if your standard one goes down. PayPal is a good option for this, as it is so quick to switch on within Actinic when needed, it needs no Internet Merchant Account, and does not levy a monthly charge.
  • Consider using SellerDeck Cover, their technical support service. It also includes an emergency hosting service.
  • Keep contact and account details of your key suppliers available: e.g. your hosting company, web designer, SellerDeck support, internet service provider, payment service provider, bank, IT support people, electricity supplier, telecoms provider, etc..
  • Document your support and back-up procedures. If the online store’s main administrator suddenly leaves or becomes ill, at least someone else can keep the site running. Train up a “deputy” so that they know where to find the information, how to access the site, and can obtain all the access details necessary
  • Carry out a dry run of the most serious or likely disaster scenarios. In particular, test a restore of your back-up files. Many sites are religiously backed up for years, only for the back-up files to be of no use when needed.

Strategy, Planning and Continuous Improvement

Most new site projects demand so much energy and time that after launch it can be tempting to breathe a sigh of relief and let the website run itself. But all of our most successful SellerDeck e-commerce clients have regarded the site launch as the start of a process, not the end. They are always looking for ways to improve average basket value, increase sales, up-sell products, reduce cart abandonment, increase time spent online, increase number of visitors, improve search engine performance, etc., etc..

Knowledge of customer behaviour and site performance are key, and this knowledge can only be gained through measurement. So become expert in interpreting Google Analytics, stay on top of your Google AdWords campaigns, and review your Actinic order history thoroughly. What are the trends? When do people buy? What do visitors do when they’re at your site? Where are they coming from? How do they find you? What surprises you?

Consider using a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) application to consolidate your data from different sources, and to properly understand it.

Talk to trusted customers about what they think of your site, your products and your customer service. Be prepared to hear some negative comments as well as positive ones, and be ready to improve things.

Understanding your key information allows you to measure the site’s performance against your business plan. The business plan should contain clear objectives, plus the targets & milestones needed to judge whether the site is a success. A good business plan will also drive your online strategy, but that’s a subject for another day…