Getting Started: What To Do Before You Launch Your Parts Site
You’ve decided to sell auto parts online, and step one is to build a website, right?
We don’t think so. We think building a website is at least step three, and probably further down your list. There are a few things to figure out before launching a parts site, like choosing a parts niche, deciding which parts to sell online, etc.
But assuming you’ve got the basics handled, meaning you know what you’re going to sell, who you’re going to sell and market to, determining the business case, etc., this is what you need to do in order to launch a parts website.
Step 1 – Get Familiar with the Competition
Before you get moving, you want to carefully research the competition. Try to discover what works for them by:
- Pretending to be a customer and using the site as you might if you were ready to buy a part. You can go all the way to the payment entry page to see how the site works, then repeat this on a half a dozen sites to see how they differ.
- Looking for reviews of competitors to see what comments their customers have about the site, the shopping cart functionality, etc.
- Look at the types of content they’re creating on their blog or “how to” section, what they’re posting to Facebook or uploading to YouTube, what they’re sharing on Instagram, etc.
Step 2 – Create A Basic Sitemap
The smartest thing you can do before you talk to a website provider is to come up with a basic sitemap. Imagine the main menu of your new website – what pages/links will it point to?
- Home – Every site has a home page, and a good menu has the word “Home” as the first option. The goal of your homepage is to get visitors to start shopping, so be sure to think about what you want users to do and not what you want them to know.
- Most important Part/Category Pages – Your main menu to should to the most important parts and/or part categories as determined by your customers. You want to make sure your menu is focused on what people want to buy.
- An “About” Page – One of the most important pages on any ecommerce website is the About page. It allows you to fully explain your company, your mission, and why customers should shop with you.
- Unique Sales Proposition Pages – What makes your site unique? What are your strengths? You need pages that talk about them, either in your main menu or under your About page
- A Blog or Resources Section – Content is a cornerstone of successful ecommerce websites. What content will you be publishing? How will you organize it? How would you describe it.
- What other pages do you need? – Last but not least, think about other menu options you absolutely have to have. Don’t think about this from your perspective as a site owner, but as a consumer. Maybe some info on shipping costs and return policies? Or a list of testimonials and independent reviews?
By creating a sitemap, you’ll be able to speak to a website provider, designer, etc. about what you need, and that in turn will help them give you a good estimate.
Step 3 – Choosing A Parts Ecommerce Site Provider
There are a number of options for auto parts ecommerce websites, and we’ve listed them all here. So rather than re-list all the companies that offer ecommerce systems, we’ll focus on the key components you need:
- You need a system for managing a catalog of parts
- You need a system that helps your customers find parts, such as a year-make-model search, a category search, etc.
- You need a simple, effective shopping cart that makes checkout easy
- You need a “back office” system for managing orders and shipping, communicating with customers, managing inventory, etc.
- You need a good content management platform that will let you write blog posts, create how-to articles, embed videos, etc.
- You need a system that’s “marketing friendly,” meaning that you can implement marketing and advertising tools like call and conversion tracking, analytics, custom tags, etc.
All the systems available have their pros and cons, so it’s a good idea to review as many as possible, ask lots of questions, and to seek out companies using the systems you’re evaluating for a candid review.NOTE: Our company does offer web development services, but most of the websites we build are for part manufacturers and/or smaller part retailers. If you’re looking for an ecommerce site, we encourage you to contact us. We’re happy to make suggestions/recommendations and to refer you to the company that best meets your needs.
Last But Not Least, A Site Launch Checklist
- Do you have a well defined niche?
- Do you have a rough marketing strategy?
- Do you know who your close competitors will be, how they’re marketing and advertising themselves, and what their customers have to say about them?
- Do you have a domain name? Ideas for a logo?
- Have you reviewed all the website providers offering compatible systems and chosen a winner?
- Do you have an online payment gateway?
- Do you have an SSL certificate, or is that going to be provided by your website company?
- Do you have a plan for managing inventory and accounting?*
*NOTE: Accounting requirements are usually not top of mind when setting up an auto parts website, but it’s a good idea to think carefully about how you’ll reconcile sales, inventory, etc. before you get too far into the process. A little planning now will save you a mountain of time later.
Don’t Forget To Ask About Site Maintenance and Ongoing Costs
Some ecommerce systems are billed on a monthly or annual basis and offer all the essential maintenance services you need. Other systems are sold as-is and require constant maintenance that must be paid for on an hourly basis.
Therefore, it’s a good idea to ask:
- Does the website pricing include monthly or annual maintenance? If not, how much will maintenance cost?
- Are site backups included in the maintenance fees? If so, how often are backups made? Are they stored offsite?
- What happens if you want to make a change to the website’s design or text, such as changing a phone number or updating the ‘About’ page? Does that involve a fee, or can you make that change yourself?
- Do you need to purchase hosting, SSL certificates, etc. on an annual basis?
- Is it possible to export sales and customer data (just in case you need to change website providers)? If so, what is the process?
- What are some typical problems/issues that current customers run into, and how are those solved?
- Will the website provider be adding new features? If so, what are some features planned for the next month? Six months? Next year?
- Is it possible for a 3rd party (like a marketing company or independent designer) to edit or modify the design or layout of the site
- Do you offer any sort of security guarantee? What is my liability if your system’s security is breached and customer data is stolen?
- Do you offer any sort of uptime guarantee? If the site goes down for an extended period, can I cancel my contract and get a refund?
- If the site doesn’t function as promised, what recourse do I have?**
**NOTE: Some new providers (or new options from existing providers) have had problems with their platforms. If you’re going with a company that just started offering a new system in the last year or so, be sure to ask this question and get documentation on the answer.
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