Here is a list of everything you need to run a successful ecommerce business. The recommendations here are personal – it’s what I use to run my own business and after 15 years in ecommerce I’ve tried an awful lot of tools to settle on the best (with an emphasis on affordability / return on investment). I’m always trying out new things so bookmark this post to revisit periodically. If you’ve got a particular query, pop it in the comments below or ask away in the Facebook group. Some of the links are affiliate links which means I get a small payment if you decide to use the service. There are no extra charges to you and I only include tools in here because I use them too.
Shopify is my number 1 choice for ecommerce software – you can see one of my sites that’s using the platform here. Why do I love it? It’s cloud based which means you can access it from anywhere in the world and you don’t have to worry about installing software or maintaining your own hosting for your site.
There are a huge variety of free and customised themes to style your shop to your chosen look and with some basic html knowledge you can tweak most things on your site. Again it’s very simple and intuitive to use and you can quickly get going. For those of you with a lot of products to sell, there are bulk product editing tools and you can import new lines and edit via CSV files. I’ve found it very easy to train new staff on how to use it and because it is such a popular platform, if you plan on using virtual assistants, it will be easy to find those who are experienced in working with it.
Load times are fast and the inbuilt search engine optimisation features make it easy to optimise product pages. There is also an inbuilt blog although it is a bit limited.
Another huge advantage of Shopify is the app store, which allows you to add almost every conceivable feature you can think of to your store with one click installs.
Because Shopify is one of the biggest ecommerce platforms in the world, other companies like email marketing services provide simple integrations so you can get your shop talking to your accounting software, your email marketing service etc. Shopify provide free phone and tablet apps to keep an eye on your business when you’re out and about.
From a marketing point of view, it’s also the only ecommerce platform that Pinterest is integrating their buyable pins with at the moment (a feature not rolled out to the UK market yet). In the meantime, us UK folk will have to remain content with the easy social sharing buttons and rich pin features.
You can also process telephone orders via the admin area of your shop and if you have a physical shop or tradestand, Shopify Point Of Sale (POS) is now available at no extra cost and you can run this of a tablet instead of having to invest in expensive purpose built tills.
PRICE: From $29 /month
This is my choice for accounts software – bliss after years of battling with Sage! It’s cloud based so you can access it from anywhere, is very simple to use as a non-accounting person and you can also grant 3rd party access so your book keeper and account can work on it too.
It does everything you’d expect an accounts package to do such as invoicing, VAT returns and payroll. You can set up recurring invoices for people who need invoicing weekly / monthly etc. for the same amount and if you hook up your payment processor (paypal, stripe etc) people can pay their invoices directly from the invoices they are emailed.
Because it’s cloud based there are a lot of other services that easily link with it, so you can import transactions from paypal, your bank accounts etc, to easily reconcile them. I have my ecommerce shops linked up to kashflow so every sale / refund etc goes straight into my accounts software which is a huge time saver. If you combine it with receipt bank (see below) you can go almost totally paperless with your accounts too.
PRICE: From £5 per month
Receipt Bank does what it says on the tin – it safely stores your receipts electronically (which is acceptable to HMRC). No more shoeboxes stuffed full of tatty bits of paper! You can post items to Receipt Bank to sort. Alternatively and what I do, is use their mobile app to take a photo of the receipt and upload it for processing. You can also scan in the items if you’d prefer.
I don’t just use this for receipts but most invoices too. Once your paperwork is securely loaded into Receipt Bank it analyses the content, groups it by supplier and it’s then ready to publish into your accounts software. Once inside Kashflow (it works with other cloud account packages too) your receipts are posted as transactions, attached to supplier records and if you need to view the original invoice at any point you can download a copy of it straight from the transaction record in Kashflow. I’ve found this to be a huge time saver and has massively reduced the boxes of paperwork from previous years.
PRICE: From £9.99 per month
Linnworks is the hub of my business. There’s a lot of emphasis on your ecommerce platform of choice and marketing tools and far less chat in general on the backend engine of your business – order processing, inventory control and supplier management. As your business grows this gets more and more important.
Linnworks integrates with over 65 different marketplaces, website platforms and shipping providers. It allows you to pull orders from multiple channels (your own site, Amazon, Ebay etc.) into one area for processing. Create pick lists for faster warehouse picktimes, customise invoices and packing lists and integrate directly into your shipping service to print shipping labels.
Your inventory is stock controlled from one place, so if you sell an item on one channel such as Ebay, it will adjust the stock on all other channels. Plus you can bulk list to channels such as Amazon using easy to build templates.
Placing orders with suppliers is quick and easy using the purchase order modules and you can either set minimum stock levels or allow the predictive ordering to take the strain. Once orders are delivered, check for any price increases and quickly book the stock into your warehouse.
You can also use linnworks for 3rd party fulfilment, including fulfilment by Amazon (FBA).
PRICE: From £12 per month
Helpscout is cloud based helpdesk software. It is ideal for handling ecommerce customer service emails and allows you to manage multiple channels in one interface. Want to answer Amazon, Ebay and your own ecommerce site emails in one inbox? Now you can. Want to manage multiple ecommerce site email inboxes in one place? Now you can. For larger companies, you can easily manage teams and delegate messages between yourselves. For solopreneurs, you can use the Helpscout app to easily respond to customers on the go.
It integrates with leading ecommerce software platforms, including shopify, so you can view order history within helpscout too.
Autoresponders, saved replies (like gmail canned responses), notes and tagging help you stay super organised and give great customer service.
PRICE: Free starter plan. Paid plans start from $20 per month
If you need to host a wordpress site I’d thoroughly recommend WP Engine. This site runs on WP Engine hosting, as do the blogs for my ecommerce sites (I personally dislike the blog in Shopify, finding it a bit limited).
WP Engine has 24/7 technical support with support agents who actually know how to deal with wordpress issues (not the case when I’ve hosted elsewhere, ahem hostgator).
There are daily backups and you can easily make manual backups (before installing new plugins etc.). You can also easily push sites from live to staging to make larger changes in a test environment and then push the test site live when you’re ready.
You can certainly find cheaper wordpress hosting but the combination of speed, reliability and support makes it a sensible investment in my opinion.
PRICE: From $29 per month
This allows you to access all your files, from word documents to photos across multiple computers, tablets, phones etc. You can easily share files or whole folders with staff, customers & your suppliers.
Because everything lives in the cloud, when you destroy your laptop by spilling a glass of wine on it (just me then…) you won’t lose your files. You can also access them from any other computer in the world with your login.
It’s free to use – if you sign up via this link you’ll receive 500MB extra storage on top of your allowance.
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