Countdown to Launch

Countdown to Launching a New Store

Launching a new eCommerce store is an exciting time. You and your team have worked hard creating the design, adding products and configuring about a thousand settings. Your warehouse is prepared to ship and you’re ready to begin processing orders.

Now, it’s just a quick “flip of the switch.”

Or, is it?

Ensuring Launch Success

We’ve been through so many launches with clients, the process is “old hat” to us. Nevertheless, we follow our own checklist for launch, as we don’t want to miss one crucial step. More importantly, by sharing our launch sequence with our clients, they better understand the myriad tasks that go into a successful reveal.

Countdown to Launch InfographicThe infographic on this page shows our 10-step approach to the launch of a new store. And while the graphic may give the impression a successful launch is but a few, quick tasks, the reality is that activating a new, live online store is dozens and dozens of tasks, grouped into these ten steps.

Before the Countdown

Before we even begin this countdown, there are many more tasks to complete beyond the construction and content of a new store:

  • Preparation of marketing campaigns and materials.
  • Enrollment and testing of payment gateways.
  • Setting up shipping accounts and price calculations.
  • Product fulfillment.
  • Fraud, returns and other customer service policies.
  • Branding of email templates and other graphic elements.

And much more. Having all that in hand, though, does make the launch sequence much more manageable.

The Launch Sequence

With the infographic as a reference, let’s expand on each of the steps for a bit more clarity.

Test, Test & Test Again

There can never be too much testing of a new store before going live. Everyone on your team should try to break the store. Seriously. It’s better to find bugs and errors now, then to suffer the consequences of your customers finding them.

To successfully test, you need a Test Plan. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but you should:

  1. Create scenarios to test various aspects of your store: buying one item and getting one free; trying to ship to somewhere you don’t deliver; using discount codes for particular products; requesting a return or refund. Be creative — put yourself in your customers’ shoes.
  2. Put your payment gateways in test or sandbox mode. You need to test the entire checkout process.
  3. Use different names and email addresses for each scenario. If your email uses Google mail, here’s a neat trick: add “+” and anything else after your name, and the email will still go to your email account. For example, if your email is sam@mystore.com, you can set up new customer test accounts using sam+1@mystore.com or sam+test1@mystore.com or whatever, and each of these emails will go to your sam@mystore.com account. Cool, huh?
  4. Review all the response emails, too.
  5. Confirm your process of fulfilling orders. Pretend to ship orders and observe how customers are notified.

Above all, have fun with your testing. Don’t consider it a chore; look at it as a preventative measure that could end up preventing the loss of sales (and income).

Repoint Domain

We won’t go into a lot of detail here, as there are many, many different domain servers, each with different ways of managing domain name records. The important point here is that you set up your domain name so that if someone enters “mystore.com” into their browser, it will automatically change to “www.mystore.com.” Always having the same domain URL point to your store will improve your SEO.

It should be noted here that in today’s eCommerce — or for any website, actually — your entire site should be SSL encrypted. Not just the checkout: the whole site. If you’re using Shopify or BigCommerce, that’s automatic. However, if you’re using an open source platform, such as Magento or WooCommerce, don’t let your developer miss on providing your store with complete SSL encryption. And just having “https://” in the URL doesn’t mean the entire store is SSL. Test your store using such tools as Why No Padlock to verify that every piece of your store (html, css, javascript, images) is securely delivered.

Activate Payments

Once you’ve completely tested your site, you can take your payment gateways out of sandbox mode. For gateways such as Stripe, it’s a quick setting in their admin site; for others, such as PayPal Standard or Payments, it requires obtaining and entering a new set of API credentials. After you have activated your gateway, you should still do a quick purchase (and refund) to make sure it’s working correctly. Check your gateway admin site, as well, to make sure the payment went through.

Optimize for SEO

If your store has lots of products, you may have not had time to go through and create SEO-rich page titles and meta descriptions (don’t worry about meta keywords; they’re obsolete). If that’s the case, consider building those formulaically. Most eCommerce platforms have add-ons or features to help with that. If not, you can also consider exporting your products, using spreadsheet formulas to build the content, then re-importing the products back into your store. The important thing is that no two products or pages in your site have the same page title or meta description. Duplication of these will negatively impact your SEO.

All pages need to be optimized, too. Images need ALT tags and text links should have TITLE tags. And there’s a lot more (too much to discuss here). Once you have completed your SEO optimization, run an SEO Audit of your site (we use Raven Tools for our clients) and see what omissions or errors your site might have.

You do want to complete your SEO before or as soon after launch as possible. You’ll want Google and Bing to quickly and easily absorb your site.

Connect Analytics & Search

If you’re not paying attention to Google Analytics and Google Search for your store, you’re going to miss out on very key information that could truly make or break your success. Most merchants will connect to Google Analytics, but few even know about Google Search. Furthermore, how you set up Google Analytics is as important as connecting. Configuring for eCommerce, demographics, goals and more takes time and expertise. If you don’t know how to do this, find someone that does — it’s that important!

Google Search will help you understand how people are finding you in Google’s organic listings. You may think you know what search terms people will use, but you’ll probably be surprised at what customers actually use as search phrases to find your store. Furthermore, Google Search will show you how successfully (or not) Google is indexing your site and if you have any errors that are preventing Google from doing a successful index.

Create Email Automations

While the conversion rate of abandoned cart emails are low, they nevertheless represent sales you might not otherwise have captured. There are various theories about how many follow up emails to send — and how often — so you may want to experiment over time. However, you should be using a tool that allows you to create a series of follow up emails. If allowed, you may want to construct your automations based on the types of products or the value of the cart contents, as well.

We generally use MailChimp for our client email programs. The reason being that MailChimp integrates with just about everything. Plus, it has incredibly sophisticated segmentation features so you can segment your customers according to demographics, buying habits, products, and more. You can even have MailChimp profile your customers by capturing their social media profiles! Don’t forget to build campaigns to lure previous customers back with exclusive incentives.

You should also have a trickle after-sale campaign. Nothing makes a customer happier than to receive an email from the CEO thanking them for their purchase and suggesting ways the customer can get more from the merchant-customer relationship. This is in addition to the regular emailed invoice receipt.

Configure Promotions

To spur initial sales, it’s not uncommon to offer special incentives, such as discounts, free shipping or free add-ons. There are many ways you can incentivize your customers, including offering an Instant Discount if they sign up for your newsletter, promoting a Buy One, Get One (BOGO) free offer, or emailing a coupon off their next purchase. The best incentive is usually to provide free or low-cost, flat-rate shipping. You’ll need to do a lot of calculating and testing to find the right shipping configuration that works within your margins. You should also configure your store to present related or cross-sell products to help raise your Average Order Value (AOV).

Schedule & Launch Promos

There is an art and science to building on-site promotions, such as pop-ups and banners. We do a lot of testing with our clients to measure effectiveness through A/B testing and careful review of site analytics. The tool we use that gives us the best return for the buck in this department is OptinMonster. It’s incredibly easy to use, yet flexible enough to allow us to build all types of custom-branded on-site promotional materials.

Initiate Ad Campaigns

Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is a very complex subject. If you have little or no experience with AdWords or Facebook ads, we highly suggest you find an agency who does. It’s an ever-evolving field and it’s very, very easy to lose your shirt paying for ad clicks that result in no real sales conversions. However, as a new store, you’re not going to rank high in search engines in the beginning. PPC ads can help level the playing field for you by giving you “first page” presence.

Set-up Site Monitoring

For hosted platforms, such as Shopify and BigCommerce, making sure your site is up and running is not as much of a concern as these companies actively monitor their operations around the clock. However, if you’re hosting a Magento or WooCommerce site, consider using a third-party tool, such as Pingdom, to keep an eye on your site and alert you if the site is inaccessible. The worst thing that can happen is for you to find out mid-way through the day that your site has been down or inoperable since you left the office yesterday.

Have Fun

After you launch your store, our best advice is to enjoy yourself. You’ve created a new online business, and if you work it correctly, you should be able to create a growing source of income while building value in a marketable asset.

Note: many of the links in this article are affiliate links for which we may receive compensation.

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Bret Williams

Bret is the a co-founder and the Managing Partner of novusweb®. He is also author of several books on Magento and e-commerce and is sought as a speaker and trainer. Bret has been crafting internet innovations since 1995.