How to setup an eCommerce Store in India?

I finally updated this post. You won’t believe how hard it was. I am a compulsive procrastinator :).

I have divided this mini-guide (sounds better than just an article) into many small sub-topics.

  • Platform and Payment Gateways
  • Shipping Logistics
  • Legal and Taxation

Setting Up Store

I am not going to focus on ‘why do you need an online store’ part. If you have already made up your mind and wanted to dive into the ecommerce boom, congrats and let’s move forward. Why have you made that decision, it’s totally up to you and I’m pretty cool about it.

You’ve two options when it comes to selling online:

  1. Sell on Marketplaces like Snapdeal, Amazon, ShopClues, Flipkart, PayTM (and other big names in this field)
  2. Build your own store

Marketplace vs You Own Store

Each has its pros and cons. Marketplaces have more money, better infrastructure and more customers. They invest heavily in marketing, infrastructure and take care of support and other important stuff. So, you can just upload your products there and wait for them to promote your products.

However your own store helps to build a brand. You are not lost in the marketplaces with other merchants. You also have better control on inventory, marketing and end-user experience. Marketplace might be a cheap option at start but their fee might be a problem in long run.

How about a hybrid approach? Introducing ‘Multi-channel Retailing’- Build your own store and get more customers and orders via those marketplace. We will be focusing on multi-channel retailing in a bit.

Ecommerce Platforms or Softwares

You have decided to build your own store and want to choose the best platform out there. One thing to understand – None of them is the perfect and each one has its of limitation and advantages.

My two favourites are Shopify and WooCommerce. Other popular alternatives are Zepo, KartRocket and Magento.

One thing to remember here- I am focusing on platforms for small business or one man operation.  If you are big enough, I would recommend building something from scratch.

Shopify brief review

Type- Hosted

Payment Gateways- PayU, PayUMoney, AirPay, CitrusPayments

Shopify-logo

Shopify comes at the top of my list of recommendation to a new store owner. Why? Because it’s the simplest platform out there with excellent customization. Period. I love this platform and will try not to be a big fan.

Shopify is DIY (Do It Yourself) hosted platform with affordable pricing (Plans start from just $29/month). You don’t have to think about designing, development, hosting or anything. Just choose one of the theme, upload products add payment gateway and you have your operation.

You don’t have to be a programmer or even hire a programmer to build your store. Its knowledge base is extensive and support guys are awesome and help you at every point.

Its App and theme Marketplace (Which is lacked helps you to add new feature or use a new design for free or added cost.

Scaling is easy. You don’t have to worry about switching boats when you get large, just opt for higher plan and you’re done.

M-Commerce or Mobile Commerce is very important and Shopify got you covered out there. All of Shopify themes are responsive and it’s checkout is optimized well for mobile devices.

It’s being used by more than 150,000 stores and the list is getting bigger every day. Just look at this chart from BuiltWith about new stores using Shopify.

Shopify Growth

Pros

  1. Easier to start
  2. Minimum Setup cost
  3. Affordable
  4. Awesome Support
  5. Owner friendly (Better UI than competitors and easier to adapt)
  6. Feature Packed
  7. Extensible with App Marketplace
  8. Scalable
  9. Mobile friendly
  10. Excellent support
  11. Good ecosystem

Cons

Shopify used to have a single payment gateway support before but that’s not the case anymore. Also it’s not as much as Customizable as WooCommerce.

Shopify Resources

  1. Shopify Trial 14 days (Need unlimited trial period? Send me an email)
  2. Shopify Stores in India

WooCommerce brief review

Type- Self-hosted

Payment Gateways- PayU and CCAvenue

WooCommerce

You have probably heard of WordPress and ease of use for publishing. WooCommerce is just a WordPress plugin which adds the Ecommerce part.

It was developed by WooThemes and recently got acquired by Automattic, the company behind WordPress. WooCommerce became very popular since its inception due to WordPress ecosystem and open source nature.

WooCommerce Growth

WooCommerce is self-hosted platform. So, you have to host it at your own server/hosting account and manage it yourself. That has its own set of pros and cons.

The positive things about WooCommerce and other self-hosted platform are they offer more control over your own site, it’s bit cheaper than hosted platform and offers more customization using unlimited plugins for almost anything. That’s the power of WordPress.

The negative of self-hosting is that it makes the setup and management bit harder for newbies. You have to understand and bother with frequent updates, plugins and performance optimization which is already taken care in platforms like Shopify.

However WooCommerce is very simple to use after the initial setup. It

WooCommerce and Shopify comparison come close when you compare the features. If you don’t mind a hosted platform, Go for Shopify or else choose WooCommerce.

Pros

  1. Cheaper than Hosted Platforms
  2. Unlimited customizability
  3. WordPress ecosystem
  4. Simple to use
  5. Scalable
  6. Mobile friendly with responsive themes

Cons

WooCommerce has higher setup costs, requires maintenance and paying for many plugins might be annoying.

Hosting/Server for WooCommerce

My two favourites are MediaTemple and SiteGround.

MediaTemple is a good choice if you need excellent 24*7 support, Fast server and easy user interface at affordable price (starts from $20/month for 2 sites, 400,000 visits).

SiteGround is cheaper than MediaTemple (Starts for $3.95/month for single sites and 10,000 visits) but lacks the support standard of MediaTemple and user interface.

WooCommerce Resources

  1. WooCommerce Plugin
  2. MediaTemple and SiteGround
  3. WooCommerce Themes Free and Paid

KartRocket and Zepo

They are new Indian player and trying to be the Shopify of India. Honestly, they still need to evolve more to bridge the gap between their Canadian counterpart (Shopify).

One can think about using them because of their tight integration (Special pricing for the merchants) with Payment Gateways and Logistics and Indian Support.

I have heard good things about Zepo team. No direct experience with KartRocket but recent investments in the company gives good hope. I’ll write about KartRocket is depth when I have reviewed it.

Magento

Magento is the big brother. It is the most popular ecommerce platform. However it is not suitable for a single man operation and bulky for small stores. Setup cost is much higher than any other platform listed here.

Shipping and Order Fulfilment 

You will need a courier service to deliver your products to the customers.     Boom in Ecommerce has also helped the Shipping and Logistics business and there are many new players (Delhivery, Ecom Express, GoJavas etc) in this field now.

No clear winner here. I am just going to list the popular ones and contact their local representative and get the best deal.

  1. Bluedart
  2. Fedex
  3. DTDC
  4. Aramex
  5. Delhivery
  6. Ecomexpress
  7. GoJavas
  8. FirstFlight
  9. UPS

You also might want to offer the Shipment tracking to your customers. These are some Shipment tracker and Logistic solutions to help you out.

  1. Aftership
  2. ShipRocket
  3. Mypacco

Multi-channel Retailing

I mentioned about the Multi-channel retailing at the start. It might be a good way to generate more revenue and customers using those big players.

How do you do it?

You can upload your products to the marketplaces directly and manually manage inventory at your store backend. However the task is daunting and therefore we have integration to automate this.

Two of the popular names here are BrownTape and Unicommerce. No Direct experience again (Meh! So much for being an ecommerce consultant) but choose the one which integrates with your store software.

Legals and Taxation

It’s not required to set up a company to do ecommerce. You can be registered as a sole proprietor and that should be enough. However some payment gateways asks for Business ownership documentation, so it’s better to just register an LLP. I have been a partner in LLP and it’s very easy to setup.

You can also consult your Lawyer friend or a CA for more detail.

You can get details about taxation here and here.

Did I miss anything? Do you have something to add? What would you want me to write about next? Use the comment box below.

How much does it cost to run this blog?

I just migrated to WordPress. But I still love Jekyll. More about it later. 

$15/year- Yes, you read it right. I just have to pay for the domain renewal each year. It could have been even lower if I switched to a different domain registrar.

I use GitHub Pages for hosting. It is free and reliable with great uptime.

My CMS (Content Management System) Jekyll, integrated beautifully with GitHub Pages. Thanks to the static files, The blog is amazingly faster than it used to be on WordPress. If you know how to use GitHub and MarkDown syntax. you will love Jekyll.

If you are not very technical, just get a domain and use Blogger or Tumblr. Both of them are ad free (unlike WordPress.com) and reliable.

I use MadMimi for email marketing. I don’t have a big list (You should subscribe though), so its free plan is enough.

Some other tools being used are InspectletGoogle Tag Manager and Google Analytics. All of them are free (except Inspectlet) and recommended.

Factors to look for when choosing an Ecommerce platform

I work with a number of ecommerce softwares and platforms each day. Some of them are lovely and some of them are terrible.

A number of people ask which ecommerce platform or software is the best one. You can’t recommend one without understanding the requirement of end user.

If I have to name an ideal platform for small or medium businesses (Large or enterprise business can ask their IT consultant), these features will be the available in it.

Factors to look for when choosing an Ecommerce platform

  1. Good Templates
  2. Standard Features
  3. Owner friendliness
  4. Affordable
  5. Documentation and Community
  6. Extensible
  7. Secure
  8. Scalable

Good templates

The software or platform should at least come with some well structured and responsive templates. It doesn’t have to be out of the box design but it should be good looking, minimal, responsive and easily customizable. One can make the theme work by just doing basic editing .

Thus, a new user doesn’t have to invest a lot of time or money to make a store which doesn’t suck.

Shopify has always been at top here. Their templates are great and well designed from start. They are also easily customizable and provide good experience.

BigCommerce used to have ancient looking themes but they recently launched some really well designed themes and now they are back to business.

WooCommerce might need some work in here. It’s basically a plugin and need a theme on top of it. I couldn’t find any free responsive theme for Volusion.

Standard Features

Standard features just contains basic functionalities of an ecommerce store. A platform should have customer area, cart & checkout page, product and category pages, shipping and fullfilment and seo and marketing friendliness etc.

BigCommerce aces here. It comes with more feature than any other popular platform and they are important for marketing and other purpose. Shopify and WooCommerce both also has nice set of features but not as much as BigCommerce.

Owner Friendliness

The backend (Admin area) of the platform should be owner friendly. It should allow very easy interface to manage store. There should be a good looking a detailed dashboard to list important things and user experience to perform all management tasks should be not weary.

Shopify and BigCommerce both has excellent backend but I will give more points to Shopify. Shopify literately wows. WooCommerce has good backend too but again as a WordPress plugin you don’t have much option.

Affordable

Affordability counts. You don’t want to spend thousand of dollars to start. The ongoing cost should be minimum. There shouldn’t be any hidden costs.

Shopify plans start from $29/month and BigCommerce plans start from $34.95/month. WooCommerce is self-hosted but a good VPS should cost you around $25/month.

Documentation and Community

Most of the small stores are one-man (or one woman, no discrimination) operations. Owners want to do most of the thing by themselves and proper documentation and community helps to learn.

Shopify’s community is more rich. They have a ecommerce university, detailed documentation, popular blog and forum. BigCommerce also has engaging forum and documentation available. WooCommerce gets some points here too because of its WordPress dependency.

Extensible

Everyone wants assurance that their store can have more features in future if required. Built-in features are good but not sufficient.

Integration with other apps and services is also mandatory these day. Store is incomplete without Google Analytics integration. Email marketing is required for more sales. That’s where extensibility comes.

Shopify and BigCommerce both has app ecosystem. Shopify’s app marketplace is more rich and has useful application. BigCommerce adopted the marketplace model late but gaining. WooCommerce plugins are being development every single day.

Secure

A platform should offer security feature to both users and owner. The data should be safe and security mechanisms (Such as SSL) should be used by default.

BigCommerce and Shopify both has excellent security, Both of them offer free shared SSL. You can also opt for your own SSL for a price. WooCommerce is somehow less secure than these platform. It’s not because of the WordPress but hosting a store by an unexperienced person attracts more threats.

Scalable

Scalability is important when you want to grow. Everyone wants to grow at some point and the platform should support it. You can add more contents and features, handle more traffic, target different demographics without any pain.

As a hosted platform, BigCommerce and Shopify both has different pricing tier. If you are growing, you just switch to an upgraded plan. Shopify recently launched a program called ‘Shopify Plus‘ for Enterprises. BigCommerce also supports custom plan for enterprise needs.

Scaling with WooCommerce requires more efforts. You need to be more technical or hire technical guy to support scalability.

I hope from now on, you will think about these parameters before choosing an platform.

Track External (Outbound) Links in Universal Google Analytics

This solution is only helpful if you are using the new Universal Analytics. If you have a WordPress blog, just use the Google Analytics for WordPress plugin by Yoast and you are good.

We’ll be using Event tracking here and the code automatically logs an event when there is a click on external links.

Steps for tracking external links, downloads, email links automatically

  1. Include jQuery in your site header.
  2. Download and host this file somewhere and then include it in site header.

That should work. It will create an event with ‘links’ category, ‘click’ action and the external link as label every time there is a click on external link.

auto-link-tracking

You can find the clicks report in your Google Analytics under Content << Events << Top Events. Connect via twitter if facing a problem.

Affiliate/Referral Marketing campaign for Indian Retailers

No one has written about affiliate/referral campaigns targeting Indian retailers. So, I am adding my two cents here.

Affiliate vs Referral

Note- I’ll be using a/r as a short-cut for Affiliate/Referral in this article.

Do you need an Affiliate or Referral marketing campaign?

You might be wondering if your business needs such campaigns. You’re already spending a good amount of money into different channels. You’re doing SEO, PPC, Re-marketing and Social marketing etc. Why invest time and resources in another marketing channel?

The answer is Yes. You do need a/r marketing campaign. If managed correctly, these campaigns might become an important asset.

Some facts:

  • Total Number of Affiliates have increased by 42% in 2012.
  • ‘Online Affiliate’ was voted #1 job of 2012 by a recent article from MSNBC.
  • A referred customer has a 16% higher life-time value (LTV) according to The Wharton School Business.
  • 83% of satisfied customers are willing to refer.

Advantages:

  • Pay for performance model helps for controlling costs.
  • More exposure and buzz helps brand to gain more recognition

Difference between an affiliate and referral marketing campaign

An affiliate has financial motivation. He doesn’t know about the referred customers personally and uses a broadcasting medium to promote.

Referral marketing is based on the relationship between referrer and potential customers rather than financial motivation. A referrer recommends to his friends or family members using direct communication.

Businesses using a/r campaigns in India

I’m not really sure about the exact number but these popular stores are benefiting from such campaigns.

  1. Flipkart
  2. Jabong
  3. Myntra
  4. MakeMyTrip
  5. Yatra
  6. FreeCultr
  7. Via

And the list goes on.

Tools/Services which help for setting up a/r campaigns

There are a numbers of platforms/tools which can be used. Some of the businesses listed above use their custom software.

If you want to launch your own a/r campaign easily and quickly, you can use the services listed below.

ReferralCandy

ReferralCandy is a service which lets you create a referral marketing campaign. Plans starts from Rs 700/month and it integrates with almost every single ecommerce platform.

ReferralCandy Indian customers- Yatra & FersnPetals

iDevAffiliate

iDevAffiliate is hosted software for Affiliate Marketing and it integrates with most of the carts/platforms. It also supports Indian currency and its licences are available from $99.

iDevAffiliate Indian Customer – Hostgator India

OMGPM

OMGPM is an affiliate network used by popular merchants. It seems to be most popular affiliate network solution present now.

OMGPM Indian Customers – BabyOYE

Getting more from a/r campaign

  • Fix your Conversion Rate if you’re willing to use Affiliate campaign. Affiliates hate low converting websites.
  • Test incentives and promotional materials to find out which drives more conversion
  • Connect with affiliates/referrers at regular basis. Teaching them a bit about marketing will benefit both parties.

I hope the article helps. If you have any questions or something to add, please use the twitter link below or contact page.