The time is better than ever for creating an online store. While purchasing goods and services online has been successful for a long time, the interest in purchasing online instead of in brick-and-mortar retail stores has grown drastically. By the end of 2021, online sales are expected to reach over 17.5% of all sales, and the number keeps growing.
In this article, we will show you an easy way to set up your online business and help you take advantage of the drastic growth that is occurring across all sectors of the market.
Pick a product or niche
Before you create an online store, it’s important to have an idea of what it is you want to sell. Do you have a specific product in mind? You can create a successful business selling only one item. However, you might have a larger set of products you wish to move.
One thing that is important is that your product is more important than the store itself. If you don’t spend time working out a business plan, researching the market for competition, and finding the right item, you won’t sell much ― no matter how fancy or slick your online store is. Beyond this, if you choose to build a site and then have to go back later to change your product or business plan, you may discover that the design you created isn’t ideal, and you will have to redo much of what you’ve already done.
You might also want to consider developing a brand. Branding is important because it goes a long way toward establishing credibility for many products. Obviously, you can sell some generic items, but the chance of people coming back to you and buying more is greatly reduced if you haven’t established some solid name recognition.
Pick a website builder or platform
There is a wide variety of different tools and platforms that are available for you to help create your online store. These can vary from easy to use to more complex, but there’s almost always a trade-off in flexibility. If you want to create a unique experience, you might want to make sure you can modify your site.
Here are a few useful tools and platforms that are popular due to their ease of use and flexibility:
- WordPress is one of the most popular platforms due to the fact that the basic tools are free ― you still need to pay for some other things, and we’ll address this later ― and that it is fairly flexible for you to be able to create elaborate content. E-commerce is easy to implement with the WooCommerce plug-in.
- Wix is ideal for people who want to get an online store up quickly but lack much technical expertise. Sites can be built from templates easily.
- Shopify is one of the most popular e-commerce platforms as it provides a one-stop-shop for putting together online stores quickly. This also includes hosting.
- Squarespace is another popular and easy-to-use online platform that enables you to create an online store.
- Square Online was created to pair with its popular payment processing hardware for small regional shops. It provides the tools for creating a free online store.
While it’s not terribly difficult to learn to use these platforms, there is likely to be some variation in the steps that you need to follow, depending on which one you choose.
Choose a plan
Each of these different online store platforms has a series of plans. You need to spend some time researching these to determine which one best complements the product or business you have. The pricing varies from “free” (with caveats) to more expensive for more products and flexibility.
Get web hosting
To exist online, one thing that even the “free” platforms require is that you purchase some web hosting. Web hosting provides the digital equivalent to the brick-and-mortar storefront of a store. Your site must live on a “server,” which serves content to those who wish to access it. There is some variation between platforms. Some provide hosting as part of their packages like Shopify and Wix. Others, such as WordPress, need to be hosted on a server. Typically, you can find introductory web hosting for as little as $5 per month and up.
Register a domain
Your domain is your brand. It’s the way that users will not only find your site but how they will remember you. In most cases, you want to register a domain name if you want to exist as an online store. The cost is not exorbitant and is sometimes included in the platform. In other cases, you may want to register your domain yourself.
Pick a template
With most online storefront platforms, you can either build a site using their tools or use many templates or themes that will become the design, look, and feel of your online store. There is a wide range of options that are available, especially with WordPress, ranging from free to a small fee.
When you choose a template, you need to note not only how you want your site to look but how easy it is to navigate and how it feels to your customers. There are free options, but they may have some drawbacks. One thing to keep in mind is you usually get what you pay for.
Note: You can often change templates along the way and, in many cases, it may be seamless. However, if you have customized your site in any way, changing themes could take some work.
Of course, you need to add your products to your store. Every platform has a different method for handling this.
At the most basic level, you need a listing of your products and a method of adding them to a shopping cart and purchasing them. However, there is a good deal more to the process than this.
Information that you need to add includes:
- Name of the product
- A description, which should be clear, concise, and avoid any jargon ― unless you are targeting a specific niche ― and keep your sentences short.
- Category, especially if you are listing more than one type of product
- Dimensions and weight for physical products
- A file if the product is downloadable
You also want to include some images, including ― in most cases ― a thumbnail and a high-quality image. You may wish to include more than one if you want to give people a view of different angles. You can also include a video. If you can demonstrate your product well, you will likely increase your sales. People like to know what it is that they are purchasing. Graphical content can help a lot with this as most people process information visually.
Customize your store
You can customize your store at any point. You don’t necessarily need to have added products first. However, it might be easier to do so at this point so that you can see how you wish them to be positioned. You want to choose a color scheme that best highlights your products and overall goal and feel of how you wish to present your store. Choose a font that conveys the feel of the site, but make sure it is readable.
Keep the overall customer experience in mind. Consider usability and user experience (UX) as a major part of how you want your site to feel to customers. This means creating clear navigation with good menus and icons to help people find their way around the site.
Set up a shipping method
If you are selling physical products, you need to have a method of ensuring that items are sent properly to your customers. There are numerous different options that you can use. It’s important to note that not all platforms will accept all methods.
The different types of delivery methods can include:
- Dropshipping: This is where a store keeps no products in stock but depends on the manufacturer or supplier to send items when they have been purchased. Good platform options for dropshipping include Wix and Shopify (Squarespace and Square Online do not provide this option)
- Shipping management tools: These are provided by all major platforms
- Printable shipping labels: Many platforms provide this as part of their service
Set up a payment method
You need to be able to have a clear method for accepting payment. This is a central part of setting up an e-commerce website. All major platforms allow integration with major payment gateways, often through third-party providers.
Options that are available include:
- Apple Pay
- Google Pay
Some providers, such as Wix and Square Online, provide their own systems.
Set up taxes properly
In many cases, if you intend to sell products, you need to set up methods for collecting sales tax on purchases. Taxes vary by location, and you often need to take into account the location of the customer to make sure you are collecting the right type or amount of tax. You also need to be aware of your specific shipping origin. Taxes can follow local, federal, or international rules.
Launch your site
Once you have all of the above in order, it’s time to launch your site to the public. However, there are a few other steps you may wish to take before immediately making yourself available.
Install plug-ins and apps
If you are using tools, such as WordPress, you must make sure that the WooCommerce plug-in or alternative is installed. Of course, if you’ve gotten to this point, you probably already have this taken care of. There are several other types of plug-ins you might want to consider. These can include:
- Social media plug-ins
Preview & Test
Before you launch, make sure you test it out thoroughly. You don’t want customers to have a bad experience, or they’ll leave and never come back. Make sure everything works before clicking that publish button.
Market your store & products
Of course, if you want to be able to reach customers, you need to market your store continually. This is an ongoing process, and your competition often will be right at your heels if you let this drop. You can use several techniques, including setting up analytics, blogging, SEO, and creating ad campaigns.
Set up analytics
Analytics like Google Analytics or other tools available from platform providers can tell you a lot about how customers are using your site. Keep a close eye on your marketing activities, and you can see what works and what doesn’t. You can track various marketing campaigns and even spot places where your site is losing customers.
On the web, it has been said that “content is king.” By creating a blog for your site, you can keep your customers engaged. Not only can they learn about new product offerings, but also you can boost your SEO scores simply by providing new ways to access your site. You can use your blog to funnel customers directly into purchasing specific products.
SEO is the art of generating traffic organically to your site by improving your search engine rankings. Make sure you use good keywords that people are searching for. You can learn a lot about this from your analytics. Also. remember that you need good descriptions beyond simple images to make sure your site is found. If you are using WordPress, plug-ins, such as Yoast, can be very helpful. Also, consider using the Moz plug-in for your browser.
Of course, beyond organic SEO, you may wish to purchase some actual advertising. PPC campaigns can be effective at bringing customers to your site to purchase your products. You can do this through many social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and also through powerful platforms like Google Ads.