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 on the web instead of in brick-and-mortar retail stores has grown drastically. By the end of 2023, online sales are expected to reach about 20.2% of all retail sales — and the number keeps growing.
This article will show you an easy way to set up your online business and help you take advantage of the drastic growth occurring across all market sectors.
- Develop your product first
- Choose a website builder or platform to create your store
- Select a template, products, shipping methods, and more
- Launch and market your website
Pick a Product or Niche
Before creating an online store, it’s important to know what you want to sell.
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. If you choose to build a site and return later to change your product or business plan, you may discover the design you created isn’t ideal and will have to redo much of it.
Also, you might want to consider developing a brand — this is important because it goes a long way toward establishing credibility for many products. You can sell some generic items, but the chance of people returning and buying more is greatly reduced if you haven’t established solid name recognition.
Pick a Website Builder or Platform
Various tools and platforms are available to help create your online store. These can vary from easy to use to more complex, but there’s usually a trade-off in flexibility. If you want to create a unique experience, it’s best 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 because the basic tools are free ― you still need to pay for some other things, and we’ll address this later ― it is fairly flexible for you 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 difficult to learn to use these platforms, there is likely to be some variation in the steps you need to follow, depending on which one you choose.
Choose a plan
Each online store platform has a series of plans. 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 even the “free” platforms require is that you purchase some web hosting, which provides the digital equivalent of a brick-and-mortar storefront. Your site must live on a server that 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 around $5 per month and up.
Register a domain
Your domain is your brand. It’s the way that users will find your site and remember you. In most cases, you will 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.
Choose 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 your web store’s design, look, and feel.
When you choose a template, note how you want your site to look, how easy it is to navigate, and how it feels to your customers.
Note: You can often change templates along the way; it may be seamless in many cases. However, if you have customized your site in any way, changing themes could take some work.
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. But there is a good deal more to the process than this.
Include this information:
- Name of the product
- A description, which should be clear, concise, and avoid jargon ― unless you are targeting a specific niche ― and keep your sentences short
- Category, especially if you list more than one type of product
- Dimensions and weight for physical products
- A file if the product is downloadable
It is also good to add some images, including ― in most cases ― a thumbnail and a high-quality image. You may wish to post more than one to give people a view of different angles and include a video. You will likely increase your sales if you can demonstrate your product well. People like to know what they are purchasing. Graphical content can greatly help, as most people process information visually.
Customize Your Store
You can customize your store at any point without adding products first. However, it might be easier to do so now so you can see how to position them. Choose a color scheme that best highlights your products and overall goal and feel of how you wish to present your store. Select 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 navigate 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 options you can use. It’s important to note that not all platforms will accept all methods.
Different delivery methods can include:
- Digital fulfillment service providers: Using a fulfillment service, you don’t need to keep stock on hand and the service will ship items to your customers.
- 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
A clear method for accepting payment 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.
Available options 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 must 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, you may wish to take a few other steps before immediately making your site available.
Install plug-ins and apps
If you are using tools such as WordPress, you must ensure the WooCommerce plug-in or alternative is installed. Once you have reached 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:
- Analytics-related plug-ins
- Seach engine optimization (SEO) plug-ins
- Security plug-ins
- Social media plug-ins
Preview and test
Before you launch, make sure you test your site 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 and products
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 use 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 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 you need solid descriptions beyond simple images to ensure your site is found. If you use WordPress, plug-ins, such as Yoast, can be helpful. Also, consider using the Moz plug-in for your browser.
Beyond organic SEO, you may wish to purchase some actual advertising. Pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns can effectively bring customers to your site to purchase your products. You can do this through many social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and powerful platforms like Google Ads.
Frequently Asked Questions About Starting an Online Store
How can I create my own online store?
There are many steps to developing an online store, including identifying your target market and products, planning methods for marketing and shipping, and more.
How much does it cost to start an online store?
The price varies depending on your chosen platform; even free platforms require some costs, like web hosting.
What is the best platform to make an online store?
WordPress is one of the most popular, but there are various choices.