How to start an online store in 6 easy steps
Online shopping is growing by the year—nine times faster than in-store sales. It's safe to say that the millions of people choosing ecommerce stores aren't going anywhere, which means joining them on the web may be your best opportunity to profit. The first step you need to take is learning how to start an online store.
Selling online is easier than ever. As ecommerce platforms advance, building an online business is becoming simpler — to the point where you don't need any web-building experience to fly through the process with ease.
What you do need, however, is an understanding of the steps required to prepare your ecommerce business for launch. To ensure you don't have any missing pieces before you start your ecommerce marketing process, we've put together this step-by-step guide for creating your own online store:
How to start an online store: 6-step process
Before you dive into our ecommerce site setup, keep in mind that this is a process built for virtually anyone to complete—no technical skills necessary. Our guide is focused on helping you set up your store using beginner-friendly ecommerce website builders, which tend to be far more intuitive for most users.
If you have more advanced technical skills or already have a WordPress site for your business, you can always build your store using an ecommerce plug-in like WooCommerce instead. This route will give you endless customization options, though building your site may take a lot more time and a bit of coding knowledge, especially since WordPress doesn't offer direct customer support. But some of the steps listed below will still apply to you.
Now, let's dive into exactly how to start an online store of your own.
1. Create your business plan
The first item you need to check off your to-do list is creating a plan for your online store. Even if you already have a solid business model for your brick-and-mortar store, running an online shop is often an entirely different beast that demands new strategies and tactics. After all, you'll have hundreds, maybe thousands of direct competitors selling right alongside you on the web.
You'll want to include elements like the following in your plan:
- Who your target audience is
- Who your competition is
- What makes you stand out
- What you'll sell
- How you'll source and ship products, or how you'll provide services
- What marketing strategies and tactics you'll use
Again, all of this should be considered in the context of running an ecommerce shop, so you may find this plan slightly different from your plan for your physical storefront (if you have one). You may find a need to limit your catalog, target a slightly different demographic, and use new marketing channels.
However, your branding—including your brand name, colors, logo, mission, and values—should remain stable and central to your messaging. If your online store will be your only store and you haven't already decided on your brand, you'll need to flesh out more details about your branding before proceeding.
2. Choose an ecommerce platform
Next, you'll want to choose the right ecommerce website builder for your business. Every platform offers a variety of plans with different features and price points, but here are a few popular options that you can choose from:
- Shopify: A well-rounded, customizable ecommerce solution, starting at $29 per month
- Wix: A beginner-friendly website builder, starting at $23 per month
- BigCommerce: An easily scalable option for growing brands, starting at $29.95 per month
- Squarespace: A simple drag-and-drop store builder, starting at $18 per month
- Weebly: A simple builder with great marketing capabilities, starting with a free plan
As you're shopping for the right plan for you, make sure you look at the available ecommerce features that each one provides. Lower-tier plans often come with higher transaction fees and fewer product pages, while higher-tier plans may offer robust analytics and better marketing tools.
To dive in even further, consider which built-in payment processor features each website builder offers. You can always invest in a different one as you grow. However, your platform's existing payment processing option should be a good starting point, especially for small businesses, and it should enable you to accept all major credit cards, among other payment methods.
Most great ecommerce plans should come with SSL security, which will keep your and your customers' data protected. You'll also want to consider how much site storage you'll get, and whether or not you'll get customer support.
3. Select your domain name
Once you've chosen your website builder plan, you'll need to select a memorable domain name for your business. To ensure your customers can easily reach your site, we recommend choosing one that's as close to your business name as possible. However, if you have a particularly long name (like Smith's Auto Supply Shop), you'll probably want to aim for a shorter domain name (smithsauto.com).
Many website builders do offer a free domain, at least for a certain time period, so you may be able to select your domain as part of your signup process. However, if your builder doesn't offer this, you already own a domain, or you want to buy an existing one from someone, you can always transfer a separately purchased domain name to your chosen ecommerce platform. Sites like Google Domains and GoDaddy make it easy to purchase domains outside your website builder.
4. Build and customize your store template
Ecommerce website builders are easy to design because they offer great templates for you to start from. Beyond shopping for a look you like, you should also seek a template that gives you your desired shop features, and one that would be intuitive for your shoppers to navigate. A mobile-friendly theme—which should be pretty easy to find—is also a must.
Specific online shop features to consider include:
- The homepage
- The catalog
- The product pages
- The navigation
- The overall layout
- How customizable the template is
Once you've selected your template, start customizing it for your company, using your brand colors, fonts, and logo, and connecting your social media accounts if desired. Fill in your general website content where needed—perhaps on your homepage and about page—with your brand voice. In the end, your online store should match your company's desired look and feel.
Use your ecommerce platform's built-in processor to set up your payments, as well.
5. Add product pages
With your general content filled out, it's time to upload your own products or services into your catalog.
This shouldn't be as simple as creating a list of what you sell and how much each item costs. People are drawn in by images, so you should have clean, well-lit photos to go with every listing. In addition, you can add product categories to make it easy for shoppers to sort through your inventory and write product descriptions for customers to learn more when they enter your dedicated product page.
When writing your product descriptions (and your general website content), we recommend adding keywords wherever it's possible and natural. This will improve the search engine optimization (SEO) of each of your product pages, so they're easier for shoppers to find on Google. Do some keyword research if you haven't already, so you have a great SEO strategy to implement.
Be sure to use clear language and provide measurements wherever relevant and necessary.
As you complete your product pages and refine your online store, test each of your pages, your shopping cart, and your checkout process. Make sure your desired shipping rates are accurate, and the proper sales tax is charged if relevant to your business. To have a successful online store, your shop experience as a whole must be smooth and enjoyable.
6. Launch and market your store
The last step is taking your online store through the launch and marketing phase. Look back at the marketing strategies you created in your ecommerce business plan, and figure out what steps you need to put them into action.
For example, you may need to:
- Plan out and schedule social media posts and social media ads
- Set up an automated email marketing campaign
- Create landing pages to promote with Google Ads
Once you have your to-do list created and completed, you can start capturing and converting leads with your new ecommerce site.
Grow your online business
Knowing how to start an online store is your first step to success in the digital space. As an online store owner, you need to make a habit of reviewing and updating your site to ensure the experience remains modern, enjoyable, and true to your evolving brand and core business goals. Over time, you'll need to add new product pages, remove the old, shift your marketing tactics, and more—all to help your store grow.
As you're working through this step-by-step guide, learn more about optimizing your online store, so you can stand out among the online competition.