How to Start an Online Store: A Step-by-Step Guide

starting an online store step-by-step illustration with laptop and process icons

In today’s digital world, online shopping has taken centre stage. With eCommerce sales skyrocketing, more and more businesses are moving their operations online and reaping the benefits.

Of course, this is not partial to industry giants – small businesses and startups alike are also enjoying their share of growth and profit through their eCommerce shops.

Are you considering starting your own online store? This step-by-step guide will help you set up a successful virtual business.

1. Pick your niche

First things first, before you can begin the process of setting up your online store, you need to decide what products you want to sell. What will your niche be?

If you spotted a gap in the market that you want to fill with your services and products, then it’s vital to ensure there is an audience for them. Meanwhile, if your plan is to enter a more saturated market, it’s crucial that the products you plan to sell are of high quality. This will help you stand out from competitors and give you a certain advantage over your competitors in your target market. In both these scenarios, it is vital to find trustworthy vendors and suppliers to source your products and materials.

Once you’ve figured this out, it’s time to move on to pricing. The price of your products could help set you apart from other online shops – competitive pricing is an essential element of business success. That said, you need to ensure that this is a sustainable model. While you might only break even at first, you should be able to turn a profit over time.

By sorting out these details, you can speed up the process of launching your eCommerce business.

2. Plan your eCommerce business model

As an eCommerce business owner, you will need to decide what the retail fulfilment method of your online shop will be. For example, you could either dropship or hold your own products.

Essentially, dropshipping means that you won’t need to keep your products in stock. Instead, when an order comes in, you would need to liaise with your third-party supplier and arrange for the product to be directly shipped to the customer. In recent years, this streamlined business model has become increasingly popular among online businesses, as it removes a significant burden (literally) from business owners.

Nonetheless, there are certain limitations to this option. Namely, you won’t have any control over order fulfilment and in the case of a delay or a damaged product, you’ll be the one who will have to appease clients.

On the other hand, stocking your own products gives you complete control over the quality, shipping time and product presentation. So, while the logistics of storing and shipping your products might be trickier, you also get complete control and freedom to customise your orders and build your brand.


3. Select an eCommerce solution

When it comes building your eCommerce store, you’re spoiled with choice. From hosted to licensed and open source solutions, there are numerous platforms that can cater to your business’s specific needs.

If you’re a site-building novice, then hosted solutions are probably the best route, as these are essentially web-based software that you can use to set up your online store.

So, to get you started, start by browsing available eCommerce website builders, such as Wix and Shopify. Some essential factors to consider when choosing a website builder include:

  • Ease of use
  • Mobile optimisation
  • Social media integration
  • Design flexibility
  • Help and support
  • Sales features

The type and number of products you want to sell should also play a telling role in your final choice, as specific platforms might be more fitting than others. It’s also wise to consider your budget and select a plan that offers the features you need at an affordable price.

And if you’re still not quite sure about which platform to go for, most site builders offer a free trial which you can utilise to test out your options!

4. Register your eCommerce business domain name

One of the most important things to decide when setting up your online store is its name. Ideally, your company’s name should be:

  • Original and memorable
  • Easy to pronounce
  • Meaningful and relevant to your niche

You should also consider whether your name ideas are available as domain names, too. Once you’ve found the perfect business and domain name, you can register your domain through the website builder platform you’re using or a domain name registrar for a yearly fee. Just make sure to set a reminder to renew your registration every year before it expires!

5. Get the right business licences and permits

Beyond your domain name, you should also look into your country’s or city’s requirements regarding business licences, such as sales tax licences or home business licences. So, before you officially open up your store’s virtual doors, ensure you have all the right permits and documents first.

6. Choose a design template

Once the skeleton of your eShop is set, it’s time to move on to the design of your site. Your website should have an aesthetic appeal as well as a user-friendly layout. This can be achieved with the right design template.

Consider the structure, colour tones and placement of tabs, content and visuals you would like to see on your site. Most eCommerce builders also offer a rich list of templates to pick from and modify, so you won’t have to start from scratch.

That said, you should spend some time on your design template. If you want to establish a strong brand identity, then you should compile a design brief that includes:

  • colour tones
  • typeface and fonts
  • a logo

This won’t only help you create a signature aesthetic but also create brand recognition among your customers. You could also take one step further and use this to design your product packaging. Indeed, customised packaging can play a crucial role in consumer behaviour and have a positive impact on sales.


7. Use high-quality content

Along with the design, content plays a key role in the success of an online store. As you begin to set up your eCommerce site, ensure that the written and visual content that fills up its pages is of high quality.

The way you choose to present your products could either encourage or deter a potential customer from buying from you. As such, you should aim to use product images with good resolution and informative descriptions. On a side note, ensure that your product descriptions and photos are legitimate and representative of the products you sell!

Content doesn’t stop at your products pages, however. All parts of your site, including the ‘About’ page and the ‘Q&A’ section, should be neat and polished – it’s important that your content is error-free, grammatically correct and appealing to your customers.

8. Set up payment methods

It’s important to make your customer’s experience as smooth as possible when shopping on your site.

If you’re planning to use an eCommerce builder, then the process of setting up payments will be much simpler, as you can easily connect multiple options including PayPal, Visa, Mastercard and Apple Pay. Just make sure that your main payment option caters to your main group of clients – different countries have different payment preferences!

Website builders also ensure your customers can safely check out their purchases through SSL certificates, making your eShop a secure place to shop.

9. Sort out shipping methods

As for your shipping methods, start by deciding which countries and regions you will cater to. This will allow you to determine shipping rates for different zones and find ideal shipping services for each.

Browse available courier companies in your area and see if you can strike a partnership with one of them. This will allow you to create a smoother process and ensure you can deliver orders faster.

You’ll also need to outline which type of shipping you’ll offer on your site:

  • Standard rate: Shipping costs remain the same for each zone, regardless of the products within the order.
  • Real-time quotes: Shipping costs are determined by location, order size and weight.
  • Rate by order price: Shipping rates are separated in price tiers depending on the order amount – the bigger the order, the less the shipping rate.

10. Finalise your store’s settings

Another essential step to consider as you set up your online store is the settings of your site. These include the primary language your store will be in, the preferred currency customers can shop with, as well as your time zone.

You will also need to sort out your contact information, such as your business address, email address and phone number that your customers can use to get in touch with you.

Overall, small details like these will enhance a customer’s experience on your eShop and encourage them to become repeat customers!

11. Preview and test your online store

So, now that your products are up, your design brief is settled and all the logistics are figured out, it’s time to test your shop before going live!

Testing your eShop is essential as you need to ensure that each piece of its functionality works without issue. Here are a few things to look out for when testing your website:

  • Order placement and checkout: Test the process by placing an order yourself.
  • Buttons and links: Check that everything works properly and that clickable buttons direct users to the right pages.
  • Content: Look for grammatical errors, typos and awkward phrases in your text as well as low-quality images and illustrations and fix these accordingly.
  • Mobile and browser compatibility: Ensure that your store is accessible through mobile phones and via different browsers.

12. Create an online marketing strategy

You’re ready to go live! After all your hard labour, there’s only one thing left to check off the list: marketing your online business. The more detailed and strategic you are with your marketing efforts, the more people you can reach.

An excellent way to start is by spreading awareness through social media, print and digital ads, and email campaigns. When it comes to digital marketing, SEO also plays a major role in your online store’s success, as this will enhance your searchability and exposure in Google and other search engine rankings.

To ensure success, consider your target market and utilise digital channels to promote your business. With the right appeal and marketing strategy, you’re guaranteed to succeed!

Final thoughts

Whether your're a website manager or if even if you have no digital expertise, creating a professional webshop takes time, but the end-result is definitely worth the effort. Whether you dream of running an online vintage boutique or you want to sell quirky tech gadgets, these steps will help you pave the way to a successful eCommerce business!

Got any questions about setting up your own online store? Let us know in the comments section below!


This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 13 September 2018.