How to Set up an Online Store in 7 Easy Steps: A Guide for Beginners
Starting an online store can be overwhelming, especially for those new to ecommerce. Still, online shopping is a rapidly growing industry. Retail e-commerce sales are set to double between 2016 and 2020, according to Statista. And 40 percent of internet users in the United States say they buy items or services online several times a month.
Take advantage of this trend with our step by step guide to opening an online store from scratch. You’ll be surprised that setting up an online business can take no time at all.
In this article, we’ll cover:
- Pick an Ecommerce Platform
- Buy a Domain Name
- Set up an Email Address and Phone Number
- Choose a Shop Template
- Select a Shipping and Packaging Solution
- Pick a Payment System
- Start Marketing
1. Pick an Ecommerce Platform
An ecommerce platform makes it simple to set up an online store quickly and easily.
A good ecommerce platform should:
- Take care of the hosting for you (company provides server and software)
- Have beautiful, professional templates that are easy to use and customize
- Lots of upgrades to pick from (when expanding in the future)
- Affordable fees with pricing tiers you can move up as you expand
- Be easy to use and let you set up your online store quickly
Inc. recommends the following seven ecommerce platforms:
- Shopify: best for beginners, affordable
- Magento: only for established businesses, costly
- YoKart: very affordable option for new businesses
- BigCommerce: great features, easy to use, no free templates
- VTEX: only for rapidly scaling businesses, higher fees
- WooCommerce: a free WordPress plugin for small WordPress-based stores
- Tictail: focus on design, no payment processing feature
Wix Commerce is another easy to use, affordable option that’s great for beginners. Choose your platform and select a pricing option or free trial.
2. Buy a Domain Name
Pick a store name first. Most ecommerce platforms will let you buy a custom domain name through them or provide a free domain. If you prefer, you can use a domain name you already own or purchase one yourself through a domain provider that may be cheaper.
TechRadar recommends the following domain providers:
- GoDaddy: can be pricey, good support
- Hover: affordable
- Dynadot: affordable, free extras
- Google Domains: easy to use, a bit pricier
- Namecheap: affordable, easy to use
Buy your domain and add it to your ecommerce platform.
3. Set up an Email Address and Phone Number
You need a support email address your future customers can contact you on, Forbes recommends. Some ecommerce platforms will offer free email forwarding, so you can list “firstname.lastname@example.org” and emails go to whatever inbox you choose.
If you’d like to offer phone support as well or just list a company phone number on your store, look into virtual phone services so you don’t have to be answering service calls on your personal cell. Google Voice and Grasshopper are two options.
4. Choose a Shop Template
Now it’s time to start building your web store. Your ecommerce platform will probably have a host of free themes to choose from. Depending on your options, you may choose to spring for a paid template or custom design that better reflects your brand.
When choosing a design, CNET recommends considering these details:
- Is your customer likely to be shopping from their desktop or mobile?
- Is the design clean and simple?
- Does the template highlight your address, phone number and a personal blurb about you, the owner? This increases your online business’s legitimacy.
- Does the template highlight product photography?
Now you can start adding products (see ideas and shipping options below) and prices.
5. Select a Shipping and Packaging Solution
Don’t know what product you want to sell yet? Do some research on Amazon and eBay for top-selling products. Then check how these products are selling on Google Trends.
You have three options to source and ship your product:
- Make and ship the item from your location
- Use a dropshipper: finds and ships products for you, such as Amazon, eBay, Megagoods and AliExpress
- Hire a third party logistics provider (3PL): stores and ships your product for you
Which option you choose depends on what your customer expects from you and what gives you the best margin on your product.
If you’re shipping from your location, order packing supplies from websites like Uline and custom stickers from Stickergiant. You can use services like ShipStation to import orders, make labels and connect to your store to provide custom order status updates.
6. Pick a Payment System
Most ecommerce platforms will let you integrate payment systems. PayPal or Stripe are two easy and affordable options to process credit card and other payments. Then use your ecommerce platform to set up your shopping cart system.
You’ll also want to double check the security features provided by your ecommerce platform. After all, you’ll be handling your customers’ sensitive personal information. Make sure you have a strong password for your account and that your platform has server protection, encrypts any customer data and has a SSL certificate.
7. Start Marketing
Take advantage of advertising credits companies like Google Ads and Facebook offer to new businesses and target local to drive costs down. Test different ads to see what works. Then set up your social media pages and an email newsletter.
Here are some other ecommerce marketing tips:
- Use Instagram. Run contests and add products to your posts and stories. You’ll need great photos, the right hashtags and connections to influencers (use a service like BuzzSumo to do this).
- Target abandoned carts. Email customers who abandoned their shopping carts to remind them to buy. Offer a discount, if you want. Some ecommerce platforms will handle this for you. Otherwise, use a service like Rejoiner.
- Set up a Facebook store. Easy to do and probably integrates with your ecommerce platform.
- Increase mailing list subscribers. Promote your list on your store. Offer a discount to sign up.
- Try adding live chat to your store. Olark is one service that helps you do this.
People also ask:
How to Set up a Online Store for Free
Here are three simple steps to start an online store with no money:
- Choose an ecommerce platform. Many platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce have free trials. However, if you want a truly free solution, Squareup and Webstarts are two of the best free online stores with all the features you’ll need for a basic shop. They only allow for limited products and transactions, but they are free, though payment processing systems will charge you a percentage of the transaction.
- Choose products. Dropshipping is probably your best option, since you don’t have to buy products or pay to store or ship them. AliExpress or Dropship Direct are two marketplaces recommended by Forbes. Research what products people want by searching on Amazon or eBay. Then double check these top products on Google Trends. Check that your dropshipper of choice has these products and that they offer free delivery.
- Market on Instagram. Message smaller influencers and offer them a discount or coupon code for your product they can offer to their followers. Then offer them a percentage of each sale from that coupon code. Forbes recommends using tools like Iconosquare or BuzzSumo to find these influencers—they cost money, but you can get a free trial.
How Do I Set up an Online Store?
Set up an online store website and learn about the best online store builders by following the seven easy steps above.