Your All-Encompassing Guide to Starting an Online Store

Use this guide to start your online store successfully and with ease.

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The wide world of e-commerce awaits today’s entrepreneur, but the first step in internet sales is actually setting up a digital storefront. It may seem daunting, but taking it step by step ensures you’ll have a more than manageable time building an online store.

What to consider before starting an online store

Like any project, you need to lay a good foundation before you start building.

1. Is your brand cohesive?

Brand cohesion will be a big part of your online store. Just as you want all of your digital marketing channels to be aligned, you need to keep that same brand, tone, and visual consistency in your store, too.

Your brand should be especially synced up in your store so customers have a smooth and professional shopping experience.

2. Do you have a niche?

Before jumping into selling in what may be a crowded market, do your research, and make sure you’re able to enter the market as more than a forgettable retailer that fades into white noise. All the e-commerce marketing in the world will be in vain if you don’t have a unique offering.

3. Do you have a customer base?

Opening an online store takes a lot of time (and financial) investment, so before you run headlong into it, test the waters on a smaller scale. Gauge interest, dabble in online marketplaces, and then when you’re ready to take a step up from Etsy alternatives, begin your store-building in earnest.

Already having people in your sales pipeline will make launching your store less of a risk and offer more of a return.

How to set up and build an online store

From square one to going live, build your store one step at a time.

Step 1: Make a marketing plan

Before you even begin building a store, you need to get your marketing and business plans in place. This will dictate the whole process and choices for building your store.

Will you be seeking outside funding? What marketing will you prioritize? Will you be employing people to help run your store? What are your production costs?

Tips for making a marketing plan:

Keep in mind some specifics about your soon-to-be store when planning.

  • Plan ahead: Your plan should also include provisions for the launch, so focus on stuff beyond the numbers, such as prioritizing customer service skills so your clients will feel welcomed.
  • Know your strengths: Make sure you’re comfortable with the skills needed to build a store, or consider if it would be a better investment in the long run for you to hire a developer (which will affect your choices in step 2).

Step 2: Research and choose an e-commerce platform

With all of the available options, it’s only natural to want one of the best online store builders. And, while there are plenty of excellent online shop platforms, make sure to pick the one that most closely meets your needs.

Tips for choosing an e-commerce platform:

Don’t just blindly pick from a list. Follow these best practices:

  • Set your budget before you look: There is a platform available at every budget, from free (with additional costs), to $15/month to $20/month, all the way up to the hundreds and thousands of dollars. Narrow down your results based on what you can afford.
  • Read user reviews: The best way to get a real feel for how the software will work is to hear from actual users. Make sure it's user friendly for someone of your technical abilities.

Step 3: Register a domain name

Often available as a service within your e-commerce builder or content management software, a unique, registered domain name is a must. Not only will you need a professional website name for your customers to feel you are a trusted (and not a scam) seller, but to set up payment systems, you’ll need to be registered.

Tips for registering a domain name:

Keep these tips in mind when setting up your domain.

  • Don’t overcomplicate it: Don’t make it harder than it needs to be. Take advantage of your e-commerce platform if it offers the ability to search for and set up a domain.
  • Set a budget: Just like with systems, domain names carry a variety of costs, depending on how in-demand or unique they are, or even depending on if they end in “.com” or something less common, such as “.tech.”

Step 4: Design the site

Once you’ve registered your domain and officially have your store builder, you need to get it designed and built. Fortunately, with most builders, it’s a relatively simple process of selecting a theme and then dragging and dropping sections or clicking into the different parts to edit them.

You can select colors and fonts, upload media and logos, and begin to build out not only your product offerings, but your content as well. Your brand and offerings should be showcased, but don’t ignore the other parts of your site (FAQs, info pages, “about” pages, blogs, etc.).

Tips for designing the site:

A lot goes into the design of your website. Keep it on track with these tips.

  • Take advantage of templates: You aren’t stuck building from scratch. Take advantage of the readymade templates offered by your store-building software, and browse by industry to narrow down your options.
  • Build around a logo or central aesthetic: Cohesion is the name of the game, and your store should reflect your brand. Build your store around your logo, overall brand colors, and design attributes to maintain consistency.

Step 5: Test it out

Measure twice, cut once. Before you launch, test the site. You want all of the kinks and usability issues worked out before you push the store live to customers, so it’s better to find them on your own first with A/B testing, as well as previewing pages before publishing.

Have friends and family test it, too. They can help you work out any issues that arise.

Tips for testing your store:

Take a few things into account when you begin testing.

  • Try it out on unfamiliar eyes: You’re already used to your site and have an understanding of how it flows. Someone less familiar makes for a good, honest tester, as they have no preconceived notions when clicking through, and their experience will be similar to that of a customer.
  • Have a mindset of looking to fail: Don’t look for things to congratulate yourself on: Expect to fail when testing. You want to dig up all of the bugs and hitches you can before your store goes live, so be eager to find something to fix.

Step 6: Promote your online store

Once your store is live, you need to get the word out so you can make sales. There’s a whole wide world of marketing waiting, both inbound and outbound, and you should be putting the marketing part of your business plan (from step 1) into play at this point.

Tips for marketing your site:

Marketing is an art as well as a science, and it’s chock-full of options.

  • Cross your channels: Don’t choose just one avenue of marketing and hope to succeed. Advertise your brand in multiple ways (social media advertising, paid search, newsletters, flyers, emails, etc.), but make sure each marketing piece has consistent messaging.
  • Utilize email marketing: One of the easiest ways to give your customers important marketing information is to send it right to their inboxes. Keeping in touch via email is a crucial touchpoint that lets you stay top of mind with your customers.

How to create your own conversion funnel

A good conversion funnel is an essential part of any successful store.

A screenshot of a conversion funnel for e-commerce sales.

Funnel your audience through the sales process. Source: Medium

Step 1: Design pages to capture leads

A thriving e-commerce business is good at getting customers, and the first step is acquiring them as potential leads at the beginning of the customer life cycle. The top of the funnel is made up of general traffic, but to pass those people on to the next phase of the funnel, you need to give them a compelling reason to stay.

Tips for designing pages to capture leads:

Starting at the top means grabbing potential customers from all avenues of traffic, and you can accomplish that by designing smart, attention-grabbing pages.

  • You compete for their attention: Most consumers are swimming in content, and every store is trying to capture the same people you are, so research what your competitors are doing to capture leads, and build from that.
  • Design with a goal in mind: Do you want to capture leads by offering them a consultation? Do you want to pique their interest with a demo? Design specific pages with specific desired actions in mind.

Step 2: Drive traffic

Once your pages are ready, the next step is driving traffic to those pages. The more traffic you have visiting your pages, the more leads you’ll eventually be able to capture. More is more, in this case.

Tips for driving traffic:

Be purposeful in attracting traffic to your pages.

  • SEO is your friend: Most store-builder platforms come with some SEO tools, so use them. SEO can help get your page to rank higher on search engines, meaning you’ll get more traffic.
  • Optimize for mobile: Not only do more people use mobile devices to browse these days, but search engines take into account whether or not a site is optimized for mobile when ranking searches.

Step 3: Capture email addresses

A good marketing plan includes email touchpoints, but before that can happen, you need to build your email list. You’ll most likely need to be creative in getting those email addresses, since customers can sometimes be reluctant to give their information to yet another business.

Tips for capturing email addresses:

Beat skepticism and reluctance with some best practices.

  • Make it a fair exchange: Offer shoppers something for their email address. Be it a coupon or downloadable content; people expect something useful in return for their information.
  • Start a newsletter: One of the most straightforward ways to get people’s emails is to have them subscribe to a newsletter. This is a safe and accepted practice, and it offers something of value delivered directly to their inbox.

Step 4: Set up email marketing

Once you have those precious email addresses, you have an invaluable lifeline to your customers. You can stay fresh in their minds with non-sales-related content as well as send them information on promotions and new products.

Tips for setting up email marketing:

Emails can be a touchy matter. Get the most mileage from your email marketing by keeping these ideas in mind.

  • Create a calendar for cadence: There’s a sweet spot between spamming people and being forgotten: Too many emails, and they’ll get annoyed, but too few, and they’ll either forget who you are or stop caring because they think you’re irrelevant. Setting up an email marketing content calendar helps you stick to a happy medium.
  • Stay purposeful: Every email should have a purpose, and you shouldn’t be blasting your leads with useless spam. Always include a call to action, even on non-sales emails, so they’re still actionable.

Step 5: Track, analyze, and adjust

Success comes from closing sales, and to make sure you’re doing that, you need to track and adjust your sales funnel according to customer behavior. If something’s not working, you need to fix it to make sure you’re always bringing in leads. Your sales funnel should be “living” and always adjustable.

Tips for tracking, analyzing, and adjusting:

Track and correct your sales funnel efficiently with these best practices.

  • Focus on what matters: There are so many possible e-commerce KPIs, but you can’t check and adjust for everything at once. Focus on them bit by bit (abandoned carts, number of purchase orders, etc.) to make fine-tuning your sales process much more efficient.
  • Give it time: After you change something, don’t expect to see new results right away. Wait a few weeks to see a noticeable change.

The best e-commerce platform for starting an online store

There are some excellent platforms available that can make the actual store-building process a lot easier.

1. Shopify

A favorite of many, Shopify, lets you not only build a shop, but also feel confident in how to run an online store. Shopify was made for creating stores quickly, and it offers several themes you can use for site-building. If you want to get fancier, you can work with a third-party developer to create a shop tailored to your brand.

You can also use the Exchange to purchase a fully functional store and take over as the new owner if you want to skip building altogether.

2. WooCommerce

WooCommerce is essentially a WordPress online store since WooCommerce itself is a WordPress extension. It’s free to install and use, and adding products is just like editing pages in WordPress.

Keep in mind that you’ll need to pay external fees for a domain, hosting, maintenance, and any extras to expand its capabilities.

3. Squarespace Commerce

Squarespace does more than create sleek-looking websites. Squarespace Commerce, its online store builder, shines in templates and themes, so your site is going to look professional and cohesive no matter how you build it.

Screenshot of an e-commerce store template from Squarespace Commerce.

Create a sleek online store in a few clicks with Squarespace Commerce.

Building a store one step at a time

Opening an online store doesn’t have to be a headache. Taking it step by step, you can be up and running swiftly. Have a plan, select a user-friendly platform, and you’ll be on your way to e-commerce success in no time.

Wix eCommerce

Star Top Rated

Whether starting from scratch or expanding your pre-existing Wix site, Wix eCommerce is a solid store builder.