Online retail sales have been steadily rising over the last few years. According to research, buyers spent $601.75 billion in online shops in 2019 alone, which is a 14.9% increase from the $523.64 billion spent in 2018. It is safe to say that the eCommerce industry will not slow down anytime soon. In fact, there is no better time to start an online store than right now.
Creating and maintaining an eCommerce website is nowhere near as hard as you might think. On top of that, it has the potential to earn you thousands of dollars in extra monthly income. In this article, we will present you with an 8-step guide on how to launch your own online store, even if the whole concept is new to you. If you already have some ideas, even better — we will outline the specific steps you need to take to start a successful online business.
1. Decide What You Will Sell
Of course, the first step is to decide what exactly you are going to sell. Consider your current situation, your strengths, and your areas of expertise. Will you be selling a product or a service? If you decide to go with products, will they be virtual or physical? If you are going to sell physical products, will you manufacture them yourself or buy them from somewhere and resell?
Let’s say you decide to go with a product. Make sure you do your research and check if the item in question is sold at a local store. If it is, perhaps starting an online store for that particular product might not be the best idea. After all, if something is available locally, people will be less likely to order it online.
In the best-case scenario, you will choose a niche that has high demand and low or medium supply. At that point, you should check who your main competitors will be and what their pricing, promotions, and marketing strategies are. Tools like Google Keyword Planner, KWFinder, and Ahrefs can be extremely useful for your research. By simply looking up your competitor’s domain in those platforms, you can find out their top keywords. More often than not, they will represent their best-selling products.
2. Pick a Name for Your Store
Now it is time to get creative. Even though picking a name for your new business is generally a fun task, you should not underestimate its importance. The name of your store can have a significant impact on your market positioning, brand identity, and the so-called product-market fit. Make sure your company name has something to do with the product or service you will sell.
One way to make this task easier is by using AI-based company name generators. There are many such tools out there, like Namelix, Oberlo, and SquadHelp. Shopify also has its own company name generator. All you need to do is pick the most relevant keywords for your business and let the tool run its algorithm. It will generate possible brand names that you can choose from. Most such generators will also display whether or not the related domain name is available for purchase.
3. Get Your Business Licence And All Necessary Permits
Whatever your type of online business may be, you need to make sure it is in accordance with the law. Of course, laws can vary significantly, depending on the country or state you live in. You should approach this matter in all seriousness, as nobody wants to get in trouble with regulatory bodies and government institutions.
The best place to look for all necessary legal information is your state or local government’s website. Since your business will be online, you will not have to bother with many of the permits and licenses that brick-and-mortar stores need to obtain. However, you need to make sure all your bases are covered before launching your online store.
4. Open a Business Bank Account and Define Your Pricing
If you are going to run an eCommerce website, you will need a dedicated business bank account. It will make tracking and managing your finances easier, along with keeping your taxes simple to file. Additionally, if your personal and business accounts are mixed, your private assets might be at risk if you ever get into any legal trouble. In order to avoid such scenarios, make sure you open a business bank account for your eCommerce venture.
Next, you need to define your business model and how exactly your prices will be calculated. Depending on the type of business you will run, you might have to take into account transportation, packaging, manufacturing costs, etc. The best way to go is to use cost-based pricing — it will allow you to design a pricing model that covers your expenses and generates profit.
5. Buy Your Domain and Choose a Hosting Provider
Now that you have your business name, it is time to purchase a relevant domain. You need to be looking for .com domains, as they are the best in terms of SEO. If you really want a certain name and the .com domain for it is unavailable, we advise you to alter the name until you get lucky.
Next, you have to decide on what kind of hosting you want for your website. If you are not tech-savvy, you can use a hosted platform like Shopify, Squarespace, or Bigcommerce. However, you might find those platforms limit the customization possibilities of your website. Alternatively, you can choose to work with an independent hosting provider and build the website from scratch. You will have all the creative freedom you will ever need — however, if you are not a tech person, you might need the help of a web developer.
6. Create a Marketing Strategy
If you want your eCommerce venture to be a successful one, you need to carefully think about your marketing strategy. When it comes to online stores, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is essential. A well-optimized website will ensure that people find your store when searching for the products you offer. SEO is a process that needs to start while you are building your website. Here is a checklist of the most important things to keep in mind when it comes to eCommerce SEO:
- Rich product descriptions with keywords included in a natural way
- Optimized title tags, headings, and image alt tags
- Good internal link structure
- Meta descriptions optimized for high click-through rates
- Proper URL structure
If SEO seems complex to you, do not worry — there are plenty of articles on SEO strategies for small businesses. You also have the option to seek the help of an SEO expert or an entire marketing agency, if you want to.
When your website finally launches, you need to get the word out and attract your first customers. One relatively cheap, easy, and effective way to do that is through ads on social media networks, like Facebook and Instagram. Those websites are great for product marketing, and their ad platforms are intuitive and simple to use.
7. Implement a Payment System
Choosing the right payment gateway is extremely important for the safety and success of your eCommerce website. A payment gateway is a system that processes credit card payments for both online and offline retail businesses. To put it simply, if you want your customers to be able to pay with a credit card, you need to set up a payment gateway.
There are many options out there — some of the most popular payment gateways are PayPal, Stripe, and Payline. Check them all out and see what they offer when it comes to eCommerce integration, fees, and supported payment types.
Our personal recommendation is PayPal — this company has been around for a long time and has a user base of over 220 million people. It offers easy eCommerce integration, lots of customization options, online invoices, and more. There are no monthly fees, and you only get charged 2.9% per transaction.
8. Customize Your Packaging
When it comes to online sales, especially for freshly-launched eCommerce websites, personalized and aesthetically pleasing packaging can have a huge impact on sales numbers. Assuming you have already settled on your store’s branding, look into ways to obtain branded boxes, bags, and other packaging materials.
Another great way to leave a lasting impression on your first customers is by enclosing a personalized thank-you card with their purchase. Such small gestures can go a long way in establishing your brand positioning, identity, and popularity.
Ready to Launch Your eCommerce Website?
Those are the eight steps you must take to successfully start an online shop. As you can see, the process is relatively straightforward. If you follow our guide, you will have your store set up in no time — even if you have zero experience in the field!
To sum it all up — first, decide what you want to sell. Choose a suitable name for your business and make sure it relates to the products you will be offering. Next, get a business license and all needed permits, and do not forget to open a business bank account. After that, buy a domain that matches your company name and decide what type of hosting you will use. Start working on your marketing plan and implement a payment gateway on your website. Finally, work on your branding and design custom packaging that will leave a lasting impression on your customers.
While managing an online store might seem challenging to you, remember that it can be quite profitable in the long run. So do not hesitate and launch your own eCommerce website today!