Jan 23, 2024
Kevin W. & Nadya A.
How to Start an Online Store: 8 Steps to a Profitable eCommerce Website
With the rapid growth of the eCommerce industry, starting an online store is one of the most lucrative ways to make money online. As they are not limited by opening hours and geographical barriers, your online business will be easily scalable.
Moreover, with many eCommerce tools and site builders available today, you don’t need any technical knowledge to create an online store.
In this article, we’ll walk you through the steps on how to start an online store – from defining a business strategy to implementing marketing strategies to generate sales.
How to Start an Online Store in 8 Steps
Here are the eight essential steps to start selling online and create a profitable eCommerce store.
1. Define Your Business Strategy
For new business owners, deciding on a business model is the first step on your eCommerce journey.
Understanding the types of eCommerce beforehand can help you determine the initial budget, inventory, and potential suppliers for your online store.
For instance, choosing the dropshipping business model is ideal for those with a limited budget. This is because doing so outsources supply chain operations to third-party suppliers, who will ship the product directly to customers, so you don’t need your own physical inventory.
On the other hand, wholesalers resell products from manufacturers to retailers. This option requires more financial investment, as you need to buy products in bulk and rent a warehouse to store them.
If you want to create a new product and market it with your own brand, private labeling is for you. This model also requires a larger budget for manufacturing and product customization costs.
Alternatively, white label businesses take an existing product and sell it under their brand. What sets it apart from private labeling is that there’s no involvement in product creation.
Writing a business plan for your online store will help you develop an effective business structure. Make sure to include your business goals, vision, and financial expectations.
2. Choose Products to Sell Online
When deciding on a profitable product to sell, analyzing competitors is a good start. Distinguishing yourself in a competitive market with well-established brands is more challenging than selling products for a small market segment.
Hence, narrowing the business’ focus to a specific niche and highlighting your unique selling points helps to establish your brand and target customers.
For instance, if you’re starting an online clothing store to sell T-shirts, possible niches include customizable T-shirts for kids and movie fans.
Additionally, here are some tips for finding product ideas for your eCommerce store:
- Consider your passion or professional experience. Choosing a product you’re knowledgeable or passionate about can help you provide better customer support and strengthen your marketing campaigns.
- Look at best-selling products on online marketplaces. Checking the list of popular products on big eCommerce sites like Amazon, eBay, and AliExpress may provide some inspiration. Since many online shoppers are interested in them, they’re more likely to be profitable. Just make sure the products fit your niche.
- Read customer reviews. Negative reviews can help you identify what’s missing from a brand’s product and develop a solution for the customers’ pain points.
- Research trends. Capitalizing on trending products can be a considerable advantage as you’ll have the opportunity to establish yourself as a leader within the market early on. Nonetheless, ensure that the product has a consistent demand.
Once you have a list of product ideas, consider these aspects:
- Product quality. Choosing a high-quality product is essential to ensure a reputable brand image, maintain customers’ trust, and boost your profit margins.
- Estimated return on investment (ROI). Take into account your business costs when pricing your products.
- Regulations. Check if you need special licenses for selling online – common when selling food and pharmacy products, for example.
- Shipping. Ensure your product is easy to ship – it’s best to stick with non-fragile, lightweight products to reduce shipping risks. Additionally, try to keep the costs low and add them to the product prices since 73% of customers are more likely to purchase from eCommerce stores that waive shipping fees.
If you want to eliminate shipping costs completely, selling digital products is a cost-effective option.
3. Find Reliable Suppliers
Finding trustworthy suppliers is as important as choosing a product idea. No matter how good a product idea is, partnering with unreliable suppliers can jeopardize your business.
When choosing one, it’s easy to get tempted by low-cost fees. However, price shouldn’t be the deciding factor. Instead, look for suppliers who ensure high-quality products and on-time delivery.
Attending industry events and exhibitions where you can directly examine products and services is a great way to start your research.
You can also look up suppliers on Google. Entering specific keywords increases the chance of getting more accurate search engine results, so including your niche and location is a great practice.
For example, try searching for “[niche] supplier in [location]” or “[niche] wholesale supplier in [location]”.
Or, use keywords like “factory” or “manufacturer” and combine them with a product name or source materials.
Moreover, online forums like The Manufacturer Community can be a great place to find information about suppliers. Take a look at threads that discuss the type of product you’re looking for or manufacturers in general. If there’s none, you can also start one yourself.
Likewise, explore social media to gain insights about similar products and where to source them. Joining Facebook and LinkedIn groups is great if you intend to build your network, as someone in the community might have recommendations or directly sell their own products.
For those located in the US, Mexico, or Canada, searching for suppliers using NAICS codes is another option. If you know a similar product already on the market, you can find the manufacturer that created it by looking up their NAICS code.
Once you compile a list of potential product suppliers, take the following steps to ensure their reliability:
- Find reviews. Look up the supplier’s name on Google and social media platforms to find posts that can give you insights into their trustworthiness. Adding keywords like “ripoff”, “scam”, or “fraud” can speed up the process of eliminating dodgy suppliers.
- Contact the supplier. Confirm the legitimacy of your potential supplier by calling it directly during business hours. Be cautious if they don’t pick up or if they don’t provide satisfactory answers.
- Verify the address. Look up the address on Google Street View to make sure it’s real. Observe if there’s a business logo or name on the building.
- Check for licenses and certifications. Ensure they have proper credentials by requesting a copy of the supplier’s business license. Use the license number for further research.
- Ask questions. Get to know the company’s background and what services they provide. Inquire about operational details before placing an order. This includes product availability, prices, minimum order quantity, shipping, payment terms, discounts, and return policies.
- Request product samples. Before ordering a significant quantity, ask for samples to ensure product quality.
4. Define Your Target Audience
A target audience is the group of people to whom you’ll be trying to sell products. Having a comprehensive understanding of the ideal customer is critical in starting any online business, as it will set the foundation for your marketing strategy.
Personalizing your products and marketing strategy for your audience will also help increase sales, as 30% of online shoppers are willing to switch to a company that provides them with a tailored experience.
Moreover, lacking audience knowledge will make creating a campaign strategy that appeals to them much more difficult, costing you time and money.
Whether you’re a new business owner or have brick-and-mortar stores, start with market research. Assessing market demand in your industry helps to ensure its profitability or reveal opportunities for a new market.
Gather information on market size, outlook, industry growth rate, and trends. Keyword research tools like Google Trends can help identify customers’ demands, as it provides insights into which keywords they type on search engines, including where they search from and when.
When researching the target audience, consider segmenting your customers according to:
- Demographics. They consist of gender, age, marital status, education, and occupation.
- Psychographics. Factors indicated by a person’s personality, interests, lifestyle, and values.
- Behavior. This involves observing customers’ actions, including spending habits, product knowledge, level of loyalty, and interaction with a business.
- Geography. This includes country, state, region, province, town, or zip code.
Compile this information and create a buyer persona to understand your potential customers better. It’s a representation of your ideal customer, which will help you define the appropriate messaging, design, and marketing strategies to attract them.
For those who already have brick-and-mortar stores, defining a target audience for their online stores is usually easier. Here are additional steps to take:
- Distribute customer surveys. Surveys are a great way to get insights into customer demographics. Follow up with an interview to determine their pain points and what your business is missing.
- Analyze competitors. Look up competitors with similar products and evaluate their customers since you’ll likely be targeting the same audience. Use tools like Similarweb to identify competitors and gain insights into their performance.
- Evaluate your products or services. List their features and benefits to identify which customers would benefit from them.
5. Pick an eCommerce Platform
Now that you have selected products to sell and know who your audience is, the next step is choosing how to build your eCommerce store.
While there are several ways to do so, using an eCommerce platform is the most convenient way for beginners, as it’s cost-effective and requires little to no technical expertise.
Among the many eCommerce platforms available, the main options for creating your online store are using a website builder or a content management system (CMS).
An eCommerce website builder is an ideal solution for small business owners and beginners who want to set up their online stores quickly and easily, as it comes with built-in tools to simplify the process.
For instance, users can add a shopping cart, products, or a checkout page in no time using pre-made eCommerce templates and a drag-and-drop editor. Moreover, builders integrate with various shipping solutions and online payment options.
Additionally, website builders take care of the technicalities of setting up a website, including web hosting, maintenance tasks, and security protocols.
Some notable website builders include Magento, Shopify, and Hostinger Website Builder.
While an online store builder is easy-to-use and cost-efficient, it might be limited in terms of site customization and development, making it less scalable than a CMS like WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla.
Although a CMS has a steeper learning curve, it is the more suitable option for creating a large-scale online store website and for those who want more control over the site.
WordPress, for instance, offers thousands of plugins with various functionalities, from improving site performance and security to creating an online store. The most popular eCommerce plugin for WordPress is WooCommerce.
Various WooCommerce themes already include layouts for product, checkout, and shopping cart pages, streamlining the customization process.
Moreover, it offers essential extensions for eCommerce websites, like shipment tracking, product add-ons, multiple payment solutions, and a sales tax calculator.
Note that choosing a CMS requires you to find reliable web hosting. Opt for a managed WordPress host to get optimized performance and expert support, ensuring a smooth experience with your WordPress store.
Your WordPress plan will include unlimited SSL certificates, a one-click installer, automatic updates, and a free domain.
Once you decide on your business name, use our domain name checker to see if it’s available.
Domain Name Checker
Instantly check domain name availability.
When choosing a domain name for your eCommerce site, include your business name to improve brand recognition. Also, ensure your site’s address is short and easy to remember.
After purchasing a hosting account, all you need to do is install your preferred CMS and set up your online store.
6. Create Your Online Store
Whichever platform you choose, there are some elements to consider when making your website.
It only takes 0.05 seconds for visitors to form an impression about your site, making site design a crucial aspect of your online store.
To design a visually appealing site, you can hire a web designer or take advantage of the variety of themes and templates available on your chosen eCommerce platform.
When choosing a theme for your eCommerce store, ensure it’s responsive, easy to navigate, and fast-loading.
Once you find one that matches your needs, adjust the visual elements to fit your business branding. This includes customizing color schemes, fonts, and text sizes and experimenting with page layouts.
An example of an eCommerce store with excellent design is Zenni Optical. It uses a neutral background and large images to keep the focus on its products.
If you’re looking for design inspiration, take a look at these 25 Examples of eCommerce Websites With Fantastic Designs.
Create the Essential Pages
To create a nice user experience and generate conversions, your online store should contain the following pages:
- Products. Provide information such as prices, sizes, and availability.
- Shopping cart. Displays all the products the customer wants to buy and shipping rates. If you run promo deals, include the option to use their codes here and suggest related products to increase cross-selling online.
- Checkout. This is where the customer enters their payment information and reviews the products and shipping details before completing the purchase.
- Order confirmation. You can use this page to display a thank you message and ways to modify the order.
- About. A well-written About Page helps you connect with customers. Share your mission, values, business model, or the story behind your business to earn customers’ trust.
- FAQ. Provide answers to common customer inquiries, including product usage, returns, exchanges, and shipping.
- Contact. Offer clear ways customers can reach support if they have questions or concerns. If you also sell products on Pinterest and other marketplaces or run a brick-and-mortar business, include your physical address and all sales channels.
- Policies. Creating privacy and return policy pages, for example, can protect you from liability and help define customers’ expectations.
- Shipping. Add the shipping fees, terms, carriers, zones, and delivery limitations.
Most popular eCommerce website builders and platforms, including WooCommerce and Hostinger Website Builder, provide templates for each of these pages, making it even easier to create your online store.
Improve Your Product Pages
When making an eCommerce website, ensure your product pages are visually appealing, informative, and professional. This will help you attract customers and generate more sales.
When creating your product pages, there are some elements we recommend adding:
- Product title. It helps customers find what they’re looking for in your catalog. Keep it short and simple, as other details can be included in the product descriptions.
- Product descriptions. Detail the product prices, variants – like materials, sizes, and colors – and benefits in an engaging way.
- Visual media. Upload high-quality product photos, videos, or GIFs to enhance the pages. Use good lighting and a consistent aspect ratio to achieve the best results.
- Product category. It helps to organize your catalog and make other products more discoverable. Add filters such as sizes, price ranges, colors, or materials so customers can quickly find what they’re looking for.
- Shipping costs. Inform visitors whether you offer free, flat, or variable shipping rates.
Adding customer reviews, inserting strong CTA buttons, and displaying related products can encourage customers to make a purchase.
7. Connect a Payment Gateway
Ensuring a seamless checkout experience for customers is a must. Roughly 17% of shoppers abandon their shopping cart if the process is too long and complicated.
To streamline the process, integrate your site with a payment gateway. It uses data encryption and follows Payment Card Industry (PCI) security standards to protect sensitive card data against fraud and theft.
Furthermore, it prevents processing payments from expired credit cards and terminated accounts.
Most website builders and eCommerce plugins support a variety of payment gateways. Hostinger Website Builder, for instance, integrates with several payment gateways so you can accept payments online from various countries, making your online store easily accessible and scalable.
Similarly, WooCommerce allows you to set up multiple payment methods, including direct bank transfer, checks, cash on delivery, and WooCommerce Payments.
This fully-integrated gateway accepts multiple payment methods, from debit and credit cards to ApplePay, and doesn’t charge setup costs or monthly fees.
If you prefer other providers, WooCommerce also offers extensions for payment gateways like AfterPay, Square, PayFast, Stripe, and PayPal.
When choosing the most suitable payment gateway for your online store, consider the most convenient solution for your target audience.
Once your business grows, you can add multiple payment gateways to provide more payment options, especially if your shop caters to an international audience.
8. Market Your Store
The journey to having a successful online store doesn’t stop once you’ve launched it. In this section, we’ll cover some of the most effective eCommerce marketing strategies to attract new customers and boost online sales.
Before launching marketing campaigns, building a brand for your online business is a must. This includes ensuring your business logo, visual elements, and voice are consistent. Strong branding makes your brand memorable and distinguishes it from competitors.
- Create high-quality content. This helps increase brand awareness, engage the right audience, and improve sales. Use keyword research tools like Google Trends to find content ideas. Ensure content relevancy and post consistently to boost audience engagement.
- Improve SEO. Optimizing your eCommerce site to rank higher on search engines increases its visibility and attracts new customers. Some SEO best practices include adding alt texts, title tags, meta descriptions, and customizing URL slugs.
- Start email marketing. Launching an email campaign is a great way to boost sales, as it influences 59% of shoppers to shop online. You can create personalized newsletters to share product updates, educational content, promotions, or coupon codes.
- Utilize social media marketing. Leverage social media to connect with your audience and attract potential customers. Create personalized posts to promote products and direct traffic to your eCommerce site.
- Consider paid marketing. Essentially, it involves buying ad space, then circulating ads across multiple platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok, or blogs. For optimal investment returns, research each channel before launching your paid marketing campaign.
- Set up a referral program. A referral program rewards existing customers for referring people to your business. The incentives could be discounts, gift cards, or free products.
- Try affiliate marketing. Similar to referral marketing, affiliate marketing relies on other people to promote your products. Start by creating an affiliate marketing page on your website and reaching out to potential affiliates.
As the demand for online shopping increases, launching an online store is a great way to become an entrepreneur or scale your small business.
Thanks to the eCommerce platforms and tools available, you can start selling online without technical knowledge.
With a business idea, plan, determination, and sufficient budget, anyone can run an eCommerce website and bring revenue in no time.
To recap, here are the steps on how to start an online store:
- Define your business strategy
- Choose products to sell
- Find reliable suppliers
- Define your target audience
- Pick an eCommerce platform
- Create your own online store
- Connect a payment gateway
- Market your store
Now, it’s time to put your eCommerce business plan into action and create a website to sell online. Best of luck.
How to Start an Online Store FAQ
In this section, we’ll answer some common questions about starting an online store.
Can I Start an Online Store With No Money?
Some eCommerce platforms offer free plans, but they usually come with limited resources and features. To help you save money, a good practice is to find a hosting provider that offers free domain names, SSL certificates, and other features to take your business online.
How Much Do I Need to Start an Online Store?
If you build your online store on WordPress, all that’s left to buy are hosting and a domain name. Our Premium managed WordPress plan costs $2.99 and includes a free domain name, reducing your starting costs.
How Do I Source Products to Sell on My Online Store?
Creating a dropshipping business is the easiest way to start, as you don’t have to worry about production, inventory, and shipping. Alternatively, make your own products and develop a private label, where you get to control every aspect of your business from start to finish.
What Is the Best eCommerce Platform?
Many eCommerce platforms offer different sets of tools to streamline your website development process, so it’s best to do your research first.WooCommerce is ideal for those looking to build their entire business on WordPress, while Hostinger Website Builder is an excellent option for small businesses looking for an all-in-one platform, as it includes web hosting.