How to Start Your Online Store in 9 Steps
Create your online store with confidence by following these steps to success, which take you from developing a business plan to building your website.
Sixty-three percent of shopping journeys begin online, yet around 40 percent of brands don't have an online presence. If your business falls within that category, or if you're looking to start a new eCommerce business, you need to launch an online store.
Modern eCommerce platforms make it easy to handle the technical side of things. But building an online store which aligns with your business plan while maximizing revenue requires careful planning. Below, you'll find tips on how to navigate these challenges in order to create an online store tailored to your brand's needs.
Why Create an Online Store?
Whether your business is entirely digital or has a brick-and-mortar retail component, online stores offer a range of benefits:
- Expanded reach
With an online store, you can sell to customers worldwide, even if your business operations are limited to a certain region.
- Greater availability
An online store makes your business available to customers 24/7.
- Few upfront costs
Online stores have reduced upfront costs compared to brick-and-mortar stores. You don't need to lease retail space, warehouses, or other major expenses.
With the aid of automation tools and AI, you can manage online stores in a streamlined fashion.
- Low staffing costs
Employment costs can be lower because your primary staffing needs will likely be limited to customer relations, marketing, and order processing.
Take your B2B business into the digital commerce era
Planning Your Online Store
Before you begin building an online store, it's important to plan properly to ensure your store is based on a healthy business model.
Choose Your Niche
You first need to choose your niche — the area your business will focus on. This process involves several key considerations, including customer types, sales volume, industry, and repeat sales expectations. For example, you'll need to build a very different type of store if you're selling wedding-related items as opposed to operating in the automotive space.
The niche you choose should reflect your experience and knowledge within a given industry. If you love doing home improvement, a store related to construction might work well for you. If you're passionate about gardening, you could sell consumers everything they need to create a home garden or cater to landscaping businesses.
It's important to assess how much opportunity exists in the area you are considering as well. Avoid targeting a market already saturated with competitors. At the same time, you want to avoid targeting nascent market segments. Newly emergent trends might create opportunities for online sellers in the short term, but if the trend fades, you will be out of business. Instead, look for a marketplace that is underserved and offers an opportunity for consistent, long-term growth.
Create Your Business Plan
Once you've chosen your niche, you are ready to devise a business plan. This plan should account for whether you are selling to consumers or to organizations. A consumer-focused operation will require a customer support component as well as a commercial team to grow your audience.
If you sell to other businesses, you may have a lower sales volume, but you can achieve the same overall revenue as selling to consumers because each sale is typically worth more. You can also invest more in each customer relationship by contacting individuals directly using personalized emails or direct phone calls.
Order fulfillment is also an important factor to consider when creating a business plan. Ask yourself whether you'll maintain your own physical inventory and ship items yourself, or whether you'll use a solution like dropshipping, which can help grow your brand more quickly without as much upfront investment in inventory storage and management.
Choose Your Brand And Domain Names
You'll need to choose a brand name for your business and register a domain for it before launching your online store. When choosing a brand name, aim for a relevant word or phrase that resonates with your target demographic. Make sure your name is unique, and, if you can do so naturally, include a high-ranking search term to improve your site's search engine optimization (SEO).
Avoid words subject to spelling variations between different regions. For example, if you intend to sell to customers in the United Kingdom and the United States, using the word “center” in your brand is problematic.
Stay clear of names which are similar to those of existing companies, which could result in potential legal trouble. If you're unsure whether the name you're considering is available for use, seek out legal counsel.
Creating Your Online Store
Once you've completed the planning, you are ready to create your online store. This is a multistep process that includes much more than simply launching the store.
Choose an eCommerce Platform
The first step in creating an online store is choosing an eCommerce platform to power it. Creating an online store by writing the code yourself is typically not practical. Even for those who have the technical skills to do it, building an online store could take weeks or months.
Instead, take advantage of an eCommerce platform that can automate much of the work required to launch an online store, populate it with products, manage sales, and more. There are hundreds of eCommerce platforms available, but not all of them offer the features you need to run a successful online store over the long term. When comparing platforms, be sure to assess relevant considerations:
Does the platform give you the option of hosting your website on the cloud or does it require you to set up and manage your own server?
- Omnichannel support
Your eCommerce platform should let you deliver a consistent shopping experience across customers' devices, whether they prefer a PC, phone, or tablet. For example, keep the same items inside the customer's virtual shopping cart even if they switch from a desktop computer to a smartphone.
- Reporting and analytics
To be successful, you've got to measure your results. Look for an eCommerce solution that offers features for tracking sales, analyzing conversion rates, and so on.
Forty-four percent of buyers are likely to become repeat customers if their experience is personalized. An eCommerce platform should be able to deliver targeted content to customers that personalizes their shopping experience from start to finish.
- Instance purchase
Checkout is a major pain point for consumers, so they'll appreciate anything that streamlines this process. Give customers the option of purchasing items instantly from your store, skipping the full checkout process.
The best eCommerce platforms make it easy to add features or services to your online store using extensions. These can be found and installed via online extension marketplaces.
Setting Up Your Site
When you use an eCommerce platform, setting up an online store doesn't require special technical skills. You can simply select a template, customize it, and launch your site. But there are several factors that you must address in order to ensure your website's content is correctly displayed and populated.
One important consideration is ensuring that your website content is SEO-friendly. Identify high-quality keywords customers might use to search for items you sell and place these keywords naturally throughout your homepage, in sub-page titles, and so on.
Proper site navigation is critical. Avoid filling your home page with so much content that users will become overwhelmed, and ensure all necessary links and search fields are featured prominently for easy access.
- Straightforward layout
Use clear, straightforward terms when labeling menus or pages within your site. UX experts can help you optimize site layout and navigation, but if you don't have the budget for this type of expertise, you can simply ask friends to perform specific tasks on your site and report any difficulties they encounter.
- Effortless checkout
Strive to offer a frictionless checkout process. Around two-thirds of online shopping carts are abandoned before customers complete a purchase, due in many cases to a difficult or slow checkout. Don't force customers to create an account if they don't want to, and don't include unexpected service fees.
- Brand like a boss
Your branding should be presented consistently across your site. If a customer switches from a PC to a smartphone, your site should still look the same. You don't want customers to think they've mistakenly navigated to a different site because the theme or branding of one page is different from that of another.
After your site is created, you can begin adding products for sale. As you go about this process, strive to keep your product listings consistent and organized. Product Information Management (PIM) systems, which store product-related data in a central database, can help with this task. But you must also ensure every product listed on your store has the correct data categories associated with it. For example, you can use SKUs as unique identifiers for each product type offered.
Product descriptions are another important information source you must create for each product listing. These help drive traffic to your site and give users information to use in decision-making. Write descriptions that are clear and concise. If an item might be referred to by multiple terms, include all of them in the description.
Incorporate Additional Features
As noted above, the best eCommerce platforms make it easy to add features through extensions. These plugins enable you to implement a wide range of functionality for your store with no special technical expertise required.
For example, you can leverage extensions to integrate your store with online advertising platforms so customers who click on an ad are immediately directed to a product page on your site. Plugins from a fulfillment provider can help integrate your store with external fulfillment services. You can even take advantage of extensions that add payment options to your site, such as a voice payment feature.
After Building Your Online Store
No amount of planning and preparation is a substitute for proper testing. Before, during, and after launching your online store, you should systematically test your store's features. The simplest way to test is to manually assess how individual buyers navigate your site and collect qualitative feedback about their behaviors or preferences.
You can automate your testing process by collecting data about how different site features or configurations correlate with buyer engagement and conversion rates. You could disable a certain feature for a week and track how said change impacts sales rates, or modify a setting for a certain segment of users to test the impact of the change before applying it to all users.
Don't Neglect Marketing
Like testing, marketing should be an ongoing effort for any online store. A number of channels are available for driving eCommerce marketing. While paid ads tend to be expensive, they offer opportunities for targeting marketing content toward specific prospect types. You can also maintain a presence on social media where you can not only announce products or sales but also post educational content to help build your brand and drive customer engagement.
Informative, keyword-optimized blog posts related to your niche are also an excellent way to increase engagement with your target audience and drive traffic to your store. Lastly, email marketing can help you nurture leads and maintain relationships with existing customers, increasing their lifetime value.
Start Creating Your Ideal Online Store Today
Choosing the right eCommerce platform makes a world of difference when getting your online store off the ground. Magento Commerce offers an array of features which make it easy to build an eCommerce website — and so much more. Manage customer relations, track sales data and conversion rates, control inventory, and maintain an omnichannel experience for users across all devices and platforms. And with thousands of plugins available in the Magento Marketplace, you can quickly extend and customize your online store to align with your business goals and customer needs.
To learn more, Schedule your free Magento Commerce demo today.