In this article:
- Decide what products to sell
- Will you warehouse your own products or dropship?
- Come up with a memorable business name
- Steps to set up your online store
You’ve decided that you want to start selling products online. That’s a great step towards starting or growing your own small business.
But maybe you’re not quite sure what you need to do to get started. In this article, we’ll guide you through the things you need to be prepared for to start an eCommerce store for your small business.
What will you be selling?
First, you need to know what you’ll be selling. If you’re looking to start an online-only store, you should already have products in mind that you want to sell.
Or maybe you already have an established business and just want to reach more customers by opening an online store as an extension of your brick-and-mortar shop.
Either way, you’ll need to figure out the answers to these questions to have a successful online store.
What is your niche?
You need to determine where your product fits into a consumer’s world. Is it a necessity, convenience, something they want? What is the general category of your product? Is the market already saturated by popular brands?
Selling a product online in a niche that already has a heavy amount of brand loyalty, for example, headphones (Sony, Beats, Skullcandy), will be very difficult because people won’t be searching for a new place to shop from. They’ll go to the brands they like and are familiar with.
But in a niche where there isn’t a lot of brand recognition, like sweaters or water bottles, there’s a lot more opportunity for people to consider new brands and stores to purchase from.
What costs will be associated?
Determine the costs that will be associated with manufacturing, packaging, and shipping your products. This will help you to figure out a cost that will be profitable for you.
Who are you targeting?
You need to know your target audience. You need to understand how they think, what they like, their spending habits. This will help you to choose a price and design your product in a way that is appealing to them. Be as specific as you can.
Decide to dropship or stock your own inventory
Now you know what you are selling, but are you going to warehouse your inventory yourself, or are you going to dropship your products?
Let’s go over both of these options.
Dropshipping is the process of sending an order to a manufacturer or wholesaler who then ships the product directly to your customer. You don’t actually store the product yourself, but purchase it from a third party and they ship it to your customers.
This is a great option for online stores, particularly if you don’t have a large space to keep your inventory. Anyone can use dropshipping methods to get their eCommerce store up and running.
This sounds pretty enticing. But there are cons associated with this method as well.
When a customer wants to make a return because the product wasn’t right for them or there was a mistake with their order, that falls back on you to figure it out. It’s your business, and your product, so you need to work with the manufacturer to determine the processes to fix the problem.
This can take a lot of time when you’re working through a third party and it can cost a lot of money to return the product, especially if the manufacturer you’re using is overseas.
Coming up with a good return policy can help offset any of the negative impacts that this might have on your business.
This is particularly true today, with so many huge eCommerce brands and companies offering free, no-questions-asked returns and exchanges. It’s difficult for smaller companies to provide the same level of service due to lower volume and higher relative costs.
Stocking your own products
Warehousing your own products and shipping them yourself seems to have three obvious disadvantages:
- Purchasing inventory costs money in advance
- Storing that inventory costs money (and takes space)
- Packing and shipping products costs time and money
With dropshipping, all of that can be outsourced and save you a lot of time… but it can be prohibitively expensive.
There are some major benefits to stocking your own products:
- Returns are easier and faster because you handle these directly with your customer rather than through a third party
- You can add more custom branding to your packaging (brand awareness is huge!)
- Delivery times are generally shorter
- You know your products better than any third party
- Better profit margins are possible when you purchase products in bulk and store them yourself
There are pros and cons to both of these solutions. You need to decide which works best for your business model and what will help you scale your business.
Come up with a business name and domain name
Your online store will need a business name (which you may already own) and a domain name for your website.
Your domain name is the URL that customers will use to access your online store, and it can have some impact on how well customers can find your store when doing a search online.
If you already have a business name for a brick-and-mortar store, that’s great. Try to find a domain that fits well with your brand.
If not, follow these tips for choosing a business name for your online store:
- Follow any state guidelines for business names
- Don’t pick something that is too similar to a competitor
- Choose something that is intuitive to spell and pronounce
- Choose a name that is actually available as a .com domain name (duh)
- Choose something unique
- Be consistent with your branding/products
- Don’t limit yourself unnecessarily with your business name (maybe you want to expand your product offerings in the future, so don’t choose a name that limits that)
Once you have your business name, you need to choose a domain name for your online store. If your business name is available as a domain, then that is generally the best option from a branding perspective. But there are some other things to consider when choosing a domain name:
- Choose a “.com” domain preferably, if you are selling within the US or internationally
- Avoid brand names and product names that are owned by other companies (even if you sell those products)
- Be unique, but also make it easy to spell and pronounce
- Including a keyword can help your website be more searchable online (but again, don’t limit yourself by adding a specific keyword if you plan to expand your offerings later on)
Find your eCommerce website builder
Once you have your products and your business and domain names figured out, it’s time to find the right website builder for your online store.
There are several eCommerce solutions that you can choose from, so do your research to find the one that will work best for your business.
We’ve listed a couple of our favorites for you to get started.
From a cost and usability perspective, Ecwid is one of the best online store builders you can find.
Ecwid is an awesome resource for selling products online across multiple platforms—your website, social media, Amazon, Google Ads, POS, mobile apps, you name it.
And, if you have 10 products or less, you can use their free plan (however we recommend their Venture or Business plan for more features).
All you have to do is create an account and get started. There are no fees to start and no transaction fees (although Ecwid does partner with outside payments processors who will charge a nominal transaction fee for card payments).
For all Ecwid plans, you can add your products to your current website or get a free instant site.
- The Free plan includes 10 products that can be added to an online store.
- The Venture plan is $15/month for up to 100 products. It allows you to add products to a Facebook shop, Instagram store, and mobile POS. You can also add discount coupons, get automated tax calculations, inventory management, and advanced SEO tools.
- The Business plan is $35/month and allows up to 2500 products. This plan comes with product filters and variations for customers to easily search through your store to find exactly what they need.
- The Unlimited plan is $99/month and lets you have an unlimited amount of products and has a Square POS integration.
Shopify has a drag-and-drop store builder that makes putting your online store together easy and fun.
You can choose from several free themes, customize your colors and fonts, and everything is designed to be friendly for mobile devices, too.
Plans for Shopify:
- Basic Shopify starts at $29/month and allows unlimited products, discount codes, and 24/7 support. (Recommended for new startups without a brick-and-mortar location)
- Shopify starts at $79/month and includes everything from the basic plan, plus gift cards and professional reports.
- Advanced Shopify is $299/month and includes advanced reports, third-party calculated shipping rates, and up to 8 store locations.
Many other platforms for setting up an eCommerce store are out there, so read up on your options and find the one that will work best for you.
Pick your eCommerce template and customize it
Depending on the eCommerce solution that you choose, you will likely have a template to choose from, or at the very least some customizations you can make to it.
The design of your online store is important. It helps set the tone for your store and helps to establish your brand. So make sure to customize the messaging, colors, images, and fonts to the full capabilities you are allowed with your platform.
Add your products
Once you’ve customized your online store, it’s time to add your products. For every product, you’re going to want to include the following items:
- Weight (if applicable to determine shipping costs)
- Files (if selling digital products)
- Descriptions (avoid jargon, complex sentences, cliches)
- Product images (high-quality images are a must here. Get a professional photographer if you need to)
Set up payment methods
After you’ve added your products, you need to set up your payment methods. Determine what options you will have connected with your online store and how your customers will be able to pay for their orders.
It will be good to research different payment processors and methods for accepting payments prior to setting up your online store. Here are some questions to ask when conducting your search:
- What are the fees? Are there any additional transactional fees or percentages kept from orders?
- Is it a highly recognized source that customers will trust?
A few popular payment options to look into that are easily integrated into most eCommerce solutions:
- Apple Pay
What about security?
Online store builders generally come with built-in SSL certificates, meaning your customers’ information will be encrypted to ensure their online shopping experience is secure.
Figure out shipping policies
Now that you have your products and payment methods figured out, you need to make sure that you can ship your products to your customers in a cost-effective and customer-friendly way.
Here are some questions to consider as you set up your shipping rates:
- Will you offer free shipping?
- Where are you shipping to and from?
- Are there specific places you won’t ship to?
- Will you ship outside of the United States?
- What are the costs to ship outside of the US or continental US?
Consider the following shipping options and determine will work best for your business.
If you choose to offer free shipping, it’s a good idea to increase the price of your products to include the costs that you will incur for shipping. Free shipping is an enticing selling point to the customer. You just want to make sure that it’s still a profitable option for you, too.
Flat rate shipping
Flate rate shipping is the same price for every product or order. No matter how many things the customer orders, their shipping is only a flat fee of your choosing.
This is also an enticing selling point for customers if they will be making large, bulky, or heavy orders. Be sure you can cover the costs and still make a profit.
Real-time quotes calculate the shipping fees in real-time based on the size, weight, and destination of the product. This is a great method for transparency for your customers and helps you to cover the costs better if you offer products of varying sizes and/or ship to locations with varying costs.
If you have a brick-and-mortar store, you can add an option for your customers to come pick up their online orders at your location. Additional options like this can be a good selling point, especially for local customers.
Rate by order
Rate-by-order shipping is a great option to reward your customers for spending more at your store. For example, you might offer free shipping on orders over $50 (or whatever threshold you decide will still be profitable).
You’ll need to pick a reliable courier to deliver your products to your customers. Some popular options include USPS, UPS, and FedEx. Most online store builders also have partnerships with specific couriers to give you better shipping rates and discounts.
Troubleshoot your store, and publish it when you’re ready
Now that you have all of the above figured out, you should thoroughly test your store. Look through all of your products and make sure they are set up how you want them. Ensure that there’s a good flow from browsing to checkout. Test ship some orders to yourself or friends.
Use this list to help you test everything before publishing your online store:
- Does everything actually work? Go through the entire checkout process a few times
- Are the prices displaying and calculating correctly in the cart?
- Test your payment processor
- Is your content all there and correct? No typos? Have someone proofread your site
- Does it work on mobile?
- Test across multiple browsers
- Double-check your settings (language, currency, time zone, store name, contact, order settings, product settings)
When you’re confident that your store functions properly and you are satisfied with the look and feel of it all, then publish it!
The last step is to start marketing your store and getting it in front of more customers online and in person.
Some handy small business marketing resources for you:
Build your online presence and work for more online reviews
Online reviews are a great way to help improve your eCommerce store’s reputation, improve local SEO, and gain new customers. Make sure you stay on top of your online reputation.
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