How to Start an Online Store

Mychelle Blake
shopping cart on a computer keyboard

You have a product you want to sell and can't wait to get the word out. Starting an online store can be easy if you have the right tools in place at the start. There are several steps and business plans to consider before you start building your store. The good news is there are many options today you can choose from.

Step One: Choose Your Platform

There are several available options for the actual store set-up. Consider your budget and your own comfort zone using technology when choosing your platform. Deciding on this initial piece will determine your subsequent steps in the process.

Online Store Builder

You can build a professional store using a store builder in no time even if you have zero coding knowledge. Features such as a payment processor, domain, hosting, and even marketing tools are included. The con is you don't have full personalization options. Depending on the level of plan, the lower budget options require you to have ads and use a URL such as "http://www.mystorename.storebuilder.com." You also will pay monthly subscription fees, and these can add up and hurt your profits.

Existing Marketplace

You can use a retailer such as Amazon, eBay, or Etsy to build a store. There's not much site designing involved, and the payment processor is already set up. It can be a good step for someone who is just beginning who needs to keep their costs down but wants to get started right away. You can also embed them into a WordPress site. This is a way to get your store up and running in one format and then use the same format again in another venue.

Your Own Website

The third way to start an online store is to have your own personal store site. WooCommerce with WordPress is a popular option. There are many other shopping cart plugins you can use with WordPress, Joomla, and non-CMS sites. Having your own online store has multiple benefits.

  • You have complete customization of how your site looks.
  • You own your own content and are not "renting" space on another platform.
  • You have more options for SEO and adding other online tools.
  • You do not need to pay a monthly subscription fee.

There are disadvantages, as well.

  • You need to have some knowledge of how to create a website.
  • You may need to hire a designer or a developer to work on the site for you.
  • While you won't have monthly subscription fees, you will have monthly or annual fees to pay for hosting, domains, and premium plugins.

Step Two: Purchase Domain and Hosting

You will need to have a domain name for your store, which you can purchase through a domain registry such as GoDaddy or Name.com. However, the domain is usually included with a store builder or existing marketplace site.

If you use a store builder or existing retailer, hosting will be included in the package. If you develop your own site, you will need to purchase hosting. Research your host for their experience with e-commerce sites and choose one that can handle the needs of an online store.

Step Three: Determine How You Will Ship

Deciding on how you will price shipping can be tricky. You'll need to get a weight for your products that includes the packaging. Many of the major shipping outlets provide resources for figuring out your options such as UPS, Federal Express, and the US Postal Service. Some shipping vendors offer additional discounts for shipping from programs such as Amazon.com.

Step Four: Find a Payment Processor

With a store builder, you are limited to the choices they offer. If you are building your own site, you will need to find a payment processor. Each processor charges different fees and may have restrictions for international currencies. Some of the most popular ones are PayPal, Stripe, and Authorize.net. Check with your bank, as well, as many have services you can use.

Step Five: Present Your Products Effectively

If you want your products to sell well, you need compelling descriptions and professional quality photos. You don't necessarily need a photographer, but learn how to take effective photos and invest in equipment. For your descriptions, focus on key selling points, benefits, and your target market to craft marketing copy to draw the buyer in and optimize your products for SEO.

Step Six: Create Your Policies and Processes

Having solid return and exchange policies will save you headaches later on. You also should have a process for handling customer service and tech support before you launch your store.

Selling Products Online

With all the available options today, there are many things to consider when setting up an online store. Take your time and research your target market and what the best platform is for you.

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How to Start an Online Store