Launching your own online business can be extremely exciting as you get to see your unique ideas come to life. In order to be successful, it's essential to ensure you have carefully thought out what you wish to sell and how you are going to launch your online store.
With so many platforms, tools, and services available to budding entrepreneurs, it's never been easier to start an online store! Read this helpful beginner-friendly guide to help kick-start your very own eCommerce business.
Why Start an Online Store? 🛒️
When done right, eCommerce can be a significantly profitable and rewarding business venture. If you are passionate about selling your unique products, such as handmade goods, or are interested in wholesale, you should consider launching your own online store.
The key factor that makes eCommerce so lucrative is the demand for online shopping. According to the International Trade Administration (ITA) consumer eCommerce accounts for 30% of the UK's total retail market, with 82% of the population purchasing a minimum of one product from online stores.
To further understand why it's a good idea to start an online store, you can familiarise yourself with the top benefits of eCommerce.
3 Benefits of Having Your Own Online Store
Here are three common benefits online business owners experience from eCommerce:
1. Convenience: Because your eCommerce store is online, you can manage and run your business at the click of a button. This means there's no need to get dressed in work attire for a day's work or open up a physical store as everything is digital.
2. Flexibility: When running an eCommerce business, you become your own boss. This grants you complete authority to make decisions, develop strategies, and manage business operations. You also get to work by a schedule that suits you.
3. Affordable: Online businesses cost less to operate than in-person stores. This is because physical establishments come with significantly more expenses, such as travel costs and rent.
How to Start an Online Store in 9 Steps (Beginner Friendly) 📖️
Launching your own online store can be daunting, especially if you are new to eCommerce. Luckily, there's a multitude of helpful resources out there to help you get started. Before you begin your entrepreneurial journey into the world of eCommerce, be sure to follow the steps below to ensure you start off on the right foot:
1. Define Your Target Audience
A target audience is a group of people who share similar characteristics, such as age or sex, that you specifically market your products towards. Before you begin selling your products online, you must identify who you are going to sell to.
Without a clearly defined audience, your marketing efforts won't have any direction, making it more difficult to appeal to your website's visitors and convert them into customers. The major categories to look at when defining your target audience include:
- Demographic: This includes sex, age, occupation, income, religion, nationality, ethnicity and education. For instance, you may choose to target male and female university students aged between 18 and 25.
- Geographic location: Choosing a target audience based on where they live can help you develop relevant marketing strategies that align with their needs, interests, and wants. For example, advertising winter wear to customers who live in a cold area will sell better than selling to those who live in a predominantly hot location.
- Interests: You can selectively target audiences who share a niche interest, such as people who are part of subcultures, share hobbies, or live a certain lifestyle. By identifying the core interests of your target audience, you can effectively tailor your products and marketing campaigns to resonate with them.
Choosing an audience can work both ways, either before you have a product or after. If you are defining your target audience before selecting a product to sell, it's recommended that you settle on a group of people you understand best.
For instance, if you fall within a certain demographic or niche, you will probably know what the current demands and trends are. Having this familiarity will make marketing a breeze, as you will have a firm foundation of knowledge to get you going.
Alternatively, if you already have an established product, you should conduct market research into who is buying your product the most. For example, you can look into their shared interests, age, and any other attributes which stand out.
2. Decide What to Sell Online
You won't have a profitable online store unless you sell products that are in demand. While deciding on a product to sell online can be challenging, having a target audience defined can make the process slightly easier.
It may be worth asking yourself some reflective questions, such as 'What's trending?' 'How will you source products?' and 'Who are the market leaders?'. Below, are a few ways you can find a profitable product to sell on your eCommerce site:
Identify Top-Selling Products
By identifying leading products, with tools such as Jungle Scout, and reading their reviews, you can assess what makes them good and how they can become better. This will provide you with a competitive edge that will enable you to outperform your biggest competitors.
You can also conduct market research by asking audiences how a product could become even better. This can be done via a questionnaire or survey.
Trending products are items which present a rapidly growing market demand. With social media so prominent throughout society, there are more viral products than ever. Identifying and selling a product that everyone is talking about can be an easy way into eCommerce.
When selling trending products, it's always best to capitalise on them as early as possible. This puts you at the frontline of the market, enabling you to reap the monetary benefits before the market becomes condensed with competition.
However, it is important to acknowledge that the demand for trending products isn't always permanent and that they may die out in the future.
Find Untapped Niches
You may have heard the saying 'the riches are in the niches'. This is because tapping into a niche market can be remarkably profitable. Niche markets are easier to sell to than mass markets because they present a high demand while having a low volume of competition.
Identifying the pain points and interests of a specific market is an effective way of unveiling a profitable niche product.
3. Determine Your Business Model
Once you know who your target market is and what product you are going to sell online, you need to determine which business model best suits your eCommerce store.
Understanding your business model is essential as it will enable you to develop the infrastructure of your business, and understand what your greatest threats and opportunities are. If you own an eCommerce business, you will likely fall into one of these seven business model categories:
1. Business-to-Consumer (B2C)
B2C businesses operate by directly selling products to end-users or consumers. Purchasing homeware, clothing, and subscribing to entertainment platforms are common examples of B2C transactions.
2. Business-to-Business (B2B)
The B2B model involves a transaction between two businesses where a product, service, or information is exchanged. In most instances, B2B transactions involve a business selling its materials and products (such as office supplies) to other businesses.
3. Business-to-Government (B2G)
The B2G model, also referred to as business-to-administration (B2A), concerns businesses selling their products or services to government entities and public administrations. A small-scale company selling its IT services to a government institution is an example of a B2G exchange.
4. Consumer-to-Business (C2B)
C2B businesses involve individuals selling their services to an organisation. This model provides consumers with the authority to determine their prices and have businesses compete with each other to meet the specific requirements of the consumer.
An example of C2B operations includes paid reviews or testimonials, affiliate programs, and data sharing.
5. Direct-to-Consumer (D2C)
D2C businesses directly sell their original products to end consumers without the involvement of any third-party retailers or wholesalers, unlike B2C sellers. This means D2C companies manufacture their own products to sell to customers, such as selling handmade skincare.
6. Consumer-to-Consumer (C2C)
The C2C connects consumers through third-party platforms, known as digital marketplaces, where they sell goods and services to each other. Platforms such as eBay, Etsy, Depop, and Airbnb are popular among C2C sellers.
7. Business-to-Business-to-Consumer (B2B2C)
While B2B2C may seem complicated at a glance, it's actually a relatively straightforward concept. This model involves a business partnering with another entity to sell its product or services to consumers.
For example, an online retail platform, such as Amazon, may sell its store hosting services to an online business that sells to consumers. When buying a product from an online seller, a customer can then purchase additional services, such as fast-tracked shipping, from the retail platform.
4. Choose a Name & Register Your Online Business
Choosing a business name and registering your online store are crucial steps that must be followed in order to bring your business to life. Your business name is a powerful tool which will affect how appealing and memorable your eCommerce store is.
Once you choose a business name, it is important to check the availability of the name. This will ensure your business is not confused with another and, most importantly, that you don't infringe on any trademarked business names. Here are some helpful tips for choosing a business name:
- Keep it short and snappy: Ensuring you select a catchy, short name will enable customers to easily remember your business.
- Make sure it's unique: Don't choose a name that's too similar to your competition as this can be confusing for online shoppers. The more unique your name is the more impactful it will be, just make sure it's not too unusual or overly complicated to spell.
- Don't forget about online presence: Your business name will also be incorporated into your domain name. Ensure the domain you choose is search engine optimisation (SEO) friendly so that your eCommerce store ranks on search engine results pages (SERP) – avoid using hyphens and characters to ensure your chosen domain is optimised.
Once you have settled on a name for your eCommerce platform, you will need to register and trademark it, to ensure other companies can't steal it.
After you have all the above out of the way, you will need to legally register your company. This will ensure the authorities know who's responsible for your business, where profits go, and who pays taxes. When registering your business, there are three options to choose from:
- Sole trader: You have the sole responsibility for all profits and losses.
- Partnership: You share the responsibility of profits and management with someone else.
- Limited company: Your company's finances are separate from your personal finances.
5. Choose an Ecommerce Platform & Build Your Website
Your next step is choosing a suitable eCommerce platform to list and sell your products. The eCommerce platform you select is where essential activities will occur, such as transactions between your store and customers, so it's salient that you settle on a platform that best meets your company's requirements.
During your search for an eCommerce platform, consider the following factors:
- Reliability and security: Ensure you choose a reliable and secure eCommerce platform with a strong track record, to minimise the risk of website crashes and defend against hackers.
- Available features: This includes payment processing, store management systems, and so forth.
- Mobile view optimisation: This ensures shoppers can comfortably access your store on their phones.
- SEO: SEO plays a major role in the success of online stores. Certain eCommerce platforms will offer SEO tools to sellers, so they can effectively optimise their business and rank higher on SERPs. Popular SEO tools to look for include customisable meta-tagging, URLs and structured data.
Many eCommerce platforms provide you with everything you need to build your website. Here are some important components to consider:
- Theme and layout
- Business name and logo
- Customised homepage (and other tabs)
- Product listings
- Configure settings (such as shipping calculators)
6. Select a Payment Provider
After your website is built, you need to decide how customers can pay for your products. Offering shoppers with multiple online payment options will increase the accessibility and convenience of your site, creating a positive user-experience. Here are some popular payment methods you can choose:
- Digital wallets (such as Apple Pay and Paypal)
- Debit/credit cards
- Buy now, pay later (such as Klarna or ClearPay)
- Bank transfer
Certain transaction methods provide their own 'checkouts' which are payment gateways, such as Paypal and Klarna. Payment gateways are favoured by eCommerce sellers as they offer safe payment processing which includes authentication and securely sending cardholder data to relevant parties.
7. Create a Brand Strategy
Before you launch your site, there are some final preparations to consider. Creating a brand strategy is critical to ensuring your online business succeeds.
A brand strategy should always relate to your business and accurately reflect the image, tone, and message behind your brand to customers. This will help your business to attract and resonate with customers. The following components play an important role when developing your brand strategy:
- Brand voice: Defines your brand's personality.
- Brand tone: How you illustrate your brand's personality (e.g. formal or informal, humorous or serious, etc.).
- Brand values: The major principles that your brand stands for (such as honesty and equality). This is communicated through your brand story and mission.
- Brand story: The narrative that reflects your brand's mission and values.
- Brand design: Core brand elements (such as colour scheme and typography) which cohesively create a unique image and aesthetic that stands out from competitors.
So long as you clearly understand who your target audience is, you can begin strategizing your brand. Here are some effective strategies to adopt:
Develop Your Brand Mission
Your brand mission is a statement that communicates your company's passion to readers. This is primarily aimed towards customers, employees, and stakeholders.
Your brand mission should clearly define the purpose of your brand, while simultaneously illustrating your brand values, objectives, and intentions. This allows audiences to get an insight into what your business does and how it will make a positive impact. Here's an example of what a brand mission might look like:
"To provide customers with sustainable and affordable products that reconnect people with nature."
Your brand mission is not fixed, and will likely change as your small business develops and expands. Many companies revise their brand mission every one to five years.
Construct Your Brand Story
Your brand story is a strategically constructed narrative that explains the backstory of how your brand came into existence. The sole purpose of a brand story is to resonate with audiences and evoke a positive emotional response.
Your brand story must be authentic, consistent, and genuine, as it will not just attract customers but also enable you to gain their trust and loyalty. Here are some top tips for brand storytelling:
- Lead with passion — What motivated you to start your brand?
- Define audience pain points — What's a common issue you seek to resolve?
- Draw attention to your product — How does your brand solve these issues?
- Leverage audience emotions — What values and needs will trigger an emotional response?
Emphasise Your USPs
Your unique selling point, or proposition (USP), is a major quality that sets your brand aside from competitors. This exhibits how your product is better than other leading brands in the same market.
Your USP should be emphasised and reiterated throughout your brand strategy and across all marketing efforts to ensure your products effectively stand out and attract customers. When communicating your USP, there is a multitude of phrases you can adopt to depict the superiority of your product, such as:
- "Cheapest on the market"
- "The highest quality"
- "New and improved"
Establish Brand-Aligned Customer Service
The service you provide to customers should adhere to your brand's values to ensure your overall image is maintained. Providing positive customer service will additionally foster a relationship between your online store and customers which will pave the way for brand loyalty.
To create a good impression, you should incorporate the following elements into your customer service:
- Human interaction, not automated (such as chatbots)
- Friendliness and respect
- Prompt response time
- Rewards (such as discounts or loyalty schemes)
Create a Unique Logo & Tagline
Your brand logo and tagline cohesively form your brand identity. The logo you choose to display will inform customers of your brand without written context, while your brand's tagline or slogan will grasp your audience's attention. To create an impactful and memorable logo, ensure you use a consistent colour scheme with simplistic details.
To be effective, your brand's tagline should be concise and catchy, no longer than eight words. It should additionally summarise your brand's personality and values. Taglines such as Nike: "Just Do It" and L'Oréal: "Because You're Worth It" are fantastic examples of unique and powerful taglines.
8. Launch Your Online Store
Now it's time for the exciting part! Once you have carefully completed every step detailed above, you are ready to launch your online store. Remember to configure the settings of your online store, such as shipping calculators, to ensure all operations run smoothly.
Once your online store is live, you will need to create product listings. A good product listing includes a concise product description that accurately describes the purpose and uses of an item, while addressing any potential questions customers may have.
Here's a checklist of what you need to include when adding products to your eCommerce platform:
- A product title
- Clear and professional product images
- A product description with SEO keywords
- Product category and tags
9. Market Your Online Store
The primary way of ensuring you run a successful online store that drives traffic and generates sales is by creating effective marketing campaigns. Marketing strategies will additionally encourage repeat customers and help raise awareness of your online store.
To create a solid and harmonious brand image, your marketing efforts should incorporate your brand strategy in a variety of mediums. Here are the most impactful marketing methods to use:
Implement Out Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
SEO is one of the most powerful, free digital marketing practices. When done right, SEO can help your business rank high and drastically boost traffic to your online store. Here are some beginner-friendly SEO tactics you can implement:
- SEO Keyword Research: SEO keywords are terms which are most frequently searched for. By researching keywords and including them across your online store (such as on landing pages and product descriptions), your site will rank higher on results pages, subsequently becoming more visible to browsing shoppers.
- Backlinks: Also known as inbound links, backlinks are links which direct users from an external site to your own. They can not only boost your site's rankings but also promote the credibility of your online store.
- Metadata: In SEO, metadata concerns page titles and descriptions. These components combine to provide shoppers with a snippet of a page or product on your online store, before clicking the link and entering your site.
A meta title should be between 50 to 60 characters in length, while meta descriptions can be between 150 to 160 characters. If your metadata is too long, search engines may not display them entirely.
While SEO practices are often free, it may be worth investing in SEO software and tools, such as Semrush, to further optimise your online store. Such platforms can provide you with insightful data which can help you create and reach targets while monitoring and managing your SEO strategies.
Launch a Blog
Creating a blog for your online store is an excellent way of incorporating SEO into your marketing efforts. You can create keyword-rich blog posts to ensure your search engine ranking is improved.
By ensuring you share informative and engaging blog posts regularly you will position your store at the forefront of your audience's conscience, making your brand unforgettable and relevant. You can create a blog page on your eCommerce platform, or use external sites, such as WordPress.
Embrace Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing is an immensely effective way of connecting with audiences through shared content. Using platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok, can help you raise brand awareness and develop a brand community.
You can use social media features such as stories, live streams, and posts, to engage with audiences and direct users to your site, to generate sales. Sites like Instagram even have their own checkout features, enabling users to purchase your product directly from your page.
Create a Mailing list
Mailing lists are superb marketing tools. They allow you to regularly update customers on product releases, restocks, sales, and exclusive offers, through frequently shared emails.
You can start a mailing list by adding a 'sign-up' feature to your site, enabling visitors to subscribe to your brand's mailing list. You can further persuade users to subscribe by offering a reward, such as free shipping or a limited-time discount code.
Try Paid Search Advertising
Paid search advertising involves paying a search engine, such as Google, to place your digital adverts at the top of the results page. A popular form of paid search advertising is the pay-per-click method.This means you only get charged for your advertisement when someone clicks it and is redirected to your website. This tool can increase your store's visibility and encourage traffic to your site.
Engage in Co-Branding
Co-branding, or joint advertising, is when you create an alliance with a company that sells complimentary products or services to yours. For example, if you sell cooking utensils you may choose to co-brand with a food box subscription brand. This strategy will increase the awareness of your online business while strengthening your credibility.
Ecommerce Tools & Features for Online Businesses 🛠️
Running an online store can be complicated. Thankfully, there are many helpful tools and features that are purposefully designed to help you pinpoint important metric data (such as your monthly volume of website visitors and sales) and elevate the overall performance of your eCommerce businesses.
5 Must-Have Ecommerce Tools & Features
Below, is a carefully curated list of essential eCommerce tools and features that are perfect for small online business owners:
1. Shipping Integration
Shipping integration software is a cost-effective eCommerce solution that allows you to connect your shipping system to your online store, enabling automated order fulfilment, secure customer information storage, and shipment tracking. This will promote efficient order completion by helping you stay on top of orders.
2. Inventory Management System
An inventory management system allows you to track inventory, sales, deliveries, and outgoing costs. This type of system will help your business remain organised and make business planning significantly easier.
Because inventory management systems provide a systematic structure for calculating and recording important information, they can help you be more accurate and thus, have adequate stock to fulfil orders.
3. Customer Feedback
Having a dedicated space for customer feedback is important to help you understand how existing customers experience your brand. This will provide insight into your strengths and weaknesses, which can later support your business strategies. You can request customer feedback in many ways, including:
- Feedback pop-ups or buttons on your site
- Social media (such as Instagram polls)
- Email surveys
4. Analytics Software
In eCommerce, analytics software collates insightful data that signifies the performance of your online store. They allow you to track consumer behaviour, website traffic, sale, product performance, and marketing campaigns. With this information, you can better understand consumer trends and make informed decisions to drive sales.
Aside from your online store, you can also use analytics to improve your social media presence. Platforms such as Instagram have their own analytics features designed specifically for business accounts.
5. Repricing Tool
An effective way of beating competitor prices and maintaining your product's competitive price is by using a repricing tool. These use several data points within the market to automatically change the prices of your listings, enabling you to enhance your pricing strategy.
They also notify you of suitable times to increase your prices, such as when the market is quieter or when competitors lack stock.
Frequently Asked Questions 🗯️
When learning how to start an online store, many people ask the following questions:
What is the Easiest Way to Start an Online Store?
Using an eCommerce platform, such as Shopify, is a quick and relatively easy way of creating an online store. To make the process even more straightforward, you can identify a niche product and develop a business plan accordingly, to provide you with additional structure.
How Profitable is an Online Store?
The profitability of your store will depend on what you are selling an how you sell it. There are many methods you can adopt that will boost profitability, such as digital marketing and brand strategizing.
What's the Best Ecommerce Platform?
There are many eCommerce platforms, which provide their own unique features. According to recent market research, the leading eCommerce platforms are:
- Woo Themes