Online Store: A Complete How-To-Start Guide

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Today, for many trade spheres, transferring offline business to online is the only option to survive. Some, in this way, expand their field of activity, running both a brick-and-mortar store and opening an online one. Others simply close their offline stores and completely switch to the Internet.

Time has shown that online sales are always relevant and in demand, even in conditions of lockdown and isolation. But how to open your own online business from scratch? How to make your corporate site design efficient? Where to begin with? Does it require a lot of investment?

In this article, we’ll try to find answers to these and many other questions together. We hope that the information provided will be enough to get a clear idea of what needs to be done and what to pay special attention to so that the store created will become successful as well as prosperous.

20 Steps to start your online store

The process of creating an online store is pretty demanding and requires thorough work and analysis to be carried out. Let’s take a closer look at the steps companies should take to make their store beneficial to both the business and the customers.

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01# Pick your marketing strategy and conduct a research

The right marketing strategy helps new companies get their first sales and fulfill the plans of already experienced entrepreneurs. It is required at all stages of the life cycle of an e-commerce project.

Any strategy consists of the following elements:

  • goals – the results the company is striving for;
  • tasks – what needs to be done;
  • metrics – initial and desired indicators;
  • terms time for which it’s planned to achieve the result.

The strategy includes a list of actions that the company is going to take to promote its website, expand the customer base, improve business processes, test various sales channels, etc. It’s designed for a certain period to systematically strengthen the traffic and conversion rates of the store.

A competent strategy enables the company:

  • to find the most effective promotion tools for a certain niche, taking into account the specifics of the business, the needs of the target audience, and the level of competition;
  • to plan advertising activities to achieve the set goals (to improve sales, increase demand for products, and so on);
  • to give up on hopeless marketing decisions, thus avoiding gross mistakes.

Accordingly, we can conclude that a proper marketing strategy helps companies to plan their sustainable competitive advantage, that’s why its development should not be neglected.

02# Decide on your niche

The success of the entire enterprise depends on what it sells. There are two nuances here: if you choose a popular niche, you’ll definitely get the profit, but the company will have to compete with brands that have long conquered their marketplace. In case you pick a little-known or a new direction – there will be almost no competitors. However, the business will have to substantially invest in advertising to popularize the product on the market.

However, there are several loopholes for the second option. The first one is to focus on a narrow product category. For example, not women’s clothing in general but dresses or skirts specifically. The second loophole is to use social media, especially if the budget doesn’t include ad spending. The utilization of word of mouth, provision of bonuses, and discounts for reviews are also great tools for making people talk about your store.

Consequently, companies should carefully consider their budget and possibilities in order to choose the most suitable niche for running their e-commerce store.

03# Make a business plan

Drawing up a business plan is a truly important step. Therefore, companies should describe in detail the path of creating, launching, and organizing an online store. Moreover, the business should understand clearly what it will sell, where it will take the goods, how the orders will be delivered, and so on.

A perfect business plan should cover the following sections:

  • Product description Here we talk about the essence of the product, why it was chosen, and its advantages and disadvantages. The places where the company will get this product, how it will be stored, and delivered, should also be mentioned there.
  • Market analysis The analysis should deliver a whole picture of the market and display how many stores sell similar goods, what market share will be taken by the company, and what are the features of sales.
  • Online store description Businesses need to decide whether it will be a retail or a wholesale store, a one-page multiproduct website, or a multipage catalog. The way the website interface will look and how the sales will be carried out should also be considered.
  • Marketing plan The point should address the issue of promoting the website. Will it take place with the help of SEO, contextual advertising, SMM, or something else?
  • Organizational plan Here, the companies should determine the amount of investment required to get started. It includes the website development and launch, purchase of the necessary equipment and goods, expenses on advertising, etc.
  • Financial plan The section covers calculations of all expenditures and an expected income. At this stage, you can calculate the return on business and find out its prospects.
  • Risk assessment It’s crucial to foresee and be ready for situations that might interfere with the plans of the company. That’s why possible causes and ways of preventing or eliminating such problems need to be considered as well.

In other words, the business plan helps companies to structure the whole working process and doesn’t give a chance to miss anything out on.

04# Create a brand

The brand is the association that people have when they hear the name of the company. When creating a brand, the visual part is the first thing that comes to mind. Imagine an apple. What is this brand? And what is Instagram’s logo? It has become clear that a bright and memorable brand is the key to success, hasn’t it?

When building a brand, companies should ask themselves a few questions:

  • Who is the product for? (the definition of the target audience)
  • What problems does the product solve?
  • Who are my competitors?

Accordingly, it’s recommended to use such presentation of the product information that will cause strong associative links. The following brand elements will be of much help:

Naming allows customers to identify a product or a company. The name should be easy to remember and form a unique story around it to create an associative array. For example, Tesla is associated with Nikola Tesla.

Logo is a visual brand presentation. A recognizable image or inscription is the first thing to catch the eye of the customer. For instance, the capital letter M in the McDonald’s logo.

Fonts and colors influence the psychological perception of the brand. They also should form a huge association with the product or a company. For example, the orange color evokes the image of Fanta.

Slogan is an advertising message that conveys the essence of the company or brand. For instance, Nike — “Just do it!”

While developing the brand, companies should take into account each detail it will consist of since a strong association is a key to becoming unforgettable among customers.

05# Choose between dropshipping or holding your own products

Dropshipping is such a way of cooperation with a supplier, in which goods are shipped directly from the supplier’s warehouse to the customer. At the same time, the online store participates in this transaction as an intermediary only.

The advantages of this partnership are that the company doesn’t have to purchase large consignments of goods, rent a warehouse, as well as deal with logistics and warranty service.

Talking about its disadvantages, we should mention the following: a rather high cost of the product and the complexity of working with several suppliers at the same time (e.g., if a customer orders several products from different suppliers, the company has to pay for these several deliveries at once).

Moreover, before starting the cooperation with suppliers, you should make sure of their reliability since the quality and level of their service will directly influence, first of all, the reputation of your company. Therefore, it’s worth considering carefully whether to sell your own products (if any) or use the services of suppliers.

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06# Name your store and get a domain

Quite often, when recommending an online store, users do not share a specific link but say its original name. That is why it’s essential to choose a laconic and memorable company name and a corresponding domain name. A domain is the address of an online store under which customers can find it on the Internet.

Here are some tips for picking a domain:

  • It should be easily perceived aurally and written unambiguously in order not to cause any difficulties or complications.
  • It shouldn’t be too long since the shorter the name, the easier it is to remember.
  • It should contain words that are close to the field of activity in which the company operates.
  • It should be associated with the company or reflect the website theme as long as it helps users to keep it in mind.

Furthermore, do not forget about such a parameter as uniqueness. Otherwise, there’s a risk that users will be directed to the website of another store or company instead of yours. And we don’t want that to happen, right?

07# Pick an e-commerce platform

If there are no resources for making a website from scratch, then the option of employing CMS platforms is the right one. A properly selected CMS is the key to a successful start since it’s better to take some time and thoroughly study all the options than to spend months fixing something.

The functionality of the store greatly depends on the capabilities of the CMS. The CMS service provides each user with a set of basic tools that they can use to create, delete, and edit pages, expand the goods catalog, publish content, add some CTA buttons, and many other things.

A small store can be designed on a free simple CMS, but companies should bear in mind that if their trade starts to flourish and grow, then there may occur some problems with the functionality of the resource, such as slow speed of page loading, inability to set up sorting or customize contact forms, restrictions on creating pages and filling them with the content. All of them may affect the quality of your service. 

Therefore, if you’re counting on the long-term productive work of your online store, it’s better to employ proven and reliable CMS, such as OpenCart, Drupal, WooCommerce, or Joomla from the very beginning.

08# Determine your target audience

The definition of the target audience is another important step as long as if the company doesn’t realize who it works for, there’s a big chance of business failure. For example, selling home furnishings to reckless teenagers is simply useless, while the older generation will not be interested in modern gadgets.

Target audience characteristics that should be considered:

  • Gender New companies should remember that women make purchases in online and offline stores most often. Men, in their turn, place orders quite rarely, e.g., when they need to buy something, but there’s a sore lack of time for shopping.
  • Age Each generation has its own priorities and way of behavior on the website. While the older generation chooses thoughtfully, and it may take a long hard work to lead such a customer to the purchase, the younger one makes decisions rather spontaneously.
  • Financial situation Low-income people prefer to buy something cheaper, and they are constantly looking for sales and discounts. People with an average income, first of all, pay their attention to the quality, and only then to price. When it comes to wealthy customers, then they are primarily interested in acquiring something unusual and exclusive.

There are other characteristics, such as the absence/presence of children, education level, hobbies, and interests. And to make an image of the target audience, companies can also analyze their competitors’ websites or interview their friends and acquaintances.

In any case, this step can’t be ignored since it may lead to the absence of clients, which is more than unfavorable.

09# Choose what to sell online

After defining a niche, there’s a need in determining the product the business will sell. E-commerce giants such as Amazon or eBay lack any product specificity and offer thousands of different products for all occasions possible. But it took them time too. Therefore, a new company should start with a certain category of goods, gain a reputation, and only then gradually expand (if necessary).

It’s also worth mentioning that it’s recommended to sell products that are already popular among customers because the promotion of a totally new product (which no one else knows about) will require a large investment. The categories with a stable demand include clothing and shoes, books and stationery, tea and coffee, toys, sports goods, cosmetics, etc.

Moreover, there’s one more popular category which covers seasonal products. That is, before New Year and Christmas, various decorations and gift sets are highly required, while at the beginning of summer, swimwear, as well as goods for swimming and diving, are sold rather well. However, there’s a risk that during other seasons there will be little demand for these products, which means that the profit may be volatile.

Accordingly, when choosing the product to sell, companies should consider possible risks as well as advantages and disadvantages of all product categories.

10# Create key pages for your store

Depending on the goals, the number of products and services offered, and its size, the online store may contain a different set of pages presented on its website. Let’s discover the most popular of them.

  • Homepage A homepage is a page that the customer immediately lands on while entering the website. The homepage is the “face” of an online store and opens up great opportunities for the company and can surprise, attract, and even persuade the users to buy a product. This section should contain information about promotions and sales, as well as the menu that will provide clients with an impeccable navigation experience.
  • Catalog Quite frequently, an online store is engaged in the sale of diverse groups of goods, which implies some sort of division into levels. It’s really crucial to structure the assortment properly to avoid any confusion since otherwise, a potential client may simply close the website and go to the competitors. Therefore, it’s advisable to separate the sections and product cards with the help of design techniques (colors, fonts, etc.).
  • Blog By building your own online store, you probably want to increase sales and create a useful resource that will attract new customers. A blog can help to cope with this task as long as it may contain reviews of the company’s products or topical articles on the latest trends. Another reason to add this page to the website is the promotion. In this section, you can use all SEO techniques that may be covered by high-quality and fascinating posts.
  • About us page To increase the visitors’ trust and loyalty, to answer some questions in advance, and even to increase sales, it’s important to make a competently composed About us page. The main thing is to write honestly and avoid standard phrases or cliches since in such a way your approach will seem to be personal. And customers will always appreciate it.
  • Contact page A contact page is a necessary section that enables clients to quickly contact the store consultants or support team without looking for a phone number or email address throughout the website. That’s why companies should create various contact forms and include all the communication methods possible, not forgetting to provide the physical addresses if they have offices or offline shops.

The list of pages is not exhaustive, and companies can add some others like a FAQ page or a Policy page which will be also of much help for both customers and business.

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11# Customize your online store

The online store should look attractive and appealing so that the visitor wants to stay and place an order here. If the users like staying on it, then the chances that they will perform the targeted action, making a purchase, significantly increase. Therefore, the website design with all the elements should be thoroughly considered.

Since the  design requirements are constantly growing, the following points should be taken into account:

  • Style and laconism Flashy colors, as well as fanciful fonts, have been out of fashion for a long time, that’s why the design should be consistent and look stylish. Furthermore, there’s no need to take up the whole space of the pages since minimalism is still in demand.
  • High-quality photos and videos In the minds of the customers, the quality of all the website elements serves as an indicator of the quality of goods or services the store offers. Consequently, images and photos should be of high quality. And to show your creativity, it’s better to use unique, custom illustrations rather than downloaded ones.
  • Corporate identity Once brand elements, such as logo and corporate colors, have been designed, it’s time to apply them to the website. With their help, the company will not only display its identity but also will stand out from the competitors.

The main idea is to make the store unique and demonstrate its key features. However, companies should remember that the design shouldn’t be overplayed through the incorporation of all elements available.

12# Add products to your online store

Now it’s high time to add products to the website catalog. Nevertheless, it’s not the only thing that needs to be carried out at this stage. The page of each product should be designed in such a way that the users literally fall in love with your offer and place an order to get the desired product. To make it come true, companies need to post photos of high quality and write “delicious” descriptions.

The descriptions should meet certain requirements, including:

  • Uniqueness Specialized services that check texts for plagiarism may help achieve a high level of text uniqueness.
  • Optimization It means that each description should incorporate a specific set of key phrases and words (important for SEO).
  • Benefit for the customer This concept implies that each client should get a full scope of information about the product.

In addition, we would like to mention one more factor literacy, since it’s simply unacceptable to post texts with various mistakes or misprints. That’s why the descriptions should be published only after a careful check.

By the way, please, remember that the texts will be assessed not only by visitors but also by search engines. A low level of uniqueness, excess of key phrases, and other inconsistencies may lead to a situation when the store is not shown in the search results. And we don’t need that, do we? Consequently, it’s better to check the content quality right away to avoid complications that may arise in the future.

13# Connect a payment provider

When building a new store, companies need to decide on the payment options that will be available to their customers. As of today, there are two most common payment types:

  • COD (cash on delivery) The buyer pays for the goods upon the receipt at the post office or the collection point of the store by card or cash.
  • Online payment The customer pays for the goods at the time of placing an order with a credit card or with electronic money.

COD is much less profitable for the store since the cost of delivery increases and such an expenditure item as the return of an unredeemed item appears (when the buyer had changed their mind and didn’t pay for the goods). Moreover, the delivery may take quite a long time, and the company will have to wait to get the money from the customer.

However, this type of payment is quite favorable for those clients who don’t have the right sum of money when making a purchase or those who have some doubts about either the product quality or the company itself. That is why new businesses should also include this option, perhaps, until it wins the hearts of buyers and gains its reputation.

Online payment on the website, in its turn, will allow companies to receive money for the goods even before they are sent to the client, thereby avoiding the above-mentioned cases. There are a lot of services for the Internet acquiring, and, before picking one of them, it’s advisable to check the terms of cooperation with them (payment methods, commissions, availability of ready-made modules for your CMS, etc.).

As long as both types have their advantages and disadvantages, it’s up to the company to pick the one that suits them best.

14# Set up a company and get a sales tax ID

Taxes are an integral part of any business, and it is essential to register a company as a business entity. Such registration means not only that you receive all the profit from the store and work for yourself but also that all obligations, such as unforeseen expenses, payment of salaries, and taxes, also fall on your shoulders.

Before registering the store, it’s worth considering the price (or markup) for which the company will sell the goods. And this is extremely important, as long as it will allow businesses to calculate the return on their store and avoid the situation when the company’s profit equals zero (or even a minus) after all taxes have been paid.

Accordingly, in order to register, the company owner needs to go to the relevant authority, where the specialist will tell them about the forms of taxation, payment procedures and will issue a sales tax ID.

Furthermore, when cooperating with suppliers from other countries, companies have to follow their tax rules as well. Consequently, there is a need to follow the taxation rules of both countries (or more).

This aspect should be thoroughly studied, since, otherwise, companies may face big problems.

15# Design your site for sales

To inspire customers to buy the products you offer and to attract your target audience, the website should be not only catchy but also convenient. Therefore, to make the website effective, companies should follow some recommendations:

  • Equip a product catalog with filters and a search bar That will ensure smooth and easy navigation. To make even more money, companies can display similar, additional as well as viewed products on both product and category pages. For the same reason, they can add sliders with special offers.
  • Do not overload pages with unnecessary or irrelevant information Enumeration of call-to-action buttons and huge banners with advertisements that cover the website content may prevent visitors from staying on the website. That’s why the whole concept of excessiveness should be avoided.
  • Indicate the price of the product on each product card Transparency in this matter is critically important for the customers since the price is one of the most decisive factors when making a purchase. Moreover, when visiting a new website, customers expect to see prices as long as hardly anyone will make a call to get this information.
  • Place convenient contact forms for all possible cases The purpose of the forms may be different: from the need to ask the support team a question to the desire to leave feedback on the product purchased. And all these cases are important, first of all, to the company.
  • Make sure that the design of the online store is mobile-responsive It’s crucial to make a website fully adaptive for mobile devices as long as there’s no secret that the percentage of people who enter the websites via their gadgets is much higher than those who do it via computers.

The points mentioned above will ensure the convenient stay of customers on the website and let them enjoy an excellent level of interaction with the company.

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16# Create a strong branding strategy

Branding is the way people see and perceive the company. Therefore, effective branding makes a significant contribution to building consumer awareness and loyalty. Accordingly, with the help of branding, businesses manage to catch the attention of buyers, capture a market niche, guarantee product quality, and justify their pricing policy.

This phenomenon consists of several stages, and it’s required to devote a lot of time and effort to each of them since the already formed image is quite hard to change in the future.

  1. Detailed research Any strategy aimed at achieving the desired result starts with the creation of the information basis. And both the product itself and the target audience are studied. The advantages of the goods, the degree of its demand, product groups, possible distribution channels, competitors, and other crucial factors are determined.
  2. Positioning strategy development This strategy unites all brand components into a single unit: image, idea, mission, and values. Here companies should plan actions to form or improve their reputation. In addition, key benefits for the customers should also be considered.
  3. Development of communication with customers At this stage, the communication channels with customers along with their features are analyzed, the way of interaction with the target audience is determined, and the possible reaction of clients is predicted. Moreover, taking into account the specifics of the company’s activities and the market itself, the direction of creative, marketing, and other strategies is designed.
  4. Promotion strategy development This strategy deals with the ways of promotion of a product, service, or manufacturer. And it aims at making the product popular among consumers, entering new markets, and showing the company’s individuality.
  5. Creation of distinctive brand elements The interconnection of both visual (logo, packaging, fonts, etc.) and verbal (motto, slogan, etc.) elements can improve not only brand awareness but also help stand out from the competitors. That’s why the creation of such elements is considered to be so significant.

Since the market is continually changing and growing, obtaining just an amazing brand means nothing without an effective branding strategy.

17# Decide on your business structure

Business structure refers to the company organization in terms of its legal status. There are several types of structures, and each has its own pros and cons for the business. Let’s take a closer look at them.

  • Sole proprietorship A sole proprietorship is a type of entrepreneurial activity registered under the procedures established by the law and carried out by an individual. The registration process here is quite fast and simple and doesn’t require much paperwork. Nevertheless, there’s also a serious drawback, which is an unlimited financial liability. It means that fines, taxes, and all other expenses can affect the personal property of the entrepreneur. Moreover, within this type, it’s prohibited to hire any employees which means that all work should be performed independently and on your own.
  • Partnership The partnership stands for collective business management. It is divided into two subtypes: general and limited liability. The general partnership resembles a sole proprietorship as all its members bear the full financial liability, while in a limited liability partnership, stakeholders risk only their investment in the company. It means that all possible fines or collections do not affect their personal property. Moreover, if we talk about taxation, then the taxes are paid in accordance with the income of each partner, not the company revenue itself.
  • Corporation A corporation is a universal type of business that is suitable for almost any kind of business. Here, the owners obtain no personal liability for the processes in the company. However, it’s the most bureaucratic type as there’s just a huge amount of official papers that need to be filled out and kept. Therefore, it’s almost impossible to figure it out without a competent professional. At the same time, investors prefer to fund their money in corporations mainly as long as in this type it’s easier to track the money flow.
  • Limited liability company LLC is the most common type of business. It brings together most of the strengths of the corporation and a partnership, and there’s less paperwork than in the corporation. If we talk about its shortcomings, then we should note that when it comes to building an online store in the USA, for example, there are different conditions for running it in various states. That’s why it’s required to study the legislation of the state where the company is registered.

As you can see, all business structures have their strengths and weaknesses, so before registering, companies should study each of them carefully and make a deliberate decision about which one is right for them.

18# Launch your store

Once all the steps mentioned above are brought into life, there’s just one more thing before companies can push the button “Launch the store” and start earning big money. And here we are talking about some nuances you should check and make sure that they work.

  • Design The first thing that catches the users’ attention is the website’s visual appeal. Therefore, the way the website is displayed in different browsers and on any type of device should be tested. Moreover, companies should make sure that the design of all elements is consistent, the font is easily readable, and that the text and background are compatible and do not interfere with the convenient perception of the information.
  • Functionality The next important step is to check the website’s performance. To test it, the following aspects should be verified: forms for collecting data work faultlessly and cause no difficulties for users; all the links and social media icons are interactive and operate accurately; when clicking on the company logo, users appear on the homepage; the page loading time is minimal, and other points that denote the website performance.
  • Security Security and backups are truly essential for launching the website. It’s simply necessary to protect both the company and its customers from any danger. For this purpose, it’s recommended to save the copy of the final website version with the regular saving of any updates introduced and to make sure that all passwords and submitted data are stored in a highly secured database. Furthermore, the company should check whether it obtains the SSL certificate that ensures the safety of connection.

In other words, these and other elements connected with the user experience and flawless work of the website should be carefully studied and checked before the website launch, since any mistakes or inconsistencies may negatively affect the overall work of the company.

And once everything is tested and verified, it’s the right time to launch the online store.

19# Start your marketing campaigns

Even the best online store will be unnoticed without active promotion. For example, companies can use SMM to promote their business. The process is pretty simple: they create pages on social networks and publish interesting content concerning their products, helpful recommendations, or the latest news. On these pages, from time to time, they can also launch various contests so that users will have an opportunity to get promotional codes, discounts, and gifts.

When it comes to attracting new and retaining already existing customers, diverse special offers, as well as loyalty programs, will also be of much help. Furthermore, companies can provide their clients with some reward for leaving feedback and inviting new users to the store. Businesses can also run contextual advertising in search engines or create a YouTube channel for placing videos with product reviews.

Generally speaking, companies should not neglect any marketing means that can draw the attention of buyers and attract them to the website. After all, this is the whole sense of sales, isn’t it?

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20# Update and improve

Finally, the biggest and the most difficult part of work is done – the store is launched and, thanks to marketing campaigns, you received your first orders. However, it’s not the end. It’s crucial not to stop at the achieved result and continue to increase the profitability of the store and its convenience for customers. That’s why businesses are advised to constantly analyze and improve the work of their stores. 

After launching, companies should analyze the KPIs. These are various performance indicators: number of new visitors and active customers, average order amount, number of users who add products to the cart but do not make a purchase, etc. These metrics will help businesses understand the users’ behavior on the website and reasons for leaving it empty-handed. Furthermore, the mistakes analysis will help to make the buying process easier and increase the level of sales.

Moreover, right after the launch, the website is more likely to be far from one of the top positions. In a perfect scenario, companies should strive to get at least to the first page or reach the top position in search results. And this is quite hard, especially when it comes to high-frequency queries since the competition is truly fierce and tough. Therefore, in order to promote their stores, businesses need to work quickly, efficiently, and comprehensively.

On a final note

The creation of an online store is a fascinating and quite exciting process. Certainly, there are some difficulties and nuances new companies may face. But today, it’s almost impossible for a business to survive offline only. Therefore, to get the maximum, it’s worth considering each step in a detailed way.

And to help those who want to become members of the e-commerce market in their journey towards starting a prosperous online store, we wrote this article. Hopefully, the information provided will be enough for you, and you’ll be able to make your boldest dreams come true.

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