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eCommerce

How to Sell Online: 9 Steps to Opening Your eCommerce Store

Side hustle or startup? Marketplace seller or own-brand entrepreneur? 

Even if you have no idea about any of that, what you do know is that you want to sell online. 

And it’s hard to resist: eCommerce is a trillion dollar industry. People are buying almost everything over the internet these days.

We’ll help you get started. 

Here are our hottest tips for how to sell online and actually make money.

Spend 10 minutes reading about it, then get to work. 🧰 💪

1. Weigh up the pros and cons

Selling online is not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. 

There are many different routes you can take, and there will be loads of opportunities to adapt and grow your business. 

Just remember that success won’t appear overnight. 

Before you get started with setting up your store, consider the pros and cons of selling online.

The pros

Honestly, there are loads of pros to selling online. If you just like the idea of running a business empire from your bed, an online store can give you that dream.

But there’s more:

  • You can make your online selling site as low-risk as you’d like. Overheads for storage space or physical stores can be eliminated when your eCommerce business is online. This will free your budget up for awesome marketing campaigns and fun new products.
  • You can do what you love and make money while doing it. If you have a creative hobby and you figure out how to sell online, combine your skills and transform your passions into a profitable business.
  • You know what it takes. No, you’re probably not secretly psychic. But if you’ve made online purchases before, you’ll have an idea of how to sell online. Seeing your business from the customer’s perspective is a great way to get started with online selling.

The cons

As with anything else worth doing, running an online store takes time and effort.

Give yourself a reality check before you start selling online and make sure you’re prepared.

Remember that:

  • It could take a while to turn a profit for your online store. If you forecast ahead of time, you’ll be able to see that being successful online is possible, just not always immediate.
  • You are your own boss, sure, but you’re also the admin support, the customer service rep, and sometimes the warehouse manager too. You might need to run every task yourself as you set up your online shop, so get ready to adapt.
  • You might not get it right straight away. Your marketing plan might be misdirected or you could be selling the wrong product. Starting your business will be a learning curve, so be open to failures and to making positive changes.
Multicolor Candy Gummies in Yellow Plate Closeup

2. Find the right products

Happy with your decision? Great stuff.

Now, you just need to know what products to sell online. We also wrote a guide to effective product research, so take the time to be thorough in finding the right products.

You might already know what you want to start selling online. If so, make sure you really stress-test the viability of your product ideas. 

If you’re just ready to roll with anything and everything, be tactical in your product research. You can find product ideas just about anywhere.

Get inspired

If you’re more of an entrepreneur than a product innovator, you’ll need to know where to look for products.

You can find products:

  • By mining other sites for inspiration. Don’t forget to read between the lines. If a product has a 1-star rating, read the reviews. Customers often won’t hold back on saying what needs to be improved, which could give you everything you need to create a superior product.
  • By being clever with keywords and trend reports. Sites like Amazon and Pinterest will show you exactly what products their users are interested in. You could also sign up to Google AdWords or use a keyword search tool to narrow down your product area.
  • By reflecting on your own interests for product ideas. Everybody has hobbies – perhaps you could monetize yours? Or could you spin your professional skills into a profitable online store model? Sometimes the answer is right in front of you.

Be realistic

Once you find products that interest you, put them through their paces. There’s so much you can find out about the performance of your products before they even start to sell.

Check that each product is actually in demand. There are perks to picking niche products, but it’s possible they’re niche products for a reason.

Check trend reports, use social media, and even ask your friends. If you can’t see demand before you start selling online, rethink your product selection.

You should also make sure that it has a healthy amount of competition. Start scoping out your competitors as you stress-test your products.

Will your product be able to compete price-wise? Will it be visible? Make sure you’re not selling products in an oversaturated market where you can’t find any point of difference.

Finally, choose a product that actually works. If you’re selling products online, get a hold of samples first.

Before anyone else gives you money for a product, make sure it looks, smells, or feels right. This is particularly important if you’re thinking about using a dropshipping model to get your goods.

Man on Sofa Typing on a Laptop in Highrise Building

3. Write a business plan

Things are getting serious. This next big step will get you right on track for opening your online shop with a bang.

This doesn’t need to be an earth-shattering master-plan for world domination. 

Your plan can be short and sweet, so don’t skip this step. It’ll help you oversee your entire business in a clear and holistic way.

What and why?

Your business plan will basically form the blueprint for your online store’s success.

This is where you note down everything that will influence and impact your online shop as it grows. Later on, you can refer back to it for hints on the ways you can sell products.

You’ll want to figure out how you’ll be making money right from the outset, and that’s what your business plan should show you.

Here are the factors that you should be considering.

Your business model

You have so many options at your fingertips. Dropshipping, sourcing, making – take your pick. 

The business model you choose will either influence or be influenced by your product selection.

Dropshipping

Everybody with an eCommerce store seems to love dropshipping their products, right? Well, it does have plenty of perks.

With dropshipping, you don’t have to make any upfront payments or investments to start selling online. 

First, you find a supplier with a product dropshipping service. Once you’ve carefully researched profitable product options, make a selection of products to sell. 

List the products on your selling platform, whether that’s a marketplace or your own eCommerce store. 

As soon as customers start to make purchases, you get the ball rolling:

  • Be sure to sell products online at a decent markup. This is how you make a profit, after all.
  • On the back of orders to your online shop, place an order with your supplier. 
  • The supplier will pick, pack, and send the products directly to your customers.

While it sounds liberating, dropshipping might not be the perfect business model for your store. 

You won’t have control over several factors, like product quality and lead times. That said, you’ll still be responsible for any customer service issue when customers purchase through your store. 

Your dropshipping supplier will also be offering the same goods to everybody else in the world. 

There’s no exclusivity in dropshipping, so you’ll be entering a highly competitive market with whichever products you choose.

Manufacturing Process Man Welding Sparks Flying
Direct sourcing

Want to be exclusive?

Sourcing directly through manufacturers might be more your thing. This particular model gives you more control, so it might be right if you don’t want to dropship.

Creating your own supply chain takes the most legwork, but if you have serious plans to grow your business, check it out.

Most great-quality manufacturers are quietly advertising their products and services to avoid being inundated with sourcing requests.

Don’t be deterred by a badly-formatted website. Some of the best suppliers focus more of their attention on making great products, so find an email address and get in touch.

You could also:

  • Attend trade shows. Most product shows are free to enter if you register online. You’ll be able to meet suppliers face-to-face and view their whole range of products.
  • Utilize social media. Lots of smaller makers advertise their wares on platforms like Instagram instead of on a website. Send direct messages to start the conversation.
  • Use word of mouth. Know anyone in the eCommerce retail industry? Ask them who they know. Remember not to probe, though; lots of retailers like to keep their suppliers to themselves.

Bear in mind that you will have to manage logistics if you source your products directly from manufacturers.

Lots of suppliers can incorporate shipping costs in their prices – you can pay to get your products as far as the port, or all the way to the door of your warehouse.

Can’t find a warehouse? Don’t fill up your own home with boxes. Unless you live in a palace, chances are this is not a future-proof plan.

Making it yourself

You could be lucky enough to have a talent for making products yourself.

If this is you, sell your skills. Like dropshipping, making and selling is great for those with a side hustle.

You might be ready to go big, though. If selling your crafts online is going to be your main business venture, make sure you’re ready for all the challenges ahead. 

This is where business plans are invaluable. Use yours to work out if you’re going to be absolutely exhausted when you start to sell online. 

Be honest with yourself:

  • Will you get a return on investment from making and selling online? After all the hours and money spent on creating items to sell, check you’ll still be turning a profit
  • Are you ready for other people to critique your crafts? Opening your online shop will open you up to feedback. Make sure that you feel comfortable with customers passing judgment on your carefully-made products.
  • Do you need to supersize your packing operations? Check that you’re equipped to deal with an increase in order quantities. If you get great traction on social media one week, you could be seeing a sudden surge in demand.

With selling your own-made products, you’ll be able to bypass the potential headaches of sourcing and dropshipping.

It could still be exhausting, though. You’ll need to make sure you have all the components to create each item, and you’ll be wearing all the hats: maker, seller, and shipper.

Formulating your business plan will show you whether you need extra help, extra time, or a different way of doing things altogether.

Man runner target on back of tshirt closeup

Your target market

Build a customer profile into your plan. 

That way, you can keep an eye on your target market from the very beginning. Everything you do to set up your shop and sell online will be influenced by customers, after all.

When you understand your audience from the start, the whole process of starting an eCommerce business will flow easily.

It will guide you through:

  • Marketing strategies. When it’s up and running, you’ll keep your online store thriving with marketing tactics. So, you need to know that you’re promoting your products in all the right channels.
  • Product innovation. If you’re aware of your target market, it’ll make sourcing or creating new products much easier.
  • Brand building. Your target market is at the core of your brand.

It’s possible you dreamed of your ideal customers from the word ‘go.’ Maybe they’re yacht-owning, sunkissed retirees, or toned and perky gym enthusiasts. 

But cover all bases and do some solid research to make sure your predictions are spot on. You’ll be able to get an idea of your true target market through product research. 

If you only plan to sell cocktail kits, but it turns out that those sunkissed retirees aren’t going to buy them, reposition your target.

Your competitors

Every company has them. 

Competitors are incredibly useful. Keep an eye on them once you’ve launched your eCommerce business – they’ll show you what you can do differently.

While you’re writing your business plan, make a note of your competitors so that you can carve out your niche from the beginning.

Competitors will help you understand:

  • The best pricing structure for your online shop. You can choose to undercut the competition, match them with a superior range of products, or go above them if you’re feeling confident.
  • Where to pitch your value proposition. You will need to sell the uniqueness of your shop to potential customers. Be sure you aren’t copying your competitors, even unintentionally. 
  • How to market your products. If you’re vying for the same target market as a competitor, find out which channels they’re using in their marketing strategies. Established online stores will likely already know where’s best to promote their goods.

Customers love choice, so you don’t need to have niche products in your online store if you don’t want to.

What you will need to do, however, is show customers why your shop is special. It could be nicer packaging, a heartwarming backstory, or an appealing initiative like collecting loyalty points.

Scope out the competition now, so that you’re filled with great ideas as you start pulling your online shop together.

Two Red Binders with Business Files on Shelf

4. Register your business

Now that you know what you want to sell, and how you want to sell it, it’s time to make things official.

The rules for setting up your online business will vary depending on which country you’re in. Do your research to make sure you’re ticking all the boxes that apply to eCommerce business owners. 

Here are a few things to consider.

Your name

Make it easy to read, easy to remember, and easy to turn into a brand.

The name you give your store needs to be original, of course, but also something that will give your online business room to grow in the future.

You don’t have to be self-explanatory with your business name. In fact, customers will probably be turned off by an eCommerce store called something like ‘Band T-shirts, Random Keyrings and Cheap Mugs.’

Be inventive and, most importantly, check that you can get hold of the domain name

Imagine coming up with a really cool name and then having to settle for a mismatching domain. That’s a no-go.

Tax stuff

We know how to sell online. But we won’t profess to know a whole lot about the tax regulations for every country in the world.

But setting up to pay the right amount of tax is really vital for your online shop. It’s also just the right thing to do.

Payment gateways

Depending on the platforms you choose to start selling on, there are several payment gateways you can choose from.

Consider adding more than one option to your eCommerce website if you’re going to build a bricks-and-mortar store.

It’s great to offer your customers their favorite payment methods. This will help mitigate common issues like abandoned carts, where customers give up before purchasing.

This is worth some research, as certain payment providers expect varying levels of transaction fees per purchase.

Here are some options:

  • PayPal. This is probably the most well-known payment option after credit cards, and your customers will be very familiar with PayPal.
  • Google Pay. This one is hugely convenient for Google account users. You also won’t have to pay any fees as a retailer. 
  • Stripe. This is a really versatile gateway with great tech support. You can add this option to any brick-and-mortar stores you choose to open, too.
Many intersecting roads birds eye view top

5. Choose where and how you want to sell

When it comes to choosing how to sell online in the most impactful way, you have loads of options.

There are plenty of giant online marketplaces where you can set up your stall as a seller. You could even pass the fulfillment of your products over to them.

It’s possible to sell products online through social networks. Apps like Instagram and Facebook now have dedicated shop features for businesses. 

You could also build your own eCommerce website. 

That’s right – you can do it yourself. And, building an online store isn’t as hard as it may seem.

Online store 

Time for your products to take center stage. 

We could go on and on about the perks of creating your own online store, but you can simply check out the features that Zyro has to offer.

Like everything else, do your research to find the best hosting site for your business. You can easily build an eCommerce website that’s perfectly tailored to your store.

Here’s what you need to know about having your own online storefront.

You’re the manager

Any good website builder will make it easy for you to stay on top of your products as they sell.

Make sure you’re given a dashboard behind the scenes so you can manage your shop. This should let you manage inventory and track every stage of the order and delivery process.

You will also be in charge of setting prices, launching new and removing old products, and selecting your preferred payment methods.

You can gain insights

Choose a website builder that tracks sales and generates reports while you trade. You will want to know how you’re doing on a daily basis, after all.

It’s easy to supercharge your performance knowledge too. With your own website, you can integrate Google Analytics so you can be aware of your customers’ exact wants and needs. 

You can branch out

The beauty of having your own online store is that you have the freedom to go anywhere.

Check that your website builder is set up to help you sell your products on other platforms like social media and marketplaces (like Amazon).

Instagram and Facebook should be compatible with your website so that social media users can click straight through from a business page to make a purchase.

You’re set up for marketing

An online store is the most effective marketing tool you can have in eCommerce retail.

Once you’re connected to social networks through your website, you can reach your store’s potential customers in a much more targeted way. 

You can also showcase your products online through visual search engines like Pinterest. Use their Product Pins feature on your business account to generate ads from your store.

Market Tents Top View Colorful

Marketplaces

There are selling platforms for pretty much any product category. Dig around to find one that might suit your business.

Marketplaces can be flexible, too. Usually, you can keep your own eCommerce store while you sell products online on sites like Amazon or Etsy.

Check the niche you’re getting into, though. If you want to sell art, marketplaces might demand exclusivity, making you source different products to sell for each platform.

Consider the ways to sell with some of the biggest marketplaces online.

Amazon

This juggernaut of eCommerce retail has products to sell from an absolutely vast range of categories.

Amazon has a screening process for potential sellers, so although you’ll have fierce competition, at least you’ll know this is one of the more serious ways of listing products to sell online.

You can use Amazon’s ‘fulfilled by Amazon’ (FBA) service if you want to take advantage of their logistics network. This is a great option if you’re not into storing and packing your products.

There are even tools specifically designed to run analytics on Amazon. Extensions like the one designed by Jungle Scout run on search engines and give you invaluable insights into your sales.

Etsy

A brilliant platform for creative types, Etsy has a phenomenal global reach and can significantly supplement your online business.

Although each product will be subject to a small listing fee, Etsy’s setup is geared towards helping its sellers thrive.

They provide you with tools and advice: you can learn how to sell online, be given transaction protection, and connect with other sellers.

This marketplace is perfect for the side hustlers, but you can definitely use it as an extension of your online storefront, too.

Social media

Some people will build their whole online store solely on social networks.

While it may be the easy route, this could really limit your brand’s potential. Instead, you could use social media as a vehicle for getting products to sell in your store.

Taking advantage of the massive reach of social media is great for hooking in new customers, for starters.

Connecting social media to your store will take your business to the next level. You’ll look far more credible and trustworthy with a multichannel presence.

Facebook

Create a business page on Facebook that links back to your own website.

Although you may have moved onto other platforms, Facebook is still the world’s biggest social network. If you want to find somewhere to promote your business for free, this is that place.

Anyone can sell products on Facebook. Individual users can upload their unwanted items to Marketplace, and thriving businesses can use the platform’s Shop feature.

Make sure that your target audience is using Facebook to discover products and businesses like yours. 

Instagram 

Just like Facebook, which owns Instagram, you can use a Shop feature on your business profile to generate sales.

Alongside a dedicated page for selling products online, you can make the most of Instagram’s shopping posts. Formulated for eCommerce retailers, these posts allow you to tag images with the featured products.

Once a user taps on the product they’re interested in, they can go straight through to your website to finish their purchase.

If Instagram is right for your target market, it’s a diverse selling and marketing tool that you shouldn’t miss out on.

Pinterest

Although it’s more of a discovery search engine, there is a lot of value in selling products online via Pinterest.

We’d absolutely recommend having your own, beautifully-built website if you decide that your audience uses Pinterest. 

The platform makes it easy and exciting for online stores to generate sales through their business accounts.

When you have products to sell, there are dedicated pins to help you promote them in different ways. 

You can make your images shoppable, as with Instagram, or you can push them to the top of user feeds as ads. Pinterest is one of the best product selling platforms to pair with your store.

Vending machines with Drinks in Field with Snow

6. Establish your brand

This won’t just happen with time.

Building your brand is a huge step in setting up an online store. It will take a healthy chunk of your time to get right, but it’s one of the most important things.

In fact, we wrote a whole guide on the steps you should take to build your brand from the ground up.

Your brand will encompass every aspect of your business. There’s a lot of fun to be had, too: it’s a very creative process.

The essentials you’ll need to nail for your online store’s success include all of the following:

  • Telling your story. People connect to stories, so build an About Us page on your website and get customers engaged with your brand.
  • Showing how you’re different. Put your value proposition on your home page. Customers need to understand what makes your store so special.
  • Being visually appealing. Your colors, your typography, and your photography – it all matters. Make your store shine and don’t forget to add branding to your other platforms, too.

7. Make a marketing plan

Before you launch, put a plan in place for some show-stopping marketing campaigns.

You don’t need to budget thousands of dollars and try to get your store advertised on TV, although you can always dream.

But be ambitious about how you plan to spread the word that your store is open for business.

Some ideas will come to you naturally while you’re researching your products and building your platforms.

Just remember to consider:

  • Who you are hoping to sell to
  • What you are planning to sell online
  • How much you’re hoping to make

This might all sound super obvious. You’re not going to forget what products you sell, after all.

But bear in mind that not every channel will have equally profitable outcomes for selling products. Your customers could all be scrolling Instagram while you’re toiling away pushing Pinterest ads.

There are some easy and largely free ways to get started with marketing your products online, however.

Search engine optimization

Search engine optimization (SEO) is one of them. Using the right keywords is vital in getting your website to generate traffic. 

It’s relatively easy to figure this out yourself, but you could always hire a pro to get your store perfectly optimized.

Everything from your product descriptions to a business blog should be created with search algorithms in mind. 

Social media marketing

You already know that this is a safe bet; promoting your store on social networks is free, instant, and actually quite fun.

Depending on which channels you decide are most worth your time, you’ll have loads of tools at your disposal. 

Shopping pages, tagged posts, and the enthusiasm of your customers will all boost your brand.

User-generated content

Talking of enthusiastic customers, this is a great marketing tactic to use.

User-generated content (UGC) refers to posts featuring your business that social media users have created.

By reposting cute photos or glowing reviews from your customers, you’re adding real value to the credibility of your brand.

Other users will be reassured that your store is worth purchasing from, and it’ll show that you’re engaging with the people who keep you afloat.

Storm Clouds Looming Yellow Fields Foreground

8. Prepare for everything 

So, you nearly have everything you need to find products to sell online. 

There’s just one more thing to consider. 

Make sure you prepare yourself and your business for the road ahead. With all your plans in place, it could almost seem like nothing could possibly go wrong.

And hopefully it won’t. But what if you haven’t prepared for the worst-case scenario, and one day it happens? 

Being prepared isn’t just about mitigating disaster. It’s a good idea to use these tips as a final sanity check before you go live.

Budget for promos

A clever trick to have up your sleeve when you sell online is a giveaway.

If you experience a lull in sales, or you just feel like spicing things up a little, being able to offer freebies is a great way to incentivize your customers.

This is also a fun method for introducing new products to your online store. By giving samples away for a limited amount of time, you can really drive excitement.

Alternatively, it might show you that nobody is interested in the new product – annoying, but great to know before you invest more money into your business.

See if you can make room for the odd giveaway:

  • Allocate the spend to your marketing budget. Buy something you know your customers will love and give it away as a promo.
  • Buy a cheap product in bulk for a gift with purchase. Cute dust bags or handy tote bags add a nice touch to your brand’s proposition.
  • Ask your suppliers to collaborate on a contest. Agree a sales incentive with a stockist in exchange for a freebie, which you could then give away to one lucky customer.

Budget for disasters

Nobody likes to think about the negatives.

And you don’t have to, if you save some space for them in your operating budget and marketing plan.

Anything could go awry, so be prepared. It could be a supply chain issue: your entire shipment might be damaged one day or your manufacturer might suddenly shut down.

You may have to resolve a customer issue. Or you could end up refunding every one of your sales for a week because of a delivery disaster.

Make some room in your plans by:

  • Literally having a budget set aside for unforeseeable issues. Just knowing that you have a buffer there could be enough to help you to operate your store with confidence.
  • Being smart with your marketing. Think like KFC. This huge brand suffered a huge supply issue in its UK stores, so it made an honest and amusing apology. Being ready to be frank with your customers will put you at an advantage if things go wrong.
  • Building a team. A problem shared is a problem halved. If you are able to bring other people on board as you start to sell online, you can face any issues together.

Delegate tasks

On the subject of teams, why not build yourself one?

Going solo on a startup isn’t unheard of, nor is it something to avoid. Just be realistic about what you can achieve as one single human being.

It could be way more cost-effective to hire some talented people to lighten your workload. While you’re just starting out this may seem daunting, but think of the future.

You’ll want to spend time innovating, or marketing, or crunching the numbers. If you have plans for your business to grow, make sure that headcount is part of that growth.

Hire people to help with:

  • Menial tasks. Just dress it up as administrative support. Setting up product barcodes and updating prices is something that anyone can do, but it takes time. Make sure you don’t ask your employees to do a task that you wouldn’t feel comfortable doing yourself.
  • Search optimization or coding. Techy stuff. Not everybody is good at it and that’s fine. If it takes you ages to digest a report or even think about writing code, find an expert who will help your business thrive.
  • Product photography. Anyone can take a photo, but photography is a profession for a reason. If you don’t shine in the creative department, you’ll be doing your business a favor by hiring a photographer to make your products look amazing.
Big and Small Eggs Leaning on Each Other

9. Make room for growth

If you’ve gone through all this effort to find out how to sell online, hopefully, you will want your online shop to stick around for a while.

And for a business to have staying power, it has to embrace growth.

Prepare your online store for longevity by thinking about all the ways it could grow and evolve over time. Aside from employee numbers, there’s a lot more you can change.

You don’t have to whip out a crystal ball to do this. It’s not about knowing the future, just thinking about it.

Below are a few ways you can grow and scale your business.

Diversifying your product selection

This is a really exciting way to grow for both you and your customers. You could start with home décor and then end up branching out into apparel, for instance. 

Keep an eye out for emerging trends, ask your manufacturers what else they can do, and most importantly listen to customer feedback.

Product ideas can and will come from anywhere.

Entering new markets

Although eCommerce is a highly global industry, you might end up starting smaller than you think.

Factors like logistics, target market, and just good old country-specific regulations will influence how far your store can reach.

But things change and people do too.

You could identify a new global region to reach by a certain year. Give yourself time to understand their shopping habits. 

Make enquiries with your logistics network and figure out what will generate sales. Anything is possible.

Launching another store

We know, we know. One thing at a time. 

But thinking big with eCommerce might be exactly what you need to drive you forward with online selling. 

Building a multi-site offer is likely to be a long-term plan if you’re a small business owner. It certainly isn’t for everyone who wants to sell online, but keep an open mind.

Let’s use the home décor branching into apparel scenario again. 

If you build a really identifiable homeware brand, and you’re ready to mirror the aesthetic and value proposition in apparel, another website could be incredibly positive for your sales.

You’ll be maxing out on brand visibility, capitalizing on your existing customer base, and showing consistency in your growth plans.

Photo of a Woman in Pink Bodysuit Posing Inside a Shopping Cart

Go forth and sell online

Once you know how to sell online, the world of eCommerce really isn’t that scary. 

With some preparation, it can be easy to be successful online.

You already had a good idea to start an online store, so make the most of it. Sell your products, and see how much of the online world you can conquer.

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