What’s the last thing you bought? More importantly, where did you buy it?
We bet that you made that purchase online. And there is little surprise, because eCommerce has been growing and growing over the past 5 years, and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.
If you’ve always been intrigued by eCommerce and have wondered how you could sell goods and services online, you’ve come to the right place.
Go from zero to online store hero with this guide that we put together. We’ll be here, holding your hand along the way.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
Step 1: Pick your niche
You want your eCommerce store to sell something other eCommerce businesses haven’t thought about, something that makes your shop truly stand out.
A niche, in simple terms, describes your specialty or particular focus.
Let’s say you want to have a fitness-themed eCommerce business. Instead of selling all things related to fitness, your niche could be sports nutrition, sports clothing, or sports equipment.
There are endless possibilities when it comes to choosing your niche, so it’s important to really think things through.
Choose an eCommerce niche that:
- Helps your customers find you. If you’re not popping up at the top of a Google search, it’s very difficult for your potential customers to find you. Having a clear-cut niche can help you dominate the search results.
- Narrows down the competition. You can definitely try to become the next Walmart, but your life will be considerably easier if you compete with the ‘smaller fish,’ at least initially. Catering to a specific group of people you know well is easier than trying to please everyone.
- Makes it easy to market your store. Aiming your eCommerce business towards a particular niche makes it a lot easier to run targeted social media and ad campaigns.
What product will you sell?
Deciding on your niche is also closely related to thinking about the types of products or services you want to be selling.
Let’s say you’ve picked sailboats as your eCommerce niche. Good choice, ahoy!
Now, it would make sense to sell products and services related to sailboats in particular, not to any old fishing boat, right?
Maybe you can create collections of different types of sails, winches, and other accessories related to sailboats.
Rather than having a shop that sells all things related to boats, by narrowing down your niche, you can have a more focused approach to your eCommerce store.
A focused-in approach will undoubtedly be more commercially successful too.
Step 2: Choose your eCommerce model
Once you have decided on your niche and have an idea of the types of products or services you want to have on your eCommerce store, it’s time to decide on your eCommerce business model.
There are a couple of main ways you can go about deciding on the day-to-day of your eCommerce venture:
- Manage your own stock. This is the way to go if you want absolute control over your online shop. You will produce or buy the stock, store it, and when an order comes in, you pack up the order and ship it to the customer.
- Dropship. Act as the messenger between the customer and the supplier. You will relay the order directly to the supplier, who deals with the shipment process. No need to worry about inventory space.
Dropshipping has become popular in the world of eCommerce since it helps startups reduce the production and storage costs.
In other words, having a factory and a big warehouse are no longer the prerequisites for having an online shop.
Step 3: Register your business
If you’ve mapped out where you want to be heading with your eCommerce business, it’s time to register yourself as a business owner.
The exact process of opening a business differs from country to country, but usually, you will be required to:
- Register at your local trade office
- Name your business
- Acquire the appropriate tax documentation
- Open a business bank account
Again, while it varies from country to country, the general business registration process might take from a few days to a couple of weeks.
While you’re waiting for official confirmation, you can go ahead and focus on your branding and the eCommerce infrastructure itself.
Step 4. Branding
Next, you want to think about branding.
This is something that’s important to take the time for and get right in the very beginning. Otherwise, you’ll be looking at an expensive rebrand further down the line – both in terms of money and time.
You should ask yourself these questions when building your brand:
- Who are you selling to? Knowing your target audience and the ideal customer helps you tailor your branding really well. You wouldn’t give the same presentation to a group of school kids and a group of business professionals without any changes, would you?
- What makes you special? Just having a product and an audience isn’t enough. You also have to stand out from your competitors. Make sure that you know exactly why your product is special. It’s best to have an elevator pitch ready.
- What’s your brand personality like? If your brand was a person, they would have a unique voice and personality, right? If you want to dominate your market, your brand should have a clear identity.
Once you have an idea of what your brand stands for, you can start thinking about how you can show it.
What we’re getting at is your visual branding, of course. For some, this is the most exciting part of branding, whereas others dread it.
In reality, it’s not that hard. Here is what you should think about:
- Your logo. This will be the centerpiece of your brand. Make sure it’s simple and unique, and something you like – you don’t want to be rebranding anytime soon. To speed up the process, you could try Zyro’s Logo Maker or pay a designer to design a logo for you.
- Your typography. Fonts are some of the most underlooked parts of a business’ branding process, but they really shouldn’t be. Can you afford a potential new customer to not understand your message? Thought you couldn’t. Go for a font that is clear and easy to read, even on smaller screens.
- Your colors. You might not realize it, but colors have many associations. Pick your colors based on your product and what you want your customers to think and feel when they use it.
And last but not least, make sure you build guidelines for your brand and make every person working for or with your brand aware of them.
You want to look and sound the same across all forms of communication.
Step 5. Research your audience and competition
Make sure you have an idea of who you’re trying to get to visit your eCommerce store, as well as of the overall competition in your niche.
The more you know about your target market, the easier it will be to understand your customers.
And the better you understand your customers, the better you can serve them and solve their problems with what you have in stock at your eCommerce store.
Learn about your target audience:
- Profile your ideal customer. Break down who would be the perfect customer to browse your store, think about their age and gender, their background, where they’re from, and so on.
- Do market research. Conduct surveys and interviews, or run a focus group and get opinions on anything, from logos and branding to the actual products you plan to have in stock.
- Analyze which marketing campaigns work best. If a social media marketing campaign works much better than an email campaign, focus your future efforts towards social media.
What are your competitors doing?
You should also know where you stand when compared to your competitors. Consider what they do well, and where they might be missing out on an opportunity.
Here are some good ways to analyze your competition:
- Sign up for competitors’ newsletters
- Follow their social media channels
- Visit their website often to get an idea of potential deals and offers they might be running
- Do keyword research to get an idea which websites are dominating the search results and think why that might be
There is no shame in ‘borrowing’ ideas. You simply have to take the ideas and put a unique spin on them.
Execute them even better than your competitors and you will drum up some business in no time.
Step 6. Take care of the technical bits
In order to get your store up and running, there are a few technical things you need to take a look at first.
First, you need to decide on a good domain name for your eCommerce store. A domain, simply put, is your web address, or the bit after the ‘www.’
A good domain:
- Isn’t too long. Nobody will remember a domain name that’s as long as a dictionary entry. Keep it short, only a word or two max.
- Is related to your website and business. Even if the name of your business is already taken, you should settle on something else closely related to your niche.
- Is easy to type. Stay away from gimmicky and complicated spelling – in the world of domains, short and simple wins the race.
Once you’ve found the perfect domain, you need to think about web hosting.
It sounds scarier than it actually is: web hosting is the online equivalent of your retail space, but in cyberspace.
When choosing a web hosting provider, you want to make sure that they have a guarantee for up-time (this means that your online store will be online all or most of the time) and fast servers.
Don’t risk losing visitors because your site takes too long to load.
Step 7. Create your online shop
Once you have your domain and hosting sorted, it’s when the fun starts.
Roll up your sleeves and get started with the nitty-gritty of eCommerce – online store building.
There are many features to look for in an eCommerce platform when you want to launch your online business.
Some platforms offer flashy gimmicks that seem useful, but might just confuse your customers and yourself.
Ideally, you want to look after your customers and provide them with the ultimate online shopping experience, while also automating most of the processes for yourself.
Everyone’s a winner with a service like that, right?
Make it right for your customers
Customer retention is much easier and cheaper than acquisition. So, get visitors to your online store and keep them happy.
When people visitor your website, they should see:
- An adaptive storefront. No matter what size their screen is, your customers can still shop effortlessly.
- Favorites and wishlists. Sometimes your customers might not have the time or cash to buy your products straight away, so let them save their favorites or create a wishlist.
- Real-time shipping estimates. Make it extra easy for your customers and give them a shipping cost estimation based on their IP-address, even before they enter a delivery address.
- Media-rich descriptions. Make your store dynamic with formatted product and category descriptions. Add photos, videos and even tables if you fancy.
- An accessible storefront. All of your customers are important, so make sure that anyone can use your store, even if they are less or differently abled.
Make it right for yourself
In order to run your eCommerce business smoothly, you’ll need to seek out a platform that does a lot of the busy work for you.
Believe it or not, but it will save you so much time working with a platform that does the catalog, tax, shipping, delivery, and many other processes automatically.
You need your eCommerce website provider to offer the following:
- Plenty of options. Your chosen platform should give you free rein over your products, such as adding them and their attributes (different colors, sizes, or gift wrapping for example), adding an image gallery, and having top-quality thumbnails in your listings.
- Multiple prices. Imagine having to change your prices manually back and forth every time you have a sale. Nightmare. Your eCommerce platform should support multiple prices so that you can click just one button to start or end a sale.
- Automatic tax and shipping cost calculations. You want to set up your eCommerce business without losing sleep over taxes, right? A well-rounded platform automates the tax and shipping calculations on the order page, or lets you manually set up different tax zones, rates and rules.
- Realtime shipping quotes and tracking. There’s nothing worse than not knowing when your order will arrive, so make sure your platform supports the big names like UPS and FedEx. Setting up extra fees for services like insurance should also be made easy.
- Edit and create orders as the merchant. Have that extra level of flexibility and help your customers out. Need to cancel an order, edit the quantities, or add something extra? It will be sorted out in no time with a good eCommerce platform.
- Have an IP-address checker. Protect yourself against fraud – make sure your platform has a feature that measures the location of the customer’s IP-address and the billing country.
There are other features that are important too, but those will depend on your niche.
Have a think about what would be the most important to you and chances are you will find them in today’s saturated eCommerce market.
Step 8. Spread the word and acquire clients
Your eCommerce business is ready to go live – you just need your first paying customers.
The easiest way to do this is to get some traffic to your eCommerce store.
While there are plenty of ways to get the word out about your business, some avenues work better for an eCommerce business than others.
Focus on mastering the ways of online marketing, and you can make a serious difference in the traffic that you’re generating.
Here are a few ways to get started.
The power of social media has been proven time and time again. Get up to speed and try these tips:
- Set up a business page. You’ll get more insights into how your page is doing and which posts perform the best.
- Get sharing. Ask your friends and family to help you spread the word by sharing your page.
- Have a schedule and stick to it. Consistency is key and like good wine, you can’t rush great things. That includes your social media accounts.
If you want to invest a little bit of money, paying for advertising space is a fantastic way to get your eCommerce business seen by more people.
Consider trying out:
- Facebook Ads. Great for very targeted advertising, Facebook ads help your customers find your eCommerce business even if they aren’t on the lookout for it.
- Google AdWords. These ads help you reach out to those customers who are trying to find you.
- Network advertising. Give your ad to the network advertising platform and they will place it on various websites across the internet.
For those who want to keep the purse strings tight, you will be pleased to hear that not all traffic has to cost something.
Indeed, with some clever search engine marketing and optimization (usually shortened to SEM and SEO) you can get visitors organically and not pay a single penny.
- Keyword research. Analyze which keywords people are using to search for your niche online, and start including them on your eCommerce website.
- On-page SEO. Make sure that the pages you want to rank in search engines are nice and tidy with proper titles, descriptions, headings and keywords in the right places.
- Linkbuilding. In short, the more links there are to a particular website (called backlinks in the world SEO), the more search engines consider that page to include relevant information to the search query.
Run top promotions
Everyone loves a discount or a sale, and you can use promotions as a reason to run a marketing campaign or two.
One great and easy way to pamper your customers is to offer them discount codes. Easy to set up and manage on most eCommerce platforms, you could offer your loyal customers a discount on their next shopping, or even free shipping.
Make sure that you can use the Social Share function on your eCommerce store. There is nothing worse than missing out on a great sale, so that friend who tweets about it can be really helpful.
Step 9. Manage the day-to-day
Running a shop of any kind requires a good amount of work. In a brick-and-mortar shop, stocking up shelves and arranging window displays can take surprisingly long too.
Meanwhile online, it’s all pixels and lines of code in the background, and if you’re not careful, you might end up with a lot of manual work.
To keep your eCommerce experience fun, simple, and easy, you want to work with a platform that lets you automate.
The more you can automate and the easier the setup is, the easier the running of your business will be.
The power of automation
Eliminating human error and automating as much as possible is the new gold standard online.
Rather than wasting hours manually entering data from one system into another, set your store up so that it integrates with the tools that you use daily.
If you want to focus on advertising on Facebook, for example, you probably want to use Facebook Messenger for when your clients have a question about your products or services.
So rather than copy-pasting the conversation, you want it to sync automatically.
On the other hand, if Google works better for your niche, you probably use Google’s Analytics tools already. There’s a lot of data there, and you don’t want to export a file and upload it to your store, only to realize you forgot to add a field.
The more you can integrate your systems with each other, the easier it will be to run your business in general.
You have better things to worry about, like looking after your customers or planning great marketing campaigns.
Build your eCommerce success
As you see, setting up your very first eCommerce shop isn’t as complicated as you may think.
With the right tools, you should be able to run your eCommerce business on autopilot. The setup process doesn’t have to take years of your life, either.
Keep in mind that you’ll always remember your very first sale. And – spoiler alert – it’s the most liberating feeling in the world.