How to start an online store


8th August, 2022

How to start an online store in 8 steps

If you’re thinking of getting into eCommerce, start with this simple, eight-step guide for starting an online store.

The eCommerce market globally has skyrocketed further since the global pandemic hit and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

According to GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, the Australian online shopping market is expected to reach a whopping AUD$91.5bn in 2025.

The online retailing market size in New Zealand was valued at NZD$6.3 billion in 2020. It’s projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of over nine percent between 2021 and 2025.

Creating a successful eCommerce site isn’t as quick or easy as just popping a few products on the net, though. There’s much more to it.

Here’s how to start an online store in just eight steps. We’ll cover:

  1. Choosing an audience
  2. Pick your products
  3. Name selection and acquiring a domain
  4. Choosing an eCommerce solution
  5. Designing your online storefront
  6. Integrating a payment gateway
  7. Dropshipping and logistics
  8. Marketing your online store

READ THIS NEXT: Starting an online business: 10 important steps to consider

1. Work out who you’re targeting with your wares

The first step is to think about which type of consumer you want to target with the wares you offer for sale.

Determine exactly who you want to sell to so you can understand what they may want to buy, at what price, and where, how, and when they shop.

Look for niches that you can dominate by offering something different or where there are current customer types that perhaps aren’t being adequately catered to yet.

Do plenty of customer-based research to get a good idea of your audience’s lifestyle, location, hobbies, passions, family life, work setup, and more.

The better you know this group, the easier it will be for you to decide on products to sell in your store, and the better able you’ll be to design all your content, processes, and marketing campaigns to them.

Also, discover if the market you’re considering will be large enough for you to grow your business to an appropriate size for your goals.

There’s no point going to all the effort and expense of starting an eCommerce site only to find that not enough people will actually be interested in what you’re selling or interested enough to finalise transactions.

2. Pick your products

You need to carefully select every product you choose to sell on your platform.

Each one should cater to the benefits shoppers want to get from wares or their pain points – that is, the problems they’re looking for products to solve.

For example, Gowning Street is an online store selling quality university graduation gowns. Sunny Agarwal, the company’s head of marketing and operations, believes eCommerce success stems largely from finding solutions to someone’s problems.

In an interview with the State Library of Queensland, he said, “Identify your ideal client and maximise the value proposition you offer. Your business is more likely to succeed if you can convince your customers how your product can improve their lives.

“For example, Gowning Street was launched in 2015 as a solution to students’ graduation gown woes.”

Many graduates hire gowns for over $100. However, Gowning Street sells gowns to students for less than the cost of hiring them, which lowers the fees and allows customers to hold onto the item as a cherished keepsake, too.

As you research product options for your store or consider getting your own items made up, also be sure to work out all the financials involved.

You want to know your profit on each piece after it’s designed, made, and shipped, or purchased and shipped from a wholesaler if you’re going down that route.

Don’t forget to factor in insurance, customs charges, packaging costs, and storage expenses.

When considering products, look for things that you have a good idea will sell due to what’s already been popular in the market, but also be wary of oversaturated things.

If you have too much competition and you can see that other retailers regularly discount these same products to try to entice shoppers, it’s going to be hard to get any traction with these wares yourself.

Look at how much items will cost to weigh, too, and if they’re the sorts of things that can ship easily without worrying too much about breakages or items going bad in transit.

You’ll have significantly more expenses to cover if you pick heavy, bulky, breakable, or perishable goods.

It also pays to buy or produce goods in small batches to start with, so you can test the market and see which products sell best for you. Often you’ll find that it may be the things you don’t expect.

3. Select a name and get an appropriate domain

Before you get too far into building your online business, come up with a perfect name for your venture.

Try to settle on something concise, fresh, and memorable that somehow describes or alludes to the types of goods you sell or that provides an idea of the tone of your brand.

Check to see if you can purchase a suitable domain name, too, as you need to ensure that what you opt for is available without going for anything too long and cumbersome.

Don’t forget to check out social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the like, too, to see if you’ll be able to set up applicable social media accounts for your store.

Plus, look at business registries and patent sites to ensure you can register your business name and obtain trademarks or other intellectual property solutions if needed.

4. Choose an eCommerce platform or website solution

Another crucial part of starting an online store is choosing the eCommerce platform you’ll set up your shop on or the website solution you’ll use if you want to create your shop on your own highly-customised site.

There are many options to consider these days, but most people find that it’s economical and quicker to utilise an eCommerce platform or a website-building product that’s already set up for selling goods online.

For instance, you might like to research companies such as BigCommerce, Shopify, Squarespace, Wix, Volusion, Weebly, Square Online, WooCommerce, or Sellfy.

It helps to read through reviews and roundups online for information about the most popular platforms’ features, prices, pros and cons.

Make sure that whichever option you go for is scalable, has excellent uptime rates, and will help ensure all pages of your eCommerce store load quickly.

You’ll also want to see if your eCommerce platform integrates nicely with the rest of your business management platform. For example, users of MYOB’s small business solutions will find Amaka allows them to integrate with a wide range of eCommerce providers without hassle.

Having an online shop that is just as good to use on mobile devices as larger screens is also vital, with such large numbers of consumers using their smartphones and tablets to browse and buy now.

READ THIS NEXT: Retail vs wholesale: Which model is right for your business?

5. Carefully design your online shopfront

Next, design your online shopfront strategically. It needs to be optimised for selling digitally, with user-friendly navigation so people can easily find what they’re looking for and a straightforward checkout process.

Don’t give people an excuse to click away because they get frustrated when they can’t work out how to learn the information they want, add things to their cart, or finalise their transactions.

Ensure you have clear calls to action on each page and searchable product categories.

List all the applicable information about wares on each product page, mentioning not just features but how items can solve problems or provide benefits for shoppers.

Add quality images and videos of goods so people know what they’re buying, too.

Plus, ensure you provide details about shipping and returns and give people ways to contact you if they have questions or concerns.

Leave enough white space on every page so that the site doesn’t look cluttered or overwhelm browsers, and choose a font that is easy for people to read, in a size that doesn’t make them squint.

6. Integrate a payment gateway

You’ll need to integrate a payment gateway into your eCommerce store, too, to handle the final process of the checkout process.

Many eCommerce platforms already have built-in solutions that you can use, but you may need or want to use something different.

Check out pricing and features when you do your research, as different payment gateways can operate in different ways.

However, many charge an annual fee for the use of the service plus a percentage of every transaction. This percentage often reduces if you’re making a lot of sales every month.

7. Set up dropshipping options or learn about postage solutions and costs

Of course, once you’ve made sales, you must ship products out to shoppers.

Decide if you’ll utilise dropshipping services or hold stock yourself at your own home, warehouse or office and pack and ship it out from there.

Wholesalers, distributors, manufacturers and the like will often offer dropshipping services, meaning they can handle manufacturing, warehousing, and shipping on your behalf.

This way, you don’t have to wait for supplies to arrive at your location, and you don’t have the expense and stress of buying stock up front that might not sell or take a long time to move.

When you use dropshippers, the minimal upfront costs and easy management can mean you can have a business up and running much sooner.

On the other hand, you will typically make less profit per item because of the fees involved, and you don’t have control over how carefully products get packaged or how many errors occur in picking orders or labelling parcels.

It’s also generally hard to sell items that will be gift-wrapped for customers since most dropshippers won’t offer this service.

These are all factors to weigh up when you decide on your target audience, brand, niche, and products.

If you want to hold stock yourself and handle shipping, make sure you get quotes from various postal services.

Sometimes you’ll find that courier options can end up more affordable than national postal organisations, especially if you’re shipping a lot of goods or those that are bulkier or heavier than a typical package.

Some eCommerce entrepreneurs find that they need to use multiple services to pick and choose which is best for each order.

Whichever way you go, you want to have the ability to send items quickly, as many people want express shipping now.

8. Start marketing your brand

Marketing is a vital component of creating an online store that not only survives but thrives.

You need people to know about your company if they’re going to discover it and buy from you, and you need to follow up with ongoing marketing initiatives to get them to buy from you again in the future.

There are all sorts of strategies you could try, such as:

It’s often best to pick a few marketing strategies to work on and test and measure them all to see which provide the best return on investment.

READ: Why you should consider sustainable packaging options for your business

Tracking, managing, and analysing data can make all the difference. This is something that, an online retailer big in both Australia and New Zealand, knows well.

Daniel Beahan, the director of customer care at the firm, claims that data-driven insights are an efficient way to learn more about how shoppers interact with brands and their behaviour as they browse and buy.

In a Power Retail article, he said that Kogan is essentially a “statistics business masquerading as an e-commerce company” and that data is the “key to unlocking our customer expectations”,

Ensure that your branding is consistent across all collateral and that you have clear calls-to-action. Always consider your target audience when you’re creating campaigns, too.

It takes time, patience, and an investment of other resources to build a profitable eCommerce business.

But if you consider all the elements above, keep learning as you go, and keep a close eye on cashflow, accounting tasks, and other financial matters, you will find success online.