Making money online has become a growing trend. Online business opportunities make it possible to earn extra money while working from home. And one of the most common and most reliable ways to do that is by starting an online shop. No wonder there are so many people trying to find out how to start an online store themselves.
Therefore, you will find out how to start an online store in this article. At the end of reading this guide, you will be able to go ahead and start your own online business immediately. So let’s dive right in!
Why Should You Start An Online Store At All?
First, let’s address the most important question in the beginning: why take the effort at all? What advantages lie in getting into e-commerce in the first place? What does this endeavor have in store for you? (*cough* Pun intended!)
You can work from home
Family lives are increasingly demanding, expenses (especially for housing) go through the roof. (*cough* this time not intended…) This is why many families need to juggle household, parenting, and jobs on both sides. Thus, being able to bring in decent money working from home is very appealing.
If you are generally interested in learning about work from home jobs, check out this article on work from home jobs that could soon replace your day job.
Become independent from your day job
It has never been easier to earn money online. As a result, many people seek their escape from a draining day job in growing an online business. Once you know how to start an online store from scratch, you can make that dream a reality.
Online shopping is a growing industry
The absolute numbers of worldwide e-commerce retail revenue went from 1,336 billion U.S. dollars in 2014 to 3,535 billion U.S. dollars in 2019. By 2023, it will be an estimated 6,542 billion U.S. dollars in worldwide e-commerce retail sales revenue.
Now that you know what a profitable online store can do for you, let’s dive into the practical steps on how you can start your own one.
5 Steps To Start Your Own Online Store
As with everything new, you need to know some basic things to avoid wasting time or money. This is the reason why I have created this step-by-step guide on how to start an online store. In the following paragraphs, you will find the exact steps you need to take.
Step 1 - Decide On A Niche
The most important step, thus the first one, is to decide in what niche you want to operate. There are all kinds of online stores out there, and you want to know exactly what your area is. Even Amazon started as an online bookstore back in the day. Once they had built some serious traction, they could branch out into other niches. However, when starting out, you want to be specific.
Why is it important to build an online store around a specific niche?
As I just said, there are already many strong players out there. If you want to stand a chance in getting customers for your own business, you will need a clear unique selling point. Why would people buy from your shop instead of Amazon or eBay? You need to differentiate yourself from your competition!
Only if they find something at your shop that they cannot find somewhere else, they have a real incentive to buy from you. However, this “something” doesn’t necessarily need to be a product that nobody else is selling. If your shop is built around a specific niche, you appear like the go-to expert around that topic. As a result, people will buy from you whenever they are looking for something within that niche.
What niches are there?
Many online stores operate in the fields of clothing, jewelry, lifestyle items, nutrition and other high-demand areas of everyday life. To start out, however, you need to narrow your market down even more. Here are some examples to help you better understand this process and spark some ideas:
- Steampunk clothing
- Items for your morning bathroom routine
- Nutrition supplements based on herbal ingredients
- Ingredients and spices for cooking traditional Indian food
It’s important to get specific at this stage for three major reasons:
- Your choices affect how you will design your online shop.
- Your marketing will depend on your niche.
- You need to establish some kind of expertise in one area so you can successfully branch out to other areas in the future.
Once you’ve decided on your niche, you can proceed to Step 2!
Step 2 - Decide On A Platform
Now that you know the field in which you’re going to operate, you are ready to decide on the best platform to do so. This wouldn’t be possible to do before you know your niche. So, if you have taken your time and really nailed Step 1 of this guide, you’ve already accomplished a great deal!
How to start an online store - the technical side
There are different ways of how you can set up your online shop. Let’s take a look at the available options and discover the particular pros & cons. Essentially, there are four basic approaches to building an online store:
- Using an existing marketplace like Amazon or Etsy.
- Use a dedicated e-commerce platform. (This is the option I recommend)
- Code your own shopping platform.
- Integrate a small shop into your WordPress website.
Build an online shop using third-party platforms
Examples of this approach would be selling your products through Amazon, Etsy, eBay or Alibaba (or a combination of these).
- Established platforms with millions of users and high traffic
- High trust in buyers’ eyes
- You could benefit from people who visit the platform and didn’t search for your product in the first place.
- Endless supply of products that could distract from your goods
- Your success depends tremendously on your ability to rank your products in the platform’s search results.
- You cannot build your own internet presence and brand.
How to start an online store using a dedicated e-commerce platform
These platforms are available to everybody. You only need domain hosting, and then you can install the shopping platform on there or integrate it if you go with a cloud-based alternative. Some of these platforms even offer you to get domain hosting during their set-up process. For all others, I recommend SiteGround for web hosting as they have excellent service and all features you need to operate an online business.
You may have heard about Shopify as it’s the flagship within this industry. However, there are other platforms like Magento or BigCommerce, for example. Shopify comes with the most features and best usability and support, though. That’s why I recommend using Shopify to start your own online store.
After installing or connecting your shopping system with your domain server, you will have everything you need. This is because these platforms come with all the necessary features like shopping carts, shipping calculators, automatic invoicing, payment gateways and many more. They are simply built to make creating an online shop easy and accessible to everybody.
- All-in-one solutions
- Highly customizable
- They are built explicitly for online shop creators, thus prodiving all the functionality you need to run a multi-million dollar online store.
- In the improbable scenario that those companies stop maintaining their service (due to bankruptcy or something similar), your shop might stop working sometime down the road. Then you would need to switch to a different provider. However, with the ongoing rise of e-commerce in general, this scenario is highly unlikely. In fact, I only put it here because otherwise there would be no cons about using a platform like Shopify.
Code your own shopping platform
This is really only an option if you have a very specific reason why you choose this path. Furthermore, you need to be a genius in coding. For the purpose of starting an online shop as a business to make real money, this is not appropriate for the vast majority of people which is why I will not go into more detail here.
Integrate a small shop into your WordPress site
This approach might be right for you if your main business is blogging, and you want to set up a few products to supplement your blog income by selling related products. For example, if you have a blog about fitness and workouts, and at the same time have a collection of fitness-related products branded with your name, you could use this approach.
In this case, you would probably want to use WooCommerce as your shopping cart plugin. You can use WooCommerce to implement basic online shop functionalities into your blog. Shopify and other platforms also offer integrations for WordPress blogs.
- Easy to integrate into your existing WordPress blog.
- The easiest way to implement a few products to increase your blog income.
- Not the best fit if you have hundreds or thousands of products in your shop.
- Sometimes not that easy to customize because the basic functionalities are really just basic. If you want more, you need to buy additional plugins and addons which can get expensive pretty quickly. Moreover, it will also slow down your website speed which harms your Google rankings.
- Updates in the WordPress system can sometimes break functionalities of WooCommerce which would mean a complete loss of income. Even if it’s just temporary, you don’t want that to happen!
Again, I would suggest you take a closer look at Shopify for the beginning unless there is a specific reason why you want to go with something else. So, to avoid analysis paralysis, head over to their website and see how you can start an online store with their system. And then proceed to Step 3.
Step 3 - Creating The Brand
Now that you know your niche and the shopping system you want to utilize, you need to take one last step before you go on and set up your shop. You need to think about your name and overall design.
People are used to recognizing websites, products, anything, by characteristics like color and design. They will trust your shop a lot more if you have your unique design. On the contrary, they will probably forget your shop and refuse to buy from it if you only have a basic layout without any recognizable features (thus looking like a copy-paste shop).
This is not so much about doing many crazy things as it is about making design decisions consciously. Let’s take a look at some specific things you should tackle.
Your brand name
Coming up with a name can be a pain in the butt. Try to make sure that your brand name is in line with the customers you want to address. If you plan on selling luxury jewelry, you should probably not name your shop Streetkid Stones.
Another thing you want to keep in mind here is to check domain availability. This is where it gets tricky. If you find the perfect name, but the domain isn’t available anymore, it’s still a reason to find a different name.
If you REALLY want to go with a name, but the .com domain is not available, check for another top-level domain like .co, .net or .shop.
You don’t want to choose a name that could cause confusion with any other brand or shop. Doing this, you would only increase the danger of running into legal issues further down the road. And once you’ve built a brand around your name, being forced to change it could cause serious damage.
Your shop colors and fonts
Maybe you’ve never thought about the importance of colors and fonts. Now is the time to do it, however. Don’t think too much about psychological questions like which color stands for which emotion. You should rather think about the whole picture and find colors that you can use congruently throughout your site and that fit your niche and taste.
Thinking about fonts, pay attention to readability and font size. I would suggest using a very basic font that is easy to read. The sole purpose of the text in your online store is to convey information. The emotional design should be taken care of by the product images. Find a font you like and choose a font color that contrasts enough so it’s easy to read.
People need to recognize your brand at a glance. One of the main tools to achieve this is a unique logo. Now that you’ve decided on your colors and name as well as your overall shop style (fancy, minimalistic, colorful, classy, etc.), you can have a logo created for your online shop.
Head over to fiverr.com and type “logo design” into the search bar. You can sort by price and find somebody to design your logo for $5.
How do you start your online store now that you have all these things ready?
I’m glad you asked because now you’re ready to get into the fun stuff! The next step is all about setting up your online shop and going live. Let’s get to work so you can finally start selling products and making money.
Step 4 - How To Set Up An Online Shop?
For the sake of this step-by-step guide, I assume that you’ve decided to go with a dedicated shopping platform like Shopify. We now go into the technical steps you need to take in order to get your online shop up and running. I will, however, not go into too much detail about every little thing to keep this guide as concise as possible while still providing all the necessary information.
Set up hosting for your online shop
Hosting (or web hosting) is the place where your domain lives. It’s where you have your personal property within the world wide web. You need web hosting so you have an address where people can find you.
Shopify offers a service to register a domain straight through their platform. It’s part of their set-up process. Just make sure to spell it right!
Implement SSL encryption
In case you decide to use your own domain from a different hosting provider, make sure you have it SSL-encrypted. Every reasonable web host offers SSL certification for free nowadays. Don’t pay $70/year for a certificate!
SSL is a protocol that encrypts user interaction on your website. This is especially important for webshops where people fill in their payment details like credit card information.
Design your shop and implement products
Now that you’ve taken care of the technical stuff, it’s time to address the visual stuff. Therefore, use the tutorials your shop platform provides to design your webshop the way you want it. You’ve already decided on fonts and colors beforehand. So, now you only need to implement what you’ve decided.
The same goes for setting up all your products. Follow Shopify’s instructions and set up your product collection. Once this step is taken, you’ve accomplished the most important task toward future earnings.
Test your online store before going live
In order to avoid bad customer experience and bad reviews from the start, you should test your shop as if you were a customer. This is a crucial step of this how to start an online store guide because it will uncover flaws in the system that you might not have noticed before.
First, go over all of your main pages (not every single product page!) with your desktop, tablet, and phone. This way, you make sure that your online store is mobile friendly and works on all devices. This is important as Google values mobile usability even higher than desktop usability nowadays. Furthermore, most online shoppers shop with their phones. You as a shop owner need to make sure to provide them with the best user experience possible.
Also, check your payment gateways by placing test orders. This way you make sure that your customers won’t get stuck right before checkout.
Launch your online store
Once everything is working, you can go live and hit the publish button! Oh, and there’s one more thing to do:
Go open a bottle of wine or champaign and celebrate because you’ve just become an official internet entrepreneur and online store owner. This is HUGE!!!
Step 5 - Promote Your Online Store
In order to earn money from your online shop, you now need to bring in visitors through the virtual door. A good idea to jumpstart your online store success is to create some serious marketing momentum. There are several ways you can market your new online shop from the beginning.
Paid social media advertising
You have probably seen clothing ads on Instagram, too. I get flooded with them. Depending on your niche and target customers, you can get your products in front of them on their favorite social media platform. Facebook is not the best choice for this anymore because the whole ads system has kind of suffered from bad reputation and non-transparent practices. You shouldn’t ignore Facebook completely though. Simply try if it works for your shop.
Other than that, Instagram and Pinterest are platforms that can work wonders for certain types of products (provided you learn how to use their advertising system effectively). Lastly, Google and Youtube ads might also work well for you, but they are kind of expensive in comparison.
This process is a little trial and error in the beginning. But once you’ve got your feet wet, you will learn quickly what works and what doesn’t. Then, you can focus on the strategies that work and start to profit.
With the rise of platforms like Instagram and Youtube, this new form of advertising has emerged. You pay a so-called influencer to tap into his audience and bring your products in front of these people. Influencers might post a photo on Instagram wearing your featured sweater and linking to your shop, for example.
Pay attention to find an influencer who represents the style your products represent as well. Keep in mind who your audience is and if a particular influencer’s audience is a match.
You can find influencers either by doing your own research or by utilizing agencies and platforms like influence.co.
Grow your online store traffic with SEO
SEO is short for search engine optimization, meaning to make a website rank high in Google for specific search terms. There is a LOT to learn about SEO, so I won’t go into further detail in this article. There are complete websites and blogs dedicated only to search engine optimization.
However, you absolutely want to incorporate SEO into your long-term strategy. It’s the best way to create consistent traffic to your website. Nevertheless, it takes time until you see any significant results from SEO, so this really is a strategy for long-term business success. Don’t rely on SEO alone to boost your online store traffic in the beginning!
That's it! Now you know how to start an online store
Now that you know the steps to create your own online store and start creating revenue, I want to give you some more information to ensure your journey will be as successful as possible right from the start. Building an online business has already changed so many people’s lives, and it can change yours, too! So let’s keep going!
Pro Tips & Tricks On How To Start An Online Store
There are two more things I want to address that can increase your mid-term and long-term success tremendously. I’m telling you about these things now so you know what’s awaiting you further down the road. I’m talking about the power of reviews and the implementation of your own affiliate system.
Create social proof with reviews and testimonials
People love to be reassured before making a buying decision. This is why you see star ratings and reviews everywhere these days. Think about it: would you rather buy the pants that have 72 reviews and an overall rating of 4.8/5 stars, or the pants that have 3 reviews and a rating of 2.3/5?
I certainly am influenced a lot by ratings and reviews given by former buyers. And studies show (just like common sense) that most people are influenced by these metrics, as well. Thus, make sure you have a rating system in place, and think about how you could incentivize customers to leave reviews on products they’ve bought in your online shop.
Implementing your own affiliate system in your online store
You might be aware that you can promote products listed on Amazon and then earn a commission once somebody makes a purchase through your promotional link. This is affiliate marketing. As an online shop owner, you could set up your own affiliate system and have other people promote products from your shop in exchange for a small percentage of the revenue.
To get a handle on this, here’s a guide explaining how to set up your own affiliate program on Shopify: https://www.shopify.com/blog/53669701-how-to-set-up-an-affiliate-program-for-your-shopify-store
Things To Consider Before Opening An Online Store
Before we wrap things up, there are some aspects you should consider before opening your online shop.
Can I open an online store without money?
You absolutely can, but you absolutely shouldn’t. First, this would mean that you could not use any of the great tools that cost an initial set-up price or a monthly fee. You could not even have your own domain name as hosting a domain costs money. Even if it’s just $15 a year, it’s still not free!
Furthermore, it would take sooooooo…o much time to set up your online store without the dedicated tools that Shopify and other platforms provide. Not to mention that you would hardly be able to design your shop even close to what you want it to look like.
Lastly, if you don’t have even a little money to invest in advertising, you might just take too long to even get the first 100 visitors to your store. My position on this question is very clear: find a way to put some money aside and invest it in growing your online business.
I have lost thousands of dollars trying out risky projects, and that’s perfectly normal. At the end, you come out with some new skills that enable you to make all the money back and a lot more on top. You just cannot expect this to happen before you are willing to make some initial investment.
Online shops are operating worldwide. Therefore, you need to spend some time thinking about shipping costs for different products and situations. You’ve probably already thought about this while setting up your shop. I just wanted to address the shipment issue here in case you haven’t.
To make this easy, systems like Shopify also let you assign different shipping costs per product and per country. During checkout, the system then calculates the applicable fee from the shipping address.
Refunds and returns
Set up a company
If you aim for long-term success (of course you do!) and not in the game only for a short ride, then you will sooner or later need to set up a company. Once you start earning money, it’s a real job, and law requires you to make all earnings official. Also, you will need a separate tax ID for your online shop once it hits certain financial milestones. Be aware of this and inform yourself about the legal situation in your area.
You can check out Zen Business for this. They provide a very inexpensive, one-of-a-kind solution for all those people who (like me) hate dealing with all the paperwork.
Signs that you should NOT start an online store
Although there are so many upsides in creating an e-commerce business, some people get into it with false expectations. I suggest you don’t get into this business (and probably no business at all!), if you
- expect money to come in fast from the beginning or to get rich overnight.
- want to have zero risks and a guarantee for success.
- are not willing to put in the time necessary to make it work.
- don’t want to make sacrifices of any sort (even if they would potentially lead to a better life).
- hate working on a computer or can’t operate the internet properly or are unable to perform very basic online activities.
If any of these qualities apply to you, then I would advise you not to get into any form of online business. Reading and following a step-by-step guide on how to start an online store will not do you any good other than entertain you for a while.
Final Words On How To Start An Online Store
Starting an online store as a beginner in the online business world can be intimidating. However, it’s well worth the effort and the scars you will inevitably take away from it. Even the most successful business people have suffered from heavy setbacks. In fact, the more mistakes you make, the more likely you are to succeed in the end. Just remember that scars and setbacks are only steps on the journey to success.
How To Start An Online Shop Step-by-Step Guide Recap
To give you a short recap at the end of this step-by-step guide, here are the 5 crucial steps for starting your online shop again:
- Decide on a niche
- Decide on a platform
- Creating the brand
- Setting up your online shop
- Promoting your online shop
Now that you have come this far, I want to invite you to use that momentum and take your first practical steps! You’ve got all the information you need. Grab a pen and paper and jot down some first ideas about your future online business.
And then head over to Shopify and create your account! You can start with their free trial to explore their system and get even more excited. Just do it, because otherwise, this will just be another article you’ve read. Your financial and business life will stay the same until you take the first step in the right direction!
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means I get a commission when you make a purchase through my links, at no extra cost to you. Please refer to my full disclaimer for more info.