ENTREPRENEURSHIP / JUL. 17, 2014
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How to Start an Online Store

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Online shopping is becoming increasingly popular with many people all over the world. Shopping online makes it easy for consumers to compare prices, thus saving them time. In addition, it offers them a wide range of items to choose from. Therefore, starting an online store can be a very profitable venture. Selling goods and services online allows you to reach customers around the globe. Unlike a brick-and-mortar shop, an online store runs round the clock, thus enabling you to make more sales. Finally, running an online business allows you to cut down on costs associated with stocking inventory, renting premises and hiring staff.  

However, running an online store also has several disadvantages. First, it does not offer you the option of building relationships with your customers through personal interaction. Secondly, online business is a very competitive field. There are hundreds of ecommerce sites out there selling almost every item imaginable. You will therefore have to work extra hard for your business to stand out. Finally, online stores might occasionally deal with technical issues such as website malfunctions or problems with the credit card processor. In such cases, your business might end up losing money as well as customers.

Here are some guidelines for launching an ecommerce store:

1. Find a product to sell

The first step to starting an ecommerce site is deciding what you want to sell. You have the option of selling ‘hard’ goods such as clothes and electronics, or ‘soft’ goods like computer software which customers can download directly from your site. However, you need to carry out some research first to find out if there is actually demand for the items you are considering.

2. Register a domain name

Before building your site, you will need to register a domain name with registrars such as Namecheap, Network Solutions, GoDaddy and Register.com.   Make sure the name chosen is memorable and matches your business name.

3. Find a web host

After securing a domain name, find a web hosting service for your site. Some of the leading web hosting providers includes 1&1, Bluehost, Dreamhost and Hostgator. Be sure to choose a hosting plan which is suitable for running an ecommerce site.  

4. Build your site

Instead of building your online store from scratch, you can use one of the many web design templates available online. This will save you much time and money. You can download both free and premium templates from sites such as templatemo.com, opendesigns.org, freetemplatesonline.com, templatemonster.com and wix.com. If you don’t have the technical knowledge, you could hire the services of a professional web designer.

5. Choose shopping cart software

Shopping cart software is a very essential element of an online store. This software allows customers to find and purchase items on your site. It comes with features useful for calculating taxes, setting up shipping and monitoring inventory. Some of the most popular shopping cart solutions include Shopify, BigCommerce, Zen Cart and WordPress EShop.

6. Select a merchant services provider

Merchant services providers provide a way for your business to accept payments from buyers. You can open a merchant account with companies such as Network Solutions, MerchantPlus, PayPal, WorldPay and Google Checkout. These services usually charge a small commission for processing credit and debit card payments.

7. Market your business

Once your online store is up and running, you will need to find a way of generating traffic to your site. You could explore options such as email marketing, social media campaigns and pay-per-click advertising. Remember to use tools such as Google Analytics to track the progress of your marketing campaigns.

If you feel that building your own online store is too hard, you could consider using a third party provider such as Overstock, Etsy, Amazon or eBay. You can easily open your own personal page within the third party provider’s site and sell goods. This allows you to avoid dealing with technical problems or payments. However, the charges for using such online marketplaces can be quite prohibitive.  

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