How to start an online store in a couple simple steps!
Why is it important to understand how to start an online store if commerce is your game? Where should we start?
We are living in the midst of a digital age. In today’s world, consumers are no longer bound by one particular geographical location.
On the contrary, nowadays people have the power to connect with their peers, conduct research, consume content, and most importantly shop wherever they are in the world with a few swipes of a screen. And that means that in the current climate, if you’re an entrepreneur looking to grow your business, building an online store might be the best thing you ever do.
At present, 21.8% of the planet’s population shops online, and in 2021, this number is expected to rise to more than 2 billion online shoppers.
If you know how start an online store the right way, you’ll be able to boost your profits significantly and grow your business year after year.
Creating an eCommerce business is easier than you might think, and we’re going to show you how to build an online store like a pro.
How to start an online store — the big picture
- The current state of eCommerce.
- The 3 basic steps to start an online store.
- Choosing your business name and domain name.
- Refining your idea with market research.
- Finding your audience.
- Important elements of an eCommerce website.
- How to create an online store with PTUSNetworking.
- How to promote an online store — and why you must.
- Connecting your store to online marketplaces.
- Building an email marketing list.
- Embracing social media marketing.
- Sharing customer testimonials and positive reviews.
- Exploring discounts and coupons.
- Managing online business listings.
- Conclusion and next steps
With a little know-how, an excellent idea and a powerful eCommerce solution for building and maintaining your online store, you will reap great rewards.
To put this money-making, brand-boosting potential in perspective, let’s look at some essential online shopping insights you need to know.
The current state of eCommerce
Before we delve deeper into how to start an online store, let’s explore these eCommerce stats, facts and figures that prove the power of online shopping:
- On average, men spend $220 per online transaction and women spend $151 per transaction. That’s a high-value average spend per customer.
- Online shopping is more popular than ever before and by 2021, eCommerce sales are expected to climb to 17.5% of retail sales across the globe. That’s plenty of profit up for grabs.
- During Q3 2018, smartphones made up 61% of retail site visits globally. If you’re online store is mobile-optimized, you’re likely to boost your conversion rate, big-time.
- The main reason people shop online is that they’re able to buy items or products 24/7, literally.
In today’s world convenience is king. Give your audience what they want and you’ll never look back.
An eCommerce website is an extension of your business that reaches wider than any local marketing promotion or storefront.
Realizing the full power of an eCommerce website
Just to reiterate (and we do so because absorbing this message will give you the best possible chance of easy eCommerce success): eCommerce stores give businesses the power to act big, but remain small.
Through professional and powerful, yet affordable, online storefronts, businesses can reach an extremely large market and sell to a vast and wide customer base.
Estimations of U.S. online sales for 2019 are projected to soar to over $560 billion — and that number is only expected to grow. The same projections put eCommerce sales at roughly $414 billion to more than $735 billion by 2023. Mind-blowing.
As mentioned, online stores give small businesses the opportunity to tap into a massive marketplace and an entire nation of shoppers.
Inspired? Great, let’s continue.
Easy eCommerce: How to start an online store in 3 steps
It’s clear that if you’re a modern business, entering the eCommerce arena is a wise move. To help you start your digital journey, here’s our how-to guide to create an online store, broken down into three simple steps:
- Fine-tune your idea.
- Create your online store.
- Promote your online store.
1. Fine-tune your idea
At this point, it’s likely that you know what you want to sell. Start fine-tuning your idea by deciding on a business name, conducting market research, and finding your audience.
Consider these questions: What makes your brand stand out from others in your niche? What particular pain points do you solve?
Work out the answers to these questions and you’ll be able to move forward in the best possible direction.
Choosing your business name and domain name
When it comes to naming your eCommerce business, choosing a name that is digestible, memorable, relevant, good for digital marketing purposes and will work well as a domain name is a must.
Your domain name is the web address for your digital storefront. You want it to truly represent who you are and what you have to offer — at a glance.
There are myriad domain extensions (the part of the domain name to the right of the dot, like .com) available to help you secure the perfect name. Consider a domain extension that suits your industry or niche and that will help you stand out from the crowd. Think .shop or .store for general eCommerce, or get more specific with .jewelry, .clothing, .coffee and more.
Go ahead, give it a try:
Refining your idea with market research
The logistics of starting an eCommerce website to sell your products, and the dynamics of knowing how to create an online store, will become relevant later, but first, focus on refining your idea.The eCommerce game is competitive. What will make your venture stand apart?
For instance, if you decide to sell T-shirts online because you have an unrivalled love for tees, consider how your shirts will differ from the competition’s offerings. It’s vital to vet your idea to gauge the potential for long-term success.
There are a host of ways to assess how your idea compares to other similar businesses online. Here are the most important:
Do your friends and family think it’s worthwhile?
Offer your products for free — or for a sizable discount — to friends and family. Monitor how they respond to your product.
- Do they love it? If so, find out what features are most appealing to them.
- Is there anything about your product they would change? Get details.
- Did they enjoy their customer experience? What about your service made it shine?
- Would they be willing to pay full price? What do they think your product is actually worth?
- Would they be willing to recommend your product to others in their networks and become brand advocates?
Gathering this level of feedback and data is a brilliant way to refine your product idea before unleashing it on the public.
Can you raise money to start and/or grow your eCommerce business?
Consider crowdfunding websites, like Kickstarter, where you can list your product idea and raise money to bring it to life on a bigger scale.
For the best results, set a reasonable goal for fundraising that extends beyond what your friends and family can offer.
Here, you will want to get honest feedback on your product from a wider circle than your immediate friends and family as this will give you greater scope to fine-tune your ideas.
Don’t shy away from marketing your idea so that this wider circle can at least hear about it and understand its benefits on a personal level.
Can you sell your product on third-party platforms like Etsy?
Another effective means of gaining quick feedback, economically, is to list your products on popular third-party marketplaces such as Etsy, eBay and Amazon. These platforms are likely to have literally thousands of customers, actively looking for products just like yours. But, there may also be hundreds of sellers in your product category on these platforms.
By listing your product on these third-party sites, you’ll gain a solid sense of where your product stands compared to your competitors.
You do need to give these platforms a significant cut from your sales for listings and transactions. However, listing on third-party eCommerce sites can offer you unique opportunities to fine-tune your core marketing messaging and product features to understand out what works best, before you launch your official online shop.
Finding your audience
In digital marketing, there’s a well-known saying: “If you’re talking to everybody, you’re not talking to anybody.”
Basically, if you don’t understand your target audience — or how to connect with them — your broad, generic content or brand messaging is likely to offer little value and as such, become overlooked.
When it comes to knowing how to start an online store the right way, understanding where to aim your efforts is essential.
Yet, despite the vital importance of identifying and focusing on a specific target audience, many eCommerce businesses struggle with this notion. When asked to describe their audience, a host of brands often answer in broad, vague, almost meaningless terms.
When you fail to define your target audience, your promotional efforts will suffer in the following ways:
- You won’t be able to craft strong, authentic branding that resonates with potential customers.
- Your marketing communications will be flat and uninspired.
- You won’t be able to encourage customer loyalty, one of the cornerstones of any successful eCommerce business.
- You will fail to stand out from the competition.
- You won’t be able to improve your offerings as you won’t have an idea of how your products can address your customers’ specific pain points.
How to define your target audience
To help you avoid such calamities, defining your target audience is essential. That said, here’s a practical outline of how to classify your target audience in a specific, value-driven way that gets results, based on certain characteristics you should focus on:
- Demographics: Statistical data relating to your audience
- Professional details: Information concerning jobs, competencies and places of work
- Psychographics: Metrics and details based on personality traits and innate qualities
- Goals: Descriptions of what your audience is looking to accomplish
- Challenges: Pain points and problems your audience faces on a regular basis
- Influences: Media and impressions your audience typically encounters
- Buying process: How your target audience makes purchasing decisions
Important elements of an eCommerce website
Now that you understand the importance of understanding your target audience, it’s time to move onto the next portion of our guide on how to build an online store.
While there are only a few essential elements that you must have to create an online store, there are many other components that will help you get the most out of your eCommerce shop.
Before you start to sell online, consider the following elements and how you want to handle and manage each.
Product details and photos
Don’t just post product pages and hope your items will sell. Instead, create interesting and useful product detail pages with sales copy that lists benefits, features and specifications. And be sure to include photos that show the product in detail.
When it comes to knowing how to start an online store that works, getting your images, videos and product copy just right should be a top priority.
In fact, a whopping 87% of online consumers state that product content is extremely important when making a buying decision. That’s a lot of people.
The best product descriptions inspire, engage, address specific pain points and most importantly, tell a story.Storytelling is one of the most effective element of copywriting — especially when it comes to branded or product-based content.
If you have a story about a customer who enjoyed life-changing results with your product or service, share the narrative.
Much like product descriptions, product photos need to be vivid and eye-catching. You know what they say: “A picture speaks a thousand words.” And in the world of online shopping, this certainly rings true. Images and video content are widely consumed online as they’re digestible, instantaneous and if used well, they will make your online store look dazzling.
CTA on every page
Calls-to-action (CTAs) are critical elements for eCommerce websites.
There are a variety of CTAs, but the ultimate goal is to move a prospect down the sales funnel. This can be anything from getting a lead (newsletter signup CTAs are great for that) to turning a lead into a customer (buy-one-get-one CTAs can do the trick).
You want a CTA to create a sense of urgency (“Buy now!”) that will lead to a sale.
Calculate the cost of shipping your products, and select a shipping method (free, flat rate or weight-based) that will best serve your customers and business.
Consider free shipping as this has been proven to decrease shopping cart abandonment and increase sales.
Decide if you are going to ship outside of the U.S. and create a shipping policy for international sales that includes extra costs and days for delivery.
Don’t forget about taxes when you sell online. Talk to an accountant to determine whether or not you need to charge tax on your online sales.
Term of service and conditions
Clearly post a refunds and terms of service policy on your website and prompt users to agree to it before they make a purchase.
Within your store, you have options for creating coupons for discounted rates or on individual products. Explore how you can use coupons to reward new or loyal customers.
Many storefronts include a review feature. More than half of customers read reviews before making a purchase, so encourage your happy customers to leave reviews after their purchases.
The last element is quite possibly the most important.Before you sell online, decide how you will fulfill your orders.
Review the logistics of managing new orders and create a checklist that takes an order from beginning to end. Planning ahead and knowing the process will help you properly set expectations and avoid late deliveries and unhappy customers.
2. Create your online store
Once you’ve considered all of the key ingredients of a successful web-based eCommerce business, it’s time to start thinking about making it happen, in a practical sense.
The simplest and fastest way to get your online shop up and running is by using a templated eCommerce store.
With this option, you get it all in one quick install. An eCommerce website package includes an online shop website template (aka website theme), product pages, shopping cart, payment processing feature and hosting for the site.
Instead of building your store piece by piece, you can install the whole store at once.
PTUSNetworking’s Business Website Creator Plus includes all of these essentials plus award-winning customer support, tools for integrating with online marketplaces, Facebook and Google Analytics, and more.
Let’s take a look at a step-by-step blueprint to help you create an online store using PTUSNetworking’s intuitive eCommerce website builder.
Set up your account and define your settings
Once you’re all signed up and logged in, you’ll enter your business name and category to get the ball rolling and shape the direction of your brand new easy eCommerce website.
Once you’ve done that, go ahead and set up Google Analytics for your website. Refine your site settings so they align with your specific aims, goals and preferences.
Choose your template
With your framework (the foundations and fundamentals of your online store) firmly in place, the next step is choosing your website’s overall appearance by selecting a template from a range of eye-catching options. Once you’ve selected your theme, you can change the font and color of your page and customize it to your satisfaction.
Start building pages
Here’s where you start building your site out beyond the home page. You can start with the home page and reorder or remove any of the elements. Then, go through and do the same to the other default pages: About Us, Shop and Contact Us.
With Online Store the Home, Shop and About Us pages are automatically listed with suggested fields, but you can easily customize each page to your liking and add new pages, using the “swipe-to-style” functionality.
Fundamentally, a compelling eCommerce product page offers an intuitive, navigable and satisfying user experience (UX), so be sure to keep it simple and test your pages with people you trust.
You don’t want to launch your site, only to find that no one can figure out how to find your products.
Update your site settings
Once your easy eCommerce site has materialized — filled with dazzling product pages, images, colors, fonts and user-friendly functionality — you’ll need to update your site settings to make those all-important final touches prior to going live.
Once you’ve entered the “site settings” section of your account, you’ll need to consider the following elements and update them to your particular preferences:
- Update all of your business contact information so that it’s present and correct.
- Settle on your domain name by using your existing one, buying a domain name or using the free domain name.
- Optimize all of your pages for SEO purposes by using the platform’s in-built SEO Wizard.
- Link all of your active social media accounts to your online store.
- If you haven’t done so already, link Google Analytics to your website — this is essential if you want to reap the rewards of customer data.
- If necessary, set up site cookies and traffic notifications, in addition to Favicon, display ads, Facebook Pixel and Pinterest meta tags. You can do this according to your own personal preference.
Manage your store
Now, before the big launch, there’s one final thing you need to do — and it’s critical — if you want to make any money, that is. Yes, you might have guessed it. You need to add products and set up your payment methods.
For both payments and products (and more), click Manage on the store section in the menu. This will take you to a new screen.
From there, you’ll find a new page that has all your product-related options, like adding a product, adding payment options, shipping and more.
Adding a product is simple. Upload an image, and include the name, description, price, tax category and other basic information. Once you save it, your product will be in the Shop section (under Pages) of the Online Store.
Once you’ve set up your preferred payment offerings, select your shipping options to fulfill your orders. Click on the payment type you want to add and you’ll be redirected to a form that will take all of the information.
When you want to go back to editing your site, just click Edit Site in the top right corner and you’ll be directed back to the website builder.
3. Promote your online store
The third and final element of our how to start an online store guide comes in the form of promotion or marketing.
Once you’ve fine-tuned your idea and actually created your online store, it’s time to shout about it to your target audience.
Here we’re going to explain how to promote an online store, expand your reach, and enjoy the profit-boosting success you no doubt deserve.
There are a host of avenues you can take when marketing your online store to prospective buyers, from connecting your website to popular third-party vendors to social media, email marketing and more.
But, before we delve into these all-important areas, it’s important to reiterate the importance of spreading the word about your online store.
Why you need to promote your online store
Many small business owners think that once they have created an online store their job is done.
In fact, that’s where the fun begins. Not everyone who creates an online store is successful in making it their primary source of income. But those who are successful have a few common characteristics:
They love their customers
Ask any successful online seller what they like about their business and they will have a ton of heart-warming customer stories on the tips of their tongues. They live for making their customers’ lives better.
They are scrappy and savvy marketers
The most successful online sellers have figured out a way to spread the word in their customer community. Some do it through social media marketing. Others identify influencers in their community and have them promote their product. Some business owners come up with clever viral marketing campaigns by promoting their products with special discounts.It’s all about trying various marketing tactics and adapting to what works.
This last step in the journey to becoming a successful online seller is an iterative process — an ongoing effort to keep on improving your product and the lives of your customers. And here we’re going to give you more essential advice on how to promote an online store.
Connect with online marketplaces
As mentioned earlier, connecting your online store to renowned international eCommerce marketplaces is an excellent way of enhancing your profit-making potential while expanding your promotional reach.
If you appear in more online shopping spaces, more consumers will be able to interact with your brand messaging, explore your products, and buy stuff from you.
PTUSNetworking Business Website Creator Plus makes it easy to integrate your website with popular marketplaces including Amazon, eBay and Etsy.
Build an email marketing list
Contrary to popular belief, email marketing is still one of the most effective promotional methods available to today’s eCommerce brands. In fact, 86% of business professionals prefer to use email as the main medium for their marketing communications.
Now, if you’re just starting your journey into eCommerce entrepreneurship, you might not have the capital to spend on a host of pricey promotions. But, as you’ll no doubt know by now, promoting your online store is essential if you want to be a success.
For just a few cents per message, it’s possible to deliver game-changing email campaigns that drive people back to your website.
Moreover, the ROI is incredible — around $43 for every $1 spent. Yes, you did read that right.
To ensure your emails get read and help to boost your store’s bottom line, you will need to build a targeted email list of willing recipients that are open to receiving your communications. While this can prove tricky at first, once you’ve learned the fundamentals and found a little momentum, you will be cooking with gas.
Embrace social media marketing
As one of the world’s most influential communication-based mediums, social media marketing is key to getting eyes on your online store.Getting it right is essential if you want to promote your eCommerce business effectively.
Social media has become a staple of our daily lives — a way to connect (or reconnect) with friends and family, share pieces of our lives with our followers, and “spy” on others. Social sites like Twitter and Facebook help us stay abreast of the latest trends. LinkedIn has become a go-to source for job hunters and recruiters alike. And image-based sites such as Pinterest and Instagram feed us with visual inspiration 24/7. But, until fairly recently, social media wasn’t a must-have marketing tool for business.
Social networking can make companies more accessible for customers, give them viral exposure, and revolutionize the way businesses market their products.
For businesses that sell products online, getting social offers additional perks — from a free way to offer incentives to an organic means for building buzz about specific products.
With a little bit of know-how, online sellers can use social media to take eCommerce sales to new heights.
Check out a few free ways to use social media to stand out, interact with your target audience, retain customers, and ultimately boost sales in your online store.
Customers love a good deal, and word-of-mouth (or social sharing) helps promote your products/services more effectively than paid ads. How? Because people trust and want what their friends are talking about.
A simple and affordable way to increase your social following and draw new visitors to your online store is through giveaways and discounts.
By offering new followers a 15% discount for liking your page, for example, or by hosting a giveaway where contestants share a picture/post from your site to get entered to win a prize, you can quickly develop loyal customers and viral success.
Engage with your customers
People love talking about products and services they’ve used. Whether a customer’s experiences are good or bad, your business’s social profile is a place where they can go to engage and share their feedback about the products they use.The one-on-one interaction can give incredible insight into what you’re doing right, and what needs improvement.
How to start an online store
Remember, it’s important to keep the social in social media! Don’t be THAT business that’s constantly pushing products. Take the opportunity to connect with your customers and find ways to promote through conversation.
Use share buttons
A great way to promote your products online is by adding share buttons to your product pages and home page. The buttons allow customers and social visitors to showcase their interest in your products on their own social profiles.
Whether they’re sharing their recent purchases, sending a gift idea to their mom through Facebook messenger, or adding a product to their Pinterest pinboard — they are marketing for you.
Now that you have three easy ways to leverage social media to boost eCommerce sales, it’s time you get socializing! It’s a commonly known fact that social networking sites are where people spend a large chunk of their time — and so should your business.
Share customer testimonials and positive reviews
In today’s world, consumers trust the thoughts, feelings and opinions of their peers over adverts or promotional messaging. That said, customer testimonials and genuine positive reviews are like promotional golddust for your eCommerce business.Customer testimonials are priceless quotes or snippets that are generally short, snappy and to the point.
How to start an online store
As they take up little physical space, it’s easy to add testimonials to your website or use them in print collateral and email outreach.
Explore discounts and coupons
The final recommendation for promoting an online store is offering deals and discounts. We’ve mentioned this a few times already, but it’s especially important when spreading the word about products or services.
By offering coupons, deals and discounts, you’ll be able to boost your levels of engagement and attract prospects to your brand.
You can get incredibly creative with discounts and coupons, using them in your various marketing communications. The sky really is the limit!
Manage online business listings
If your business is locally based, be sure to keep your business listings updated. To get people to your site (and in your store if you have a physical location), you’ll need to ensure people can find you in a local search.
Make sure your contact information is accurate all platforms, including your website, social media pages, Yelp, Google and wherever else visitors will search for your store.
Tip: It’s never a bad idea to add a map to the Contact page on your eCommerce website.
Conclusion and next steps
“eCommerce is not an industry; eCommerce is a tactic.” ~Tobias Lutke
An eCommerce website can open a large, new frontier for your business. You will be able to sell to millions around the world instead of the thousands in your neighborhood. You will be able to tap into a billion dollar market. And, you will be able to give your business an opportunity to expand and grow with minimal risk and low investment costs.
Once you’ve fine-tuned your idea with a great name and thorough market testing, an easy eCommerce website is just a few steps away.