You have a great product and want to sell it online? But where can you get started? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. After setting up my own online store, I am sharing my advice about starting an online store on your own. Use this guide as a basis right before you get into the details for planning and finding the right strategy.
1. Define the Need
Similar to what I wrote in my article about how to get started with a website, you first need to define your need. Why do you need an online store? Would selling offline be an option for you? If you are sure why you need an online store, think about your target market and your target group. What do they expect from online shopping? Are there any features, details, designs, etc. you absolutely need to incorporate?
A very basic fact but often overlooked is if your product is really suited for online shopping. For example, if you sell scented candles, do you think your customers would buy them without being able to smell anything? Think about if e-commerce is your only way to go or if your product is better suited for an offline shopping experience. Or maybe, you may opt for a hybrid approach, such as an online store and temporary pop-up stores.
2. Service Provider
An online store in the end is just a website which is a bit more complicated. Actually, we do not need to call it “complicated”. Let’s say it is an extended version of a website. Similar to “normal” websites, there are several ways to run an online store. A lot of website newbies tend to choose providers such as Shopify, Wix or Squarespace. Most of them offer a monthly subscription which includes hosting and an SSL certificate (a security measure for your website) and there is a choice between free (mostly less functional) templates and paid ones.
Alternatively, you can look into open source providers such as WordPress with e-commerce extensions such as Woocommerce. I started my shop on Shopify and switched over to WordPress after about a year. I will write a post about why I switched in more detail but just as a brief summary:
I personally find that WordPress gives me more freedom. At first, I chose Shopify because I thought their services may provide higher security for the websites and I wanted to have 24 hour support. What I ended up getting was a very expensive solution: in addition to the fee of almost USD 30 per month, I had to pay for almost everything I wanted to add to my website (which is also billed as a monthly subscription). Furthermore, I did not found their support quite bad and there were quite a few glitches in their system which have never been fixed. WordPress and Woocommerce are open source which means there is not one single support provider. I have to search the internet or contact the providers of the services I use. But in the end, as it is open source, the online community is really active and I found the answers much quicker. Moreover, this system allows me much more flexibility.
As mentioned above, e-commerce stores are extended websites. Therefore, you will need to purchase a domain and, depending on the service, a hosting provider.
For every one of my online projects, I make a moodboard first. It can be a physical moodboard where I pin pictures I like on a board in my office. Recently, I started using Powerpoint- or Keynote-presentations where I save everything which inspires me. I browse through online stores I like and note down the features, designs and details I like. I also have several boards on Pinterest with design inspirations, colour schemes and product photo examples. And last but not least, I always screenshot everything I see and like immediately on my phone. (I ended up with a chaos of screenshots in my phone albums and now move all the pictures into my Powerpoints or Keynotes at the end of the week.)
Apart from basic pictures about your business, you will need a vast amount of product pictures. If you do not have the capital to invest in a professional photographer, I recommend in investing in a good set of photo lights. I edit the pictures in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. You can read more about how I taught myself to take pictures for my business here.
5. Think SEO
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of the key strategies to make your business seen. It will help you rank high in search engines. (If you do not know what SEO is about, you can check out my post here.) It is crucial to start with SEO as early as possible, the best way is to think about SEO right from the beginning. Make sure to have a strategy to make your store and product descriptions SEO-friendly and use captions and “Alt-texts” wisely.
6. Online and Offline Marketing
Last but not least, you need to advertise your store. I have said this in the above-mentioned SEO-article: A website is like running a store in a remote area. Your customers need to know about you. They only know about you if they can find you. Make sure to identify the right online channels and connect them to your store. Instagram and Facebook, for example, have services which allow your followers to directly shop via these platforms.
I have written quite a few articles about Marketing, you can check out some of them here:
Despite the buzz about online marketing, do not forget about the impact of offline marketing. Do some research about pop-up stores, markets, events or potential collaborations in your area. Even though more and more shopping is done online, the offline experience is still extremely important. A lot of people just want to see, touch or try on the real product.
7. Stay Up-to-Date
The digital world is moving extremely fast. Therefore, I recommend to always stay up-to-date. I do not stop browsing various online stores for more inspiration. Furthermore, I watch Youtube videos and read countless articles about how to improve the user experience on my store and how to improve what I call the “behind-the-scenes”: How can I make the website faster and more efficient?
To sum up, running an online store is not a piece of cake. A lot of time, effort and sweat goes into it. But if you do it right, it will pay off for your business. Furthermore, it will be one of the steepest learning curves for yourself.
Let me know if you have any questions! Or do you run an online store yourself and would like to share your advice? Please leave a comment below, send me an email or let me know via my social channels. I look forward to discussing this topic with you!
More from my Let’s Talk Business Series:
All information as of the date of publishing/updating. We cannot accept responsibility for the correctness or completeness of the data, or for ensuring that it is up to date. All recommendations are based on the personal experience of Elisabeth Steiger, no fees were received by the recommended services above.