Table of Contents
This article is a guide for beginners in starting an e-commerce website. It mainly focuses on how you can set up the site and what goes into it. Before that, let us look at what is e-commerce and an e-commerce website.
What is an E-commerce Website?
E-commerce has changed the way people shop. Instead of stepping out and hopping shops to find their favorite products, shoppers can now do all that in the convenience of their home. It opened doors to so many opportunities that it is nothing short of a revolution.
In 1994 when Phil Brandenberger of Philadelphia bought a Sting‘s CD from the retail platform NetMarket using his credit card. It was the first-ever secure e-commerce transaction in the world! Earlier e-commerce meant purchasing or selling products via email or phone, but the advent of the World Wide Web entirely changed the face of e-commerce. Now users could shop with just a few clicks.
There are between 12 to 24 million e-commerce sites in the world today. That is how much the e-commerce industry has grown over the last two decades. Today we have popular online stores, such as Amazon, eBay, Walmart, Flipkart, and Alibaba, that are generating massive revenues. There is an e-commerce store for almost everything – apparel, electronics, food, healthcare – you name it!
It is estimated that by 2040, approximately 95% of all purchases will be via e-commerce.
Steps to Starting an E-commerce Website
Starting an e-commerce website is a mammoth task. It takes time, effort, and often a dedicated team to build one. But it’s rewarding when the store is finally up and running and open to customers. Let’s break down how you can set up an online store.
Step 1: Research, research, and then some more research
The first step to starting an e-commerce website is to do in-depth research about its various aspects, such as customers, products, markets, and competitors. These analyses will help you in creating your business model. All you need (mostly) is a computer and internet to get it all done.
Get a clear idea of the below points before creating an e-commerce website.
What are you going to sell?
You cannot start an e-commerce website selling a product that no one wants to buy. That would be disastrous. Be it physical or digital products. Hence, do well-rounded research. So whatever product you sell must have good chances of getting revenue.
Find out the latest trends or what is catching people’s attention. Try and work around those products and see if anything interests you enough to sell it.
You could also check current best sellers in other e-commerce platforms. Analyze what type of selected products are selling the most on these sites.
Sometimes, you would want to sell the products that you manufacture. In such a case, understand the demand or the area where it has better chances of selling.
Who are you going to sell it to?
You have narrowed down to the product(s) to sell. Now it is time to decide your customer base. You will already have the answers to a lot of queries surrounding the customer base if you get your product research right. After all, you have decided to sell what people want. Anyway, while researching potential customers, you could get answers to the following:
- What is their age group?
- What kind of product do they want?
- Why do they want it?
- How do they search for it?
- Where do they mostly buy/look for it?
The idea is to create a buyer’s persona. Buyer’s persona is like a profile of potential customers based on their demographic and psycho graphic data. It is created to find out how you can streamline and optimize your e-commerce store to cater to their requirements.
How are you going to sell?
Selling a product to people also depends on how you market it. You could come up with a great in-demand product for your store, but if your marketing is below par, all efforts will be in vain. Trending products will be available in other e-commerce sites, so it is up to you to decide how to reach the customers and convince them to buy it from your store. Once again, a lot of marketing ideas will be clear if you get your product and customer research down.
What are your competitors doing?
You could get to know your potential competitors well. Get a close look at their:
- best sellers;
- market share;
- product pitching;
- business model (site content, payment gateway, shipping, UX, etc.), etc.
You can see that all the research mentioned above depends a lot on the competition analysis. If you have something to measure your methods against, then why not?
In all this research, you must be well acquainted with the laws related to the e-commerce business. Laws concerning taxes, shipping, licenses, permits, age restrictions, copyrights, PCI compliance, etc. are some of them. Make sure you have covered all the necessary legal requirements.
Step 2: Choosing the right e-commerce platform
Now it is time to build a beautiful website for your online store. There are two ways you can do it: build one from scratch or making use of e-commerce platforms.
Building a website takes time and effort and requires technical understanding. Or you can hire a professional developer to design one for you. They can create a website in any way you want. However, for any changes that the site requires from time to time, you will have to rely on the developers.
Open-source e-commerce platforms take way less time, effort, and money. You can choose any themes available and customize them according to your needs. Sure, it does not allow full flexibility like a website you build yourself will do. However, for a first-time e-commerce site, it is more than enough. There are many open-source platforms available, some of the most popular being WooCommerce, Shopify, BigCommerce, WordPress, etc.
Choose the one that provides with all-round e-commerce solutions, like security, product page management, catalog management, carts, payment, secure checkout, shipping, etc.
There are various plugins that you can install to get additional features. It depends on the product and your business model.
Step 3: Hunt for a website name and host
If you ask, “what’s in a name?” A LOT! A catchy name will actually earn you a click. Once you brainstorm and get one, register it. Set your store name as the domain name.
Pick the one that caters to your requirements and sign up.
Step 4: Get a logo for your brand
Design or choose a logo that aligns with your store name or product vision. People would recognize your brand with the logo, so choose carefully. Some designers can create one for you, or you can have a look at sites like 99Designs.
Step 5: Set up payment gateway
To carry out transactions, you need a payment gateway on your e-commerce site. Your platform may provide in-house payment solutions; however, you may need other payment systems depending on your business. There are many online payment systems you can set up in your store. Some of the most popular ones are Stripe, Authorize.net, and PayPal. Each of them has different types of services, depending on the location or user experience. Choose what suits you best.
Step 6: Secure your website
Every website must get Secured Security Layer (SSL) certificates to keep it safe. It makes the connection safe and ensures reliable data transfer.
Step 7: Getting your store’s product management right
Product management is perhaps an essential part of any e-commerce business. Most of your research findings should be spent on managing the products on the site. Any commerce business will fail without efficient product management. It involves creating a product vision and building a strategic plan to market the product (and much more). It is a shared responsibility with other teams in the business in successfully following this plan. In e-commerce, it is not just about the product, but the overall experience of the store/website. It is an intersection of a good business model, technology, and user experience.
Read more about e-commerce product management here.
Step 8: Set up relevant website pages
Set up all relevant pages any regular website must have, such as privacy and cookie policies, contact information, support page, and terms and conditions.
Step 9: Mobile-friendly site
People are on their smartphones all the time. Be it for business or leisure. The growth of mobile phone technology has been tremendous. It continues to thrive. Nowadays, a lot of people use their mobile phones to shop online. Therefore, it would be impossible to think of starting an e-commerce website without responsive web design. Responsive web design is where the site fits the screen size of any device the user is browsing it on. The experience of such a site should not be affected by the change in screen size.
eBay‘s mobile version looks just as good as its desktop version:
Step 10: Market your e-commerce website
Once your website is live and running after you figure out the shipping and logistics, the next step is to market your business. Some of the ways to market your store are:
Search Engine Optimization
To improve the traffic to your site, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) plays a significant role. It is a free method to gain website traffic from organic search results. Optimize your site by creating unique and quality content relevant to the popular keywords customers use to search for products. Add good quality images and videos with related tags.
You could take a look at your competitors’ SEO strategy for inspiration and ideas.
Social Media marketing
People are spending more and more time on social media, such as FaceBook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter. These platforms make up for a great way to reach your targeted customers. Create social media accounts and interact with potential customers. Look at what people are searching for and connect with them. It is a great way to pitch your products to them.
Post regular quality content on your social media accounts with tags, get social media influencers to promote products available on your site, or get paid ads on these platforms.
A few examples of Instagram advertisements:
You could get social media influencers who have a significant number of followers to promote your products or brand. These influencers usually have an engaging and loyal audience. They get paid and you will market your brand far and wide. A win-win situation!
Email marketing is one of the top sources of revenue for marketers. There are around 4 billion email users in the world. It is a vast network to market your business. The email has a broader reach and engages more conversation from the customers and helps in building better customer relationships.
Get an emailing list of people who could be interested in your store and promote it with newsletter and product information. Do remember to take their consent before sending regular emails to them. If they deny or do not respond to your request, you must delete their information from the list. Also, never spam.
A striking subject line, unique, concise, and compelling content with appealing visuals, and personalized addressing – you are good to go…or mail!
Here is an example of Nomad’s introductory email.
Besides these, you could look into promoting your brand with guests posts, getting backlinks, blog posts with relevant keywords, word-of-mouth advertising, etc.
These are a few of the things that go into starting an e-commerce website of your own. Remember, it is easy to follow someone else’s suggestions; however, it is your passion and vision that have to lead the way.
Let us know if these steps helped in setting up your first e-commerce website in the comments below.