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How To Set Up Your First Online Store [Updated July 2018]

a few months ago
open sign on glass shop door

Looking for some ecommerce advice? Perhaps you’ve decided to go online rather than take your chances with offline retail?  Do you have an awesome product idea you can’t wait to share with the world and you’re itching to become a successful online entrepreneur? No matter where you are in your retail journey, your first online store is an important milestone.

This article will give you all of the most up-to-date information you need to get your ecommerce store up and running with minimal hassle. Here is how you can stay ahead of the pack and hack your store build and set-up, without compromising on quality.

Choosing your domain name

A domain is like the postal code for your online store, and it’s usually the first thing that your customers notice about your brand. Choosing one is easier said than done as many .com domain names are already registered. Don’t count on getting anything too obvious: you might have to settle with variations or regional domain extensions.

In the best case scenario, your brand and domain name mach 100%. In reality, you may have to be slightly flexible on the domain side.

Ideally, your online brand and domain name should:

  1. Be memorable and concise. Something easy to pronounce can really help too. Top tip: think about how your domain name would sound when it’s spelt out over the phone.
  2. Be relevant to your product offering or niche, though this is not always necessary. Take a look at companies like Bing and Google – these nonsensical phrases have taken the world by storm and originally had no literal meaning. They have had recognition bestowed upon them over the years and have since become household names.
  3. Be an identical phrase-match or a partial match to your store name, so your offline and online enterprises are consistent and recognizable. For example, if your brand and shop name is Ocean Fresh, and the domain oceanfresh.com is taken, you could add a word like ‘online’ to the end. The end result would be: oceanfreshonline.com.
  4. Be available on a number of domain extensions, including .com, .co.uk, and .net. Purchasing multiple domains and redirecting them to one primary domain will stop another individual from purchasing the domain and stop potential customers from getting confused between another brand and your own.
  5. A local element in your domain name can help display local pride and improve your chance of ranking for local search queries, but you might be limiting your customer base if you go down this route.

Sites like GoDaddy.com are a good, safe place to register a domain. With a domain name registered, it’s advisable to set up rolling payments to prevent yourself from having any hosting problems and stop anyone else from buying up your domain when it expires.

GoDaddy also offers handy add-ons like Who Is protection, email services, and hosting, but don’t feel the need to say yes to their whole ‘package’.

Building an ecommerce website for the first time

If you’re already running your own physical store or retail operation, chances are that you’re hoping to get your online store set up with minimal fuss, time, and financial investment. Even if you’re going to be an online-only business, there is no point in spending 6 months getting a site developed when you could be up and running (and making sales) with an MVP.

Luckily for you, there’s a whole host of options available to get your store up and running in next to no time at all:

  1. Start by exploring open-source options like WordPress and its competitors. Not sure which content management system to go for? Getting acquainted with third-party reviews and curated lists of the top ten open-source ecommerce platforms will help you get to know their unique selling points and limitations, so you can make an informed choice. Open-source is good for longevity and it means you will find cheap developers to help you upgrade your site over the years.
  2. Want a more managed service? Investing in a SaaS ecommerce platform means that for a small monthly subscription you get technical support and have autonomy over the look and feel of your store. This model means less maintenance work for you, but you also lose out on some of the more advanced open-source features, especially when it comes to customization. That being said, SaaS ecommerce store builders like Shopify are improving all the time and adding in new features on a monthly basis. For an ecommerce beginner, it’s not a bad optiom to go with.

Here are some things that a hosted ecommerce platform can offer new etailers:

  • A selection of free, professional themes to ensure a positive customer experience and plenty of support to help you customize and theme your store. More premium themes offer a wider range of features.
  • A store-building service that enables you to easily optimize the SEO value of your store. A lot of the ecommerce builders will have free apps and plugins to help you get the most out of email marketing, social media ads etc.
  • Many ecommerce building services have a strong sense of user community, usually with events and online forums, where entrepreneurs can ask for help and share knowledge. This is particularly useful if you are just getting started online and can save you a lot of money otherwise spent on professional advice.

Of course, if you have plenty of time and budget to play with, you could invest in a custom-built website for your store. If this is the case, consider checking out the portfolio of the web designer and developer before you commit yourself. Have plenty of face-to-face meetings and discuss designs in detail as the website starts to come together.

Top tip: Ask around for advice and speak to local business groups. The platform you choose will have a big impact on how much time, money, and effort is needed to run your website in the long run. Nothing beats previous experience!

Designing your first online store

Whether you opt for an easy online store builder, or are commissioning a complex development project, design will play a big part in your ecommerce success. These days, mobile-first design is a must-have, and a complete no-brainer. Mobile traffic is growing all the time and your site is likely to get penalized if it does not look good on mobile.

  • Ecommerce themes are a great place to start. By going with a theme and customizing it with your branding, you are getting the best of both worlds. Use a theme as a basis for your own online store and avoid reinventing the wheel. Just make sure you go for a good quality ecommerce theme with plenty of support and features so that you won’t have to start again in 6 months time when your website needs become more complex. Premium themes are often a good way to go, but read the reviews before you dive in. Find other stores running off the same theme to get a feel for what your store might look like. ThemeForest has a good library of ecommerce website themes.
  • One of the most important features of your online store will be your brand. You want something that perfectly embodies who you are as a brand and that will engage your target audience. Harmonize your brand across your packaging, website, social media, emails etc.
  • Get familiar with UX conventions and make sure your website follows best practices at all times.
  • Design is not just about visuals: copywriting plays a big part in defining your brand’s tone of voice and audience Freelance copywriters  and content marketers may be a worthwhile investment as bad copy will only damage your brand.

Product photography

Product photos will make or break your ecommerce website. You need to have photography that’s attractive, compelling, and truthful.

SEO-friendly ecommerce websites

There is no point in having a store nobody visits. Make sure your store is build out with SEO in mind

  • This is another reason to go with some of the bigger ecommerce players

Keyword research for your new online store

Omnichannel selling is here to stay

Omnichannel retailing involves offering your customers a seamless shopping experience, regardless of what device they are using or whether they buy from you online or offline.

The future of omnichannel retail is online, and modern ecommerce solutions give you the necessary flexibility to sell across different online marketplaces. Instead of setting up disparate accounts on the likes of Amazon, eBay, and Etsy, an ecommerce platform offers a holistic, integrated approach where merchants can manage inventory, fulfill orders and optimise listings all from one place.

With all of this controlled from one dashboard, managing your business and analysing data will be far easier. The more platforms you are active on, the more chance you will have to get noticed and makes sales.

Using an omnichannel approach, you can eliminate back-office legwork and inefficiencies. More data also means more efficient and joined-up marketing. On top of this, you have more time to focus on running your store and making online sales.

Integrating your ecommerce technology

From order and stock management to supplier invoicing and sales tax, you want to avoid manual data entry as much as possible.

Launching your first online store

A word on niche targeting

Ecommerce marketing for beginners

Choosing your channels

Email and social ads

Building a customer community

Preparing for customers

As well as the launch, you need to xxxx


Whether you’re a vintage clothing retailer in a big city, or a shop selling homemade jams in a village, social media will open your online store up to new, targeted audiences. Online social selling is a potentially low-budget way for new Welsh businesses to make their mark and share their brand story and personality effectively.

To get the most out of your social media budget, you should return to your buyer personas – a vital and useful part of any online business plan. This way, you can ensure that you know where and how your customers spend their time online, and you can make your brand visible in the right places. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Which social networks do they use, and what kind of content do they engage with?
  • Do they prefer wordy ads on Twitter and Facebook, or more visual content on Instagram?
  • What time of day are they most active?

This information is the key to success on social media. The most important thing about your social media strategy is to constantly measure the engagement levels of your posts, and alter your course accordingly. Check out third-party tools like BuzzSumo to get some cross-network data on how you’re doing — your social strategy should be backed up by other digital strategies like content marketing, influencer outreach, and digital PR.

By following this guide, you will be well on the way to set up a great online store. The transition from offline to online is a natural one, but don’t feel like you need to abandon your brick-and-mortar store just because you’ve gone digital. Operating an omnichannel strategy that includes a physical store is a sure-fire way to create a business with real longevity that’s embedded in the local community.

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