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

a few months ago
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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 store’s 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’.

entrepreneur working on laptop and inspired to start a business

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: branding advice

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. Get familiar with UX conventions and make sure your website follows best practices at all times.
  • 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. You may want to get a help from a graphic designer or agency to help you figure out your core brand assets. From then on, brand guidelines should help you keep replicating your brand colors and feel on new channels. You can also DIY your brand with the help of free online tools, but if you have little to none branding experience, this is likely to yield great results.
  • 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.

fun bright image of products for ecommerce store

Product photography tips

Product photos will make or break your ecommerce website. You need to have photography that’s attractive, compelling, and truthful. Don’t borrow boring product photography from elsewhere. Invest in unique and interesting photography that helps convey your brand message and entices people to buy from you. Here are some tips on how to do cheap (but good) product photography.

Top tip: Get all your content assets, designs, copy, and imagery done as soon as possible so that you can build the website around them. It will help you cut down on time and costs. 

SEO-friendly ecommerce websites

There is no point in having a store nobody visits. Make sure your store is built out with SEO in mind, as it’s one of the best sales channels for ecommerce brands and will deliver significant ROI.

  • This is another reason to go with some of the bigger ecommerce players: most of the stores built on WordPress or Shopify (and using standard themes), will have a pretty solid SEO-friendly environment. This will be a good foundation on which you can build out your SEO strategy. There is nothing worse than having to spend all your SEO budget on tech fixes that would be out-of-the-box features on other platforms.
  • Your product organization and menu structure will have a long-lasting SEO impact, so put some time into researching how to get this part right. You want to avoid cutting off the flow of authority to certain pages, or creating confusing and thin landing pages for SEO crawlers.
  • Give every page on your website a clear purpose. Approach each webpage as its own mini-project and make sure you are doing all you can from a technical, content, and eventually, off-page angle. Focus on the pages that are going to bring in the most sales.

Keyword research for your new online store

Keywords are still an important part of search engine optimization, but it’s important not to start doing SEO like it’s 2012 and cram your pages full of spammy keyword lists. What you want to do is to explore the natural vocabulary that surrounds your products in a thorough and clear way.

  • Some keywords are obviously closely product and purchase related and belong on the product page, whereas other informational keywords might be better suited for a blog post or vlog. Mapping keywords onto a sales funnel is a good way to decide how exactly you want target them on your website.
  • Competitor keyword research and spending time on Amazon is a good way to growth hack your store and jump on profitable keywords. If it’s worked for others…

Pricing and taking payments

The financial side of ecommerce isn’t as complex as it once was thanks to automation and tech advances. Most online store providers come with a pretty secure shopping cart, so payment security is rarely an issue. There are plenty of apps and plugins that help you deal with things like sales tax and selling internatinally. The main issue you may have trouble with in the beginning is fraud or chargebacks, but even fraudulent transactions can now be spotted using AI (artificial intelligence).

  • Your prices must include a decent profit margin. If the product justifies it, don’t be afraid to go premium. (You can always discount products later).
  • You may want to absorb the price of shipping and delivery into your product prices as it’s a great incentive for people to buy.
  • Payment security and trust signals are important to shoppers, so ensure that you’re using the latest encryption methods in your shopping cart.
  • Offer all the possible payment methods you can.
  • Making payments easy by capturing customer data is a good idea. Especially mobile payments should be as close to ‘one click’ as possible. The checkout page is a place of friction where you will always lose some customers (you can retarget anyone who got this far and didn’t make a purchase – more on that later).

ecommerce items in packaging ready to be shipped

Managing shipping and delivery

Your shipping must be reliable. Fulfilment companies and centers around the world now make shipping less of a headache for starter stores, and our advice is to outsource shipping as soon as possible. International shipping can be a challenge for small budget stores, so don’t rush into worldwide shipping.

  • Free shipping is a great customer value proposition so it’s often a good idea to give this out for free or include it as part of threshold spend offers.
  • Delivery tracking is standard and many companies like DHL, Fedex, DPD etc make this easy for your customers. Think carefully about the delivery experience as it will directly reflect your brand.
  • Ethical shipping is much more of an expectation, so avoid using too much plastic packaging. There are plenty of environmentally friendly options to choose from.
  • Returns can be a pain to manage, but they are an ecommerce essential. Fair, no-quibble returns are often the best for brand experience.

Dropshipping stores

You may be setting up a dropshipping or print-on-demand business as it’s a low-risk option for starter entrepreneurs. Dropshippers don’t send products out to customers themselves at all: wholesalers and distributors manage the whole process from manufacture to delivery. What dropshipping business owners must do is curate good products, have an awesome customer experience, and create a brand people buy into.

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. Smart tools and automation recipes are there to be used, so make the most of them. Invest in all-informed technology that will help marry up all the different elements of your store operations.

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, fulfil orders and optimize 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.

inspirational entrepreneur business launch quotes

Launching your first online store

Ready for your big launch? Going live with a new online store can be daunting. To avoid any mishaps ruining the day, it’s a good idea to plan ahead and have a pre-launch checklist. Make sure that the store functions well, but also be openminded about keeping a snag list and making updates to your website during the first few months of its life. It’s rare that a new website is launched without some post-launch tweaks! So don’t sweat it too much.

  • Soft-launch your site first to test the technology. Get some trusted people to place some orders and consider whether some cheap remote user testing is also warranted?
  • Plan a series of social media posts and ‘teases’ leading up to the big announcement to help build up social signals and grow your follower counts.
  • Introductory offers are always a good idea and will help you make those all-important first sales.
  • Launch with some blog posts ready on your blog. You want your first customers to have a good feel for your brand and products.

A word on niche targeting

Some ecommerce brands get their targeting all wrong, and pay the price by not making many sales. Don’t let that be you and make sure you know who you are talking to.

  • Building out robust buyer personas will help you ensure you are targeting the right people when it comes to product development, marketing etc. Spend time really getting to know your niche. Specialist reddit threads area good place to start!
  • Personalization is an important ecommerce strategy, so start collecting customer data as quickly as possible. From emails to ads and popups: this stuff really works.

Ecommerce marketing for beginners

Marketing an ecommerce business is FUN! You get to shout about how awesome your products are, and build a brand story around all the great things that you do. At the same time, you need to get good with data in order to get maximum ROI from your marketing activities.

Choosing your channels

It’s important to consider your marketing channels with your core buyer personas in mind. Your jams and preserves might look great on Instagram, but if your target market are more active on Facebook, you may need to reconsider those Instagram influencer campaigns.

To get the most out of your 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 strategy is to constantly measure engagement levels, 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.

Email and social ads

Email marketing and social media advertising are a killer combination for ecommerce brands. They allow you to make the most of sophisticated user targeting so that you can place your content in front of the right people for not very much money at all. Seed your brand with relevant potential customers by hooking in your email or CRM data into ad platforms like Facebook. The targeting is so good that the ROI will justify the initial ad spend. Just make sure your ads are actually good enough to get people clicking and spending…

Emails are a great way to build a solid subscriber list for brand news and launches, but emails are also a great way to re-engage people who have abandoned their shopping carts or left your store without making a purchase. Follow up with a fun sequence of cart abandonment emails.

Building a customer community

Some of the best ecommerce brands, especially the small ones, have invested time and money into creating a solid customer base who aren’t only buying from a store, but buying into who they are as brand. Whether that’s through awesome content, influencer marketing, or a stellar brand story, make sure that community building is on your agenda too.

Sales and discounts

Outlet discounts and seasonal sales are a big draw for ecommerce customers. It’s a good idea to have both seasonal and ongoing discounts and sales.

Preparing for customers

Once the orders start flying in and out the door, customer service will kick off in earnest, and you don’t want to be caught short. Get prepared for the onslaught of inquiries and support requests.

  • Chatbots and live chat are inexpensive customer service channels and are a great way to scale your customer service operations in the beginning.
  • Positive reviews are an important form of social proof for your brand and products, so make sure you protect the customer experience by offering timely and helpful customer service.
  • Be open and honest and customers will respond to you. Don’t engage with people who just have a negative agenda.

By following this guide, you will be well on the way to setting up a great online store. What’s your biggest ecommerce challenge right now that’s holding you back?

All blog images from: https://burst.shopify.com/

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