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How to Start an Online Store – A Step By Step Guide

February 15, 2019

11:46 am

So you want to start selling stuff online?

There are plenty of websites that let you sell stuff on their platform – Etsy, Amazon and eBay, to name a few.

But what if you want to create your own website to sell products? To keep your brand front-and-center, and keep more of the money you make?

Fortunately, it’s never been easier to create your very own ecommerce website thanks to a range of ecommerce platforms and website builders. In this guide, we’ll explain how to create your own ecommerce website so you can get selling quicker.

In this guide, we’ll cover:

What is an Ecommerce Website Builder?

You might have heard of some of the biggest ecommerce platforms – Shopify, for example – but there are tons of providers on the market, all desperate to help you start selling online.

These platforms allow you to create a website with the functionality to upload products, accept payments for the products, and help you sell them. However, there are some ecommerce website builders that will go into much greater detail, while others will only cover the basics.

For example, some ecommerce website builders will allow you to manage and analyze your store in granular detail with apps and features, letting you analyze product performance, manage inventory levels, calculate tax, and manage accounts all within one platform.

Meanwhile, other builders will scrimp on the detail and go heavy on the website aesthetics.

Picking which type of ecommerce website builder is right for you is a decision that only you can make, but we’ll give you all the info to make sure you make the right call.

The best ecommerce website builders will:

  • Help you design a professional-looking online store – This is crucial. If your website looks no good, no one is going to buy from it. Many builders offer templates to keep your site consistent and easy to use. This also means that you won’t need to hire a dedicated web designer.
  • Let your customers check out on your website – Online selling needs to be painless, and there’s nothing worse as a customer than being booted around between different sites just to buy something. Customers being able to check out on your own website will provide a huge sales boost.
  • Track stock levels – Having a website builder that can keep an eye on your stock for you is a huge benefit. Automating a simple function will save you loads of time, and will stop customers potentially ordering sold out stuff!
  • Calculate tax and shipping costs – Working out tax and shipping costs is a dull business to say the least. However, if you get the right ecommerce website builder, it’ll take care of it for you.
  • Let you sell across multiple channels – The best ecommerce website builders won’t limit you to just selling on your website. They’ll also keep track of your sales via social media sites, and other platforms such as Amazon.

How Much Does an Online Store Cost?

There’s no set price for how much an online store should cost. Depending on the complexity of the features you require, prices can vary from around $30 per month to well over $200 per month.

If you’re looking at these prices and wincing, don’t. The most expensive packages aren’t designed for sole traders – instead, they’re meant for large and established businesses. For small and startup businesses, it’s likely you’ll be paying around the lower end of the scale.

It’s also worth remembering that the best ecommerce website builders will help you make money, so that monthly outlay – no matter how much – will be easily recouped.

Here are the pricing details for our favorite ecommerce website builders:

Shopify

Wix

BigCommerce

Squarespace

Volusion

Weebly

Shopify ecommerce logoWix ecommerce logobigcommerce ecommerce logoSquarespace ecommerce logoVolusion ecommerce logoweebly ecommerce logo
Test score4.5 stars4 stars4 stars4 stars4 stars3.5 stars
VerdictThe best ecommerce platform which is easy to set up with unmatched features and great websites.Wix makes creating an online store brilliantly easy, and it has a good range of features.An impressive ecommerce platform, but doesn't have the best website design software.Not as scalable as the first three providers, but it is great for creating good-looking websites easily.Better for design-concious online stores than BigCommerce, but it isn't as easy to use.Some decent sales features, but doesn't have the best sales or support features.
Cheapest Ecommerce Plan (per month)$29$20$29.95$26$26$25
Priciest Ecommerce Plan (per month)$299$45.90$249.95$40$269$46
Number of extra sales channels1003130
Physical Product Sales
Digital product SalesApp required
Service SalesApp requiredApp required
Website Features4 stars4 stars5 stars4 stars4 stars4 stars
Sales Features5 stars3 stars4 stars4 stars4 stars3 stars
Design4 stars4 stars3 stars5 stars3 stars4 stars
Value for Money5 stars4 stars4 stars5 stars4 stars4 stars
Help and Support4 stars5 stars3 stars4 stars4 stars3 stars
Customer Score5 stars5 stars4 stars4 stars3 stars4 stars
Ease of Use4 stars4 stars3 stars3 stars3 stars4 stars
Try it TodayVisit ShopifyVisit WixVisit BigCommerceVisit Squarespace*Visit VolusionVisit Weebly

* Save 10% on Squarespace with code ‘TECH10'

Creating an Online Store: Step-by-Step

So now you know how much they cost, how do you actually start an online store?

Thankfully, it’s an absolute breeze. We’ll show you all the steps you need to go through, and all the things you need to consider.

Step 1: Choose an Ecommerce Website Builder

As you can see from the table above, Shopify is our favorite ecommerce builder. Its biggest strengths include letting you sell across loads of different channels, and handling everything from your tax and accounting records to shipping costs.

However, this level of detail comes at a price, and might not be ideal for people just starting out. If that sounds like you, we’d recommend Squarespace. While Squarespace is designed to work as a website with online store capabilities rather than an entire sales platform, you’ll still find handy built-in account tools.

Squarespace is best suited for smaller and startup businesses, with its pricing plans costing between $20-40 per month. Established businesses, with more complex requirements, would be better off choosing Shopify or BigCommerce — they start at between $70-100 per month.

Find out more – Best Ecommerce Website Builders

Step 2: Design Your Website

This used to be one of the most complicated parts of constructing a website. You’d either have to hire an expensive and time-consuming web designer to get the job done, or be a pretty handy coder yourself.

Fortunately, those days are long gone. Instead, ecommerce website builders will give you templates to base your website around, which give you the ability to control the design of individual website pages and the content on them.

For example, you’ll be able to create standardized product pages for everything you sell, or pages with FAQs or contact details for your business.

Some ecommerce website builders offer hundreds of different templates, so it’s worth taking a bit of time and being prudent with your selection – you might find yourself stuck with it!

Step 3: Set up an Inventory and Stock System

Now you’ve picked your ecommerce website builder and chosen your template, it’s time to set up your inventory and stock-keeping system.

shopify products inventory page

The best dedicated ecommerce platforms will have this functionality baked into their systems. However, with some website builders (such as Wix), you might have to install an app or plugin from their app stores to gain access to this functionality.

Once you’ve done that, you’ll need to upload your actual products onto your site. Some ecommerce website builders, such as Shopify and Squarespace, allow you to bulk upload products, which is handy if you sell a wide range of goods. You’ll need to make sure you have high quality photography to hand, and lots of product information to make sure your customers are informed about what products they’re actually buying.

After your products are in the system, you’ll be able to keep an eye on the number of products you have in stock through your platform’s dashboards.

Step 4: Create a Basket, Checkout and Sales Process

Your products are on the site, but they’ll be no good to you or your customers if nobody can buy them.

When you pick an ecommerce or online store template, you’ll likely be given a checkout page ready to go. This means you won’t have to spend ages creating one from scratch. It’s worth bearing in mind, though, that there will still be a level of set up to go through. You’ll need to connect a bank account and set up a payment processor, for example, but most sites will guide you through this.

It’s also worth remembering that not all ecommerce website builder checkouts are created equal. For example, while Weebly’s checkout can’t be customized to reflect your own brand, BigCommerce doesn’t let you change the information you require from your customers when they buy a product.

You want to make sure that your checkout page is easy to understand and appears trustworthy. You don’t want customers changing their mind on a purchase at the final hurdle because your checkout looks a bit shady. If in doubt, show it to your friends and family to get some honest feedback.

Step 5: Set Up Your Domain

Every website needs a domain. Ours, for example, is www.tech.co.

Some ecommerce website builders will offer to host your domain as part of their service. For example, Wix, Weebly and Squarespace all offer free domain hosting when you buy one of their plans on an annual package.

However, it’s always worth checking out the prices and services from third-party hosting companies. You’ll be able to connect your domain from a third-party host to any ecommerce website builder you like.

Find out more – How Much Does Web Hosting Cost?

Step 6: Go Live and Start Making Money

So you’ve chosen your ecommerce website, picked a great-looking template, set up your inventory and stock keeping system, sorted your checkout, and bought a domain.

There’s nothing left to do other than pull the trigger – it’s time to put your site live on the internet, and watch the money roll in!

Of course, it’s not quite that simple. You’ll need to keep on top of your products and orders, make sure that your site stays up-to-date, and keep working to attract new customers.

However, with all the heavy lifting out the way, it should be easy to stay on top of your business by taking advantage of the tools provided by your ecommerce platform.

shopify sales tracking overview page

Starting an Online Store Checklist

Let’s recap all the steps you need to take to create a great online store.

First, think about the scale of your business. If you’re already selling products well on different platforms or in a bricks-and-mortar store, you should opt for a bigger platform, such as Shopify or BigCommerce. If you’re still starting out, try Squarespace or Wix.

Now you’ve picked your ecommerce platform, you’ll need to design your store. Pick the right template, and you’ll be able to create an easy-to-use site in minutes. Then you’ll need to sort out your checkout – keep it on brand, and you’ll be good to go.

Finally, set up a domain with hosting, either from your ecommerce website builder or a third-party hosting provider.

It’s never been easier to set up an online store – this can all take less than a day if you’re quick, and provided you pick the right ecommerce website builder.

If you’re thinking of setting up an online store, get started with one of our favorite ecommerce website builders today.

Start Selling Online with Squarespace Today

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Tom Fogden is a writer for Tech.co with a range of experience in the world of tech publishing. Tom covers everything from cybersecurity, to social media and website builders when he's not reviewing the latest phones, gadgets, or occasionally even technology books.