Do you want to start an online store and make money? Do you already have a physical store and want to expand your business by creating an online store? Find out everything you need to know about how to start an online store in the easiest way and with the best chance of success.
- Choose What to Sell Online
- Select a Suitable Platform
- Set up Payment Methods
- Set up Shipping Options
- Promote your Online Store
- Develop your Brand and Reputation
- Build Customer Service
With the e-commerce landscape expected to grow in 2024, there’s never been a better time to consider starting an online store. Entrepreneurs have the potential to thrive in the online marketplace as it continues to expand. Creating an online store is a great way to start a business with a low initial investment.
1. Choose What to Sell Online
The success of your online shop hangs on one crucial decision – what products to sell. The profit margin, the competition, the sales and marketing costs, and even the branding all depend on it.
To begin with, there are two major product categories, consumer products and niche products.
- Consumer products are those essential, high-demand products that we all use on a daily basis. They have high competition and are controlled by well-established brands. They are the typical products you can find in big stores such as fashion items or smartphones.
- Niche products are those that target a specific need or a type of customer. They are often subcategories of more generic products. They have less competition so it is easier to position yourself as a brand. Two examples of niche products are snacks for vegans or backpacks for carrying laptops.
It is highly recommended to choose a niche product. With less competition, you won’t have to compete on price against giants. With a more defined audience, it will be easier to create content and advertising campaigns and you will also be able to build your brand image faster.
For example, handmade items are often very successful on the Internet. These products allow you to control the whole process, they don’t have much competition and the public appreciates their value. If you are good at crafts, these might be the perfect products to start with.
However, don’t just guess what might work. If you want to make an online store, do your research to identify trends and understand customer demand. This will help you come up with a great product idea that will sell.
How to choose a profitable niche for your online store?
There are several factors to consider when choosing a niche to specialize in.
Cheap products will be easier to sell, but you will have to make many sales to cover the costs of your online shop. On the other hand, if you choose a very expensive product, the sales margin will be higher and you will have to make fewer sales of the same product.
It is advisable to choose an intermediately-priced niche with an average cost between $80 and $120. This price range allows you a good margin per sale without being too difficult to reach a sufficient volume of sales to easily cover the costs.
Do a Google search. Are big brands competing for the same niche? Do you think you can do a better job than them? If there are a lot of companies already selling similar products, it might be worth directing your focus to a different product or niche with less competition.
Go to Google Trends and look at the search trends for your niche or major products. Is there a positive trend? It’s better to choose a niche with a progressive trend over time rather than choosing fashionable products that grow quickly but then disappear.
Google Trends will also show you the seasonality of your niche. There are some niche products with demand focused on specific months, for example, Christmas jumpers or swimming pool toys. This kind of niche can be profitable, but most orders and sales will happen around the same time of year with only a few sales made during the rest of the year.
Selling to someone who’s already bought something from you is easier than looking for new customers all the time.
For example, the wedding niche seems very lucrative, but customers usually don’t come back to shop for wedding dresses more than once. On the other hand, pet products or personal care items have great potential and a satisfied customer can return many times.
Shipping costs will play an important part in the success or failure of your store. Prioritize small and lightweight products when identifying your niche. The cost of shipping will be lower and you will be able to offer more competitive prices without losing your margin.
Choose a product niche that you have prior knowledge of or at least are interested in. This will make it easier for you to create valuable content and position yourself as an expert. If you pick a niche just because of its economic potential, you likely won’t be as passionate about your online shop and it will be easier to lose interest in it.
Finding your unique selling proposition
While it’s important to have a product that stands out, it’s not always necessary to reinvent the wheel. Introducing something that is already successful in another country or giving it a different focus could work well. It’s ok to be inspired by others, just make sure you’re not stealing their ideas.
When creating an online store, understanding your unique selling proposition (USP) is key. What sets your product apart from others on the market? Why should customers buy your product over the competition? This could be the price, the type of materials used, who the product is tailored for, etc. If you aren’t clear on what makes your product special, you’re going to have a hard time convincing people to buy it.
2. Select a Suitable Platform
The next thing to consider if you want to start an online store is which platform you will host it on. A quick search online will reveal that there are many systems for building online shops. The key is to choose a platform that allows you to invest most of your time in getting customers. There are several things to consider when trying to find the most suitable platform including:
- Ease of use – How easy is the platform to use? You’ll want to look for an intuitive platform that will make uploading and selling products a breeze.
- Features – Is the platform set up to function as an online shop? Many features will be essential for running your store such as a simple checkout, payment methods, and product variations.
- Price – How much does the platform really cost? Some platforms operate on a flat fee whereas others will take a percentage of each sale. Be sure that you understand what the true cost of the platform is and how that will impact your margins.
- Design – Does the platform offer design options that will resonate with your audience? Look for a platform with appropriate website templates for the products you want to sell and customization options, so you can create a store that resonates with your brand.
If you’re not sure how to make an online store, Webnode is a great place to start. Webnode is a user-friendly platform that aligns with the needs of modern e-commerce entrepreneurs. Because it allows you to create an online store in a matter of minutes, you can test your market niche and business model without having to invest a lot of time.
Webnode also includes key features such as responsive online store templates, a quick and simple checkout, comprehensive store analytics, and more.
Build an online store with Webnode now
How to Set up an Online Store (using Webnode)
Once you have your product niche down and platform identified, you’re ready to start setting up an online store. First things first, you’ll need the following:
- Hosting platform: this is the web server where the files that make up your shop are saved
- Domain: the name of your store, it allows visitors to easily find the server where your store is located. (e.g., www.my-store.com)
- Content management system: the tool where you will build the visible parts of your shop (homepage, categories, product pages)
- Order manager: the place where you receive and manage orders
It is unrealistic to think that once your shop is online, you will start receiving orders without doing anything else. For your store to become successful, you will have to invest time in building it out, attracting visitors, and managing orders.
First of all, it is advisable to plan the general structure of your e-shop. Find paper and a pencil and draw the layout of your shop’s pages.
Pay particular attention to the organization of the products in categories. You can organize your products according to the type, their use, who they are intended for, price, or color. It all depends on the niche of your store and the number of products.
You can also create dynamic categories such as best-selling products and special offers.
- Find the balance between the smallest number of categories possible and an intuitive organization of your products. It should be possible to reach any category in less than 3 clicks.
- Limit the number of subcategories. The simpler, the better.
- Keep about the same number of products in each category.
For example, if we were creating a shoe store, this could be its structure:
Of course, the fewer products you have, the easier it is to organize and manage your store. Start small with a specialized niche and a limited number of products. Focusing your efforts in this way will allow you to be more efficient and attract more visibility than the big online retailers.
Once you have defined the structure of your shop, it is time to think about the design. Webnode will show you various templates that will serve as a guide when creating your online store. All the templates are customizable, so don’t worry if there isn’t one that meets the exact criteria you’re looking for.
Do you like a template that’s not included in the Online Store category? No problem, you can add an e-shop feature to any of the templates. If you want, you can have a website with both a blog and an online shop.
Using a template to create your online store has important advantages. The templates have been created by professional designers, so you can rest assured that the design of your store meets all the professional standards.
This allows you to focus on the content of your store instead of minor decisions such as the font size for subtitles or the alignment of text on a particular page. You can just upload your products and be sure that the design and usability will work perfectly on computers, smartphones, and tablets.
Do you want to design your online shop from scratch? Follow the tips below to get the best results and maintain a professional appearance.
- Less is more: the simpler the website, the better. When there’s too much going on, it’s more difficult to focus on just one part of the page. It can overwhelm potential buyers and make them leave the store. Find the balance between providing the necessary information and keeping your store design clear and simple.
- Visual hierarchy: Sort the elements from the most to the least important. You can play with sizes, positioning on a page, or the background’s contrast. A good visual hierarchy helps direct buyers’ attention to where it matters.
- Text color and typography: As far as text is concerned, functionality is more important than design. The font you choose should be easy to read and have optimal contrast against the background of the page.
- Responsive design: A high percentage of visitors will use smartphones to enter and shop in your store. Although Webnode offers templates that work perfectly on any device, don’t forget to check how your store looks on smartphones.
- Visual Aids: Use small clues to draw attention to calls to action, forms, or purchase buttons. Arrows and pictures of people looking or pointing to where you want your visitors to go work very well.
Content and Multimedia
Once you have chosen a template and taken care of the design, it’s time to add content. This is the most important part of any e-shop, blog, or website.
In general, when we buy a product we go through these stages:
Discovery >> Interest >> Selection >> Purchase
The content of your online store should help the visitor advance through this shopping process. When working on the content of your store, think about the stage the visitor is currently in and how that particular content will help move them forward in the shopping process.
There is no one-size-fits-all strategy and each phase requires a different type of content. For example:
- Discovery: The objective in this phase is to show visitors the benefits of the product you’re selling. This can be done through blog articles or videos. A good strategy is to compile a list of questions that people search for on Google about the products you sell. In our shoe store example, we could create an article about how to choose the right shoes if you’d like to take up running or explain why hiking through the mountains in tennis shoes is not a good idea.
- Interest: At this stage, the visitor probably already has some idea about the advantages of your product. It’s time to present your brand and provide more information about the product itself. This includes the content on the product pages, information about your company, tutorials on how to use your product, and product reviews. In our imaginary shoe store, we could add a page introducing ourselves as specialists in running and hiking shoes, insert a video on the product page explaining their advantages, or make a tutorial on keeping these shoes in good shape.
- Selection: By now, the customer has almost definitely decided to buy your product. This is the moment to define exactly which product (if there are several similar products) and where to make the purchase. The product pages are vital for this objective and if the product is complex, it is a good idea to add side-by-side comparisons. Continuing with our example, we can provide a comparison of shoes according to the type of runner, include detailed information on a product page, and explain the price and shipping costs.
- Purchase: It would be a shame to lose the sale at this last moment. At this point in the process, the most important thing is to build trust. Making a purchase online, especially in a new store, requires a vote of confidence. Every potential customer will have similar questions: Is it safe to pay here? Will they send me the product? What if it’s not what I expected?
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to build trust:
- Clear contact information: Show who you are and how to contact you. It’s very important to include a phone number so your customers can talk to someone if there is a problem.
- Shipping and return policy: Explain how the shipment works and how long it takes for the product to arrive. The possibility of returning the purchased product if it is not what you expected also generates a lot of confidence and often the benefits of this practice exceed their costs.
- Payment methods: Describe the payment methods and how secure they are. With a Webnode-based website, you can highlight elements such as HTTPS, external payment gateways, or the option to pay with PayPal
- Opinions of former customers: We are social beings. Proving that someone else has shopped here and was satisfied will help persuade more people to trust your store.
When creating your online store, it is normal to first focus on the main pages (product pages, categories, brand pages). As soon as you can, also try to build trust and create content for those visitors who are in the Discovery and Interest phases of the purchase process.
Images and video
Although shopping online continues to increase in popularity, online stores face a serious disadvantage compared to physical ones – potential customers can’t directly touch the products.
To overcome this obstacle, images and videos on the product pages are very important. It is highly recommended to use professional images taken from different angles. If you can’t, try to light the product properly by using a good camera.
Video is one of the best ways to present a product in more detail. The more professional a video is, the better. However, its quality is not as important as the images on the product page. We are getting used to seeing amateur product demonstrations on YouTube and social media.
If you have a short video presenting the product, you can place it at the top of the page. Longer videos with additional information are better suited for the bottom of the product page.
3. Set up Payment Methods
Once you have convinced a visitor to press the buy button, it’s crucial that they’re able to complete the order easily. If there is a problem, some customers will try to contact you, but the vast majority will simply go to another online store and you will lose the sale.
If you use Webnode to start an online store, you don’t have to worry about how the payment process works. The system is designed by experts to make shopping easier. Among other things:
- A customer doesn’t have to register to make the purchase
- It shows the steps of the process in the checkout
- It is compatible with smartphones and other devices
- It includes the boxes that need to be checked in accordance with GDPR
However, there are still two elements that you have to set up in your online store – payment methods and shipping options.
Although the most used payment methods differ depending on the country, these three are popular worldwide: Cash on Delivery, Bank Transfer, and Credit Card payment.
- Cash on delivery offers customers the maximum security. You pay once you have the product in your hands. Although it usually comes with an added cost, many are willing to pay for the increased security. However, some of the customers who choose this method may then decide not to pay, whereas the shop still has to cover the shipping costs. In this case, what’s secure for the customer is insecure for the shop. It is a good idea to include this payment method in the online store initially but if customers often choose not to pay when they receive the product, consider to deactivate this method.
- Bank transfers allow you to avoid the anxiety that many people feel about using their credit cards on the Internet. The disadvantage is that the shipment typically occurs a bit later, once the store receives the money in their account.
- Credit card payments allow the store to receive the money on the spot and the shipment takes place as quickly as possible. As with any business, the store has an increased cost in the form of a commission or a flat rate.
In addition to these 3 options, other external payment gateways such as PayPal or Stripe are very common. They both allow the buyer to benefit from the speed of the credit card without the need to share its details with the online store.
As you can see, each form of payment has its advantages and disadvantages. Offering several forms of payment makes a lot of people happy, offering too many options can mislead the buyer. Make sure you find the balance.
The integration of credit card payment gateways is a little more complicated. Usually, you need to cooperate with your bank to get a special account with virtual POS or use intermediaries like Stripe or PayPal.
With Webnode, the integration of credit cards is done through both Stripe and PayPal. The exact service and transaction fees vary by country, but Stripe usually comes out as cheaper. However, the PayPal brand is well known all over the world and there will be buyers who feel more secure shopping with PayPal. It is therefore recommended to add both payment methods to your online shop.
4. Set up Shipping Options
Logistics are one of the most important parts of setting up an online store. Not only do they influence the cost of sales, but also the shopping experience. Receiving the product in a week simply doesn’t feel the same as getting it the next day.
Approximately 25% of your turnover will go to the company providing the logistics. You must take into account that this company will also be perceived as the face of your company when a customer receives the product.
Therefore, along with the product niche you are going to sell, the choice of the logistics company is one of the most important decisions for the success of your online store.
How to choose a logistics company for your store
First of all, you have to take into account your organizational model and the characteristics of the products you ship.
Drop shipping or e-fulfillment
Drop shipping means that the products are in the supplier’s warehouse. After the sale, the transport company collects them there and takes care of packaging and shipping. In this model you are an intermediary – when you receive an order, you buy the item from the supplier and the transport company takes care of the shipping.
E-fulfillment, on the other hand, means that you take care of storing the product and packaging it when you receive an order. The transport company collects it from your warehouse and takes it to the customer. This is typically the method used by online stores that sell handmade products.
What to consider when choosing a logistics company:
5. Promote your Online Store
It is unrealistic to think that as soon as you publish your online store, sales will come on their own. To be successful, you will have to spend most of your time attracting visitors.
This is where the main advantage of platforms like Webnode comes in. By saving hours on maintenance and programming, you can maximize the time spent promoting your business – an activity that has a high impact on sales.
There are a few main ways to promote a store and get visitors interested in your products:
- Pay per click (PPC): Promote your store among the paid results on Google or Bing when a visitor searches for your product
- Content Marketing: Create engaging content on the topics your customers are already searching for
- Search engine optimization (SEO): Optimize your content using keywords that make it easier for customers to find it
- Social Media: Build an audience and promote your online store on social media platforms
- Email Campaigns: Reach people who have already expressed interest in your store by giving you their email address with targeted messaging delivered straight to their inbox
PPC (Pay per click)
With a PPC campaign, you can get your products in front of potential customers quickly. These types of payment campaigns are called PPC because you usually pay per click, in some cases there are also campaigns that are paid by impressions or even conversions.
You can start with a small budget of just a few dollars at the beginning. Invest this budget in the products that sell the most (or that you expect to sell the most) and in the geographical areas that are easiest and cheaper to ship the products to. Remember, the cost of the ad campaign plus the cost of the product and shipping should be low enough to still leave a sufficient profit margin.
Content Marketing is a great way to attract new potential customers. You’re not selling directly with this approach, but rather creating and promoting content that is interesting to your target customer. This can include informative blog posts, videos, or social media posts that help educate, address a pain point, and demonstrate why your product is needed (without directly mentioning it).
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
SEO means optimizing your online shop so that Google and other search engines show it in their organic results. This type of traffic is free, but it requires a good deal of time and work. The best way to position an online store in search engines is to create content, for example, in a blog, and be sure to include keywords that your target customer is likely searching for. Webnode makes it very easy to add a blog to your shop.
Social media platforms such as Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and Pinterest are great places to build an audience of raving fans who are interested in your company and products. Posting engaging educational or entertainment content can help build your ‘know, like, trust’ factor with potential customers.
While social media platforms are generally free to use, keep in mind that you don’t own these platforms so while they’re a great tool to use, it’s important to not rely on them exclusively for your online store promotion. If your account gets hacked or deleted, you may end up having to start over from scratch.
Email campaigns are a powerful promotion tool as you’ll be promoting to a warm audience. By opting into your email list, your subscribers have already made clear that they’re interested in hearing from you and about your products. Through email campaigns, you’ll be able to reach them with direct messaging, offer exclusive discounts, and retarget previous customers.
Google Analytics implementation and conversion target
As soon as you can, add Google Analytics to your online store. This way you can find out how people come to your shop (eg. through email, Google, Facebook, etc.), which pages they visit most, and which products are bought most often. You will also be able to see if more sales come from organic or paid traffic and which landing pages are performing best.
6. Develop your Brand and Reputation
One of the most powerful ways to build your store’s brand and reputation is to gather reviews and testimonials from satisfied customers. Build this into your sales process so that customers are prompted to leave a review after they’ve received your product. Positive reviews have the power to sway potential customers who are on the fence into making a purchase.
Offline events are another great way to build your reputation as it allows you to get your products into the hands of potential customers. As with physical stores, this gives people the opportunity to touch and possibly test out your product before committing to buying it. Offline events also provide an opportunity to network and share more information about the big vision and story behind your online store.
7. Build Customer Service
Responsive customer service is an essential part of creating an online store and should not be overlooked. How well you handle customer questions, concerns, and issues can directly impact your online store’s reputation–for better or for worse.
Be sure to create a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page where potential customers can find useful information.
Implementing a live chat function is also beneficial as this makes it possible for any customer questions to be dealt with immediately. This can be done manually or with the help of AI chatbot tools. In our world of immediacy, the quicker you’re able to provide thorough support, the happier the customer will be.
From deciding on your product niche and designing your digital storefront to navigating logistics and promotion, you are now equipped with the knowledge of how to start an online store. As the digital market continues to expand, today is a great opportunity for entrepreneurs to build an online store. With Webnode, it’s simple and fast.
Start an online store today