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    6 min read

    9 Steps to Starting an Online Shop

    By Kay Swift

    Businesses the world over have turned online to sell their products and services, and several have succeeded in expanding their territories. After all, geographical boundaries no longer limit how consumers shop and the internet gives businesses easy means to reach out to larger-than-before target audiences. Whether you already run a business or want to begin selling products over the internet, starting an online shop might work well for you.


    opening up an online store

    Can Anyone Start an Online Store?

    In today’s world, just about anyone can think about setting up and running an online store. For example, you may start your online store without investing any money by selling digital products or services of different types and using a free eCommerce platform. Besides, you don’t need your own inventory or a warehouse, and you don’t even have to worry about logistics if you opt for dropshipping. However, you still need to come up with a viable business idea, address sourcing/manufacturing concerns, and have a suitable sales model.


    eCommerce in Numbers

    Data released by Statista indicates that eCommerce sales accounted for 15.6% of all retail sales in the U.S. in the fourth quarter of 2023, up from 4.2% in the first quarter of 2010 and 13% in the third quarter of 2021. In addition, retail eCommerce sales in the U.S. exceeded $285 billion from October to December 2023.


    The number of internet users in the U.S. has also increased considerably, from 229.91 million in 2010 to 323.56 million in 2024. Besides, an increasing number of people now turn online to make purchases of different kinds, from groceries to clothing to even automobiles.


    How Do I Start My Own Online Store?

    If you’re thinking about selling products or services in the digital world, know that you need to pay attention to multiple aspects if you hope you find success. After all, there is no dearth of online ventures that fail to produce desired results and end up shutting shop fairly quickly. What helps is you get to increase the odds of achieving your goals if you follow a few simple steps to starting an online store.

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    1. Determine Startup and Running Costs

    Once you set your mind on starting and running an online shop, start by determining how much money you need to put your plan into action. While you don’t necessarily require a large sum, it’s important to account for all the expenses you’ll incur and set realistic projections.


    Typical costs associated with starting an online shop are linked to domain names, hosting, Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates, web design and development, digital marketing, branding, database integration, and shipping.


    So, how much does it cost to set up an online store? While a professionally designed eCommerce website can set you back by $10,000 or more, building complex eCommerce platforms can even cost upward of $100,000.


    2. Select a Niche

    One of the most important steps to creating an online store is to select the right niche. The niche you choose has a direct bearing on crucial elements such as your sales volumes, profits, the effort you need to put into providing customer support, as well as the scope of building repeat customers.


    You should ideally steer clear of niches that big names in the industry already dominate unless you’re very sure about your unique selling proposition (USP). Look for products in niches that have steady recognition or ones that are gradually increasing in popularity. Various online tools give you the ability to look for popular niches, with Google Trends serving as a great example.


    If you end up with a niche that does not bring repeat customers, you’ll continue to keep spending aggressively on your marketing. For instance, if you plan to sell wedding dresses, there is little chance of benefitting from repeat customers.


    It’s also important not to select a niche you know little to nothing about because you might then have to deal with a steep learning curve. Conversely, the better you understand your niche and how your competitors operate, the better your chances of success.


    running an online store

    3. Research Your Target Audience

    Once you’ve narrowed down on a niche, you need to get as much information about your target audience as possible. This refers to the group of consumers that is most likely to use your products or services, and this is the group you wish to target through your marketing efforts. While knowing your target audience helps increase return on investment (ROI), it also helps your business in offering personalized communication with existing/probable customers and building long-term relationships.


    4. Choose a Brand Name

    When you’re selecting a brand name, make sure you choose one that comes with an available URL, given that you’ll be using it when setting up a shop online. You should ideally go with a short name that is easy to spell and relates to your business in some way. Take for example names such as Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Nike, and Audi; they all rely on simplicity. A good brand name can also help a brand differentiate itself from its competitors.


    5. Select a Shipping Type

    When opening up an online store, you need to decide if you plan to ship products on your own or go the dropshipping way. In the case of the former, you hold stock of your products and once customers place orders, you send the products to them.


    With dropshipping, you don’t have to hold any inventory on your own. Once a buyer places an order, you forward the same to a manufacturer or distributor, who is then responsible for sending the item to the customer. You receive money from the customer from which you need to pay the supplier.


    Dropshipping might work well for you if you’re new to the online store business; given that it lets you test the waters without having to make a large investment. You can always move to direct shipment once your business grows, as it can help increase profitability.

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    6. Choose an eCommerce Platform

    The top three eCommerce platforms from which you get to choose include Shopify, WooCommerce, and Magento. What you need to realize is that each comes with its share of pros and cons. Factors that need your consideration when selecting an eCommerce platform for starting an online shop include:

    • Features. These come in the form of integrated blogs, automation of sales tax, customized checkouts, increased customization capabilities, free themes and plugins, multiple payment gateways, online chat support, and multilingual support.
    • Mobile-friendly. Since a significant number of internet users use mobile devices to shop online, it’s important to select a platform that offers responsive web design. Going mobile-friendly results in better user experiences, it finds favor with Google, it is good for social media, and it can also help boost sales.
    • Design capabilities. Find out how easy or difficult it will be to customize your online store. In addition, while you should aim to create a store that looks and feels aesthetic, it should not falter when it comes to functionality. If you’re not an expert in web design, you might benefit by turning to an eCommerce web design agency.
    • Pricing. The cost of opening and running an online store may vary significantly based on the eCommerce platform you select and the features you need. For instance, while WooCommerce is free to install, you still need to choose from its different plans. You also need to account for the fees related to plugins, payment gateways, shipping, customer communication, search engine optimization (SEO), and security.


    7. Select a Payment Gateway Provider

    If you wish to learn how to run an online shop, you need to understand that being able to accept payments in different ways plays a crucial role. Besides, you also need to ensure that you provide a secure and hassle-free payment experience. Start by deciding the methods you wish to offer to your customers. The most common alternatives include credit cards, debit cards, bank transfers, digital wallets, and buy now pay later (BNPL) solutions.


    The next step involves selecting a suitable payment gateway provider. Some of the factors you need to consider when making a decision include fees, cross-device compatibility, ease of integration, and customer support.


    If you use eCommerce platforms such as WooCommerce, Wix, or Shopify, you may choose the integrated payment solutions they provide. Some of the top payment gateways for eCommerce platforms include PayPal, Amazon Pay, Stripe, Braintree, Authorize.Net, Skrill, and 2CheckOut.


    How much does it cost to set up an online store?

    8. Formulate a Marketing Strategy

    Opening up an online store requires having a good marketing strategy in place even before the launch of your platform. Since generating desired results requires following a multi-pronged approach, partnering with a digital marketing agency that specializes in eCommerce is usually the ideal way to go.


    When it comes to running an online store successfully, your marketing efforts need to focus on three types of audiences. These include people who don’t know about your business but are looking for the type of products/services it offers, people who know that your business exists and might have made purchases from it in the past, and people who know just what they wish to buy from your business.


    It’s common for eCommerce stores to rely on different strategies to generate sales, and here are the more common ones.

    • Content marketing. Effective content marketing helps build trust and long-term relationships with your customers, increases your authority as an industry expert, drives qualified leads, and improves conversion rates. What you need to know is there’s more to content marketing than the written content you provide. It also accounts for graphics, various audio-video elements, and consistency in tonality.
    • Email marketing. Email marketing gives you the ability to send marketing messages to your target audience with the aim of selling, educating, and building affinity. It gives you complete control over the content you provide and its distribution. What helps is that creating automated email campaigns is fairly easy, whether they are transactional emails, promotional emails, or lifecycle emails.
    • Influencer marketing. A relatively new kid on the block, influencer marketing involves collaborating with popular people who your target audience follows. While you need to pay influencers to promote your brand or any specific product/service, what you get in return is increased visibility through their followers. The top influencer marketing channels include Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and personal blogs.
    • Social media marketing. Social media marketing involves the use of popular social networking platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, TikTok, WeChat, and Pinterest. These platforms give you the ability to promote your online store and make sales through organic traffic as well as paid ads. They let you gain insight into your target audience and engage with them in the online spaces they favor most. Bear in mind you need to select social media platforms based on customer demographics as well as what you’re selling. Looking at how your competitors are going about the process may also prove to be beneficial. This would require looking at how often they post, the types of messages they post, the frequency with which they promote products directly, and the general voice they use in their messaging.


    9. Optimize Your Website

    No matter how good-looking your eCommerce store might be, you cannot expect people to find it in online searches if you don’t optimize it suitably. This is where search engine optimization (SEO) comes into the picture. While using relevant keywords in your website content is important, it accounts for just one aspect of SEO. For instance, you need to provide content that your readers find useful because this is also a factor that search engine algorithms take into account.


    When optimizing your website, consider what your target audience wants to know as well as how it talks about your products/services. You need to ensure that all your on-page content flows naturally and helps answer questions that existing or potential customers might have. Optimizing off-page content is also vital. These include aspects such as meta tags, title tags, and meta descriptions.


    Providing long-form content through blog posts that readers find relevant and valuable and optimizing it for search engines can work wonders in increasing organic traffic.



    Different types of small and mid-sized businesses stand to benefit greatly by turning online to sell their products or services. After all, online shopping continues to grow steadily, as an increasing number of consumers turn to the internet to make purchases. However, as simple as selling online might sound, it is imperative that you follow a well-laid-out approach. Right from determining the viability of your plan to its eventual execution, the entire process of starting and running an online store requires your close attention.


    If starting an online shop seems like a daunting task or if don’t have the required technical know-how to put your plan into action, using the services of an eCommerce web development agency might be in your best interest. This way, you can continue focusing on your core business.

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