Businesses the world over have turned online to sell their products and services, and several have succeeded in expanding their territories. Given that geographical boundaries no longer limit how consumers shop; the internet gives businesses easy means to reach out to larger-than-before target audiences. No matter whether you already run a business or want to begin selling products over the internet, starting an online store might work well for you.
Why Start Your Online Store?
Data released by Statista surrounding e-commerce as a share of total U.S. retail sales shows that it has grown significantly in just the last decade. While e-commerce’s share stood at 4.2% in the first quarter of 2010, it got to 13% during the third quarter of 2021. In addition, the number of internet users in the U.S. has also increased considerably, from 229.91 million in 2010 to 302.28 million in 2021. Besides, an increasing number of people now turn online to make purchases of different kinds, from groceries to clothing to even automobiles.
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How to Start an Online Store
If you’re wondering how to start an online shop, know that you need to pay attention to multiple aspects if you hope you find success in your venture. What helps is that you get to increase the odds of achieving your goals if you follow a few steps.
1. Determine Startup and Running Costs
Once you decide to start your own online store, you need to look at how much money you will need to put your plan into action. While you don’t need large amounts of money, it’s important that you account for all the expenses you’ll incur and set realistic projections. Typical costs associated with starting an online store are linked to domain names, hosting, Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates, web design and development, digital marketing, branding, database integration, and shipping. Know that getting a professionally designed e-commerce website can set you back by $10,000 or more, and building complex e-commerce platforms can even cost upward of $100,000.
2. Select a Niche
Ask any e-commerce expert how to start an online store and you’ll find that the need to select a suitable niche exists among the top answers. 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 that you’ll benefit 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 are your chances of success.
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.
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4. Choose a Brand Name
When you’re narrowing down a brand name, make sure you choose one that comes with an available URL, given that you’ll be using it for your online store. 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 opt for dropshipping. In the case of the former, you hold stock of your products and once customers place orders, you send the products to them.
With drop shipping, 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.
6. Choose an E-Commerce Platform
The top three e-commerce 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 e-commerce platform to start your online store 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 now rely on mobile devices to shop online, it’s important that you select a platform that offers responsive web design layouts. 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 e-commerce web design agency.
- Pricing. The cost of opening and running an online store may vary significantly based on the e-commerce 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, and security.
7. Select a Payment Gateway Provider
If you wish to learn how to start a small online retail business, 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 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 an e-commerce platform such as WooCommerce, Wix, or Shopify, you may choose their own integrated payment solutions. Some of the top payment gateways for e-commerce platforms, in general, include Braintree, Authorize.Net, PayPal, Skrill, and 2CheckOut.
8. Formulate a Marketing Strategy
Setting up an online store requires having a good marketing strategy in place even before the launch of your website. 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 e-commerce stores to rely on different strategies to produce desired results, and here are the more common ones:
- Content marketing. Effective content marketing helps build trust and long-term relationships with your customers, it increases your authority as an industry expert, it helps attract qualified leads, and it also helps improve conversion rates. What you need to know is that 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 how it’s distributed. What helps is that creating automated email campaigns is fairly easy, no matter 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 that 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 that you look 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 online 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.
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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 of-page content is also vital. These include aspects such as meta tags, title tags, and meta descriptions. Long-form content through blog posts that provides value to readers and is optimized for each 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. Online shopping, after all, 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 requires your close attention.
If you’re unsure about how to start an online store or don’t have the required technical know-how to put your plan into action, using the services of an e-commerce web development agency might be in your best interest. This way, you can continue focusing on your core business.