The Ultimate Guide to Creating an Online Store
Every business can have a place in the biggest real estate in the world: the Internet.
Today you don’t just sell to people in your neighborhood, you sell to all neighborhoods. You sell to people in different countries and different continents. You sell to people in all walks of life and all ages.
Unfortunately, if your business is not online yet, you have no access to such a big market. If you already have a great product, one that sells in-store and is popular, you’re not making a killing online if you don’t know how or where to start.
How, then, do you set up an online store? Follow this comprehensive guide to help you begin.
Customize Your Website
Before you can start selling online, you first need a place to sell your products or services. Sure, you can list on Amazon or eBay, but the best and biggest brands don’t only rely on third-party marketplaces to sell their products for them, they have their own website as well that draws in customers themselves.
Having a place on the Internet means you can build up your brand freely, without worrying that someone else will pull the plug on your page.
Here’s what you need to have to customize your website.
Buy a Domain Name
Your domain name should be your business name. You want things to be as uniform as possible across all platforms. If you don’t have a business yet, and are hoping to start an online one, you will have to have a name that fits the product and, more importantly, your brand.
This could mean a variation of your name, something that means something to you, or something that captures the value of the product/s you’re selling. Either way, make sure it is catchy, memorable, and easy to spell!
You want people to be able to search for your brand and find it. Domains cost approximately $10 or so per year so it’s highly recommended that you buy one now even if your website is not up yet. As much as possible, choose .com too as it’s what people remember.
Use a Sophisticated Website Builder
Unless you have background in coding, HTML, and CSS, you will have to use online tools to create your perfect website. Bookmark, for example, uses artificial intelligence to help you come up with the first draft of your site within minutes.
That means you don’t have to fuss about with a theme and programming that you don’t understand to get things going. You can have a beautiful and custom website for your company in just a matter of minutes.
Buy Web Hosting
The other option is to use web hosting. Web hosting is a service that allows you to publish content onto the Internet. Once you are subscribed to a web hosting service, you can install a theme that you have bought and begin to customize it.
Make sure that the host you use offers features that allow you to install third-party scripts with one click. This will make installing something like a shopping cart system easier.
Have Consistent Branding
Your company needs branding. This means more than having a logo; it means having a consistent look that not only tells new visitors what your company is about, but also lets them recognize you regardless of what network they are on.
In order to stand out from a crowded market, you need to assert your company’s personality. Nothing can do this better than internal and external branding.
Make Sure You Can Sell Your Products Online
Now that you have your website, you’ll need to implement an eCommerce system. This is what makes it possible for you to be able to sell your products or services online.
Here’s what you need in your website to enable customers to buy directly from you.
Buy an SSL Certificate
SSL, or Secure Sockets Layer, is a protocol that protects your customer’s data. It does this by encrypting the data that passes between the browser and server.
If you want your customers to trust you and be properly protected, you will need an SSL certificate. You can acquire one either through your host or get a private one for yourself.
A private SSL certificate means that the certificate matches your domain name. To get this, you will also need a dedicated IP address for your website. SSL certificates are needed to accept payments.
Install a Shopping Cart
Remember when we said that you will need a web host that allows you to install third-party scripts? This is the third-party script you will need to install.
People are familiar with the shopping cart. It allows them to select multiple items to buy and review their orders before they make a purchase. To make things easier, Bookmark automatically includes this feature on your custom website.
Choose Your Payment Options
You will need to accept credit cards and other methods of payment to sell anything. There are two options for you to choose from. The first is to use a third-party merchant, like PayPal or DragonPay, which is the cheaper option and more suited for businesses just starting out.
The second option is setting up your own merchant account, which costs more but allows more control. To set up a merchant account of your own, you need to apply for it at your bank, at which point it would be viewed as a line of credit. Merchant accounts are useful because they come with fraud protection.
You might also need a payment gateway account in conjunction with your merchant account, which is an online system that processes credit cards and transactions. This software will contact the customer’s bank to authorize the payment in real time.
You would want to be sure of your choice before you commit to a system, so shop around for the best system for you.
Choose an eCommerce Platform
eCommerce software is what you need to manage your inventory behind the scenes, display your products to your customers, and let your customers check out. Not sure which platform to use? Read the following section.
Choose the Right eCommerce Platform
This is the most popular eCommerce platform, with over 350,000 businesses already using it. It is easy to use, flexible, and easy to scaled no matter the size of your business.
You are guaranteed to have all the criteria you need to set up an online shop. The only downsides are its price, URL structure (which is not SEO friendly), and its lack of an email hosting option.
You will have to shop elsewhere to be able to email your customers their receipts, among other great email marketing schemes like reminding them of forgotten products in their cart or sending them a personalized list of products.
Bookmark allows you to do everything in one place. You don’t need to shop around because this website builder has everything included.
You can set up your online store without any programming experience, from setting up your customized website to acquiring a domain name, getting your SSL Certification, and installing your payment options (without a transaction fee) all at once.
With Bookmark, you don’t need to fuss about which service to use, as you can get your website up and running in one go.
BigCommerce allows you to list and sell your products on major social sites like Amazon, eBay, and Facebook at once. While they are not the most popular eCommerce platform, they do boast of a 28% annual growth and the best uptime in the industry.
BigCommerce also provides all the key industry tools like built-in newsletters (unlike Shopify). It is, however, a premium service with premium pricing, and, unless you are using the Enterprise subscription (which comes with tailored pricing), you have a limit on the amount of sales you can process a year.
Weebly offers standard tools to build your online store quickly. The website you build with them will come with a shopping cart and secure checkout, and most processes are set up automatically.
Unlike Bookmark, however, it relies on a standard set of themes, which means that you won’t be able to customize your website to match your branding.
Now that you have everything set up, you’ll need to grow your customer base and make some sales. Here’s a quick rundown on what you’ll have to do.
Build Your Customer Base
Build Your Contacts
When you start out online, it will feel discouraging when people don’t immediately flock to your site. Thankfully, big companies like Google and Facebook have a means to direct your advertising campaigns to people who will be interested.
Don’t go for the hard sale immediately, however. You should first build up your contact base. It is much easier to sell to someone online when they know and trust you.
There are many ways to build your contact base, including capturing emails from a landing page and giving out a free ebook (or whatever product you choose) in exchange for their emails, among others.
Have a Social Presence
Social media is a crucial tool for anyone looking to sell products. Instagram and Pinterest are goldmines when it comes to sharing beautiful pictures of what you sell with the world, and it can attract quite a following.
Remember to have a defined look to your feeds, though, as this will build your social following. Also actively use every social networks’ business tools. For instance, once you have over 10,000 followers on Instagram, you can sell items directly from your Instagram story.
Social networks are also home to influencers. Influencers are the people who have thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of followers who buy into that influencer’s lifestyle.
Contact them to see if they would be interested in advertising your products. Make sure to choose them well; have some guidelines on which influencer to approach. Don’t base your decision on the number of followers alone. It can be easily faked.
Rather, choose your influencers based on the engagement rate on their platform, their values, and if they seem to be a good fit for your company.
Be Communicative and Open
Trust is a big player for people when they use online retailers. They want to know that they can trust in the product, in the store, and in you.
Be open and communicative, responding to all complaints as soon as they come. Word-of-mouth marketing, which can occur both in reality and online, can either make or break you. If you can handle complaints brilliantly and solve your customer’s problems, people will know about it and you will be vouched for.
On the other hand, if you ignore complaints, or delete them, then distrust will build and your brand will be ruined.
The biggest thing to remember when setting up and marketing your store is that there will always be things you will have to fix and work on. This isn’t because you haven’t done your research or because you were unaware of something, it’s because your website and your business is unique. You want to find the tools and marketing solutions that work best for you, and that takes time, trial, and error.
Everyone has to start somewhere. Follow this guide to build a great online business from the start, and tweak it from there to optimize your business.