Building an online store is hands-down one of the best ways to make money online. And this isn’t just an arbitrary statement. According to the US Small Business Administration (SBA), online ventures are growing at a much quicker rate than conventional brick and mortar shops. It, therefore, makes sense why DIY craft enthusiasts, local clothing shops, and even book publishers are beginning to sell their goods and merchandise online.
What separates successful online stores from the disasters? Among other things, a well-thought-out plan and the right e-commerce platform can significantly contribute to growth and sustainability for entrepreneurs. Without these, it won’t matter if you stock the best products in the world or your prices are low because when visitors get confused navigating your store, reaching a reset goal becomes difficult (if not impossible).
If you’re interested in rocking the online store game, but don’t know where to start, here’s a step-by-step guide you can follow to set up a web shop that makes buying and seeing your offerings a joy.
1. Pick a Niche
One of the biggest challenges you’ll face during your journey toward creating an online store is an inability to decide what to sell. Many entrepreneurs find themselves in this boat, so there’s no reason to worry. The key to picking a niche is to aim for an elusive combination of market fit and high-demand while staying true to the brand you’re planning to create.
A first jump-off point for niche search assistance could be Google Trends. Put in some of your prospective items into this tool to get a high-level overview of their popularity with today’s consumers as well as their forecasted future demand. However, if the item you’ve picked isn’t something unique, sooner or later you’ll have to compete with other businesses for sale.
That said, you can always take time to research competitors’ pain points and then come up with a plan to counter them. For doing so, pick a few keywords related to your product and check their performance using Aherfs, SEMrush, or another similar tool. The search should return a few competitors’ names, both in paid and organic results. That’ll give you a good idea of who you’d be potentially up against when you start selling online, and what you can do differently to gain market share.
2. Select an E-commerce Platform
When it comes to selling products online, entrepreneurs have two main options: sign up for a marketplace like Amazon or eBay, or create an online store that’s all their own. While marketplaces offer a variety of benefits such as automated SEO and access to thousands of buyers, building an e-commerce site gives you greater control over how your brand is presented (people will remember your name, not Amazon’s). This is the point where you’d have to choose an e-commerce platform.
Some good options in this regard are Shopify and BigCommerce. Both of these platforms will walk you through the whole store creation process. They don’t make it a pre-requisite that people need to know to code. Also, Shopify lets users add a custom domain (e.g. www.shopname.com), and handles the “complicated” backend. Moreover, you can pick from several pre-existing themes for the store’s design, with options to customize them to your liking. Lastly, BigCommerce and Shopify process and manage all the payments and orders, letting store owners focus on the business. If you aren’t sure what software to choose, you’d be glad to know that most e-commerce platform vendors offer a risk-free trial.
3. Set Up a Brand
Before you launch an online store, you should create a likable brand for your audience. Get started by building a memorable logo. If you even have the basic graphic design skills, you can create one by yourself. Otherwise, you can recruit a freelancer from Fiverr or PeoplePerHour to make one for you. Not only should the logo establish trust and credibility, but also be easy to remember. The best practice, in this case, is to avoid stock images as generic stores might already be using them for branding purposes. Besides the logo, make it extremely clear that when it comes to your motto and presentation, you’ve got nothing to pull a curtain on. Essential information such as FAQs and exchange/return policies should be prominently displayed in the header/footer of your site.
Don’t neglect the power of having an easy, clear and generous returns policy. Providing free exchanges and returns can help alleviate a majority of that online shopping stress buyers experience and make the shopping process appear risk-free. Once you have a logo and content, use them to introduce your brand. For instance, you can set it up as a profile image on all platforms. Make sure the colors, style, and tone you present your brand in are consistent throughout all platforms. It’s a mistake to use different voices when you’re implementing a multi-channel branding strategy as it could confuse your audiences. Lastly, everything should present a centric message that your products are unique and best bought directly through the brand (this will prevent people from buying through resellers down the road).
4. Show Off Those Items
When it comes to presenting your products to potential buyers, images are gold! More than anywhere in an online store, the products it lists should go the extra file to replicate their realistic look and feel. That’s why it is essential for e-commerce entrepreneurs to invest in good pictures. If items’ images don’t come off as appealing, why would consumers show interest in buying a shotty looking good? Hence, use software like Photoshop to implement some touch ups and invest in high-quality product shots. The total investment in product photography can range from a few hundred USD to many thousands. It will depend on the number of products you’re planning to showcase and the quality of photography you use. Besides all that, organize the products in a grid that’s easy to navigate for first-time visitors.
Moreover, see if your e-commerce platform offers a zoom-in feature to give your visitors a close-up view of your items. If it’s not integrated into the main offering, you may have to install a third-party plugin or download an app for your software. For instance, Shopify has a Shopify app marketplace that its users can visit to download a variety of applications that improve the overall functionality of the Shopify software. Other than that, offer detailed descriptions of your product. Because a potential customer can’t feel the items, the more details you provide about them, the more shoppers will think that they’re holding them in their hands. Some things to include in e-commerce product descriptions are size fits, washing instructions, product dimensions, items used to manufacture the product, and how it’s different from other similar things out there in the market.
5. Create a Marketing Plan
If you want your online store to be a success, this step is extremely crucial. Marketing can immediately draw internet audiences to your store, but you’ll have to figure out what is going to be your hook first. Facebook, perhaps, can be your first choice, as it gets a high quantity of traffic on a monthly basis. However, the visual nature of social networks like Snapchat and Instagram make them a viable choice for products like clothing. If you’re going to use social media, the best approach is to experiment with different platforms and see where your target market is most responsive. Aside from social media, you could consider launching a blog that’s hosted on your e-commerce website. A blog is a great way to tell your brand’s story to potential buyers. Also, it can help you build authority, rank in search engines, and gain PR opportunities.
In addition, email marketing can be an incredibly useful aspect of your marketing plan. From announcing the launch of a new line of items to sending out discounts and special offers, email is one of the best routes to forming relationships with potential, new and existing customers. In terms of email marketing, abandoned cart emails can be quite handy. Because almost 70 percent of carts are abandoned before a transaction completes – one simple email reminder is all you need to notify people about the items left in their cart. Successful implementing of this step requires entrepreneurs to build an email list over time. Most e-commerce platforms can be connected to email marketing services through Zapier and native plugins, which should make automation a breeze.
Now that you know about all the steps you’d have to go through to launch an online store, it’s time to muster up that willpower and get started. If you’re employed, keep your day job for as long as you can. And make the switch to running your online store as a full-time e-commerce entrepreneur only when you see sizable growth in sales. Additionally, don’t lose heart if you don’t make a profit within the first few months. The first quarter can be set aside for testing and preparing to scale.