Create Your Own Online Store – An In-Depth Guide for Beginners

create-an-online-store

Do you want to start a small or medium-sized online store? In that case, this guide is for you. We want to give you a head start on all things ecommerce. Once we’re done, you should know all the basics and what to look out for in the future. In particular, we’ll focus on the technical requirements that an online store should meet.

Table of content:

  1. Why Even Create an Online Store of Your Own?
  2. The Online Store System Requirements Checklist
  3. An Overview of Various Shop Systems
  4. Legal Requirements for Online Stores
  5. Important Tips for Product Sites
  6. Generating Traffic – How to Get Customers into Your Virtual Store

 

For years now, online commerce revenue has known only one direction: up. Just take a look at the black line on the chart – that’s the sum of all ecommerce sales in the USA. The blue line above it shows all retail sales in the USA. And while retail still has an advantage over ecommerce, Statista predicts that this advantage will shrink, favoring ecommerce in the long run.

statista-prediction-ecommerceSource: Statista

And that makes perfect sense, too – after all, every new generation grows up knowing the Internet and seeing online purchases as completely normal.

By the way – you’re on a good track if you’re catering to English-speaking markets: Nobody spends more money online than people in the USA and the UK.

How much online shoppers are spending around the World (source: Statista)

Source: Statista

And it doesn’t matter whether you already run a brick-and-mortar business or whether you’re starting from scratch. If you want to plan your own online store, put that plan into action, and see your store succeed, then we want this ecommerce guide to help you do just that.

1. Why Even Create an Online Store of Your Own?

That’s a fair question when you consider the many, many places online where people can buy things: Amazon Marketplace, eBay, and Etsy all offer platforms where anyone can sell their goods. And that might not be a bad idea for starters, either: You can use their visitor numbers to your own advantage without investing into advertising.

There is a problem, though: Depending on the products you’re selling, the brokerage fees you have to pay the platform may be anywhere from 5% to 20%, and over time, that’s a lot of money. You also don’t have access to customer data, so you can’t invest into the customer relationship afterwards (e.g. through an email newsletter).

By running your own online store, such fees will no longer be an issue for you. Instead, you have to keep payment provider and hosting costs (e.g. PayPal) in mind. But ultimately, this will cost you less than staying on a marketplace platform. Obviously, you can try and run both strategies at once and try and shift customers from the platform to your own store over time.

In the long run, a website and online store of your own are, by far, the best way of creating brand recognition and winning over steady customers.

2. The Online Store System Requirements Checklist

Complexity and budget:

This is a fundamental decision. How much time and how what amount of resources are you willing to put into this project? We put the providers into three categories:

Complexity easy medium difficult
Time frame to completion  3-7 days 1-3 weeks Several weeks or even months
Budget (rough estimate) $7.50 to 30 per month ca. $15 to 200 per month Creation (single expense): $2,000 to $20,000; plus $20 to $350 per month
Hosting Included (Cloud) Included (Cloud) Installation on your own webstorage
Examples Weebly, Jimdo, Wix Shopify, BigCommerce, Volusion Magento, PrestaShop, WooCommerce

There are some differences here: A simple shop like the one offered by Jimdo is easy to set up in no time. Anyone who knows their way around the Internet should be able to figure out how the interface works in just a few hours. Often times, a weekend is plenty sufficient to get an online store up and running. For a single-product store, you won’t need more than the Jimdo Pro plan for $7.50 per month.

The shop systems of medium complexity offer a much wider array of features. Integration and payment methods, however useful, require a steeper learning curve and a higher budget though. Unlike the simpler systems, these will allow you to manage much larger stores, and you have better marketing options, too (such as cross-selling, price search engines, etc.).

Complex online stores such as Prestashop or Magento in particular are a project of a completely different magnitude. Beginners without technical skills will most likely not be able set something like this up because these open source systems have to be installed and configured by hand. You also need webstorage of your own. The less complex shop systems don’t have those requirements – the providers host the shops in their own cloud infrastructures. How long this setup procedure lasts can vary greatly, and it depends mainly on the contractors you choose and how much you want to customize the design and the code.

Some Other Shop Features You Might Find Useful:

Criterion Options
Which payment methods do you want to offer? PayPal
Credit card
Direct debit
Money transfer/money order
Invoice
Cash on delivery
Installment payments
Shipping options Interfaces with shipping companies such as DHL or UPS
Pricing according to regions and countries
Drop-shipping
Accounting options Create invoices or integrate with accounting software (such as Xero)
Different VAT rates
Automatic import and export of goods Manage large product portfolios too large for manual maintenance (e.g. more than 100 products)
Customer accounts Can customers sign up in order to speed up the checkout process?
Marketing features SEO (URL structure, etc.)
Cross-selling
Integration of price search engines
Coupons
Email marketing (newsletters and ‘abandoned shopping cart’ emails)
Blog feature for content marketing
Domain name / email addresses Are the domain name and email accounts included?
Internationalization How many languages and currencies are supported?
Security features SSL encryption
Automatic backups
Guaranteed website availability (SLA)
Support Email support
Telephone support
Live chat
Availability

3. An Overview of Various Shop Systems

Check out our comparison website for shop systems to find out more about a variety of providers. Here’s a brief introduction of the ones we thought were the most interesting:

Shopify Logo

Shopify – Flexible, Powerful and Surprisingly Easy to Use

Shopify allows both beginners and real pros to create a professional online store that should barely leave a wish unfulfilled. Why? Beginners can set up an online store without any programming skills and advanced users will be able alter everything due to the very flexible “Liquid” framework. Included are professional features such as cart abandonment emails that can be set up very easily.

Even if your business grows really rapidly, chances are that you will have no reason to move it to another platform – unless you want to run a truly global store. Shopify doesn’t support multilingual web stores. Other than that, it gives you all the necessary tools you need to start smoothly and then set your path to rapid growth.

You can try Shopify 14 days for free to test it (no credit card needed). The cheapest entry level plan is “Lite” for US $9 monthly. The other plans offer more features, like telephone support, better statistics, template modification, and much more. Find out more information in our detailed Shopify review.

Weebly

Weebly – Makes Selling Easy, Extremely Easy

If you already have a website made with Weebly and you don’t want to struggle with a complicated setup process or source code, then you should consider taking a closer look at their built-in e-commerce solution. The online shop works as easy as the rest of the website editor.

Weebly Starter allows you to sell up to 10 products. That’s not much, but it’s a start; if you don’t need ALL the bells and whistles, it should do the job. If you want to sell more products and need features like vouchers, then you have to pick their “Business” plan. Weebly is made for beginners that want an easy solution. Because of this, you won’t find advanced features, like dozens of international payment gateways or customer accounts.

Weebly brings out regular updates that provide more features and help you to create a better online shop.

Find out more in our detailed Weebly review.

>> Check out Weebly’s online store

ecwid logo

Ecwid – the Addon That Turns Your Existing Site Into a Store

Ecwid is a particularly attractive option if you already own a website that doesn’t have an e-commerce feature. It includes an impressive range of functions, such as a massive number of integrated payment gateways for credit card payments, PayPal, and even voucher codes for special promotional offers.

You can also sell both physical and digital goods. Varying VAT rates between different states are no problem here either. The only drawback with Ecwid is that there is no real easy way for Google to index your product pages.

Find out more in our detailed Ecwid review.

>> Read Ecwid review

Do you have further requirements? Here you can find even more providers and detailed information about them.

>> Top-Rated Ecommerce Site Builders

>> Online Store Builders Side by Side Comparison

Examples of small business websites

4. Legal Requirements for Online Stores

Please note: This advice was not written by a legal professional. Please be sure and consult a lawyer.

In order to run an online store, you need to register a business. The simplest form of business is the sole proprietorship, also known as sole trader. You need to be 18 years of age to do so.

Tip: If you want to try out your business idea, you don’t need to register a business right away. We know from experience that the bureaucracy can be a bit daunting in the beginning. So we’d recommend testing your concept first, and sitting down with a tax consultant once the first couple of orders have come in. You can then register your business after the fact.

Important legal documents for your online store

This information mainly refers to the US, however, in the sources at the end of this section you can also find further information for online stores based within the European Union.

Any US-based online store should provide the following three documents in a place that’s easily accessible (e.g. the website’s footer):

1- Privacy Policy

This document explains how the user’s data that is being collected on your website will be used. According to this useful guide there is no general rule of how a privacy policy has to look like in the US.

However, in general you should cover the following information:

  • What information you gather and how you share it;
  • The process the customer can follow to review and make changes to the information you have on them; and
  • The policy’s effective date and a description of any changes since then.

2- Terms and Conditions

The terms and conditions are made for your customers. It explains what they must or must not do in order to use your service.

This would usually cover clauses such as:

  • Definition of key words;
  • Customer rights and responsibilities;
  • Proper or expected usage of the website;
  • Intellectual property protection;
  • Accountability for actions, behavior, and conduct;
  • Payment details;
  • Disclaimers and warranties;
  • Exclusion or Limitation of Liability; and
  • User notification upon modification of terms.

3- Returns and Refunds Policy

This is another document that can vary widely within each US state. It’s very important to have a Returns and Refunds policy as not having one will oblige you to accept full refunds within 30 days for all your customers from California, for example.

Tip: to get all these documents right, we highly recommend Jimdo’s Legal Essentials guide (it also includes information for EU-based online stores), which was written by Leah Hamilton of TermsFeed. Their website also provide handy generators for these legal documents.

5. Important Tips for Product Sites

Now, here’s two basic tips for your ecommerce store content:

Product images

Presentation is key, and it must be immaculate. You can’t afford to make mistakes on this. We recommend high quality images, made either by yourself, or even a professional photographer. Here are some tips on how to make a DIY photo studio at home.

More and more online stores have also started using videos. Please don’t use the manufacturer’s standard videos! Make your own instead. If it’s not about a product you made yourself, you can use the video as a kind of review and tell your customers about the advantages and disadvantages you see with the product. That makes you trustworthy and will make your customers want to come back.

Texts

The same thing applies to texts – don’t just copy the standard descriptions offered by the manufacturer. Your customers will get bored, and so will Google! Re-using a text that Google can find elsewhere, too, will reduce your chances of a good ranking. So either write your own texts, or get a professional to write them for you.

Another good idea is having an FAQ section about your products. Use real customer inquiries and add them to the product pages. This has two big advantages: First of all, the text is completely original, and secondly, you get to use the exact language used by your customers. This can improve your Google ranking significantly.

Which brings us to the next topic:

6. Generating Traffic – How to Get Customers into Your Virtual Store

The best online store isn’t worth a thing if it doesn’t attract any customers. Luckily, there are several ways to get customers to come and take a look.

Free traffic

Free sounds good, right? There are several ways to benefit from free traffic. Let’s divide them into SEO, social media, and email marketing.

Search engine optimization for ecommerce

SEO is a long process. It can take months to find those particular search terms that really generate visits. Once you’ve reached those front-row positions, you’ll typically stay at the top for a while, but it also depends on what your competition does for their own SEO and how knowledgeable they are on the subject.

Please note: Investing in SEO is particularly beneficial when there are already a lot of online search queries by people who want to buy a product you’re offering. Now let’s assume you’re trying to sell MacBooks. That search term is used thousands of times a day on Google (according to the Google Keyword Planner, the actual number is around 10,000 times per day).

Now, you can get a piece of that pie by using SEO. Landing on the first Google results page when people search “macbook” will, however, most likely be out of the question – the competition is just too strong.

Instead, you could optimize for a search term such as “macbook air 13 inch review”. The term is only searched around 20 times per day, but the competition isn’t as tight there, either. You could do this for your blog, for instance. Still, reaching page one in the search results will still be incredibly difficult for an example such as this, but it’s a good way to illustrate the principle we’re talking about here. More information on the topic can be found in this ecommerce SEO guide for beginners or in this even more advanced guide.

Social media – ideal for “shiny objects”

You can get the most out of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest if your product is cool. Products that people buy in an impulsive moment – a funny t-shirt, an interesting video documentary, a stylish clothes rack, or a backpack with an integrated power bank.

You know, things the customers don’t even know they want to buy yet. Things that are shared and, as a result, spread by word of mouth. In order for this strategy to work, you usually need a large number of invested followers and fans.

Newsletters – turn prospects into customers

For senders with a smaller number of subscribers, there are a few free newsletter providers. These are excellent for beginners. A newsletter is especially useful if you want to animate visitors to return to your store, or if you want to turn a previous customer into a repeat customer.

You can get a prospect’s email address by offering a rebate coupon, for instance. If you offer a product that requires some explanation, you can also try a free PDF guide or an ebook. By getting their email address, you will be able to send out autoresponder emails to your customers, meaning an automatic sequence of predetermined emails that animates the recipient to return to your website.

Paid traffic: The easiest and fastest way (for people who have money)

Two services come to mind for this strategy: Adwords and Facebook ads. As mentioned above, you need to know what kind of product you’re trying to sell. The cool product is better suited for Facebook. As an added convenience, it’s very easy to pinpoint your target audience. For example, you can offer t-shirts for special interest groups (such as people who fly drones in their leisure time) and then market them to that particular interest group, too.

Google Adwords is more about search volumes and click prices. At the end of the day, it’s your return on investment that counts, and it should, ideally, be positive. That’s why you need to do some data analysis. Too many people throw their money at paid traffic ads without knowing whether they’ll get any success out of it. If in doubt, consult a professional.

We hope this guide helped you understand the basics of creating an online store! If you have any other questions, leave us a comment. I look forward to hearing from you!

Images: JoeEsco / photocase.com, Felix Jork – Fotolia.com

Online Store

Tip: Our Free Ebook

small business website ebookTo get you started, please feel free to download our eBook “Website Creation for Absolute Beginners,” completely free of charge. This will help you plan your business website and get things right from the outset.

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Hi, my name is Robert Brandl and I am the founder of WebsiteToolTester. If you have any questions, please leave a comment.

Your opinion

  • Hi,
    Superb Article!! Do you like create Online store website for your business? Then try webnexs, which is a best Instant online store builder.

    Thanks

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