How to Start an Online Store in 10 Steps (2021)
This post was last updated on November 23, 2020.
There are plenty of eCommerce stats that show the huge potential to earn money selling products online, which should give you all the encouragement you need to get your business started.
Whether you are an established brick-and-mortar business looking to move online or you want to start an online business from scratch, we’ll provide you all the tools and information you’ll need about how to set up your online store without any previous experience.
Here’s how to start an online store in 10 steps:
Pick an eCommerce platform
Determine your target audience
Choose what to sell online
Partner with a dropshipper
Connect a payment provider
Name your store and get a Domain
Design your site for sales
Create a strong branding strategy
Decide on your business structure
Start your marketing campaigns
01. Pick an eCommerce platform
Your website will be the face of your brand. The platform it’s built on and the eCommerce features it offers will be a huge part of how smoothly you can run your business.
Here are some factors to consider when choosing an eCommerce platform:
Tools: Does the platform offer you everything you need to turn your business into a success? Can you use it to create marketing campaigns, manage inventory, sell on multiple channels and get paid? Can you automate sales tax, customize your checkout experience or add online chat? Basically, can the platform grow alongside your business?
Specialty businesses: Do you plan on selling CBD, are you looking to create a subscription box business or do you have a different specific niche business idea? Does the platform offer you the capabilities you’ll need to create your ideal store?
Pricing: Does the platform have a pricing package that meets your eCommerce needs while making sense financially? Will you be able to upgrade your plan to make use of more professional tools as your business grows? Are the necessary marketing capabilities and business management resources included in the plan?
Design capabilities: Does the platform let you create a store that looks beautiful but also functions at a high level? Does it offer a wide variety of intuitive eCommerce website templates to use as a kick-off point? How easy is it to customize your storefront’s design?
Mobile view: Does your website builder optimize for mobile? Will shoppers be able to comfortably browse your store on their phones?
To maximize your ability to create, run and grow your online store, choose a platform like Wix eCommerce. It offers competitive pricing as well as a full spectrum of professional tools that’ll help get you started quickly, but also can allow you to grow into a multimillion dollar business. You can get started on building your site right now by customizing an already made online store template.
02. Determine your target audience
One of the first things to consider when opening an online store is who you’ll be selling to. This is important for determining products to sell, website design, marketing techniques and shipping needs.
If you already have a product idea, use that to determine who the ideal customer of the item would be. If you’re starting an online store from scratch though, consider the audience you want to target. Ask yourself: How old are they? Where do they live? What interests do they have?
Now’s a good time to create buyer personas to nail down exactly who you are aiming to target with your store.
When choosing a target audience, a good idea is to choose one you’re familiar with. In order to successfully create, sell and market products, you’ll need to really get to know and understand your customer base. So if you set out targeting a specific community that you’re already a part of, this process will be easier.
For example, if you’re a middle-aged mom living in rural Mississippi, create an online business that targets your demographic. This way you’ll have a good sense of what products your customers need, how to speak to them in a language they’ll connect with and what will drive them to buy.
03. Choose what to sell online
A crucial element to starting an online store is choosing what to sell. One way to do this is based on your target audience.
What product or service can you offer this population that isn’t yet on the market? What pain points can you solve? What service already exists but can be offered better? What can you sell that can help or excite your customers?
However you choose your product to sell and whatever the product is, check that it fulfills a need.
Here are some other tips when choosing products to sell online:
Look out for an untapped market.
Do you have a service or product idea that isn't yet on the market? Have you designed an item that will solve a pain point among a specific target audience? This can be a huge opportunity for success.
Optimize a popular product.
Take what you know works and make it better. Check leading brands’ reviews to see what customers like and what they’re missing. For example, if you want to sell backpacks, read up on reviews for North Face, Herschel and Fjallraven bags.
Follow the trends.
In 2020, it was no secret that there was a huge need for face masks and work-from-home tools. But what new trends are growing? Here are some ways to try and pinpoint upcoming demands in the market:
Read reports, like our Wix eCommerce Growth Report during COVID-19
Check trending search terms with tools like Google Trends
Get inspired by up-and-coming products on Kickstarter’s most popular lists
Once you start to narrow down on a product idea, you’ll want to make sure your product will allow your business to succeed.
Here are some tips to take into account when launching a new product:
Sell items that are easy to ship. With eCommerce, it’s best to stick with products that are non-fragile, lightweight, and contain few moving parts. Shipping gets complicated when batteries or magnets are involved, so try to avoid those as well.
Check that you’ll make a profit. Estimate your ROI (return on investment). First, look at your competitors to determine your approximate pricing. Then calculate how much you’ll need to sell to cover your business costs.
Think about the manufacturing process. If you’re creating a new product, you’ll need to find a manufacturer to create your inventory. There are many aspects to consider when choosing your manufacturer, but you’ll find everything you need to know in our guide on finding manufacturers.
04. Partner with a dropshipper
If you want to launch an online store and start selling quickly, think about creating a dropshipping business. Besides being quick to set up, a dropshipping business includes some other key perks, like letting you minimize upfront costs, inventory management and order fulfillment.
What is dropshipping and how does it work?
Dropshipping is an easy-to-start-and-run retail business option that lets you sell products without having to stock, manage or ship any inventory.
It works by integrating your online store with a dropshipping supplier and choosing products from their catalog that you want to sell to your customers. You can determine how to price, market, and offer these products. Then, when you start dropshipping, customers buy the product from your site and you forward the order info to the dropshipping supplier who fulfills and ships the order.
Here’s a play-by-play of how it works:
You choose the products you want to dropship and set your own prices
A shopper purchases one of the products by paying on your site
You forward the customer’s order and pay the supplier
The supplier ships the product directly to your customer’s address
If you create your eCommerce site with Wix, you’ll be able to integrate your store with a dropshipping service like Modalyst or Spocket in just a few clicks. Then you can create product catalogs in your store with items from the suppliers. When customers buy from you, the supplier will manage inventory and fulfillment of your orders—you’ll only need to handle your online storefront and marketing.
05. Connect a payment provider
When it comes to starting an online store, what matters most is how you’ll get paid. This is an important step to make sure your business can smoothly and securely accept payments online.
First, decide what payment methods you’ll want to accept. It’s a good idea to offer your customers multiple payment methods so they have the payment option they like and use most. Depending on your location, you can usually choose one or multiple payment methods, such as:
Digital wallets (like PayPal)
Then, choose your payment provider. A provider processes every transaction for your business, like payments you receive from customers. Remember, whichever one you choose will be the provider you’ll use to process all credit card payments. You’ll need to get verified by your provider to begin accepting money through your eCommerce website.
If you build your site with Wix, choose Wix Payments as your payment provider to manage all your store orders and payments from a single, integrated dashboard, personalize your payout cycles and more. To learn how to set up Wix Payments, check out this video:
06. Name your store and get a domain
Once you know what you’re selling, who you’re selling to and how you’re selling it, it’s time to work on creating a memorable name for your business.
Brainstorm words associated with your product, industry, values or what makes your brand unique. Use this word bank to put together your brand name. You can also use a business name generator to gain some more ideas.
To guide your business name choice, consider SEO. Find terms shoppers are using by checking related online searches and Google Trends. For more tips on keyword research, learn about SEO.
Include your product category or a specific product in your name so shoppers know what you offer right away. For example, if you’re selling hats, you can include the word “accessories,” “fedoras” or “caps”.
Above all, make sure your business name stands out and is not already being used.
Here are some ways to choose a unique brand name:
Research your direct competitors
Search your name ideas on Google and social media
Check your local business registration service
Once you’ve decided on a business name, get a professional domain for your site. To choose the best domain name, match your store name exactly. This will help your customers find you online. Note how much a domain name costs: in most cases, you’ll pay around $10-$15 per year.
With platforms like Wix eCommerce, you can register and connect a domain name directly from your site. In fact, when you sign up to be able to accept payments on your store, you’ll have the option to get a free domain name for the first year.
07. Design your site for sales
Now’s a good time to really get into designing your online storefront and making sure that the design is optimized for conversions. While it’s important that your eCommerce website looks good, you also want it to guide customers seamlessly through the buying and checkout process.
Here are some pointers to take into account regarding designing your site:
Use an eCommerce template. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Wix offers plenty of online store templates that can be adjusted and customized to make sure your store looks entirely unique. But at the same time, these templates will include all the key features your store will need so you won’t have to create it all from scratch. Check out these 9 top eCommerce website templates.
Clarify what you sell. Unless you’re a name brand that needs no explanation, your site visitors will want to know immediately upon arrival what you offer. Don’t keep your shoppers guessing; make it clear exactly what you sell to anyone who visits your store. Pro tip: Update your site’s metadata to include the type of store you are. For example, if you’re a t-shirt business called PlopTee, your site’s meta title should read “PlopTee | T-Shirt Store”.
Write clear CTAs. At every stage throughout the buying process, your customers should know what they need to do next. Make sure the CTAs’ text is intuitive and makes it clear where the customer will be led when they click. Start from the very beginning. Add a large and prominent Shop Now button on your site’s homepage that leads to the catalog. On each product page include a prominent Buy Now and/or Add to Cart option.
Organize your store’s structure. Create a navigation bar at the top of your site that leads customers where they need to go. If you’re selling clothes, create tabs for men’s or women’s attire, as well as one for sale items.
Let customers easily track what they have in their carts by adding a shopping cart link in the top right corner of your site. Include key links in your site’s footer, including your eCommerce shipping and returns policy, links to your social media pages and your contact info.
Use high-level imagery. Product photography is an extremely important aspect to selling online. Customers want to see what your product looks like up close and they need to feel confident they know what the product will look like before they buy. Use professional photos and videos to showcase the product’s looks, feel, size, dimensions, weight, etc.
08. Create a strong branding strategy
Make your eCommerce store unforgettable with strong eCommerce branding. Branding includes everything from your business’ name, logo, color palette and tone of voice. Your business’ brand should strongly relate to the type of company you are and who your target audience is.
Start off by playing with colors in order to create your brand palette. Make sure the colors are relevant to your products, like blues and greens for environmentally friendly water bottles. Choose around 3-4 colors and keep them saved so you’ll have them as you move forward.
Create a logo for your business with simple shapes and clearly legible words. You’ll want to create an image that’s instantly recognizable, whether it’s on a small social icon or a part of your packaging. Your logo will define your business in a glance, so take your time with this and try to create something special.
Another important aspect to your brand is the tone of voice you use when creating content. This should be taken into account when writing your product descriptions, your social media posts and your emails.
Ask yourself: Who are my customers and what kind of language and messaging will they relate to? Should it be playful? Serious?
Once you decide on your brand palette, logo and content style, use them when designing anything your business creates, including:
An effective brand identity can help foster customer loyalty from the start. Given a professional website and a consistent brand, your customers are more likely to purchase.
09. Decide on your business structure
Don’t let the legal aspects to starting your business hold you back. It’s a lot easier than you think to keep your business kosher.
Here are four of the most common business structures:
Sole Proprietorship: This means you and your business are linked legally and financially. If you’re just starting out with your online store, this is most likely what you want. It's the easiest form of business to start and makes it easier to register your business.
Limited Liability Company (LLC): This option lets you keep your personal and business assets separate, making starting a business a little less risky. LLCs are relatively quick to set up and offer various business tax benefits.
Partnership: If you’re starting your business with a partner, you’ll need to sign a partner agreement when launching. This’ll track what each partner's roles, responsibilities, investments and rights.
Corporation: A corporation usually refers to an established business that includes shareholders and employees. There are various types of corporations you can create.
If you’re setting up your business as a sole proprietorship, you can avoid any formal action in order to create your business. Nonetheless, you’ll still need to apply for any relevant license and permits that are relevant to your business and location. Check with the US Small Business Administration to determine what you’ll need.
Here are some pros and cons of setting up your business as a sole proprietorship:
Easy to get started
Cheap to set up
Gives you complete control
Makes tax filing simpler because you don’t have to file business separately
You hold full liability for your business’ debts and obligations
Can’t raise money by selling stocks in your business
Hire a business lawyer to set you up.
If you’re looking to set up an LLC, partnership or corporation, we suggest you hire a business lawyer. We aren’t legal experts, so while we can offer some advice, we recommend you complete this process with the help of a professional who can make sure all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed.
10. Start your marketing campaigns
You’re ready for your first sale. It’s time to start shouting from the rooftops. Drive customers to your online store with these free and paid marketing strategies.
Free Marketing Campaigns
Create a business page for your online store on social media platforms, like Facebook and Instagram. Update your business information on your profile page, including website link, location and contact details. On Facebook you can allow the option to leave reviews and make sure you respond to anyone who does.
Then, post about promotions, sales and new items and link to your store. Let customers shop directly from your social media page by integrating your eCommerce website with Facebook Shop or by linking your Instagram posts to your online store.
First, create a business email address. Then develop an email list by adding a lightbox to your site that encourages customers to sign up or by adding a sign up form in your site’s footer. You can offer them a discount on their next purchase to help give them an extra push to join your mailing list.
Then use an email marketing tool to send out newsletters about short-term holiday promotions, business updates and featured items that are relevant to specific times of the year.
Optimize your site to rank high on Google’s search results. Make it easy for customers to find your store when they’re looking for the types of products you sell. Do this by writing optimized meta titles and descriptions for each of your site pages. This includes on your homepage, product catalogs and each individual product page.
You can get help with this process by using the free Wix SEO Wiz.
Paid Marketing Campaigns
Facebook and Instagram Ads
Target your shoppers on the most popular social media channel on the planet. First determine the campaign's objective, which can be to gain traffic, engagement, conversions, or something else. Then choose how much you want to spend and how long you want the ads to run. You’ll need to create an audience to target based on location, interests and demographics.
If you want to simplify the process, Wix lets you create Facebook and Instagram Ads from your site dashboard that uses AI to optimize your ads and targets your ideal audience.
Set up pay-per-click ads on Google that target specific locations, demographics, keywords, and queries. This’ll let your site be seen by customers who are already searching for a store like yours.
Ready to launch your eCommerce business? Create your online store and start selling today.
Managing Editor, Wix eCommerce
Daniel is the Managing Editor at Wix eCommerce, where he uses his experience as a merchant, journalist and marketer to create content that helps online businesses grow.