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How to start an online store in 10 steps (2024 guide)

how to start an online store

You think of a brilliant idea for an online store. Or perhaps you read about another successful entrepreneur and got inspired.

You muster up the confidence to pursue your idea—only to wind up wondering “Where do I begin?”

To make your life easier, we’ve put together this guide with step-by-step instructions on how to build an online store. Whether you’re starting a business from scratch or taking your brick-and-mortar business online, we’ll help you get started on the right foot.

How to start an online store in 10 steps:

01. Determine your target audience

One of the first things to consider when opening an online store is who you’ll be selling to. The closer you are to your product (or audience), the greater your chances of building a successful business.

If you already have a product idea, use that to determine your ideal customer. If not, consider an audience that you’re most familiar with. What products do you use on a regular basis? What do you value the most about your favorite brands? Or, who in your life are you looking to serve with your products?

As with any business, it helps to find a purpose that will keep you motivated in the long run. Ecommerce, after all, isn’t just sunshine and butterflies (see our guide on what is eCommerce). There are numerous logistical and financial questions you’ll have to address.

By reminding yourself why you’re running your business and for whom, you can better stay on track. To that end, take the time to establish buyer personas. Personas help you get into the mind of your buyer and, in turn, make decisions regarding messaging, your eCommerce website design, marketing strategies and more.

how to start an online store: target audience

02. Choose what to sell online

Choosing which products to sell online will require careful consideration.

Beyond thinking about what your target audience likes, you’ll need to do a bit of competitive recon and ask yourself some key questions. For starters: which brands are already popular online? What unique pain points can you help to solve? How do you plan on sourcing your products?

how to start an online store: choose what to sell

To get the ideas flowing, here are a few things to try.

  • Optimize a popular product: Take what you know works and make it better. This is something big retailers do with their private label products. They’ll check to see what’s popular in stores or online, then create their own versions. Try this out for yourself by using tools like Jungle Scout or checking sites like Amazon’s Best Sellers list. Scour reviews on leading brands to discover what their products are missing.

  • Look out for an untapped market: Have you ever searched for a product online and realized that nothing really wows you? Did your brother mention something that would be cool to own over dinner? There’s no replacement for an original idea. This is how Wix user DIVINIA Water developed its international business. Founder Steven Sedlmayr realized that there was a gap in the market for drinkable water—particularly pure water with functional benefits.

  • Follow the trends: Whether born out of necessity or a viral topic, there’s always a plethora of trending products to choose from. The key here is to have a system for understanding what’s driving a product’s success. How long will the trend last? What marketing do you need to do to keep the momentum going? Be careful not to commit to a product that will lose interest as quickly as it gained it.

Once you’ve brainstormed a few good ideas, take some time to make sure that it’s a realistic item to sell. Ask yourself:

  • Is your item easy to ship? With eCommerce models, it’s best to stick with products that are non-fragile, lightweight, and don’t have a lot of moving parts. Shipping gets complicated when batteries or magnets are involved, too, so you may want to avoid those.

  • Where are you planning to sell? You may choose to sell on your website. Or you may choose to take advantage of multichannel selling and sell on marketplaces like Amazon as well. Each platform has its own rules of engagement. You’ll do yourself a favor by mapping out your grand plan and considering which products will sell best where.

  • Can you turn a profit? How much can you sell your product for? How much buffer should you factor in given your competitors, business costs, and any marketing plans? Make sure to calculate your estimated ROI early on so that you’re not caught off guard by your profit margins (or lack thereof). Can you use it for other online selling tactics, like cross-selling, upselling or product bundling.

  • How, exactly, will you manufacture it? You’ll need to find a manufacturer who can create your inventory in a timely, affordable, and consistent manner. It goes without saying that the more complex your item is, the more you’ll likely spend on materials, shipping, and R&D.

  • Are there any restrictions or regulations to be aware of? Certain product categories—like food and beverages—require special licenses and permits. Not to mention that some products may be prohibited on certain sales channels or ad platforms.

In 2024 some of the most popular online store niches are:

  1. Sustainable fashion, reusable products and ethically sourced items.

  2. Personalized gifts, custom apparel, and tailored experiences.

  3. Supplements, fitness equipment and natural wellness products.

  4. Unique pet supplies, custom pet apparel and personalized pet services.

Just remember to avoid entering an oversaturated niche. This can catapult your into a highly competitive sales environment where you'll be fighting for visibility and sales among established players. This will mean you'll need to offer competitive pricing to stand out, which will mean lower profit margins. In a saturated market there's much less potential for growth and scalability.

03. Decide on your business structure

By this point, you’re probably bouncing in your seat, ready to get started. However, there are a few legal things you’ll have to take care of in order to make your business official. This includes an official filing that ensures that your business is recognized by the government. It additionally includes decisions that will affect your eligibility for business funding, tax obligations, personal protections, and more.

First and foremost, you need to decide how your business will be structured. Here are some of the most common types of business:

  • Sole proprietorship: This means you and your business are legally and financially linked together. This is the simplest form of business to start. That said, you cannot operate as an employer. Rather, you operate and run the business as an individual.

  • Limited Liability Company (LLC): This option lets you keep your personal and business assets separate, lowering the risk of starting a business. LLCs are relatively quick to set up and offer various business tax benefits.

  • Partnership: If you’re starting your business with two or more business partners, you’ll need to sign a partner agreement, which determines how you’ll split duties and profits. This agreement will track 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. Corporations can be initiated by an individual or group of people.

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.

Learn more: How to register a business, How to license a business (for your US based business)

Moving forward, you’ll need to pay estimated taxes each quarter as well, according to IRS standards, and potentially collect and remit online sales tax.

If you’re looking to set up an LLC, partnership or corporation, we suggest you consult 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 that all your i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed.

04. Pick an eCommerce platform

If you’ve figured out what products to sell and how to source them, then you’re halfway to the finish line.

The next step is to build a site where you’ll list your products. Your site is the face of your brand. It’s where you’ll have the most control over your branding and the overall buyer journey. It’s also where you’ll be accepting payments and handling essential tasks. It can also be an all in one solution that allows you to handle your selling, marketing, payments, logistics and procurement.

So, it’s important to find the best eCommerce platform to host your site. At this stage, don’t let the bells and whistles of a platform woo you. Make sure to look under the hood and ask all the necessary questions.

Factors to consider when choosing an eCommerce platform

  • Features: No two platforms are the same. Some platforms—like WooCommerce—are like blank canvases but require a developer’s help to set up and maintain. Others—like Wix eCommerce—don’t require former coding experience. Instead, you can pick from existing templates, blocks, and apps to build an online store without fuss. (You can additionally connect your favorite payment solution, track inventory, automate sales tax, and more. Learn how to set up your online store with Wix.)

  • Specialty businesses: Do you plan on selling CBD or do you have another niche business idea? Check that your platform has the capabilities to support your line of business.

  • Mobile view: Does your website builder optimize for mobile? Will shoppers be able to comfortably browse your store on their phones? Can you accept mobile payments? Considering how mobile commerce has taken the world by storm, it’s especially important for your site to be mobile responsive.

  • Scalability: Replatforming can be a pain later on, so you’ll want to find a system that can support your business both now and later. To that end, consider if you’ll be able to upgrade your plan easily to access more professional tools, like ads, pre-orders and discount campaigns. Make sure you’re not being taxed for your success (e.g., having to pay large commission fees as you make more sales).

  • Web security and reliability: This is too often an afterthought or something that sellers think of only after they’ve fallen victim to a disaster. In reality, security and reliability should always be top of mind. How will you avoid a site crash if sales suddenly spike? How will you defend your online store from hackers, fraudulent transactions, and potential chargebacks? Make sure your eCommerce platform provides public key certification - either SSL or TLS. This will give your site https at the start of its domain and will help build credibility between you and your potential customers. You'll also need to make sure your platform has reliable and secure web hosting, that can respond to sudden traffic influxes and provide as high uptime as possible.

  • SEO: You want your site to rank on Google. In order to do so, you need a strong technical SEO foundation to start with, then tools to optimize your site the way you want to. Wix, for instance, offers the ability to customize your meta tags, URLs, structured data markup, and more. Check to see which SEO capabilities your platform has to offer.

05. Partner with a dropshipper (optional)

If you want to start selling quickly, you could always give dropshipping a whirl. A dropshipping business includes some key perks, like minimal upfront costs and easy management.

When you own a dropshipping business, you work with a supplier who handles manufacturing, warehousing, and shipping—all on your behalf. Here’s a play-by-play of how it works:

  • You choose the products you want to dropship from your supplier’s catalog

  • You list those products on your dropshipping website and set your own prices

  • A shopper purchases the products and pays for it on your site

  • You forward the customer’s order (plus pay) your supplier

  • Your supplier ships the product directly to your customer’s address

how to start an online store: dropshipping

Wix eCommerce offers direct integrations into popular dropshipping services like Modalyst and Spocket. By using our integrated solution, you can manage and list products from your suppliers without leaving Wix. Any customer orders will also be automatically routed to your software and suppliers, allowing you to easily manage all of your back-office and customer-facing tasks in one place.

06. Connect a payment provider

In order to earn your first dollar from eCommerce, you need to decide how you’ll get paid. It’s always a good idea to offer multiple payment methods. Just think about the last time you walked into a store or restaurant. You likely expected them to accept credit cards, or even Apple Pay. However, on occasion you may walk into a store that only accepts cash—in which case, you’re either in or out of luck.

how to start an online store - connect payment provider

The same logic applies online, where you can offer payment options like:

  • Credit/debit cards

  • Digital wallets (like PayPal)

  • Bank transfers

  • In-person payment (if you have a brick-and-mortar store)

  • Buy now, pay later solutions

  • NFT

There are also various payment gateways (aka payment processors or providers) to choose from. Payment gateways are what ensure a safe, successful transfer of funds. Some gateways may be better than others, depending on your location and business type. Whichever you choose, your provider will need to verify your bank account before you can take home the money that you earn.

For U.S.-based businesses, Wix Payments is a popular website payment solution for accepting credit, debit, Pay Now by Klarna, and other methods at checkout. It’s free and easy to set up on your Wix account. You ultimately benefit from having one, integrated dashboard to personalize your payout cycles and more.

Another option is to select from third-party plugins, which include 50+ payment gateways worldwide. Wix doesn’t charge additional transaction fees and can immediately be integrated with your gateway-of-choice.

07. Name your store and get a domain

Finally. It’s time to get working on your brand. Start by thinking of a memorable name for your business. A great name can help give you a competitive advantage in your target market

Brainstorm words associated with your product, industry, values, or unique selling point. Or, use a store name generator to gain some inspiration.

To guide your name choice, consider SEO. Identify terms that shoppers are using to find either physical or digital products like yours. You can use Google Trends or keyword research tools, like Semrush, for help in this area. Plus, you can check out our SEO guide for additional tips.

It may not be a bad idea to mention your product category or product type directly in the name. This will let shoppers know what you offer right away. For example, if you’re selling hats, you can include the word “accessories,” “fedoras” or “caps” within your name.

But above all, make sure your business name stands out and is not already being used. You can do this in one of several ways:

  • Research your direct competitors

  • Search your name ideas on Google and social media

  • Check your local business registration service

After you’ve decided on a business name, choose the best domain name for your site from a domain name registrar. Try to match your store name exactly. This will help your customers find and remember your brand online. Note that for any domain name, you’ll likely pay around $10-$15 per year.

With Wix eCommerce, you can register and connect a domain name directly from your site. In fact, once you’ve set up your store, you’ll have the option to get your domain name for free for one year.

how to start an online store - choose a business and domain name

08. Design your online store for sales

This is the fun part. Here is where your creativity can shine. The trick here is to design a store that’s both well-branded and optimized for conversions. Your customers should not only be impressed by the look-and-feel of your store, but should also be able to easily find your products and confidently make a purchase.

how to start an online store - optimize for sales

Pointers for 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. 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.

  • Carefully think through your site’s structure: Observe how other major brands and retailers use navigation menus, filters, breadcrumbs and shopping carts to create a smooth user experience. Avoid cluttering up any nav bar or page, and hone in on the search behaviors and terminology that resonate with your target audience.

  • Follow the three-click rule: As a general rule of thumb, your products should be accessible within three or less clicks. Meaning, it should be easy for your customers to get from your homepage (or any other landing page) to their desired product page. They shouldn’t have to dig through many layers of your site to find what they’re looking for. Don’t forget about key links—like your shipping information, returns policy, and contact info—which could be included in your footer.

  • Be clear about what you sell: Your visitors should know what you sell immediately upon arrival. While your off-site advertising and marketing efforts should help with this, you’ll want to reaffirm your area of expertise via clear page headings, clear search menus, and powerful imagery. 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 calls-to-action (CTAs): At every stage throughout the buying process, your customers should know what they should do next. Create button text and other prompts that are intuitive and compelling. The customer should know exactly where each click will lead (e.g., “Add to cart” or “Explore more products like this”). Learn from these 14 high-converting product page examples.

  • Don’t skimp on your product descriptions: It’s easy to get lazy with your descriptions, especially if your manufacturers already provide copy for you to use. But failing to write original descriptions is a big missed opportunity. Between their impact on SEO and on brand trust, your product descriptions can influence your return rates, visibility, and more. See tips for writing strong product descriptions.

  • Be intentional with your images: You don’t need us to tell you that product photography is an extremely important aspect to selling online. Customers often sift through images first and sometimes rely heavily on your photos to make their purchase decision. Use professional photos and videos to showcase the product’s looks, feel, size, dimensions, proper use, and more. View more eCommerce product photography tips.

09. Create a strong branding strategy

Branding is a big part of your online success. At a time when an increasing number of shoppers are open to buying from brands they’ve never heard of, it’s critical for you to have a strong eCommerce branding strategy that leaves a strong impression. Branding includes everything from your business’ name, logo, favicon, typography, color palette and tone of voice. Your business’ brand should strongly relate to the type of company you are and the mood you want to create.

Start off by creating your brand palette. You could use blues and greens to match your environmentally friendly water bottles. Or you may use brighter colors to emanate a cheery, energetic mood. Whichever direction you go, make sure you have a reason for why you chose your brand colors rather than arbitrarily selecting them. Save three to four hex color codes to reference moving forward.

Next, create a logo for your business with the help of a designer or logo maker. Needless to say that it should be strong, memorable, and uniquely yours. A classic example is the Nike swoosh. (Would you be surprised to learn that Nike co-founder Phil Knight initially reacted to the logo saying “I don’t love it, but maybe it’ll grow on me”?) The success of the logo surely has something to do with the fact that it represents motion and speed, two values of the athletes that Nike sells to. Note: you’re not trying to find a logo that simply speaks to your tastes. You’re trying to find one that speaks to your audience—don’t forget that.

Another important aspect to your brand is your tone of voice. This should be taken into account when writing your product descriptions, social media posts, and other communications. Should your tone be playful? Serious? How would you speak to your target buyers if you were talking with them face to face?

All of these branding factors will be important when your building content for your brand, including:

  • Your website

  • Emails

  • Invoices

  • Product packaging

  • Shipping materials

  • Marketing campaigns

Consistency is key in creating a brand with credibility that your customers will grow attached to.

10. Start your marketing campaigns

Your store is now ready to take on sales. It’s time to start shouting it from the rooftops. Drive customers to your online store using a variety of marketing strategies.

Organic marketing tools

  • Social media marketing: Create a business page for yourself on social platforms like Facebook and Instagram, choose the social platform where your target market is most likely to be found. Update your business information and leverage your channels as both a sales and customer service vehicle. Channels like Instagram and TikTok support checkout directly from their platforms. Learn more about your social commerce options. Consider using influencer marketing to really make impact with your business and drive brand loyalty. You might also want to consider using social proof as a trust signal on your online store website.

  • Email marketing: Emails are far from dead. In fact, emails grant you direct access to customers who have opted into your communications via your content marketing campaigns. To get started, create a business email address. Then develop an email list by adding a lightbox to your site that encourages sign up, adding signup as an option at checkout, or including a link in your footer. You can additionally offer a special discount or other incentive, like gift cards, if a customer joins your email list. Plan on sending regular newsletters, promotions, business updates, product recommendations and other types of eCommerce emails. Remember to adhere to privacy regulations and laws in your country of business before sending email marketing materials.

  • SEO: Use this digital marketing strategy to ptimize your site to rank high on Google’s search results and generate more traffic to your store long with long term brand awareness. Optimize your meta titles and descriptions for each site page, and follow other eCommerce SEO best practices. Moreover, take advantage of other free tools like Google Shopping and Google Business Profile (formerly known as Google My Business). Each of these help with local search, in addition to overall visibility on Google.

  • Loyalty program: A loyalty program can help to secure repeat customers and increase your customer lifetime value rates. While they require thoughts and careful planning, plugins like Smile can help to streamline the process. Offer rewards for each order placed, or special actions like sharing your product on social media. Drive more attention while taking good care of your existing customers.

how to start an online store - marketing

Paid marketing tools

  • Facebook and Instagram ads: Facebook and Instagram offer various ad placements, which help you to target certain demographics or interest groups on their respective platforms. Wix lets you create Facebook and Instagram Ads directly from your site dashboard and uses AI to optimize your ads around the clock.

  • Google Shopping ads: Google Shopping ads are pay-per-click (PPC) ads that help you to skip to the top of relevant search results. When a customer clicks the ads, they’re either sent directly to your website or a Google checkout page, depending on your settings. Discover more about Google Shopping and other types of Google ads.

Mistakes to avoid when starting an online store

When starting an online store, it's crucial to avoid common mistakes that can hinder your success. Here are some key errors to steer clear of:

  • Lack of planning and research: Before diving into the world of eCommerce, conduct thorough market research and develop a detailed business plan. This includes understanding your target audience, identifying your niche, and analyzing competitors. Think about these questions: why should people buy from you? How can you convey that to your customers? What benefits do you offer that your competitions don't?

  • Poor product selection: Choose products that are relevant to your target audience, have a good profit margin, and are easy to source or create. Avoid overstocking or offering products with limited demand.

  • Inadequate website design: Invest in a professional-looking and user-friendly website. Ensure easy navigation, clear product descriptions, high-quality product images and a seamless checkout process.

  • Ineffective marketing and promotion: Don't rely solely on direct traffic; actively promote your online store through various channels like social media, email marketing, search engine optimization (SEO) and targeted advertising.

  • Neglecting customer service: Prioritize excellent customer service to build trust and loyalty. Respond promptly to inquiries, address concerns professionally and handle returns efficiently.

  • Ignoring shipping and fulfillment: Establish a reliable and cost-effective shipping and fulfillment process to ensure timely delivery and customer satisfaction.

  • Underestimating financial management: Keep accurate track of expenses, revenue, and inventory. Use financial management tools to make informed decisions and ensure profitability.

  • Failing to adapt and evolve: Stay up-to-date with eCommerce trends, customer preferences and technological advancements. Continuously improve your website, marketing strategies and product offerings.

Using Wix eCommerce to open an online store

But your online store could be launched within a matter of days. Wix eCommerce provides all the tools for getting set up quickly, including tools for inventory management, payments, website analytics and more.

Your main job is to brew up a solid business plan. Once that’s in place, you can create your online store with us and start selling right away.

Watch our free video courses to learn more about eCommerce today!

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