This is Chapter 2 in our free How to Sell Online Ebook. You will also find other tips, methods, and tools that you can use to grow your own business in the other chapters. Enjoy!
In the previous chapter, you are fully aware of how to find the best products to sell online, by evaluating different factors such as product uniqueness, market opportunities, competition level, and finally decide what you should sell online, you are ready to the next step: create an online store.
More and more people are selling online, and you have been told by the Internet that it’s never been easier for non-technical people to create an eCommerce website. Is it true or is it a myth?
True, because never before has created an online store been as simple as sign up an account with eCommerce software and wait seconds for your store to be set up.
Myth, because the process to a completely ready web store involves so many details that can paralyze you from continuing. But don’t hesitate just yet, you will find answers along the way, as long as you start the ball rolling and focus on the work.
In this chapter, you will find the most necessary steps on how to create an online store that can function well and is ready to grow.
This complete 10-chapter guide takes days to finish. How about downloading an ebook version to read on your Kindle for bedtime reading or while you’re on the train?
1 – Choose the eCommerce platform to create your online store
An eCommerce platform (aka shopping cart solutions, eCommerce website builder) is a software that enables eCommerce websites to sell products online. The engine conveniently organizes inventory, manage contents, calculate taxes, and everything else required to fulfill orders.
Besides the option of hiring a developer to build and maintain the website for you, using an eCommerce platform to create an online store is a superior option for online business owners who want to skip the technical hassles and focus on marketing, operation, and sales activities.
Up to now, there are at least 120 and still counting eCommerce softwares in the world. Luckily, only a few of them are the market leaders and used by most of online sellers globally. Let’s divide them into 2 main groups: Self-hosted and Hosted platforms.
Self-hosted eCommerce platforms
These are open source applications that require a separate web hosting service in order to function.
If you decide to self-host your eCommerce website, it is more flexible as you can customize the site as you want and can always move your store if you find a better deal elsewhere. On the other hand, more ownership comes with more responsibility and work. A self-hosted website is more difficult to set up, to troubleshoot problems you need research through various documents and forums, or even hire a developer which entails more cost.
Popular Self-Hosted (Open source) eCommerce Platforms:
WooCommerce is a powerful eCommerce toolkit developed to transform any WordPress website into an online store very easily. Though the plugin is free, you will need paid licenses and external plugins to power up your store to be fully functional and ready for growth.
WooCommerce allows anyone to add a store a store to their existing WordPress website in minutes, so is designed for small stores with not too many products. Large inventories can be difficult to manage using WooCommerce.
One of the most popular eCommerce engines, Magento is a robust platform to manage large inventories. There are 2 versions: Magento Community which is free, and Magento Enterprise which has more advanced features, bug-free codes but starts from $18,000/year so is only suitable for large businesses.
Magento is more comprehensive that both WooCommerce and Prestashop in terms of features, capabilities, but also much more difficult to set up and manage if you don’t know PHP yourself. Consider this platform if you vision a very big store and may have a developer on call to help you with technical things.
Mostly popular in European countries as the company was started in France, Prestashop is a free eCommerce plugin downloadable from the website. However, the plugin is quite limited in selling features and capabilities, compared to WooCommerce and Magento. To make a Prestashop-powered online store function fully, you will need to purchase many pricey themes and plugins.
Hosted eCommerce platforms
These are all-in-one eCommerce software solutions that incorporate the web hosting, inventory administration, order management, and anything needed to help you create a ready-to-sell online store, within a couple of hours. They are mostly recommended to online store owners who want to focus more on the selling, rather than the technical aspects of the store.
If using a self-hosted platform is like owning a car, building an online store on hosted platforms is like taking a ride in a bus. The great thing is everything is user-friendly and easy to manage. You don’t have to worry about the hosting and have a dedicated technical team to support issues with the platform. However, customizing your online store will be limited to the platform’s availability and themes and plugins from third parties. If you decide to switch to another platform, it will be more time-consuming and costly.
Popular Hosted Ecommerce Platforms
The fastest-growing eCommerce company recently, Shopify has powered 400,000+ active online stores in all continents. Shopify is so far the best choice for small and new businesses as it offers you all amazing eCommerce features to create a professional store in 3 steps and launch to sell immediately. It includes all basic eCommerce features such as analytics, marketing tool, shopping cart, reports and mobile access.
Shopify is very flexible and easy to customize with a large number of best Shopify apps to extend the functionality of your online store. Without no coding skills, you still don’t need to hire a developer to create a Shopify online store, since you always have the help from their dedicated support team.
Shopify starts at the lowest Basic plan of $29/month, with a 15-day free trial for you to start literally at no cost.
Similar to Shopify, BigCommerce is a paid-for hosted eCommerce engine with an awful lot of built-in features to help you create a complete online store fast and easily.
Compared to Shopify Basic plan at $29/month, BigCommerce Standard which costs $29.99/month includes more out-of-the-box features that you don’t have in Shopify Basic, such as gift cards, professional reporting functionality, a built-in ratings and review system, real-time carrier shipping quotes, cart recovering email
However, in terms of themes & apps integration and customization, Shopify definitely outweighs in both number and capabilities.
Selecting the right eCommerce platform that suits your needs and resources is the crucial base step in the process of how to create an online store.
2 – Selecting the Best Web Hosting Services
A web hosting service allows the usage of its server in storing contents such as media and files from one website to the hosting site. This service is only required for self-hosted online stores. If you choose to go with a hosted eCommerce platform, you can skip this part.
There are multiple things to consider to find the right and quality web hosting service to support your online store. Take a look at these considerations when looking for one:
Type of Hosting Service
The first thing you need to consider is the type of hosting service that best fits your budget, size, goals and objectives. Hosting providers, such as SiteGround and Inmotion, offer the type of your choice. There are plenty of hosting service types, but the most commonly used for eCommerce sites are:
Aside from the daily backups and uptime, you should pay attention to the most important features such installer type (multiple or one-click), server specification, data centers, etc.
Make your due diligence by looking at different online reviews to deep dive each of the hosting providers that you are eyeing for. A good curation is at eCommerce Guide.
Do you want the cheapest or the most expensive web hosting service? The answer should lie between what your online store actually needs, what you are willing to spend, and how much your wallet allows you to spend.
Ability to expand
What works for you now may not be the case in the coming months. The flexibility of your hosting provider to adapt to the changes of your online store, especially future expansions that will require more bandwidth, storage or RAM, should also be available without having to spend too much.
3 – Choosing and Buying a Domain
How to register a domain name
To get your domain name, the process requires registering the name to ICANN, a nonprofit organization responsible for the management of namespaces on the internet. Although, this part will be handled by your chosen domain name registrar, a company that handles the reservation of Internet domain names.
Tips for choosing the perfect domain name
Your domain URL is your identity on the web which makes it a very crucial branding decision. Although, some can opt to use the company name as the domain name, sometimes availability of the domain name, especially to generic company names, does not permit it.
If you catch yourself in this scenario, pay attention to these criteria to choose the best domain name for our online store:
- Make it short and easy to remember: Keep your domain short by choosing an acronym or with less than 10 characters so that visitors can quickly remember
- Make it easy to spell: “Is it double letter?” “Should I put a hyphen or not?” – Avoid using punctuation marks such as hyphens and pay attention to repeated letters.
- Make it keyword relevant: Use relevant keywords that capture what you are selling. Not only will this give first-time visitors immediate idea on your product even before entering the site, but it will also benefit your SEO ranking later on.
4 – Securing Your Online Store
Website security is a crucial consideration for potential customers. It gives them the peace of mind knowing that you have a highly secured site, especially that confidential information such as name, address, and credit card details are involved when they are going to buy on your store.
While many of the eCommerce platforms that we have presented above include security features in their service, you still need to look for the following security essentials and make sure that they are part of the plan:
- PCI Compliance – The Payment Card Industry (PCI) Security Standards Council was founded by American Express, Discover Financial, JCB, MasterCard, and Visa. The council formed the PCI Data Security Standards that outlines the security compliance for any company that uses major card schemes.
- SSL Certificate – Secure Socket Layer (SSL) is installed on the web server to activate https protocol and allow secure connections from a web server to a browser. It also secures data transfers, logins, and credit card transactions.
- Secure Hypertext Transfer Protocol – HTTP is the foundation of data communication for the world wide web, however, the information here is not encrypted. All information are sent as plain text which means that anyone can read and intercept it. With the use of Hypertext Transfer Protocol with Secure Sockets Layer (HTTPS), all communications between your browser and the website are encrypted.
Take note that HTTPS is not required on every page of a website because it slows the page loading speed if it’s included everywhere. What you can do is to use HTTPS on pages that collect and store data.
5 – Ensuring Automated Backups
Site backups act as an insurance that takes a snapshot of all the data in your site on schedule. When accidental site deletion or hacks happen, you won’t have to worry because you can easily restore your site from the backup storage.
Even if your hosting service provides daily backups of your website, you shouldn’t rely on this alone because if your site gets hacked, all contents on that server can also get compromised. It is highly recommended that your backups are scheduled and automated on a daily or weekly basis so that you don’t forget to do so because you will eventually.
Choosing a backup service depends on what eCommerce platform you go with. For example, WordPress has a bunch of backup plugins in hand. Shopify also has some third-party backup apps to execute automated backup for you. If your shopping cart solution does not have this feature, you can actually refer to this guide how to write a little script to handle automated backups for your online store.
6 – Automating Your Shipping Process
58% of online retailers have difficulties processing orders on-time and meeting order commitment dates. The issues on order distribution and fulfillment process often occur as a result of the ineffectual shipping process.
Investing in an automated shipping process will optimize your inventory utilization and fulfillment efficiencies. Many shipping software providers such as ShippingEasy and ShipWorks provide an array of shipping automation features, but the most relevant functionalities to help you speed up your shipping are the following:
7 – Deciding the Right Payment Gateway
One particular task to have a successful online store creation is choosing the right channel where customers can pay securely and conveniently. A payment gateway is an eCommerce application that licenses credit card or direct payment for online business.
Traditionally, online store owners are required to have a merchant account, a specialized bank account to allow direct receipt of credit card payment. Now, modern payment gateways don’t require a merchant account at all. You can easily draw and validate funds from your customer’s debit or credit accounts, and then deposit the payment to your account. Two modern payment gateways worth mentioning are PayPal and Stripe.
You are now open for business
Building your online store takes a lot of preparation before you can start selling online successfully. To deliver and consistently meet customer expectations you need to create a solid, efficient, effective, secure, and sustainable eCommerce website.
What’s next in Chapter 3: This chapter has shown you the process of how to create an online store which is well functional. Let’s move to the next Chapter 3: How to design an online store to learn the basics and best eCommerce website design practices to build a beautiful online store.