Setting up an eCommerce website allows your business to reach people remotely and allow them to shop at their own convenience, 24/7. This vastly improves your potential earnings through offering customers invaluable convenience, which is near-essential for most retailers in the ‘age of immediacy’ the Internet has created.
Starting an Online Store: What will I need?
An original idea
Particularly if you are a small business, it is sensible to focus on providing a niche service or product. Cater to this niche in its entirety, and become the best provider of that particular speciality there is.
Choose something that has value today and in the near future. More importantly, choose something that resonates with you. The key to niche marketing is passion, and if you have passion for a topic, that will convey to your visitors through your content.
There will always be opportunities to broaden and expand, but being known as an authority on a specific product or service will serve you well in both the short and long term. Visitors will have more respect for your site, and therefore be more likely to return and/or recommend it to their friends.
For example, if you were to start an eCommerce website that sold holidays, you would likely garner more success by specialising in one area and/or one type of holiday (e.g. guided tours of Venice). This will enable you to target consumers looking for your specific product through good Search Engine Optimisation and advertisement. From there you can start to build a solid reputation which will form the foundation of your brand and increase sales exponentially.
eCommerce Hosting Solutions
In order to make your online store available to the global market, you need to get your site published to the Internet. This is done by enlisting an eCommerce Hosting service to store your website and enable people to access it via a URL such as www.myonlineshop.com.
What makes an eCommerce Hosting solution different?
Running an online store carries with it the inherent risk that those with malicious intent may try to steal your customers’ sensitive data. Therefore, a secure connection between the end user and the website's server is absolutely essential.
Additional tools like shopping carts and payment processors are usually bundled into eCommerce Hosting packages, whereas a standard Shared Server Hosting or Virtual Private Server (VPS) service may not.
That said, you can find full-featured eCommerce web hosting plans for only $5-10 per month. What distinguishes the best providers is flexibility. Ideally, you will be able to start with a basic plan while you get off the ground, and then upgrade as you require.
What should I expect from my eCommerce Hosting plan?
To get the most for your business and provide the high quality service your customers expect, your eCommerce Hosting plan should include a few basic but important features:
- Flexibility to grow with your business
- Drag-and-drop website builder
- Built in shopping cart, (or at the very least, support for third-party shopping carts)
- Support for online payment processing
- SSL (Secure Socket Layer) encryption – read on for more details:
Secure Socket Layer encryption protects data as it travels from a customer’s computer to the web hosting server. Shared SSL is a way to use an SSL certificate without actually buying one, as you simply use your web hosting company's SSL certificate. For many people, Shared SSL is sufficient.
A private SSL is when you buy your own SSL certificate and have a dedicated IP address to run the SSL server on. You get a secure URL customised to your Domain name and your web hosting company's Domain name won't be part of it.
Once you have decided upon and researched your niche, and chosen a web hosting plan, it is time to secure yourself the perfect Domain name.
This is one of the biggest decisions you will make during the early stages of running your online store. Fortunately, our Domain Search page contains a great deal of information and advice to help you decide which Domain name is best for your website. You can even search for an available Domain on the same page - and reserve it to ensure that no other website can use it.
Although we recommend looking through our Guide to Choosing a Domain on the Domain Search page, here are a few quick pointers if you are in a hurry:
- Your Domain should be unique and memorable
- Keep it simple, short and sweet
- Go for brand potential
- Express your purpose through keywords
How to Create an Online Store
As you begin the process of creating an online store, one key decision will be how to design and build your website. In this regard, you have several options – click the links to learn more about each one:
- Use the built-in website builder tool that comes with your eCommerce Hosting plan
- Use an eCommerce specific website creator such as Shopify
- Use a CMS (Content Management System) such as WordPress, Drupal or Joomla and augment it with plug-ins that provide the functions you need
- Use a website builder such as Weebly or Wix and augment it with plug-ins that provide the functions you need
- Code the site manually, or ask someone else to do so for you.
The first four options are all highly user- and beginner-friendly, and don’t require any knowledge or experience of web design. Thanks to innovative web applications, almost anybody with a computer is now able to set up a website quite easily.
Basic requirements for any eCommerce website
There are a few things that your online store must do, in order to have any chance at being popular with its customer base. It must:
- State your business overview, or ‘mission’
- Be simple, user-friendly and intuitive, making it easy to navigate
- Include detailed product information
- Provide multiple shipping and handling options
Sell online for free
Many eCommerce platforms and website builders will make the promise that you can sell online for free. Unfortunately, there are almost always costs involved in selling goods or services online. The best you can generally hope for is to keep these costs to a minimum. In the interests of transparency, here are a few costs that you should take into account:
- Hosting your website
- Leasing your Domain Name
- Offering and receiving online payments
Best eCommerce website builder
eCommerce website builders enable people with minimal technical knowledge to create their perfect online store. Our recommendation is to choose an eCommerce Hosting plan that includes a website builder in its features. If you would rather not get into that though, based on their popularity and features offered, Shopify are widely regarded as the strongest candidate.
One of the best things about Shopify is that you can get a highly professional eCommerce website up and running in less than 45 minutes. Plus, if you sign up via the button below you can get a 14-day free trial to see whether you like it enough to pay their monthly fee. Starting at $29/month, this includes web hosting, unlimited products, online payments and even SSL (Secure Socket Layer) protection.
If you would like to give it a try but aren’t sure where or how to start, take a look at our step-by-step tutorial by clicking the button below:
eCommerce website templates
If you use WordPress to create your online store, there are many paid themes and templates that you can use, if the wide selection of free ones doesn’t meet your requirements, try our top 50 eCommerce WordPress themes.
Make Money Online: How to get paid
Obviously, the main reason for you selling your products or services online is to make money, and you can’t do that without having a robust system in place for receiving payments. Here are a few tips to help you in this regard:
- Obtain an internet merchant account from your bank, as this will allow you to accept credit card payments online
- Get a payment gateway account. This links to your customer's credit card account and your internet merchant account, providing real-time information verification, processing of transfer requests and credit cards authorizations
Using PayPal for eCommerce
Another option, and a less expensive one, is to accept online payments through PayPal. This is also a very common method of payment for customers. PayPal is an account-based system which allows anyone with an e-mail address to send and receive online payments securely using a credit card or bank account.
PayPal is free, although the company charges a small percentage plus a separate transaction fee. For customers with high volumes of sales, they also offer PayPal Website Payments Pro, which offers a basic shopping cart feature and credit card payments.
Shopping cart software
These ‘shopping carts’ offer a lot more functionality than their names suggest, and form an integral part of any eCommerce website. Among other functionalities, shopping carts enable you to receive orders, calculate shipping and handling and sales tax, and send order confirmations.
Here we have collated a brief overview of some of the more popular shopping cart software – these can all be installed onto your eCommerce Hosting plan.
CubeCart is an eCommerce script written in PHP and MySQL. This software is open-source and free to use with no license required. However, if you are completely new to this and want assistance, they offer technical support at a reasonable price who can handle everything for you.
Offering a fully-featured eCommerce solution, open-source OsCommerce will enable you to start up, run and maintain your online store. It's totally free to download and install and it has grown into one of the most popular solutions on the Internet, largely thanks to its network of users constantly working to evolve and improve the system.
A user-friendly open-source tool written in PHP, Zen Cart started out as a fork from the OsCommerce project. With its primary focus on usability, you won't have to be an expert at programming to be able to install and use this software. Numerous features which help to run and control a fully function online store are provided.
Opening Your Online Store
Setting up an eCommerce website on your own is an exciting venture to undertake, and one littered with fantastic opportunities and possibilities. Certainly, it is not as difficult as it may seem. The abundance of website builders, payment tools and cheap web hosting have made it possible for anybody to become an entrepreneur in their own home.