Capterra Retail Management Blog

Software and technology for store owners and online retail gurus

5 Easy Steps to Start an Online Store

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Starting an online store is a lot easier than you think. Once you’ve decided on your product, your niche, and your production/procurement system, you really only have a little bit of work left to get your store started? 5 steps, to be specific. Don’t believe me? Keep reading and I’ll prove it to you!

how to start an online store

1. Pick your software platform.

This is going to be the hardest step of the bunch, but I’m here to help.

First, you have to decide what kind of platform you want to build it on. What you decide on is going to depend largely on your level of computer expertise. There are 3 options here:

Option A: Purchase a domain and code your site from scratch.

This is a stellar option if you’re a computer engineer. It will allow you to build your site exactly as you imagine it and give you complete control over everything.

Major downside: You will also have to build all your own integrations.

Option B: Purchase a domain and use an open source eCommerce platform.

This option is a good option for computer engineers who prefer to work with a pre-existing skeleton, or for those with medium or above computer knowledge looking for a store that’s very customizable. Additionally, the best open source solutions, like Magento, will have a lot of integrations already built for them.

Option C: Purchase a hosted eCommerce solution. (The domain comes with it.)

This is an awesome solution if you have next to no computer knowledge or you just don’t feel like doing all the work to code your own store.

Hosted solutions give you templates and a WYSIWYG editor that makes creation a snap. The best eCommerce solutions also have hundreds of integrations with everything you would ever need to build your store out. Shopify, for instance, can basically support a computer illiterate entrepreneur and give you access to any sort of UX, marketing, sales, or whatever tools you could think of. Hosted solutions are kinda the bomb.

So, assuming you’re going with option B or C, you’re going to need to do research on platforms before you commit to one. You’re going to want to consider such things as:

  • Ease of use
  • Integrations (There are only really 2 hosted eCommerce solutions, for instance, that have massive amounts of integrations pre-made. You want to make sure your solution will have access to the ones you need.)
  • Template aesthetic

And while there are hundreds of eCommerce solutions you could consider, Capterra can help you easily find the right one for you. Yes, this is a shameless plug. But for real, we can really help you. We have a comprehensive, interactive eCommerce directory to help you see what’s available to you and gives you access to thousands of real user reviews. We have tools like a pricing guide to help you narrow down your options to exactly what will work for you. And I personally write our retail technology blog that will help you research what type of solution is best for you, and which ones in particular you want to consider. From beginning to end of the research process, we got you.

Alright, so you’ve picked your software. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to assume you chose option C, a hosted solution, although the rest of the video will be applicable with minor modifications to options A and B.

2. Decide on your branding.

Branding is a whole huge section of marketing that some people devote their careers to. It’s a lot. If you want to take a deep dive in (which you should at some point), go ahead and google branding. For the purposes of setting up a store, you’re going to want to focus narrowly on your brand aesthetic.

You may have done this already but: basically, consider your buyer persona (yeah make a buyer persona), and decide what kind of vibe you want to give off. Are you elegant? Are you modern and edgy? Pick a few adjectives that clearly describe what you’re going for. You can debate this for a while, but to really set up your online store, you just need a general idea of what you’re going to do because you really only need to pick a single font for your brand, and 2-3 brand colors. You can also decide on how you want any of your model shots to look. Once you’ve done that, you can move on to the next step:

3. Pick a template.

Templates are most commonly used with hosted solutions, although many people have made templates for some of the larger open source eCommerce solutions. For hosted solutions, you can typically choose from a set of free ones or a set of paid ones. When it comes to open source, templates are almost always a paid thing. Go ahead and pick a template that fits your store’s aesthetic and brand it appropriately. To make it modern, work largely with white space and use your colors as accents. Use a single font across the whole site.

4. Set up your store pages.

There are 4 pages you need to start your store:

  • A homepage
  • A product page, that will contain links to each of your individual product pages
  • A contact page
  • An about us or our story page

You can add more pages later. At this point, you’re going to be uploading your products and product photos into your website. If you haven’t already taken product photos, now’s the time to do so.

And with that, you have a barebones online store set up. Congratulations! You’re ready to launch!

Of course, there is more you should do either before launch or right after. I’ll fill you in on some things you should getting cooking on immediately.

5. Add on some add-ons!

I’m going to assume for this part that you’ve purchased a solution like Shopify that gives you essentially endless integrations. If you haven’t, you can still do all of this, but you’ll have to work within your given parameters.

The add-ons I suggest immediately adding:

  • A free shipping banner (and decide on your free shipping threshold)
  • A discount generator
  • Open an email marketing account and get that integrated. I’m going to recommend Mailchimp right now, just because they have a free tier, and most eCommerce solutions integrate easily with it.
  • Add a few integrations to help you manage your SEO. Shopify, for instance, has apps that allow you to set up a dynamic image alt text generator.
  • Get a reviews platform going immediately – Yotpo, for instance, is free through Shopify

What’s next?

Once you’ve done these steps, you’re ready to really start marketing your store. Get out there and make some money!

Looking for eCommerce software? Check out Capterra's list of the best eCommerce software solutions.

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About the Author

Cara Wood

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Cara Wood is a marketing associate at Capterra and a graduate of Mary Washington! When she's not hard at work at Capterra, she can be found horse-back riding, reading and just generally having a good time at life.

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