10 Steps to Learn How to Start an Online Store

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Do you want to expand your business and enjoy the opportunities the internet may offer or begin a new one from scratch? When learning more about how to start an online store, you will see that it can be simpler than you think, if you plan well and choose the right tools. 

According to Statista report,  the number of digital buyers worldwide in 2021 was over 2.14 billion, while in 2016 it was 1.66 billion. Investing in having an online store of your own offers you the chance to be updated with the latest buying trends, and adapt your business to them.

As the numbers reveal, more people are buying through their smartphones, tablets, and desktop computers, the pandemic corroborated to that growth as well.

But, to conquer customers and sell through the internet, it is important to pay attention to the details, having an ecommerce website isn’t enough, you need to provide a satisfactory customer experience too. 

1. Decide the Niche You want to Invest In

What market is your online store going to focus on? B2C, B2B, SaaS (software as a service), physical products, services? The options are vast, there are countless sectors, such as tech, beauty, clothing, food, decor, sports, home appliances, and so on. 

You can opt for having an online store focused on a very specific niche, for example, gaming accessories, or eco-friendly products for traveling. When you aim at such a specific public, it can be easier to deal with the competition since you will have fewer stores investing in the same products that you.

You can build your brand’s image to be recognized as a specialist in a market niche and distinguish yourself from generalist competitors. On the other hand, your target audience will be smaller than from a department store, for instance. But, it allows you to narrow down customer behavior, and create more efficient strategies, at the same time.

 If you sell a wide range of products and aim at a broader market, your number of potential customers will be larger, so the competition. It may be more difficult to outstand your online store from the others, and gain visibility. 

It’s up to you to evaluate what you think is worth more, both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. But, always make sure there is demand for the products you wish to sell, make market research before deciding. 

2. Select the Products You’re Going to Sell

Once you have decided which market sector you are going to work in, it’s time to define the products that are going to be available in your store. If you are a software as a service company, your product will be your software. 

A product isn’t always a physical item, it could also be an ebook, and a subscription, for example. When we talk about digital items, the need for setting up your online store is different, it won’t require having a place to put your storage, and you don’t have to worry about shipping the order. 

If you are going to commercialize services, such as massage, and hair and beauty services, then, it’s necessary to enable customers to make appointments through your website and create a system to manage the schedule not to overbook.

You have the option to choose to sell physical products that are made by your brand too or become a reseller. If you have your own production, when you set up your online store, evaluate how long it takes to make each item to know how it will interfere in the shipping process and to give an accurate delivery time.

In the case of choosing to be a reseller, it’s possible to hold your own products or use the dropshipping system. In the second situation, the customer will buy from your store, but the supplier is the one in charge of storing and shipping the items.

It reduces the expenses as you don’t need to have a warehouse, besides you don’t need to worry about logistics.However, with dropshipping, as you don’t have control over fulfillment, you run the risk of facing problems with the company responsible for it, which can damage your brand reputation.

Customers are buying from your store, they won’t care if the problem is related to a third party when a product doesn’t arrive, consider that. Assess the risks and gains, and if you opt for dropshipping, choose carefully the companies you are going to partner with. 

3. Research your Target Audience

The image shows a person writing "audience" in a white board.

To learn how to start an online store and be successful, it also takes a lot of research to understand who your target audience is.

How are you going to know what are the best marketing strategies to be applied, if you don’t have information about your target audience’s behavior? Without knowing them deeply, you won’t have enough information to guide your actions. 

When you understand your potential customers, your marketing and sales strategies are much more likely to succeed. You can offer what your audience wants, communicate to them using the channels that they prefer, show how your products help to solve their demands and provide content they find valuable. 

It can even help you to select the products at your store because you will be able to identify your customer demands better. Try to answer the following questions:

  • Where is your target audience located?
  • What is their age range?
  • How often do they buy online?
  • Where do they buy on the internet?
  • What are their pain points?
  • How do your products offer a solution to them?

This data already enables you to create persona profiles, which can be described as fictional characters that contain the main characteristics of your audience.  When your marketing team draws the actions to promote your business, they can do that according to the persona profiles, to be more accurate and get the desired results.

4. Build a Business Plan

In the image there is a chalkboard where it's written "Plan" in the center, and aroud it, it's writtent several words: "communication, goals, results, teamwork, strategy, riskes, team, vision, tasks, analysis, development, quality, execute, planning, control, organize".

Creating a business plan is a step that shouldn’t be skipped when we talk about how to start an online store. It shall include the audience and market research, the products that are going to be sold, and the main actions to start your ecommerce business.

The plan is going to serve as a roadmap, you will describe your business, where you want to get and how.

Instead of taking actions as you go, when you have a business plan and dedicate yourself to its creation, it’s easier to set efficient strategies since the goals, target audience, and niche market are well-defined.

You and your team are going to have a deeper understanding of the ecommerce business and be able to make accurately driven decisions. The business plan has to be complete, addressing the multiple aspects that are required to maintain and develop your online store.

Make a list of the things you don’t know about, such as taxes, supply chain, and warehouse issues to research about each one and include in the plan. 

To begin writing, you can answer basic questions: what type of products do you plan to sell (physical, digital, or services)? Who is your customer? Will you need to invest in an external site to open the ecommerce? 

Also list the resources that you are going to need, including financial, physical, and human. How much capital do you need to launch your business? If you already own a store and are just extending its reach to the online world, it may be easier, but if you are founding a new company, it will take more planning. 

Think about the future, make data-based projections, and set a list of short and long-term goals. Then, according to them, set milestones and key performance indicators, which are essential to know how to evaluate your business and your team’s progress. 

Check if you include all of these points in your business plan:

  • Company overview
  • Products you are going to sell
  • Where you are going to sell your products
  • Target audience
  • Product sources
  • Market analysis
  • Logistics 
  • Marketing plan
  • Financial plan
  • Goals

5. Create Your Ecommerce Website

Building an ecommerce website is easier than you think, and it doesn’t require design or coding skills if you opt to use a website builder. There are many platforms out there that offer an easy-to-use website editor, which allows you to choose a pre-built template, and customize the pages as you need.

Evaluate which is the best website builder for online stores for your company, and get to know the tools it offers to you to have a personalized website that meets your customer needs.

The website has to be aligned with your brand’s visual identity, and be well-organized, so visitors can easily navigate through it and find the products they are looking for. 

Define a domain name that is easy to remember, avoid words that are hard to spell, and don’t put special characters, such as hyphen, or numbers. Separate the product into categories, and provide a complete product description on the product’s page, along with high-quality pictures that show the item as close as possible to reality.

Pay attention to implementing SEO best practices, which are going to help you to rank your pages better on search engines like Google.  Plan the keywords to be used on each page, customize the URLs according to them, write meta descriptions, and add alt text to images. 

6. Define your Shipping and Payment Methods

Another very crucial step on how to start an online store is to set the shipping and payment methods. If you are selling a digital product or service, or use the dropshipping system, the shipping settings won’t be necessary, otherwise, you need to create a logistic plan, and organize how the deliveries are going to be made.

Which shipping companies are you going to use, who is going to be in charge of making the packages, and tracking the orders to make sure that they are delivered on time?

You need to organize all these processes before launching the ecommerce website to guarantee that customers will receive their products in the estimated delivery time. 

Problems such as orders that take too long to be delivered, or are canceled, are frustrating for the customers, and may significantly affect your brand’s image. Think ahead and develop a management system to prevent this kind of problem. 

To offer an even better customer experience, it’s also important to offer different payment options, like credit and debit cards, and payment via gateways such as PayPal. Research the costs, and set the payment methods that are viable to your business.

7. Develop Marketing Strategies

In the image there is a person holding a tablet, and on its screen it's written "Online Marketing", with arrows pointing to the words "SEO", "Content", and "Lists".

How is your target audience going to get to know your online store? Conquering visibility is essential to promote your ecommerce and reach potential customers, and you should start planning marketing strategies as soon as you begin creating your ecommerce.

Based on your target audience profile, define which social media network you are going to use, create your company’s profile or page, and develop a schedule to post regularly.

Social media are valuable assets to engage with leads and customers where you can boost brand awareness, display your products, sell, and get to know more about your audience. 

Use PPC (pay-per-click) campaigns on social media and configure them to appear only to the people who have your customer’s profile, which will help you to save money and have better results.

Enjoy your website features as well to create content marketing strategies, for instance, by inserting a blog section to it and writing articles to different stages of the buyer’s journey.

Research relevant keywords to your market niche, and develop articles focusing on them, can help you appear on the first search result page at Google, conquer visibility organically, and grow in credibility and authority in your area. 

8. Provide Excellent Customer Experience

In the image it's written "support".

Many times what differentiates a store from another isn’t their products, which can be the same, but how you make your clients feel when they are buying at your ecommerce website.

Many of them are even willing to pay more if the service is worth it, as the Achieving Customer Amazement Survey Report, from 2021, showed. 52% of the interviewed consumers stated that they prioritize customer experience over price.

By offering seamless customer service through all the processes, you can conquer loyal customers, and establish your brand on the market.

Pay attention to your website quality, does it facilitate navigation? Can products be easily found?  How long does it take for each page to load? All of this can affect the customer’s decision to make a purchase or not. 

Including features such as live chat, customer review, and FAQ, also help the customer to have a better experience because you are giving them tools to make the best choice. Be careful to create a system where your leads and clients don’t have to wait too long to have a response when they send a message. 

9. Pay Attention to the After Sale

Another fundamental part when it comes to learning how to sell online and building a loyal customer basis is to invest in communication strategies focused on the after-sale. 

Your job isn’t done as a purchase is concluded, on the contrary, it’s needed to think about how you can convince the customer to come back to your store.

To encourage the next purchase, you can send a thank you for your order email,/blog/tools/best-website-builders-for-seo.html with a discount coupon. Try to learn more about the customer experiences on your website, ask them to fill out a form giving their opinion, pay attention to the feedback, and show that you care about their opinion. 

You can also create a reward program where loyal customers get points that can be turned into discounts and free products at your online store, for instance. Provide reasons for them to want to visit your ecommerce and keep buying from your company. 

10. Keep Track of KPIs

The image shows a grapphic and someone pointing to it.

The key performance indicators that you have established on your business plan must be watched closely. By keeping track of them, you will be able to identify which strategies aren’t working as they should, and quickly change. 

Even when you have everything planned out, it’s only when the plans are put into action that you can actually see if they will provide the expected results. It’s possible to reduce the risk error, but no business is risk-free. Be prepared for it.

The advantage is that, by analyzing the KPIs, you have the opportunity to catch a problem in the beginning and alter the scenario. Your strategies are supposed to change along the way, learning to adapt is also part of the business development process.

At your website, you can use web analytics tools to assess its performance by checking the conversion rate, bounce rate, average time spent per session, exit pages, most clicked areas at each page, and much more. 

It enables you to understand the type of content that your customers like the most, and the most effective calls to action. When you continuously look for ways to improve, you are going to see that it’s possible to keep your business growing and updated with the market changes. 

Start an Online Store in Different Sales Channels

Besides learning how to start an online store to sell on your website, it’s also advisable to use more than one sales channel, and sell on social media platforms, such as Instagram and Facebook, and marketplaces, like Amazon and eBay.

This way, your customers have the opportunity to choose the platform they prefer to buy at. Using multiple sales channels can help you expand your reach and conquer more customers. Research which of those channels your potential customers prefer, including highly targeted marketplaces, and invest in selling on them as well.

You will see that many CRM software make this task of how to start an online store in multiple channels even easier by enabling you to integrate your website inventory with marketplaces.

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