How to open an online store: A step-by-step guide

In today's digital-forward age, e-commerce is bigger than ever. Thinking of taking your business online? Let our guide get you started.

24 August 2020

Even before the pandemic hit, e-commerce was big business. And, when you think about it, it’s easy to see why: customers don't have to leave their homes, they can shop 24/7, and the whole process is much quicker than queuing up in a physical store. When lockdown was put in place, the benefits of an online store came to the fore more than ever, and the notable upswing in traditional businesses flocking to the online model underpins how valuable it is in the current climate.

Here, we've come up with a step-by-step guide to opening an online store, including choosing the right platform, how to optimise the experience for your customers, and the ways you can leverage digital marketing to promote your offering to a broader audience.

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Deciding on your platform

When it comes to getting your business online, there are essentially two options: launching your own website or using an existing e-commerce platform.

If you already have a website, you can add an online shop to it. There are several platforms that can integrate with your existing site or act as a standalone page.

Pros Cons
Existing customers can find you easily Requires some technical know-how
Allows for better, more individualised branding Requires you to do your own marketing
Offers a greater level of control Harder for customers to find you if they don't already visit your website


However, if you don't have a website or don't have the technical wizardry to add a store function directly to it, you can use some existing e-commerce platforms such as Amazon, eBay or Etsy.

Pros Cons
Easy to set up Harder to stand out among a lot of other retailers
Affords access to a huge pool of potential customers Less control over the set-up and personalisation
The tools offered by such websites can be easily put to use Requires you to work out how to re-route your existing customers to this platform



How to develop a site

If you go for the first option, then there are a whole host of e-commerce platforms you can use to set things up with, such as:

  • Wix: Best option if it's value for money you're looking for. Wix provides a user-friendly interface that includes a drag-and-drop editor and great customer support services. For those looking to make a simple yet effective store, Wix is a good starting point.

  • Squarespace: Best for control over your branding and personalisation. Squarespace allows for product displays in multiple formats, including video and image, automatic inventory management, and shipping calculator features.

  • Shopify: Best for business owners who aren't especially tech-savvy. Popular and affordable, Shopify is easy to use thanks to its intuitive interface, and won't charge you transaction fees for any payments you receive.

  • BigCommerce: Best for multi-channel selling, i.e. buying on desktop, tablet and phone. It's also lauded for its customisation options and ability to integrate with third-party add-ons.

  • GoDaddy: Another user-friendly platform, GoDaddy is as affordable as it is easy to get to grips with.

Building the foundations of your shop

Next, you'll need to build out your website to include e-commerce functionalities, i.e. a page, or series of pages, that your customers can use to browse your products, add items to a shopping cart, and make secure payments.

The e-commerce platforms we mentioned above can make this straightforward, allowing you to build your shop and manage sales and operations, using one programme. Each platform has its own configuration process, but it's worth going for the most intuitive option that can guide you through this early process.

Fulfilling online orders

Personalising your shop

Designing the shop

An online store should be no different from a physical store. A poorly designed online platform is the same as having shoppers wander aimlessly around your store; it's only a matter of time before they get frustrated and leave.

Whichever platform you opt for, you'll have a range of designs to tinker with that can reflect your business' brand. However, some will have more options than others, so if personalisation is important to you, it's good to go for something that offers the right level of customisation. Wix, for instance, has more than 500 templates to offer.

The key elements of your site, such as your product range, an ‘about’ page, and the customer's shopping cart, should be easily accessible at all times. Nobody wants to be clicking through countless pages before they find what they're looking for.


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Product descriptions and copy

Additionally, product descriptions are an important part of the online shopping experience. Since e-commerce loses the tactile nature of shopping instore, customers aren't able to examine potential purchases up close as they usually would. That's why your product copy needs to be as detailed as possible to encourage them to part with their money.

Maintain your website

When writing your product descriptions, you should include the following:

  • Details about the product and what it does. Make sure to keep your tone of voice consistent with your branding when writing them
  • A variety of images of the product from different angles, taken to a professional standard
  • The product's size and dimensions, as accurately as possible
  • A list of ingredients or materials that the product is made from
  • Any health risks, such as choking hazards or allergens, that come with the product

Adding extra functionalities

You may find that the e-commerce platform you're using doesn't come with all the features that you'd like your shop to have. However, many enable integration with third-party apps which can be downloaded as add-ons to increase your site's functionality.

The Shopify App Store, for example, has many of these extras, while the BigCommerce platform has plenty of integrations you can use to enhance your online store.

Depending on what you're looking for, these apps can often help with the following:

  • Showing personalised product recommendations
  • Recovering abandoned shopping carts (a valuable retargeting tactic)
  • Letting customers create wish lists
  • Allowing customers to write comments and reviews, and generate ratings which then appear on Google results pages

Building a new website

Marketing your website

Once your website is ready, you need to drive customers to your store with marketing and there are a whole host of methods you can use to help you out.

Social media

A social media presence is one of the best ways to foster relationships with customers. Not only does it give your online store more of a ‘face’ in the absence of a physical shop, creating engaging content lets you promote you and your services to a wider audience, directing them to your online store in a creative way.

Content marketing

Creating a blog that relates to your products in some way, as well as how it relates to your customers' lives, is a hugely effective way of expanding your reach and nurturing new readers into actual customers.

Email marketing

Emails are an excellent means of highlighting new products, special offers and other news that can drive recipients to your website. What's more, email marketing is easily measurable, letting you streamline and optimise things using customer data to better refine the process. When setting up an email marketing approach, be sure to read through General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) legislation first.

It's also a great way to reward loyal customers with additional incentives too, targeting a specific audience who are return buyers. The word of mouth this results in can be hugely valuable as a result.

SEO

Tied in with content marketing, SEO (or search engine optimisation) involves arranging keywords so that your pages appear at the top of search results, outranking your competitors and positioning you as an authority in your given market. A combination of well-written copy and back-end support in the form of schema mark-up and indexing, among a whole host of others, is a sure-fire way to get you to the top of Google.

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The views, opinions and positions expressed within this article are those of our third-party content providers alone and do not represent those of Gazprom Energy. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. Gazprom Energy accepts no liability for any errors, omissions or representations.


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