This year, nearly one-quarter of the world’s population is expected to make an online purchase. The global e-commerce market should pass the $3 billion mark as well. We live in a world where online stores are around every corner of the internet. Unsurprisingly, you don’t have to be tech-savvy to learn how to create an online store. BigCommerce, Shopify, Squarespace – these are only some of the many e-commerce platforms that help merchants set up their online stores in no time – and without too much effort. So where do you start?
1. Choose Your Domain Name
One of the first things you need to start an online store is a domain name. There are many domain name providers, such as Hostgator, Domain.com, Bluehost, and Namecheap, among others. The average cost of a domain name ranges from $10 to $15 per year.
If you decide on setting up an online store in Australia and have, for example, a domain name with the .com.au extension, you can expect to pay around $35/year for it, while .com domains typically cost $18/year. Finding a domain name provider is an easy task, though. The challenging part is actually coming up with a domain name for your online store.
A domain name is what people will type in their address bar to find your business on the internet. With that in mind, you should come up with a domain name that best describes your business. Keep it short and avoid adding dashes and numbers in the domain name of your online store website.
If you decide to build your online shop using an e-commerce platform, explore all the possibilities, as well as limitations, that platform offers when it comes to domain names. Most e-commerce platforms offer a free domain name (for example, yourstorename.mybigcommerce.com). While you don’t have to change this domain, it might be a better marketing option to opt for a custom domain name.
E-commerce platforms such as Wix offer a domain name voucher you can use to get a domain name for free for a year, if, of course, you subscribe to one of the platform’s premium plans, as these vouchers are not available to free plan users.
2. Select a Hosting Provider
The second step in our “How to create an online store” guide is selecting a hosting provider. This step is essential for your online store to be live on the internet. You can think of it as an internet house for your store. InMotion Hosting, Bluehost, and GoDaddy are the industry’s leading hosting providers.
Bluehost, for example, offers their hosting services from $2.95/month. The offer includes a 30-day money-back guarantee, 50 GB of SSD Storage, a free SSL certificate, and a free domain name for a year. You can find a similar offer with its competitors, so make sure you explore all options available to you.
Shared, VPS, or Dedicated Web Hosting?
One of the things you should note is that the web hosting plans will depend on whether you want your online store website to be hosted on a shared server, dedicated server, or a Virtual Private Server (VPS).
It’s always best to have your site on a dedicated server, as this means that only your site will be on a particular server. VPS is the second best option, whereas, with shared hosting, you’ll share servers with other sites. With the example of Bluehost, which offers hosting services from $2.95/month, we’re talking about shared hosting, while the option of moving to a VPS hosting plan will raise the price to $18/month – and to around $80/month with a dedicated hosting plan.
Now, one of the benefits of launching your online store on a hosted e-commerce platform is that you don’t need to look for a hosting provider, as web hosting is included in these platforms’ pricing plans. Digital merchants who opt for setting up an online store with Shopify, for example, can enjoy the platform’s hosting service regardless of the plan they choose, along with a 99.7% uptime.
Different e-commerce platforms offer different web hosting solutions. So let’s take a look at BigCommerce. The e-commerce giant is currently migrating to the Google Cloud server, which comes with an average connection time of 10 milliseconds or less. BigCommerce also offers PCI-compliant hosting, which is a must for online stores that work with credit cards, and a guaranteed uptime of 99.99% (the industry standard is 99.5%). Once again, check all of your options before choosing a web hosting provider.
3. Get an SSL Certificate for Your Online Shopping Business
Every business that collects sensitive data such as credit card and social security numbers needs an SSL certificate, and this includes your online store. Google’s speed update might be another reason to obtain an SSL certificate, because it helps secure a better ranking position in search engine page results.
The most logical thing to do is buy an SSL certificate from your hosting provider, as they’ll often offer bundle savings. However, we advise you to focus on finding a reputable provider from this industry and making sure they provide the technical support you might need for installing a certificate. As you’re learning how to create an online store, keep in mind that your SSL certificate provider should also have a knowledgeable support team that responds quickly to make sure the installation process goes smoothly.
Comodo SSL, DigiCert, GeoTrust, and Thawte are some of the many SSL certificate providers, while the prices range from anywhere between $100 and $500 per year. There are also open source programs, including Let’s Encrypt and Encryption Everywhere, where you can obtain an SSL certificate for your online store for free.
SSL Certificates Available with Hosted E-Commerce Solutions
BigCommerce is one of the hosted e-commerce solutions that offer a free SSL certificate from Encryption Everywhere to all of their users with a mybigcommerce.com domain. This certificate is a shared SSL certificate, though. So, if you want, you can purchase a dedicated digital certificate from the e-commerce giant. However, for getting a third-party certificate with BigCommerce, you’ll need to upgrade your account to the Pro and Plus plans. The online store builder Wix, on the other hand, doesn’t support third-party digital certificates, but only the ones you can obtain from its e-commerce platform.
Before you make a final decision about the digital certificate you want to use for your online store, keep in mind that the difference between a shared and dedicated SSL certificate is the same as with the hosting servers of this type. So if you want to add an extra layer of credibility to your store, you can always go with a dedicated SSL certificate, which will only be used with your domain name.
4. Choose Your Email Hosting Provider
Another crucial step in launching your online shopping business is to decide on your email hosting provider. Most e-commerce platforms will offer a forwarding address, allowing you to receive all mail to the email address you used to create your online store. However, a forwarding address doesn’t support all the features of an all-inclusive email service such as webmail and spam filtering.
Let’s say you wanted to find out how to create an online store with WordPress, and you’ve come to the part where you need to set up an email address for your business. Here’s what this platform offers when it comes to email hosting. Much like BigCommerce, WordPress also offers email forwarding, but no email hosting services. The CMS platform recommends setting up an account with email hosting providers – G Suite, Microsoft Office 365, and Zoho mail, among others.
Some of the main features you should look for in an email client include the number of mailboxes, IMAP/ POP3 protocols, storage capacity, the option of adding large attachments, and spam and virus filtering. As far as email hosting pricing goes, you can expect to pay between $5 and $12 per month.
5. Building Your Store: Hosted E-commerce Solutions vs. Building Your Store in HTML
We’ve come to the part where you should decide whether you want to learn how to make an online shopping website in HTML or go with one of the numerous hosted e-commerce platforms. If you decide to go with the first option, the chances are you will need to hire a developer if you don’t have technical knowledge (coding and design) and you haven’t worked with HTML and programming languages before. Apart from HTML, you can opt for open-source e-commerce solutions such as PrestaShop, but for this, you will need some basic knowledge about PHP, and a lot of time.
The plus side of building your store in HTML, on the other hand, is that you can customize it according to your preferences. You can choose designs and store functionalities that might not be available with fully hosted e-commerce solutions. This is especially true for some the best free online store solutions, considering the amount of flexibility and control you’ll have over your online store. However, even if you do have the technical know-how for building an online shop, there are a lot of tasks that you’ll have to do on your own. This includes, among other tasks, maintaining and updating your e-commerce business regularly.
On the other hand, hosted e-commerce solutions will give you everything you need to run an online store – from a storefront design and PCI-compliant payment options to customer support and sales statistics. Plus, you’ll have more time to focus on selling rather than building your store. The decision is yours to make, however.
Now, if you decide to opt for a hosted e-commerce solution – a Wix online store, for example – there are several more steps to follow before your e-commerce business is ready to open its virtual doors to digital shoppers.
6. Customize Your Store’s Theme
Whichever e-commerce platform you choose, you’ll be presented with a myriad of options when it comes to online store templates. Now, having too many options can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. If you’ve never built an online store, having a wide array of choices in store templates can be overwhelming.
Then again, you should take time to decide what look and feel your online store should have. First impressions are extremely important, especially when it comes to digital shoppers with little time to explore anything that doesn’t catch their attention within just a few seconds.
So, what should you pay attention to when choosing your store’s theme?
When setting up an online store, you should go with a template that’s pleasing to the eye. The template you choose should also include quick and simple navigation. Most e-commerce platforms can help you narrow down your choice further, as they sort templates based on the industry (clothing and fashion, furniture, electronics, etc.), inventory size (small vs. large inventories), and specific design features you want to add to your store (grid-style, minimalist design, etc.). Before you select a theme, though, make sure that it’s compatible across multiple devices (desktop, mobile, and tablet).
The next step is to customize the theme you’ve selected. For instance, if you decide to create a BigCommerce online store, the e-commerce platform will allow you to edit a theme by changing its colors, font properties, and the number of products you want to display. You’ll also be able to change the theme navigation, add your store’s logo, and include social media buttons along with many other theme modification options.
Other e-commerce options offer a lot of choices as well when it comes to customizing the theme of your BigCommerce online store. So be sure to spend some time experimenting with your store’s design before you publish it, regardless of the e-commerce solution you decide to use.
7. Adding Products to Your Online Store
Once you’ve selected a theme for your online store, you should move on to adding products. If a Product Page isn’t included by default, add one. Some of the best e-commerce solutions will allow you to fill out your store’s inventory easily.
You want to have full control over how will you present products to your customers. So when choosing an e-commerce platform, make sure you have a wealth of ways to present your products, ranging from adding a simple product description and images to adding product filters, categories, variations, reviews, and inventory tracking.
Now, if you decide on a free online store with your products included, you should keep in mind that the number of products is highly likely to be limited. For example, you won’t have the option of adding e-commerce functionality to a free Weebly site, but if you upgrade your plan to either the Pro or Business plan, you’ll be able to add between 25 products and an unlimited number of products.
With e-commerce platforms such as BigCommerce and Shopify, on the other hand, you can add an unlimited number of products – regardless of the plan you choose. The bottom line is that if you decide on building a free online store, unlimited products are highly likely to be off limits. In this case, you’ll either have the option to upgrade a plan or choose a paid e-commerce platform.
8. Select a Shipping Provider and Payment Gateways
Another vital step in launching your online store is selecting a shipping provider. If you decide to launch your store with a hosted e-commerce platform, you’ll often get predetermined shipping rates from different providers. After you set up the address from which you’ll be shipping items and where you will be shipping them to (shipping zones), you’ll get a basic overview of the providers available in those areas.
But before you choose a shipping provider, you should opt for one of the following strategies:
- Free shipping: one of the most effective strategies to increase conversion rates when setting up an online store
- Flat-rate shipping: offer a fixed price for items in your store; ideal for online stores with products that are similar in size and weight
- Ship by weight or the total value of an order
- Enable the option of picking up products in a physical store
In addition to all of these methods, which fall into the group of static shipping methods, some e-commerce platforms, such as BigCommerce, will offer real-time shipping quotes. With real-time quotes, your customers will be presented with rates from different couriers (UPS, Australia Post, USPS, FedEx) and can select an option that works best for them.
One of the key things to keep in mind is that you should be transparent about the shipping methods and terms your online store offers.
How to Create an Online Store That Offers Multiple Payment Options?
Before we move to the next step, let’s go through the payment methods you should enable for your online store. Depending on the e-commerce platform you’ve selected, you’ll have different options to choose from.
It’s important that your store supports payment options that both have widespread use and provide your customers with a quick and simple way of paying for their orders. After all, 63% of consumers will abandon a checkout page if the payment method they wanted to use is not supported by the online shopping business. With that mind, it’s best to have a wide range of choices when it comes to payment methods. The must-have payment options are as follows:
- Credit and debit cards
- Online payment systems (PayPal, 2Checkout)
- Mobile payment services (e.g., Apple Pay, Google Pay)
- Offline payment methods (cash on delivery, bank deposit, etc.)
Note that e-commerce platforms usually charge a fee (2.5%–3.5%) per transaction, which is something you should keep in mind when setting up an online store and, more precisely, calculating the cost of this project.
9. Take Your Online Store to the Next Level with Various Plugins, Extensions, and Add-ons
Regardless of which e-commerce platform you choose, you’ll be able to add functionality to your online store with different add-ons and plugins. BigCommerce, for example, features a variety of apps (more than 600) on their E-commerce Apps Marketplace. Wix App Market boasts around 250 apps that you can integrate with your online store. The app categories range from marketing tools and analytics to social add-ons and live chat solutions. With such powerful tools, you can customize your store to suit your customers’ every need, which will, in turn, aid in your store’s profitability.
10. Optimize Your Store for Search Engines
Once your store’s all set up, the final thing you should do is learn how to create an online store that’s optimized for search engines. The goal of search engine optimization is to help your potential customers find your store online, as well as provide search engines with relevant information about your online business.
The SEO tasks ahead of you include optimizing your store’s URL and adding metadata to webpages on your site. You should also add images and product descriptions, which search engines will love. Apart from this, adding videos to your product pages and customer reviews can boost your SEO efforts.
Optional (but Important) Steps
11. Enable Multichannel Sales
After successfully learning how to create an online store, you can expand your reach by selling your products on multiple platforms. Many digital merchants list their products on various sales channels to increase sales and expand their customer base. You can sell on Facebook, Instagram, Amazon, and eBay in addition to having your online store with a hosted e-commerce platform.
One of the e-commerce platforms that offers great flexibility when it comes to multichannel sales is BigCommerce and the platform’s Channel Manager. This feature comes in handy for adding/connecting different sales channels to your BigCommerce online store, allowing you to track all your sales from the Dashboard. The BigCommerce Channel Manager is quite an impressive feature that can save you a lot of time, as well as help your business grow across numerous sales channels.
12. Promote Your Store on Social Media
Your store is now online. It’s time to spread the word about it. Create social accounts for your store on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, and let the social media world know about your business. Online stores with a social media presence have 32% more sales than online stores that are not present on social media sites.
13. Start a Blog
A company’s blog is one of the best ways to educate your audience about your products. When setting up an online store, you should consider adding a blog as seven out ten people like reading about a company through blogs rather than through ads. Now, since close to 5.8 million blog posts are published every day, you should make sure your blog posts are synonymous with high-quality, informative content. According to blogging statistics, companies that publish 16+ blog posts a month have 3.5 times more traffic than companies that publish less than that.
Now that you’ve learned how to create an online store, you can implement the LATTE method into your business strategy. So, Listen to your customers, Acknowledge them, Thank your customers for giving you feedback on your online store, Take action, and Explain everything you did to address any problems.
We wish you all the luck in creating your online store!