Creating an online store is an exciting endeavor that allows you to reach a global audience and tap into the vast potential of ecommerce. Whether you’re an aspiring entrepreneur or a small business owner looking to expand your market presence, establishing an online store can be a game-changer.
However, the process may seem overwhelming at first, but with careful planning and the right tools, you can bring your vision to life. From selecting a suitable platform to designing an appealing website and optimizing it for conversions, this guide will walk you through the essential steps to create a successful online store that captivates customers and drives sales.
What is an online store
An online store is a website where people go to purchase goods electronically choosing from the catalog of products and services showcased. An online store is also known as an ecommerce website. It’s a virtual site where users or individuals come to purchase goods and services over the Internet.
Online shopping has become even more popular as the day goes on, and surprisingly it has made life easier than ever. Imagine a world void of online shopping, it can be very stressful. The world is rapidly evolving and online shopping seems to be the future of shopping. During the time Michael Aldrich invented the first ever form of electronic shopping in 1978, he had in mind to create smooth online transactions between business and their customers.
As a business owner, adopting this concept will skyrocket you to greater heights and expand your business. As the popularity of online shopping is growing everyday one can say that online shopping will be taking over traditional shopping or maybe become the shopping itself. The power to transform your business is in your hands, you can choose to remain as an in-store retailer or switch over to having an online store. The choice is yours, but also remember that the future of ecommerce lies in our hands, and with time most shopping will be done online, if not all.
Key features of an online store
Here are the key features of an online store to help you succeed:
Easy to navigate
This is one important feature of an online store. This will help customers to easily find whatever products they might be looking for. You wouldn’t want your customers to bounce out once they find your store is a bit stressful to navigate.
Your product should be categorized logically and according to brand or category. Save your audience the stress of trying to find the products manually. They wouldn’t want to solve those puzzles if you put it up, making your site user-friendly and easy to navigate for individuals.
Yes, you might want your ecommerce website or online store to look professional but you also have to keep in mind to make it look as simple as possible so people can understand its features and how to access it. A simple online store design leads to a higher conversion rate because it allows customers to find what they need exactly without hassle and stress.
Make your design so that even when a novice enters your store they will be comfortable and easily understand what its features are, where to get the products they need, and also where and how to make payments. When you do this they will likely come back after each purchase.
This shouldn’t be an option as the rate of users making purchases online does that with their smartphones and tablets. You wouldn’t want to miss out on the potential, and power of mobile optimization for your store. The majority of people make purchases right from their mobile phones.
By optimizing your store for mobile use, you are setting it up for success, with the increase in the use of ecommerce sites to make purchases of about 54%, and this number is expected to grow. Make it easier to use by mobile optimization, you can also create a mobile app for your store if you wish. However if you still think mobile optimization isn’t worth it, then don’t. Your site will only face penalization from Google for lack of mobile optimization.
Slow site? No, I wouldn’t want to experience that myself! If your site’s speed is very slow it will lead to a higher bounce rate and you will only end up losing your customers to your competitors. No one wants to come across a site that almost takes forever to load. Your site’s speed speaks volumes, it converts visitors easily, instead of running away they will stay and navigate through your site to find out more.
According to a study in the U.S., a slow store cost the ecommerce market more than $500 billion annually. Sounds scary right? You wouldn’t want to have an abandoned cart by customers. To avoid such scenarios then try as much as possible to increase your site’s speed, this is more important in this era than in the former. I wouldn’t want a user running away from my site because of a slow loading time, also your sites speed determines your ranking on Google search results so you need to increase your site speed not only because you want to keep your customers coming and not lose them to your competitors, but also to make Google happy so it can rank your site in search results.
To increase your site’s speed, first and foremost you will need a good web hosting, you need to have a company with reliable hardware to host your site. You also need to enable caching, this reduces the loads of some systems in the server. Images and videos are some of the most popular things that can slow down your site’s speed. To avoid this you have to optimize your images and videos by compressing them to reduce their size.
Whatever is going to be on your site, whether it be products, images, or texts it must be of top quality. You should note that the resolution of your image matters a lot. No one wants to see an outdated photo, and blurry photo, so make every of your single piece of image to be of high resolution. Make them look professional and maintain that professional look. If you consider using stock photos, select ones with high quality, don’t select poor quality images as users can view them as meaningless.
Most people still love the traditional method of shopping, they want to feel the product before buying, if you want them to trust your store, make your image of higher resolution. You can also enable a 3D image model.
You wouldn’t want to be taken less seriously by your customers, because of poor-quality content. However, make sure your contents are not blurry, and make them of high resolution, especially the image. Let your content not only focus on its looks, and clicks but also try as much as possible to focus them in the interest of your customers, making your content add value to their lives.
The fact that customers cannot see your products, or experience them physically is enough to enable rating and reviews. Your customer reviews are very important for the growth of your online store. It speaks to your customers more and helps convince them. Most customers before making any purchase in any online store or ecommerce website will go through the reviews of those products first to see what other people think and how their experience was with the company.
Include the functionality for customer reviews, because they might be the only thing your clients might rely on before making any purchase. They influence people’s decisions, reviews, and ratings on your store and influence the next action your customers take.
This uses a special kind of machine called machine learning or predictive intelligence that showcases products to customers based on their interests or purchase history. This is a proven success strategy as customers will be left satisfied feeling that the company cares about their interests and needs, hence enabling them to buy more and also come back to make some more purchases.
This is one of the most important features of an online store. This feature enables your customers to understand your store better. Frequently asked questions are an important feature, it saves you the stress of having to answer some of your customers’ questions about the store or products. Frequently asked questions can easily answer a customer’s questions in detail.
Multiple payment options
An online store should include different payment options for checkout. To avoid losing customers because you don’t have the payment method they use, then make sure you provide different payment options for checkout, and for anyone that you can’t provide, provide the necessary information as to why your store doesn’t haven’t that payment method.
Most customers go for some kind of payment method because they trust the company and they are comfortable with such a payment method, while some also don’t trust that company.
Providing various payment options like debit cards, credit cards, PayPal, Payoneer, credit cards, Google Pay, etc. the more advantage you would have. Also, make sure you make the payment process as easy as possible.
Your store should have enough security features that are very important in your ecommerce website or online store. Your customers want to know that their details and information are safe and secure.
There are a lot of cyber criminals whose main aim is on online stores or ecommerce websites. To get past their traps you need to make sure the platform of your ecommerce website or online store starts with HTTPS and has an SSL certificate. This allows secure payment on your site. There are some platforms like a self-hosted platform that let you work on your site’s security features. Here are some security features to consider:
– Regular SQL checks
– SSL certificate
– Update and patch your site when necessary
– Use a firewall
– Apply two-factor authentication
All these are some security measures to take to ensure security on your site.
Types of online store
There are several types of online stores and we will be looking at them in this section categorically. We will make sure you understand the models of ecommerce because this is the first thing to do when looking at ecommerce websites.
Here in this section, we will be studying types of online stores according to their different models:
– Business model
– Revenue model
– Website type
You need to understand the different online store business models before starting an online store. Ecommerce website falls into different business models they include;
This type of business model focuses mainly on selling to other businesses or companies instead of selling to consumers. These types of online stores deliver their products to businesses who request them, these products could either be physical or digital. For example, an online store that operates as a B2B can be a software company like Salesforce, HubSpot, or SurveyMonkey and their products are for the benefit of these businesses.
This type of business model focuses on providing their services to consumers, unlike the B2B business model which focuses on providing their products and services to companies and businesses, this model instead focuses on how their consumers can be satisfied. It’s a straightforward model which provides or sells its products to consumers either online, physically, or through mobile phones.
You already know what a typical B2C business model looks like. This model is what you and I adopt every day like when we purchase food stuff, books, clothes, and home appliances either online or physically we are simply practicing the B2C business model.
Some B2C ecommerce companies include Amazon, eBay, AliExpress, and Alibaba.
This model involves a consumer selling products to another consumer either physical products or Online products.
Consumers can adopt this model and start selling products to other consumers on Amazon, Etsy, etc. They can also set up their C2C personal website with tools like WooCommerce.
This is the last type of business model on our list today. This model involves consumers selling their products or services to businesses or companies. For example, the consumer could be a consultant, a freelancer, or a social media influencer.
Haven looked at ecommerce business models, it’s time to look at types of online stores according to their revenue i.e. according to how they make money.
This can be a very lucrative and successful revenue model for your online store. In this model it involves selling products you don’t make or own, through a third-party supplier. In Dropshipping the seller may not even come in contact with the products, the seller can decide to sell the products received under his brand but this depends on the partnership agreement with the supplier which can either be a third-party wholesaler, manufacturer, or retailer.
When a customer makes a purchase, they will pay your store, and you as a drop shipper will forward the order to the supplier, you pay for the products, and the supplier ships down the products to the customer.
This is a type of revenue model where you gain commission from selling someone else’s products in your store. Just like affiliate marketing, you get paid by generating leads or sales for them through your store.
This model is very common and legit. It involves purchasing a product from a manufacturer and repackaging it or rebranding it. This model is a very common model used by cosmetics companies. You can adopt it too.
Rent and loan
This type of revenue model involves a customer paying for the use of a product instead of buying it. For example, a car rental company is a perfect example of this. Companies like Airbnb and Fat Llama rent out their products, and gadgets such as drones, cars, cameras, camera lenses, etc. to consumers.
This is a common type of online store according to their revenue. This type of store can be seen when online retailers purchase different products directly from the company’s brand at wholesale and now sell them at a retail price on their website.
Let’s look at it this way, I can decide to buy products from brands like Nike, Adidas, NorthFace, etc. directly from them at wholesale or I can go to a store that sells varieties of products from different brands. I will buy from them and sell them on my website.
Single brand website
This is a type of website where the owner focuses mainly on a particular brand. They sell a particular brand’s products. Most website stores focus on this type of website. For example, Adidas stores sell only Adidas products and no other brand products can be found there.
You can decide to sell a product from Nike, you will have to sell all of Nike’s products, their shoes, caps, clothing, etc. no other brands’ products will be added.
Multiple seller type
A perfect example of this kind of website is Amazon and Esty. These sites let individuals list their products for sale on their sites. You can be successful if you have this idea. Some of the largest successful online marketplaces are Esty and Amazon.
Why do you need an online store?
There are several reasons why you need an online store, with the rate at which online shopping is growing one can say that it is the future of shopping. Here are reasons why you need an online store:
1. The internet rules
It’s no longer enough to have just a physical store with the rise in the way consumers make decisions based on the internet, this should be the reason why you need an online store.
Time has passed when people go to physical stores to get the things they need. Now people do online research before purchasing any products, they read reviews and ratings from other buyers and go through the company’s profile before making any purchase online.
2. Greater reach
The physical store has a lot of limitations, the only ones that get to know your business are those who live near your store, but with an online store, you can reach thousands of people in different countries. With an online store, your business will have a wide reach, people can search for your store online and order your product right from the comfort of their home.
People will be more motivated to make a purchase, they have enough time to search for the products they want, and most importantly you won’t have to wait for customers to find your store on the street.
3. Increased sales opportunities
With an online store, you can generate more sales than you would with just a physical store. Thanks to the benefits of online stores your store will be open 24/7 to customers to purchase products at any time they want regardless of where they are located. You don’t need to worry about how to attend to customers during non-business hours. You can generate a lot of sales outside business hours.
4. New sales tools
Unlike a traditional store, an online store is much better, it comes with so many tools to make your business easier. There are tools to help you run campaigns for your store, there are tools to automate various areas of your store. There is a wide range of tools at your disposal.
5. Online shopping will continue to grow
There are billions of online buyers around the world, and it is said that online shopping is the future of shopping. Most individuals prefer buying online to going to a physical store to purchase their products. This is the reason you should start an online store. The Internet has made things easier and so has it made shopping.
If you want to expand your business reach and get more customers, then you need to start an online store. Leverage The power of online shopping by starting an online store.
6. Improve company image
An online store improves your company’s image. Nowadays any company without an online image leaves customers wondering if they are serious with their business. For your customers to value your company, you should start an online store. It adds credit to your company’s image and establishes you as an authority in your business.
7. Improved customers support
With an online store, you can serve your customers better, they don’t need to travel down to your physical store to lay a complaint concerning any products nor do they have to travel down to make some inquiry about your company.
You can create a video or a FAQ (frequently asked questions) to help answer most questions your customers might be likely to ask. You can also automate some messages for your customers. This doesn’t only save you time, but it also improves your relationship with your customers.
Importance of having an online presence for businesses
Visibility leads to more audience reach. An online presence determines how people will find you. In years past when there was no internet or social media platforms, there isn’t a need for an online presence, people found you only when you told them where you were located. In this section, we will be looking at the importance of having an online presence for your business.
There is so much importance that I can’t wait to let you know. During the COVID-19 building, an online presence became a priority for many businesses and they saw the benefits, after the COVID-19, most businesses adopt the fact that an online presence is beneficial for their business expansion, and growth regardless of the lockdowns in various countries now enjoy streams of revenues, but those that didn’t suffer it. Some businesses went down because of the pandemic while some blossomed because of the pandemic.
Sit tight let’s take this smooth ride:
The more reason why you need an online presence is because your competitors are also online trying to expand their reach. You will likely lose your customers to your competitors when they search for your product online and find out that you are not available online, they will abandon the search and move over to your competitors.
Your business needs an online presence to enhance accessibility. To make sure your company shows up on Google search results, invest in improving your site SEO because this helps Google rank your site above your competitors. Make your business and products effortless for your customers to find, make sure that your site speed isn’t slow because that can be a big turn-off for your customers. Imagine losing potential customers to your competitors because of inaccessibility, or load issues. Avoid this by working on your online presence.
Focusing on selling traditionally in a physical store, limits the reach your business can get. An online presence allows customers to reach you easily and also improves your company’s image and also increases your sales. You don’t need to worry about your business hours, with an online presence your customers can purchase products at any time of the day and also make payments through the payment gateway provided.
Reaching more people is easier when you have an online presence, customers will also refer you to their friends, and families if they love your products and services. This is the reason you need an active social media account. If people want information about your business they can easily come to you.
Helps builds relationship between you and your customers
An online presence helps to boost your relationship with your customers. You can easily reach out to unsatisfied customers and help them resolve their issues. This is why comments and reviews are very important. It helps you know what your customers have in mind about your products or brands, and by replying to their queries you are showing them that you care about their satisfaction and are ready to give them the best shopping experience.
Ignoring bad reviews or comments on your site to move forward with your business sets a bad image for your company. It’s better to resolve an issue if there are unhappy and unsatisfied customers than to make ahead with your normal duties making it look as if their opinions and satisfaction don’t matter.
Showcases your products and services
An online presence makes it easier to showcase your products and services to potential customers. Your online presence will make it easier for the world to know about your business, what you sell, and how you offer your services. With just a search and a few clicks on your sites, customers can see what you offer and make a choice. They don’t need business hours to do this, that’s the interesting part of an online presence, regardless of when your business operates, customers can always make purchases at any time and any day.
Brand awareness and recognition
Your social media platforms, blogs, and website helps to tell your audience about your brand or store. They are the most common ways of increasing your brand awareness. Distance isn’t a barrier to how much your business can reach, and the recognition your business can gain. To get recognized by your audience, build an online presence, invest in having an active social media account, and regularly update and promote your brand to reach a wider audience by doing so, customers can easily share the word about your business with their friends and families.
These are some of the reasons you need an online presence. As a modern business, you shouldn’t be left behind in what the internet can offer you. You shouldn’t be left in the dark and focus only on traditional means of shopping or marketing, leverage the power of building an online presence and see the transformation.
What do you need to start an online store?
To start an online store there are a few things you need to start an online store and here they are:
This is a document created that includes your company’s goals, vision, marketing objectives, financial projections, etc. Before starting an online store you will need to sit down and count the cost. Lay out plans, goals which include long-term goals, short-term goals, and mid-term goals.
A business plan is very important for the success of any business, it’s like a light that shines on your pathway, it directs your business to the right place and lets you know where you are going, and when you are moving off the track. As a company grows so should your business plan change, your business plan shouldn’t be rigid, it should evolve with your business. Now even with a business plan most companies fail, having a well-laid-out business plan without a strong leadership or good strategy will make the plan fruitless. To accomplish your business plan you need to stay focused on the plan.
A domain name is what helps people find you, they are an integral part of your website, without a domain name visitors can’t find you online.
You can see a domain name as a passcode for your brand, once your visitors input it, it grants them access to your site. Choosing a good domain name for your store is very important, it makes it easier for customers to find you, and it also improves your ranking on search engines. Make your domain names short, let them reflect your brand, and make them unique and easy to remember. You can get a domain name for any domain name registrar like NameCheap, GoDaddy, etc.
Before starting an online store, you should select an ecommerce website platform for your online store. However, you can also select a content management system (CMS) that supports online stores. You can also decide to choose a Pre Built ecommerce store rather than hiring a web developer to build one for you.
Some website builders that will help you set up and effectively manage an online store include; Shopify, WooCommerce (built on WordPress), Magento, and BigCommerce.
Website hosting makes your website content accessible to people. It helps to publish your website on the internet. There are different types of web hosting. There is Shared Hosting; this involves multiple people sharing the same servers including memory, processing power, and storage space. We also have Virtual Private Server (VPS) Hosting; Here your website also shares the same servers with other users but the difference here is that there is a virtual partition for each user.
This type of hosting is best for blogs with rapidly growing audiences, medium-sized sites, and ecommerce stores. There is also Cloud Hosting; this type makes use of several virtual servers to host sites. In case one server goes wrong the rest can carry out the task. Businesses with multiple websites, and also some eCommerce stores can benefit from it.
Design and layout
Before creating a website for your ecommerce store, make sure your designs and layouts align with your company’s image. This alone increases your brand reputation and sets you as an authority in your niche. Create a visually appealing interface, you can hire a web designer to do that for you.
Products and services
Of course, before starting an online store you should already get your products ready. Are you selling digital products, will you be selling them to companies or businesses or will you be selling to consumers? Will your store focus on multiple products from different brands or will it focus on products from a single brand? Will you be dropshipping or wholesaling?
Answers to these questions help you to know the track you’re on and help you focus on it.
As I once emphasized earlier in this article, make sure you adopt different payment gateways for your store. You wouldn’t like to lose a customer to your competitors simply because they can’t find the payment options that are convenient for them. Include various types of payment gateway such as PayPal, Payoneer, Google Pay, Apple Pay, credit cards, debit cards, gift cards, etc.
Your customers will love to know their information is secured. An SSL certificate helps to encrypt customer data, secure payment transactions, and protect sensitive information. Make sure that these certificates are properly installed on your site. Customers won’t like to risk their information only to find out that they aren’t safe with you.
Factors to consider before building an online store
We will be listing 5 things to consider before building an online store. Make sure you read this section carefully.
What Products are you going to sell?
This can be a very difficult question sometimes. Some people may have vast options on their minds, but it’s hard for them to pick one, while for some they might have thought this through before thinking about an online store.
Now the big question is: What products are you going to sell on your online store? Know what you are interested in. Are you interested in selling travel gadgets, scuba diving gear, cosmetics, clothing, Home appliances, homemade products, camera lenses, etc? Make a wise choice, also make sure you research competitors in your niche to see how they are performing and draft a strategy on how you can perform better.
Resale license, business entities, and insurance
You need the presence of an attorney, insurance agent before you start a business. Okay! You might be wondering why! You need these people to be able to find out the legal steps you need to take to protect yourself and your business.
You need them to find out if you need an LLC, to know if your state requires you to register your business name and get a business license. You also need to find out if you will need product liability insurance, and also if you will be needing a resale license (a resale license is very important as it enables you to get discounts from manufacturers if you buy in bulk).
Who are your customers? What are their needs, and interests? These are questions you need to ask and also find answers to them before starting an online store.
Don’t stop at the first two factors above, this step is a very important step to take before starting a business. Your customers and who they are helps to provide you with the necessary information you might need in the future and also helps you to draft out a good marketing strategy.
Who are your go-to source
Know who you would be marketing to, and know where you would market. Would you market only on your website, or would you extend to social media platforms or eCommerce retailers?
This is very important when it comes to online shopping. This speaks volumes to your customers more than what you portray. They want to see what others say of your products and services, they want to see those reviews with both negative and positive comments. Reviews influence customers and compel them to take action. Most customers don’t leave reviews but you should learn to encourage them to do so.
We’ll update this guide each month over the next six months to provide a fully comprehensive guide to starting your own online store, so do check back regularly for more help and tips as we publish them.