Knowing how to start an ecommerce store in today's economy is something that everyone should at least consider. Without the high costs of starting a traditional brick and mortar shop, ecommerce stores are far more accessible to entrepreneurs who are strapped for capital, especially if they are aware of how simple the process can be, given the state of technology.
Even though starting a brick-and-mortar store can seem more straightforward than launching an e-commerce business, there are still some similarities that you'll find as you start your operation.
As we discuss below, most of the planning and legal steps will follow a similar process to that of any business. Once it comes time to set up your shop, you will begin to notice the vast differences, and advantages that come with operating online.
If you want to know how to start an ecommerce store in a quick but certain manner, read through our 5-step quick-startup plan for your ecommerce business.
First thing's first; start by determining the type of business you want to open. You'll want to research what market you're going after as well as what you can offer that will differentiate you from the rest.
Before you begin researching, you need to know what 'space' you want to be in. What is your vision for your brand?
Consider some of the products or services that you would sell, and really try to narrow down some key attributes that point you in the right direction for further market research.
Consider things like:
On top of this, you will want to try to envision your ideal customer journey from click to fulfillment and post-sales support.
Looking at your competition is a great way to learn about how to position yourself in the market, and can provide a ton of insight on precisely what your offer needs to encompass in order to do so. Doing this, you will refine your understanding of how all of those previous points relate to your business.
Once you have done enough research to narrow down your offer to a niche, you are ready to compile your business plan and get on your way to the next step.
You will want to clearly state your business financial and marketing objectives and outline your offering in grave detail.
To start an ecommerce store, you will need to legally register your company. This is a process that can take some time, but it is well worth it.
There are a few different steps that you need to take in order to legally register your company.
First, you will need to file a certificate of incorporation and articles of association with the state government. The former document will show that your company exists and is legal, with the latter laying out the company and management structure.
In order to file these, you will have to have chosen your business name. You will want to pick something that relates to your niche positioning and ensure that it is entirely unique: you can scour Google or your government's trademark register to quickly execute this.
Once you have your business name, you will want to secure a site domain that reflects your business's name. You can expect to pay anywhere up to $15 per year for the domain name, though it is often around $5 per year.
Your incorporation status is also something you will need to consider. Most ecommerce businesses start out as either sole proprietorships or LLCs, which each have their benefits and drawbacks.
With a sole proprietorship, you take on all of the liabilities of the company, but you are not required to register with your state, at least in the United States.
With the LLC, it has to be registered under its own name, and therefore must have a set location. The benefit here is that you limit your liability in the company's decisions, which you will ultimately be making. This is generally what most startups opt for when incorporating.
Finally, you will need to apply for your business identification number and file for any necessary business licenses that will be required for your legal opteration. You will need to be sure that you know whether any parts of your offer require special licenses (e.g. alcohol sales).
You are now one step closer to knowing how to start an ecommerce store!
This is where understanding how to start an ecommerce store starts to diverge from the norms of the brick and mortar shops: your website development.
While we will be discussing managing your inventory in the next section, there are some aspects to that which have been reinvented for ecommerce as well.
However, knowing how to set up your website goes hand in hand in hand with the knowledge that you would need to set up a storefront. Actually, your website is your storefront.
You want to imagine your homepage as the instant that a potential customer sees the outside of your store, with all of the promotional offers and some information about what they can expect to find inside, and re-envision every page that gets your customer closer to a purchase as their experience 'walking' through your store.
While you could go the route of wholly building your website in-house, that seems almost ridiculous these days. There are plenty of all-in-one ecommerce platforms like WordPress, Shopify, or Squarespace, all of which allow you to choose website themes and drag and drop elements as you please, making it simple enough for you to build your own site.
On top of the simplicity of building your site, there are countless plugin integrations that work with these platforms in order to help you provide your customers with a bespoke shopping experience.
You will find that these platforms vary in their pricing and capabilities, so it is important that you research them well and understand which one is going to work best for your store in the long run.
Building a website that converts requires a lot of in-depth knowledge about how visitors need to be coerced to the next stages of your sales funnel. If you want to be sure that you are working with the highest converting site possible from the start, you should check out our Ecommerce Optimization Package.
The package comes with a project tracking checklist that includes an overview dashboard for keeping up on your site's progress, as well as an in-depth guide that explains more of the consumer psychology behind the tactics used.
Your site is the money maker of your entire funnel: you can't invest enough time and money into perfecting it.
Whether you are building your own products or sourcing them from a supplier, you now need to get your initial inventory stocked.
By this time, you should have already researched your logistics provider and strategized on your warehousing needs, which would put you in the position to simply set up those relationships and get those products where they need to go so that you can rest assured that your orders will be fulfilled as required by the time you start selling.
If you are developing a service, this should be integrated with your website development, as you will be leveraging your site to conduct the service to a great extent, even if there are physical aspects to the nature of your service (think of businesses like Booking.com).
With all of your inventory in place and your management software integrated with your site, you are ready to bring your product catalog to the storefront by updating your product listings.
Product listings are where you really do your selling. It is essential that you include all of the information that a customer needs in order to decide that your product is the right fit for them. Check out our free ebook on product descriptions to make sure that yours are top-notch!
Technically, at this point you know how to start an ecommerce store. However, if you want to boast about it, you are going to have to make some sales, and that is why this is a part of the plan. That's right: boasting is officially a part of this strategy.
Before you go flaunting your success to your friends and colleagues, you need to boast your offer to your audience and pull them into your sales funnel.
In order to do this, you need to understand what your customers are searching for when they hit Google, and what psychographics and demographics they fit.
Based on this, you can load your site's content with trending keywords and distribute that content (either paid or organically) via your social channels.
Remember to engage your audience regularly on social media, and don't be afraid to jump on your competitors' post's comments sections and rip them a new one if you see the opportunity. Just be sure that you do it in a way that makes you the hero of your audience.
Of course, you will need to strategize how you connect with your audience at every stage of their customer journey, and that can be a ridiculous task.
Realistically, nobody has the time to actually strategize on every aspect of marketing from the start: you have to build it out as you go, and know when in your development to employ certain strategies.
Knowing how to start an ecommerce store takes quite a few aspects from the brick and mortar days but, when you are done, you have a shop that doesn't require an absurd amount of money to keep afloat.
What it ends up coming down to is your ability to understand the market that you are in, design your online storefront to meet their needs, and successfully reach them across a multitude of channels.
One thing that you should be aware of is that a successful ecommerce store doesn't just pop up overnight. You will want to start lean and quick so that you can start utilizing your online platforms' data tracking capabilities and build your understanding of your audience in-house. This is always the most reliable research you will have.
Now that you know how to start an ecommerce store, it's all up to you, and it is just 5 steps away.