Creating an online store is pretty easy - but selling isn't. So this post isn't JUST about what apps you need to start an ecommerce site. We describe for you the 6 most important steps you need to take to fully roll out a successful online shop. One that actually leads to sales.
Let's start with the most important thing: your product!
1. Choose the right product that you want to sell
This may sound pretty obvious, but choosing the "right" type of products to sell is absolutely critical to the success of your business. However, when I say "right" I'm not talking about quality - you should of course avoid selling inferior goods - but I'm specifically talking about the uniqueness of your products. Because when you create an online store, you are competing with a large number of extremely popular websites that sell all sorts of things (eBay, Amazon, Etsy, etc.). In general, you will have a hard time selling products if you simply offer any product that is already widely available on such websites.
To create a successful online store, you need to "find your niche" - identify (or create!) a range of products that not every online retailer sells, but for which there is enough demand. Finding the right niche usually requires thorough keyword research. So let's take a quick look at that.
Use keyword research to find your niche. The easiest way to identify a niche is to use a keyword research tool to find niche markets and see what type of competition operates in those markets. With these tools you can find out how many search results are performed per month for certain search phrases.
Let's say you're thinking about creating an online store to sell musical instruments and you're wondering what kind of instrument to focus on. Using a keyword research tool, you would learn that there are 8,500 searches per month for the search term "buy guitar" and only 1,300 for "buy banjo".
This might make you think, "Hey, there's a much bigger market for guitars, so I'm going to sell guitars," but stop right there - think of the additional number of guitar sellers you'll be competing with.
Data from the Keyword Tool shows that banjos are definitely more of a "niche" product - but one with a decent number of people interested in buying them each month.
The question is whether there are already many retailers dominating search results for that product - people might have preempted you in that niche.
To find out, you need to look at “Keyword Difficulty”. This is a score given (in one format or another) by keyword research tools.
The lower the keyword difficulty, the easier it is to appear in search results for that product name (and thus generate sales).
Once you've found your niche and decided on the products you want to sell, it's time to start thinking about where to get them from, which brings us to the next point.
2. Procurement and Warehouse
When it comes to sourcing from the warehouse, you have two main options:
buy it from a supplier, store it and resell it, or…
The benefit of the first option is that you can see the quality of the stock first hand, ensure it is ethically produced and develop a good relationship with your supplier.
The disadvantage of this option is that you have to invest cash in buying goods that you may never sell if your business is not successful. There may also be costs associated with storing in one location.
The second option, dropshipping, is a fulfillment method where you don't keep what you're selling in stock. You take the order, send it to a supplier, and they deliver the goods to your customer – your business becomes a kind of “middleman”, so to speak. You may never meet your supplier or have direct dealings with them, and you may never see most of the goods you sell.
The great advantage of dropshipping is that no upfront investment is required.
The downside is that dropshipping is a fairly competitive activity and you may end up selling products that are aggressively marketed by many existing retailers.
Additionally, there may be some ethical concerns to consider – not all dropshippers have the best track record of producing their goods. Most of the major ecommerce platforms – which I will detail below – offer add-ons/integrations that allow you to dropship goods made by a variety of suppliers. Popular apps include Oberlo for Shopify and Ali Express for BigCommerce.
Ultimately, however, it's probably fair to say that Shopify offers the most options when it comes to dropshipping - simply because its app store is extremely large compared to its competitors and it's stocked with many dropshipping apps.
Now let's take a look at the online store builders that you can use to create your ecommerce website.
3. Choose the best online store builder for your project
Once you've found your niche product, market, and where you're sourcing your goods from, it's time to start thinking about getting your online store up and running.
You have two options here:
Use an ecommerce platform to build your store yourself
If you choose an agency, make sure your developers provide you with a solution to manage your store without their help after it goes live - that is, ask the agency to give you access to With a content management system (CMS), you can easily edit your website and manage your store's inventory.
This means that after building your store, you don't have to continuously pay a developer to update its content or add or remove products.
The other option is to use an online store builder and simply create your online store yourself.
There's a wide range to choose from here - popular options include Shopify, BigCommerce, Squarespace, and Wix, because they're the easiest ecommerce platforms for users who don't have much experience building online stores or websites - they offer the best Balance between functional features and usability.
4. Optimize your online store for search engines
Once you have found your niche market and aligned your online store to it, now is the time to make it visible in search engines. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is absolutely crucial to the success of any e-commerce project.
Again, you can use keyword research tools like Semrush to find out exactly what kind of searches are being done for your product type and make sure your site has all those keywords in the right places, namely:
Also, make sure your store is fully accessible to people with visual impairments. Not only will this help users with disabilities access your content more easily, it can also bring SEO benefits.
The online store builders mentioned above give you a lot of control over SEO (with BigCommerce probably at the forefront in this regard). If you choose one of these products, take advantage of this functionality!
5. Drive traffic to your store through blogging
A key way to drive traffic to an online store is to blog regularly about topics related to what you sell.
This type of activity is basically called "inbound marketing" and if you don't engage in it, you may miss out on a large number of sales.
By publishing high-quality, keyword-rich blog posts related to your line of business, you do two things:
Maximizing the chances that your website will appear in relevant search results and show that you are a serious person in the field in which you work.
Potential buyers of your products will have greater confidence in vendors who clearly have a passion for and understanding of everything related to their wares.
6. Use online ads to promote your business
If you have the budget, it's definitely worth running some ecommerce ads to promote your online store's products. Google Ads and Facebook Ads are the starting point for most people.
Using Google Ads involves identifying (and paying for) relevant search phrases that show ads for your business/products alongside Google's "organic" search results.
In our experience, Google Ads campaigns generally work pretty well when you're selling relatively expensive products.
For example, you can live on Google Ads "cost per acquisition" of $50 (ie if you spend $50 on ads to generate a sale) to sell a product if that product -- say, a TV – costs $1,000; but if you end up spending $50 on ads to sell a CD that retails for $10...well, then maybe a different approach is needed.
It's about looking at your margins, trying different keyword strategies, and so on to make sure the advertising costs aren't eating into your bottom line too much.
Facebook ads work differently than Adwords: instead of paying to have your ads shown to people who type keywords into a search engine, you pay to have your ads shown to people who have told Facebook what interests them.
For example, you could use Facebook ads to promote Beatles t-shirts to people who like The Beatles; VW keychains for people who drive Volkswagen and so on.
Facebook ads are very powerful, allowing you to target (and retarget) audiences down to the nth degree. Accordingly, it pays to get a thorough understanding of how they work before you start paying a heavy price for them. Facebook's own guide to advertising on their platform is a good place to start.
How much does it cost to create an online store?
This depends on whether you're happy to build your online store using a do-it-yourself platform like Shopify, or whether you want to involve a web developer. With the first option, you'll typically see a monthly price ranging from $29 to $299 per month, depending on your needs (the simpler, the cheaper). As for the second, it depends on how experienced your developer is - but it would be wise to budget several thousand dollars.
Can I also create an online shop for free?
To start a free online store, you need an ecommerce solution that offers a completely free plan. Most of the most popular ecommerce apps (like BigCommerce, Shopify, and Squarespace) don't do this, but Ecwid and Big Cartel offer plans that let you sell a limited number of products without paying for a monthly plan.
Now, do you have any questions about how to create an online store? Or do you need help with that?
If you are interested in creating your own online store or have any questions about it, we would appreciate if you share your thoughts and questions with us. You can also contact us if you need help creating it.