As time goes by, people change, technology continuously develops, certain products get outdated, and so on. A good seller knows how to catch up and cope with these changes. Today, if you’re a seller who hasn’t ventured into online selling, then you could be missing a lot of opportunities. If you haven’t taken that step out of your traditional selling comfort zone because you simply don’t know where to start, then read on.
How to Open an Online Shop
First off, identifying your target market is the most vital part of starting an online shop. Knowing your target market enables you to figure out who your audience is, where they are, what they want and need, what marketing strategies you can do to reach them. Without a target market, it’s like throwing darts blindfolded.
Assuming you already know your target market, the second step is to choose which marketplace or platform is best to reach this market.
a. E-commerce platforms: Shopify, Woocommerce, Magento – these are just samples of popular selling platforms. These platforms make it easier for sellers to start a business by offering business tools such as hosting, ready-made and customizable themes, shopping carts, report analytics, user dashboards and everything you’ll need to start an online shop. The only drawback of using an e-commerce platform is that it could be expensive.
b. Third-party e-commerce marketplaces: Amazon, eBay, Walmart, Etsy – only people living under a rock don’t know these e-commerce giants. These websites let you sell through them, making it possible for your products to get exposed to millions of online shoppers sifting through the pages of these marketplaces.
On a previous blog post, we discussed a few e-commerce martketplaces you can check out here. This will help you figure out which marketplace or channel best suits you and your products.
But if you opt for a more independent and professional online shop, selling on your own website could be a terrific idea.
Advantages of Selling on your Own Website:
1. You get total control of everything – the brand, the total appearance, policies, SEO control, better analytics and all.
2. It is cost-efficient – first off, you don’t need to pay any listing or monthly fees.
3. Credibility – your brand becomes more professional and trustworthy. Having your own brand makes it easier for people to remember and trust your products.
4. Wider customer reach – your products become more accessible by anyone all over the world, hence expanding your customer reach.
5. Customer convenience – having an online store makes it easier for customers to reach you, get to know your products, and place an order.
Selling on your Website
First off, starting your own website can be intimidating, especially if you’re a total e-commerce newbie. Fret not, starting your own website is easy.
What you’ll need:
1. Custom domain name – a domain name is the name of your website. This usually costs $10 or more per year, depending on the extension you prefer (.com/ .net/ .org/ etc.).
2. Hosting – The cost of web hosting basically varies on what you need – diskspace, bandwidth, number of domain names to host, etc. Basically, it costs around $39 – $150 per year. Choose a hosting plan that has Fantastico or Softaculous (both automate web applications to a website).
3. SSL Certificate – SSL certificates are used to secure communications between a website, host or server, and end users that are connecting to that server. (source) This costs around $30-$50 per year.
These 3 things can be bought from one web registrar like Namecheap, Godaddy, Hostgator, etc.
Assuming you’ve successfully purchased all 3, you will then:
Step 1: Get the domain name up and running
To set up your domain name, you will have to point your domain name servers to your webhost. To do this, you’ll need to log in to your domain name registrar, look for the DNS settings, and input your webhost DNS setting. Usually, your webhost DNS settings are emailed to you upon purchasing a hosting plan. This step enables you to get the domain name accessible so you can start working on your site. Linking your domain name to your web hosting DNS takes no longer than 24 hours.
Step 2: Set up your online store
Now that you have your domain name up and running, it’s time to set the store up.
Basically, you can start from scratch and make a store, but that would require a skilled web developer, and I guess you wouldn’t bother reading this tutorial if you are one. Therefore, I’ve listed the 3 most commonly used selling platforms you may use.
1. Shopify – Shopify is an all-in-one e-commerce tool. For as low as $13 per month, you can easily set up your website in minutes (this includes web hosting, so if you opt for Shopify as your platform, you won’t have to purchase a web hosting plan). To know more about Shopify, you can read this more detailed post. Signup for Shopify here.
2. WooCommerce – Woocommerce is a free WordPress plugin you can use to start an online store. Just like Shopify, Woocommerce offers tools such as free and customizable themes, built-in payment processing system, shipping rates calculator, user friendly inventory management and dashboard, SEO, and sales reports. Basically, if you’re starting from scratch, you will first have to install wordPress on your site to get started. Setup on WooCommerce.
3. Magento – Magento is yet another all-in-one e-commerce tool developed by eBay. Pricing is available by quote only – among these 3 platforms, Magento is the most expensive. Typically, Magento is for established retailers who want to venture into online selling. Setup on Magento here.
Step 3: Add products – list your products efficiently by categorizing each item; upload professionally taken pictures; and add a good product description.
Step 4: Customize your website
- Theme – How your website looks defines your products and your company, hence choosing the best theme that suits your products is vital in putting up an online store.
- “About Us” page – Personally, this part of the website is one of the first pages I check on an online store before placing an order, just so I can have an idea who I am about to deal with.
- Contact Form – Just like any website, a contact form is fundamental to enable customers to reach you.
Step 5: Launch your website After everything has been done, it’s now time to launch your online store to make sales. To do this, you can:
1. Advertise on social media
2. Send free samples to influencers such as bloggers/vloggers
3. Host a contest/giveaway
4. Sponsor an event
5. Do content-marketing – a.k.a start blogging
Things to Consider after Setting Up your Website
1. Fulfillment and Shipping – Packing and shipping your own orders can be a headache if you’re running your business alone. Make sure to choose the best courier you can find. If you opt for third-party warehousing and fulfilment, here’s an in-depth article.
2. Customer Support – Everybody loves 24/7 customer support, especially if your target market comes from the global community.
3. Maintenance – Domain & hosting renewals, bugs to fix, updating products, answering email queries, these are just a few samples of website maintenance you need to work on.
4. Marketing Strategy & Advertising – No online store can make a sale by just having a website alone.
Setting Up your Shopping Cart
As defined by Webopedia, a shopping cart is a piece of software that acts as an online store’s catalog and ordering process. Typically, a shopping cart is the interface between a company’s website and its deeper infrastructure, allowing consumers to select merchandise; review what they have selected; make necessary modifications or additions; and purchase the merchandise.
Every e-commerce platform mentioned above has its own shopping cart system available to its users. However, using these platforms doesn’t give you overall / total control with your whole online store. Your website relies on the platform. If you opt for a more advanced online store, you can try using an open source shopping cart.
To set up your own shopping cart, you’ll need the same products mentioned above:
1. Domain name
2. Web Hosting
3. SSL Certificate
Just the same, you will have to get the domain name up and running so the website can be accessible. If you have successfully configured your DNS setting, you will have a cPanel, wherein you can start creating your online store using either Softaculous or Fantastico.
Log in to your cPanel and scroll down to Softaculous or Fantastico, and choose which open source e-commerce solution you prefer. Below are some free open source programs you can easily install for your online store:
OpenCart: OpenCart is another free shopping cart you can easily install. OpenCart powers over 342,000 e-commerce entrepreneurs worldwide. It has a user-friendly dashboard where you can easily get a full overview of how the store is going, such as sales analytics, orders and whatnot.
ZenCart: This e-commerce website design program is developed by a group of like-minded shop owners, programmers, designers, and consultants that think e-commerce web design could be, and should be, done differently.
PrestaShop: Over 270,000 e-commerce sites are run on PrestaShop. It has 1 million community members from 195 countries and it’s among the Top 150 Github projects.
OsCommerce: OsCommerce has been in the e-commerce industry for over 17 years already. It is a complete online store solution that contains both a shop frontend and an administration backend, which can be easily configured and customized with over 8,667 free add-ons.
Opening an online store will require a lot of time, patience and resources. You don’t have to be a skilled web developer to set up an online store, or spend thousands of dollars to get started, especially if you opt for open source e-commerce solutions. What’s nice about open source is that you pay nothing to run your online store. If I’d put up my own online store, I would definitely go for my own shopping cart – it’s cost efficient, it’s independent, and I can get total control of everything.