If you’re on this page, I think you’ll agree with me when I say:
Building an online store is a fantastic way to make a bit of extra money. But it’s difficult to know where to start.
The good news is you don’t need lots of money, time or technical knowledge to build an online store.
What you do need to know is what tools to use and how to use them.
Learning how to create an online store from scratch can be daunting (we know from experience). We wanted to build an online store for our business so that it would provide us with a full-time income. But when it came down to it, we had no clue where to start! That’s why…
…we’ve written this post, so the same thing doesn’t happen you.
How do you add products? What about shipping costs? How will your customers pay?
We’ll answer these common headaches (and more) in this guide.
We’ve focused on building an online store using ecommerce store builders. We’ll show you how to:
- Pick the best ecommerce platform for your online store
- Build an online store using your chosen ecommerce platform
- Test and preview your online store
Follow our steps and by the end you will have a functioning online store.
Ecommerce platforms are the easiest, cheapest and quickest way to build an online store. Our top three are Shopify, Wix and BigCommerce. These builders power millions of stores built by ordinary web users like you and me, so you’ll be in good company.
- You don’t need any coding knowledge
- You can stop using the service whenever you want
- And you can sign up to a free trial before you commit to buying
In this guide I’m going to show you the best way to create an online store. Whether you want to build a store for your business, or sell online for a bit of extra income, you’re in the right place. These store builders are used by some of the biggest brands in the world. Just take a look at this household sportswear company that’s used Shopify to create its online store…
Online store builders and ecommerce platforms – what’s the difference?
We refer to Shopify, Wix and BigCommerce as ‘ecommerce platforms’ and ‘online store builders’. There’s nothing to be confused about. These terms both mean the same thing: they’re referring to builders that help you create an online store.
To start an online store, step 1 is to pick the right online store builder.
We’re assuming that you’ve worked out the essentials of your business. You know your store’s name. You know what you’re going to sell.
These details matter, but don’t get too hung up on them right now, because they could all change as your business grows.
I can’t emphasize this enough:
The most important thing is to launch your store and get online. With any of our ecommerce platforms, you’ll be able to make changes when you need to.
Seeing as you’re investing your money, you probably want to know you’re getting it right?
That’s only natural.
These ecommerce platforms cost as little as $17/month to use. If your store is making sales, this will soon seem like a small price to pay. They also offer free trial periods, so you can test them before signing up (we’ve got more on this later).
If you’re ready to get building, you can compare our top three ecommerce platforms for making an online store in our comparison chart below:
Why Should You Use Online Store Builders?
They are a one-stop-shop for learning how to build an online store from scratch. Think of them like real-life builders that help you set up your brick-and-mortar store.
Shopify, Wix and BigCommerce all let you:
- Customize templates to build an online store with your personality
- Upload products and sort them into categories
- Connect with different payment options, such as PayPal
- Manage deliveries with shipping providers
They also manage your online store’s technical needs.
Gone are the days where you had to throw hard-earned dollars at a computer programmer to help you start an online store.
Online store builders will:
- Host your store: giving it a place to live on the internet
- Let you buy or connect your domain name: yourstore.com, for example (Wix eCommerce will even give you one for free for a year).
- Keep your site up and running: making sure your store doesn’t crash
- Sort out security certificates: to keep your customers’ details safe when taking payments and handling their data
Yes, but what about Magento or WordPress?
This guide will show you how to start an online store using Shopify, Wix and BigCommerce. Making an online store is also possible using a code editor like WordPress and a web hosting service like BlueHost. The downside is that building a store on WordPress needs technical skill. Or you’ll have to hire a developer, which gets very expensive.
This is why we’re focusing on easy-to-use builders.
The difference between our recommended ecommerce platforms and complex solutions like Magento and WordPress is like the difference between flatpack and handcrafted furniture. With flatpack, you can furnish your room very quickly and without any design skill. Want the quickest route to building your online store? Look no further than our ecommerce platforms.
How Do You Pick The Right Builder To Create An Online Store?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Different store builders offer different features. And different stores have different needs.
Here’s who Shopify, Wix and BigCommerce are best for:
- Shopify – best all-round ecommerce store builder. If you have more than 10 products, and need a platform that will scale with your business, Shopify is a great choice.
- Wix – best for small businesses (it’s the easiest builder to use) Perfect if you have 10 or less products to sell.
- BigCommerce – best ecommerce platform for large businesses.
Prices depend on which builder and plan you choose. None of our online store builders will break your bank. But at this stage, don’t get too caught up on how much Shopify, Wix and BigCommerce cost. Focus on the features you need and which builder offers them.
Our comparison chart gives an at-a-glance view of the best online store builders in the market. It has helped thousands of our readers to find the right builder to start their online store:
If you don’t know which store builder to choose, don’t worry. We have put together a short four-question quiz. It will help you zoom in on the best builder to start an online store.
Shopify, Wix and BigCommerce all offer free trial periods. Use them to try out your preferred builder and make sure you made the right choice!
Step two is to sign up for a free trial and experiment. If you’re serious about building a successful online store, this step is essential.
How can you take advantage of a free trial?
Follow the links below to sign up for a free trial:
- Shopify – try a 14-day free trial
- Wix – try a premium plan free for 14 days
- BigCommerce – start a 15-day free trial
Don’t let trying to find the “perfect” online store builder stop you from moving forward. In our experience it is much faster and more accurate to give them all a try without feeling you have to commit to one straight away. Keep an open mind.
Each store builder comes with quality customer support. If you want to know how to build an online store from scratch, there’s a lot of help on hand. You can ask an agent for help, or read a ‘how to’ guide.
“Using online store builders’ free trials is like trying on pairs of glasses before you buy them. You can check how they feel and what the color and style looks like, and how easy you find using them.”
You need a builder you’re comfortable using and that can meet your ambitions for your store. The easier you find it to use, the less time you spend fixing errors and the more time marketing your store.
When playing around in Shopify, Wix or BigCommerce, ask yourself:
- Is it easy to choose a template and make custom changes?
- Are the templates suitable for your business?
- Is it easy to add products and categorize them?
- Can you edit the navigation to include sub-menus and new pages?
The key here is to find out which builder you find the most natural to use and is the best fit for the type of store you want to build. Don’t move on from step 2 until you’ve found a builder that’s easy to use.
Once you’ve tested your builder and are happy with your choice, step 3 is to sign up to the right plan so you can get building.
Different levels of plan come with different features. As you’d expect, the more you pay, the more you get. Which plan suits you best depends on the size of your business and your growth plans.
If you’re looking to create an ecommerce store, you will need a paid plan. Uploading and selling products requires more complicated software than building a normal website.
The best part?
Plans start from $17 a month. That’s less than an extra large pepperoni pizza from Domino’s!
When learning how to make an online store, a rule of thumb is: the more products and revenue you have, the better plan you need.
We’ve compared the features available on the basic and advanced plans of our top ecommerce platforms below.
Our chart looks at three of the most important ecommerce features: customer support, abandoned cart recovery and SSL certificates. For a full list of features, follow the link to the store builder’s page.
Not sure what the features in our chart mean to you?
Let me explain…
Chart Features Explained:
1. Premium Support
When you make an online store, the more support you get the better. That’s why we included it in our chart. The premium support available from our online store builders is like employing a full-time business partner. Shopify, Wix and BigCommerce have support available over phone, Live Chat and email.
2. Abandoned Cart Recovery
This is a hugely important feature. We’ll go into greater detail in just a moment, but here’s the lowdown: cart recovery emails customers that have got all the way to your checkout but then given up on the purchase. BigCommerce claims this can help you recover 15% of lost sales. Think of it like sealing up the leaks in a holey in bucket.
3. SSL Certificate
We’ve got more on this later, but SSL certificates secures the data travelling through your store. It stands for Secure Sockets Layer and means your customers look at your site in HTTPS. The safer customers feel on your store, the more likely they are to spend money.
Still not sure what plan is right to help you start your online store?
Pause for a second.
Now ask yourself these questions:
How Many Products Do You Plan To Sell?
If you’re not planning to sell a lot of products, a simpler plan with lower rates may be suitable.
The more products you sell, the more upgrading to an advanced plan could make financial sense.
This is because of transaction fees. If you’re generating a lot of dollars in revenue, even a slight drop in fees can boost your bottom line.There’s no product limit on any of BigCommerce or Shopify’s main plans. But you may want to upgrade to get Abandoned Cart Recovery if your store’s generating a lot of traffic.
Wondering why this matters?
Try this top tip to increase your sales…
Remember, Abandoned Cart Recovery emails customers that have left your store’s checkout and invites them to revisit the sale. You can recoup sales that may have slipped through the cracks! Not something most people think about when researching how to build an online store from scratch.
How Much Do You Want To Pay?
Our three top-rated builders’ ecommerce plans start from $17 for Wix eCommerce.
To start an online store, you’ll need an ecommerce plan.
Shopify Basic and Standard BigCommerce both cost under $30 a month. If products are flying off your virtual shelves, these sums will seem very trivial.
Think of it like setting up your brick-and-mortar store. You invest your time and money in establishing your shop. The same is true for your online store. But the good news is it’s much cheaper and less risky. You pay a transparent monthly fee, so if things don’t work out straight away you haven’t wasted a load of money. And because it costs far less to set up online, the return on your investment can be much higher!
Don’t worry if you’re not sure what price plan to sign up to. Speak to an advisor at your store builder and they’ll be able to help.
Keep in mind that with BigCommerce you must upgrade to a more expensive plan once you hit a set sales threshold. The limits are high, so if you’re selling small volumes this won’t trouble you.
What Features Do You Need?
Remember, different stores have different needs. Shopify and BigCommerce may be more expensive, but they offer more features. Wix eCommerce is good for the bare essentials.
The more you pay, the more you get.
This could be better analytics on Shopify’s advanced plans. The more you know about your customer, the better you can make your store. Another example would be greater customer segmentation on BigCommerce’s Plus plan. You can keep loyal customers coming back by setting up a rewards programme.
There’s no blanket answer to what plan should you choose.
Start with deciding what you want from your store, and what features you need to get there.
Are you looking to scale your ecommerce store into a full-time income? Or are you happy to sell a small number of products for a bit of extra cash?
Once you’ve asked yourself these questions, compare what your builder’s plans have to offer.
For example, a core business goal might be to boost sales during quiet periods (like weekends). If so, you’ll want a plan that offers email newsletter integration.
Use our comparison table below to get started:
Now you’ve chosen an ecommerce platform, and signed up to the right plan, it’s time to build your online store.
First up, you need to pick a domain name.
Hang on, what is a domain name anyway?
A domain name is the bit in a URL that identifies your store. Let’s say you’re Nike (we can all dream). Below is Nike’s URL, with the domain name in bold.
This is the primary domain. It’s what customers see in the address bar and Google searches. Think of your domain name like the sign that hangs above a real-life high-street store.
Builders like Wix do offer free plans, but there’s a catch. You’re tied to a Wix subdomain name. For example, it would look like this:
This is why free plans are not suitable for businesses. It hurts your credibility if your store doesn’t have its own name. An important lesson in how to create an online store is: the less your customers trust you, the less likely they are to buy from you.
A good domain name is key to launching a successful online store. It builds trust with customers and helps establish your brand. Think of it as your online identity!
4 Tips When Choosing A Domain Name:
- Pick the right country code – if you’re going to sell to US or international customers, choose a .com domain. Country-specific codes are suitable if you’re selling to consumers in that country. Avoid .cc addresses because they’re associated with spammers.
- Avoid brand names – including a brand or product name in your domain can get you into legal trouble.
- Be unique – play with words to stand out from the crowd, but don’t be too obscure. You’ll risk losing search traffic from customers looking online for your products.
- Add a keyword – adding a popular search term to your domain name helps you climb search engine rankings. If you have a brick-and-mortar store, don’t feel like you have to use the same name. Your domain name could refer to your business’s concept. The higher you rank in Google, the more traffic you get. The more traffic, the more sales. For example, if you sell personalized T-shirts, include T-shirts in your store’s URL. And you’ll attract new customers who happened to be searching for T-shirts. If you want to know how to build an online store, thinking about where your customers are coming from is very important.
Once you’ve registered your domain name for the year, set a calendar reminder to renew it before the expiry date.
Already Own A Domain Name?
If you already own a domain name, don’t worry. You can transfer the name to your online store builder and cancel the agreement with your original provider. This might be a company like GoDaddy or 123-Reg. Your builder will take care of the admin.
Or, if you want to stay with your domain provider, you can link your domain to your builder page. To do this, contact your current domain provider.
For ease of use, we’d recommend sorting out your domain with your builder. It makes learning how to build an online store from scratch more straightforward!
Now you’ve chosen an online store builder and secured your dream domain name, the fun can begin.
Step 5 is to pick and customize a template (or theme).
“Think of a template as a showroom for a property. You start with all the structure and furniture that you need. But you’re now free to tweak the style and change the layout. You’ve got the base to work with, but you can still make it your own.”
With templates, you can make your site look good without being a design expert. Or touching any codes! If you’re creating a new online store, we recommend you don’t hire a website designer.
Don’t base your decision on color or font. You can change these if you find a new style you want, or if your business needs change. Many online store builders let you edit your template if your current one isn’t working.
Selecting and editing themes in Shopify, Wix and BigCommerce is easy. All you have to do is select a template from your builder’s marketplace. Then head to your store’s admin tool to start customizing. Play around with your theme’s color scheme, font and number of products displayed.
You can add logos or design assets you’ve already got for your online store to your template.
Here’s the bottom line:
Finding the best theme for your store is important. Your colors, style, feel all reflect your brand and your products. If you look professional and stylish, you will make more sales. Look dodgy, and your performance will suffer.
Want to see an example of a good ecommerce store theme in action?
Here’s one we made used on our Shopify store:
Let’s run through some key questions to consider when choosing a template for your online store…
How Do You Pick The Right Template?
“OK, so you need a template for your online store. But there are so many to choose from, how do you pick the right one?”
Ask yourself these three questions to find out which template is right for you:
- What features do you want your store to have?
- What style of homepage do you want?
- How do you want customers to move around your store?
Let’s look at these with some detail…
What Features Do You Want Your Store To Have?
Do you need maps, galleries or an about us page? What about videos on your homepage?
How to make an online store successfully needs planning. Some templates come with more features than others.
Think about what features your store needs. Then make a list.
When searching for a theme in your builder’s marketplace, filter by features. You can narrow down your options to find the theme that best suits your needs.
Don’t waste time with a template that doesn’t have the features you need. Template features are a key part of how to build an online store. They give your site the functionality it needs to be successful.
What Style Of Homepage Do You Want?
Your homepage is the first thing your customers see. It’s like your shop window.
Customers should be in no doubt when they land on your homepage what type of business you are.
Your homepage could be a slideshow of images, a video or a simple image with some text on top. Decide which to choose based on your business goals.
For example, stores selling luxury products should let stylish images do the talking. Stores selling more complicated products might want a simpler image with more text.
How Do You Want Your Customers To Navigate Your Store?
Your navigation bar is how customers will move around your store.
It’s very important shoppers can find what they’re looking for. A smooth navigation bar that works is like a freshly-laid road with clear signs. Your customers will be able to move around your site and will reward you with more sales.
A clunky navigation is like a road with loads of potholes and no street signs. Customers will get frustrated because they won’t be able to find what they’re looking for. The more clicks customers have to make, the less likely they are to buy.
Knowing how to start an online store successfully is all about putting your customers first.
Lay your pages out left to right, starting with the most important page. Don’t include pages that aren’t important to your business. Include them as dropdown menu items.
Choose a background color that’s inoffensive. Your customers should be able to read your navigation bar. Internet users scan a page in an “F” shape. So stores that have a distinctive header and sidebar on the left of the page work best for customers.
Picking & Customizing Themes on Shopify, Wix and BigCommerce:
In-depth Template Advice:
Free ecommerce website templates – inspiration from great templates.
How to choose a color scheme for your website – pick the right color scheme.
Now you’ve created a stylish online store using your builder’s templates, step 6 is to add your products.
After all, selling products and making money online is what this is all about isn’t it?
The main things you need to add a product are:
- Weight (for physical products)
- File (for downloadable products like ebooks).
Different builders have different limits on:
- The number of products you can upload
- The number of options for each product (the same product but in a different size or color).
- The number of product variants (a combination of two options. For example, a blue T-shirt in size medium).
Check each builder’s limit and make sure it can meet your business’s needs.
Below, we focus on the core aspects of adding products to your online store. Read on to get up, running and selling.
The three key ingredients to uploading great products are:
- Product descriptions
- Product images
- Product categories
How Do You Write Winning Product Descriptions?
Your product descriptions are a key part of convincing customers to buy. Make sure your copy is clear and legible and double check for spelling mistakes.
Your descriptions should be eye-catching, but also describe the product. Using the manufacturer’s descriptions as a reference point helps provide clarity. Your customers should get the information they need.
Three things to avoid if you want to write good product descriptions:
- Complex jargon
- Long sentences
Highlight the product’s benefits by explaining how it can help your customers. But make sure you don’t misrepresent the product. That leads to refunds and negative reviews.
Here’s an example of a good product description:
The retailer presents the technical feature of their tool box. Then it explains the benefit to the shopper.
Have one eye on SEO (search engine optimization). This is where you will rank in Google when customers search for products like yours. The higher you rank, the more traffic you get. The more traffic, the more sales. Include some of the keywords relating to your product when writing descriptions.
Say you’re selling vintage trainers, for example. Include ‘vintage’ and ‘trainers’ in the description.
How Do You Take The Best Product Images?
Product images are crucial to selling your products.
Think of them like the front cover of a book. Even if your book is well written, people are unlikely to pick it up if the front cover is poor quality. In the same way, your product might be great, but no one will buy it if the image is poor.
Like your description, your image should accurately reflect the product.
Imagine if you picked up a book because you liked the cover design, but the story had nothing to do with it. You’d be angry and go back to the bookshop for a refund.
Your product image should not include features that the customer isn’t going to get.
So how do you choose the best images for your ecommerce store products?
Here are a few rules of thumb when learning how to make an online store that looks good and sells.
- Use high-quality images – never select images that are blurry or too small.
- Make sure each image is the same size – Use a tool like Paint to resize your images to the same dimension.
- Take your own photos – Use a good smartphone (like an iPhone 8) to take your own photos, if you can.
- Provide a 360-degree option – make sure customers can view your products from all angles.
- Add product variation images – make sure shoppers can look at the product in the full range of colors.
- Add a zoom option – give your customers the chance to view your product’s detail. The more you can show off your product, the more likely you are to make a sale.
But wait, there’s more.
Last (but by no means least), ask: are your product images optimized? Images are a great way of showing off your products. But the more images your store has, the longer it can take to load.
Customers don’t like to wait. If you need a lot of images, that’s fine, but run them through an optimizer before uploading them to reduce their size.
Finding the balance between top-quality images and site speed is crucial.
Adding Products on Your Store Builder:
Want more information on images?
What About Building Product Categories?
Now you’ve got top-quality product images and descriptions, what’s next?
Help your customers by collecting related products together in categories.
Sorting products into categories makes the shopping experience more enjoyable for your customers.
Think of it like your local supermarket. Supermarkets arrange products so customers can find what they need. Bread is next to the sandwich filler. Pasta next to sauce. It makes sense. Customers are happy and spend more money.
Your ecommerce store should be the same. People should be able to see where everything is. If they can, they’re more likely to reward you with orders!
The easiest way to create category ideas is to ask yourself, what would you want if you landed on your site?
This is a key part of grasping how to build an online store.
Say you sell baseball equipment. You could split products into: clothing; bats and balls and shoes. When splitting up your products into categories, think ‘what would the customer want?’
You’ve heard this advice a million times but it’s worth repeating.
We recommend no more than five categories. Any more and you risk confusing your shoppers with too much choice.
Here are the key things to consider when building your product category page:
- Price Range – displaying price ranges on your category page adds clarity and prevents customers browsing products they can’t afford.
- Featured Products – a good way of leading your customers down your preferred shopping path.
- Filtering Options – let your customers filter by size, price or brand name. The more options you can give them, the happier they’ll be and the happier they are, the more money they will spend.
- Give Extra Product Information – your customer has navigated to a specific section of your store. It’s fair to assume they want more information about the products they’re viewing.
You should now have added your products to your online store. You’re ready to start selling and making money.
But how are customers going to pay you?
Step 7 is setting up your payment method. This is a crucial part of converting a browser into a buyer.
Ecommerce platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce make this easy for you. They have optimized the process so you can hit the ground running with the best (and most effective) payment options.
You’ll make more money if you make it easier for your customers to pay! Think of it like real-life shopping. If you go into a shop and they only take check, how likely are you to purchase? Ecommerce platforms help by connecting you to multiple different payment options like PayPal, Visa, Amex and Mastercard (as we will find out in a moment).
But first, what the heck is a payment method anyway?
A payment method is how you collect money from your customers. Online store builders let you accept payment through several different methods (one of the reasons they’re perfect if you’re wondering how to start an online store).
People like to choose how they pay. The more options you can give them, the more sales you will be able to make. Once you’ve set up a payment method, your customers will see it when they get to the checkout.
Here’s what you need to know when adding payment options to your online store:
What Payment Options Can I Add?
The three most popular ways to accept payments on your ecommerce store are:
- Merchant account and payment gateway – you partner with a bank. The bank accepts payments for you and channels the money into your business bank account.
- Payment gateway packages – you use all-in-one software. The software that connects your store’s shopping cart to the card processing network. Top payment gateways for small stores include PayPal. Builders let you partner with hundreds of third-party gateways. You can accept cards from all over the world.
- Simplified credit card payment processing – you use a service that integrates with your store’s checkout. An example is Shopify’s own payments gateway, powered by Stripe. The shopper doesn’t have to leave your site to complete a buy.
How Do I Choose The Best Payment Method?
Do your homework first.
Let’s dig a little deeper.
Work out how many sales you expect to make and what type of person will be buying your products.
Analyse your market (retail if you sell clothes, for example). Check which payment options your competitors are offering. Do your best to copy them. There’s no shame in learning from the best.
Find out where your customers are from. If you have customers from different countries, make sure you meet each nationalities’ needs. Shoppers in Canada, for example, have different payment preferences from shoppers in Texas.
Don’t pick a payment method without working out your store’s needs first. It would be like buying a new piece of furniture without doing measurements. Sure it looks nice, but how do you know it’s going to fit?
What About Security?
Payments are secure because of the certificates supplied by your builder.
Remember, Shopify, Wix and BigCommerce all provide SSL Certificates. This is a massive benefit to using online store builders.
Let me explain.
SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer. It’s a certificate that means shoppers can view your site in HTTPS. This protects data communicated through your store. You will get a green padlock in the URL next to your store.
Have another look at the homepage for the store we made using Shopify. You can see the green padlock circled in the top left corner:
This has two important benefits for your business:
- Customers will feel safe shopping on your store. They know their data is secure.
- Google will favor your store with higher rankings. It favours HTTPS sites. As we’ve said, the higher you can rank for key product searches, the more sales you can make.
With Shopify, for example, you get access to over 100 payment gateways. These include Visa and PayPal. Your security certificates come included with your Shopify shopping cart. Customers’ data gets the same level of protection as a bank.
How Much Are These Payment Options Going To Cost?
Different payment methods come with different fees and charges.
Fees are often rolled together, so take time to untangle them. Make sure you’re clear exactly how much you’ll be paying and what you’ll be paying for.
Credit card fees are unavoidable. They’re levied by the card provider (Amex, for example) and then passed on by the builders.
You’ve added products and payment options for customers to buy them. Next up is making sure you can deliver those products.
To do this you need to set up your shipping settings (step 8). To understand how to build an online store, you need to understand shipping options.
Keep reading and you’ll find out how.
Different builders come with different shipping options. Play around in your builder’s settings and admin tool to find settings that suit your business. You can partner with major delivery companies like UPS and Fedex. And you can integrate your store with fulfillment apps to expand your shipping functionality.
To begin shipping products, you’ll need to add an origin address and package types.
Below, we cover the boxes you need to tick to set up shipping on your store.
What Is Your Shipping Origin Address?
Important if you ship products from an address that’s not your office. Input a separate shipping origin to ensure shipping rates and taxes are correct.
Once you’ve added your address, you can print shipping labels and get quotes.
What Shipping Zones Do You Want To Ship To?
Shipping rates vary between countries and regions (zones) you ship to. You can charge different rates to customers depending on which zone they’re in.
Say you’re a US-based store. You can charge cheaper shipping to customers in a state closer to your distribution center.
Your store builder’s admin page will show which zones you ship to. It will also show your rates.
What Are The Different Shipping Options?
Once you’ve set up where you want to ship products, you can decide how you deliver them.
It boils down to understanding the types of shipping available (and what business they’re right for):
So what’s the answer?
- Free shipping – if you can afford it, free shipping is a fantastic selling point. More and more internet shoppers expect free delivery. Quick tip: offer free shipping over a certain order amount. This could offset the costs to you of offering free shipping, and top up your average order value.
- Right for: you, if you can afford it. Get your calculator out and check. If you’re selling cheap products at high volume, it’s more difficult to make free shipping profitable. It’s easier if you’re selling luxury items.
- Flat rate – offer the same shipping rate, no matter the product. Very useful for marketing. You could promise ‘$5 shipping anywhere in…’ and choose your state or even the entire US. But do your homework and make sure you can afford it. You need to figure out how much it costs you on average to ship an order. This is good practice for any ecommerce store owner.
- Right for: Stores selling lots of similar items
- Real-time quotes – calculate shipping prices by factors including order size, weight and destination. Customers like this option because it’s transparent. They feel they’re in control and know you aren’t inflating shipping fees to squeeze money out of them. They may reward you with more sales.
- Right for: stores that sell products with different weights. Also good for large items that would be expensive to ship for free. You can cover your costs without charging too much.
- Store or local pickup – invite customers to pick up their order as an additional option. This is great for offering the personal, face-to-face business experience.
- Right for: Stores selling large items or products with limited shelf life. Or stores with a recognizable local presence.
- Rate by order price – for example, offer reduced shipping if customers spend a certain amount. It’s a great way to reward high-value customers.
- Right for: stores with expensive items or lots of loyal customers.
We like how easy ecommerce platforms make it for you to understand every aspect of how to create an online store, including shipping. If you’re in any doubt about which shipping option is the best for your store, don’t hesitate to ask your builder’s customer support.
By using online store builders you can offer customers different levels of shipping.
If a customer wants, they can pay more to have their order delivered faster.
Shipping: Final Checklist
We know that’s A LOT of information to take in.
So here’s a checklist of the shipping essentials you should have sorted out when building your online store:
- Added a shipping origin address
- Partnered with a courier (Fedex, for example)
- Entered package weights
- Selected a shipping option (free shipping, for example)
It’s not glamorous, but a big part of building an online store is sorting out your store’s settings. Without proper settings, your store won’t be able to run properly.
Your settings are like the boxes you need to tick to open your physical store.
When you open a shop, you need a till, a name above the shop window, an address and so on. You could open your shop without any of these, but it would look empty and amateurish.
Let’s get to it…
Head to the Store Settings section of your builder’s admin and fill out your preferences for each of the following (we’ve broken them down into essential and non-essential tasks)
- Language: select the language your customers will see on your store.
- Currency: choose your preferred currency.
- Timezone: setting the right timezone helps track your orders.
- Address: display your contact information.
- Store Name: as it’ll appear on your store’s emails, homepage, online searches.
- Contact Details: a public phone number and a customer-facing email address. Providing contact details is a great trust signal.
- Order settings: set whether to add tax to your product price or not.
- Product settings: you can decide what information to display to the customers. This includes aspects like product weight or rating.
Feel a bit overwhelmed?
We know there’s a lot of information to take in when figuring out how to build an online store.
If you’re not sure what these and other more obscure settings mean, ask your online store builder’s support team.
You should now have added your products and designed your store’s template. You should have set up your payment and shipping and sorted out your store’s settings.
You might be thinking you’re ready to launch your online store and start selling online?
You’re very nearly there…
But there’s one important step to go before you know how to create an online store…
…testing your online store.
Launching your online store without testing is like throwing a concert without rehearsing. You don’t know if all the notes sound right. You don’t know if the instruments work, or if the tunes are right for the audience.
Ecommerce platforms make it very easy to test and preview your online store before publishing.
You can see what your customers see. Testing your store is the best way you can make sure you’re satisfying your customers’ needs.
When previewing and testing your store, here are the key things to check:
Does Your Checkout Work?
An online store without a working checkout would be like a shop with no till. When testing your store, pay special attention to the checkout process. Make sure:
- Orders work across all payment methods
- Your shipping options and charges are correct and visible
- The items and price in your cart are correct
- Discounts / promotions apply
- Tax shows once a shopper enters their location
The simplest way to test your checkout is to place an order and then immediately refund yourself. This is also a good chance to test the refund process and email notifications. If you’ve followed our steps on how to create an online store, everything should work perfectly. But how will you know unless you test it?
Do Your Store’s Functions Work?
Next up is making sure your store actually works.
Make sure any clickable button or link is working. Hammering away on their mouse with no reward will frustrate your customers.
Your navigation bar should be easy to maneuver. It should feel like sailing around a calm lake, not swerving around potholed roads with lots of dead ends!
Ask friends and family to test your site and get feedback.
Have You Checked Your Store’s Content?
Would you spend your money at a store full of spelling and grammar mistakes?
A lot of people wouldn’t.
Many merchants make the mistake of launching an online store full of content errors. They get so caught up testing buttons and placing test orders that they don’t spot spelling mistakes. But this is the kind of thing that can make your store look amateurish.
When working out how to build an online store, this is one of the easiest steps to trip up on.
Go through your store with a fine tooth comb and check for bad spelling and grammar. This is a good opportunity to check all your pictures. Make sure they are optimized for site speed and accurately promote the product.
Does Your Store Work On Mobile?
More people are spending money on mobile than ever. If you’re learning how to build an online store nowadays, your site needs to work perfectly no matter what device your customer is using.
This is one of the biggest benefits of using an online store builder. They make it easy to check what your store looks like, and how it functions on different devices.
Your store needs to be responsive on mobile, tablet and desktop. In your builder’s preview mode toggle to the mobile icon to start testing.
Have You Tested Your Store On Different Browsers?
Don’t put your feet up once you know your store works well on mobile.
Your customers won’t only use different devices, they’ll use different browsers. Online store builders support most major browsers. This includes Google, Firefox and Internet Explorer, so you will be fine.
That said, it’s still worth taking five minutes to make sure!
Once you’ve previewed and tested your store, you’re ready to publish! You’re live and can start selling online.
PS. You should also be able to teach other small business owners how to build an online store too!
Learning how to build an online store to sell products online is not a straightforward task. But it can be much more complicated and stressful if you let all the micro details paralyze you from getting started.
When we first started building online stores, we worried about all the details which in retrospect turned out not to matter as much as we’d thought.
Instead of spending days agonizing and researching to inform ourselves, we should have just started building our store, then tackled those questions as we went along. This approach would have saved us so much time.
We hope this guide has shown you the important things to consider when starting an online store.
Follow our steps and learning how to build an online store will be easy. You’ll be online and selling in no time at all!
To get you started, we recommend you use Shopify, Wix or BigCommerce.
All three store builders are very intuitive to use and help you launch a store without any technical or design know-how.
The key to launching a business, is to launch it. Take action, build an online store, and then start tweaking it as you move forward.
Start you online store-building journey with one of the free trials listed below:
Don’t worry about whether each builder can do all 2,000 things you have in mind, especially with Shopify and BigCommerce. Both are very flexible platforms, and they have experts for hire to help you if you want to pursue that route.
Once you’re up and running, read our resources on building a successful ecommerce store.