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How To Start an Online Store (A Step-by-Step Guide)

Image of person using the Shopify app on his smartphone

If you’re thinking about how to start an online store, the many steps involved may make the entire process seem daunting. This is especially so for someone without any prior entrepreneurial or ecommerce experience. 

In reality, with the right information and tools, it’s anything but.

In this post, we’ll guide you through everything you need to do for a stress-free and successful launch.

Let’s get right to it.

How To Start an Online Store in 7 Steps

Step 1. Choose a Niche

The very first step to starting an online store is deciding on your niche (i.e. your market).

Think about who your target audience is and what types of products you’re interested in selling. This can be based on your personal interests and passions, or something you’re particularly skilled at.

Say you’re a fashion fanatic who always keeps up-to-date with the latest trends coming out of Japan, launching a wholesale clothing store with this focus would be right up your alley.

Or perhaps you’re a natural craftsperson with a penchant and talent for creating handmade wood sculptures, in which case the home decor niche might be a good fit.

Ideally, you’d want to find something that hits that sweet spot between passion and skill.

Aside from being passionate about your niche, you also want to make sure there’s a market for it – in other words, sales opportunities.

Since you’ll be selling online, your research should focus on your online competitors.

Some basic Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) knowledge will come in handy here as it’ll give you an idea of what keywords you need to target and rank for in order to position your online store well on search engines.

Free tools like the Google Keyword Planner, Google Trends, Ahref’s Keyword Generator, and AnswerThePublic are great for determining your store potential and the market’s competitiveness.

Screenshot of Google keyword planner

Step 2. Decide on a Store Name

Once you’ve chosen a niche for your online store, the next step is to name it.

You can come up with one yourself based on your product, your name, or anything that inspires you. 

Ideally, your business name should be related to your niche and include a keyword. For example, say you’re starting an online store focused on woodwork. Your business could be called Sarah’s Woodwork Designs or Sarah’s Woodwork Design Boutique. 

You’ll also want to aim for it to be memorable and punchy, so throwing in a pun or popular reference could work well.

Alternatively, there are tools available to help you with this.

For instance, Shopify’s business name generator is free and extremely easy to use. Simply punch in an idea for a name and it’ll give you an entire list of possible options.

You can select one from this list or use it as inspiration. 

Screenshot of Shopify's free business name generator tool

Step 3. Register Your Domain and Create Social Media Accounts

Next, register a domain. This is essentially the URL (web address) your online store will sit at.

If you’re using Shopify’s business name generator and setting up an online store with them, the previous step will have registered your domain already.

If you’re not registering your online store on Shopify, you’ll need to select and register your own domain. (You can always transfer a third-party domain to Shopify at a later stage.)

To do this, you need to first make sure that the domain name you want is available.

Hop on over to Namechk and punch in your store name. The tool generates a list of the most popular domain extensions and tells you whether or not they’re still available.

Screenshot of Namechk tool

.com extensions are the most popular, but that also means the chances of them being taken are high.

Whichever domain extension you select, remember to pick one that would make sense for your business.

For instance, if you’ve decided to sell footwear, a .shoes domain would fit perfectly. Otherwise, you could also go for more generic ones like .biz, .me, or .us.

However, when doing so, keep in mind that the extension you select can have an impact on memorability and trust.

Apart from your domain, you also want to make sure to get social media usernames registered. 

Go to namecheckr and enter your business name. The tool scans through all the social networks and their username availability.

Screenshot of namecheckr tool in use

What we particularly like about namecheckr is that social networks aside, it also shows you the availability of other tools and platforms.

These include IFTTT, which automates processes by connecting apps and devices. This helps to save time and frees you up to focus on more important aspects of your business. Online marketplace eBay is also on the list, which is nice to know (and have) should you decide to expand your business in the future. 

Step 4. Pick a Business Model

When you’re thinking about how to start an online store, there are lots of different business models to consider. To decide, you’ll need to think about factors like your budget, knowledge, target market, and personal goals.

Business models like dropshipping and print-on-demand are low-cost options that do not require you to hold inventory. This makes them very attractive options if you want to start an online store right away and/or are looking for something less risky and more hands-off. Because they’re less time-consuming, running them as a side hustle is also very feasible.

As a crafter or maker, you can start an online store to sell your handmade items. This gives you full control over your brand, product quality, and price. It will, however, be more time-consuming and the product range you’re able to offer will be limited to your skills and resources.

If being able to offer a wide variety of products is key to your online business, your best bet would be to go wholesale. With it, you have the option of stocking your store with a whole assortment of merchandise from different suppliers. 

Plus, more often than not, these wholesalers are established businesses that have already made a name for themselves on the market. This means that their products have been tried and tested, which presents lower risks for you. Buying wholesale, however, would mean having to manage inventory and hold stock, which will require additional storage space.

Regardless of whether you’ve opted to dropship or wholesale – or any other model, for that matter – make sure to do enough research as this will lay the foundation for your business.

Step 5. Source Products and Suppliers

Image of products on display in a retail store

The next step in starting an online store is to source products and suppliers. Depending on the business model you’ve chosen, this may be a slight overlap with the previous step.

If you’re selling your own handmade products, you won’t really need a supplier. However, there’s always the option of combining this set-up with wholesale buying. You can purchase related products in bulk and sell them in your online store alongside your own handcrafted items. This expands your store range and also opens up the possibility of cross-selling.

For instance, say you’re selling delectable snacks for the year-end holiday season. You could also consider acquiring greeting cards from print wholesalers to cross-sell. 

If you’ve decided to buy wholesale, you’ll need to look for wholesale distributors. To do that, you can use online wholesale marketplaces like Handshake, which allows you to filter and sort by supplier location, product category, and more.

Step 6. Create an Ecommerce Website With Shopify

With all that done, your next step is to get your ecommerce website up and running with Shopify.

Screenshot of Shopify landing page

With over 70 professionally designed ready-made templates (both free and paid), you’re completely spoiled for choice. 

And the best part is, even though they’re templates, they offer plenty of room for customization so you can finetune every single detail down to your liking (more on this later).

They’re also affordable, with pricing plans starting at just $29 per month – an absolute steal for a platform with so many features. Plus, if you’re not ready to commit, they offer a free 14-day trial so you have time to decide.

One benefit of using Shopify is that the platform sets your online store up automatically with the SSL certificate, which is required to accept online payments. The SSL certificate encrypts the connection between your buyers and the server to protect sensitive information like credit card details, name, and billing/shipping addresses from being stolen.

Another advantage of using Shopify is that it comes with thousands of integrations that help to streamline ecommerce processes from marketing and merchandising to customer service and delivery. This includes Handshake, if you choose a wholesale business model or you want to do a bit of everything.

Screenshot of list of Shopify integrations

After picking a website design, you’ll want to customize it so that it’s unique to your online business.

This is especially if you’ve selected a free template as the chances of your online storefront looking similar to another business’ are pretty high.

Thankfully, there are options to help you differentiate your store.

If you’re design-savvy and are familiar with code (specifically, Liquid, Shopify’s templating language), feel free to go at it yourself. Alternatively, you can reach out to Shopify’s team of expert developers and designers who would be more than happy to help you out for a fee.

Here are some customizations that have proven to be extremely effective at boosting sales that we highly recommend you work into your online store:

  • Recommend related and last-viewed products
  • Highlight your best-selling products
  • Cross-sell at checkout
  • Set up automatic abandoned cart messaging
  • Integrate UGC (user-generated content) into every stage of your sales funnel

Step 7. Start Marketing and Selling

Image of person holding mobile phone with social media icons on the screen

At this stage, you’ve got your supplier, products, and personalized ecommerce website. In short, you’re almost there.

The last thing you need to do when starting an online store is to create a digital marketing plan for your business. This means getting your brand in front of your target audience’s eyes and attracting them to your shop.

Although this is the final step to starting an online store, it’s going to be a step that you are constantly tweaking. It’s a learning experience so don’t be afraid if you don’t get it right the first time. The key here is to keep at it and learn from your mistakes.

Here are some of the most popular (and effective) digital marketing tactics:

Social Media

Make full use of those usernames you signed up for in step three! Find out which social networks your target audience hangs out at and engage with them there.

SEO Content Marketing

Write blog posts and create landing pages that provide value to your visitors. Effective content marketing targets all stages of the buyer’s journey.

Don’t forget to integrate SEO into your product pages while you’re at it for more visibility on search engines.

Email Marketing

Emails are a great way to inform your buyers of new product launches, special events, sales, and more.

So start collecting a list of email subscribers and creating newsletters. There’s no hard rule as to how often they must be sent out. You can do them once a week, once a month, or as and when you want.

If your budget allows for it, consider running ad campaigns on Google, social media, or both. 

Awesome, you’re now equipped with all the information and tools you need to start an online store.

The above-mentioned steps can be applied to pretty much all digital stores. But there are certain nuances you will need to pay attention to depending on your business.

Here are three of the most popular types of online businesses and important steps to integrate into the process.

How To Start an Online Clothing Store: Research Your Niche

Image of retail bags placed around a laptop

Clothing stores rank among the top digital stores that entrepreneurs start – and for good reason. 

Online fashion revenues in the US are estimated to total a whopping $124.4 billion in 2021. That’s not all. This is expected to rise to $153.6 billion by 2024.

What’s more, between plus-size, sustainability-focused, kidswear, and loads more, there are just so many niches to pick from.

Because clothing is such a massive umbrella category, it’s best to look into the different categories and study their potential before deciding on a focus.

Consider things like its popularity, the number of competitors, difficulty in getting exclusivity from a supplier, your value proposition, and more.

How To Start an Online Thrift Store: Sweet Pricing Spot

One of the advantages of starting an online thrift store is that they never seem to go out of style.

Thanks to their constant low prices, they are always popular shopping destinations regardless of the state of the economy.

Online thrift stores are, as its name implies, where consumers can acquire goods at bargain prices. They can be anything from collaborations with non-profit organizations and consignment stores to shops selling second-hand items.

Despite what one might infer from its name, thrift stores can be extremely profitable. This is especially if you’re buying your items at reduced prices and adding a decent mark-up. The trick lies in hitting that sweet spot between your retail price being sufficiently lower than what buyers may find in another store (yet providing enough value) and high enough so you can pocket a nice profit.

The general rule of thumb is to retail them at three times the purchase price. However, this is just a guideline and you’ll probably have to play around with pricing a little to know what works best.

Another thing about starting an online thrift store is that you’ll need to source your products from physical stores and hold them until you’re able to sell them. This means storage space will be required. 

How To Start an Online Store Without Inventory: Dropshipping

Dropshipping and print-on-demand are popular online business models that don’t require any inventory. 

The way these stores work is that they work with trusted suppliers with whom they place orders whenever a buyer purchases from them. These suppliers then ship the item(s) directly to the buyer without the business never actually seeing or touching them.

While the advantage of not requiring storage space for inventory is attractive (a contributing factor to the low set-up costs), you can never be too careful.

Note that we said “trusted” suppliers. One key step to ensuring your online business runs successfully and smoothly is to stringently vet your suppliers and products.

When choosing a supplier, it’s important to order product samples so you get a feel of the supplier’s communication and attitude, as well as the quality of their goods.

Summary: How to Start an Online Store in 2022

We hope this article’s given you a clear overview of how to start an online store in 2022.

Here’s a summary of the steps we discussed:

  1. Choose a niche
  2. Decide on a store name
  3. Register your domain and social media accounts
  4. Pick a business model
  5. Source products and suppliers
  6. Create an ecommerce website with Shopify
  7. Start marketing and selling

Do you have any questions about starting an online store? Drop us a note in the comments and we’ll get back to you!

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