How to Build an Online Shop?
We’re living in a time when 71 percent of people believe that buying something online will bring them a better shopping experience than buying it in a physical store. It’s simple, convenient and safe, which has driven the growth of the eCommerce industry over the past 5-10 years. The industry was predicted to grow by $370 billion in 2017 and it has hit that mark. Which means that there is plenty of room for growth and anyone who’s hungry for cash and has a product to sell, will join in for the fun.
If you have a good idea for a product or a lineup of products, then maybe it’s time to put those ideas to fruition. The eCommerce industry is shooting higher and higher with more people believing it and more people enjoying free shipping. I mean really, free shipping is one of the largest contributors to the industry’s success. About 50% of people choose to go through with their purchase, because people feel much calmer about spending money online if they only pay for the product.
With the fun eCommerce facts aside, let’s see how an online shop works. What process the user and the product goes through and how a website functions. I’ll also cover the quickest way you can launch an online store and what options you have in doing so. So, without further ado, let’s get down to business!
How an Online Shop Works
Amazon has sold over 20 million goods and has satisfied millions of customers all over the world. It seems as a very simple and smooth process, but it actually has a lot of people and a lot of processes involved, so we’ll start with that. So how does the process look, once a customer like you chooses to buy a product from an online store?
When you click on the buy button, you’ll have to send your money through a payment gateway. A payment gateway is an online service that facilitates payments through credit or debit cards. It basically allows you to send your money from your credit or debit card. It will charge 1% – 3% commission and releases the money to the e-tailer. After that, the two parties are alerted within seconds. The online retailer and the merchant.
After that the merchant packs your product into branded packaging and alerts the e-tailer. Then a delivery executive arrives at the merchant’s warehouse and collects the package. If you’re living in the same country where the e-tailer operates (which is highly unlikely), than the product will be brought to your local post office or to your house by a delivery boy. If not, than the delivery executive will take the package to the airport and it will be flown to the airport closes to you. When the transaction is done, the e-tailer will retain 6% – 15% from the sale and it will pass the rest of the profits onto the seller.
So buying and selling products online is a bit more complex process than others take it for. It’s important that you’re thankful when you get the package, because a lot of people were involved in getting it to you. Now, there’s a lot more to understand then just this, but this is the simplest way to see the process.
Reasons To Build an Online Shop
I should be dropping a serious motivational speech if you’re not motivated enough to start your online store as soon as possible. Because you probably have a pretty solid idea in place, you just have to work and bring it to fruition. It isn’t just an opportunity to make some money on the side or even a living, it’s an opportunity to make a complete change in your lifestyle. So, JUST DO IT!
Building your very own online store comes with plenty of benefits. Having your own online store is much better if have a working business offline and you want to branch out into the realms of the internet. To make things more comprehensive, here are number of reasons to build an online store.
It’s Less Expensive Than a Physical Store
There are probably more online stores now than there are physical ones. One of the reasons for that is the fact that launching an online store can get so inexpensive that even a college student or a teenager can do it. Which they did and made millions with it.
Even if you think about building a large business, it will require a much smaller initial investment. But it is worth to note that running an online store requires a consistent investment. You’ll either have to invest into improving your website or into marketing, branding and building your traffic.
You’re Open For Business 24/7
Since almost everything within an online store can be automated, you can make sales at any time. Customers can visit your website when it best suits them and you can display the deal of the day on your home page without doing any expensive advertisement.
You Have Much Wider Geographical Reach
I won’t tell you anything new when I talk about the massive reach of the internet. A local business can only spread throughout a nation or to neighboring nations at best, while an online business can spread anywhere around the world.
It Offers More Flexibility
You don’t have to run to the warehouse and back to put a product on display while it can be done from the comfort of your desk. You can update your store instantly and as many times as you would like.
Makes It Easier To Talk About Your Business
If you have a conventional outlet or a store somewhere in the city, your online store can also be a great way to market it. You can pinpoint your business’ location, show off something that’s on sale and have a FAQ section, which will help you in marketing your website by a great deal. So it basically functions as a separate marketing channel in itself.
Low Marketing Costs
It’s much easier to do promotions online, because they can be aimed at the exact demographics that you want to target. It is also a lot cheaper and can be done a lot faster. You’ll send 1,000 emails within an hour, while it could take more than a week to send out a 1,000 newsletters by post.
Reasons To Build An Online Store Instead of Selling On an Online Marketplace
A lot of people do business on sites like eBay, Amazon and other e-Marketplaces, which might be earning them a good bit of money. In fact, you might make some good money there with the right product. But building your own online store is a much better long term solution and it comes with an amazing amount of benefits.
You Can Have Your Own Brand
You come across too much of the same as you scroll through an online marketplace. All of the products are listed in the same way and it can get kind of boring. Sometimes the images of the products are the exact same copies, with only difference being a few dollars in their price. A buyer won’t see the difference between sellers and who they are and what kind of business they run will not be a factor in their buying decision. People only look at prices and additional bonuses like free shipping in these websites.
It Gives You Full Control
Remember that on an online marketplace, you’re only a user. Your store isn’t yours to begin with. If you for some reason you violate the rules, the business you worked so hard to build might go down the drain. Maybe you won’t be allowed to sell a particular kind of product there. Some online marketplaces will let you have your own store, while others won’t, it really depends on which one you use. But overall, you’ll still have a lot of limitations when it comes to designing your store. What kind of functions you use and how you run your business will be taken out of your hands.
You Don’t Have To Wage a Price War
An e-Marketplace can be a really violent space. A lot of blood is spilled when a popular product comes out and everyone is trying to sell it at the lowest price possible. Waging a price war is often the only option to someone who is just starting out on an online marketplace. People will buy the products simply because it is cheaper.
Just escape this price war and have your own unique online store that people can visit.
Build Relationships With Loyal Customers
This is one of the most important things when you’re running a business, the relationship you have with your customers. The only way you can do that online is by having a large customer database. Online marketplaces don’t offer you that functionality and they keep all of the data to themselves. While with your own store, you have access to every bit of data that goes through it. You can send emails to your loyal customers and have them come back to your store for a new purchase. You can also send them promotions, free stuff and just build a good relationship that will earn you their loyalty. Most of your income will come from them, so it’s important that you keep this part in mind.
How an Online Shop is Set Up
In this part, I’m going to assume that you have already figured out what kind of product you’ll be selling. If you know, than it’s worth checking Alibaba.com, because you can buy plenty of cheap products on wholesale. But it’s no problem if you’re just conjuring up the idea of what product you should sell. In that case, Shopify has made the process very simple, with guides on finding product opportunities, finding product ideas and selecting your product and/or niche (https://www.shopify.com/guides/what-to-sell). Now, let’s see how you can set up your shop and start selling your products.
Buying Web Hosting Plan
First things first, you’ll need a space to store your website in. For that you’ll need a hosting plan that provides an SSL protocol, database support, security features, payment processing services and possibly a shopping cart software. Your hosting plan should be one that supports eCommerce and it often costs a few dollars more than a company’s basic plan, but it’s nothing to panic about.
Choosing the right hosting company to run your business is like laying the foundation for your business. You shouldn’t go for a really cheap company that ends up providing you with a crap service. Read a few reviews to find a company that suits your budget and has received positive reviews. For example, InMotion, and A2 Hosting are quite good and reliable in my opinion.
A Dedicated IP Address
An online store has to have a dedicated IP address that allows the customers to connect to the server. During the process, the online store will encrypt the data that moves between the user and the server, so that no private information is compromised. You can safely use payment processors if you have a dedicated IP address, which is why it’s you must have one to be able to run an online store.
Buying a Domain Name
On one level, buying a domain is just a few clicks and can be done in a minute or so. It will cost around $10 – $50 most of the time and you’ll own it after you’ve bought it. But on another level, selecting the right domain to buy or conjuring up a domain name that fits your business might actually take you more than a week.
Do not take your domain name lightly, because it will be a defining factor in your online presence. Your domain name will be strongly linked to your store’s online identity. Which will greatly affect your marketing, which will affect your store’s success.
You can buy a domain name at a domain registrar like GoDaddy or NameCheap, but there’s also a good chance that you can do it at your hosting provider’s site as well.
Choosing a Shopping Cart Software or a Site Builder
Now that you have your hosting and your domain name in place, it’s time to build your site upon those foundations.
A shopping cart software, eCommerce software or a CMS is what powers an online site. You can also build your own site or hire developers to do it for you, but that would require a huge budget. You can purchase some of these software through vendors or use some of them free. I have dedicated an entire section to the site builders and eCommerce software you can use, so check them out if you want to know more. I’ve reviewed some good all-in-one site builders and eCommerce platforms that really help you do the job in the easiest way possible.
Your Merchant Interface
A merchant website is a secure website that you can use to manage your transactions, configure your account, generate reports, keep track of inventory and view your accounts’ statements. You’ll have to connect it with your bank account as well. It’s an interface that’s available from any computer, which makes it really convenient.
You also need a merchant interface because you have to process payments on the internet in real time. You can get this merchant system from the payment system you use, which will also integrate with your billing system and use it through the eCommerce platform you’ve chosen.
A Product Display
Your product display is the interface that the user interacts with. Users that come to your site, will want to look through your available products in the simplest way possible. You can also add descriptions, classifications and other functions that make the products more attracting.
Through the product display, your users can order the products, make payments, provide feedback, reach the customer service and do carry out other functions you implement into the site.
Shipping Costs Calculator
If you don’t offer free shipping it’s important that you implement a shipping costs calculator. Once a user places their chosen item into their shopping cart, it will add the shipping costs to the finalized order. The shipping costs will be calculated based on the distance of the user, the weight of the product and various other criteria.
You can’t make money without paying taxes, so your sale isn’t complete until you’ve calculated taxes. The tax rates can be updated by the store’s manager but you can also purchase additional software that will do it automatically.
Platforms For Building Your Website
There are three platforms you can use to build your website: store builders, open-source shopping carts or building a custom made website. These platforms are mostly very easy to use, which is great. But their robust nature also brings a lot of limitations when it comes to functionality. So they aren’t always the best option to build the perfect website you’ve envisioned. But they are definitely the easiest to use and will get the job done. I’ll go through the ones that are the best in my opinion.
BigCommerce is a simple eCommerce platform that allows business owners to build a shop and sell their products online. It’s paid for on a month-to-month basis, which includes access to the platform and the website’s hosting.
Within the platform you’ll have access to numerous customizable templates that will help you create the web-design you want for your store. BigCommerce allows you to sell both physical and digital goods and provides the tools necessary to keep track of your inventory. It also provides the tools necessary to market your store and all of the features are made to be comprehensive for non-tech-savvy users as well.
Developers can easily tweak the HTML and CSS code of the pages to customize their design, but users with no design skills can easily get the hang of using the platform. In fact, BigCommerce is mainly aimed at people who don’t know much about web development and would like to run their store as easily as possible.
BigCommerce’s most popular features are what you would expect to see in an online store, but some of them are very limited.
- Use professional reporting tools
- Add vouchers and discount coupons
- Use the full content management system functionality
- SEO friendly pages
- The ability to choose from 7 different templates.
- Integration with various payment gateways
- Integration with email marketing tools and services
BigCommerce comes with four different plans:
- The Standard Plan $29.95 / month
- The Plus Plan $79.95 / month
- The Pro Plan $249.95 / month
Every plan incorporates more of the above mentioned features and broader possibilities to market your online store and scale your online business with a comprehensive arsenal of features. For more information, check out BigCommerce’s official website.
Volusion is one of the most popular hosted eCommerce platforms on the market. The platform’s aim is to provide business owners with a full toolkit of eCommerce solutions that allow them to create and manage their website in a comprehensive manner. These features include customer management, inventory management, marketing features and other tools that are required to manage a business in an ever changing market. In short, you’ll have everything you need to start, run and grow your online shop and have full control of it.
Once you’ve built your website you can rest assured that it will function the way it was supposed to. It will be fast and secure, because the company’s experts will always ensure that it runs on its best. Your users will not have to wait for your page to load, which is one of the most important features of an online store. Plenty of studies point to the fact that website speed directly affects conversion rates. If your page takes more than 2 seconds to load, you might have already lost the sale. Thankfully, Volusion pages take about a second to load.
When it comes to marketing your site, Volusion has a wide variety of SEO features that help you slowly rank on top of the search engine results. It’s quite awesome.Updating your store’s inventory can also be done in very few steps. There are numerous options which allow you to upload a large number of products at once and sort them the way you want to.
Volusion is easily the most comprehensive paid eCommerce platform. It includes everything that first timers need, such as plenty of educational material and some hand—holding. Volusion offers support through email. Phone, live chat and a ticket system as well. You can reach out to them 24/7. Most reviews and our experience shows that you can reach them pretty quickly and they’ll fix whatever you need as fast as they can. They’re quite knowledgeable and know how to leave users with a positive experience. But I wouldn’t say that they stand above BigCommerce, Shopify or any of the other major platforms.
Volusion is simple and it gets the job done. It is very robust and simple to use. The website you build will be hosted instantly, which makes things incredibly easy. You’ll have access to plenty of developer resources and various operations features that make running your online store much simpler. It isn’t a too impressive platform, though so you might want to see others on this list as well.
Weebly is one of the most amazingly accessible website builders out there. It allows you to build an outstandingly good-looking website without having to write even a line of code. It has offers as low as $8 per month, but you also have a long enough trial period to see if it fits you before you pay a dime. It currently powers more than 40 million websites, which is about 2% of all websites on the internet. It has received plenty of praise from its users, which include business owners and entrepreneurs of all kinds as well. It’s easy to come across some inspiring success stories when you look around Weebly’s website.
Weebly’s success is thanks to the fact that it offers a lot of functionality in the most comprehensive manner possible. Even though Weebly is one of the most comprehensive website builders, it doesn’t strip you from the possibility to edit code if you have the knowledge to do so. It comes with a built-in code editor that allows you to customize your website to better fit your need.
It stands tall in the design department as well. Weebly offers a large collection of mobile-responsive, on-trend themes that are frequently updated to fit the market. Even if you don’t find the exact website of your needs, you can switch between the code editor and the very comprehensive website builder. So you can always rest assured that you have the potential to build the website you envisioned. Which brings me to my second point.
The fact that Weebly is the most comprehensive website builder also brings a lot of limitations along. It’s easy to find Weebly’s drag-and-drop customization tools limited when you have wild dreams about the website you’re going to build. If you’re not confident with writing HTML/CSS code, you might find yourself running out of customization options.
Weebly also requires some more innovative features. Don’t get me wrong, the platform is by no means old. It gets new features a few times every year, but I would like to have them much more frequently.
I found that blogging needs a lot more improvement as well. As a writer, I require a bit more than just the basics. Sure you can schedule your posts and have social media buttons, add media with drag-and-drop features and run your blog pretty well. But you can’t highlight popular posts and can’t really do much with the way your posts are shown on your website.
In short, is Weebly for you?
If you’re looking to build a personal site, online portfolio, or a small online store, Weebly will be perfect. It’s easy to use, making your website building process fast and simple. But if you’re looking to build a larger eCommerce website or a larger online store with a more complex system, you’re better off using something else. There are a lot of other, more sophisticated site builders on this list as well.
Open Source Platforms
On the contrary to hosted website building platforms, open-source platforms are free-to-use and are powered by a large community instead of nothing but a private company. This is because they are very versatile and flexible, making it possible for users to develop useful features on their own. Though every platform is developed by a reputable company, they are open-source, so any user can choose to develop something entirely new for the system. They are also much better at handling online stores than any other option out there. Here are the best and most popular open-source eCommerce platforms on the internet right now.
WooCommerce is an eCommerce plugin for the insanely popular content management system WordPress. It upgrades the platform to incorporate all the features that are required to build and manage an online store effectively. It is very popular even today and millions of people use it to run their WordPress powered online store.
The plugin’s creator WooThemes has created numerous additional templates and extensions that make this system worthwhile to use. Both WordPress and WooThemes, along with most plugins can be used for free.
Even though it is a part of an open-source platform, using WooCommerce isn’t complicated by any means. It lets you conveniently handle every aspect of your online store within the settings menu. You can manage products, tax, checkout, shipping, accounts, emails and even the website’s API’s. From there, it’s easy to add payment options, products and manage every aspect of your store to fit your needs. Through this interface, you’ll most likely have to add various plugins to your system, such as a shipping company’s software, payment gateways, an email marketing plugin and any other additional feature you would like to have on your site. This is where you’ll first be charged with expenses as you build your store on this system.
A lot of WordPress plugins in general require you to pay a fee before you can use them. Some come for free, while others are premium and paid to use. It’s just how it goes. But you can definitely go by with spending a lot less money in a year than you would with a website building platform.
WooCommerce makes it easy to handle both physical and virtual products, which not many platforms can do well. You can just add a product with a description in a few clicks, and see it show up on your website a few seconds after.
When it comes to design, a WooCommerce online shop is just as easy to design as any other WordPress website. You can simply look around in an online store like ThemeForest or the WooCommerce Theme Store and buy one. After that you can have it on your site with a few clicks.
It’s also fairly easy to market and grow your online store. WooCommerce can handle a large amount of products, although if you have too much, there’s a chance that your site will slow down. A lot of people have reported to have their websites load a lot slower, once they have uploaded a couple of hundred products. But that also depends on the hosting you have, not just the platform you use. Although I wouldn’t recommend using WooCommerce if you’re looking to launch something huge like an online marketplace.
In short, WooCommerce is the best option for someone who’s looking to use WordPress. It will provide full control over the shop you build and include plenty of handy features right out of the box. It will take some time to get used to if you’re not too familiar with WordPress. But the amount of online resources available will make learning much faster. It is also important to mention that even though the platform is free, you’ll likely run into numerous expenses that you wouldn’t expect.WooCommerce will prove to be great for someone who is looking to launch a shop with about a 100 products and a tight budget. Setting up your site might cause more initially, but it will prove to be a lot more inexpensive option in the long term. Overall, WooCommerce is a good platform to build your website upon. There are plenty of good examples of WooCommerce stores on the web.
OpenCart is another eCommerce solution that allows you to create an online shop and start selling your products. It also delivers all the standard online store functionality that you would require for your website and more.
Since OpenCart is an open source platform, you can download the main script for free and modify it in whatever way you like. To top it off, you’ll get free support and free updates forever, so it’s really worth looking into.
You just have to download OpenCart from the official website and install it on the hosting server you’re looking to store your website on. Some hosting providers even offer OpenCart in the form of a one click install, making your job infinitely easier. To run it, you’ll need PHP 5.2, support for a MySQLi database and Curl enabled on your server.
OpenCart is simple to use, but you’ll require some web experience or have someone to help out, in order to make the most of it. But if you can handle it, you can start selling your products without spending on anything else besides your hosting.
To add extra features to your site, you’ll have to install new modules and that’s where you’ll have to spend plenty of cash. Some modules can cost up to $300, so you might find that there are indeed cheaper options out there. However, it’s only paid for one time, so it really depends on how you manage your money.
With OpenCart, you’ll have all the features you need for running an online store. You can sell both physical and digital products and support a multitude of currencies and languages. It includes shipping calculators, 20 payment gateways, numerous templates, printable invoices, and sales reports, backup and restore tools and more.
Open Cart is the most robust system on this list that you can access for free. You’re willing to learn and spend a few hundred dollars on building your site, you’ll end up with a pretty decent online store. For more information, check out OpenCart’s official site!
Magento is one of the most powerful options for building an online store. It a platform that is able to handle multimillion enterprises that require the most advanced eCommerce features. The top customers of Magento are the likes of Easton, GANT, Paul Smith, and Nespresso and so on. So, it’s safe to assume that Magento is made for massive online stores that have a revenue near $1 million.
Magento isn’t your everyday shop by any means. It is open source, so you can download and use it for free, but you won’t get too far without any developer knowledge. Also, if you go with the Enterprise version of Magento, get ready to spend some serious money.
Though if you have the skills required, you can work your way around Magento’s open source version, without spending too much. It functions similarly as other content management systems. Magento has plenty of available plug-ins, extensions and templates for designing your website. A lot of them are created by a large community of third-party developers.
It is a very promising platform with plenty of functionality and flexibility speaking for it. But the setback of Magento isn’t its features. It’s the fact that if you’re not a person who’s knowledgeable in PHP, you’ll have to hire a Magento developer to build your store, which will be quite expensive. Also, the open-source version does not provide PCI compliance, payment processors, customer support or any security features. You’ll have to handle everything yourself, including your hosting and registering your domain name (which isn’t hard to do though).
So either way you look at Magento, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to get your online store up and running for free. In fact, you should have a budget of around $15,000 and $70,000 to use Magento’s Enterprise edition. If you can, than you’ll be gifted with the most complex and most pricy eCommerce features in the industry. The platform is easily extendable and can handle thousands of products without a problem.
Here are a list of features of the Enterprise edition:
- Customer Loyalty Rewards
- Gifting Options
- Configurable Order Tracking Widget
- Store Credits
- Multiple Wish Lists
- Private Sales
- Add to Cart by SKU
- Gift Registry
- Rewards Points
- Merchandising and Marketing Features
- Visual Merchandizer
- Automated Email Marketing Reminder
- Dynamic Rule-Based Product Relations
- Customer Segmentation, Targeted Promotions & Merchandising
- Category View and Purchase Permissions per Customer Group (Limited Catalog Access)
- Shop Management Tools
- Scheduled Import/Export Functionality
- Return Management Authorization (RMA)
- Staging, Merging and Rollback of Content
- Strong Data Encryption, Hashing and Key Management
- Advanced Permissions
- Logging of Administrator Actions
- Google Tag Manager
- Support Tool
- Content Management System
- Customer Attribute Management
- Performance and Scalability
- Order Archiving
- Full Page Caching
- Scalable Backend Systems
- PA-DSS Certification/Payment Bridge
- Optimized Indexing
- Alternate Media Storage Support – CDN and Database
It’s needless to say that Magento beats any other eCommerce platform. Its insane set of eCommerce features make it a sure winner in running an online store. But you’ll have to have plenty of cash in store in order to use it. If you don’t have the budget or the technical knowledge to use it, you’ll be much better off by using WooCommerce or OpenCart.
Custom Made Websites
Using the type of platforms I’ve mentioned above, isn’t for every type of business, although they can handle many. In case you have a much more unique idea you want to accomplish, with numerous unique features, building a custom website from scratch might be the option for you. However, it is a much more costly option than any other that we’ve mentioned if you you’re not a programmer. Hiring developers to build an online store will cost a lot more. Every feature you require will add more to your bill and you’ll spend a great deal of money just to end up with the same basic functionalities that you would with any of the other platforms we’ve mentioned.In short, having a custom website, built by developers is a good option in case your business plan falls outside of simple retail. If you want to bring a complex idea to life and have the budget for it, building a custom online store might just be for you.
Well, that came out longer than I have expected, but that pretty much covers the initial steps of building an online store. If you have a tight budget, I recommend learning a bit more and going with an open-source solution, because they’ll prove to be a better long term investment. But if you just want to have about 10-20 products online as quickly and as easily as possible, go with an all-inclusive website building platform and enjoy the benefits. It really comes down to the amount of technical knowledge you possess and your initial budget. Open source platforms require a bigger investment initially, which will pay off once your store is on the right track. Services like Weebly and Volusion will require you to pay a monthly fee forever, but will make your job easier.
I hope you have enjoyed reading through this article and that we’ll see you again soon in the next one!