According to MarketingCharts, 55 percent of the U.S. population shops online, and those online purchasers will spend $347 billion this year, says Statistics Brain, which compiled data from several sources. Are you ready to open an online store, but don’t know where to start? Here’s an eight-step guide you can follow to get your store up and running.
1. Research Your Idea
Many entrepreneurs make the fatal flaw of marketing something that consumers just don’t want to buy. Avoid this startup trap by researching your idea to make sure it’s solid.
- Talk to friends, family, and others and tell them about your idea. Ask for honest input about whether your product is something they would likely purchase.
- Test your idea with an online focus group. Have anonymous users test your site, rate your product, and give valuable feedback by forming an online focus group. Look for companies like Mindspot and InsideHeads to organize them for you.
- Search secondary sources. Scour the internet and look at your future competitors’ sites. Determine what you will do better, and how you will stand out from the crowd.
2. Register the Domain Name
Now it’s time to register your domain name. You should think carefully about the name you choose because it’s part of your brand, and don’t give up if your first few choices are already taken. If you can’t find a suitable .com extension, try one of the newer extensions like .biz, .net or .co. Next, choose how long you want to reserve the name — you can choose from one to 10 years. Popular sites for registering your domain name are are GoDaddy, Register.com, and Namecheap.com. You can register your name for about $10 per year.
3. Find a Web Host
A web host rents internet space to website owners, and this space houses the pages and images on your site. Most places that register domain names also offer web hosting, but you can also use other sites like Bluehost. It’s important that if you allow your web host to register your domain name that they register it in your name. Otherwise, you don’t officially own it, and that could cause problems if you want to switch hosts later. If you have any doubts about whether you are the registered owner, use the whois search tool to find out.
4. Design the Site
You have two options when it comes to designing your website. You can hire a designer to create a custom site, or you can design and build the site yourself, which is the least expensive of the options. If you decide to build your own site, many web hosts offer free website building tools, and low-cost consulting services. You can also build your site using WordPress, a free website and blog platform that offers many themes and plugins to choose from. First find a web host that supports WordPress, such as Bluehost or DreamHost, and then download the WordPress software. Note that you’ll need additional and substantial customization to enable an e-commerce platform.
5. Get Set Up to Accept Online Payments
Obviously, customers need a way to pay you for their purchases. You can accept online payments this by using a merchant account plus a payment gateway, an all-in-one provider, or other options, including e-checks and ACH transfers. Here’s how they differ:
- Merchant account plus a payment gateway. A merchant account is a special account set up through your bank that allows you to accept credit cards, and an online payment gateway connects that bank account to your web store. Popular payment gateways are SecureNet and Authorize.Net. You will have to apply for both of them, and pay fees and possible setup charges.
- All-in-one online payment solutions. These services allow for quick setup and you don’t have to apply to get started, although you do have to link your bank account to them.There are no setup fees, but transaction fees do apply. Some providers include PayPal, Dwolla, and Stripe.
- E-checks and ACH bank transfers. Some people don’t use credit or debit cards, and you’ll need to provide a way for them to pay, as well. You can use a service like QuickBooks Payments to increase your customer payment options.
6. Design Your Delivery System
A plan to deliver your products to the customers that buy them is an important aspect of a well-designed online store. Your delivery system will depend on what you sell. For instance, if you sell downloadable information, such as e-books or white papers, you can use a digital publishing platform such as DPD. If you purchase wholesale from a manufacturer who houses the inventory, you can employ a drop-shipping company such as ShipStation. And if you plan to house and ship the products yourself, you should create a shipping rate strategy and schedule, or use an fulfillment service like Shipwire. You will send them your products, and they fill the orders as they come in.
7. Market Your Site
Your next step is to ensure that consumers know about your site. Here are some of the ways you can market it. Fill your site with quality content to increase your search engine ranking. This will allow more people to find your site. Create an interesting and informative blog that keeps site visitors coming back for new posts. Keep the email addresses of the people who buy from you, and use email marketing to announce sales and new product offerings. Video marketing is becoming more important to websites as consumers are using them more often to inform buying decisions. Make one that talks about the benefits of your products, or instructs viewers how to use them. Don’t forget about social media. You should set up accounts with Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest at a minimum, and learn how best to engage with your customers via social media.
8. Track Your Growth
To measure your success, you should track and measure your site’s growth and determine which online marketing methods are getting results. Do this by closely following your site’s search engine ranking for the keywords that you target, and by using tools such as Google Analytics. The free tool offers you insight into your most popular pages and keywords, and helps you track the source of your web traffic.