How To Start An Online Retail Business



Before we start, I want you to answer a question: can an e-commerce business flourish without an impeccable online presence? The answer is an obvious “no”. With more than 2.5 billion people buying stuff online, it doesn’t matter what product you are selling and how big your company is, every entrepreneur needs a website that will show the products at their best, attract new customers, and increase brand awareness.


7 Things to Do to Start an eCommerce Store


Online business is inseparable from a website. So if you are not sure where to start when it comes to launching an online retail company, in this post, I’ll walk you through the basics of the process and shed light on some points that should be taken into account.


Step 1. Find the Sphere You Wish to Work In & The Product You Want to Sell


Choosing the niche of your future project is definitely among the key decisions that you should make. I mean, you have to define what is the product you want to sell online in order to make up your mind on further things that will follow this decision. Here are some factors you should pay attention to:


  • Market demand. Do market research to find out whether your product is commercially successful. Such tools as Google Keyword Planner or WordStream will help you carry out complete market analysis and find out whether the demand for the product is high. Additionally, those tools are free to use.

  • Trends. Browse such websites as Alibaba, Etsy, Amazon, eBay, and their “What’s hot” and “Most Popular” sections to capture the interests of your potential leads.

  • Competition. Do Google search to discover the businesses you’ll have to compete with. Define the strategy you will apply to stand out among competitors.


Step 2. Decide On The Type Of Your Store


As far as online businesses are concerned, there are several ways to go. Eliminating the scenario of you manufacturing the items, we are left with two paths: dropshipping and retail. Let’s discuss both business models.


  1. Being a retailer means that you resell something that is manufactured not by your company. Even though you are not producing the products yourself, you are still handling the entire process of the sale from start to finish: display the items, store them, process the order, package the product sold, then ship it, and finally receive customer feedback.

  2. Being a dropshipper means that you never actually own the product physically. You display the product on the website and once an order is placed, you pass it to the wholesaler or manufacturer and pay the wholesale price. They pack the product and ship it to the customer and you receive money from the client. Keep in mind that since it is you who is an “intermediary” between the manufacturer and the clients, you are responsible for handling possible issues and complaints.

Step 3: Choose a Proper Domain Name


A domain name is a major element of any e-commerce site since it is the first thing visitors see when launching on a store. An URL determines the first impression and affects brand recognition.


Being a web developer who has been working on creating over 100 websites for companies of all sizes, I would like to share some tips which I personally use when assisting my clients to pick the right domain name.


  1. Since proper keywords added to a domain name can affect SEO, try to leverage this point to gain extra score.

  2. Keep your URL short. It should be easy to pronounce and type. Opt for another TLD if it requires explaining the spelling or hard to understand.

  3. Avoid hyphenated domain names and words with unclear spelling (for example, the words “witch” and “which” sound very similar.

  4. Engage the most popular extensions (.com, . net).

  5. Stay away from the domains that already have trademarks. Consider using domain name generators such as Namemash to get a plethora of options to choose from.

  6. Use niche keywords relevant to your business area. As such, your URL has to dredge up images of the product you are selling.

Step 4: Get a Hosting Plan That Makes Sense


The choice of a hosting provider depends on many factors: the size of the store, the bandwidths, the number of visitors, etc. Thus, if you are an owner of a small website with a poor range of products, then shared hosting would be an optimal option for you. However, a noteworthy detail is that in this case the business owner should be prepared for low bandwidths, the dependence of this hosting type on the physical server crashes, as well as possible security risks.


If you own a middle-size or large store with a wide range of products on sale and high traffic volumes, VPS and cloud hosting are both good alternatives. The biggest advantage of these hosting types is scalability meaning that users can pay for the resources that the stores use without overpaying. Therefore, hosting space automatically expands during seasonal spikes and shrinks when the demand is low.


Step 5: Decide Which Platform To Use


Content management system (CMS) is a WEB-interface or computer program that provides tools for data management and basically ensures the entire operation of stores on the Internet.


There are over 370 e-commerce platforms that can be used to run websites of all sizes. I want to delve into the most popular ones.


WordPress And Wix


When searching for a profitable CMS solution, business owners are likely to give more attention to free options in the first instance. This is a logical decision since they are not yet sure about the idea and are afraid to invest lots of money in a risky venture.


Wix and WordPress are both powerful platforms and easy-to-use website constructors that offer the opportunity to build stores without outsourcing. Thanks to drag-and-drop blocks and a wide range of easily modifiable templates, even a non-techy can build a website as per their audience needs. There are a plethora of websites where you can find a plethora of themes for online stores.


If you need more features, opt for one of their affordable plans. Each paid plan includes a custom domain name, free hosting, extra bandwidths, and priority support. With some plans, you will also get the ability to add some monetization tools, use advanced design customization, and integrate custom plugins.


BigCommerce


BigCommerce is a robust SaaS platform that is treated as a powerful SaaS solution for creating e-commerce stores. The CMS is PCI compliant and comes with apps that one can leverage for marketing and other purposes due to flexible APIs. BigCommerce is used by many famous brands including Toyota, Travelpro, and Gibson Guitar. The greatest thing about the CMS is that it goes with everything you may need to start a successful store: shared hosting, basic integrations, marketing and SEO tools, payment gateways, blogging features.


Magento


With Magento, you can customize your site whatever you want. Thanks to the flexible architecture, the CMS scales as your business grows. However, this outstanding scalability and flexibility come at a price. Even though Magento can be free of charge, if you want to stand out among competitors, sooner or later you’ll have to switch to the paid version. And this decision is quite expensive. The average budget for a classic M2 site is between $22,000 to $50,000. Besides, this robust CRM requires strong coding skills, as well as the knowledge of the platform architecture. Taking into account that more and more business owners want to turn their stores into PWA, they have to know at least one of the progressive frameworks and tools such as React.js and PWA Studio.


Step 6: Craft Your Catalog and Database


While creating your website content, make sure you give extra time to your product pages. These are the pages that matter most since they immediately convey the value of the featured products. Therefore, I recommend following these simple rules when adding products to your database:


  • Pay special attention to product descriptions and ensure you give all necessary data on your items.

  • Avoid duplicate content.

  • Add images of great quality but don’t forget to optimize your pictures in terms of weight and size.

  • Make sure you fill out meta-tags properly for each page, use relevant keywords, and never ever copy-paste your content since this negatively affects your ranking.

  • Consider proper categorization. As such, your products should be available within 3 clicks from the home page.

Step 7: Create corresponding social media shops


Once your e-commerce store is equipped with a neat product catalog, it is high time to take advantage of the opportunities that are offered by social media channels. No doubt, it must be admitted that this step won’t be so effective for every sphere of online retail. Yet for many niches (for example, clothes, apparel, cosmetics) you’ll miss out a lot if you don’t get the most of it.


Such social media platforms as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest currently provide business owners with the opportunity to sell directly from them. For instance, Instagram has made it possible to create shoppable posts and stories with direct links to online stores. All you need is a verified official business account which must be integrated with your e-commerce store’s product catalog. Presto! Now your followers can see the prices and details of the tagged item, as well as click the link leading to the corresponding product page to purchase it. Take a look at Olivia Burton’s official Instagram account. The followers can identify shoppable posts by a small cart icon located on the right corner.


Final Word


Summing up, launching a store for retail business is not rocket science. No doubt, it requires detailed planning and including resources and money investing to be spent on expanding the product line, increasing brand awareness, and growing the client database. However, these investments will definitely pay off.


Guest post by Alex Husar. Alex is a Technology Officer at Onilab. As a CTO, he is engaging in lots of projects and wants to share the expertise he got within more than 8 years of working with e-commerce brands.