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In this post, I’m going to show you how to make an online store.
Creating an online store is fairly easy. Selling isn’t.
So, this post isn’t just about what ecommerce platform to use. It also spells out the 6 key steps you need to take to get a successful online store fully off the ground.
There are two ways to use this resource — you can either watch our video about how to make an online store, below, or read the whole post (which contains more detail). For best results, I’d recommend doing both.
Let’s kick things off by discussing something very important: your products.
1. Pick the right type of products to sell
This may sound obvious, but picking the ‘right’ type of products to sell is absolutely essential to the success of your store.
However, I’m not talking about ‘quality’ here – you should clearly avoid selling poor-quality goods!
Instead, I’m talking about the uniqueness of your products.
This is because when you set up an online store, you are competing with a large number of hugely popular sites selling everything under the sun (eBay, Amazon, Etsy etc.).
Generally, you are going to have a tough time selling products if you are simply offering stuff that is already widely available on those kinds of sites.
So, to create a successful ecommerce store, you need to find a niche – identify a product range that is not being sold by every online retailer out there, but for which there is enough demand to sustain an online business.
For example, instead of selling a guitar that is widely available on Amazon, you might consider selling an instrument that is harder to find online — but for which you know there is strong demand.
Now, finding a niche typically involves performing keyword research.
Let’s take a look at how to do that.
Using keyword research to help you find your niche
The simplest way to identify a niche is to use a keyword research tool (like Semrush or Ahrefs) to find niche markets and see what sort of competition is operating in them.
Keyword research tools allow you to find out how many searches per month are performed for particular phrases, and how hard it will be to rank highly for them.
Let’s say you’re thinking of creating an online store to sell musical instruments, and you’re wondering what type of instrument to focus on.
By using a keyword research tool, you’d learn that there are 8,500 searches per month for the search term ‘buy guitar’ and only 1,300 for ‘buy banjo.’
This might make you think “hey, there’s a much bigger market for guitars, so I’m going to sell guitars,” but stop right there — think of the additional number of guitar sellers you will be competing with.
The data from the keyword tool indicates that banjos are definitely much more of a ‘niche’ product — but one with a decent enough number of people interested in buying them every month.
The question is whether there are already a lot of retailers dominating the search results for this product — people might have beaten you to this niche.
To find out, you need to look at ‘keyword difficulty.’ This is a score given (in one format or another) by keyword research tools.
The lower the keyword difficulty score, the easier it will be to appear in searches for that product name — and thus generate sales.
As the screengrab above shows, it will actually be pretty easy to rank for the ‘buy banjo’ phrase.
So, the trick is generally to find products for which there is
- a reasonably strong level of demand and
- relatively few online stores selling them
Once you’ve found your niche, and decided upon the products you’re going to sell, it’s time to think about where to get them from.
Which brings us onto the next step: sourcing stock.
2. Source your stock
There are two main options available when it comes to sourcing stock:
- purchasing it from a supplier, storing and reselling it, or
The advantage of the first option is that you can view the quality of stock first-hand, ensure it is produced ethically and build up a good relationship with your supplier.
(Of course, if you’re making your own products, you are in effect the supplier!).
The disadvantage of this option is that you will need to invest cash in purchasing goods which — if your business is not a success — you may never end up selling.
You may also face costs associated with storing your products somewhere.
A video guide to dropshipping
You take the order, send it to a supplier, and they deliver the goods to your client — your store becomes, in effect, the ‘middle man.’
With dropshipping, you might never meet or have direct dealings with your supplier, and you might never see the majority of goods you’re selling online.
Now, the big advantage of dropshipping is that no upfront investment is required.
But the downside is that it is quite a competitive activity, and you may end up selling products that are marketed aggressively by many existing online retailers.
Additionally, there may be some ethical concerns to consider — not all dropshipping suppliers have the best track record when it comes to how their goods are produced.
Most of the major ecommerce platforms — which I discuss in more depth below — offer add-ons or integrations that allow you to dropship goods produced from a wide range of suppliers. Popular apps include DSers for Shopify and Spocket for BigCommerce.
Ultimately it’s probably fair to say that Shopify offers the most options when it comes to dropshipping, however — simply because its app store is extremely large by comparison to its competitors, and it is stocked with a huge number of dropshipping apps (over 520 at time of writing).
The Shopify dropshipping starter kit
If you’re interested in dropshipping, I’d recommend that you take a look at Shopify’s dropshipping starter kit — with this, you get several days of free access to Shopify plus lots of bundled resources and tools that show you how to launch a successful dropshipping Shopify store.
Now, let’s take a look at the online store builders that you can use to create your ecommerce site.
3. Choose the right online store builder for your project
Once you’ve identified your niche product and market, and you know where you’re sourcing your stock from, it’s time to think about getting your online store off the ground.
You have two options here:
- hire an agency to build it
- use an ecommerce platform to build your store yourself
If you go down the agency route, make sure that your developers to give you access to a content management system (CMS) that lets you edit your site easily and manage your store’s inventory yourself.
This means that after your store has been built, you won’t have to pay a developer on an ongoing basis to update its content or add or remove products.
(You may still need to pay them to maintain your store in other ways, however — for example to update plugins and themes, field general support queries etc.).
The other option is to use an online store builder and just create your own store.
These store builders work by letting you select a theme for your store as a starting point, which you then customize so that it meets your branding requirements.
After that, it’s usually a simple case of adding some products, choosing a payment processor (Stripe, PayPal etc.) and launching your store.
Of the store builders that I have tested to date, I have found Shopify and BigCommerce to be the most straightforward ecommerce platforms for users without a lot of experience of building online stores or websites – they strike the best balance between features and user-friendliness, and they’re also good for selling in multiple currencies.
Wix isn’t quite as fully-featured as these two, but is a good all-rounder and does have the advantage of being one of the cheaper ecommerce solutions available.
In my view, Squarespace is probably the easiest to use out of the bunch, but lacks multi-currency and some other ‘power user’ selling features.
You can watch our video review of Shopify below for more in-depth overview of the pros and cons of the platform, or grab a free trial of it here.
And we have a full video review of BigCommerce below too.
The good news is that all these solutions offer free trials and support to help you get going – just follow the links below to access them:
Which online store builder is right for me?
Here are some of our thoughts on some of the best-known online store building tools.
Thanks to an app store featuring a huge number of add-ons and integrations with other software, along with a really wide choice of payment gateways, Shopify offers more flexibility than other ecommerce solutions (although you will sometimes have to pay extra for this). It’s also probably the best option for anyone who needs point-of-sale features (tools that let you sell not just online, but in physical locations too). For more information about Shopify, read our full Shopify review or take a look at our guide on how to start a Shopify store.
BigCommerce is a good all rounder, offering a lot of ‘bang for your buck’ — its entry-level plan offers a lot of key ecommerce features out of the box that you don’t always get included in competing products (for example, professional reporting and advanced shipping options). Its SEO features are strong too. Read our full BigCommerce review or try the platform out here.
Squarespace’s templates are great, and the platform is extremely flexible when it comes to how you lay out text, images and blog posts on pages (much more so than many of its competitors). Its ecommerce features are getting increasingly good — the only major issue I have with Squarespace on the ecommerce front is that it doesn’t give you much choice in the payment gateway department, or let you sell in multiple currencies (a big drawback for anyone wishing to sell products in other countries). But if your needs are simple, and you only need to sell in one currency, Squarespace is a great option. You can try it out for free here.
Wix is more of a ‘general’ website builder than BigCommerce or Shopify, but it does nonetheless provide some pretty comprehensive ecommerce features — and at a lower price point than the above products. It’s a good option if you’re on a budget, or if you’re hoping to build a general-purpose website and sell a couple of products on the side. Read our full Wix review or try it out here.
GoDaddy’s Website Builder is, like Wix a more general-purpose website building tool, and one that lacks multi-currency and multilingual selling tools. But its ‘Commerce’ plan is reasonably priced and gives you a decent range of other ecommerce features. You can learn more about using GoDaddy as an ecommerce website builder in our Shopify vs GoDaddy comparision.
Amazon, Etsy and eBay
Amazon, Etsy and eBay aren’t exactly ‘store builders’ like the products listed above — they are big online marketplaces that you can list your products on (and in the case of eBay, auction them). But thanks to their large customer bases, they can work extremely well as an option for online merchants. Take a look at our Shopify vs Amazon post, our Etsy vs Shopify comparison or our eBay vs Shopify shootout for more information on this method of selling.
For more information on what you should be looking for when deciding between ecommerce website builders, do check out our buyer’s guide to choosing an online store builder.
What if I’ve already got a website?
If you already have a website (for example, a WordPress site) and want to add an ecommerce store to it, a ‘plugin’ store builder like Ecwid can be a good solution.
Ecwid lets you create an online store by adding a snippet of code — a ‘widget’ — to an existing site. Once added, users will see a fully-functional online store appear on that website.
(You can also add the Ecwid widget to any other online presence that facilitates the addition of HTML code — certain types of social media pages, blog posts etc.).
A way to save money on Squarespace
If you’re interested in using Squarespace to make an online store, the company is currently offering 10% off its plans to Style Factory readers. This can amount to quite a saving, especially if you opt for one of its ‘commerce’ plans.
This discount is available for a limited time only – to avail of it,
1. Grab a free trial on the Squarespace website using this link.
2. Enter the code ‘STYLEFACTORY10’ when purchasing a plan.
4. Optimize your online store for search engines
Search engine optimization (or ‘SEO’) is absolutely vital to the success of any ecommerce project.
So, once you’ve found your niche market and designed your online store to cater for it, you need to make it visible on search engines.
You can use keyword research tools like Semrush again here to find out exactly what kind of searches are performed for your type of product, and ensure that your site contains all these keywords in all the right places, namely:
Additionally, make sure that your online store is fully accessible to those with a visual impairment. Not only will this help users with disabilities access your content more easily, it can bring SEO benefits too.
Video guide: how to perform keyword research with Semrush
For a limited time, you can access a 30 day trial of Semrush here (the normal trial lasts just 7 days).
The online store builders mentioned above give you a lot of control over SEO (with BigCommerce and Shopify probably coming in tops in this regard). If you opt for one of those products, make use of this functionality!
Don’t miss out on our free ecommerce e-kit
For a limited time, we’re offering our readers some excellent free tools. Sign up free to immediately receive:
- our online store comparison chart
- a downloadable cheatsheet on how to create an online store
- our SEO, blogging and ‘how to start a business’ cheatsheets
- extended free trials and discount codes for essential business apps
- our latest tips on ecommerce and growing a business
5. Drive traffic to your store via blogging
A key way to attract traffic to an ecommerce website is to blog regularly about topics related to what you are selling.
This type of activity is basically known as ‘inbound marketing’ and if you don’t engage in it, you are potentially missing out on a huge number of sales!
How to create great blog posts that drive traffic
By posting high-quality, keyword-rich blog posts related to your area of business, you are doing two things:
- maximising the chances of your site appearing in relevant search results
- showing you are an authority on the area of business you are operating in.
Potential buyers of your products will have greater confidence in vendors who clearly have a passion for, and understanding of, all things relating to their goods.
Top tip: check out our comprehensive guide on how to increase traffic to your blog to discover the 10 things you need to do to make your blog really take off.
6. Use online ads to promote your store
If you have the budget, it’s definitely worth running some ecommerce ads to promote your online store’s products and put them in front of online shoppers. The starting point for most people with this involves Google Ads and Facebook Ads.
Using Google Ads involves identifying (and paying for) relevant search phrases that will display adverts for your store/products alongside ‘organic’ Google search results.
In my experience, Google Ads campaigns generally work well when you are selling relatively expensive products.
For example, you might be able to live with a Google Ads ‘cost per acquisition’ of $50 (i.e., where you spend $50 on ads to generate one sale) to sell a product if that product – let’s say a TV – retails at $1000; but if you end up spending $50 on ads to sell one CD that retails at $10…well, a different approach might be needed.
It’s a question of looking at your margins, trying out different keyword strategies and so on to ensure that the cost of advertising doesn’t eat into your profit too much.
But, used well, Adwords can help you sell a lot of products.
Facebook ads work in a different way to Adwords: rather than paying to display your ads to people who are entering keywords into a search engine, you are paying to display your ads to people who have told Facebook what they are interested in.
For example, using Facebook ads you could advertize Beatles T-shirts to people who like the Beatles; VW key rings to people who drive Volkswagens and so on.
Facebook ads are very powerful and let you target audiences to the nth degree, but use them incorrectly and you could find ad account disabled (with serious implications for your online business).
Accordingly, it’s worth getting a full understanding of how Facebook ads work — and how to avoid contravening the company’s advertising policies — before you start spending money on them. Facebook’s own guide to advertising on their platform is a good starting point.
Have you any thoughts on how to make an online store? Or need any help with doing so?
If you’ve set up your own profitable online store, or have any queries how to go about doing that, do leave your thoughts and questions in the comments below. We read them all and will do our best to help.
Free trials of ecommerce platforms
Or…just buy an existing online store!
If all the above sounds a little like hard work, the other option is to buy an online store that’s already generating a profit.
This is actually easier to do than you might think, thanks to services like Empire Flippers, which allow you to browse online businesses that have been vetted by experts before being listed for sale (meaning you can buy them in relevant confidence).
For more information on how to do this, visit the Empire Flippers website.
How to make an online store — FAQs
How can I start my own online store?
To start an online store, you’ll need an ecommerce app. Popular options include Shopify, BigCommerce, Big Cartel and Squarespace. Another option is to sell on an online marketplace like Amazon or Etsy, or to use WordPress in conjunction with the WooCommerce plugin.
How much does it cost to start an online store?
This depends on whether you are happy to build your online store using a ‘do-it-yourself’ platform like Shopify, or whether you want to involve a web developer. With the first option, you’re typically looking at a monthly fee of between $29 and $299 per month, depending on your requirements (the simpler the cheaper). As for the second, this will depend on how experienced your developer is — but it would be wise to budget several thousand dollars.
Can I start an online store for free?
To start an online store for free, you’ll need an ecommerce solution that offers an entirely free plan. Most of the most popular ecommerce apps (like BigCommerce, Shopify and Squarespace) don’t, but Ecwid and Big Cartel offer plans that allow you to sell a limited number of products without paying for a monthly plan.
What’s the best online store builder?
This will depend to a large degree on your requirements as an online merchant, but of the solutions we’ve reviewed, we’ve found BigCommerce and Shopify to be the most fully-featured, and Squarespace the easiest to use.
Related online store building resources
- Ecommerce glossary
- Dropshipping pros and cons
- Checklist for starting a business
- Shopify dropshipping guide
- Shopify free trial guide
- Big Cartel vs Shopify comparison
- Shopify vs Shopify Plus comparison
- Shopify vs Volusion comparison
- Squarespace pricing guide
- Squarespace vs WordPress comparison
- Squarespace tutorial
- Squarespace YouTube video review
- Squarespace free trial resource guide
- Webflow review
- Wix vs Squarespace
- Wix vs Wordpress
Did you know? This article is now available in French. Check out our “Comment créer une boutique en ligne en 6 étapes” post on the Style Factory France website.