E-commerce website: How to start an online business

A step-by-step beginner’s guide to creating an effective e-commerce website

Electronic commerce (e-commerce), the process of selling your products and services online, is a golden opportunity for budding entrepreneurs. Many new businesses launch exclusively online as it’s an easy way to reap the benefits of sales, to have more control over operations and reach both a UK-wide and international customer base.

For retail businesses, an e-commerce website offers the advantage of being open 24/7; a storefront that is always accessible to your customers.

With online spending rocketing the time to embrace the power of e-commerce is now, especially given the wealth and variety of e-commerce software and platforms available on the market as Andy Headington, CEO of digital agency Adido, explains:

“Setting up a fully functional e-commerce website in 2014 is probably easier than it’s ever been thanks to the growth in platforms like Magento, Shopify and Sellr which have had thousands of man hours invested in them.”

With that being said, Startups has produced a step-by-step guide on how to create an effective e-commerce website for an affordable price with advice from leading experts within the space.

Domain name

Once you’ve identified the product or service you want to sell online, choosing a domain name for your site is essential. A domain name is your web address on the internet and the first step to setting up a website. Make sure your domain name reflects your business and is both memorable and easy to spell, so that visitors can find your website with ease.

Given the recent launch of new top level domains such as .uk and .london you may also want to look into registering for these web addresses.

Visit our guide for information on buying a domain name.

Web hosting comparison

You will need a place to host your website which will need to be compatible with your shopping cart software (see next page). A website host is a computer or set of computers which stores all of your website data and then when someone visits your domain, forwards the visitor to the hosting computer; known as the server.

You can either purchase a third-party hosted e-commerce solution such as 1&1 or 123-reg which manages hosting on your behalf or you could choose to manage your own hosting. To manage your own web hosting you will need technical expertise, equipment and access to high speed internet which is usually much more expensive then leasing hosting space from a provider.

Here are some of the best UK web hosting providers:

Web hosting provider

Monthly fee

Webspace

1&1

£6.99 for first 12 months then £9.99

Unlimited with 2 GB RAM space

123-reg

£7.49

Unlimited

GoDaddy.com

£4.99

Unlimited

Fasthosts

£5.99 for first six months then £6.99

Unlimited

Easyspace

£7.99

Unlimited

There is a vast array of web hosting providers on the market with different site features included in their hosting packages so make sure you shop around to find the best solution. For detailed comparisons of UK web hosting providers, visit The Best 10 Web Hosting.

John Webb, marketing director of start-ups and developers at IT hosting company Rackspace, suggests purchasing a cloud web hosting solution as it will enable you to scale your e-commerce business as it grows:

“For a retailer a ‘hybrid’ cloud can be the right hosting solution as it enables payments and customer details to be hosted in a secure private cloud environment. This then connects to a public cloud environment that provides additional, highly scalable space for other applications or workloads, such as browsing pages.

“A hybrid cloud solution means that businesses can quickly add capacity for busy periods and reduce it when demand dies down.”

Alongside your e-commerce website, you should also consider setting up on third party platforms and online marketplaces, such as eBay, Amazon or Etsy, to increase your online sales.

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  1. Niall McGinnity
    Edit profile

    I’m surprised not to see Export Technologies Limited’s international retail platform on this list. It’s handled over £1billion in sales transactions and they include expert consultancy in conjunction with the system.
    In addition matching the system with the correct PPC expertise is critical – one without the other renders the inputs useless. Happy to discuss @niall_mcginnity

  2. Ben Tristem
    Edit profile

    Thanks for this detailed overview. I recently went through a similar process of searching myself, and came across Weebly… an all-in-one platform a bit like SquareSpace. I was really surprised how well it works, especially the e-commerce when you use Stripe as a payment provider. You can see the end result at http://BenTristem.com.