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How do I create an online shop?

Creating an online shop is an excellent way to ensure that your business can keep expanding. Compare top UK designers today

Online shopping is big business and creating an online shop is an incredibly sound decision in the modern world.

In the UK alone, ecommerce was worth £133m in 2016. Wanting a slice of that pie is enticing enough, however what’s really notable is that this figure represents a 16% increase on the year before.

Knowing how to make an online shopping website is absolutely crucial to future success for business owners.

In the following section, we have selected the best online shop builders, but if you are looking for a guide on how to start your online store, scroll down to our guide section.


How do I start an online store and choose an ecommerce platform?

Using an ecommerce platform is the way of retaining control over your brand and your online shop without the complexities of programming. You’ll pay a monthly fee and in return get help and assistance with technical problems, security upgrades, storage and more. Customisation is still possible but you are following a set ‘model’.

The UK’s top ecommerce platforms, enabling you to build an online shop are Shopify, Big Commerce, Woo Commerce, and Magento.


Shopify

Shopify
Shopify is probably the most recognisable name, with around 7000 online shops using them. It’s a good option for beginners and has some enticing themes. It’s linked to a whole heap of payment gateways including PayPal and Stripe.

Additionally, Shopify do all the ‘tech’ groundwork for you, such as search engine optimisation (SEO), making sure your products are found. They also offer 24/7 support. Shopify comes with a really in-depth app store for add-ons meaning you can link it to marketing, sales, inventory management and more.


Big Commerce

big-commerce-logo
Not quite as popular as Shopify, but it’s almost a direct equivalent. There aren’t any limits to the amount of product uploads, or indeed how much you can make, whilst also being pretty simple to use. Discount functionality is built in, as is a blog function. Customisation is possible down to the finest level because you have HTML access to make changes, or to get a web developer to do so.


Woo Commerce

Woo Commerce Logo
You’ll need to use Bluehost with Woo Commerce. Then Woo Commerce is on a par with offerings of Shopify and Big Commerce. It’s basically WordPress based, so content focused, and therefore great at getting potential shoppers to your site. You can customise it relatively easily and it’s a fairly intuitive system. What it’s particularly great for is digital downloads.


Magento

Magento Logo
Magento, with Zoey, is favoured by many web developers as you can really go to town on customisation. If you sell across borders, or want to offer different sorts of accounts, then Magento can be a good choice. Magento is scalable and that means it can grow as your business does.

Starting an online store makes sound business sense. By following the steps above you can feel confident about how to create an online store that will really work for your business. It is also a worthwhile investment creating a website for your business, even if you do not intend to sell online – find out about costs on our ‘how much does a website cost?‘ page.


Create an online shop – the barriers to entry

The reality is that your fear of the barriers to ecommerce is likely greater than the actual barriers themselves. There are a wealth of tools available online, and web hosting is a cheap business outlay – your only real question should be: ‘how to create an online store?’

When you make a web store, you need to think about adding the shopping facilities to a great website. This means a way to browse products, shopping cart functionality, and then a method of secure payment transaction. Alongside this should be a website that markets your products, entices customers, and sells your brand.

So, when it comes to making an online store, what are the steps you need to take?


Build an online shop – step by step

Knowing how to make an online shop is not as tricky as you may fear. Follow these steps and you can confidently create an online shop for your business.

The list below includes the main steps that you will need to consider when building an online shop:

  1. Self-hosting
  2. Setting up your online shop
  3. Are you and your product suitable to sell online?
  4. Market research
  5. Creating an online store
  6. Branding
  7. Installing the shopping cart functionality
  8. Build catalogue
  9. Order fulfillment
  10. Marketing
  11. Get confident with how to sell online
  12. Security
  13. Maintenance

Self-Hosting

Why should my online shop be self-hosted?

As a newcomer to creating an online shop it can be tempting to piggyback onto other hosts, such as Etsy and eBay. However, in reality you’re upping your direct competition, handing over control, and not giving yourself a good platform for your business branding.

Obviously, using eBay or Amazon to sell straight away is an option, however in the long term you will have to adhere to their costs – which can potentially take a significant part of your profits – and policies, which means your business can be wiped out if you appear to be at odds with them.

In addition to this, you will also have to compete with other businesses within the platform, meaning your prices will be driven down, and with them, your profit margin.

Whilst the start-up costs of using a hosted online solution will obviously be much lower, they come with the price of being completely reliant on your host – so if they have any financial or technical issues, your shop will suffer.

Hosting your own site as you set up an online shop is the best way to make an online shopping website work, and is entirely possible with the help of easy-to-use ecommerce platforms.


Setting up your online shop

Preparation is key to make ensure your business’s future success – read on to find out what you need to focus on to put your online shop in the best position to succeed.

Before you begin with the practicalities of how to make an online store, you need to make sure you’ve got your planning done. Otherwise, you’ll be distracted from the main task in hand, and potentially cost yourself more, especially if you have chosen to use a web developer.


Is your product suitable to sell online?

Ensure your product is actually suitable to sell online – do customers need to test it beforehand? Will the price change a lot? If not, then your product is most likely a great one to sell online. If your product has a niche, or is hard to find, then selling it online will be an excellent idea.

Selling online is great for customers who do not want to or can not travel themselves – in addition, there’s (usually) no queueing, and customers can shop at a time that suits them – online shops are open 24/7. But online shopping is not just great for the customer – it’s great for your business too: with a low cost of investment to get started, the barrier to entry is low and you can start selling straight away.


Researching your online market

Preparation is key: researching your product and the market may take time and effort, especially when you want to start selling as soon as possible, but investing your time now will pay dividends later. Your decisions will improve as you learn more – whether these are decisions on price, or even what product to sell.

Be sure to look everywhere for information – in the press, in forums, on social media, from friends and family, other people who are selling online, trade shows. Be mindful when you are shopping online and try to learn from your experiences, and consider sharing your findings with others.

Why would somebody want to buy your product? Why would they buy it from you? Are you offering them good value? Will they respect your brand? Your product needs to be something that people are actually willing to pay money for – and one that you can buy cheaper than you sell it, in order to turn a profit. This sounds easy – but can be very difficult.

In hand you should have your name, logos, main products and ranges with prices, all ready to roll, so that you can make a web store around it. You’ll need a domain name and a web host.

You’ll need to consider your ecommerce platform or payment gateway to enable your customers to pay online, as they expect with this form of retail. Get recommendations from people you trust, and gather as much information as possible to make the most informed choice.


Create an online shop

With the domain name and hosting sorted out, you can begin to create the website that will surround your web store. An easy mistake when people consider ‘How do I start an online store?’ is to jump in without the above groundwork. To ensure you create an online shop that works for you and makes your business efficient, whilst honing branding and marketing, you need to get the above steps right first.

With easy to use templates, and basic coding easy to grasp, you may choose to create your own website. Your shopping facility can sit alongside this. If you opt to use a web developer they will be able to offer advice on the best route for your business.


Ecommerce branding

Make sure your website puts branding at the forefront. Remember, you’ve chosen to self-host so that you can really capitalise on this advantage.


Installing the shopping cart functionality

Different ecommerce platforms have different configuration processes. However, if you select from a reputable and well-known one such as Shopify or Magento, you will be able to follow their intuitive set-up wizard. Once set-up you’ll be able to ‘play around’ and make the system work for your particular needs.

You should now be able to customise the online store in line with your website and branding. You’ll have access to different features, templates, reports and more. You’ll also discover that there are different add-ons available if you have particular needs.

At the moment you still need to be thinking about the basics of creating an online shop – the framework if you like. Use your knowledge of the types of products and ranges you have, to get the bare bones in place. Set up your categories accordingly, but don’t worry yet about populating them.


Build your catalogue

With the right framework in place you are now ready to truly create an online shop by filling in the detail.

If you have limited products to sell then this should be a fairly straight forward task. If, on the other hand, you have a large, complex, and frequently changing range of products, then you may need to go back a step and choose an add-on that allows you to import new products from Excel or another database.


Order fulfillment and shipping

With the products in place it’s time to customise the shipping and payment methods. This is where you customer will be redirected to your chosen payment gateway, for example PayPal. Remember – accepting card payments is an absolute must in virtually every market.


Marketing online

Whilst it’s obviously important to ensure you shop is set up well, you need to think about how your are going to get customers to find it, and how you will get them to purchase your products.

Ensure your site is optimised to rank well on search engines, and put in the time and effort to research ways to improve your sales tactics in order to drive exposure and sales.

At this point, if you spend less on technology, you will be able to spend more on promoting your shop online. This is crucial, so when you are a startup, look for a low cost solution that does everything you require, with room to upgrade in the future.


Get confident with how to make an online shop

You have now mastered how to make an online shop, but there are still further actions you can take to truly make a web store that works for you. For example you may want to add discounts, or some FAQ, or more.

You may now be stepping very much outside of your comfort zone, and if that is the case, then it’s time to get a web developer on board if you haven’t already.

You will usually find that the upfront costs of employing a professional web developer to set up an online shop are recuperated quite quickly.


Online security

Security is also a huge priority – your customers need to feel safe using your shop, and be protected from any hacking or fraud attempts. Ensure the ecommerce solution that you choose is reputable. Note that the industry standard is Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS), so look out for this when making your decision.


Maintain your site

A fundamental ongoing requirement of creating an online shop is maintenance. You’ll need to run tests and continually make sure it’s not only up to date, but secure. If you already have a site and need to find out more about this stage, our website redesign page may be useful.


Online shop custom features

While online shop builders limit you to their template, they still offer a good range of customisability – with plenty of workarounds if this is not the case.

Whether the platform enables you to create a page using drag and drop tools, or uses a more rigid template structure, in most cases you will be able to find a solution that suits your needs.

Online shop builder themes/templates

Platforms such as Shopify and Wix offer various pre-made templates or ‘themes’ for you to implement on your website. Usually professionally designed, the wide range of templates on offer will inevitably provide you with options that can help you get the best out of your product.

Themes can focus on and incorporate various factors that will be important to the success of your website, including themes that aim for flexibility, performance and speed, to more modular pages that allow easy configuration and management.

You can choose between themes geared towards different sectors and product types, such as toys or clothes, as well as the more logistical elements of your shop, such as themes made for small vs larger inventories.

Some themes require payment- which can be a worthy investment of your money in the long run – but it’s worth considering the free themes that are tried and tested.

It is definitely worth your time searching through the offerings that your online shop platform offers, and be sure to read reviews and seek the opinion of others – this can make a huge difference to the future success of your business.


Adding functionality to your online store

Customising your online shop using different themes is not the only way to personalise and optimise your shop for the product you will be selling online. Ecommerce platforms offer a huge amount of add-ons for your site that can give your shop an impressive amount of functionality.

These (mostly) third party apps are listed on a marketplace, and are reviewed by fellow users, meaning that you can factor these opinions in before you make your decision. Most can be purchased for free and have a premium version which will mostly have some added features – meaning you can trial a free version of an app first before committing to a purchase.

As said previously, the apps on offer vary hugely in their purpose. Some are sales driven, offering product recommendations, abandoned cart recovery and wish lists, whilst others focus on getting your shop to rank highly on search engines by improving the search engine optimisation (SEO) of your page.

They can add comment boxes and forum sections to the bottom of your page to increase customer interaction, or increase sales and brand loyalty by promoting your products on social media. Some apps provide inventory, data and accounts management – the list goes on.

Taking a look at and implementing some of these apps is highly recommended, as this may be what makes the difference between you and your competitors.


Compare online shop design quotes

The information on this page should help you to understand what sort of options are available when it comes to creating an online shop. For the best information though, you should speak to suppliers – we can help here.

To compare quotes from top UK web design agencies, simply complete the form at the top of this page. The process is free, quick and easy, and it could help to save your business both time and money.

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