How to Start An Online Store

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Woman shopping online with credit card.
Woman shopping online with credit card. (Image: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Blend Images/Getty Images)

Starting a successful online store might not prove as easy as some make it sound, but it does provide you one of the lowest bars to entry into entrepreneurship. Rather than a high capital investment, starting an online store requires you to invest time and energy in product selection, managing the site setup and promoting your store.

What Will You Sell?

A Web-based store gives you the option to sell physical or digital product that you create or that you get from a third party. For example, you can offer e-books that you write or retail products through a wholesaler that provides drop shipping. While jumping into a hot trend looks enticing, you may struggle to get up to speed on the ins and outs of the product category. Sticking close to home by selling a product related to your own area of expertise reduces the learning curve and lets you develop marketing materials that don’t just scratch the surface. Some online entrepreneurs go with products or topics they are passionate about, as that passion helps carry them through the inevitable rough patches in building a business.

Setting Up Your Store

If you plan to set up an independent store, you need to deal with a few essential requirements. You need to buy a domain name that reflects your business name or directly ties to your products. You also need to get a Web host with a track record for reliability and robust security, as you do not want to lose sales from downtime or face a data breach. To actually sell products, you need an e-commerce solution that includes a secure shopping cart. Many Web hosts provide e-commerce solutions or you can install a self-hosted e-commerce package. If that sounds too technical, hosted e-commerce packages typically give you a drag-and-drop store builder, and the company handles the technical elements.

If You Build It, Will They Come?

A successful online store demands marketing in the same way a physical store demands marketing. You can choose from a variety of options to promote your store. For example, you can purchase ads that appear in keyword searches or through ad networks. You can trade banner ad space with other stores. A popular approach for stores selling digital products is to develop an email list that lets you market directly to previous and potential customers, after the obligatory double opt-in. Do not forget about tried-and-true practices, such as asking for referrals from your customers and developing guest blog posts or articles that appear on other people’s websites.

Things to Consider

Even after you pick a product type or category, establish an online store and promote the store, establishing a steady stream of customers takes time. If available, watch the metrics to see how customers get to your store. Those metrics show you the promotional methods that work, which lets you focus your marketing efforts in those channels. Also, develop a set of baseline goals, such as revenue or volume of sales, which you must achieve or come close to achieving to keep the store open. If your store does not meet those goals, evaluate whether the store needs more time to hit its stride or if going another direction offers more potential.

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