How to Open an Online Store
If you are considering opening an online store there has never been a better time. There are a wide variety of tools available to get you setup and you do not need to know anything about programming. But to make it a success you need time, hard work, perseverance, and a bit of luck.
Your store doesn’t even need to compete with Amazon in order to have a chance of success. Steady small and medium sized businesses are the lifeblood of the internet - just like they are in the offline world. So take a lead from traditional bricks-and-mortar businesses and start out on the small side.
You might even end up like Charles Henry Harrod, who was born in England 1799. He started selling groceries in London when he was 25 and opened his first shop in rented premises in the 1840s. From these humble beginnings the company grew to the Harrods brand we know today. It is one of the most famous luxury stores in the world and the biggest department store in Europe with a turnover in excess of $1 billion a year.
You may not turnover $100,000 a year let alone $1 billion. But who knows unless you try. And you can try by following these steps:
1. Your Plan
Like any other business you will need to research your market. The internet is not a place to get rich quick and, like the offline world, there can be fierce competition. So decide on the type of product you want to sell, and identify your customers.
2. Domain Name and Website Hosting
Choosing the right name for your online store is one of the big decisions you will have to make early in the process. You can chose whatever domain you want, providing it is not already registered. Your domain name should be easy to read and easy to remember.
You will also need website hosting. These are the servers where your online store will be located. When choosing a website hosting package (shared hosting, VPS hosting, dedicated hosting etc.) try to estimate the amount of customers that you think will visit your online store every month. This will give you a guide as to the level of hosting that you need.
3. Dedicated IP Address and SSL Certificate
This might sound like things are getting technical, but a good website hosting provider like iPage will help you with this part.
Web security is important. And there are a few things you should know. SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer and it is the internet standard for securing online payments. In basic terms it encrypts your customer’s data (their credit card details, for example) between their computer and your server. So you will need to get one, along with a dedicated IP address.
There are two different types of IP address: dedicated and shared. Shared means other websites use the same address. If you use a shared IP address with your SSL certificate your users will get warning messages when they go to make a purchase. This will put them off, so you don’t want that. The solution is a dedicated IP address.
4. Merchant Services / Payment Processing / Payment Gateway
Usually the terms merchant services, payment processing, and payment gateway are interchangeable. In simple terms they all mean a provider who handles the payment part of the sales process on your online store. Popular payment gateways are Paypal and Authorize.net.
Payment gateways are not only easy for you to set up; they also increase conversions as customers are familiar with them and feel safe shopping.
5. Shopping Cart
You have several options to choose from when it comes to shopping cart systems. Shopping carts display your products and handle transactions, including the communication with the payment gateway.
Good website hosting providers will offer shopping carts as part of their package. A good example is ShopSite on iPage.
You can also get other standalone scripts. The most popular are osCommerce and Zen Cart. Finally, if you are building other pages on your website using a CMS like Wordpress, you can get shopping cart plugins or extensions. A popular example is WooCommerce.
Bonus Round – The Alternative Method
So far we have been describing how to set up your own branded online store. In order to build up your own name in the market, this is the best option. It is also the most profitable as you are in complete control of everything, except the fees taken by your payment gateway.
Another option you have is to use a popular retail website like eBay or Amazon and setup your online store within their infrastructure. This will get you instant access to traffic and they are quicker to set up. However they can be more expensive to run (as you will have to pay things like listing fees) and there is less opportunity to brand your store with your own name.
The choice is yours but after you make your decisions on the various options for setting up your online store the real fun begins – loading your products, setting your prices, placing content on your site, marketing, and, best of all, making sales!