Ecommerce Basics - How to Set Up an Online Store

Walks you through all the steps needed to set up an online store. Looks at domain names, software, taking payments online, hosting, installation, and more.

Dollar symbol in shopping cartAn online store lets you trade over the internet, selling products and services via your website and taking payments from customers. Online stores are convenient for you as a retailer, and for your shoppers also. They're also a great way to keep your costs down, since you don't need to rent a physical store or hire a large number of staff.

However, setting up an online store can be overwhelming, as there are so many options to consider. This article takes a step-by-step approach, walking you through each of the stages involved in getting your store up and running. You'll look at:

  • Registering a domain name
  • Choosing ecommerce software
  • Taking card payments online
  • Hosting your store
  • Setting up your store
  • Adding products
  • Testing your store
  • Launching your store
  • What to do after launch

Step 1: Get a domain name

The first thing you'll need for your online store is a domain name (for example, superwonderwidgets.com). This is the name that people will type into their browsers to view your store.

It helps if your domain name is the same as your store name and/or business name. This makes your store easier for people to remember and trust. Since it can be quite hard to find a catchy domain name that isn't already taken, you may want to register your domain name first, then name your store or business after the domain name.

Find out how to choose a domain name and how to set up your domain name.

While it's not essential for an online store to have its own domain name, it really helps with credibility and trust. So it's highly recommended.

Step 2: Choose an ecommerce solution

Your online store will need some way of listing products and services, handling shopping carts, and tracking customer orders. To do this, you'll need to use some ecommerce software.

Broadly speaking, there are 3 approaches you can take:

  • Hosted services (easiest)
  • Licensed software (harder), or
  • Custom software (hardest).

Which approach you choose depends on your budget, your time, and what you want to do with the store.

Find out how to choose the right ecommerce solution for your store.

Step 3: Taking payments online

Usually you want customers to be able to pay for your products or services online with their credit cards. To do this you generally need an internet merchant account and a payment gateway. Many companies offer an all-in-one deal where you get a merchant account and a payment gateway for a single monthly fee.

If you don't want to (or can't) get an internet merchant account then there are other ways to take card payments over the web.

Learn all about taking payments online.

Many hosted ecommerce solutions (see above) include payment gateways — and sometimes even merchant accounts — as part of the package.

Step 4: Find some Web hosting

Once you've chosen your domain name, ecommerce software, and payment solution, you'll need some Web space to host your online store.

If you've opted for a hosted ecommerce solution (see above) then your work is already done, as the ecommerce provider hosts your site on their server for you. However if you're using licensed or custom ecommerce software then you'll need your own hosting account.

Find out how to choose a Web hosting service, and how to set up your Web hosting account.

Step 5: Set up your online store

You're nearly there! You've registered a domain name, you've decided on ecommerce software, you have a payment system in place, and you have somewhere to host your store.

Now it's time to set up your store and prepare it for taking sales. The steps involved in setting up your store depend on the choices you made in previous steps:

  • If you've gone for a hosted solution then you need to sign up for the service. Once that's done, you need to configure your store settings (such as payment and delivery options) and choose a design for your store pages. Most services offer a range of templates, and often you can design your own if you like.
  • If you're using licensed or custom-written ecommerce software then you need to install it on your Web server. Usually this involves uploading files via FTP and editing some configuration files. You'll need to configure the ecommerce software for your various shipping methods and payment options (including linking up with your chosen payment gateway, if you have one).

When setting up your store, make sure you add pages for a privacy policy and terms of use, and include your physical address and phone number in the page footer, if possible. These help to reassure your shoppers that they're dealing with a reputable business.

Step 6: Add your products or services

Now that your store software is up and running, you can add your inventory of products and/or services to the store. If you have a lot of products then it makes sense to import them from a spreadsheet or CSV file (if you have one) — most ecommerce software lets you do this. If you just have a few products then you can enter them by hand.

When writing your product names and descriptions, it pays to think about SEO. Most ecommerce software includes the product name in the page title, which can make a big difference to your product page's rankings in search results. Make sure your product name and description include relevant keywords, where possible.

If you control your store's HTML template then it's worth taking the time to optimize it for search engines, too. For example, make sure that the page title includes the product name and other relevant keywords, and that the "description" meta tag includes a compelling product description.

Step 7: Testing

Your online store is nearly ready to launch. However, before flipping the switch, it's a good idea to test that your store works properly!

Try browsing your store as a shopper would (preferably using a few different browsers). Make sure all areas of your store pages look right and work correctly. Try adding some products to your cart and moving through the checkout and payment processes. (Most payment providers let you use a special "test mode" to simulate payments without actually transferring funds.)

Once you've placed some orders, check that your order tracking and other admin functions work as expected. If all looks good, proceed to Step 8!

Step 8: Go live!

Your store is now ready for action! Usually launching your store is simply a matter of telling people your store's URL, although some ecommerce systems default to an "offline" mode until you explicitly make them live. Link to your store from your other sites or blogs, include your store's URL in your email signature, and remember to submit your store's URL to the major search engines.

Now wait for the sales to come rolling in!

Next steps

Of course, if you do want the sales to roll in then you'll need to promote your store and attract shoppers to it. There are many ways that you can promote your site for free; see Top 10 Free Ways to Build Traffic to Your Site for some ideas.

As well as free techniques, you can use pay-per-click (PPC) ads to drive targeted traffic to your store. Common PPC networks include Google AdWords, Yahoo! Search Marketing and Microsoft adCenter.

It's also important to track your online store's performance. You can use analytics tools such as Google Analytics and Webtrends to track visitors, referrals, bounce rates, conversion rates, cost per click, and much more.

You've now seen how to set up your online store. You've looked at domain names, ecommerce software, merchant accounts, payment providers, Web hosting, adding your store inventory, testing, launching, and telling the world about your store. Running a store can be hard work, but very rewarding if it's successful.

Good luck with your ecommerce venture!

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Responses to this article

1 response:

23-Oct-09 08:23
I would like to elaborate a little on the privacy policy bit. A privacy policy lets your consumers/visitors know what you do with the information they provide. Security is always the main concern with online shoppers. According to a Yankee Research Study, more than half of consumers (55 percent) have experienced security incidents that caused them to think twice about using an e-commerce Web site. As mentioned, shoppers should know that they are dealing with a reputable business. A TRUSTe seal signals not only privacy but also the reputation of a business.Consumers stay longer and spend more money on web sites with a TRUSTe seal.

[Edited by heatherdorso on 23-Oct-09 08:24]

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