How to set up an online shop

If you’re thinking about setting up an online shop and want to know the best way to go about it, our step-by-step guide tells you all you need to know.

How much do you know?

Chances are you’re already an experienced online shopper (research shows that 87% of UK consumers purchased at least one product online in 2018), but how attentive are you to the way sites work? Start by assessing your own experience more consciously. What makes one online shop better or more user-friendly than another? What features do you think are important?

Check out competitors’ sites to see what you like and what you think could be improved. Talk to people who are selling online to learn from their experience and read up on the subject. In short, do all you can to inform yourself more about e-commerce.

Focused research

You have the product(s) but why should people buy from your site? Unless what you’re selling is truly unique, you’ll be competing for sales so you’ll need to provide some added value to succeed.

Try and look for something that gives you an edge whether it’s on price, service, special deals, range of products, provenance, delivery, or the guarantee you offer to customers.

Also consider how fit your business is to compete online through an in-house SWOT exercise to define and analyse your existing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Choose a name?

You’ll have to choose a domain name – your identity on the web – before you create a website. There’s plenty of advice available online about this including what extensions to choose (.com for instance), what keywords to use, and how to register a domain name for your web address.

Once you’ve come up with a list of possible names, carry out a domain name search to make sure it hasn’t already been taken. You may, for obvious reasons, seek to choose a domain name which matches / or is similar to your business name.

Your website

Now for the exciting part, creating a great platform to show off your products! There are a number of options available.

You can pay a subscription service to provide one for you (and plenty more besides, including registering a domain name), use one of several free site builders available, do it yourself if you have the coding skills, or hire a web designer.

Cost and time are important factors, not only in terms of setting up but in managing the platform going forward. An e-commerce package will enable you to launch an attractive, fully functional online shop quickly and at a relatively low cost, depending on what, if any additional features or services you choose.

A web designer will take care of everything for you but good ones don’t come cheap.

Explore all options and be realistic about how much you’re willing to spend on creating an online shop you can be proud of.

How much time are you willing to spend on managing/updating the store, can you delegate this task or how can a hosted solution facilitate this?

Design is another important consideration. You want to make sure the online shop reflects the personality of your business and shows off your products to great effect. And above all, the site must be easy to use!

Accepting payment and logistics

Customers to your site will expect to pay by card and do so securely. This is an aspect of the online experience you have to get right so make sure you can accept card payments (what fees does this incur?) and that all security measures are in place.

If you’re using a hosting provider, ensure they conform to PCI-DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard).

You’ll also want to factor in delivery costs of the products you sell, by courier and/or post, and whether or not this is built into the price of the item.

Another consideration is taking out online retail insurance to cover you against loss or theft while goods are in transit.

Marketing strategy

You’ve created a great e-commerce site, your next challenge is to get it seen! If you’re using a provider, they may offer marketing tools such as SEO (search engine optimisation) as an add-on but you should also do your own marketing on social media, including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn.

This can be a highly cost-effective way of reaching thousands of potential customers, for targeting a specific audience, raising brand awareness or promoting special offers to new customers.

Remember, the point is to drive customers to your website where hopefully you can convert their interest into sales. Depending on your budget, paid-for search advertising through Google Adwords, for instance, is another option to explore.

What else?

In the early days of e-commerce, online shopping could feel a lot less secure but it is now a well-regulated industry with specific laws to protect customers who pay for goods online.

As someone who operates an online shop, it’s your responsibility to make sure you comply with the current laws.

Much of the legislation is common sense but to find out what online sites are required to do, as well as guidance on VAT, exporting goods, ICO cookie laws, and data protection, see the government’s guidelines.

Last updated: 4th March, 2021

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