You might have been wondering about how to start an online store for small business such as the one you have in mind. This is a great and eye-opening content that will teach you through and help you make just the right decision in 2023! To start an online store, you’ll first need to iron out a business concept, choose products to sell, and decide on an order fulfillment strategy. Next, you’ll need to build your website. Because online stores are primarily visual platforms, you’ll also need to have strong product pages and a marketing plan.
How to Start an Online Store for Small Business
There are hundreds of online stores that are globally patronized and visited for the purchase of needed products. One of such popular stores running an efficient ecommerce with a wide turnout of profits and sales that bring in fortune by the minute is Amazon. Because of the enviable results this great online store has amassed over the years of its trading experience, learning how to start an online store for small business won’t be a bad idea in the first place.
1. Pick a Business Niche
Setting up an online retail business starts with honing the idea of the products you would like to sell. Begin with selecting an overall business concept by figuring out which niche or industry you would like to focus on. This idea can come from personal interests or market opportunities
It’s easier to target customers with a specific interest and sell products that directly appeal to them rather than offering a wide array of general merchandise. Choosing a niche will also give you a specific direction and make it easier to develop a strong brand. For example, a dog enthusiast might want to open an online store with dog products. However, a better business concept is to fill a market void or need, such as organic dog food specifically for pit bulls.
2. Model Your Business
Start by thinking about the amount of time you want to invest in your ecommerce venture. How much space do you have available or are you willing to obtain for storing inventory? If your online store is a side project, it may be realistic to sell and stock only a few products. Or, you can only sell products that are available for Dropshipping, so you don’t have to fulfill orders or pay for a third-party service.
However, if you are looking to start an online retail business or grow your online store, you will likely want to develop custom or private label products and stock many of them yourself. This plan means having a dedicated garage, room, or storage space for managing inventory and packing orders—and, when your business takes off and you can no longer fulfill orders yourself, moving over to a fulfillment company.
3. Research Your Competitors
To find a supplier, one of the first steps you can take is to research your competitors. Purchase a few of their products and research what is on the product label. Many of them will have the manufacturing location or other details, which you can use in a Google search. There are also smartphone apps you can download that will scan product barcodes and pull up details on the manufacturer. With your smartphone and these apps, you can gather a lot of manufacturing leads on a trip to the mall, box store, or boutique.
4. Create an Inventory Management System
Part of efficient order fulfillment is having an effective inventory system. Inventory management is the process of ordering, tracking, and storing your products to meet demand efficiently. It’s a crucial part of any retail or ecommerce business.
Tracking inventory stock effectively helps businesses prevent stock-outs (minimize carrying costs and shrinkage), manage multiple locations, and ensure accurate recordkeeping. An inventory solution makes these processes easier than trying to do them all manually.
There are paid inventory solutions and specialized systems such as POS inventory software for those managing a storefront or doing in-person sales. However, there are also free inventory management tools and inventory templates to help you get started.
5. Connect With Manufacturers Through Alibaba
Alibaba has millions of products from thousands of manufacturers. Through Alibaba, you can find suppliers to manufacture products, build private labels, or purchase ready-made products to resell. The site is a top name in product sourcing and makes it easy to search for specific products and filter results by price, minimum order, or top-ranking suppliers. You can even search by image if you have a product you want to replicate. Learn how to import items from China using our ultimate guide.
6. Select a Shipping Provider
If you are packing and shipping customer orders in-house, choose a shipping software or service, look for cheap shipping supplies, and shop around for the most efficient shipping rates among FedEx vs UPS vs USPS—the most popular shipping platforms. However, if you plan to ship internationally, there are different ways to do so, such as cross-border international shipping and localized fulfillment.
7. Connect to an e-Commerce Platform
There are several popular e-commerce platforms that many small businesses use to learn how to build an online store. Shopify, BigCommerce, and Square Online are some of the most popular platforms for new businesses and retailers looking to expand online. All of these programs offer templates, varying levels of inventory management tools, reporting, and options for connected payment processing.
Based on our evaluation of the best ecommerce platforms, the choice of an ecommerce solution for most small businesses usually comes down to BigCommerce vs Shopify. Shopify is our top-recommended ecommerce platform for small businesses, whereas BigCommerce is better suited for larger-revenue businesses, especially those that have complex inventories or want to save on processing fees.
On these platforms, you have the necessity to design and follow up with practices that will better upgrade your business:
- Prioritize navigation features: Easy navigation is critical for a positive user experience, so make sure your site has great header, search, and related product navigation features. Don’t forget to add a sitemap to make your website easy for search engines to navigate.
- Display customer reviews: Have a way of collecting and displaying reviews and other user-generated content on your website from the get-go. This type of content helps build confidence and trust among potential customers.
- Make it easy for customers to contact you: Include a chat option like Facebook Messenger and a phone number with clear support hours. Add an FAQ section with store policies and common questions.
8. Create Descriptive Product Pages
After you enter the data, the next step is to create a detailed individual product page for each item. For ecommerce websites, product pages are arguably the most important element of the site. Shoppers can land on a product page after browsing your store, from a Google search, or via a targeted advertisement.
A product page should have:
- Clear pricing information: Pricing should be displayed prominently and clearly indicate whether or not the price displayed is before or after any promotions.
- Easy “Add to Cart” buttons: Add a large “Add to Cart” button next to product images and below pricing information; the goal is to get shoppers to buy, so make sure the button is a color that stands out.
- High-quality photos: Product photos can make or break sales. Use high-quality images that show products from all angles, in all variants, and in action where situationally relevant.
- Customer reviews or social proof: When buying online, shoppers can’t see or feel the product for themselves, so they rely on customer reviews to assess product quality. Incorporate user reviews in product pages and/or photos and testimonials from social media—most ecommerce platforms have these features built-in or available through a plugin.
- Detailed product descriptions: Product descriptions should be concise and include precise product information like size and material, but should not be salesy.
- Related products: At the bottom, display similar products or items people who bought the item also purchased—some ecommerce platforms have this built-in, while others have this feature available through plugins.
- Proactively addressed customer concerns: Indicate whether or not shipping is free or calculated at checkout, or if there is a minimum order for free shipping.
- Write Well-crafted Product Descriptions
Product descriptions should be uniform across the site, following the same template and tone throughout. In general, there should be three elements to a product description: a short intro, bullet points outlining high-level features, and a longer description at the bottom for shoppers who want greater detail.
- Upload High-quality Product Photos
Product photos are one of the most important elements of an online store. High-quality images can showcase the details and quality of an item, while low-quality or grainy photos leave shoppers with more questions than answers.
Some wholesale suppliers will provide high-quality photos of their products, which will save you a lot of time and money. Ask your suppliers if this is something they provide. If not, you can either take the photos yourself or hire a professional.
9. Integrate Payment Processing
Integrating payment processing is a mundane yet critical element of building an ecommerce website. As an online retailer, you’ll need to choose a Payment Card Industry (PCI)-compliant payment processor. Many ecommerce platforms have built-in payment processors or a few select payment partners that are compatible. Any built-in payment processors will be PCI-compliant, e.g., Square, Shopify Payments, Stripe, and PayPal.
10. Market Your Online Store
After setting up the product pages, your site is ready to launch. Once your online store is live, it will require a multipronged marketing approach with search engine optimization (SEO), listings on additional sales channels, and email marketing to bring in a steady flow of shoppers. Some ecommerce businesses also use in-person sales at pop-ups and events to grow their businesses.