The Ultimate Guide To Launching an Online Store

An online store is always improving and always evolving. A well-maintained and relevant store is key to success in the ever-changing world of online retail.
Created by
September 14, 2020

Everyone is getting into this whole online store, ecommerce thing. It probably is an easy thing to do right? Well, like any new business venture, there are some challenging bits to creating and launching an online store.

The work involved in starting and maintaining an online business isn't easy at all, but it also isn't impossible. The hardest part is figuring out how to go about getting started, which is why we put together a complete step-by-step guide on how to start off your own online store.

1. Product

Probably the most challenging aspect of starting a new business. Finding just the right product to sell in a niche market or even the general public is a struggle that all businesses have to endure on a daily basis. You may be entirely sure about a specific product, but when your store is launched, it might not perform as expected.

This is the world of retail and e-commerce. A product could sit on the shelves for months with no movement, only to have a massive spike in demand at a later stage. This is why you should consider taking a look into product opportunities in the market you wish to cater for.

Physical Store Products

You could be a physical clothing store that stocks high-end sneakers at a fantastic price. The problem is that your store is located in a town that has no demand for those sneakers. However, the demand for those sneakers is high in another state.

Launching an online store will give you the opportunity to connect and sell those sneakers to customers in that state. This will allow you to expand your business into other states. Similar products perform very differently in different states. Something that may not work in your store may be popular in another state.

Trending Products

If you pay close attention to major retail clothing stores (or even electronics stores), you will notice that they all try their best to stick to consumer trends. No matter how crazy the item is, if customers are paying, then they will stock it! Just look at the fidget spinner.

Every store out there, department, clothing, and electronic stores all stocked fidget spinners because people wanted them. However, once the fad ended, stores were stuck with useless stock. This is why you should try and differentiate from selling trendy items to items that have extended shelf life.

Technology products such as smartphones are a good example. New smartphones are being released every month. You have to make sure that you stock the latest smartphones and sell them before they become obsolete.

Smartphones just two or three months old are no longer trending as consumers are always looking for something new and better.

A few examples of trending products that are currently in demand:

  • Smartphone cases
  • Minimalist watches
  • Smart backpacks
  • Portable projectors

You can look into established e-commerce stores for inspiration. Just keep checking around to see if you can pick up on a product trend, then get in touch with the supplier. Google Trends is also a great place to do research.

New Product Ideas

Now and then you come across an item that is so obscure that you never thought you needed it until you tried it out. And now that you have tried it out, you simply can't do without it. This sort of scenario occurs a lot with electronics. Some examples are battery banks, smart backpacks, and Apple Airpods.  

No one really cared for a battery power bank a few years ago. If your phone died, then that was it. Now, you can't do without it. Same goes for anti-theft smart backpacks that are waterproof and can charge your smartphone as well.

You should know that everyone totally despised the idea of the Apple Airpods upon release. That same device was completely sold out due to its incredible functionality.

You could go the Kickstarter route and try and create a groundbreaking product that people may or may not like. Whatever the case may be, it is crucial that you make time to do your research.

Your product may require supporting products or accessories. It is through research that you will get to understand your markets true needs.

2. Research

Researching your competition is absolutely crucial in e-commerce. If you are a clothing store that plans to sell products online with nationwide delivery, then you probably have more than a dozen competitors.

Knowing how your competitors operate can help you to create an unstoppable store.

If you walk into a mall looking for a specific New York Yankees cap, you will probably come across two, maybe three stores that have that exact cap. Most people would go to all the stores to compare prices and the service that the store's staff give them.

With online stores, it just takes a single click to move from one tab to the next on an internet browser. If you are competing with a dozen other stores just for a Yankees cap, then your customer can simply go with a computer simply on the looks of their website and the services they offer.

Competitive Analysis

Look into every aspect of their online store and business model. The most organized way to conduct this sort of research is through a competitive analysis. A competitive analysis allows you to compare certain aspects of your business to that of other businesses.  

You can list specific areas such as shipping cost, website platform, social media marketing, return policy, and just about anything else in a competitive analysis. This is a great way to figure out why people love shopping at your competitors' stores.

This way you can improve your store by offering a much better experience to customers.

Business Plan

You probably are not in a rush to get your calculator out, but a business plan is necessary if you plan to run a store that can stay open for many years. A business plan will determine if your store’s business model is feasible enough to sustain you and your employees.

It is possible to have an excellent idea for an online store with an excellent product. However, if the profit margin is too low, then your shipping costs could eat right through the sales profit.

Take your time and list as many expenses that you can think of, as well as projected sales figures and sales channels. This sort of planning can save you plenty of hassle in the long run.

3. Setup

Now it's time for some serious business. This is the part where the technical side of things come into play. Apart from finding a name for your store, you will also have to build a website, select an e-commerce platform, and input stock to build your store.

Find a Good Name

Selecting a name for any business is in no way an easy task. There are so many things to consider like:-

  • Internet domain availability
  • Longevity (is the name based on a fad, like a fidget spinner)
  • Relatability to store products
  • Easy to pronounce
  • Catchy name
  • Positive or negative vibe

It's best to take the time to think of an appropriate name first before just going with any name as it can be costly to change your name later. Some experts state that a brand’s name isn't important.

What is important is the meaning attached to the name. A meaning that you will have to build with your customers over time.

Website Platform

All website platforms offer similar features, yet they are all so different in many ways. Choose a website and e-commerce platform that you know will suit your needs best.

If you want layers and layers of control on a tried and tested platform, then go for Wordpress (with a WooCommerce plugin).

If you are looking for a paid e-commerce all-in-one solution, then consider Shopify. Online stores are becoming more popular now, and even Squarespace is offering free stores with their websites. Here are more platforms that you can consider:-

  • Joomla
  • Magento
  • Wix
  • Weebly
  • Bigcommerce

Branding and SEO

You may keep plenty of branded products in your store, but you will still have to do some branding of your own. Customers love purchasing branded clothing or tech, but where they buy their goods from is dependant on service and the value that a store provides to the customers.

Grow your store’s name on social networks and focus on offering speedy delivery. Growing your store brand also builds trust with customers.

This won't happen overnight, but will undoubtedly be worth it in the long run.

Another crucial factor that makes all the difference, in the long run, is search engine optimization (SEO). Websites that rank higher in search engines such as Google can possibly receive tons of free traffic. The art of moving your website up the search rankings is called SEO. Focus on SEO from day one.

Build Your Store

This step requires dedication, patience, and endurance. Not to mention some attention to detail. You will be required to input all of your inventory into your store’s inventory management system.

Each item should include:

  • Item name
  • Description
  • Images
  • SKU
  • Quantity
  • Size variants
  • Color variants

It is as much a daunting task to input the stock as it is to manage. It's best to hire personnel to help you manage the stock physically and on the inventory system. This can become a costly affair, hiring staff and renting a warehouse.

However, an online store should be considered as a business venture, which is why such expenses must be listed in the business plan.

4. Launch

Your store is finally complete! All that hard work is just about to pay off. Instead of just waiting for site visitors, why not hold an official opening? Create some hype on social networks and even in the newspapers and on TV. Perhaps you can have some opening specials?

It can be all too tempting to just mosey on as usual and skipping the entire launch altogether. However, this isn't advised as for all businesses, and even shopping malls have grand openings.

Consider creating your first of many campaigns for your new store.

Before launch day, your store must be fully operational. Everything from payment providers, to shipping, must be taken care off. Most payment platforms allow you to run tests in sandbox mode.

This way you can use a dummy account and credit card to check if your checkout process works.

It is also advisable to do one last physical inventory check before your store goes live. It can be easy to sell an item that isn't available physically. This is an embarrassing situation that you should avoid at all costs.

Also, ensure that your process of dispatching goods over to your courier service is a streamlined one.

What's Next?

An online store is always improving and always evolving. Part of the reason for this is because of the link an online store shares with technology. Also, there is plenty of competition at the moment as well, and everyone is trying their utmost best to be the best.

This is why you should always work towards having a store that is relevant as well as being well maintained. To do this, you should focus on continually improving the customer experience on your website by optimizing the site to suit your customers’ needs.

You will also have to develop a marketing strategy that best suits your niche and customers. Are your customers located on social media or on search engines?

Email marketing is also proving to be another excellent source for e-commerce traffic. Focus on working towards generating traffic from these sources.

A store is never finished and always needs to be improved. Keep testing your marketing efforts and your store's sales and checkout process. Not all customers are the same, but you can still improve your store to the point that it has excellent overall appeal to general customers.

All the best and good luck!

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