Learning how to start an online business in Australia requires the appropriate business structure, proper registration documents, and an ecommerce platform to create an online store and sell products.
With the 11th largest ecommerce market in the world, and online commerce representing about 9% of all retail trade in Australia, now’s the time to start an online store. There’s plenty of room for new businesses, and Australia serves as an exceptional market for building a successful business. Not to mention, Australia’s prominence in ecommerce—combined with its isolated location—makes it perfect for launching a business to expand elsewhere around the globe.
In this guide, we explain the essentials on how to start an online business in Australia.
You’ll learn how to:
- Decide what you’d like to sell (and consider suppliers/manufacturers)
- Launch an online store
- Select a business structure that’s suitable for your company
- Choose and register a business name
- Obtain an Australian Business Number (ABN) and any other necessary licenses
- Configure an Australia-friendly payment processor
- Sign up for other accounts to support your online store
- Get funding for your small business
- Secure a domain name that works well for your ecommerce business
- Register for tax payments
How to Start an Online Business in Australia
Follow these steps to build an online business from the ground up. All of these tips cater to those doing business in Australia, with suggestions on Australia-specific certifications and licenses.
1. Decide what you’d like to sell (and consider suppliers/manufacturers)
Deciding what you’d like to sell is the first step to running any business online.
You can start with our step-by-step guide on how to choose a great product to sell online.
The goal is to make decisions based on:
- The past/recent sales volume of a product
- The potential for growth and current saturation of the market
This way, you select goods that sell well, yet still have room for you to find customers.
Here are the best practices and tips when researching what to sell:
- Sell things people need: although necessities often have saturated markets, companies like Dollar Shave Club and Stitch Fix figured out how to reinvent necessities like men’s shaving products and women’s clothing
- Sell items people want: look into trending topics and interests, but avoid fads with short lifespans; things that people want for extended periods include children’s toys, wellness and luxury items, and various types of electronics (think toys for adults and kids, or things that people don’t necessarily need, but make life more fun/interesting)
- Pick products with global or regional appeal: while researching a business idea, filter your search to see if some products perform well in some regions but not in others; is it possible that the market simply hasn’t been tapped yet?
- Sell items you’re already passionate about: it’s often easier to get excited about your inventory when the items are already in your range of hobbies
- Choose products you have special knowledge about: these types of products usually live in the digital goods space, where you create and sell classes, training seminars, or e-books
- Sell items that you make yourself: from e-books to inventions, you’re able to create items that are unique enough for people to buy
- Dropship items: this process involves partnering with a supplier or manufacturer (or one of the many dropshipping marketplaces) and selling items for the supplier to package and ship directly from their warehouse; you only have to run a website and list the products
- Try selling memberships: you have options to sell everything from digital items to recurring physical goods through a membership
- Consider promoting items and let other people sell them: run an affiliate website where you receive a commission when shoppers click through your links (you don’t actually run an online store with fulfillment)
- Facilitate the selling of other people’s stuff: run a marketplace for others to sell their items; you take a percentage
Which tools and tactics are helpful for identifying trends, sales volume, and popularity of certain niches and products?
- Reverse ASIN tools like Sellzone, Sellerapp, and JungleScout help discover popular products on Amazon, which you might consider selling on your store; many of these tools also provide product comparison, trends, and high-value keywords for optimizing SEO
- Google Trends (along with good old Google Search) is a nice option for spotting the upcoming popularity of certain products; you should often cross-reference the research (from any source for that matter) with the Google Keyword Planner, which identifies search volume for any keyword you type in
- Analyze product sales volume on sites like Amazon, AliExpress, Alibaba, and dropshipping marketplaces like DSers and Spocket; many dropshipping apps provide product popularity to ensure you sell items that people actually want
From where do you source products?
It’s one thing to research which products to sell, but at some point you must actually find a supplier or manufacturer.
Sourcing comes in several forms:
- Wholesale buying
Unless you’re manufacturing a product from scratch, you can partner with a supplier who sells in bulk (wholesale) or through dropshipping. Dropshipping works by partnering with a supplier who stores all the products, then packages and ships them to customers when you make a sale on your site.
If you intend to buy wholesale, you can partner with a wholesale suppliers through:
Thereafter, you can either store and fulfill those products yourself (self-fulfillment), or consider a 3rd party logistics company. Learn about the differences between self-fulfillment, 3rd party logistics, and dropshipping before moving on. In short, 3PL (3rd party logistics) allows you to buy wholesale then store the products with a logistics partner, who then packages and ships items when sales are made.
Here are the top 3rd party logistics companies to consider for Australian operations:
As an alternative, you might use dropshipping to source and fulfill products. For this method, you use an app to find suppliers; the app connects to your ecommerce platform, where you search and add products to your store. When a customer makes a purchase, that order gets sent to the supplier, who then ships it to the customer.
Here are the top dropshipping apps for Australian ecommerce stores:
- DSers: products from AliExpress (mainly China)
- Spocket: items shipped from the US and EU (and AliExpress)
- Printful: best for print on demand
- Zendrop: Global dropshipping
Another form of dropshipping is print-on-demand, where you upload designs to merchandise, and they only get printed and shipped when a customer buys.
Top print-on-demand suppliers in Australia include:
- Tee Junction
- Imprint Merch
- The Print Bar
2. Choose an Ecommerce Platform to Build a Website and Sell Products Online
- A website design software
- Online store with payment processing and shopping cart
- Fulfillment options
- Inventory, order, and customer management
- Themes to design a professional frontend
- A blogging interface
- Shipping management
- Tax management
- An App Store for added functionality
- Digital marketing features for things like emails, advertisements, and social media management
- Security measures like an SSL certificate
- Sales reports
- Multiple sales channels
- Potential point of sale software and hardware
Your best option is an ecommerce platform with hosting included (as opposed to a self-hosted option like WordPress), where you manage the entire startup from a dedicated online dashboard, and you don’t have to manage hosting yourself.
Which ecommerce platforms are the best?
Shopify serves as our top choice for an ecommerce platform. It’s affordable, easy to design a website, and provides beautiful themes for beginners to launch professional-looking stores.
Shopify functions like a smartphone (but for online store owners) where you can choose from thousands of apps for marketing, social, and fulfillment features. It also comes with an onslaught of built-in features for store building, inventory management, payment tracking, insights, and more.
Here’s the Australian pricing for Shopify:
- Basic: $1 per month
- Shopify: $79 per month
- Advanced: $299 per month
Shopify also sells a Starter plan for $5 per month, but that’s more for content creators and influencers who want to sell a handful of products through social media or a blog. The Shopify Plus plan starts at $2,000 per month and works well for high-volume enterprise businesses.
Some other features include:
- Hundreds of payment processors, including Shopify Payments, a built-in processor with no transaction fees
- Multiple sales channels for selling on social media, eBay, Amazon, Facebook, Instagram, and more
- Point of sale software and hardware for in-person business
- Multiple staff accounts and inventory locations
- Manual order creation
- Discount codes
- A free SSL certificate
- Abandoned cart recovery
- Gift cards
- Customer segmentation, marketing automation, and ecommerce automations
- Taxes, international commerce, and shipping tools
BigCommerce, the most consistent competitor of Shopify, offers a robust ecommerce platform with more built-in features than Shopify. Its Enterprise tools are embraced by a wide range of online stores, and its standard pricing packages help you grow your business as quickly as possible.
With hosting, site design, and themes all included, Bigcommerce enables merchants to run their businesses without having to worry about the technical stuff.
Here are the pricing plans:
- Standard: $29.95 per month
- Plus: $79.95 per month
- Pro: $299.95 per month
- Enterprise: Custom pricing
Main features from Bigcommerce include:
- Unlimited staff accounts
- A single checkout page for improving conversions
- Free SSL
- Mobile app
- Coupons, gift cards, and discount codes
- Product ratings and reviews
- No transaction fees
- Integrations with several leading payment gateways
- Marketplace and social selling through sites like Facebook, eBay, and Amazon
- Shipping quotes (real-time)
- Abandoned cart saving
- Persistent carts
- Stored credit cards
- Custom SSLs
- Faceted search
- Customer groups and segmentation
Squarespace provides subscription plans to build online stores or regular business websites. Either way, you’re treated to the best templates in the industry, along with dead-simple design tools.
The Squarespace ecommerce platform allows for unique selling operations, with its features for scheduling, bio sites, courses, memberships, and standard ecommerce. You can even take advantage of its creator tools for email marketing, video building, and logo making.
Here are the Australian Squarespace pricing plans:
- Personal: $16 per month (business or personal websites)
- Business: $25 per month (the first plan that has a fully integrated ecommerce store—with a 3% transaction fee)
- Commerce Basic: $34 per month (fully integrated ecommerce with no transaction fees)
- Commerce Advanced: $52 per month (fully integrated ecommerce with no transaction fees)
Finally, Wix comes in as a usual contender due to its incredibly simple design interface. We’d argue that Wix is the best option for merchants with absolutely no design experience, since it offers a true drag-and-drop editor with no need to know anything about coding.
Wix sells website plans for ecommerce and standard business websites (without ecommerce functionality. It provides a theme store with beautiful templates, along with an App Store to expand site functionality with marketing, social, and fulfillment apps.
Here are the pricing plans from Wix:
- Combo: $16 per month (personal use)
- Unlimited: $22 per month (freelancing and entrepreneurs)
- Pro: $27 per month (non-ecommerce websites)
- VIP: $45 per month (non-ecommerce websites)
- Business Basic: $27 per month (ecommerce functionality)
- Business Unlimited: $32 per month (ecommerce functionality)
- Business VIP: $59 per month (ecommerce functionality)
And here are the main features you can expect from Wix:
- Secure online payments
- Plan and recurring payments
- Customized reports
- Custom domains
- Video and storage support
- Customer accounts
- Advanced shipping
- Selling on marketplaces
- Dropshipping integrations
- Loyalty programs
- Product reviews
- Selling on social channels
- Automated sales tax
- Abandoned cart recovery
Once you decide on an ecommerce platform, it’s time to build and launch your store.
You can learn how to create a Shopify store in less than 15 minutes, or continue reading this article to learn how to start an online store in Australia.
3. Connect an Australia-friendly payment processor
You’ve begun building your ecommerce site, and perhaps added a logo, some products, and apps to help support elements of your operation like fulfillment, marketing, and social media. Now it’s time to create an account for a payment processor that supports Australian businesses.
Payment processors tend to stick to regional support, so you can’t always go with one just because you saw it recommended on a blog post. We, however, have researched the top ecommerce processors to ensure that they support businesses in Australia.
Keep in mind that most Australian payment processors require:
- A bank account that uses AUD
- A bank account that allows BECS transfers
- Identification documents like passport, license, or residence permit
Businesses in Australia can generally accept:
- All major credit and debit cards
What are the best Australia-friendly payment processors?
These processors work with the top ecommerce platforms and provide support for Australia and its surrounding regions.
- Shopify Payments
- Coinbase Commerce
- PayPal Express Checkout
Peruse each payment processor, and double check that it integrates with your ecommerce platform. Look into things like transaction fees, support for your region, and how quickly payouts occur.
4. Sign Up For Other Accounts to Support Your Online Store
An account on Shopify, Bigcommerce, or Squarespace isn’t enough to create an online presence for your store. There are extra accounts for marketing, social media, and analytics purposes that are helpful for other tasks.
As you progress into the development of an online store, consider adding these accounts to expand your presence online, and to improve elements like forecasting and tracking.
- Google Analytics: This is the first step to tracking the success of your business; it links to many ecommerce platforms and sales tracking apps
- Email account: You need this to sign up for an ecommerce platform; we recommend making one with your business domain, allowing you to send automated emails (and handle potential customer support requests) with a professional email address
- Email marketing service: Options like Mailchimp, Omnisend, SendInBlue, and Moosend sell subscriptions for sending newsletters and automated ecommerce emails
- Social media accounts: Add pages for Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and whatever other social site that makes sense for promoting your business
- Online directories: Search for general, industry, and local directories to list your business
You also may have to sign up for additional accounts when linking apps to your ecommerce platform.
5. Select a business structure that’s suitable for your company
A business structure in Australia is a requirement for taxes, regulations, personal liability, and your level of control when starting the business.
There are four business structures in Australia:
- Sole Trader: You work as an individual businessperson, with no employees and full responsibility over the company; you are personally connected to the liability of that company
- Company: This makes the business a separate asset, removing liability from its shareholders, like yourself; you can hire employees and take on a team of multiple shareholders if needed
- Trust: This structure works when you own or operate assets for the benefit of a third party
- Partnership: A partnership is best when going into business with one or more people (not employees, but business owners)
Consult a lawyer or accountant to figure out the best business structure for your company.
6. Obtain an Australian Business Number (ABN) and Any Other Necessary Registrations
You may have already thought up a name for your business. If that’s the case, you must still register the business and obtain extras like a domain name.
Learn how to come up with a business name and get a URL for your online shop.
In Australia, it’s required to sign up for an ABN (Australian Business Number) whenever conducting business in the country. An ABN allows you to apply for grants, get a domain name (optionally a .com.au name), send invoices, and claim taxes.
Use the Australian Government Business Register to apply.
There’s also a database to check if your proposed business name is already in use (in that case, you must think of another name).
Depending on your business (and its industry) you may need to apply for special licenses or permits. Use the Australian Government Business Registrations page for guidance on those types of business licenses and registrations.
7. Get funding for your small business
Australian businesses have several ways to secure funding:
- Bootstrapping (using your own money with help from contributions by family and friends)
- Debt and equity financing (raising capital from more traditional investors)
- Apply for Australian support programs (many of which are made just for online businesses)
- Crowdfunding (posting information about your new, exciting product online and asking for contributions)
- Traditional bank loans and credit: These range from lines of credit to invoice factoring, and asset-based loans to merchant cash advances
8. Secure a domain name that works well for your ecommerce business
You may have noticed that, in Australia, you need an ABN in order to secure a domain name. Once you have that, and a viable business name, it’s time to purchase your domain name and point it to your website.
Luckily, ecommerce platforms like Shopify, Bigcommerce, and Squarespace all sell domain names through their dashboards. If using one of those systems, we highly recommend acquiring a domain name through your ecommerce platform.
Otherwise, you can get a domain name from any domain name registrar, like:
- Google Domains
We also suggest using a domain generation tool like DomainWheel, where it takes specific keywords relating to your business model to create a domain name that’s professional and relevant. This is a key step when learning how to start an online business in Australia.
9. Register for tax payments
The best ecommerce platforms have tax management tools built into their systems. You can charge customers for tax, and automatically save that money to send to the government. Furthermore, these platforms offer apps for better managing your taxes.
You might even consider an app like Sufio to automatically figure in Australian taxes for automated ecommerce invoices.
Moving beyond tax management, Australian online stores must register for tax payments. This way, the Australian government can more easily track what’s owed, and you avoid penalties for not being registered.
Here are some taxes that you may have to register for:
- Fringe Benefits Tax: FBT is required if you give your employees certain benefits, like free food or company cars
- Goods and Services Tax: This is necessary for any company in Australia that makes an annual revenue of over $75K
- Pay As You Go Withholding Tax: This is generally optional but recommended for ecommerce stores in Australia; it helps merchants save money for covering wages and sales taxes
As always, consult a certified tax professional before committing to anything.
Are You Ready to Start an Online Business in Australia?
Learning how to start an online business in Australia begins with deciding what you’d like to sell. After that, you can choose an ecommerce platform, connect an Australia-friendly payment processor, and select a business plan/structure. Don’t forget to sign up for licenses and business numbers specific to Australia!
If you need any clarification about how to start an online business in Australia, or you’d like to share your experience running an Australian online store, leave us a comment in the section below.