Often, the largest obstacle that business owners face is being unfamiliar with the process: they are trying to figure out how to start an online retail business. So here are ten easy steps to learn how to open an online store, whether you already sell products in a brick-and-mortar location or you're starting an online business from scratch.
Step 1: The Business Plan
Would you open a brick and mortar business without a business plan? You should not attempt to start an online retail store without one either. A business plan is critical to developing the roadmap and framework necessary to establish a successful business. A business plan for an online business should include the approach that will be used for financing, marketing, and advertising of the business. It should also establish a clear idea of how it will reach success. If you need funding, you will also require this business plan to get venture capitalists on board with your ideas. These elements don't become any less important just because you're saving overhead on facility costs.
Step 2: Choosing an Online Retail Business Structure
After establishing a plan for your online business, you will need to choose an appropriate business structure. If you are unsure of the structure that is best for your company, consider the tax benefits and requirements of each. The IRS website can help you with this decision. After making this decision, you will be able to file all of the documentation to make your business and its name legal. This is generally the end of the offline process. Now, it’s time to take the steps to get your store established online.
Step 3: Choosing the Products You Will Sell
While your business plan probably outlined the general types of products you want to sell, this step entails a much more thorough list of your offerings. You should include the different products, as well as their unique colors, sizes, or other features. In addition to deciding on the types of products, you will also decide how they will be manufactured. In general, if you're not producing your offerings yourself, you will need to get a supplier or find a solution that allows you to distribute through reselling or drop shipping.
Step 4: Getting Bar Codes for Your Products
To legally sell products to consumers through an online store, you will need UPC bar codes for each item you are selling. Does your product come in different sizes, colors, or patterns? You will need a separate barcode for each product, with each combination of features. Luckily, purchasing barcodes can usually be done easily online. You can even buy large batches of consecutive codes at a discount through various online services.
Step 5: Building Inventory
If you are just establishing yourself online, you will need to have a decent sized inventory of products. This is true regardless of whether your ecommerce store is your only storefront or if you have a physical location as well. Nothing can make an online business lose money quite like having a surplus of backed up orders. In addition to establishing your inventory, you will need to make decisions about storage. The good news is that even if you do not have the money for a warehouse yourself, many companies will store your items and ship them out as orders come in for an affordable rate.
Step 6: Choosing a Domain Name and Site Location
First, you must choose a hosting provider like SiteGround. You also have the option of purchasing a domain name and setting up a site yourself. However, this requires an understanding of technical processes that many business owners may not have.
Some of the most popular options to use for building an online retail store include Shopify (read our Shopify review), BigCommerce (read our BigCommerce review), and Wix (read our Wix review). The great thing about these sites is that they allow you to purchase your own domain name, as well as provide you with the basic tools and instruction that you need to build your website from the ground up.
Step 7: Building the Site
Once the technical parts of the site are set up, you will need to choose an overall design for your website. This includes setting up the theme, headers, product categories, and more. You will also need to organize your products into categories, and decide whether you want to include sections such as About Us or a company blog to attract customers to your site.
Step 8: Setting up the Shopping Cart
If you choose to go with an ecommerce platform to help you with your online retail business, setting up the shopping cart should not be difficult. When you do set up a cart, it is often beneficial to use hosted shopping cart software. When you choose self-hosted software, some potential customers may turn away from your business because they are unsure of the security of your site. This is a big factor to consider when establishing your online retail store — read more about features you should consider here.
Step 9: Launching, Advertising, and Marketing
Once your business has been established, your products are ready for sale, and all the bugs have been worked out of the site, you are ready for the official launch. After the launch, you will need to work hard on your ecommerce marketing and advertising strategies to grow your base of loyal customers.
Step 10: Maintaining the Business
Once everything is up and running, the final step – actually this is a step you'll do every day for the whole life of your business 🙂 – is maintaining your business. This includes taking care of technical aspects, such as working out any bugs on the site. It also includes continuing to manage the company inventory, make decisions about new and discontinued products, and providing customer service that will keep customers coming back for more. Finally, this will require you to market using techniques such as promotions, sales, emails, and more so that your business continues in its success. There are few instances where you can “set-and-forget” about your shop but I would focus on making sure I do everything I can to make the best of a good start.
Feature image curtsey of Creativedash