How to Start a Successful Online Shop in 2022 – Your Complete 20 Step Ecommerce Guide

What follows is a 20-step beginner's guide to starting an online shop. From $0 to payday.

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How to Sell Online - The 20-Step Guide
Figuring out how to start an online shop all on your own can be intimidating. I mean, there's just so many questions; Where do you sell? How to convince people to buy? Where to market your products? How to actually receive money from people and process payments? How to handle credit card info? And so on.

Don't worry, though, we're here to answer these questions for you, and help you learn how to start an online shop in an effective manner – aka in a way that convinces people to buy!

Here's everything you need to know about how to sell online. What follows is a 20-step beginner's guide to starting an online shop.


Editor's note: This post was originally published on November 9, 2018 and has been ompletely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

How to start a successful online shop – your beginner's guide in 20 steps

Step 1 – Choose the right ecommerce platform

If you want to start an online shop, the first thing on your to-do list is picking an ecommerce platform.

An ecommerce platform is simply a special type of website that allows people to buy your products or services from your small business. With this tool, people can and complete their purchases without leaving your site. An eCommerce platform It also lets you know that a new order has come in.

In short, it's your all-in-one online selling solution.

If you want to learn how to sell online, you really can't do it without a quality ecommerce solution at your disposal. It’s tools like this that will help to bring your business ideas to life, and ensure that you can make money online.

Having the right know how to choose Choosing the best right ecommerce platform can be the difference between success and failure of your entire store.

After all, you don't want to have to deal with transaction problems, customers' orders vanishing, wrongly set shipping details; and don't even get me started on security vulnerabilities.

Here at, examining and testing the top ecommerce solutions in the market is literally all we do. Each week, we test what's new in the ecommerce space and then let our community of business owners, freelancers and affiliate marketers readers know the results.

One of the ongoing experiments that we've been running is our comparison chart of the top 10 ecommerce platforms in the market. We take a number of factors into account when deciding which platform is on top.

Here's the current lineup:

  1. Our pick:
    Features 10/10
    Ease of Use 9/10
    Pricing 9/10
    Templates & Design 9/10
    Inventory 9/10
    SEO & Marketing 8/10
    Payments 9/10
    Security 9/10
    Customer Support 10/10
  2. Runner up:
    Features 9/10
    Ease of Use 10/10
    Pricing 8/10
    Templates & Design 9/10
    Inventory 8/10
    SEO & Marketing 9/10
    Payments 9/10
    Security 9/10
    Customer Support 9/10
  3. For large businesses:
    Features 8/10
    Ease of Use 7/10
    Pricing 8/10
    Templates & Design 8/10
    Inventory 7/10
    SEO & Marketing 8/10
    Payments 8/10
    Security 9/10
    Customer Support 8/10
  4. Best for small business:
    Features 8/10
    Ease of Use 7/10
    Pricing 8/10
    Templates & Design 9/10
    Inventory 6/10
    SEO & Marketing 5/10
    Payments 8/10
    Security 7/10
    Customer Support 8/10
  5. Budget pick:
    Features 8/10
    Ease of Use 7/10
    Pricing 7/10
    Templates & Design 7/10
    Inventory 6/10
    SEO & Marketing 6/10
    Payments 9/10
    Security 9/10
    Customer Support 7/10
  6. Features 8/10
    Ease of Use 7/10
    Pricing 7/10
    Templates & Design 5/10
    Inventory 6/10
    SEO & Marketing 6/10
    Payments 5/10
    Security 6/10
    Customer Support 8/10
  7. Features 6/10
    Ease of Use 4/10
    Pricing 6/10
    Templates & Design 7/10
    Inventory 6/10
    SEO & Marketing 7/10
    Payments 7/10
    Security 6/10
    Customer Support 5/10
  8. Features 7/10
    Ease of Use 6/10
    Pricing 5/10
    Templates & Design 5/10
    Inventory 4/10
    SEO & Marketing 5/10
    Payments 8/10
    Security 6/10
    Customer Support 6/10
  9. Features 5/10
    Ease of Use 7/10
    Pricing 6/10
    Templates & Design 4/10
    Inventory 6/10
    SEO & Marketing 5/10
    Payments 4/10
    Security 5/10
    Customer Support 6/10
  10. Features 6/10
    Ease of Use 6/10
    Pricing 6/10
    Templates & Design 8/10
    Inventory 4/10
    SEO & Marketing 6/10
    Payments 5/10
    Security 5/10
    Customer Support 4/10
TL;DR: Taking every aspect into account, Shopify comes on top as the best way to sell online today – according to our research and expertise. If you want to compare the available platforms more in depth, read this resource.

Step 2 – Don't neglect mobile users

Running a successful online business means knowing how to bring your store to your customers wherever they are. ,

A successful mobile strategy isn’t just about *not neglecting* mobile users…

In fact, you should start with mobile in the first place!

This might be surprising but mobile is actually the be-all and end-all of learning how to start an online shop. The fact of the matter is that more people access the web using mobile devices than desktop computers and laptops combined. Here's how the 2021 data plays out:

Chart by Visualizer

But that's not all there is to the mobile story.

These days, Google also takes mobile more seriously than desktop. In one of the recent updates to their algorithm, Google decided to make their “mobile index” the main index for the whole search engine. What this means in plain English is that Google now uses the mobile content of your site when determining your search engine position.

In other words, if your store fails to display properly on mobile, then there’s a good chance that your entire hustle will fail, no matter whether you’re offering online courses, webinars, podcasts, or just blogs on your site.

Luckily, the platform that we always recommend every new ecommerce store owner to use – Shopify – is as mobile optimized as it gets. For business owners, this means that there’s no need to worry about this aspect at all. If you’ve been building your own business presence online with a different system, like a self-hosted tandem of WordPress and WooCommerce (which is also a popular solution), you need to make sure that things look good on mobile on your own.

To check if your website works on mobile, use Google's own Mobile Friendliness tool. Just input your web address and see the results.

mobile friendly

If what you see there isn’t great, you should think of changing your ecommerce store design if possible (here's some more info on the topic). If you’re a small business owner using a free template design and you don’t know how to change your design, then you might need to seek out some extra help. There are plenty of web design experts out there who can offer assistance on a per-hour basis. However, you might find that the easiest option is to switch to a different eCommerce platform that’s easier to customize.

Example of a failed mobile friendliness test
failed mobile test

Step 3 – Make an amazing first impression

There’s a reason that running an online business is so difficult.

There’s more to it than just being a freelancer and selling your services online. You need to figure out how to make money online by connecting with your audience. In order to master how to sell online, first of all, you need to keep your users engaged on your site. It takes about 50 milliseconds for users to decide if they like your site or not.

You want – and need – to be as creative as possible. It can be something as simple as the header or your store's name. These tips will help you choose the right name and domain for your store. What's also important is to invest in the best design possible, so choose the right design template and deliver a unique experience for your users. Alternatively, reach out to a web design expert if you need to.

A first impression can last for years, so you really want to be as memorable and unique as possible while still being in tune with the purpose of your site and how you want to sell online.

Example: BarCamp OMAHA
A previous edition of BarCamp OMAHA decided to focus on the area above the fold and went for a kick-ass vibe:

Do you want to keep on scrolling? Of course, you do. The rest of the page is even more exciting. Think about your niche and note down two or three design approaches that would work for you and then talk them out with your website designer. Go big and bold if you think this approach will work for your visitors.

Example: Noble Isle
The second example is more stylish and minimal, but it works very well, considering Noble Isle sells luxurious bath products.


What was the first thing that captured your attention? The rich color palette and the ingenious logo are very clever as they infuse a sense of opulence without being over the top. Gold fonts can look extremely good if used properly.

Step 4 – Why photos matter

Clearly, there’s a lot more to running an online business today than signing up with a dropshipping merchant, or finding the right web hosting to bring your business ideas to life. If you want to start earning cash full-time from your online initiative, then you’re going to need a lot of help.

One of the most important things you can invest in to boost your chances of conversions is images.

Your customers will remember 80% of what they see and a staggering 20% of what they read.

Big product photos along with great design are the two main areas you should focus on if you want to have an eye-candy ecommerce site.

Cool photos checklist:

  • ✅ use an all white background to let your product stand out
  • ✅ go big in size to catch your user's interest and to let them know exactly what they're buying
  • ✅ enable zooming so your customers can see every little detail
  • ✅ provide product photos from all angles
  • ✅ if you don't want to or don't have the right equipment, rely on a professional photographer (not cost-effective if you sell hundreds of items)
Example: Free People
Free People is the perfect example. They have very cool and modern product photos – you will get lost on the website, clicking product after product. It's addictive. On the main page, they always have a lot of offers and products grouped by category, but they constantly change the pictures so you get a whole new vibe with every revamp they do.

freepeople pullover

Example: Minted
In a totally different niche, Minted has a very fancy and colorful look. They almost always use decor to accompany their products, thus making them Pinterest-friendly.

minted art

Some data on good product photography that might convince you to invest in this aspect of your path to learning how to sell online:

  • 66% of customers would like to see alternative angles of a product
  • for 75% of people, the quality of photos is the most important factor
  • 61% of people want to be able to zoom in on the product photo

Need free images for your blog or to highlight your photos? Bookmark some of these 40 sites that offer free photos for further reference. Most of them have super-modern and captivating photos.

Alternatively, consider taking your own business photos. You can easily capture and edit your own images using a smartphone and some basic software today. This is a great way to make your online business ideas to stand out with something unique.

Step 5 – Improve your site's navigation

As well as making your small business website look good, you’re going to need to make sure that it works well too. No matter what kind of business model you’re interested in, from dropshipping, to affiliate marketing, online courses, webinars, podcast publications or product sales – UX is key.

The term UX refers to “user experience” and it determines how your customers feel when they’re browsing through your website. One of the easiest ways to improve your UX is by boosting your navigation strategy.

You want to offer stress-free navigation, allowing visitors to easily find what they're looking for because if they can't find it, they can't buy it.

The following strategies are easy to apply and proved to be very effective:

a) Add a “What's new” category

Whatever the type of business you’re running, from a dropshipping store to a standard eCommerce environment, you’re going to be regularly updating.

Your returning customers will want to see your latest collection. They don't want to browse through the old stuff while searching for new products. Include a ‘New products' tab in your main navigation to make it more visible and also to tempt new visitors to stay on your site.

Example: H&M
H&M has a ‘New Arrivals' subcategory for each of their main categories: ladies, men, kids and home. From there on, you can filter the products based on category, size, color, or trend. With just a few clicks, the customers find exactly what they want. Useful and time effective.


b) Have a “Recently viewed” feature

It's beyond annoying to shop around for something and to decide you want to revisit a product you saw a few clicks backs, but finding it isn't that easy. The user has options: use the back button, navigate to that category again or check the browsing history.

Example: Pottery Barn
Pottery Barn makes this very easy. Whenever the users find themselves on a product page, they have on the right a ‘Recently Viewed' tab, so they can navigate through the latest browsed products.

potterybarn recent

Use drop-down menus

Maybe you’re going to be using your online business to showcase multiple business ideas at once. For instance, you might have blogs where you can make money through affiliate marketing, webinars where you can generate passive income, and a membership site where you can build an email list all on the same website. If so, then you’re going to need an easy way for your customers to keep track of everything that you have to offer.

The navigation process is a lot smoother and it requires fewer clicks, thus making your visitors happy and less stressed. However, you have to be absolutely sure that your website won't have to face the dreaded hover tunnels issues – when you have to follow a certain path, so the menu won't close. A great strategy is to make the menu open on click, thus ensuring that all your customers can navigate easily.

Example: John Lewis and Amazon
John Lewis and a little company called Amazon are just two examples using this to their advantage.

johnlewis drop


Example: IKEA

IKEA – someone you would imagine knows a thing or two about how to sell online – also employs a similar concept on their site. In this example of a successful online business, IKEA  incorporates both the drop-down menus and good category pages. This makes navigating through the different products even more user-friendly.

ikea category

ikea drop

If you want to know more about site navigation, check this study. It shows exactly how menus have changed between 2011 and 2014 for 23 websites.

Obviously, the world of successful online businesses has changed a lot since 2014, but this will give you an insight into how quickly the environment can evolve in 2 years.

Step 6 – Have a unique idea

Probably one of the most important things that any business owner will need to make money online, is a good idea. Online business ideas might be easy to come by, but there’s a difference between coming up with a basic concept, and finding something that’s really going to generate passive income for your team. If you want to make sure that your company is worth the startup costs it takes to launch, then you need to make sure you’re launching the right type of business.

When entering the ecommerce space, you're joining a highly competitive market where it's easy to drown among thousands of other stores that all look kind of the same. That is why it's so important to build a unique presence and offer something that your competition either doesn't have or doesn't present the same way you do.

To make this easier on yourself, get inspired by browsing sites like Pinterest, Instagram, Amazon, or Etsy, and see what's new, what gets a lot of buzz, etc. Ponder what you can do to create a similar vibe and use it to present your business effectively.

Visit these sites to find what's trending:

Example: BeardBrand
BeardBrand – style for the urban beards man – initially had no idea there's a market for what they wanted to sell. Apparently, their thousands of Facebook and Instagram followers beg to differ. These guys sell a lot of stuff, from mustache combs to beard oils and they seem to keep on going.


Example: Boxed
Boxed identified a huge issue – massive shipping fees for bulk, heavy goods – and fixed it. A lot of their products have free shipping, which is almost impossible to find elsewhere, and a wide variety of products, from household stuff to beauty care.

One of their biggest selling points? This one:

Did you know an average trip to a local warehouse club takes over 180 minutes? Boxed gives you back 179 of them.


Example: Suck UK
Suck UK sells “The greatest gifts on earth!” Would you like to get a customizable cookie stamper or a tongue-shaped bookmark? Yeah, you don't need them, but it would be cool to have them, right? They also have retail stores to cater to those who like to walk around town in search of the funkiest gift ever.


Step 7 – Craft a strong USP (Unique Selling Proposition)

Once you have a list of business ideas to choose from, you can begin to think about what makes your small business special. After all, there are plenty of online business options out there for your customers to choose from. You need to convince your audience that there’s something about your hustle that’s worth their time.

Why do you need a unique selling proposition? There are around 10 million ecommerce websites! Yes, you read that right: 10 million. You don't just need to, you *MUST* have an awesome unique selling proposition if you want to make those sales and start living life as a full-time entrepreneur.

Every successful business has that “something” that sets it apart from others, you just have to sit down and figure out what it is. Another option is to do your own research and look closer at your competitors. What are they focusing on? What are they missing? Could you bring that to your customers?

Example: FiftyThree
FiftyThree is all about helping people express their creativity and helping the “set their ideas free”. That is why they created a cool iPad app for graphical note taking.


Example: TOMS

Changing the focus, we have TOMS – one of the best business ideas we’ve ever seen. Each time they sell a pair of shoes, they give one pair to a child in need, and when they sell their eye wear, they donate an undisclosed amount to save the eyesight of those in developing countries. Their unique selling proposition couldn't be more suited: “One for One!”


Don't know where to start with your USP when figuring out how to start an online shop? Sam Horn, author of the popular book “POP!: Create the Perfect Pitch, Title, and Tagline for Anything” developed this W9 questionnaire to help you break down the core of your business and craft the perfect USP:

  • W1. What am I offering?
  • W2. What problem do my business ideasoffering solve?
  • W3. Why is it worth trying and buying?
  • W4. Who is my target market and what do they want from me?
  • W5. Who am I and what are my credentials?
  • W6. Who are my competitors and how am I different from them?
  • W7. What resistance or objections will people have to this?
  • W8. What is the purpose of my pitch?
  • W9. When, where, and how do I want people to take action?

Some USPs to get you inspired:

A diamond is forever.DeBeers
Ideas worth spreading.TED
The ultimate driving machine.BMW
Gives you wings.Red Bull
Open your world.Heineken
When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.FedEx

Step 8 – Start blogging

Once you know what the USP is for your online business ideas, you can start to generate more attention for your company online. There are plenty of ways to attract the attention of your target market online, from search engine optimization, to pay-per-click advertising, and even designing your own youtube channel.

However, the easiest way to get started is with blogging.

As a blogger , you can increase your number of visitors by even as much as 50%, plus also have more leads per month. These are huge numbers that can bring in a lot of extra revenue! What’s more, if your blog is good enough, you can also improve your chances of nurturing your audience by building an email list and using email marketing.

Here's how to get these sort of benefits; first of all:

Publish online content often!

Ideally, you would have around 2-3 new articles published each week, but not everyone has that much free time, so start slow. You can come up with at least one article a week, right? If possible, you can consider drafting 5-7 posts and schedule them so you don't have to deal with blogging for the next couple of weeks.

Example: Hershel Supply
Hershel Supply are publishing quite often on their blog. The articles are short and have pictures worthy of their own Pinterest board. This strategy works best in niches relying heavily on design and visual cues.

herschell blog

Example: Deliciously Ella and You Make Do
Deliciously Ella and You Make Do had a different approach. They had their blogs first and then decided to have their own stores. Having a lot of visitors/followers helped them build a more powerful and relevant ecommerce site as they already knew their audience.

deliciouslyella blog

you make do blog

What to publish:

  • ✅ personal experiences/opinions, so your customers get to know you and your business
  • ✅ products you recommend
  • ✅ tips from your niche
  • ✅ contests
  • ✅ something about your store's history

As an added bonus, read my 19 explosive content marketing tips and see what advice you can implement in your blogging activity.

Step 9 – Create a mind-blowing “About Us” page

Your About Us page is a window into your business, and you want it to be appealing and fresh. Around 7% of visitors coming to a homepage click to see the About page. Those who do see it convert 30% more than those who don't. They also spend on average 22.5% more. This alone should be enough to get you started drafting this page!

An honest, updated and well-designed About Us page can spark curiosity and, who knows, generate some unexpected sales from people who were just browsing. Your about us page will be the first place that tens of thousands of people online visit when they want to learn about your new business. You can also use this page to link out to other information about you, including your eBay page, your youtube channel, and even your LinkedIn profile.

Example: Yellow Leaf Hammocks
Yellow Leaf Hammocks sells 100% hand-woven, customizable hammocks, and they have a kick-ass About page that certainly helps them solve their puzzle of how to sell online. The visitor gets all their questions answered and the graphic design and photos keep them engaged and interested to see more. Motivating, touching, life-changing and a very noble cause, Yellow Leaf Hammocks proves what an About Us page is all about.


Example: Mujjo
Mujjo sells leather Apple accessories and touchscreen gloves. On the About page, they share their story, how they started designing the popular knitted gloves that are touchscreen friendly, and how then they expanded to making sleeves for Apple products. They also decided to use this page to promote some of their products in order to keep the visitor longer on the site.

mujjo about

What to share on your About page:

  • ✅ the story of your brand
  • ✅ a video or several captivating photos that portray your brand
  • ✅ your partners, if you're not alone
  • ✅ one or two testimonials
  • ✅ links to some of your best or most popular products

Step 10 – Develop a successful SEO strategy

Designing an attractive website for your affiliate marketing campaign, online webinars, or any other business model is just one of the first steps you need to take as a business owner. You’ll also need to think about how you can bring your target market to your site using search engine optimization.

If you want to learn SEO, you'll quickly find out that the topic can be really intimidating. There are hundreds of different SEO factors – simply speaking: things that impact your site's SEO – and mastering them all is near impossible.

To start with, you should know that there are more than 2.2 trillion Google searches per year, and that 90% of users click only on the first three results.

First order of business:

a) Optimize your product page.

Using search engine optimization on your product page means using keywords, but not to the extent where you end up over-stuffing your content. Relevant product keywords in your headers and image alt tags should be enough to help your rankings and thus help you with how to sell online.

b) Use friendly URLs.

The visitor doesn't want to see a trillion characters, so, again, you should use the keyword you're trying to rank for and very little of anything else. Keep it clean and user-friendly!

friendly urls

c) Make the most of user-generated content.

This isn't costing you anything and it also provides fresh and unique content for search engines. Add social media plugins and allow users to quickly review the products they just bought.

d) Avoid duplicate content.

Archives, tags, incorrect pagination and even basic product filtering generate duplicate content and drag your site down.

You can avoid issues like these by looking into the settings of your ecommerce platform. If you're on WooCommerce, you can adjust most duplicate content issues via the Yoast SEO plugin. If you're on Shopify, you should have this issue taken care of by the platform itself.

If you're on another solution, you might need to use your robots.txt file and do the needed adjustments manually.

Apart from that, writing your own unique product description instead of using the one provided by the manufacturer is the smart way to go. Google will notice and set you apart from your competitors who use the same product text.

e) Keep pages with out of stock items.

Don't delete those pages, especially if you rank high with them; instead, show related products or your newest collection.

f) Have a well thought-through internal linking system.

This will reduce your bounce rates – as people have something to click on. Recent studies show that 69% of people base their browsing on these links. Don't over-complicate it, try to think from your visitor's point of view. What would be relevant to them?

Make sure you think carefully about your affiliate marketing links too. What would make your customers want to click?

g) Link to other internet sites.

Despite random rumors you might have heard, linking won't ruin your rankings. Instead, it will show the visitors that you want to provide helpful content and you don't mind linking to outside sources. This will paint you as genuine and reliable.

h) Use Analytics.

This is kind of a no-brainer. You simply can't afford to skip on using Analytics to have a deeper knowledge of everything that happens in your online store.

Don't know where to start? Check out this roundup of 10 Google Analytics resources for ecommerce. It will help you keep track of everything that happens in your store.

Who does SEO well?

When it comes to high-class SEO in relation to how to sell online, Zappos is the perfect example.

Example: Zappos
They have highly optimized product pages:

  • they use simple and more targeted product keywords
  • instead of adding a product description that is forced and stuffed with keywords, they list the product's features in a bullet point list
  • they also have a related product featured to keep the user engaged and increase the chances of an upsell
  • the slider with products viewed by customers who viewed the same item has the same purpose

zappos products

They use friendly URLs:

  • Zappos uses the keyword in the URL
  • always include the brand or collection as well, it helps your rankings

zappos url

  • Further reading: The SEO specialist, Brian Dean, put together an awesome guide on ecommerce SEO. Check it out here.

Step 11 – Target the right visitor with the right product

Bringing your online business ideas to life means more than just becoming an affiliate marketer with the right company, or choosing the right drop shipping company. You need to make sure that you’re delivering the kind of value your customers want.

Product recommendations deliver a personalized shopping experience and can increase your order value by as much as 40%. In other words, you can't afford not to use this strategy. Out of 1000 UK online shoppers, 53% like seeing products that are recommended based on their previous buying history.

Amazon was among the first retailers to successfully implement this and eventually, everyone jumped on it too. This infographic is an illustrated history of the first 20 years of Amazon and it shows some of the strategies Jeff Bezos used to make the client hit the “Add to cart” button more eagerly.

See infographic
amazon infographic

They use an “item-to-item collaborative filtering” that surrounds the user with products they didn't even know they needed. This algorithm is based on what the customer has in the cart, their previous Amazon browsing history, products they like or have already bought.

How many times have you found yourself looking for a stapler and ending up buying a stapler … and some office supplies, and some printer paper … and a printer, etc? The power of suggestion does wonders and Amazon knows that, perhaps that's why they're the absolute masters of how to sell online.

Around 70% of online shoppers prefer stores that use personal information to provide a more relevant shopping experience. Bottom line, any ecommerce site that wants to stay in the game has to come up with a personalized shopping experience for its customers.

What features to implement:

  • ✅ “recommended for you”
  • ✅ “similar products”
  • ✅ “complimentary products”

If you're using an ecommerce solution such as Shopify then you can configure these kinds of features right through your user panel. If you're on WooCommerce + WordPress then you might need a plugin to have some of them implemented.

Don’t forget to take your personalization strategies into your email marketing campaigns too. Business owners that segment their email lists can send more relevant and engaging content to their audience.

Step 12 – Use Live Chat to help potential customers make faster decisions

While the ecommerce space might be stronger than ever, still nothing beats that human interaction you have in a store. If you don't believe me, just take a look at the data. For instance:

What percentage of online shoppers do you think agree with this statement:

Having my questions answered by a live person while I am in the process of my online shopping is one of the most important features on a website.

The answer is 44%.

If you want to benefit from that, there's no better way to do it than to get a “live chat” functionality installed on your site. Here's our comparison of the best live chat solutions for ecommerce.

At the same time, you do want your live chat to be proactive and to invite the visitor to interact with it.

Example: Theory
For example, here's how Theory does it in a way that's not completely optimal. They have a Live Chat link in the footer of their site, where it's unlikely to be spotted.

theory chat

Example: ahrefs
On the other hand, here we have ahrefs, a company with a much better focus on live chat. Their chat box remains firmly in the bottom right corner of the page and pops up after a couple of seconds of the visitor's activity on the page.

ahrefs chat

Example: Schuh
Schuh went a step further and introduces live chat video. While some customers like this interaction, most will be reluctant to have a video chat with a stranger. However, if users want, they can opt for text instead of video.

schuh chat

Generally, place your live chat button in the most visible spot. You want it to be visible at all times, whether the user is scrolling or reading a product review.

Live chat statistics:

  • 31% of online shoppers are tempted to buy from a site that offers live chat
  • 46% think live chat is the perfect communication medium
  • 62% of buyers who have used live chat are more likely to buy again from the same website

If you don’t have a lot of time to manage your live chat system yourself, you could always hire freelancers from upwork to help you out, or invest in a virtual assistant. The more people you can bring in to help you run your new business, the more time you’ll have to focus on making your site grow.

Step 13 – To coupon or not to coupon

Pricing is tricky. You have to offer a lower price than your competition while making a profit. This small guide focuses on the best pricing strategies when you're figuring out how to start an online shop.

After getting the basic pricing covered, you have to determine what coupons and discounts strategy to use. If you have a one of a kind product or handmade items, promotional offers aren't a must. Plus, they can do more harm than good at times. However, for general merchandise and simple products, coupon codes can bring more business.

Data says that around 75% of mobile buyers use coupons. You could potentially get a lot of new business opportunities by offering your customers something that helps to get them off the fence about their purchase.

Most ecommerce platforms support the use of coupons natively. Both Shopify and WooCommerce allow you to enable coupons with a couple of clicks.

Here are some ideas for coupon codes you can use:

  • first time buyer's discount
  • volume discount
  • member discount
  • free shipping
  • returning customer discount

Step 14 – Improve your shopping cart experience

Your control over the shopping cart experience will depend on the kind of business model you’re using. If you’re an affiliate marketer, then there’s nothing much you can do about the checkout. However, if you have your own online store, then you can easily use a step by step guide to upgrade your shopping cart. Some web hosting companies even offer tools to help you out.

Window shopping has never been so popular, which is kind of unfortunate for those of us trying to figure out how to start an online shop! Your users cram their carts with items they would want/like to buy, but 71% of the carts are abandoned.

Why? Well, for a lot of reasons. High shipping fees, slow website or website time-out, not enough payment options (check this article on how to choose the right payment gateway for your store) or just because they were simply browsing and had no intention to buy anything.

A very good idea is to let customers buy as guests – without the need to create any user accounts. Many stores employ this functionality, and it's also supported by most of the popular ecommerce platforms (Shopify and WooCommerce included).

Apart from that, use your checkout page as the last upsell option.

Example: The Body Shop
For example, The Body Shop displays their best offer on their checkout page to catch those undecided customers who don't know if they should pay or continue shopping. Think smart, but avoid cramming it with a ton of products.

The Body Shop

Example: Wiggle
Wiggle allows their customers to know exactly how many steps they have to go through until the order completion. Show a progress bar and most importantly, don't confuse people with unnecessary steps or questions.

Example: Apple
Apple is often used as an example of a highly optimized ecommerce site, and for a good reason. Their shopping cart is very simple, with no unnecessary elements on the page.

apple cart

Be aware of these shopping cart statistics:

  • 73% of customers are likely to look for free shipping options
  • the highest cart abandonment rate is in consumer electronics, around 74%
  • high shipping costs account for around 44% of abandoned carts and only 6% due to slow shipping

Need more inspiration on how to sell online? Go through these 12 creative checkouts and see if you spot anything that you'd like to emulate. You can also try doing some of your own market research to find out how other companies in your industry deliver a great checkout experience.

Step 15 – Develop a successful shipping strategy

Customers expect to see the “Free shipping” banner on every online store they visit nowadays and, on top of that, 78% look for the cheapest shipping available.

The most common shipping options right now are:

Free shipping

We're all bargain hunters and the phrase “Free shipping” makes you want to pay attention instantly, even if you weren't tempted to buy anything initially.

Raw data confirms this; free shipping is the most important factor, plus it also encourages customer loyalty, so choose wisely.

Analyze your costs, and if you can afford to offer free shipping then go ahead. This works best in clothing, beauty, accessories, and other similar industries – since in most cases the packages are small or average sized.

Example: Tattly
Tattly is a temporary tattoo store that decided to implement the free shipping policy. Their products weigh just a few grams, so shipping costs are very low, and this strategy doesn't make a hole in their revenue.

Instead, this has the potential to bring in more customers because they'll most likely be tempted to buy when they see free shipping. A huge flaw is that they don't have a banner that informs about this. You have to visit their FAQ section and check how much they ask for shipping.


Example: HipVan
The second you land on HipVan you feel tempted to browse around as you see they have free shipping. This is a better strategy compared to the one used by Tattly. If you offer your clients something for free, make this your winning card and display it in the “above the fold” area to increase visibility.


Free delivery over a certain order value

Next to unconditional free delivery, this is the second best thing. It's a very popular option seen on big websites like ASOS, The Hut, or Free People, and it can increase your orders exponentially.

Example: Faucet Face
“FREE SHIPPING! $20 or More. US only.” In just a few words, you know that you get free shipping if you spend at least $20. Faucet Face went for the shortest path and opted for an approach that attracts customers instantly.


Flat rates shipping

A hassle-free method; this allows you to offer a flat fee on every order, which is also a good way to estimate your financials when building your path to how to start an online shop.

Example: Daniella Draper
Daniella Draper uses this strategy. Before proceeding to billing, customers can see the shipping rates and then decide if they want to complete the order or not.

Daniella Draper

Shipping rates based on weight, order total or distance

This is more challenging to set up as you need to figure out exactly how much shipping will cost you in order to get some estimates.

If you're selling via Shopify or WooCommerce, you can set different shipping zones or tiers based on the destination, weight and other characteristics of the order. While this is a built-in feature in many ecommerce platforms, configuring it correctly will take you a couple of hours. However, that time investment is well worth it in the end.

One of the things you get as a result when you're done with the setup is a shipping calculator that your customers can use to get the exact rate for their order.

Example: Total Cycling
Total Cycling does this very thing and offers shipping rates based on the customer's address. Customers simply get to select their country to find out what shipping rates they can choose from.

Example: Simple Sugars
Simple Sugars has a nice shipping calculator as well. This increases the transparency and makes customers feel that they have control over their shipping fees.

Simple sugars

Example: Bold and Noble
Bold and Noble went even further in their attempt to how to start an online shop. After you add a product to your basket, you are redirected to your cart where you find out how much you'll be charged for shipping.


Some numbers on the importance of shipping rates:

  • increased shipping costs cause 55% of abandoned carts
  • free shipping is more of a reason for people to buy from a store than fast shipping
  • consumers are 82% more likely to use a store if they don't have to pay for shipping
  • you can increase your order value by 30% if you have free shipping

Step 16 – Ask for feedback

There are few things more important to an online business than market research, insights, and feedback. It’s the ultimate way to get an insider look at your target market.

It's really surprising how many ecommerce stores don't have any way for customers to submit their reviews of the products. This can be a huge obstacle on your path to how to start an online shop. In fact, 77% of online shoppers read a review of the product they intend to buy and 90% make a decision based on what they read.

All those numbers and statistics apply to the whole web. You might have positive reviews on your site, but you also have to check what your customers say about you on other blogs and forums. Are they satisfied? If not, contact them and see what should be different. You have to keep in mind that people use Google to find your site and they'll use it again to do a “background” check on your product.

Not only that, but reviews also improve your SEO rankings as they provide fresh and unique content, increasing your long tail rankings and bringing in new visitors.

Expedia uses Feefo to display their customer reviews. This strategy outsources your worries regarding approving and providing a platform for those reviews. Users also have the chance to tweet or share a review, thus increasing your exposure.

Example: GraceShip
For example, GraceShip has the review button available at any moment during scrolling, regardless of the page the user visits. They even make the reviews visible on each product page.


Should you fear bad reviews?

You shouldn't; 68% of consumers trust a site more when they see both positive and negative reviews, and this is normal. No matter how awesome your product/service is, there's always that one person who doesn't like it. As long as you have many more positive reviews than the negative ones, they're not a problem when trying to figure out how to start an online shop.

Stats on consumer reviews:

  • 73% of customers have more trust a brand after reading positive reviews
  • 67% of consumers say they read up to 6 reviews until they feel they can trust a certain business
  • 68% say they are more inclined to recommend a local business if it was trustworthy and professional
  • consumer reviews can increase your sales by 18%

Step 17 – Rethink your newsletter approach

Do you know that the estimated ROI of email is 4,300%? An unbelievable number! Yeah, some statistics say that people tend to get annoyed when their inbox is crammed with tons of emails. However, at the same time, they still end up reading that email and buying something.

Check the following approaches and see how you can successfully convince tens of thousands of visitors visitors to sign up for your special deals and updates.

Have a more direct approach

Example: Dickies and Little Joe Woman
Dickies and Little Joe Woman greet you with a newsletter popup when you land on their websites. Easy to get rid of, but visible for those who want to get exclusive offers or new product announcements. To increase your chances of getting new subscribers, lure them in, offer promo codes to new subscribers.

Be creative.

Key to how to sell online?


Example: Cultivated Wit
Cultivated Wit shows they have a more upbeat attitude, and this is obvious when you scroll down and get to their newsletter signup field. The “Receive our propaganda” line is funny and tempting, it feels like you just have to sign up. If you look left, where they have the social button, you chuckle again as you read “Monitor our private lives.” It's all about being fresh and knowing your audience.


Step 18 – Show people that your site is secure and trustworthy

Secure shopping-cart systems are essential for maintaining the integrity of the payment process.Ella Nevill

Online data is very sensitive, so more and more customers are extremely careful before placing an order. That's why you have to check off all the bullet points to make sure your site is secure and trustworthy. It's not uncommon for online retailers to lose around $3.5 billion annually as a result of online fraud. While bigger stores may be able to handle loses due to this, a business that sells customized soap will hit rock bottom fast.

These techniques will reduce the risk of online fraud:

  • ✅ pick a secure platform
  • ✅ use strong SSL authentication
  • ✅ track all your orders
  • ✅ use strong passwords

Shopify offers its strong security measures as one of its best features. They have a lot of pages that provide details over their security strategy.

WooCommerce is also quite good at security, plus you get to use special WordPress plugins that improve your site's security even further.

Step 19 – Use the power of social media to promote yourself

Whether you’re freelancing, affiliate marketing, dropshipping, or building a business online, you should always have a social media strategy. Even having the right linkedin account can help to get your domain name out there for more customers to see.

Social media is huge these days. Literally every ecommerce site should have its presence on social media, and especially if they want to maximize their potential in how to sell online. Social sharing tools like AddThis make it easier for your visitors to spread your content on their social networks with their family and friends.

While Pinterest and Instagram may not be suited for all niches, the two big names – Twitter and Facebook – are a must. Set your profiles and be as active as possible, without spamming your fans.

That being said, you have to avoid constantly trying to sell something. Your customers don’t want to associate your domain name with a constant sales pitch. People want to know the story behind your brand too, interesting statistics regarding the niche you're in, how to use/style your products. Heck, you can even throw in one or two cat photos into the mix. The goal here is personal connection.

Here's some more info on how to begin your adventure with social media as an ecommerce store owner.

Step 20 – Introduce a referral program

A referral program can be a great “extra” element that convinces people to promote your products more than they would otherwise.

The rules of a referral program are simple:

  1. Someone buys from you
  2. They get invited to your referral program
  3. They get their own unique link that they can use when recommending your store
  4. When anyone buys something after the recommendation, the referring person gets an extra gift, coupon code, or reward points that they can use towards future purchases

What's so attractive about this – from the customer's point of view – is that they not only get to buy something that benefits them (after all, you're not selling anything useless, right?), but they can also then recommend your products to friends/family and get something extra for doing so.

From a technical point of view, launching a referral program is possible with many of the popular ecommerce platforms right out the box. Read more about the best referral software for ecommerce here.

What's next?

This summarizes our list of the 20 steps on your way to learning how to start an online shop. Since this resource is quite lengthy, we've also prepared a quick in-the-nutshell checklist for you.

Treat it as your reference file when you're going through the motions:

  1. Choose the right ecommerce platform
  2. Make sure your store works for mobile users
  3. Make your online business makes amazing first impression
  4. Use quality product photos
  5. Improve your site's navigation
  6. Have a unique idea/angle for your business
  7. Craft a strong USP
  8. Start blogging
  9. Create a mind-blowing About Us page
  10. Develop a successful SEO strategy
  11. Target the right visitor with the right product
  12. Use Live Chat to help potential customers buy
  13. Decide whether to offer coupons
  14. Improve your shopping cart experience
  15. Develop a successful ecommerce shipping strategy
  16. Ask for feedback and reviews
  17. Rethink your newsletter approach
  18. Show people that your site is secure and trustworthy
  19. Use the power of social media to promote yourself
  20. Introduce a referral program

Do you have any questions on how to start an online shop? Don't hesitate to ask away in the comments section below.

Karol K

Karol K. (@carlosinho) is a WordPress figure-outer, blogger, and published author of "WordPress Complete". His work has been featured all over the web on sites like:, Smashing Magazine,, and others.

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