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How to Start an E-commerce Business: An Easy Guide to Getting Started

Kevin Shuler
Kevin Shuler

E-commerce is growing at an unprecedented rate and is one of the most valuable industries now. This guide will inspire and guide you in starting your own e-commerce business.

Thinking about starting an e-commerce business and need advice on how to set up an e-commerce website? E-commerce is growing at an unprecedented rate all over the globe and is one of the most valuable industries now. This article will guide you in starting your own e-commerce business.

4 e-commerce growth projections

Before jumping into a business venture, you need to know what the forecast looks like. Luckily, e-commerce shows no signs of slowing down, as these statistics bear out:

  1. Global retail e-commerce sales are expected to reach $6.5 trillion in 2021.

  2. E-commerce represents 10% of retail sales in the U.S., and this number is growing by nearly 15% each year.

  3. Fifty-four percent of online purchases are made by millennials.

  4. Forty-two percent of Americans who purchase goods online each month prefer online shopping over visiting retail stores.

Why people prefer e-commerce

Technology makes the experience more convenient for the customer, but that's not all.

  • People like purchasing products from the comfort of their homes instead of visiting brick-and-mortar stores.

  • The internet allows shoppers a chance to weigh different options and get the best deals.

  • New technologies allow online businesses to fulfill customer demand instantaneously.

As you see, it’s a great time to start an e-commerce business, but starting an e-commerce store and building an e-commerce website is a time-consuming process. 

You may feel overwhelmed with so many e-commerce solutions, choices and tons of information out there. To help you get started, we have prepared a quick guide on how to start an e-commerce business. 

6 things to consider when starting an e-commerce business

Follow these six steps to set your store up quickly and start earning money.

1. Identify the right product.

The first and most important decision that you have to make is what you are going to sell. You have to do keyword research, find out what products are popular on other marketplaces, and brainstorm product ideas that people need and are willing to buy. 

You should choose a product that has low production costs but a high perceived value. Find gaps in the current market and think about your unique value proposition. And think about how you are going to obtain your products and find suppliers.

2. Choose the business model.

E-commerce businesses can use a variety of business models:

  • Manufacturing: You can make your own products and sell them.

  • Warehousing: This option allows individuals to buy products from manufacturers at a low bulk price.

  • Dropshipping: Dropshipping doesn't require big investment upfront, and you can make a profit without touching the product.

When choosing your business model, consider the type of product and think of what will work best for what you do.

3. Make a business plan.

To make a solid business plan and achieve e-commerce success, you need to create a road map. Follow these quick steps to build a successful business plan:

  • Research your competition.

  • Identify your objectives and revenue goals. 

  • Set your prices. 

  • Think about fulfillment and order processing, shipping options and costs. 

  • Create a marketing plan and a financial plan.

4. Name your business.

Choose a simple name for your business that will stick in people's minds. Simple business names are memorable, easily marketable and strong. 

5. Choose a domain name.

Think about a domain name that is related to your business. Brainstorm phrases that tell people about the products you are going to sell. Make sure your domain name is easy to spell. You also don't want something that's confusing or that could send them to a competitor if entered incorrectly. 

6. Build your e-commerce website.

You need a few things to build your e-commerce website. To start with, you need to purchase your domain name. You'll also need to choose an e-commerce platform. You also need to create product pages with beautiful photos of your products and catchy product descriptions. This will help capture the value of your product and drive prospective customers to buy. 

Your website needs to include a few essential "core" pages outside of the homepage and your product pages. You need an About page, where you tell your customers what you do. A blog is also great for sharing useful articles, news and updates. Finally, you'll need a Contact Us page populated with contact information to help customers reach you.

You'll also need to choose a payment gateway and connect it with accounting and shipment software.

How to build an e-commerce website

Now that you know the basic steps of starting an e-commerce business, let's discuss how to build an e-commerce website. If you want to start a small retail business, there is no need to build an e-commerce website from scratch. 

These days, you can save time and money by joining an army of sellers on eBay or Amazon. Or, you can use specialized platforms that help business owners build an e-commerce website. You will need to spend time comparing different options available to you in order to decide which platform will power your store.

Choose the right platform

An e-commerce platform is a technology that allows you to build your online store. You can choose from two categories: hosted and self-hosted.

Hosted website platforms, like BigCommerce or Shopify, are ready-made solutions that take care of hosting and server maintenance for you. If you lack technical skills but want to build your store yourself, you can choose these solutions because they are user-friendly. Plus, many of them have drag-and-drop capabilities. This makes getting started even easier.

There are different templates, and popular hosted e-commerce platforms come with a lot of built-in features to help you manage your store. The features include inventory management, sales processing, basic marketing and reporting features. You can also customize your store using different apps.

But hosted solutions have their own disadvantages and may pose challenges to businesses as they grow and want to build their repeat clientele. These drawbacks include the following:

  • You are dependent on the solution provider if you need any updates to scale your store and will have to wait for new feature releases.

  • Your store may lack flexibility, because the capabilities of your website will be dictated by its specific theme.

  • You may also face problems with integrations. Many hosted e-commerce platforms have preferred add-on providers, and your choices of third-party solutions may be limited.

To scale your e-commerce store so that it can handle lots of customers without crashing, you may be better off working with tech consultants to help you build your e-commerce store.

If you want more flexibility and better customization, self-hosted solutions are a better choice. You get more control over the look, feel and functionalities of your e-commerce website. Just remember, you'll need to host, implement and maintain your store yourself. 

Advantages of open-source platforms 

  • They are mostly free, and you only need costs for development and maintenance.

  • They are flexible and scalable.

  • You can implement advanced features, capabilities and customized designs.

  • You're able to integrate CRM and accounting software, additional plugins and numerous payment gateways.

Design your store

Once you have chosen the platform, you need to design your store. With popular open-sourced platforms, you can choose from a wide variety of highly customizable themes. Choose a beautifully designed theme that will represent your brand and will allow you to showcase your products in the best possible way. Developers will install your theme and customize it to ensure that your store will look professional.

Set up payments

To accept payments from your customers, you need to integrate secure payment gateways. Integrated payments allow your customers to enter their payment information without leaving your store. This makes the checkout experience smoother. As a result, you'll reduce return policy.

The good news is that the majority of payment gateways can easily integrate with different e-commerce platforms. But first, you will have to set up a secure checkout process and purchase an SSL certificate to encrypt your customers' credit card information. You'll also need to create a return policy and a privacy policy, and you need to decide what shipping and delivery methods you will use. Don't forget, you need to provide all this information on your website so your customers can access it.

A lot of payment gateways support credit cards, but if you are planning to accept cryptocurrencies, you may need to conduct additional research to ensure that your payment gateway supports them.

Set up the checkout process

Shopping cart abandonment is a big problem for e-commerce in general. An average online store can lose over 75% of its sales to abandonment. You can avoid it by taking measures to improve your checkout process:

  • Make sure that your site, especially your checkout, works well on smartphones and tablets.

  • Enable your customers to buy multiple items at once.

  • Offer multiple popular payment options.

  • Send cart abandonment emails to everyone who leaves your website without completing a purchase.

Integrate with analytics solutions

To track and measure the performance of your store, you should integrate analytic tools. You'll be able to gather data on your website's visitors and their activity to get actionable insights for the planning of your marketing campaigns. 

These analytics can help you improve your site and product pages. You'll also be able to improve the order process, offering your customers a pleasant customer experience while increasing sales.

Platforms to consider

Choosing the best open-source e-commerce platform for your store is not easy. Each one has strengths and weaknesses. Two platforms you may want to research further are Magento and Drupal. 

WordPress easily integrates with numerous third-party extensions and apps, including an e-commerce plugin called WooCommerce. WordPress CMS is flexible and SEO-friendly. It allows for handling the most complex payment models.

Image Credit: fizkes / Getty Images
Kevin Shuler
Kevin Shuler Member
Kevin Shuler is the CEO of Quandary Consulting Group. He helps businesses scale their systems so they can reduce costs and increase efficiency.