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How to start an online store from scratch in 5 easy steps

If you’re interested in getting started selling online and want to build yourself up in the world of e-commerce starting from scratch may feel daunting. 

You probably have a lot of questions.

What do I need to start a small online business?

How much does it cost? Can I do it for free?

What are the best e-commerce solutions?

In this step-by-step guide, we’ll dive a bit deeper into the topic, answer all the above questions and take you through anything else you may need to know before getting started.

You’ll also learn: 

  • How to start an online store with no money

  • What business licenses you need to sell products online

  • How to use SEO and other marketing techniques to get your first sales

Depending on where you live, there may be a legal process you need to be a part of to start an online store, so let’s start by taking a look at that.

Step 1: Do you need a business license to have an online store?

The first thing you’re going to want to do is to check the legal requirements for opening an online store in your country. 

As a business trading within the European Union (and Turkey) you have the right to export and import goods freely. This means that governments may not limit quantities of imports or exports nor restrict trade in any other way. With things changing in the UK, you may want to stay on top of updates on the government website. 

You can also use the gov.uk license finder tool to find out if you need to register and apply for a license to sell online.

Once you know what you legally need to do to open an online store, it’s time to take a look at the most important part of your brand–the product.

Step 2: Decide which products you want to sell

If you have an idea for a product to sell online, you’re already halfway there.

If you’re not sure about an idea for a product, here are some examples of the most popular and profitable product types out there:

Clothing

Everyone needs clothes. That being said, it’s a saturated market and you’re going to need to find a way to stand out. If you can find a piece of clothing that can solve a problem your customer’s having, such as low-quality work-wear, your brand will easily take off. 

Shoes

Just like clothing, shoes are something everybody has to purchase from time to time. If you’d like to sell shoes online, decide whether you’ll sell mass-produced shoes for a lower price, or if you’ll specialise in selling high-end shoes. Also consider specialist shoes such as work boots, orthopaedic shoes or rock-climbing shoes. It’s always good to have a niche. 

Online jewellery business

With websites like Etsy allowing anyone to sell jewellery, it’s even harder to be the signal in the noise. That being said, it’s possible. The best way to build a lucrative online jewellery business is to sell high-end jewellery and offer a product and customer experience that no one else does.

Regardless of what product you want to sell, the most important question still remains unanswered: 

How do you set up an online store?

Step 3: Build my own or use an existing solution?

Once you’ve decided what you want to sell online, the next step is to establish how you’ll create the website that you’ll use to sell. There are multiple options out there. 

Solution 1: Your own unique platform

Your first thought may be to hire a professional to do everything. If you’re not tech-minded, this may seem like the only option. 

Pros

  • You don’t need to do a thing

  • Someone else takes care of any technical problems

Cons

  • It's expensive

  • You have little to no input into the way the backend of your store operates.

  • Many developers use their own solutions, leaving you in the dark and not sure of what you’re actually paying for.

Takeaway: You probably won’t be able to change things without getting that same developer involved.

Solution 2: Use a tool to create your online store 

The next option you may find is something like WooCommerce or Magento. These are products specifically designed for creating an online store, but that’s the extent of what they offer.

You’re in charge of providing hosting, domain names, servers and just about everything else needed to build the foundation of your store. You’re also required to set up analytics to track the performance of your web store and many other complicated matters.

Pros

  • It’s either free or incredibly cheap

  • It’s a versatile product

  • You’re using the most common and well-known solution in the e-commerce industry

Cons

  • You need to have coding skills or know someone that does to start and fix problems

  • Requires a lot of time and knowledge to just get started

  • Accepting payments isn’t free and fees can add up quickly

Takeaway: This is a great solution if you have spare time and underlying knowledge. If you don’t, then it’s going to be a time-hungry and expensive option.

Solution 3: Go for the easy option 

While the above solutions are viable options, they both have one thing in common...they take up a lot of time. We realise that not everybody has the resources to invest in building an online store, so the SumUp Team have been working away to bring you SumUp Online Store Starter

Online Store Starter allows you to add your products, business logo, social media links and shipping details in just a few taps. You can now keep track of all your orders and payments in one place, and all you have to do is share a link with your customers and they’ll get an overview of everything your store has to offer.


Create a store, share the link, sell your products. All in just a matter of minutes. It's selling online, simplified—with SumUp Online Store.

Find out more

Step 4: How to create a design-friendly online store 

People are visual creatures. That’s why the layout and design of your online store plays a huge role in their purchasing decisions. Pictures, shapes and images all work together to create the way that your customers perceive your brand.

When designing an online store, you need to keep a few things in mind:

  • Don’t overload your website with colours, shapes and images

  • Keep your colour themes and layout consistent throughout your entire store

  • Practicality is always more important than looks

That being said, it’s important to put functionality in front of attractiveness when building an online store.

Why?

Good design allows your customer to find what they want to with ease.

A few things to consider: 

  • It also makes the buying process simpler and easier so you ultimately sell more.

  • You won’t get your design right the first time. It’s a process you’ll always be changing and tweaking.

  • Once you have an adequate layout of your web store, start thinking about adding your products.

Step 5: Marketing

Once you’re up and running, you’ll need to get your product heard, and there are a lot of ways you can do that. 

Here’s a brief list of ways to start marketing your product:

Instagram

Instagram is a great way to take your product to the world, purely because it’s based on sharing images. It’s simple, yet incredibly effective and in reach of every business. 

Tip: Statistically, we’ve found that people who show their Instagram content on their webpage tend to get their first sale soon and sell more.

SEO

SEO is the art of arranging keywords so that your pages appear at the top of search results. Do your research and learn how to use SEO and keywords to your advantage. 

Content marketing

Content marketing works closely with SEO. The most popular form of content marketing is writing a blog that compliments your products.

Influencer marketing

Influencer marketing involves approaching people with large social media followings and asking them to review your products.

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Anna Marie Allgaier