How to Create, Setup and Launch a Profitable Online Store

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Choose the right ecommerce platform

Historically, success in commerce was defined by a simple formula: 

  1. Secure a profitable spot for your cart. 
  2. Shout louder than your competitor to attract more foot traffic. 
  3. Operate at a lower cost to pocket more profits. 

In the 21st century, it is no longer that simple. Large, vocal brands often fail to connect with modern consumers. The physical location can be more of a nuisance than a convenience and a small store can be operated with a lean budget and no inventory at all.

This shift grew even more pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the retail sector went through major turmoil. One unexpected side effect of the unfortunate global events was the growth of digital sales:

  • 46% of U.S. consumerstried a new brand or placed orders with new retailers last year. 
  • According to a May 2020 study from Accenture, the volume of purchases from inexperienced or infrequent ecommerce users is expected to increase by 160% in the future. 
  • 50% of online spending will be done via smartphones by September 2022.
  • Smaller ecommerce stores saw a 96.5% rise in web traffic between October 2019 to October 2020, with over a third reporting an increase between 100% and 200%.

There is now a vast and growing opportunity in digital retail — and those opportunities are diversifying. With the market conditions as favorable as ever, the following is a guide to creating and launching a profitable online store.

Choose a Niche and Develop a Business Plan

The ecommerce market is hyper-diverse. Even today’s giants, such as Amazon, started as niche retailers. 

Do background research on ecommerce niches to identify your focus area through the following:  

Conduct a SWOT analysis.

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. It’s a simple yet effective way to assess different niche and product ideas. 

Find industry gaps.

With targeted research, you can uncover unfulfilled consumer demands even within popular product categories. 

To find gaps in your target market, tap into:

  • Social media: Analyze your target audience's concerns, complaints and recommendation requests. 
  • Google Trends: Compare and contrast the search volume for different product types. 
  • Look at bestsellers on Amazon and eBay: Read reviews, check out tutorials and see what the shoppers are missing. 

Analyze your customer personas. 

The best ecommerce solution ideas are born at the intersection of needs, preferences and interests among the target audience. 

Create a set of ideal buyer personas, populated with:

  • Demographic data: Age, location, occupation, income
  • Psychographic data: Interests, values, beliefs, struggles and aspirations

Choose the right business model.

As part of your customer research, you should also note how and where your audience tends to buy products and what would be the best way to reach them. 

  • B2B ecommerce: Do you see yourself selling more to wholesalers, retailers and business buyers?  
  • B2C ecommerce: Or would you rather market your products directly to consumers? 
  • Selling on online marketplaces: Popular marketplaces such as eBay, Amazon or Etsy provide built-in access to various audiences. 
  • Dropshipping: This model passes on order fulfillment tasks to a third party, so you don’t hold any inventory yourself. 
  • DTC: The direct-to-consumer business model eliminates the intermediary. 

Check out our detailed explainer on different types of ecommerce business models.

Find Your Ecommerce Platform

Ecommerce platforms come in different types with varying native features and extensions. 

It may be tempting to start with the cheapest website builder. However, the downside is that you may have to migrate your ecommerce site later, which is an added complexity. Consider the long term, even if you’re building your first iteration. 

When analyzing different options, ask:

How many products do you plan on selling?

The first step should be to understand what products you plan on selling and how many. If you plan on running a smaller business, you can get away with using a lower-cost platform without extensive features. 

However, as you scale your business, your site’s complexity will increase alongside it. If your business is large or consistently growing, setting aside the resources for a more expensive platform could be in your best interest.

What features do you need?

Does the platform provide all the most critical core ecommerce features natively? What will you need to invest in as an extension or develop yourself to fill in missing native functionality? 

On your list of requirements, it is helpful to rank each feature on a scale of necessity from 1 to 10 and then assess several store builders and tally their scores.

Which ecommerce platforms are available?

Ecommerce website builders can simplify store setup and management. To make the optimal choice, consider your business goals, operational model and vertical, as well as technical requirements for your store. 

The next step is to assess some of the the most popular online store builders, including: 

  • BigCommerce.
  • Shopify.
  • Adobe Magento.
  • WooCommerce.
  • Wix.

Pick the Right Products

Selecting the right products to sell is essential to the ultimate success of your online store. 

While it may seem like an obvious step, it is often anything but. Too often, online businesses find themselves faltering because they have selected products that are oversaturated in their market or simply too available. 

Similar to finding your niche, when selecting your products, it is important to find something unique and in limited supply elsewhere. Remember, you’re competing with the likes of eBay, Amazon and Etsy. Any edge you can find on the market can go a long way.

Design Your Online Store

Website design is a complex, but critical aspect of launching your online store. The wrong design or template used can alienate or distract your customers, reducing sales and limiting your store growth. 

When designing your store, the following questions can help you determine how your site should look: 

What style fits your brand?

When determining what style you would like for your online store, there are two things to consider:

  1. What does your style say about your business and your brand?
  2. Customers should be able to tell from a single glance what type of business you are and what you're selling. 

Your website's style often says everything you need to know about your business, from font to color choices. For stores selling luxury products, the flashier the better. If you're selling outdoor gear, that's not a method likely to succeed. 

It is critical to be conscious of your business image and your customer base. 

How do you want customers to navigate your website?

According to a 2021 report, the average time spent on a page across all industries was 54 seconds, and more than 50% of users leave after visiting just one page. 

With this in mind, it is essential to design a store that is easy to navigate for customers. If you only have less than a minute on average, then any additional time spent dealing with an unintuitive site can be the difference between a customer leaving and a customer deciding on a product. 

Building out a smooth navigation system that is simple and user-friendly is a great way to maintain your customers and keep them on your site. 

What features do you want/need your store to have?

Features are a critical part of your online store and are often among the first things that customers see. You need to ask yourself what is essential to have on your online store and what is relevant to your business. 

Do you have an about page? Videos of your products? What is your shopping cart and checkout process like?

When designing your online store, deciding what features, add-ons and plugins you have can make a world of difference between a bare site and one that customers are drawn to.

Begin Listing Your Products

Listing your products and crafting product pages is critical in creating an effective and successful online store. 

When listing products, the main things to remember to include are: 

Product descriptions.

A persuasive product description addresses the customer’s problem, lists the product’s features and highlights the primary benefits to prompt a sale. 

Product images. 

Don’t skimp on product photography. 

Consider 360-degree photos for higher value items such as furniture, equipment or certain types of garments. According to a recent study from Internet Retailer Magazine, implementing 360-degree product photography on ecommerce sites increased conversion rates by about 13%.

Product categories.

Website taxonomy helps establish and manage relationships between different product pages. Product categories, in particular, are necessary to display your catalog and make your inventory more discoverable.

Establish Payment Options

Before launching your online store, it is critical that you have established a diverse set of online payment options for your potential customers. The payment methods you have available at the point of sale (POS) can determine how large your customer base will be and save you from future hassle. 

Most ecommerce website builders provide a method of connecting you to multiple payment options, including processors like Paypal, Apple Pay, Stripe and major credit cards. 

The most popular way of adding payments to your online store include:

  • Payment gateway packages.
  • Credit card payment processing.
  • Payment gateways and merchant accounts. 

Make sure to understand any potential transaction fees that may occur.

Finalize Shipping Strategies and Policies

You will need to figure out how new products will reach owners. Effective ecommerce shipping strategy is critically important because 56% of consumers will not buy from a retailer after a bad delivery experience.

Furthermore, a shipping policy sets the right expectation among new customers. It needs to communicate the step-by-step costs, terms and any limitations of your delivery.

To create a shipping policy for your store, consider these questions: 

Are you offering shipping for free, a flat rate or a variable fee? 

Work out a realistic “free shipping” threshold to appeal to more buyers and encourage higher average order value. Otherwise, use a tiered ‘flat fee’ structure for different types of deliveries — standard, priority, 2-day etc. 

What carrier(s) do you ship with? 

Shipping rates, timings and restrictions vary from one carrier to another, from USPS to Fedex and DHL. 

Consider all the options available and prioritize those offering the best price-to-value ratio. For example, a cheaper provider may not accept bulky items or offer no insurance in case of damage. 

Do you plan to ship internationally? 

Consider selling and shipping to nearshore destinations (e.g., Canada and Mexico) at first to scale your market reach. Then look into international fulfillment strategies. 

Do you plan to offer BOPIS options?

Buy Online, Pickup in Store (BOPIS) is a quickly growing option for retailers. If you have a physical storefront, BOPIS is a potentially valuable alternative that can make life easier for your customers.

Publish and Promote Your Online Store

Every entrepreneur’s worst nightmare is seeing zero active visitors in Google Analytics on the launch day. 

To make sure that your new store is bursting with virtual visitors, you’ll need to:

  1. Prioritize several ecommerce marketing channels.
  2. Develop a pre-launch promotion strategy for them.

To get traffic to a new online store, most markets rely on: 

Social media. 

Start building your online audiences before your website is published. Share quick product previews, teasers and behind-the-scenes previews to build up anticipation. Then announce the planned launch day and steer extra engagement by offering special discounts/promos to all followers. 

If you are launching a niche store, you can also get extra free publicity by networking in niche online communities and forums.

Influencer marketing. 

Audience-less businesses may want to prioritize pre- and post-launch influencer marketing campaigns. The big boon of influencer marketing is that you get triple benefits:

  • A push in brand awareness/recall. 
  • Engagement with your organic content across different social media apps.  
  • Direct leads and boost sales. 

Influencer partnerships at early stages can help attract those first few sales and increase your online presence among search engines as interested consumers will start typing in your brand/domain name in the search.

Paid advertising.

Targeted Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest campaigns can also facilitate brand and product discovery in real-time. Like with other performance marketing strategies, the advantage is that you only pay for meaningful action — clicks, visits, inquiries, sales, etc.   Search engine optimization (SEO) and email marketing are other advertising strategies, though both require more time and investment to take off. However, the sooner your start, the faster you’ll see positive traction.

The Final Word

Everyone’s journey to online commerce will be somewhat different. 

Some create online stores to complement retail operations. Others venture out as hobbyists and then scale via self-funding or seek to attract external investment.

What remains constant is the underlying setup process. You need to select a “fit for purpose” ecommerce platform, set up your product catalog, tweak design and other configurations and then dial up on marketing.

With BigCommerce, this process has never been easier. Enhance your brand and engage shoppers with the leading platform for creating beautiful, intuitive ecommerce stores and sites.

FAQs for Creating an Online Store

How much does it cost to set up an online store?

Ecommerce store setup costs will depend on your store size and ecommerce platform selection. You can launch a hobby store with a small product catalog for as low as $29.95/mo with BigCommerce. 

However, a more complex solution with custom design, extensions and payment methods will cost more to set up.

How profitable are online stores?

Profitability will depend heavily on your up-front investment, the profit margins on your product mix, and how much you spend on marketing, advertising, operations and shipping.

How do I start my own online store?

You need to start with a business plan, make sure to select the right products and get all your logistical ducks in a row. Then, choose an ecommerce platform that will deliver what you need as far as functionality requirements without breaking the bank.

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How long does it take to create an online store?

Timing depends on your store size. 

A hobby or pop-up store can be set up in less than a month — factoring design, content creation and configurations. On the other hand, small businesses should plan for a longer timeline of around 1-3 months.

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