How to set up an online shop

How to create your own online shop

Do you want to take back control of your online sales, or move your business to the web for the first time? Setting up an online business can give you freedom and flexibility, but only if you get it right.

From planning your approach to choosing the right platform to use, here's your complete guide to creating a successful online store.

Why build your own online shop?

In 2017, online sales made up over 20% of the total retail spend in the UK. In total, ecommerce was worth almost £96 billion. While the online marketplace is dominated by the likes of Amazon and Etsy, selling through the big names isn't the only way to commercial success.

Create your own online shop and you can stay in control of everything, from the design and layout of your website to shipping and customer services. We've put together a step-by-step guide to take you through the process.

1. Planning is everything

Before you start thinking about your website's design, you need a plan. Begin by researching the competition. Look at their websites, find out how and where they sell their products, how their prices compare to yours, and think about what you can do to make your online store more appealing.

Look into the costs of selling online. Most web hosting companies will charge on a monthly or annual basis, and shipping and returns can be expensive. The more research you do at the start of your journey, the more prepared you'll be when you sell your first item.

2. Think about the products

You need to consider how you'll get your products to the people that buy them. Are you selling fragile items that will need special delivery instructions? Research the shipping options and look into pricing before you start putting your site together. Offering free shipping can be a big draw – a mention of the word 'free' can make customers feel like they're getting good value, but can you afford to do it?

You should also think about how to categorise your products. Grouping them in a few categories will make your site simple to navigate but could make it harder to find individual items. Work out the best way to present your products, as well as what else your customers might be interested in. You could try listing a more expensive version of a popular item next to the cheaper one for a chance to upsell.

Customers will be more encouraged to buy products that feature in a 'most popular items' or 'most viewed' list – we all want what others have. Plus, advertising when a product is low in stock or when an offer is about to end will create a sense of urgency.

3. Choose the right platform

There are lots of options when it comes to setting up a website. Each ecommerce website has its own strengths, weaknesses and costs. The good news is that many offer a free trial, which gives you a chance to test them out for a couple of weeks before you commit.

Here are a few of the most popular ecommerce website builder platforms you might want to consider:

  • Shopify
  • Squarespace
  • BigCommerce
  • Wix
  • Weebly

Look at the payment systems each one supports and what they cost. Check whether the platform enables you to easily sell your products on other channels, like Facebook, without having to mess around with your inventory. Talking of inventory, check whether the platform helps you keep track of what you have in stock.

Customer reviews are also really important. They can drive product sales, so make sure the platform you choose lets people add a rating once they've bought something. Remember, they aren't just reviewing the item. They're reviewing your service, too.

At this point, you also need to think about your future plans. Do you plan on growing your store? If so, make sure the platform you choose can support you, and that adding new features won't cost too much. Don't just look at the pricing tier you're using now, think ahead.

4. Make it easy for customers to find what they're looking for

To make sure customers love their shopping experience, your site needs to be easy to navigate and have a search function. When you're tagging your items, think about what keywords your customers will be using.

Be sure to check how your pages look on mobile. In 2017, mobile commerce accounted for 58.9% of online sales. So, getting your mobile site right could be the key to your success.

This is also a good time to work out your customer service and returns policy. Making it easy to return an item and responding to customer questions fast gives them a reason to keep coming back.

Remember that customers can't see or touch a product when they buy it online. In some instances, that could mean something totally unsuitable turning up at their door. That's why giving the customer an easy way to return products is a good idea. They might order something else from you instead.

5. Get the design and domain right

Before you get into the nitty gritty of design, take a moment to think about your domain. What do you want your address to be? Are you going to keep it simple or make it stand out? Think about your branding. Consider how well your name will age – the last thing you want is an address that doesn't make sense in a couple of years.

Keeping your brand consistent across all channels is important. Make sure your website matches your social media feeds and product packaging, pick a colour scheme that represents your business and look through the designs that your platform offers.

Most platforms let you customise the layout, so you can build the pages you want and make them your own. Pay particular attention to your home page – you have to draw people in fast, without confusing them. Consider taking some quality photographs of your products to make your site look even more professional. Every little touch helps.

Don't forget about usability, either. Ask your friends and family to test your site by searching for specific products. It might look incredible, but if people can't find what they want you won't generate sales.

6. Get the right insurance

When your online shop is almost ready, it's a good time to get your insurance sorted. We can help with that.

Product liability cover is a good place to start. It covers you if a customer claims one of your products caused them injury or damaged their property. It's essential for all retail businesses.

If you have workers that could come into contact with customers, public liability insurance is a good idea, too. It'll cover you in case a member of the public gets hurt due to your business activities. Employers' liability insurance is a legal requirement if you have employees, even if they only work for you on an ad hoc basis.

7. Time to go live

You've designed your site, you've got your social media launch campaign ready to go and your stock is ready to ship. It's time to go live and spread the word. Good luck.

Want to expand your customer base by selling via websites like eBay and Amazon? We spoke to three online retailers for tips on how to generate sales through online marketplaces.

Plus, learn more about our online retailers insurance here.

Small Business Insurance

Added: 27 Feb 2019