There’s never been a better time to start an e-commerce business. Because of the global pandemic, more people are shopping online than ever before. In 2020, consumers spent $861.12 billion online at U.S. retailers, which is up a startling 44.0% over 2019 e-commerce sales. Amid the pandemic, opportunistic entrepreneurs leveraged all their extra time indoors to pursue their dreams of owning their own business. This resulted in a record number of new business applications filed during the year.
But even if you didn’t kick off your startup during 2020, it’s not too late to get in on the action, especially if you’re thinking of starting up an e-commerce business. While the worst of the pandemic may be behind us, changes in shopping habits are here to stay. People enjoy shopping in their pajamas and having gotten good at using search engines to find the best options — and deals — for everything from groceries to gifts and apparel.
Ready to get started? Here we discuss seven steps to get your business online and set yourself up for success.
How Do I Start an E-Commerce Business? 7 Steps to Get Your E-Commerce Business Online
Step #1 – Determine What You’ll Sell
If you’re thinking of starting an e-commerce company, there’s a good chance you already have an idea about what you want to sell. But it’s okay if you’re still exploring options. A lot of successful entrepreneurs don’t start their business knowing the full extent of their product line.
Some of the first questions you’ll need to answer are:
- Will you sell products or services?
- If you’re selling products, will they be physical or digital products? Will you sell product kits? Will you offer subscription boxes? Or will it be a combination of one or more options?
- How can you be successful in selling these products?
Spend some time researching the types of products and services you would consider for your e-commerce website. What can you get excited about selling? What sort of products seem popular? And, most importantly: Which companies are doing a great job selling in this space?
If you spot someone who might be a possible competitor, check out their website. How does the company try to differentiate itself? Do they offer free shipping? Do they offer products in a variety of colors or products that are hard to find? Do they boast that they provide prompt and friendly customer service?
Then look for online reviews. What do customers have to have to say about this company? What do they think the company’s strengths and weaknesses are? Reading reviews can provide great insight into the mindset of your target audience and how you might be able to lure them away.
Once you use your findings to narrow in on your product niche, the next step is figuring out how to source the products for your online store.
Step #2 – Find Your Inventory and Product Partners
There are three ways to stock your virtual shelves.
Option 1: Selling your own products
This option is the easiest because you don’t need to find a sourcing partner or spend money building up inventory. However, it may be the least scalable. So, if you’ll be selling your own goods, start to think about how you can scale or expand your business as it grows in popularity. For example, a new product line for independent artists may be incorporating print-on-demand photo books using digital printing.
Or maybe you have plenty of inventory, but you’re not sure you have space to package and ship your items. In this case, you might appreciate the benefits of offsite fulfillment.
Option 2: Working with a vendor to develop a product
Do you have a great product but don’t know how to make it? Then, look online for a manufacturing partner that inspires confidence. Once you think you’ve found the right vendor, ask for references and also check the manufacturer out at the Better Business Bureau.
The advantage of developing your own product is that you might create a new market and achieve high levels of success. The disadvantages are that there are higher setup costs and that people may not love your new product as much as you think they will.
Option 3: Source products from a wholesaler or dropshipper
Suppose you’d like to procure a variety of specialty items for your online store. In that case, there’s a considerable advantage in having a single vendor with extensive worldwide relationships that can manage the sourcing of all the products — both readily available and hard-to-find.
In finding a sourcing partner, you may also want to consider what other services the company provides. For example, do you need someone to both find and kit items for your subscription box?
You may wish to consider hiring a dropshipper if you would prefer to be pretty hands-off. Dropshipping allows you to source products through a vendor and list their products on your online store. In most cases, they’ll manage inventory, packaging, and fulfillment as well.
Step #3 – Claim Your Name
Deciding on a name for your small business is both fun and nerve-racking. Fun because you can choose virtually any name you want. Nerve-racking because you want your company name to reflect your brand’s personality, attract customers, and allow for future expansion.
That’s a pretty tall order, isn’t it? Aim for a name that’s unique but also has some connection with the value your company provides. For example, we named our company Point B Solutions because we provide solutions to get you from where you’re at (point A) to where you want to be (point B).
While there’s a temptation to get cute or clever, these attributes don’t typically drive high search volumes and often confuse customers. So, it’s best to stay away from hard-to-spell names. If you need inspiration, check out these fun options:
- Fake Word Generator serves up one-of-a-kind names
- Namium suggests company name ideas based on the words you enter
- NameMesh provides domain name variations
Once you have a shortlist of possible names:
1. Do a search for the names on the local secretary of state’s website and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to ensure that the names haven’t been officially claimed by another company.
2. Check on the availability of the web domains that correspond to the names using a site like GoDaddy.com or NetworkSolutions.com. Ideally, you’ll want the .com domain, but you may want to consider the .net version as well. If the domain name is taken, there’s still a chance that the site could be yours. You can find the domain name owner using the “Whois” tool on the GoDaddy and Network Solutions sites. Sometimes you can buy the domain names from the owners — but usually, they ask a premium price.
3. Run the names by a handful of people. Do they think they are catchy? Could they say the name aloud? Can they guess the types of products you are going to sell? Don’t be discouraged if everyone doesn’t love your favorite choice. While it’s valuable to listen to people’s feedback, the most important thing is that you are happy with the name you choose. After all, it’s your business.
Step #4 – Get Down to the Business of Setting Up Your Business
After you’ve selected a name for your business, you’ll want to choose your business’s legal structure — usually a sole proprietorship, general partnership, LLC, or corporation. There are legal and financial implications related to your choice, so getting legal advice can be helpful.
If you’re going it alone, you won’t need to register your business within your state — you’ll just need to file a DBA (doing business as) application with your local government.
Don’t forget to apply for an employer identification number (EIN). While it may not be legally required for your business, it can be helpful, especially if you want to separate business and personal finances. Plus, applying for an EIN is free. Depending on your type of business, you may also need licenses and permits to sell online.
You’ll also need to decide how you’ll accept payment for the goods you sell in your store. The easiest choice is to have people directly enter their credit card information during the checkout process. But, accepting options like PayPal or Apple Pay can improve the shopping experience and decrease the cart abandonment rate. In comparing online payment gateways, consider the company’s reputation, security, and costs.
Step #5 – Build Your Online E-Commerce Empire
Once you’ve decided on your name and what you would like to sell, it’s time to create your e-commerce website. The big questions for most people are: Should I hire someone to build my e-commerce website? What is the best platform for e-commerce?
The best e-commerce website builder is somewhat subjective. Still, we’re big fans of platforms like Shopify, Big Commerce, and WooCommerce, which are easy-to-use and have lots of great options.
But, if you want features for your store that aren’t available with off-the-shelf e-commerce technology, we can help. And here’s the good news: Chances are you won’t need a fully custom e-commerce site. Instead, our team of experienced developers can extend the capabilities of most e-commerce technology platforms by creating custom extensions in Java, .NET, PHP, JS, and HTML5.
Then, before you publish your site, make sure everything looks and sounds great. Your product listings need to convince people to buy from you, so take the necessary time to write catchy descriptions and take stunning images for your e-commerce website.
Step #6 – Market Your Business
So, how are people going to find your store? Search engine optimization (SEO) can increase your chances of being included in the search results when someone enters an inquiry into a search engine like Google.
Chances are your e-commerce platform will have some built-in SEO tools that make it pretty easy to set keywords and optimize content. But, don’t expect miracles overnight. Even if you continually focus on SEO for your e-commerce website, it will likely take time for your efforts to pay off. After all, there are millions of other e-commerce websites out there.
If you want to kick-start your business, there are plenty of other things you can try. For example, you can use social media to develop a fan base. Follow topics and people related to the products you sell, and add valuable — but not overlay promotional — information to the conversation.
There are paid options as well, including Google ads and social media ads, but costs can add up so take steps to optimize your paid search campaigns. And, depending on your audience, a targeted direct mail may be an excellent option to get people through your virtual doors.
Step #7 – Focus on What You’re Good At
A stumbling block for many entrepreneurs trying to get a business online is trying to do it all without help. While starting a company may be your way to independence — both from an employment and a financial standpoint — you don’t have to go it alone. Instead, take advantage of resources for entrepreneurs and lean on experts where they can provide value.
Point B can be your trusted partner in getting your business up and running. We can help you create the perfect website for your e-commerce business, source and ship products, and rally for your success.