With so many people shopping from home, many offline businesses have shifted their day-to-day operations online. And while technology can help facilitate the switch, it’s easy for some of the finer details to get lost in the shuffle. Here’s how to create an online platform for your business — whether it is established or brand new.
Your online platform — whether you decide to create your own website or opt for a third-party marketplace — is your main point of contact with online customers. And the best platform for your store depends entirely on your needs.
Storefronts with a robust inventory may need an e-commerce platform with comprehensive product pages, like Shopify. Smaller retailers with a few handfuls of products may prefer a simpler platform, like Squarespace.
If you need a place to start, explore some of the following e-commerce platforms to see what each has to offer:
The provider you select should be able to track both in-person and online inventory from a single integrated dashboard. The good news is that many platforms, including Shopify and Square, offer this feature. Finding the right platform for your business may take some digging, but don’t rush the process. Building an online storefront takes time and you want to make sure you can commit to the provider you choose.
Already have a website?
If your business has a website, start selling online by installing a shopping cart plugin. If you run a self-hosted website on WordPress, consider WooCommerce: a plugin exclusively for WordPress that allows you to accept online payments, manage inventory and analyze sales trends. Or explore Ecwid’s offerings: a shopping cart widget that allows you to list and sell products on an existing website.
I don’t want to start a whole new store from scratch. What are my alternatives?
Building an online store from the ground up can take time. If you’d prefer to hit the ground running on an established platform, consider an online marketplace like Amazon, eBay or Etsy.
The benefit of setting up shop on an online marketplace is the integrated visibility and audience reach these platforms provide. But competition on these marketplaces can be fierce and you’ll have far less control over how your products are marketed and displayed.
If you want to start an online store but lack the time or technical skills, consider a platform that offers a website setup service, like Stripe. For a one-time fee of $500, Stripe sets up your website for you.
After you select your e-commerce platform, start customizing your online storefront. Most providers offer 10 or so website themes to choose from, but this varies by platform.
When selecting a theme, look for something that matches your established brand identity. Many website themes are free, but if you’re interested in niche features or design options, you may need to tack on $50 to $100 for a premium theme.
Once you’ve selected a theme, you’re ready to start loading products.
Create a shipping and fulfillment process
There are a few ways you can go about shipping and the method that best fits your business depends on how involved you want to be in the process.
Buy online and pickup in-store
Local customers may appreciate the option to save on shipping costs and pick up their orders in-person. Be sure to notify customers of your business hours and when their order will be ready for pickup.
Ship it yourself
When you ship orders, you’re responsible for all aspects of the shipping process, from purchasing the appropriate packaging materials to creating carrier slips and applying postage.
Use a shipping provider
Shipping services like ShipStation and Shippo can help you through the shipping process with discounted carrier rates, return shipping options — even scheduled package pickups from local carriers. To integrate a shipping service into your online store, compare providers your e-commerce platform integrates with. Be prepared to pay a per-package or monthly fee for the service. Some popular shipping providers include:
ShipBob takes care of picking, packing and shipping your e-commerce orders, whether they’re placed through your website or a third-party channel like Amazon.
Fulfillment services like Oberlo, Doba and SaleHoo take care of every part of the shipping process for you, including inventory storage. This option is typically the most expensive, but relieves you of storing, organizing and expediting order shipping on your own. Some dropshipping services even tackle returns and customer service.
Load your product
Creating high-quality product pages is integral to the success of your online store. Smaller stores may prefer to enter their products one by one, while bigger retailers may prefer to upload inventory spreadsheets, customizing each entry with product descriptions, SKUs and prices.
Each product listing should include:
Sizing information if needed
When it comes to product pages, quality matters. Polished, professional pages increase your store’s legitimacy and help keep online shoppers on the page. High-quality photos help customers engage with the product. And clear, well-written descriptions are crucial for anyone with accessibility needs.
While it’s not a necessity, adding a customer review section can powerfully impact your conversion rate. Ask happy customers to leave feedback on their purchases to begin building a positive reputation for each product.
Set prices accurately
While it may be tempting to continue using the pricing structure you had in place for your brick-and-mortar store, there are factors to consider when you’re setting pricing for your online store. For example, how will packaging and shipping costs affect your overhead? How is the price of the e-commerce platform and any third-party applications affecting your cost to do business? Factor those costs into your product prices.
Conduct market research to compare the prices of similar products. Price to compete while remaining profitable. It’s a challenging balance to strike, but seeing how your competitors price their products can help give you an idea of what price range to aim for.
Set up your checkout cart
Payment processing is essential for online businesses — without it you can’t accept online payments. Luckily, most e-commerce platforms come with built-in processing and merchant accounts, so you won’t need to source these from a third-party. Notable exceptions include 3dcart and Xcart — both require you to set up your own payment gateway through a third party before you can begin accepting payments.
Safeguarding your customer’s sensitive banking data is a seller’s responsibility, so look for a processor that’s PCI-compliant. Processors that are PCI-compliant follow the standards set by the PCI Security Standards Council to maintain the security of credit card networks. But be on the lookout for PCI fees for some processors.
Set up email notifications
Build rapport with your customers — even if you’re online. Outgoing emails can help you build trust and increase engagement.
Here are a few email templates to consider:
Abandoned cart email. Prompt customers to return to your site and complete a sale with automated abandoned cart emails that remind them of the items they left in their shopping cart.
Confirmation email. Let your customers know you’ve received their order with a confirmation email. This email should include pertinent information about their order, including their order number, price and order status.
Delivery email. Keep customers informed of where their order is in the delivery process with shipment and delivery emails.
Product review email. Ask customers to leave feedback on what they’ve purchased with a link back to your online store.
Make a test purchase
Before marketing your website, make a test purchase to make sure everything’s working properly. Confirm that you can navigate your online store, add products to your shopping cart and securely complete the checkout process. Ensure that follow-up emails you’ve set up are successfully delivered.
If something goes wrong, reach out to your e-commerce platform’s support team. Tech support should help you troubleshoot the problem. Most platforms also offer online learning tools and forums, so check your provider’s website to see if any other merchants have encountered a similar problem in the past.
Market your online store as open for business
There are a number of different ways to get the word out about your online store:
Email. Launch an email campaign to let your customers know you’re online. Third-party email services like MailChimp can help automate the process, but you’ll have to check which plugins are available with your e-commerce provider.
Social media. Use your brand’s social media page to extend your reach, gain followers and spread the word about promotions and sales.
Blogs. Reach out to local bloggers and see if they’d be willing to mention your store in an upcoming blog post. Offer to send a free sample in exchange for a review.
Paid ads. Pay-per-click marketing can help drive traffic to your store in exchange for a fixed price per click.
Promote your business and make it easier for customers to find you
While your product pages are the meat and potatoes of your online store, there are a few other pages you may want to consider adding to your website:
General FAQ. Fielding common questions can help you manage customer communications. Instead of being inundated with the same queries, put together a list of questions you’re likely to receive and put the answers up on a general FAQ page. You may want to cover shipping policies, accepted forms of payment, how-tos and questions specific to your product or service.
Return and exchange policy. Create dedicated pages for these policies or roll them into your FAQs. Either way, plan to provide detailed information on your return and exchange policy. Be as clear and concise as you can, especially when speaking about how and when returns or exchanges are permitted. If you have a time limit on returns, say so.
Contact Us page. Create a contact page that includes all the ways your customers can contact you, whether by phone, email or social media.
About page. Your customers may be curious about you and your business. Adding an About page can help increase your business’ credibility and trustworthiness, putting a face and name behind the product.
Setting up an online store can be a time-intensive process. Increase your chances of success by finding the ideal e-commerce platform for your business.
Shannon Terrell is a senior writer for Finder who has written over 400 personal finance guides. With a focus on investments and personal finance, she breaks down jargon-laden topics to help others make informed financial decisions. She studied communications and English literature at the University of Toronto.
How likely would you be to recommend finder to a friend or colleague?
Very UnlikelyExtremely Likely
Thank you for your feedback.
Our goal is to create the best possible product, and your thoughts, ideas and suggestions play a major role in helping us identify opportunities to improve.
finder.com is an independent comparison platform and information service that aims to provide you with the tools you need to make better decisions. While we are independent, the offers that appear on this site are from companies from which finder.com receives compensation. We may receive compensation from our partners for placement of their products or services. We may also receive compensation if you click on certain links posted on our site. While compensation arrangements may affect the order, position or placement of product information, it doesn't influence our assessment of those products. Please don't interpret the order in which products appear on our Site as any endorsement or recommendation from us. finder.com compares a wide range of products, providers and services but we don't provide information on all available products, providers or services. Please appreciate that there may be other options available to you than the products, providers or services covered by our service.