The Beginner’s Guide to Setting Up First Online Shop

E-commerce has given rise to thousands of new digital web stores that sell both physical and digital products to a global marketplace.

For an online buyer, the most crucial aspect of an e-commerce website is authenticity and security, as there are new frauds and scams every other day. Setting up a web store requires careful planning and guided installation with hardened security in mind.

But hard doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to do it yourself. For any aspiring webmasters hoping to get into the e-commerce game, this post will serve as the guide to ease the process a bit with helpful tips and recommendations.

Let’s get right into it.

The Process of Building

Before even considering to launch your website, it is crucial to spend some time away from the computer and build your idea. Consider the following:

  • What kind of products will you be selling?
  • Are there any competitors in this niche?
  • Ideally, how should your website’s user interface look?

These are all vital topics of discussion which you should consider deeply. It will also help a lot to build a brand identity in these early stages of development. You can purchase the matching domain name ahead of time to secure your company name and logo.

Setting up an online would also require you to set up some profiles. A new Google account can help on multiple levels for a new corporation.

With Google, you’ll gain a brand new email account under Gmail and access to each of Google’s apps.

google-account

This includes Google Docs and Google Analytics for tracking your web page traffic. YouTube accounts also tie into Google via OAuth, so it’s possible to market your store with video media too.

Registering a Domain

Once you have a rough idea of how your shop will work, it’s time to make some bold steps. Registering a domain name and finding a web host aren’t challenging tasks. Yet, they are monumentally essential steps in the overall launch process.

Spend a lot of time considering your domain before purchase. Once you buy the domain name, it’s usually set for one year (or more if you choose), so you’re stuck with it!

I am a fan of NameSilo for registering new domains. Their user account lets you set up a portfolio and organize your domain name into different structures, and the domain search is quick and produces to-the-point results.

Choosing a Web Hosting Service

When it comes to hosting, you’ll want to consider the backend language which your online shop will run and proper server settings.

If you don’t have any preference or don’t care, I recommend sticking with PHP. It’s open-source and supported in mostly 99% of server environments. But make sure that any hosting account you purchase should support PHP and MySQL databases.

Some hosting services like Hostgator and Bluehost offer incredible solutions for first-time webmasters. The average cost is $100-$150/year for unlimited storage and bandwidth.

Now some web hosts do cap their storage and bandwidth limit. But for even the cheapest solutions, you’ll generally be using well under their rules.

Yahoo! Small Business
hostgator

For more precise guidance, follow our post to help you choose the best web hosting service based on ten essential factors, and consumer guide on understanding the very truth about web hosting and tips to avoid some annoying hosting troubles.

Choosing your E-Commerce Package

There are two main categories to choose from for building an online shop.

Hosted Solutions

Hosted solutions are companies that provide you everything you need on the backend and host the e-commerce script on their servers. This means you won’t need to do any programming or file uploads of any kind. You will, however, still need a domain name to redirect and give your shop a distinct URL.

Licensed Scripts

You can also work with licensed scripts, both paid and open-source. These kinds of e-commerce systems are easily customized and make up the majority of online web stores. Even if you aren’t a programmer at heart, it’s a straightforward process to download and re-upload script files onto your hosting server and follow some installation instructions.

But when you are working with money and payments online, there are many security risks to consider. If you feel uncomfortable taking on that much responsibility, it may be wise to choose a hosted solution.

You can talk to company representatives to figure out site security. The customer’s overall experience and safety should be held regarding your bottom-line decision.

Hosted E-Commerce Solutions

Many of the hosted solutions can provide a fantastic experience to your visitors with very little work on your end. The administration panel is also uniform to all other scripts, which should give you an easy interface to upload photos and add catalog entries.

There are so many choices out there; it’s hard to pick just one. But I’ve included only the ones that stand out from the rest. They’re viable options for the average webmaster who isn’t interested in messing around with FTP and programming IDE’s.

You do lose a lot of opportunity for customization, but then you’re gaining added security and personal staff support.

Shopify
shopify

You can check out Shopify for yourself to see this fantastic service in action. Their website is designed beautifully and contains some beautiful demos. If you are on edge with choosing any company, Shopify may be the best option.

Some of their best features include a personal app store, SSL security, unlimited server bandwidth, a custom mobile template, and a whole lot more!

This is one script which offers a lot more user customizations than others. In the admin backend panel, you may choose between dozens of themes to implement onto your live website.

If you understand HTML/CSS, it’s possible to edit the raw website design online. The editor is similar to the WordPress theme’s editor and offers a straightforward UI for beginners.

Shopify also includes live chat and contacts 24/7 for any support. Check out their vast examples page if you’d like to see a few Shopify-powered stores. By looking at some templates, it’s difficult even to tell what script they’re running.

shopify-examples

Pricing can range from very cheap to very expensive throughout their five plans. Compare details and see if any would stack up to your credentials. Ideally, I would recommend Shopify if you have some standard knowledge of HTML and are looking for a fully-accountable staff to back up your new launch.

Yahoo! Small Business
yahoo-small-business

For small businesses, Yahoo! Small Business may also catch your attention. The layout for your standard Y!SB account is relatively straightforward and easy to customize. They provide custom traffic analytics and split testing right from your admin panel.

The most popular payment gateways are supported, including PayPal, money orders, checks, and credit cards.

Yahoo! is an excellent company to partner with if you’re choosing to go the hosted route. They spur massive bouts of traffic through organic search and ad clicks, quite honestly only rivaled by Google.

You can set up a small marketing account and help spread the word of your new store; additionally, if you’re looking to work with a skilled web designer or developer, the small business network includes these features. Yahoo! can practically manage your entire store deployment and launch.

BigCommerce
bigcommerce

The BigCommerce shop software could be compared to Shopify with trimmed features. They offer a clean user interface, which clears up a lot of confusion in the signup process. It’s a breeze to add in new features, products, users, and take payments online in just a few minutes.

Granted, if you are a developer, the team has spent time building an online API. Check out the integration and API settings on their website for details about page plugins.

You may include details from many accounts around the web, such as Facebook, eBay, 2Checkout, MasterCard, and PayPal. The staffs offer plenty of template customizations to choose from, so you’ll never be worried about branding.

bigcommerce-api

To see a few stores in action, check out their live store’s showcase, updated regularly, and spurring some of the most beautiful e-commerce designs in modern Internet layouts.

There are a lot of features to go through when you’re first working with BigCommerce. Consider emailing the developers or get in touch with somebody at the company to answer questions you may have.

I have only heard very positive reviews about their customer service and support for clients.

Custom-Owned Scripts

On the flip side to pre-hosted solutions, it may be easier for developers to work within their boundaries. Of the many scripts online to choose from, there is only a handful worthy of testing.

Although I’ve included 4 of my personal favorites here, check Google and do a bit of research if nothing suits you, alternatively check out our featured open source e-commerce shopping carts.

Each website launch is unique and will require unique conditions that another e-commerce solution may provide. In popularity, these four scripts rank very high, so I’m sure you’ll find most things you need.

Zen Cart
zencart

Possibly one of the best-known brands for e-commerce scripts on the web, Zen Cart is written in PHP and supports mostly all hosting environments. It’s free to download and install on as many websites as you’d like.

The only retributions which they require are leaving the “Powered by Zen Cart” link open in the footer area.

Working with Zen Cart provides connections to other services. Some of these are included as modules, and it’s possible to download them from their website. Others are simply companies that have tied into the Zen Cart software.

Check out their personal recommended services list to see if anything jumps out.

If you know API development yourself, there’s a pure XHTML templating system applied to each website. It is incredibly easy for your standard web developer to create a custom theme.

Additionally, the support community is alive and continually buzzing. Zen Cart has personally sponsored an entire wiki devoted to the script and common topics. Their support forums are also often active with helpful members.

You can ask questions ranging from setup and installation to custom module controls.

Magento
magento

Magento has developed an excellent script for e-commerce websites. Their whole script is written in PHP and includes plenty of details for getting started.

Indeed, non-programmers can work with the Magento suite. But I would recommend checking out another option if you aren’t at least well-versed in HTML/CSS.

Truly those looking to customize an amazing store with brilliant functionality should check out their product features and weigh the options. It won’t be a simple task to learn the Magento backend; however, if you are familiar with PHP or a similar programming language, you should be very comfortable within 2-3 weeks.

magento-product-features

This is one company that provides a lot of support for users. Aside from the free edition, there are many alternative options that you can pay per license. Enterprise and Professional edition stand out as the two best-featured scripts.

If you’re indecisive, check their charts on the comparison page and choose what you think is best suited for your business need.

To get started with your learning, spend a bit of time learning about their system, which includes screencast videos and some technical documentation. One area the Magento system isn’t lacking is in the documentation.

Taking Merchant Payments Online

Credit card payments are possibly the largest among all modes of payment online. Many digital sources like Google and PayPal have started to corner the market, but credit card companies are still raking in the profits. And it’s evident as credit cards provide a simple solution for your customers and you to pay online.

You’ll probably want to sign up for two different accounts and include your new business name on file. An Internet merchant account is used to receive funds over the web for goods or services.

Similarly, a payment gateway or payment provider is a service that connects your store with your merchant account. This means you’ll be able to accept instant payments via credit card whenever your customers buy something.

To sign up for a merchant account, you may try checking your local bank. Banks offer a signup process to credit your website and create an Internet-based merchant account.

However, if this isn’t an option, then try a merchant account provider. These 3rd parties work as the middle man transferring payments from your site to the bank of your choice. There are a few merchants to choose from. I’ve listed the most popular companies below:

After you have successfully created a merchant account, you’ll have to select a gateway. These are companies which securely transfer the data that your customers input into your merchant account.

Some banks provide you with the gateway, although there are plenty of other options to choose from, as well. The most credible company for those based in the United States is Authorize.

Their website includes some standard information and forms which should help clear up any questions you have regarding their services.

Alternative Payment Methods

If you aren’t taking such direct payments from clients, it may be easier to work in the short term. Digital payment methods have become a lot easier to work within the past decade.

In this regard, PayPal is the apparent leader and can be featured on almost all of the most popular e-commerce empires, with strong assisting guides laying everywhere, even from Hongkiat. Amazon and eBay are another two best known for this feature.

paypal

Many of the runner-up services work just as well as PayPal but haven’t gained enough attention. Specifically, Google Pay offers a very secure and speedy transaction process.

If you’re already using Gmail or have a Google Account, it’s simple to tie into a new Google Checkout account. Their backend supports widgets, which you can add to your page for a more beautiful design.

Both PayPal and Google Pay support solutions for invoicing. This can be useful if you’re planning on purchasing modules or further domains. Try staying with a single account and use this for all your business transactions online. It’s a lot quicker than waiting for payments or working through shady non-secured payment pages.

Add Content and Products

After you’ve got a domain, hosting, and you can view your script live online, then you’ve made it far! Moving past this process, you’re merely required to perform some maintenance and building of website structures. Not too bad for a first e-commerce setup.

Familiarize yourself with the administrator panel and how to work with product pages. Your viewers must receive the best user experience on your website and hopefully land the sale.

If you notice any image size limits or set proportions, consider spending some time pre-cropping your product images. Or at the very least, standardize the image size so your products will display evenly in rows/columns.

Along with product listings, you’ll want to begin working on your page copy. Written content on your website is vitally important to get your message across and land sales. Visitors will be interested to hear about your company, and many will hope to get in contact with you.

These are just a few base pages to consider building, but you may focus on a few more as time goes on. For example, a privacy policy page is significant concerning how you’ll handle user information.

Marketing and Beyond

After this point, your first shop should be online and full of new content. Congratulations! It’s a complicated process to build and launch a full-scale e-commerce solution. But now the fun picks up as you start taking orders and marketing.

Nobody is going to find your website without some form of marketing. If you haven’t signed up for a Google account yet, I highly recommend creating one for Google Analytics. They provide completely free tracking software, which boasts some incredible features you can’t find anywhere else!

With their tools, you can find your most trafficked pages and biggest referring websites. Alternatively, you can also try out some reliable analytic tools to find the one which best suits you.

If you feel that a professional marketing strategy would provide some prosperous results, I recommend taking help from publishing agencies, some of the best are Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo!

Among the top publishing agencies, Google AdWords is the most famous and trusted amongst hundreds of marketers – and for a good reason! Google AdWords provides large traffic numbers and laser-targeted click results for whatever products you’re selling.

Additionally, Microsoft’s AdCenter has taken off the ground in recent months. These are viable options for smaller online stores with a much lower marketing budget. You’ll be able to afford a lot more ad clicks and garner attention from a broad audience.

Once you’ve run a few successful marketing campaigns, your traffic numbers will slowly rise, and you’ll be well on your way to ensure success for your online e-commerce shop.

Conclusion

So this was a final walkthrough of the major steps for creating your first e-commerce store. It’s not an easy process, and even professional web designers struggle when sitting down to create new e-commerce stores. But once you’ve gone through this a few times, things will seem a lot more efficient.

The solutions offered here are just some of the many opportunities for e-commerce developers. Additionally, if you have tips or strategies for launching an online store, please share them in the discussion section below, we do appreciate them!

More

Here are more e-commerce related posts we previously published:

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