You don’t want to miss out on online shoppers.
Whether you’re a fully online business or a physical store looking to expand your reach, online stores are a valuable avenue. Ecommerce opens a vital gateway for small and medium-sized businesses to reach new customers, increase brand awareness, and boost conversions.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought about a wave of increased online shopping, with ecommerce sales rising by a whopping 43% during the pandemic’s first year. The total transaction value was more than $244 billion in that period, providing incentive for businesses to move their sales online.
Despite these colossal numbers, 27% of small businesses don’t have a website to showcase their products and services. Is yours one of them?
As more companies look to establish an online presence and grow their brand, it’s natural to wonder if creating an online store is the right choice for you and your business.
But why should you create an online store? How much does it cost? Do you need to know how to code to build one? We explain the ins and outs of creating an online store in this all-in-one guide for small and medium businesses.
Why should you create an online store?
Ecommerce stores have a hold on a significant portion of the market, and their influence continues to grow. In 2021, 64% of US consumers shopped online, and over one-third of the population preferred it to in-person shopping.
Here’s why you should take advantage of a growing industry and set up an ecommerce website for your business.
Building an online store is low-risk
Creating an online store for your products and services doesn’t require coding expertise or a large financial investment. Many visual web development platforms like Webflow allow you to create ecommerce sites for free. You just need a computer and an internet connection.
Moving your existing inventory or business information online allows you to display your mission, products, and contact information all in one place.
If you don’t have an existing business or you’re exploring alternative ways of handling ecommerce inventory, you can start an online store with little to no investment by dropshipping. Dropshipping is a fulfillment method where online store owners buy goods from third-party manufacturers after receiving orders instead of keeping inventory in storage. The products are then delivered directly to the customer.
Dropshipping further reduces the financial risk factor of expanding a business, as you don’t pay for product inventory or shipping. This allows for a fair amount of room for trial and error before any money leaves your pocket.
Low startup costs encourage positive profit margins
Ecommerce platforms are often more profitable because you’re not investing much at the beginning — it’s simply an online version of your products and services.
As a result, ecommerce stores usually have positive gross profit margins, which is the profit your business keeps after deducting all the expenses incurred when producing and selling products or services. Online stores generally see gross numbers of up to 45%, depending on their business model, which is often higher than retail stores.
It allows you to expand beyond your local market
Online marketplaces are accessible to anyone with access to the internet. Websites with responsive designs transfer to mobile devices seamlessly to let customers shop from anywhere. Companies also develop custom apps for customers to allow easy access to buy products and services from their phones within minutes.
A significant benefit of online stores is reaching customers beyond local target audiences. You may find a high demand for your products and services in different states or countries, which you can fulfill through shipping options and targeted ads. Simple translation integrations break the language barrier and open gateways to new customers.
One of the few areas you’ll likely need to spend is on digital marketing, ensuring potential customers see your advertisements and visit your website. You can also grow your store’s online presence organically with SEO, potentially saving money and increasing profit margins.
There’s more space to grow
With the opportunity to reach a wider audience, any business could see growth in their profit margins and demand. Ecommerce also allows you to gauge customer interest through traffic and see how many times products are added to someone’s cart (even if they later abandon it). This helps you focus on developing your business in areas you’re already likely to be successful.
With dropshipping, conventional barriers like inventory and storage space are less significant. Companies can now spend less for more by developing marketing strategies and employing fulfillment providers to improve conversions. Fulfillment programs like Amazon FBA require small subscription fees and remove intermediaries by handling the storage, packing, and shipping for you.
What do you need to do to create an online store?
All that’s left to do is turn your existing catalog into an ecommerce business. Follow this step-by-step process to understand how to set up your own online store.
1. See what competitors are doing
Before building your store, research the ecommerce landscape to see what your competitors are up to. Make a note of what works for them and what doesn’t. It also helps to study how ecommerce giants like Amazon and eBay set up their websites and product pages for a foundation.
If you have a business already, look for online stores that have similar-sized businesses to yours — bonus points if they sell similar products or services. Your business might offer something unique you can make the central focus of your website.
2. Choose a platform to build your online store
Once you’ve done your research, you should have an idea of what you want your website to look like. But first, you’ll need an online store builder to bring your website to life.
Choosing a platform is also a great time to decide your budget. The cost of running an online store depends on the platform and features you need to pay for. Some websites require you to pay monthly or annual subscriptions for premium features, while others offer basic features for free. You’ll need to research the best platform for your budget and needs.
Here are some popular options:
Webflow: Webflow offers an ecommerce website builder that helps make user-friendly sites for your business. We also have dedicated articles, tutorials, and courses to guide you through the entire process in case you get stuck. You have the option to launch your website for free with a “webflow.io” domain or purchase site plan to use a custom domain.
WordPress: WordPress is a popular website builder for blogs and portfolios, but you’ll need a WooCommerce plugin to set up a store — and WordPress plugins come with their own challenges.
Wix: Wix asks you a few questions about your business before automatically creating a website for you.Templates are minimal and attractive, but the automated selection can make your online store look the same as many others. Templates also may not be responsive, meaning your online store might not function as well on mobile devices.
Shopify: Shopify is user-friendly and offers many themes. Add-ons are pricey, and there’s no email hosting or marketing automation, so you’ll have a unique layout but less opportunity to connect with your customers.
Apart from using a website builder, these platforms may charge you extra services like digital marketing, shipping, and other add-ons — keeping everything you need in one place.
3. Pay attention to design
According to 87.6% of online shoppers, clear product images are a central element of great ecommerce websites. So if you’re selling products, make sure you take high-quality product photos that stand out.
After someone adds a product to their cart, they’ll move on to the checkout sections. Offer multiple payment methods and add relevant disclaimers or FAQs. For example, let your customers know if your company charges extra for shipping rates or if any products are final sale.
The easier your site is to navigate, the better the user experience will be. Remove distracting text and unnecessary steps to improve ease of use.
You might get stuck now and then if it’s your first time designing a website. Luckily, we have ten ecommerce website templates you can use if you don’t want to build a store from scratch.
4. Show customers what you’re selling
Your site isn’t complete without products. Add products or services to your site, mention pricing, and don’t forget to include product descriptions. Update your site regularly with new offerings to keep customers engaged.
5. Launch your store
Once you’ve taken care of designs and payment gateways, it’s time to launch your online store. Get a custom domain name and secure your website with an SSL certificate to keep your store safe from hackers. When you’re done, hit publish and watch your store go live!
6. Create a marketing strategy for long-term success
Launching your store isn’t enough, you need to keep it relevant. Update your store regularly and create marketing campaigns to promote it. If you aren’t up-to-date with the latest trends, you could fall behind the competition.
Promote your store using social media, run ads, and offer coupons during holiday seasons. Running automated email marketing campaigns keeps customers coming back and aware of your other marketing efforts.
Online stores also benefit from marketing tools like Google Analytics and SEO tools to stay on top of search rankings. Consider starting a blog and writing creative copy to generate more traffic to your site. For example, if you’re running a small boutique that sells fashionable clothing and offers styling advice, writing articles about outfit trends, staple wardrobe pieces, and how to find your personal style will draw potential customers to your website. From there, they can follow your advice to your products.
Want to find the best platform to create your online store?
The ecommerce industry is booming — but if you want to create a successful online store, you’ll need a platform that supports your needs.