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Web-based selling 101: How to start an online store

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Image used with permission by copyright holder
Operating an online store is a great way for a small business to hang with larger competitors. For starters, online stores aren’t restricted to poor locations, small population sizes, or terrible local markets. So, no matter if you live in New York City or Buford, Wyoming, you have the ability to reach millions of people who are solely interested in your product or service. E-commerce continues to grow at a rapid rate, with recent forecasts claiming online retail sales will top $250 billion annually by 2015. Taking said predictions into consideration, it’s no wonder entrepreneurs and wannabe business owners are turning to e-commerce to expand their sales and potential reach.

Related: Tips for scoring shopping deals without leaving the comfort of your home

Still, doing business online is not foolproof. From building an easy-to-navigate and working website, to collecting payment and finalizing shipping requests, there’s a laundry list of steps required to start your store. Luckily there are many online resources dedicated to assisting e-commerce entrepreneurs in getting their online stores off the ground and in front of their customers.

Choose a topic:

Hosting sites

Finding a competent website to host your business is the first step to taking your business online. Unless you possess expert-level skills at building websites you’re likely in the market for a hosting site that comes standard with a bevy of desirable bells and whistles. Below you’ll find our favorite sites dedicated to making life easier for any novice e-commerce entrepreneur.


Strolby store, powered by Goodsie.
Strolby store, powered by Goodsie. Image used with permission by copyright holder

Goodsie provides its users with the best selection of features at a reasonable cost. The site offers three separate membership levels depending on the size of your business and bills you monthly, bi-annually, or annualy. Even users who sign up for Goodsie’s lowest membership option have access to a wide range of benefits. For just $25 a month annually, store owners have the ability to post as many products as they wish and have access to hundreds of website templates. The service also lets you create any domain name you’d like, assuming it’s available. It even gives you the option to drag and drop features on your page to give any of the templates your own special touch.

Goodsie provides sales and traffic analytics as well as analysis via Google to let you know how many people view your products online. It also offers a strong coupon system to help drive your sales and increase exposure. Once you complete a sale, Goodsie provides a flexible shipping structure and aligns with several of the top e-pay options, such as PayPal and Stripe. It even offers store owners the option of a mobile version of their online store and provides templates for email marketing campaigns. Literally a one-stop shop for any online entrepreneur, Goodsie has the ability to turn any small business in to an online powerhouse.


Grovemade store, powered by Shopify.
Grovemade store, powered by Shopify. Image used with permission by copyright holder

Like Goodsie, Shopify makes running your online store simple and straightforward. Though slightly more expensive, it does offer its own set of credit card rates to users and up to 70 different payment gateways. Do you want to accept Bitcoin as payment in your store? Shopify lets you do that and provides access to other gateways from around the globe. You’ll have access to more than a hundred themes developed by professional Web designers once registered and the service will even let you to tinker with the HTML and CSS to produce the perfect image for your business. Like Goodsie, the service offers an assortment of flexible shipping options and there is also no cap on the number of products you sell in your store.

Shopify can help with many aspects of your marketing campaign. From thorough assistance designed to help customers locate your store via search engines, to email and social media campaigns, the service covers it all. It’s committed to keeping your store up and running at all hours of the day, 99.94 percent reliability with around-the-clock support and active monitoring. Whether you need to email, live chat, or call someone at Shopify, the customer service department is available 24.


Lily and Louise Designs, powered by Etsy.
Lily and Louise Designs, powered by Etsy. Image used with permission by copyright holder

The hosting site Etsy has everything you need if you’re looking to sell hand-maned products. The site boasts considerably fewer features than Shopify or Goodsie, but remains perfectly appropriate for anybody looking to sell homemade products on the side.

Functioning like an online swap meet, Etsy’s customer base has grown surprisingly large over the last few years. The site provides all its sellers with dedicated store pages, each of which can be customized with a header image, store information, and any current specials they might be offering.

Though a bit barebones as far as content goes, Etsy does not charge a membership fee, so anyone has the ability to join the site and begin selling. However, the site does charge 20 cents for each item listed for four months or until it sells, along with a 3.5-percent transaction fee on each sale.


Image used with permission by copyright holder

If you prefer not to bother with setting up your own website we recommend selling through eBay. It’s a little harder to build a brand through eBay, but it does offer an easy way to sell a few items on the side. The site allows you to post your first 50 items each month free of charge (except when selling automobiles), but the site does take a whopping 10 percent of the final sale upon completion. The transaction cut is fairly steep increase when compared with Etsy, though you do have the ability to sell a wider range of products via eBay. For entrepreneurs interested in getting their feet wet by selling online, eBay proves a good start but you’ll want to look in to the advanced sites once you start selling more.

Related: How to buy and sell electronics on eBay or Craigslist


Image used with permission by copyright holder

Another hosting site in the same vein as eBay and Etsy, Amazon provides sellers an incredible amount of flexibility. For sellers who desire selling under 40 products each month, Amazon charges just $0.99 per sale, along with variable closing fees for each item. If the products sold each month tally greater than 40, Amazon offers its Professional Selling Plan which runs just $39.99 per month. Both selling tiers allow owners to not only add new products to Amazon’s catalog, but the site takes care of the customer service and assists with shipping options. One of the best aspects of selling on Amazon is the site’s incredibly vast customer base, as it boasts the capability to reach millions of people.

Next page: Collecting payment…

Collecting payment

Although collecting payment for your product can prove to be a tricky process, there are a variety of ways to make the transaction process a breeze for both you and your customer. While the aforementioned sites offer payment gateways to assist in the process, some hosting sites don’t offer any transaction options whatsoever. If you find yourself with a hosting site with no payment options, the each of the sites below devotes itself to assisting with small business transactions.


Image used with permission by copyright holder

PayPal remains one of the most popular and trusted companies when it comes to online payments. With many protection options — for both the seller and buyer — PayPal is often the best choice for finalizing the sale of your product.

The service offers users the ability to create their own invoices and send them to whoever buys their products and, more importantly, the invoices are sent directly through the PayPal site to ensure the buyer of the authenticity and security of the transaction. Furthermore, buyers have the ability to buy anything through PayPal absolutely free.

Sellers, on the other hand, pay small fees to sell their goods through the site. PayPal charges 2.9 percent of the final sale amount for online transactions carried out within the United States, along with up to 30 cents per sale. However, compared to the hosting sites above, the  fees are standard practice and a far cry from what you might pay in rent with a brick-and-mortar storefront.


Image used with permission by copyright holder

WePay prides itself on its commitment to small businesses and “helping the small guys compete with the big guys.” More personal than PayPal, WePay takes care of many compliance and risk management issues for its users. Anybody who signs up to use WePay’s services has access to many benefits such as fraud and chargeback protection, automatic 1099-K tax filings, and more.

Though WePay charges a similar amount to PayPal per transaction — 2.9 percent plus 30 cents on credit cards — the service only charges 1 percent plus 30 cents on bank account transactions. The service additionally allows you to place a checkout feature on your own site, rather than directing customers to WePay, and easily factors in its percentages so buyers know exactly what they will spend on your product.

Next page: Other helpful tips for running your online store…

Other helpful tips

Securing a domain name

If you prefer going the route of having your own website to peddle your goods, it’s crucial to secure your own unique domain name. Sites like GoDaddy or Register offer users the ability to purchase domain names (assuming they’re available), and even provide solutions for web design. GoDaddy’s services even include offering built-in email access powered by Microsoft Office, as well as access to a library of special website designs and templates. While we list just two domain name sites, there exists a bevy of helpful services geared towards assisting budding online entrepreneurs.

When choosing a domain name always make sure to select something easy for your customers to remember. You want to avoid confusing your visitors, and should also settle on a name unique enough to stick in someone’s mind. Don’t get discouraged when you come across a domain name already secured by someone else; you’ll likely run into this issue often before finding an open name.

It’s also recommended you settle on a domain name ending with “.com.” While there exists a slew of different domain name endings, traditional “.com” websites make up for the lion’s share of Internet traffic. It helps your customers feel they are shopping in a legitimate online store.

Creating quality product images

Though taking photos of your products with your smartphone seems the easiest way to display your goods, you’ll want a higher resolution camera to help legitimize your store. We recommend shooting with a high-end digital camera, or some form of DSLR camera. DSLRs tend to run a bit on the expensive side, but the quality of pictures helps differentiate your online presence from the pack. Your customers only have the ability to see your products, so you don’t want to come up short regarding picture quality.

Related: Best entry-level DSLR cameras and the best free image-editing software.

Social networking

This may seem like a no-brainer, but social media is one of the best tools available to any online store owner. Creating an exclusive page for your business and posting constant updates helps your store attain exposure. Create an exclusive page for your online store on a site like Facebook and urge your friends to “like” it. Then post photos of current products and updates regarding your upcoming items, along with exclusive Facebook-exclusive deals. Include links in your actual online store on your social media pages and watch your store’s following grow exponentially. Don’t underestimate the power of social media.

[Header image courtesy of JMiks/Shutterstock]

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Rick Stella
Former Digital Trends Contributor
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