A step by step guide to successfully starting an online store on Shopify,
WooCommerce and more...
One of the biggest downsides to selling on eBay or Amazon are the "seller fees" you have to pay every time you make a sale. Both eBay and Amazon will charge you (on average) around 10 - 15% of the final sale price in fees.
Sometimes it's more than that, sometimes it's less. It depends on what you're selling and how you're selling it. But regardless, it's a bitter pill to swallow, particularly if your profits aren't very big in the first place.
Having your own store means you don't have to pay these "seller fees", so it can instantly increase your profit from each sale.
You will often have to pay a small transaction processing fee, depending on what service you use to run your store, but it's likely to be in the neighborhood of ~2%, which is nothing compared to the fees that eBay and Amazon take.
Cutting back on seller fees is one of the biggest reasons people decide to launch their own store, but there's another big reason right on its heels...
When you sell on eBay and Amazon you're completely surrounded by competition. Even when potential customers are looking at your product listing, they'll see ads for other sellers all over the page.
Amazon promotes other products in several places on the page.
eBay does the same thing, also in multiple places on a listing page.
Each of those ads has the chance to steal your customer away from you.
It gets even worse on Amazon: When multiple sellers are selling the same thing, only one seller will get into the "buy box" — and if that's not you, you'll have an automatic handicap against your competitors.
To add insult to injury, the very "marketplace" nature of these... err... marketplaces means that buyers can easily compare you to your competition. Most of the time it will be the lowest price that wins, and that can lead to a "race to the bottom" mentality where sellers slowly eat their own profits in order to stay competitive.
Pretty crappy situation for you as a seller, right?
But when you have your own store, there are no other sellers or products competing for your customers' attention. They'll only see yours. This means you won't "leak" customers so easily, and you can usually charge higher prices than you could in a busy, competitive marketplace.
There aren't a whole lot of ways you can customize your your customer's buying experience when you're selling on eBay or Amazon. You're pretty much out of luck if you wanted to do something like install a countdown timer on your page, or if you wanted to add a popup that offers a coupon in exchange for the customer’s email address.
If you're selling on eBay or Amazon you can't add fancy promotional tools like this to your listings. Boo.
But when you run your own store, the sky's the limit. You’re able to control all of these aspects and more. Everything from the color scheme, to the design, the logo, the placement of different elements — it’s all in your control.
With this extra power at your fingertips, you can make tweaks to increase your conversion rates. More specifically, countdown timers have been proven to increase conversion rates by almost three times, and exit pop-ups can also help to convert up to 35% of your lost visitors.
Other than having a direct impact on your conversion rates, these tweaks and add-ons can also help you stamp your own style on your store. Speaking of style...
It’s hard, if not impossible, to create a unique brand identity on Amazon or eBay. Most of the people on these platforms don’t care about who is selling the products -- as far as they’re concerned, everything is sold by Amazon.
With your own online boutique, you can add your own branding to every step of the process: From the time they first stumble upon your content, on every page of your site including checkout, on their email receipt, on the marketing emails they receive, on your social media pages, and even on the packaging and labels.
It's much clearer that they've bought from you, not simply from eBay or Amazon.
Why does this matter, exactly?
It’s estimated that 77% of consumers make purchases based on a brand name. So start building your brand as early as possible, and you’ll be reaping the benefits in terms of revenue and sales generated further down the road.
An additional reason to create your own online boutique store is to stop the online marketplaces from having control over you (and potentially the power to crush your business).
For example, meet Bob.
Bob spends two years building a million-dollar-per-year vitamin store on Amazon. Things are going so well that he rents an office building and hires some staff to run his new business.
One day, Bob checks his email and finds out that Amazon is no longer allowing the sale of three of his major brands of vitamins — which together account for 40% of all Bob’s sales. Suddenly, he can't afford to pay his employees. Overnight, his million dollar business is destroyed.
Bob’s story is not fictitious — I was one of the employees in his company.
His real name isn't Bob, but that’s unimportant. What’s important is lessening the grip Amazon and eBay have over you by giving yourself an alternative channel — your own website. That way if the marketplace does change its policies, or changes its fees, and it suddenly becomes impossible for you to sell on that marketplace — you have a backup plan.
If Bob had built his website sooner (he was working on it but not as a priority), he would have been fine. He could have decided to continue selling those brands on his own website.
Your marketplace has the power to alter fees and policies at their own whim. Sometimes these changes might make your current business unviable. So don't put all your eggs in one basket!
Existing customers are one of the most valuable assets to any business. Customers who have bought from you in the past are much more likely to buy from you again, so promoting to these people (especially via email) can be extremely lucrative.
But when you're selling on eBay, Amazon or some other marketplace, you usually don't have access to your customer's information. You don't get their email addresses, and while Amazon will give you their postal address, they forbid you from marketing to them.
So your chances of being able to market to your previous customers is restricted by the platform.
When you have your own store, however, you have full access to all these details. You can compile a list of previous customers and send them newsletters about promotions, new releases, or gift ideas for special occasions.
This will help you skyrocket your revenue - and by a substantial amount, too. We’re talking a $44.25 return on investment for every dollar that you pump into email marketing.
Even though I've been trash-talking eBay and Amazon a little bit in this article, I'm not suggesting you simply delete your eBay and Amazon listings and ride off into the sunset.
Nor am I necessarily suggesting that you'd be a fool to sell on eBay and Amazon in the first place - not at all! These marketplaces are fantastic ways to get started, and even once you've decided to open an online store, you could continue to sell on eBay and Amazon as well.
This way you get all the benefits of your online store, but you also reap the benefits of selling on a massive marketplace which gets a huge number of potential customers each day.
Your website can simply be an additional revenue source for your business. Think of the major marketplaces like Amazon or eBay to be your up-front money, and your website/online boutique as your long-term, slow-growth investment. Ideally your website will eventually overtake Amazon or eBay as your main source of income, but it will take time.
Of course, selling on multiple platforms at the same time and managing your inventory can be a bit of a juggling act, but by this stage in your selling career you can probably handle it.
It's hard to fathom when you're just starting out, but maybe one day you’ll decide you don’t want to run your online business anymore. What happens then? Do you just shut down your whole business and move on?
If you've spent time and money building your business, why throw that away for nothing? You'll probably try to sell that thing instead.
But here's the problem:
If your business is wholly based on a platform like Amazon or eBay, then selling it can be hard, if not impossible. You don’t really have a solid asset to sell — just a reputation, your feedback, and perhaps some supplier relationships.
You won’t be able to sell it for nearly as much as if you had an actual website with a domain name, a steady stream of visitors, a customer list, social media accounts and more.
By creating your own online store, you’re building something tangible that you can sell for a profit. So if you ever do decide to shut up shop, there could be a nice payday awaiting you at the end.
You'll find it a lot easier to sell your business at some point in the future if you have your own store.
As you can see, there are a great many benefits to running your own online store. So... how do you set one up?
Building your own online store probably sounds like a daunting task. And it might have been if you were trying to do it 10 years ago. But the good news is that it’s actually fairly simple to create an online store these days.
There are a host of different platforms that let you build an online store in just a few clicks.
These ‘drag and drop’ services take care of everything from store design to product listings and payment options.
You don’t need any design or coding skills and most of your questions can be answered by a quick Google search or watching a Youtube tutorial.
The first hurdle you need to get through is deciding which eCommerce platform to use, because there are a lot of them out there.
Before you jump right in and get started with a platform, there are a few things you should take into consideration, such as cost, support, features, and payment options.
You should know what are the “must haves” for your online store and what are the “nice to haves” so that you can decide which platform best suits you needs.
When you’re starting an online store, every dollar matters. But that doesn’t mean that cheaper is necessarily better.
If you’re dropshipping via an online store, then your website and eCommerce platform will be your main setup costs.
Basic plans for popular eCommerce platforms fall into the $20-$30 USD a month range.
But if you want more flexibility, features, themes, and customization options you’ll be looking at about $80 a month.
If you’re just starting out, you can usually get away with a Basic plan. You can always upgrade as your business grows.
You will find that most eCommerce platforms let you sell unlimited products, even on their cheapest plan.
However, it’s still important that you check this before signing up.
If you can only sell 100 products a month on a basic plan and you’re expecting to sell 1000, then you should look at a platform that supports unlimited sales.
As I mentioned above, a major benefit of starting your own online store is having control over the design of your website.
The design of your store is an extension of your brand and can make or break the customer experience.
Therefore, it’s important that your chosen eCommerce platform has some flexibility when it comes to design.
Most popular platforms have a few free design templates you can use, but you’ll have to pay extra to use more advanced themes (usually more than $100 USD).
These days, most platforms will provide you with visually-appealing free themes that are great for getting started.
This is where eCommerce platforms start to come into their own.
It can be hard to know which features you might need for your online store when you’re starting out. But it’s important to think about what you’ll want from an eCommerce platform as you grow.
Common features include inventory tracking, built-in SEO, site security, built-in blog, as well as the ability to target customers with discounts, offers, and remarketing, especially if they’ve abandoned their cart.
You might think that you just need to list products and sell them like you do on marketplaces like Amazon and eBay, but when you’re running your own online store, you’re going to use a bunch of features you never even knew existed.
Just so you know, you’ll definitely want your eCommerce platform to have:
An eCommerce platform ecosystem refers to the wider environment or network in which the software operates.
By that I mean, how does the platform integrate additional applications and services.
Some of the leading eCommerce platforms (Shopify, Bigcommerce) have developed their own app marketplaces that provide a massive range of services for users.
These marketplaces expand the capabilities of the platform and enhance their flexibility and usability.
In the natural world, a healthy ecosystem is biodiverse with each part playing an important role.
The same is true for an eCommerce platform ecosystem. Look beyond the core product and look at the world in which it exists.
It’s important that you give your customers as many options as possibly to pay you.
This just reduces the chance of a customer abandoning a purchase and makes transactions as easy as possible for as many people as possible.
Your sales are precious and you don’t want to give customers any excuse to back out at checkout.
Fortunately, most eCommerce platforms offer a variety of payment methods that are built into the software.
However, some platforms are more flexible than others.
Common payment options that customers have come to expect are:
When things go wrong, you want to know that your chosen eCommerce platform has got your back.
That means providing support when you need it.
And when do you need support? Well, given the international, round-the-clock nature of eCommerce, you could need support at any time.
That’s why you should use an eCommerce platform that provides 24/7 support, ideally via phone, email, and chat.
Thankfully, most of the major eCommerce platforms have realised the importance of support, but it’s worth checking before you choose one for your online store.
Shipping isn’t simply a means of getting a product to your customer, it’s an important part of converting customers and closing sales.
Offering flexible and fast shipping options is going to help you make more sales. That’s why it’s important that your chosen eCommerce platform integrates with a wide range of shipping methods.
These shipping options can be in-built or enabled via third-party apps and plug-ins.
Most eCommerce platforms understand how important shipping is and have gone to great lengths to make it as simple as possible for you and your customers.
Some platforms can integrate with order fulfillment services, similar to Amazon FBA, so that you can completely outsource your packaging and shipping.
I can’t overstate how important it is to offer flexible shipping options, so make sure you take a close look at what each platform provides.
Shopify has become the best-known eCommerce platform. It’s user-friendly and it’s always evolving to meet the needs of modern, online businesses.
Shopify is popular because it’s a complete eCommerce solution with everything you need to build and run your online store.
It ticks all of the boxes listed above and more. It has great free design templates as well as paid options, a massive app marketplace, built-in CMS, SEO, and security, 24/7 support, and flexible shipping options.
Plans start at $29 USD a month and max out at $299 a month.
Shopify does charge transaction fees if you use payment options other than Shopify Payments. The apps available in the Shopify marketplace also tend to be quite expensive.
However, all-in-all, Shopify is an excellent eCommerce platform well worth your consideration.
BigCommerce is also an all-in-one online store builder, like Shopify.
It’s very easy to use and comes with a tonne of out-of-the-box features and services, including free themes, built-in SEO, plenty of payment options and much, much more.
BigCommerce arguably has more features and functionalities than Shopify and it also has an apps marketplace.
One big selling point for BigCommerce is that it doesn’t charge transaction fees.
It’s a great option for small businesses looking to scale and established retail stores that want to take inventory online.
Prices start at $29.95 USD a month and go up to $249.95 a month.
Squarespace is known for its beautiful, easy-to-use website templates, but it’s also an eCommerce platform.
It’s not as well-known for eCommerce as Shopify and BigCommerce, but it’s still a worthy competitor.
Squarespace is the king of design. So if it’s important for you to have an aesthetically pleasing store - maybe you run a jewelry or fashion label - then Squarespace is a good option.
Because Squarespace started as a website platform and not specifically for eCommerce it has better blog and content integration. But it falls short in almost every other way.
Shopify and BigCommerce have been designed specifically for eCommerce and it really shows when compared with Squarespace.
However, Squarespace is definitely a viable option for smaller boutique stores that care about design.
It’s also slightly cheaper than the other eCommerce platforms starting at $24 a month (paid annually) for a basic plan and $40 a month for the advanced plan.
WooCommerce is different to the other platforms in that it’s not an all-in-one eCommerce solution. WooCommerce is a Wordpress plugin that can be used to add eCommerce functionalities to your website.
Despite that, WooCommerce is the world’s most popular eCommerce platform and that’s because Wordpress essentially powers more than 33% of the internet.
It’s not quite as simple as the other options, which allow you to build your site/store from scratch.
Because WooCommerce is just a plugin, you’ll need to setup a domain, hosting, and a Wordpress site before you even start building your store.
The big appeal of WooCommerce, however, is the price - it’s free! You do have to factor in the cost of buying a domain and hosting a website, though.
WooCommerce is popular for a reason. Once you get your head around it, it is a powerful platform for building and running an online store.
It’s just a bit more complicated than the other options out there.
Once you’ve decided which eCommerce platform is best for you, it’s time to start building your store.
If you’re using a complete eCommerce solution like Shopify, BigCommerce, or Squarespace, you can simply sign up and do everything at once.
If you’re using a plugin like WooCommerce, you’ll need to purchase your domain and create a website using Wordpress first.
These are the general steps that you should follow before launching your store publicly. It might be slightly different depending on which eCommerce platform you use. It’s important that you take your time to get the copy, images and branding right before you open your store. You also need to make sure your payment methods and shipping are set up correctly. However, don’t obsess too much over the minor details. You can always tweak and improve things as you go.
For more detailed guides to setting up your chosen eCommerce platform, check out the links below.
If there’s any downside to creating your own webstore, this is it. It can be fairly difficult to get customers to a new website.
When you sell on eBay, Amazon (or other marketplaces) you get access to the torrent of visitors using those sites — it’s like you’ve set up store in a busy shopping mall. But when you go it alone with your own website, it can feel like you’ve set up shop in the middle of nowhere — at least in the beginning.
However, there are some tried-and-true methods to get your first few customers!
Advertising on social media is one of the easiest and quickest ways to get your first customer because you can immediately get your product in front of eyeballs interested in your industry.
However, it does cost money (you can start with a few dollars a day), it takes a lot of testing to be done properly and you need to know who your audience is. If you target the wrong people, they won’t be interested in what you’re selling, won't click on your ads, and will just waste your money.
Success in social media advertising relies on targeting the right people to see your ads.
Click these links to go to a guide on how to advertise on the respective social media platform:
Here’s an example of Ugmonk, a clothing and lifestyle brand, doing social media advertising right:
They shared a motivational quote on Twitter with a link to their shirt for sale. They boosted it (paid to advertise it) to a certain group of people, and it got retweets, further expanding their campaign.
Another way to advertise your online boutique is through the use of Google Adwords. With Adwords you can pay to have your ad appear when somebody searches for particular words in the Google search engine.
For example, the first company to pop up when you google “mens running shoes” is Reebok:
They are advertising their product on Google every time someone Google’s the exact phrase, “Men’s Running Shoes”.
Adwords can be a good alternative to "traditional" advertising where you might pay for a certain number of "views" or "impressions" of your ad. Adwords operates on a "pay per click" (PPC) format, meaning you only pay when somebody actually clicks on your ad — in other words, you're paying for results.
The problem with Adwords (and other PPC networks, like the one operated by Bing) is that the more people bidding on particular "keywords" or "search phrases", the more expensive it gets. (For an extreme example, check out the top 100 most expensive keywords in the US.)
So it stands to reason that the best way to use Google Adwords is to bid on keywords that are not ridiculously popular, and where you can still get clicks for under $1. This means shunning the more general keywords (like "candle making supplies") and going after more specific, "long tail" search terms. (Like "buy wood wicks" "wicks for beeswax candles", "candle dye blocks", etc.) These are your long-tail keywords.
It can also work very well if you're in a smaller niche that is naturally less competitive.
I've grossly oversimplified the Adwords model here. Google also factors in things like the quality and relevance of your page when they're working out how much to charge you. Check out this guide to Adwords pricing for a more thorough overview. Google also has the Adwords Help Center with comprehensive details about the entire platform, but in typical dry Googlese language.
If the costs of advertising in Google make your eyes water, there is another free alternative.
Most of the results you see in Google when you search for something haven't actually paid to be there. They are what we call the "organic" results. They're there because Google's algorithm thinks these pages are highly relevant to whatever you searched for.
When you click on any of these "organic" listings, the website owner doesn't have to pay Google anything. They can get (potentially) huge numbers of people to their websites, and it won't cost them a cent.
Sounds good, right?
So "search engine optimization" is the art/science of getting your website to appear in these "organic" search engine results, so you can get visitors to your website for free.
It's a tricky business because the search engines kind of don't want you doing a lot of it. They want the top spots to go to the websites that are genuinely the best results for this search term — not just to the websites that put the most effort into gaming the system.
But there are some things you can do as a store owner to help tip the scales in your favor:
The big (BIG) downside to SEO is that it is s..l..o..w. Seriously slow. It can take months to start seeing any movement of your rankings in the search engines, so it's definitely not the right strategy for you if you need visitors, like, yesterday.
SEO is a massive topic, so if you're interested in this method of getting visitors, I recommend you start with this introduction to SEO.
Now that you understand what SEO and keywords are, it’s time to start creating content for Google to rank you for. Without content, what are you going to show up for?
Content marketing is quickly becoming one of the top contenders in the marketing world. It’s not merely the act of writing blog posts - that’s the easy part. No, you have to also promote that content, get other websites to link to it, and get people to share it.
You can figure out what kind of content to rank for using the keyword research you performed on Google. Once you write the content, you need to share it on your social media profiles and reach out to influential blog and website owners in your niche. Ask them to share or even link to your content.
One of the best examples of websites using content marketing successfully is bodybuilding.com. They sell sports supplements, and almost all of their website traffic (and therefore their sales) comes from people finding them through their content. For example, I first found them through their “Top 10 Protein Powders” article, and proceeded to buy the #1 powder from their website due to their honest reviews.
If you’re ready to get started with content marketing, check out BoldCommerce’s guide to writing content to get in the top 10 results of Google.
Speaking of influential blog and website owners, once you reach out to them and begin to develop a relationship with them, you can start a mutually beneficial partnership with them as well.
While you certainly don’t need to become official business partners (although a good business partner would probably help you succeed), you can simply agree to share and promote each other’s content.
It’s a win-win because you both get more publicity, shares, and, hopefully, customers.
Additionally, you can give away your products to influencers for free.
In exchange, ask for them to promote your content and give an honest review of it on your website and/or their blog or social media accounts.
As I mentioned before, starting your own store doesn’t mean you need to quit selling on eBay or Amazon immediately. In fact, using your existing sales channel to promote your new store can be a great way to get things off the ground.
Quick disclaimer: Before you do any of this yourself, check with your existing platform to see what their policy is on this kind of promotion.
New Zealand-based outdoors and hunting gear site Bushbuck does this well: They sell their products on the local equivalent of eBay — TradeMe — and use these sales to build awareness of their brand and their online store in a few different ways:
Being very visible in key product categories: When someone searches for “hunting jacket” on TradeMe, they’ll inevitably stumble upon a Bushbuck listing. Sure, there’s a chance Bushbuck will make a sale here, but the real prize is the brand awareness. That customer might not have heard of Bushbuck before, and now they know that they make hunting jackets. There’s a chance they’ll search for Bushbuck directly next time.
Listing products for $1 reserve on TradeMe: These get a lot of attention and a lot of exposure for the brand. Only one person can end up buying the product, but in the meantime 400 people might have viewed it, watched it, and researched it.
Adding marketing material to packages: Bushbuck slip a little thank you card into each item purchased through TradeMe. This card has a promo code for a 10% discount off their next purchase from Bushbuck’s online store. So they’re able to entice their TradeMe customers to their online store.
The trick is to look for existing channels where there are lots of potential customers, and see how you can tap into those. Don’t just focus on how much profit or how many sales you can make through these channels — also consider how much exposure they can give you, your brand, and your online store.
Of course everything comes down to cost. Luckily, building an online store doesn’t cost much.
Running an online store can cost you less than $50/month (at the time of this writing). Let’s break it down:
Shopify (and its competitors) cost roughly $27/month.
Hosting your own domain name (mydomain.com instead of mydomain.myshopify.com) costs roughly $13/year, or less than $1/month.
So the bare minimum is about (we’ll round) $30/month. Additionally, Shopify takes ~2% of all sales.
Of course, there are a million and one other things you could spend more money on. However, some things that I would consider essential are:
An email marketing software like MailChimp (~$10/month). If you don’t like MailChimp you could also use Aweber or GetResponse — two other very popular services.
Advertising, such as social media or Adwords (At least $50/month, but once you’re making a profit through your store you can spend more to make more.)
So all-in-all you can run a store to start out for less than $100 a month, and you can keep that number even lower if you use more of the free marketing methods (like partnering with influencers in your niche, using your existing channels to promote your store, or doing SEO over the long term). It costs less than many people spend on coffee or cigarettes, and actually gets you a return on your investment. Pretty cool, if you ask me.
Now that you understand the benefits of creating your own online store, you may be wondering when you should start thinking about creating one.
On one hand you could argue that you should build one right at the outset, since it’s reasonably inexpensive.
On the other hand, there’s already a lot to learn when you’re selling online, without having to learn how to run and market a website as well. You might choose to use a platform like eBay or Amazon as a training ground first.
The best answer I can give you is this: Open your own personal online store when you know you’re 100% committed to success in eCommerce.
I say that because selling on Amazon or eBay is less work to get up can running. You can just list your products, then let that platform work it’s magic for you. You can decide to leave selling online as a side project at that point.
Running your own store, as I said above, will take more work. You have to learn social media marketing, how to get people’s email addresses to market to, and many other ways of getting traffic to our website.
Basically, when you open your own store, you’ll need to get your hands dirty and figure out the different pieces of the puzzle.
Assuming you have a limited budget and you can’t afford a team of experts to help you get your store up and running, you’ll probably be spending a lot of time trawling support forums and googling “how do i… (insert question related to eCommerce management and/or marketing”.
At the same time, though, it’ll be a lot more rewarding. You’ll have built something from scratch, and you’ll have a real business.
So it really boils down to your commitment level. Do you see this is a side project to supplement your income, or do you really want to go all in and create a brand?
Only you can answer that question. So dig deep, be honest with yourself, and then make your decision!