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How to Start an E-commerce Business from Scratch

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E-commerce is a steadily growing industry that has the potential to explode in the near future. If the last couple of years have taught us anything, it’s that we can all shop online – and running an e-commerce store can certainly be cheaper and more convenient than a real one. But what skills do you need for e-commerce, and how can you get your slice of this retail pie? We’ve put together a guide on how to start an e-commerce business from scratch.

Before we get started, a quick word: this isn’t an exhaustive how-to. It’s designed to give you an overview of the steps involved, so you can decide if an e-commerce business is the right thing for you.

How to start an e-commerce business in four simple steps

When it comes to setting up your e-commerce store, you can think of the process in four basic steps: ideas, research, creation, and launch. Those are pretty big tasks, though, so let’s break them down.

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1. Ideas

The good news is that you don’t need a lot to succeed in e-commerce – apart from a strong idea. All the other skills (tech, marketing, customer service) are things you can learn or get your chosen e-commerce platform to help with. But it’s a fact that you can’t set up a store without a product. So, if you don’t already have an idea, it’s time to get brainstorming. Here are some places to start:

  • Trending products – check out current market trend reports. According to e-commerce platform Shopify, popular items for 2021 include bookcases, temporary tattoos, bike saddles, kitchen towels, and doormats. Yes, doormats.
  • Pain points – conduct market research in an area of interest, chat with friends and family, or read customer surveys. Notice a problem that needs fixing? Perhaps you can come up with a solution.
  • Your professional experience – maybe you’ve worked with a certain type of product for years, or you’ve learned a lot about a certain area of finance or photography. Remember, your product doesn’t have to be physical. Online courses and digital resources are also sold in e-commerce stores.
  • Your hobbies – love cycling, ceramics, or creating cute outfits for your dog? Any interest could lead to a product. And, what’s more, prospective customers will respond to your passion.

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The important thing is to make sure your product choice is viable – there needs to be a demand for it, and not just for the short term. It may be hard to make a sensible decision (some ideas are hard to let go of…), but you’ll end up with a more successful e-commerce business.

2. Research

Next, it’s time to research all the aspects of your e-commerce store. These include:

  • Competition – what are your competitors doing? Do they seem successful? How could you do things differently?
  • Platform – finding a good e-commerce platform is the same as finding good store premises. Some are out of your budget, some seem too cheap to be true (in that case, they probably are). Shop around to find domain hosting that suits your needs. A tip: large e-commerce platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce are great, but may not offer the flexibility you require.
  • Manufacturing and shipping – will you be making your products yourself, or getting them made and shipped directly from a manufacturer? In either case, reliability is the name of the game.
  • Payment – what methods will you accept, and what will it cost you? Beware of hidden vendor charges, but try to make things easy for your customers.
  • Legalities – in some countries you’ll need to register yourself as a business owner. Make sure you’re aware of the legal formalities before you start selling.

Related: How to Find the Best eCommerce Platform for Your Business

Of course, there are many other areas you can research depending on your skillset – learning some SEO or content marketing will be a distinct advantage. But now, it’s time to let your creativity shine.

3. Creation

The fun part of setting up any online store. Once you’ve chosen your platform and registered a domain, you’ll need to take care of the following:

  • Store name – make it cool and catchy
  • Logo – again, eye-catching and memorable is good
  • Storefront – a digital storefront relies on great photography, a clean layout, and easy navigation (on mobile as well as desktop)
  • Sales channels – an e-commerce store will benefit from social media (hello, Instagram), but you may also want to link up a blog or newsletter
  • Marketing – keep it creative, compelling, and on-budget, then scale up as your business grows

Don’t forget that tweaks to your store design and product range are always possible. The one thing you should never change is your domain name – it will undo all that effort of getting people to find you.

4. Launch

This is where the hard work really starts. It’s not enough to sit back and wait for customers to find you – the internet is a big place, so they probably won’t. Work hard on your SEO, invest in some great content marketing, analyze your stats, and always make sure to offer great customer service. A happy customer is a loyal customer, and that’s ultimately what will help you succeed in e-commerce.

And that’s all for our quick guide on how to start an e-commerce business. Get some ideas down, don’t skip the thorough research, go to town with your creative skills, and we’ll see you at the opening party!

Gonzalo Suárez
Gonzalo Suárez
Co-founder and COO @ Key Content
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