How to Start an Online Store on Your Current Website

According to Statista, e-retail sales accounted for 14.1 percent of all retail transactions worldwide in 2019. As COVID-19 dramatically shifts the face of our global economy, this upward trend is not expected to reverse course any time soon. In fact, some reports expect more than 95 percent of all sales will be conducted online by the year 2040. This means you may be missing out on a large opportunity to drive sales and grow your business if you don’t currently have an online store.

Thankfully, adding an ecommerce platform to your existing site may be easier than you expect. The specific steps will look a little different according to your unique product offerings and the tools you choose to use, but here are some general guidelines for what to expect when creating your online store:

  1. Identify your ecommerce platform options based on your CMS
  2. Collect inventory information for ecommerce data
  3. Determine ecommerce billing processes and policies
  4. Identify shipping solutions for purchases from your online store
  5. Market your online store

1. Identify your ecommerce platform options based on your CMS

Before you can begin selling your items online, it’s important to first decide which ecommerce platform will be best suited to your business and goals. This might depend on what content management system (CMS) you’re currently using to manage your site.

Some systems, such as WordPress, easily integrate with plugins like WooCommerce, whereas others like Squarespace or Wix have limited integrations but come with powerful ecommerce tools right out of the box. Alternatively, if you’re thinking about giving your website a total refresh, it may be worth considering migrating your existing site to a CMS that prioritizes ecommerce, such as Shopify or Square.

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Regardless of the option you choose, you should prioritize building an online store that is optimized for a mobile shopping experience. According to PWC, consumers shop on smartphones more often than on PCs, so an online store that doesn’t have a great mobile experience is only doing half the job.

2. Collect inventory information for ecommerce data

You probably already have an organization method for keeping track of your inventory. But since your customers won’t be able to physically interact with the items you’re selling online, there are a few extra assets you’ll need to develop before you can start accepting online orders.

In addition to each item’s SKU and quantity, you’ll also need to write descriptions of each item including materials, dimensions, and care instructions if applicable. Not only do they give customers the concrete details they need to make purchasing decisions, but they can also benefit your website’s search engine optimization (SEO). Just be sure to include relevant keywords in the description copy.

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You should also take multiple photographs of each item to give your customers an accurate visualization of the product. Include all appropriate angles as well as photos of finer details that might be missed in images of the full product. Lifestyle photos or demonstration videos can also promote your brand identity, double as social media posts for promotion, and help your customers discern your product from your competitors.

3. Determine ecommerce billing processes and policies

Billing for ecommerce orders takes a bit more preparation than in-store transactions, and most ecommerce platforms require your business details before it can process payments on your behalf. This includes banking and routing information for your business account(s) as well as your business’s sales tax permit. From there, you can enter pricing details for your inventory and consider opportunities for promotional codes. Both of these may be identical to your in-store prices and promotions, but it may be beneficial to slightly increase your online profit margin depending on your shipping method or advertise special promotions to drive traffic to your online store.

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Depending on the product you’re selling, you may need to research international/state sales restrictions and tax requirements to ensure your business is compliant with shipping and billing regulations in all relevant locations. For example, your business may have a home office in Tennessee, a warehouse full of merchandise in Georgia, and a customer in Virginia. In this case, you would have a nexus (legitimate business presence) in each of those states and subject to their tax obligations. Keep in mind that states like Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon do not collect sales tax, but they may have other restrictions for the kind of merchandise you can ship to customers who live there.

4. Identify shipping solutions for purchases from your online store

This brings us to another set of questions about your online store: how will you ship your goods to your customers? If your products have a standard size or weight, it might make more sense to use flat rate shipping. If not, weight-dependent shipping might be more economical and practical for both you and your customers. Or, it might be best to offer your customers free shipping altogether; in fact, a 2019 study found that 68% of consumers didn’t complete their purchase if free shipping wasn’t available.

Regardless of what shipping options you choose to offer your customers, you will need to determine which shipping carrier will be best for your needs. Popular options for domestic and international carriers include UPS, USPS, and FedEx. Some carriers prioritize shipping speed, whereas others may offer lower costs or more flexibility for pickup and delivery times.

You’ll also need to determine the type and amount of shipping materials you need to ensure your customers’ orders arrive safely and include those expenses in your budget. If you’re shipping fragile items, make sure you include bubble wrap or packing peanuts in your shipping materials checklist. Or, if some of your items are irregularly shaped, you may need to find containers with custom dimensions. You can also add branding to your shipping materials for an ultra-personalized touch!

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Similarly, pick-up or same-day delivery options add a unique appeal for local customers. Whether they are doing last-minute shopping or simply prefer the convenience of an online shopping experience, local pick-up and delivery offers a new layer of convenience without incurring a significant cost on your side.

5. Market your online store

Once you’ve identified your ecommerce platform, gathered your inventory information, determined your billing processes, and decided your shipping options, you should have all of the pieces in place for a fully functioning ecommerce website. It’s time to market your online store to the world!

An obvious place to start is with a dedicated social media and/or email marketing campaign. You can use these channels to alert your current audience about your new online store as well as reach new customers beyond your geographic region. Another channel you might want to pursue is Google Shopping—consider creating a Google Merchant account and connect your inventory so users can find your products within their search results. (Check out this article for step-by-step instructions on how to accomplish this.)

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You’ll also want to take advantage of the existing traffic on your site and in your physical storefront. Your CMS might have an option to create a pop-up banner, or you can find a plugin integration that will send a message to visitors on your site and direct them to browse your new online store. Additionally, you may want to explore low-cost printing options to advertise your ecommerce options to your in-store customers.

Joining the ecommerce future

Ecommerce may seem like an intimidating new frontier, but it will likely bring greater success to your existing business model. Not only will you have the chance to increase your sales volume and revenue, but you will also unlock new opportunities for marketing and advertising beyond your physical location. You’ll be able to reach new customers around the world and ensure you won’t be left behind as the retail world focuses more on online business.

Kaiti Norton
Kaiti Norton is a Nashville-based Content Writer for eSecurity Planet, Webopedia, and Small Business Computing. She is passionate about creating relatable, research-based content that helps small businesses thrive. When she's not writing about small business technology, she's sharing her musings about fashion, cats, books, and skincare on her blog.

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