Lots of people dream of entrepreneurship, but before the internet, actually starting a business was a difficult prospect. Now, building an eCommerce website and selling products online is within reach for anyone with the time and gumption.
Building a business of any sort is work. Coming up with your product idea, and sourcing or creating your products is a big early step you’ll have to tackle. But the work of website building itself can potentially be done within a day or two.
Even if you’ve never built a website before, the tools now available ensure anyone can create an online store with ease. By the end of this post you’ll know how to find a good product and niche for your store, how to build out your site, and the approaches you can take to generate sales.
Before we jump into the how, let’s take a look at the why.
What You'll Learn...
- Why You Should Sell Products On a Website
- Before You Build Out Your eCommerce Store
- What You Need to Build an eCommerce Website
- Building an eCommerce Website the Easy Way
- Marketing Your eCommerce Website
- Building Your eCommerce Website
Why You Should Sell Products On a Website
Before anyone can purchase a product from you, they need a way to discover your brand and the products you’re selling. For brands that only sell products through a storefront, that limits the number of people that can learn about you to begin with, much less come to your store to make a purchase.
That was already true before the coronavirus pandemic started, but is much more the case now that customers sheltering in place have shifted almost all their shopping to online. If you don’t start an eCommerce website, there’s a huge market you miss out on.
If you’ve been hesitant to sell products online, here are a few good reasons setting up an online store is a good idea.
1. People spend money online.
People in the United States spent $602 billion online in 2019. And that was before the Coronavirus changed everyone’s shopping habits. In the first month after the pandemic started, eCommerce sales grew by 49%. Any business owner that stays offline is missing out on their piece of those profits.
While some shoppers still prefer the experience of buying clothes in a store and will eagerly get back to doing so when it’s safe to, many prefer to skip the trip and do their shopping from a computer screen or mobile device.
If your competitors make their items available online and you don’t, you’ll lose that business.
2. An eCommerce website costs less than a storefront.
Running a storefront requires paying:
- Rent for the space
- The paychecks of staff that man the store during business hours
- Proper licensing and permits
- Utility bills
- Furniture and decorations
- Building maintenance
- Cleaning supplies
- Selling supplies like a point-of-sale (POS) system and cash registers
All of that adds up to a lot of expenses – and most of them are ongoing.
Selling products on a website, on the other hand, cuts out most of those costs. You will still need to pay for things like web hosting and marketing. And you may still need to hire some staff, depending on the size of the eCommerce store you run, but the costs are overall more manageable and easy to plan for.
3. Online shopping provides convenience and safety.
Even at times when going to a store in person is safe, when you’re tired, busy, sick, or just feeling a little lazy – you probably don’t want to spend time driving somewhere and browsing a store for the items you want to buy. And for many people who live with disabilities, a trip to the store is a difficult endeavor.
By comparison, browsing an eCommerce site online and making selections is easier, faster, and requires a lot less energy. People are more likely to spend their money when it doesn’t feel like work to do so.
Online shopping isn’t 100% effortless – but it’s pretty close. When you sell your products through an eCommerce website, you remove a lot of the barriers to buying that exist with a physical store.
4. An online presence gets your products found in search.
85% of people turn to Google for product discovery and shopping.
Without an eCommerce website, your products have no chance of showing up when potential customers start looking for what you sell online.
But when every product you sell is listed on a page on your eCommerce site, all of them will be indexed by Google. That’s the first step to your products showing up in search results.
If you want those product pages to show up on the first page of Google, that requires an investment in SEO best practices. But before you can even start thinking about that, you need an eCommerce website for your products.
5. The growth in mobile means people can buy from anywhere.
Mobile purchasing trends show that over a quarter of all eCommerce purchases now occur on mobile devices.
Mobile shopping makes it possible for people to make purchases at the exact moment they decide they want something. Whether they’re on the couch watching TV, strolling through the park, or lounging on the beach – if they think of something they want, they can make the purchase right then.
That creates more opportunities for sales. You don’t face the risk of a potential customer deciding they want an item you sell, only to forget about it by the time they get home to their computer. That’s good for your customers, and it’s good for your bottom line.
So that’s the why. Now it’s time to jump into the how of building your eCommerce store!
Before You Build Out Your eCommerce Store
Before you start the process of building your eCommerce store there are some foundational things you need first. To start, you need a domain name and web hosting plan. Without these, there’s no way to actually have a live eCommerce website.
There are dozens of different providers and services you can use to secure a domain name and hosting, and you can either purchase them together or separately. If this is your first time building a website, the easiest course of action is purchasing them together from the same provider. This minimizes the number of technical tasks you need to complete and speeds up the process of getting your site online.
If you’re looking for the fastest and most beginner-friendly way to secure a domain name and hosting, then consider purchasing them both right here at HostGator. Just select your web hosting package and add a domain name to your order before you check out.
You might not be ready to name your store and purchase a domain name just yet, so feel free to return to this section later once you’ve come up with the perfect website name for your business.
What You Need to Build an eCommerce Website
Building an eCommerce website will be a little different than creating a standard website or starting a blog. Beyond securing a domain name and hosting you’ll also need to consider tools and software for processing payments, along with actually creating and manufacturing your products.
Here’s a quick rundown of what’s required to build a website from scratch for an eCommerce store:
- A domain name
- A web hosting provider
- An integrated payment processor
- A platform or tool to build your store
- Initial capital to create your products
- Packaging for product shipping
While building an eCommerce store is much cheaper and easier than building a storefront, it does still require some upfront capital and work. Make sure you work out a budget that makes sense for your goals.
Building an eCommerce Website the Easy Way
Building an eCommerce website is similar to the process of building other websites, except that it needs to be set up to sell physical or digital products. You should anticipate a bit more work upfront to get your website ready.
Here’s the process of discovering your market, finding out what you’re going to sell, and finally building out your store.
1. Market Research and Finding Your Niche
Before you start your eCommerce business, you need a physical product to sell. But you definitely don’t want to put the work into building an online store only to find out that no one wants to buy what you’re selling.
To avoid this fate, spend time upfront finding the right market and products to sell. You might already know exactly what you want to sell. But if not, no worries, this post will walk you through the process of conducting market research for a small business.
Ideally, you want to uncover a pressing need in the marketplace and fill it with your product.
Look for Trending Products
One way to ensure that you’ll start selling products right out of the gate is to align yourself with products that are currently trending. By getting into a trending niche at the right time, you can ride the wave in the short-term and long-term.
However, you don’t want to hop into a trending market when it’s on the decline. Instead, you want to find a product or a niche for products that are growing in popularity.
There are tons of different tools you can use to spot trending products and niches, but here are some of the most common.
- Google Trends: This Google tool allows you to look into the past and future of certain product keywords. By using the data this tool provides, you’ll be able to see if a market is growing or waning in popularity.
- TrendHunter: This site showcases a lot of different niches and products that are currently trending across the globe. Plus, there’s a nifty filter that lets you sort by different industries.
- Instagram influencers: If you spend time on Instagram, then you probably follow a few influencers who regularly promote products. The chances are pretty high that the products they promote tend to sell well and can suggest a viable niche.
Align With Your Passion
Hopefully, the resources above will point you toward a handful of products or potential niches to consider. To narrow down that list even further, do some self-evaluation. You’ll find it much easier to sustain momentum with your store if you actually care about what you’re selling.
Consider the following questions to determine if you have what it takes to sustain yourself in the niche:
- Do you care about the market you’ve chosen?
- Do you have any pre-existing knowledge you can rely on?
- Can you see yourself working in this space for 5 years or more?
- Do you care about the people that you’re serving?
Explore What’s Currently Selling
Once you’ve narrowed down your list of potential products and niches to a group you actually care about, go one step further and validate your ideas in the marketplace. The most effective ways to do this are using the Amazon product marketplace and a keyword research tool.
First, head over to the Amazon bestseller list in the product category of your choice. Then, spend some time digging through the products to see what kinds of things people are actually buying. Look for product multiples and dig through the reviews to see if there are any glaring issues with the existing products.
Second, head over to the tool Ubersuggest. This is a free keyword research tool that provides lots of actionable keyword data. Input your target keyword, and you’ll receive a list of related keywords and their search volume. This will help you determine the overall size of the market and maybe even give you a few ideas of products you can sell.
2. Getting Ready to Sell
Before you settle on the product you want to sell there are a few more considerations to take into account.
First, make sure the product is light enough that it’s easy to ship. Unless you choose a dropshipping business model, during the early days of your eCommerce store, you’ll be handling most of the packaging and shipping yourself. Sticking with products that don’t weigh much will not only make your life easier, but you’ll be able to maintain better product margins, which can be crucial in the early days of your store.
Finally, consider creating a prototype for your product. That means starting with a sample of the product you have in mind that you can test out in the market. If you’re building a new product, you probably won’t make it perfect on the first time. Prototyping gives you room to iterate and improve based on feedback—before you make a huge investment in inventory. This will help you get to market faster and build a better product over time.
3. Choosing Your eCommerce Platform
When the time comes to choose the platform for your eCommerce store you’re going to have a lot of different options at your disposal. For first-time eCommerce entrepreneurs, some of the most popular options include:
- Website Builders
WordPress is the most popular content management system (CMS) in the world, and for good reason. It’s relatively easy to use (although still requires a learning curve for beginners), but is both powerful and versatile because of the massive library of plugins available. To build an eCommerce website on WordPress, you’ll need to choose an eCommerce plugin to provide the proper functionality.
The most popular option is WooCommerce, which is free and powered by the team that owns WordPress. That means you’ll never have to worry about compatibility issues, and can count on access to plenty of compatible themes and add-ons. WooCommerce will walk you through the process of getting your online store set up, so it’s mostly a matter of following the steps in the plugin’s setup wizard.
Interested in building your online store using WooCommerce? Read our guide.
Magento is another popular eCommerce CMS, but one that requires more skill and knowledge. The tradeoff is that it can be more powerful and give you more options for customizing and building out functionality within your eCommerce store. But unless you’re a pretty skilled developer or willing to hire someone that is, it will take a lot more work to learn and use.
For many new eCommerce owners, the easiest option by far is using a website builder that includes eCommerce options. Most website builders are designed with beginners top of mind, so anyone should be able to put a website together quickly and easily.
As long as you choose a website builder that supports eCommerce, you should also be able to easily add product pages that include photography, basic SEO fields, a product description, and inventory status information. HostGator’s website builder includes all these options, plus eCommerce ability included in all of our plans. Simply upgrade your plan to include more products as your store grows.
4. Choose Elements to Include on Your eCommerce Website
Before you get to building, take some time to consider what functionalities you want your website to have and how to best organize it.
Organize Your eCommerce Website Based On How People Shop.
One of the first steps to organizing an eCommerce website is figuring out what pages and categories to include. You’ll obviously want a home page and pages for each of your different products. But how will you organize all those product pages so that people can find what they’re looking for?
Think about how your potential customers are likely to shop and browse and build out the site architecture that makes the most sense based on that.
For example, if you sell pet food and supplies, you might organize your website based on the type of pet your visitors have (dog, cat, fish, mouse, etc.) with subcategories under each for product types (toys, treats, food, etc.). Anyone visiting the site can pretty quickly figure out how to narrow down their search based on their particular needs. And by visiting a page that groups a lot of similar products together, they can browse all the dog treats or cat toys available and pick the one they most want.
Include a Search Bar.
Many of your visitors will be content to browse the site to find items they like, but some will know exactly what they’re looking for. A search bar gives them a way to get directly to the page they need and is, therefore, one of those features that every eCommerce site should have.
Over half of regular online shoppers say they read reviews almost every time they shop online. Looking at customer reviews has become a regular part of the purchasing process.By including a review feature on your website, you give your customers a way to hear directly from each other – which is more powerful than what you can tell them.
Enabling reviews from third parties shows your customers you’re confident that your products can stand up to customers’ honest feedback. And if the reviews are positive (which they should be if your products are solid), they’ll increase your sales.
As an added benefit, reviews can help you gain valuable feedback about the products you offer and the service experience your customers have. You may be able to pick up some tips that help you improve your eCommerce business results over time.
For example, at HostGator, we feature reviews on a dedicated page on our site:
Have a Shopping Cart.
Your ideal customer isn’t going to see one item they like and go straight to the purchase process. They’ll spend some time browsing and choosing several items they want.
A shopping cart is another standard feature of eCommerce stores because it allows visitors to save the items they want to purchase while they continue browsing, and then go through the purchasing process once for all of them.
And for visitors that add items to a shopping cart but don’t buy right away, you can follow up with a reminder email to your customers to help nudge them back to the site toward a purchase.
Include Wish List Functionality.
Including wish list functionality accomplishes a few different things:
- It gives people an easy place to point friends and family in the lead up to a gift-giving event – a situation people regularly make purchases for.
- For people who prefer to do research before they buy a product, it gives them a chance to save the items they like for possible future purchase.
- For anyone avoiding impulse buys for budgetary reasons, they can mark now the things they want to come back for later.
Giving people a way to use your website to create a list of items they want creates a few opportunities where those items are more likely to become future sales.
5. Building Your eCommerce Website
The step-by-step details of building your eCommerce site will vary based on the platform you choose. But in each case, creating product pages that effectively highlight the items you’re selling is the most important part.
Creating an eCommerce Site in Gator
If you’re building your website using the Gator Website Builder, start by making sure you have a plan that enables as many products as you expect to include. After you’ve walked through the initial steps to build the basics of your website—something our smart builder makes super fast and easy—you’ll have the option to set up your online store.
The website builder will walk you through this part as well, including prompts to set up your payment method and shipping options. With that done, you can get to work on adding products.
Choose Products in the Menu on the left side of the page when in the online store. If you have a list of products stored in a file, you can import them here. Or you can edd each one manually by choosing the Create a new product button.
This opens a page that includes all the relevant fields you’ll need to fill in for each product. That includes your product name, image, price, description, inventory status, and any product options like size and color (under Variants).
After you’ve added Products within the online store, you can edit the pages to look how you’d like within the main website editor. Once you have a design in place you like for the page, you can make adding each new product easier by clicking the dots to the right of the product in the list, and selecting Copy.
Creating an eCommerce Website in WordPress
If you choose to use WordPress to build your eCommerce site, you have a lot of different eCommerce themes and plugins you can choose from. WooCommerce is the most popular option and offers a setup wizard that takes you through each step of the process.
The setup wizard includes a step for adding your product information. And as with the Gator website builder, it provides all the main fields you’ll want to fill in.
In both cases, the eCommerce functionality of the tools will help you keep your website up to date with your product inventory. And they provide an intuitive and secure checkout process for your customers.
6. Launching Your Store and Selling Products
If you’ve done everything above, then congratulations, you’re just about ready to launch your store. However, it’s important not to launch your store before it’s fully polished. After all, you only have one chance to make a first impression.
Spend some time double-checking every page on your site for typos, broken links, or other things that don’t work. You’ll also want to run through a few sample purchases to make sure the checkout process works smoothly.
Now that you’ve learned to create a website to sell products, it’s time to launch your store and start selling!
Marketing Your eCommerce Website
The internet is vast, and you have a lot of competition. If you don’t make an effort to get your website in front of people, they’re unlikely to find you at all, much less buy from you. To be successful, you need to invest in marketing your eCommerce store to the world. Here are a few of the most common eCommerce marketing methods:
1. Content Marketing
Content marketing is a valuable marketing tactic for building up your website’s search engine optimization (SEO) authority, attracting more relevant traffic to your site, and building trust with your target audience. Content marketing requires a considerable investment in time and money, but it’s a good way to grow the online influence of your business.
Content marketing can take a number of different forms:
- Blog posts – A blog is usually the go-to starting place for content marketing. Regularly publishing high-value blog posts about topics important to your audience is a great way to raise your profile and demonstrate your trustworthiness.
- Longform content – Longform content like in-depth guides or ebooks can be published to your website as a way to build up SEO, or placed behind a form as a lead generation tactic. If you create something valuable enough that your audience is willing to give you their address in return for it, that’s a good way to build up your email list and identify potential customers.
- Videos – In the age of YouTube, video content is one of the main ways many consumers like to get their information. You can create video tutorials or educational videos on topics your audience cares about.
- Audio content – In the past few years, podcasts have become a huge part of how people consume information. But they’re still largely underused by brands. Consider if your audience is the podcast-listening type, and whether you can provide value to them in an audio format.
- Visual content – Visual content formats like infographics and high-quality graphics can be a way to either supplement your written content, or provide value on their own.
Content marketing doesn’t deliver immediate results, but if you care about the long game, it’s a good way to build up an audience of followers who care about your brand. And over time, it will strengthen how visible you are in your field and in the search engines.
Here are a few great resources on building a content marketing strategy from scratch:
- How to Make eCommerce Content Marketing Work for You
- Top 5 Tips for a Successful Blog Content Marketing Strategy
2. Social Media Marketing
Social media can be a great way to increase brand awareness while driving traffic back to your eCommerce site. For eCommerce businesses, some of the best channels to grow your audience and promote your products are Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.
Instagram and Pinterest are image-driven platforms, so they align well with selling products. Instagram will give you a way to showcase your product and demonstrate how it’s commonly used. And Pinterest gives you the opportunity to create and share content that’s related to your niche and drive targeted traffic back to your site.
Twitter and Facebook are better for growing your community and promoting your content. You can use them to tap into the community that’s talking about your industry, connect with influencers in the space, and directly reach your audience. You can also get a lot out of community-building tools like Facebook groups and Twitter chats.
In addition, you can monitor social channels to stay on top of what people are saying about your products. Negative tweets are useful for learning how to improve your products. And positive ones are powerful social proof.
Get the guide: HostGator Web Pros break down everything you need to know about Facebook and Instagram Stories for your online business. Read now!
3. Influencer Marketing
Influencer marketing has been used to build some wildly successful eCommerce stores. It’s the process of reaching out to influencers (most often on social media channels like Instagram) and having them promote your brand and products to their audience.
You have the option of doing paid shoutouts, but you might also be able to find accounts who will mention you for free in exchange for your product. Influencer marketing plays on the idea that these people have already built a loyal following, so your product gains exposure and trustworthiness by association.
If you’re interested in exploring this further, then check out the resources below:
- 5 Excellent Influencer Marketing Ideas for Any eCommerce Store
- The Ultimate Guide to Growing Your Business with Influencer Marketing
Search engine optimization is the collection of tactics that increase your website’s authority according to the factors valued by search engine algorithms. If that definition sounds a bit technical, it just means that SEO is how you increase your chances of showing up on the first page of Google (and Bing and Yahoo, but mostly Google).
SEO consists of doing a few main things:
- Keyword research – All of SEO is based on targeting the specific keywords you want to rank for, so this is an important step to start with. Use SEO tools to learn what terms your audience is commonly searching for.
- On-site optimization – This step includes making sure your website works on all the important technical levels, like loading quickly. It also means ensuring that each page is optimized for your chosen keyword.
- Content marketing – Content marketing involves creating a lot of great content that keeps your website fresh, useful, and gives you the chance to target more keywords. For all those reasons, it helps with SEO.
- Link building – The search engine algorithms see links as a measure of how valuable other people see your website. As such, they’re an important ranking factor. Link building involves encouraging other websites to link back to yours.
For some good starting guides on SEO, read:
5. Email marketing
Email marketing is arguably the best way to turn website visits into relationships. Every consumer that opts into your email list is telling you they want to hear from you. It’s an invitation to keep the relationship going, which is a big deal!
Email marketing gives you a good way to keep driving traffic back to your site by promoting new content and sharing company announcements. And it gives you a loyal audience to promote special deals to. For eCommerce stores, earning new customers is definitely important. But getting those customers to come back again and again is how you really build a sustainable business.
For more information on how to use email marketing to grow your business, check out:
- 5 Tips for Launching Your First Email Marketing Campaign
- 7 Powerful Strategies to Fine-Tune Your Email Marketing
6. PPC advertising
All of the marketing tactics we’ve described so far are useful, but require a significant amount of time and work before you start seeing results. They’re all about playing the long game. If you want to start driving traffic to your website sooner rather than later, adding paid advertising methods to your list will help with that.
Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising describes any marketing you do on platforms that charge for ads based on how often people click on them, rather than how many times they’re shown. Most of the ads you see on Google employ this model, as do most social media platforms.
With PPC advertising you can set your budget, target the audiences and keywords most relevant to you, and design your ads with copy and images most likely to appeal to your ideal customer. And PPC campaigns produce a lot of data, which helps you learn what your customers respond to and improve your marketing efforts over time.
To learn more about using PPC advertising in your marketing mix, read more here:
Building Your eCommerce Website
Creating an eCommerce business takes ambition, time, work, and a little bit of startup capital. The most important step is deciding to get started. You’re not going to get everything right your first go around. Be willing to experiment, fail, and keep moving forward. That’s the path to successful entrepreneurship.
This post packs a lot of information to help you get started in planning and building your eCommerce business. But it’s a big topic. To do a deeper dive into tips and best practices for becoming an eCommerce entrepreneur, check out our ebook on how to start an online store.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.