The Internet offers convenience and speed when it comes to buying products and services. These days, one can surf the Web, order a pizza or even buy a brand new car at any time, day or night. The online shopping sector is growing on a phenomenal scale.
According to the ONS, online sales accounted for 11.2% of all retail sales back in 2014. That’s an increase from 2013, and it’s a trend that is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. If you run a business, you will no doubt realise the potential selling online can offer your company.
Of course, not everyone knows where to start when it comes to setting up a online store. In today’s handy guide, you will learn how to create an online store. And the good news? You don’t need a Computer Science degree to set one up! Here is what you need to know:
The first thing you need to do is think of a suitable domain name for your new online store. Some people decide to use the one from their existing website, and that’s no problem at all. But, if you don’t already have a site, you’ll need to get a domain name!
It’s a good idea to think of a few domain names and add them to a list. That’s because if the one you want is already taken, you have a few alternatives to search for as well.
There are plenty of domain name extensions such as .co.uk, .uk, .com and so forth. Be sure to choose one relevant to your target market. Last, but not least, try to select a domain name that’s short and memorable.
Next, you will need a server to host your online store. When you choose a host, make sure that they can meet the following criteria:
- Physical server location based in the UK;
- 24/7 technical support;
- Fast and reliable connection to the Internet; and
- Full control via a hosting control panel.
When it comes to support, they should offer online ticket and chat facilities, and a phone number.
Security must be your number one priority when setting up an online store. Your customers are trusting you with their personal details. They will also be transmitting their card details on your website when they place an order.
The good news is that you can make your online store secure without spending a small fortune! To protect your site, you need to install something called an “SSL certificate.”
In layman’s terms, it ensures that data sent from your browser to the server is secure. SSL stands for “Secure Sockets Layer” and is a type of data transmission protocol. The information sent back and forth gets encrypted using bank-grade security. That means hackers cannot spy on the details sent and received between you and the server.
But, what happens if your customers placed orders using an unsecured WiFi connection? The data sent from their browsers to your site will still get encrypted.
When it comes to selecting an SSL certificate, be sure to choose one that has 256-bit encryption. You can also get ones that turn the browser address bar green. Although they cost more than regular SSL certificates, they offer greater consumer confidence.
Before we get to the stage of setting up your online store, there’s one more thing you need to organise. You need to have the ability to accept card payments through your website. That can get done by setting up a payment gateway.
In a nutshell, a payment gateway is a service that will process debit and credit card payments. Some businesses new to online sales set up an account with PayPal. The only downside is that your customers will also need an account with them too.
Other payment gateway options are available where customers don’t need an account. Examples include SagePay and Barclaycard. It’s worth arranging your payment gateway at the same time as setting up your online store. That’s because it can take a couple of weeks to set up on some occasions.
Are you planning to sell subscriptions on your website? If so, you could also look into creating an online Direct Debit system too.
Now you are at the stage where you can set up an online store on your server! At this point, you may be thinking that such a task might be outside the scope of your technical knowledge. The good news is that there are plenty of e-commerce platforms that are easy to set up and use!
Many of the world’s online stores get powered by “open-source” e-commerce software. In case you wondered, open-source software is free to use and adapt. Yes, there are obvious cost benefits to using such software for your online store. But, the added advantage is you can customise your site according to your needs.
For example, open-source online stores can get integrated with existing websites. So, if your site runs WordPress, you can create a seamless user experience for your customers.
There are many popular open-source e-commerce platforms that you can use. Examples include:
It’s worth trying a demo version of each platform to find out if you like using it or not. After all; the last thing you want to do is install a system that doesn’t meet your needs!
Attracting customers to your online store
Once you’ve set up your online store, the final step is to get people to your site and buying stuff! There are plenty of ways that you can achieve that goal.
For example, you could do social media marketing and advertise on Facebook and Twitter. You could even do content marketing or paid advertising on search engines like Google. The AdWords platform is affordable and attractive.
You could also do some offline advertising, such as distributing leaflets in customer orders.
As you can see, the process of setting up an online store isn’t as scary as you may have first thought!