How to Start an E-commerce Business from Scratch
It’s never been easier to start an e-commerce business from scratch. That’s because you can leverage and integrate tools for pretty much every aspect of a business, including payments, shopping carts, and, of course, shipping.
If it’s your first time building a business, it can be difficult to figure out where to start. The key is to make sure your tools integrate with each other, since every tool and platform partners with different companies. If your list of tools and platforms doesn’t integrate, you’ll be spending a lot of time manually updating information across accounts.
To help you out, we put together this handy infographic with sample solutions to consider at each step in order to start your e-commerce business from scratch.
Know Where to Get Funding
If you need funds to start your business, getting a loan from the bank is no longer your only option. There are many online platforms that will help you raise money to cover your startup costs. Consider crowdsourced funding platforms like KickStarter and Indiegogo, plus CircleUp, the investment platform providing capital to early-stage consumer brands.
Build Your Own E-commerce Business Storefront
Choose Your E-commerce Platform
After you have your funding secured, it’s a good idea to research and select your e-commerce platform or shopping cart. An e-commerce platform is the technology that allows you to build a store online. This will be the crux of your business, so you’ll want to spend extra time comparing your options.
Many of the e-commerce platforms and shopping carts available will have other tools and offerings already included with their user packages. For example, many e-commerce platforms will include a complimentary domain name (or URL) with your subscription package. Before you continue with the rest of this list, check to see what’s already included with your e-commerce platform account, so that you’re not doing duplicate work.
Select a Website Platform (if needed)
For some of the e-commerce platforms, like Shopify and BigCommerce, you won’t need a separate website platform. If you want a customized website, a blog, or more content pages, you can consider creating the store using a platform like Weebly, Squarespace, GoDaddy, WordPress, etc.
Weebly, Squarespace, and GoDaddy have built-in functionality for users to create an e-commerce store. For WordPress, you’ll need to add a plugin, like WooCommerce, which will allow you to set up your store.
Sell on Marketplaces (optional)
You also need to think about if you want to connect with a marketplace, like eBay, Etsy, Amazon, or ChannelAdvisor. You don’t have to be on a marketplace to set up a store, but it’s another channel to increase your sales. In fact, ChannelAdvisor estimates that marketplace sales account for approximately 25 percent of total online retail sales.
Determine if Dropshipping is For You
If you don’t want to manufacture a new product, you can also opt for a dropshipping service. You’ll sell the product on your website and then the dropshipper will ship the product directly to your customer. Many dropshippers will even help you customize your packaging and customer communication to maintain a consistent brand experience. Some dropshipping companies to consider are Oberlo, Doba, Dropship Direct, and Sunrise Wholesale.
Purchase Your URL From a Domain Registrar
If you are going to set up a new website using an e-commerce or website platform, you will likely be able to purchase your URL through your existing account. If not, you can purchase your URL through a separate domain registrar and then sync it with your store. Some options include: GoDaddy, NameCheap, Google Domains, and NameSilo.
Prepare to Process Orders
Integrate with a Payment Gateway
Another major step in starting your e-commerce business from scratch is choosing your payment gateway. This is how you will be able to securely accept payments for your products. The good news is that most payment gateways will integrate with a lot of different carts and platforms. You just want to make sure that the payment gateway you choose accepts the types of payments your customers will use. For example, do you expect that your customers will typically use Visa or American Express credit cards? Then, make sure your payment gateway accepts them.
Connect with Accounting Software
You’ll want an accounting solution that automatically syncs orders, tracks returns and refunds, and streamlines taxes. First, look to see if there are options that will integrate with your e-commerce or website platform. Some options to consider are QuickBooks, Xero, Zoho, and Wave Accounting.
Select a Packaging and Branding Company
Think about how you want to present your products to your customers. Do you need a box or pouch to put your items in? Will you need additional outer packaging where you’ll affix your shipping label? There are companies out there that will help you create a consistent brand experience for your products, including Lumi, Taylor Box Company, and Creative Retail Packaging.
Integrate with a Shipping Software
Next, you’ll want to set up a shipping software to sync orders with your e-commerce or website platform and send back package tracking information. Shippo is a shipping solution that syncs with major e-commerce and website platforms, plus payment gateways and other tools.
With Shippo, you can automatically sync with multiple carriers to compare rates and generate shipping labels. Shippo has a Starter option for entry-level retailers, which means you only have to pay a small fee for each label you print—no monthly subscription costs.
Take Advantage of Marketing Tools
Setup your Email Marketing Process
Email marketing is an incredibly affordable and effective way to keep customers informed. There are many automated tools that integrate with e-commerce and website platforms to make it even easier to connect with customers. Consider tools like Privy, which allows you create pop-up banners, bars, etc. to make sure visitors to your website sign up for your email list. Then, you can use a tool like MailChimp, Hubspot, or Conversio to send regular email newsletters with coupon codes and updates.
Plan Your Content with Social Media Management
Even when you’re first starting out, you can take advantage of free social media management tools that let you schedule posts in advance. That way, you can be connecting with your audience while you’re busy fulfilling orders and managing your business. SproutSocial, Buffer, HootSuite, and HubSpot have a wide range of free and paid plans.
Integrate with Tracking and Analytics Tools
You’ll want to make sure you’re using tracking and analytics tools, so you can gather data on your store and use it to improve your product and experience. Many of the platforms you use will have included data and analytics you can reference.
Most businesses also use Google Analytics to track data on your site visitors and their activity. Other options to consider are MixPanel, a mobile and web analytics tool, and Hotjar, which is a heatmap program that helps you discover where your visitors are spending time on a page.
There are many different types of analytics and data tools for e-commerce businesses. Think about the unique elements of your store and what you want to track, then search for tools to do just that.
Offer Stellar Customer Service
And finally, before you get started, make sure to get your customer service processes in place to stay on top of incoming queries. While it may seem like something you can tackle as each request comes in, I strongly recommend that you start working with a solution now that will help you stay organized, so that when an influx of entries comes in, you can answer them quickly and efficiently. Customer service tools to consider include: Intercom, HelpScout, and ZenDesk.
Once you’ve selected your e-commerce stack, the hardest part is just getting started. After you’ve done your research, I encourage you to make that first account with one of these services. After that is complete, the rest will quickly start to fall in place and your business will come fruition. With the above tools, you’re well on your way to building a booming business. Good luck!
Shippo is a multi-carrier API and web app that helps retailers, marketplaces and platforms connect to a global network of carriers. Businesses use Shippo to get real-time rates, print labels, automate international paperwork, track packages and facilitate returns. Shippo provides the tools to help businesses succeed through e-commerce shipping.