E-commerce News and Insights
Sep 10, 2015

5 Tips for Starting an Online Store

There’s a lot you need to keep in mind when starting an online store, particularly when you launch your website. The entire process will be much smoother if you prepare your social media, shipping solution, product images, blog, and SEO strategy before orders start coming in. Here are 5 things you should do to start your online store with a bang:
1. Create a social presence
Social media platforms are a great way to drive traffic to your online store, build a community around your brand, and interact with other brands, as well as potential customers. It’s one of the best direct marketing tools out there for online stores — 4 in 10 people buy an item after favoriting/liking/pinning it on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, and 71% of consumers tend to make purchases based on social media referrals. Sign up as early as possible and take the time to set up your account. Make your brand obvious, with an appropriate account name and profile picture — ideally your brand name and logo. It’s important to keep your profile picture consistent between social media platforms so that social media users start to recognise (and remember) it as it pops up on their feeds, even if they don’t click through to your store. Also, don’t forget to include a link to your store in the bio; you need to make it as easy as possible for potential customers to click directly through to your online store.

The next step is to start using your account. Social media is all about networking and staying active, so make sure you’re posting everyday. It’s a good idea to set some weekly or daily goals, for example ‘follow 5 people a day’ or ‘share 4 articles a week’ — anything that makes your profiles interesting, keeps you active, and adds variety to your social media activities. Share anything from product announcements, to promotion details, to behind the scenes updates, to inspirational quotes. Daniel Wellington and Brilliant Bicycle Co. both fill up their Instagram profiles with beautiful in-context shots, some of which have been taken by customers. This is a great way to get customers engaged!

You can use a social media management tool like Buffer or Hootsuite to manage all your posts from one platform and schedule posts ahead of time. 

Remember to track what works and what doesn’t so that you can optimize your time and only post what converts. Social media management tools have in-built analytics components, as do many social media platforms. Alternatively, there are a number of third-party apps that will help you figure out which posts convert the best.

2. Choose a shipping solution
Your shipping strategy needs to be cost-effective for both you and your customers. 28% of shoppers will abandon their cart if presented with unexpected shipping costs, so you need to find a shipping strategy that’s appealing to your customers but doesn’t cut too far into your profits.

1. Real-time shipping costs
Charging customers what it costs you to ship the products will ensure that you never have to chip into your profits to cover the shipping costs. You will need to use a cart that has a shipping rate calculator, which provides the customer with a real-time shipping quote upon checkout. However, keep in mind that if the customer gets to the checkout stage and the shipping costs are higher than expected, they will abandon their cart.

2. Flat shipping rates
Offering flat rates keeps it simple for your customers. There are no surprises and, unless the shipping rate is very high, your shopping cart abandonment rates won’t be either. You can either offer a flat rate for each order or you can set a flat rate for ranges, such as weight, order total, or number of items.

Make sure you keep track of how much shipping is costing you, so that you aren’t overcharging or undercharging your customers. You’ll need to work out how much the average package will cost to ship before you implement this strategy, and be open to making adjustments as you go.

3. Free shipping
Free shipping is the way to an eCommerce customer’s heart. This strategy will definitely give you a competitive advantage over other online stores so, if you do choose this strategy, make sure you display it loud and proud all over your site and promote it on your social media channels. However, you need to be sure that it’s worth the cost, as your only options are to subsidize or increase the price of your products to compensate. 

The safest way to manage free shipping is to only offer free shipping to customers who spend over a certain amount or buy over a certain number of items. This will often encourage people to buy more, as most people would rather pay for an extra item to meet the free shipping threshold as opposed to paying shipping rates. Tattly offers free shipping on orders over $45 and The Iconic offers free shipping on orders over $50:

3. Perfect your product images
Before you start your online store, make sure you have product images that sell. 67% of online shoppers believe that clear and detailed images are more important than product information or customer ratings.

When it comes to product photography, the bigger the better! Optimize your product images for eCommerce by making them at least 1600px on the longest side. This is the perfect size for viewing on mobile or a tablet and will also allow for an effective zoom function:

The general rule for backgrounds in product photography is that they shouldn’t distract from or conflict with the product. A white background is clean, simple, free from distraction, and will draw attention to your product. It’ll also give your product images that extra professional touch. You can also make some minor adjustments to brighten up the product, but be careful not to over-edit.

Visitors to your online store will only click ‘Add to Cart’ if they’re confident in what they’re buying, so you need to help the viewer clearly visualize the product in their mind by providing multiple photos. Start with the perfect “hero” image to represent the product. It needs to clearly show what the product is, which is why front-on shots of the product are usually the most appropriate. However there are exceptions – plates are usually shown from above and shoes from the side.

Complement your hero image with photos from different angles and close-ups of any special textures, patterns, or features. Even if you have a zoom function enabled, providing close-ups shows your potential customer where to look.

4. Know Your Keywords
One way to drive traffic to your online store is to improve your site’s visibility in a search engine’s unpaid search results. This process is known as search engine optimization (SEO) and it’s all about knowing what people search when they want to buy the kind of products you’re selling. Although Google’s search algorithm is constantly changing, the first page always has the highest average traffic share; Optify’s study in 2011 found that the first three search results had average click-through rates of 36.4%, 12.5%, and 9.5% respectively.

Start the SEO process by doing a bit of keyword research and identifying some of the highest ranking keywords. Google’s Keyword Planner is a great tool that can help you to this. Choose keywords that are highly relevant because choosing broad keywords is sure to increase your bounce rates. If your store is well-ranked but not what people are searching for, then you won’t increase your conversion rates. You should also consider the search volume as well as the competition; it will take you a lot longer to achieve high rankings if the competition is very high.

You should also look into what keywords your competitors are ranking for. Use Moz’s free SEO toolbar to look into the domain authority and page authority of others. These figures will show you whether you should be competing with the same keywords or whether you should take on a different angle. An alternative approach is better if your competitor is doing extremely well.

Finally, avoid duplicate content. Don’t copy other sites, and don’t duplicate your own content. It’ll confuse search engines and you won’t be able to rank highly. If you want to focus on a specific word or topic, but don’t want to reuse the same keyword, try a long-tail keyword instead.

5. Start blogging
Content marketing is a critical aspect of any eCommerce marketing strategy. Not only is it important for search engine optimization (use keywords when blogging!), writing a blog shows that you’re an expert in your industry, which helps build trust in your brand — 81% of online shoppers in the U.S trust information and advice from blogs. Share tips and tricks on things relevant to your product, create tutorials to help customers better understand your product, and jump on board the latest trends in the industry with an opinionated and informed blog post.

You should use your blog to keep people informed — announce any exciting changes to your online store and provide people with updates on the latest products.

And, if you’ve been a little MIA on social media, maintaining a blog will give you loads of shareable content for your social media platforms. One blog post can give you lots to tweet about and loads of images to pin – simply sharing the link is an effortless but effective way of reminding your followers that you’re still around. Spell Designs always shares their latest blog post on their Facebook page:


What are you waiting for?

A little preparation can go a long way — if you’ve done these five things, you’re guaranteed to feel more prepared and start with a bang when you launch your business!



This post is contributed by Paula Jakubik, Community Manager at Pixc, an on-demand product image editing and optimization service.

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 shipping.

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Shan Lian
was a product marketer at Shippo.

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