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What do you need to start an e-commerce business?

From research and planning to crafting marketing campaigns – your step-by-step guide to mastering e-commerce

Small shopping cart on a keyboard

You can buy anything on the internet. Whether you’re looking for a onesie covered in pictures of Steve Buscemi or a statue of TV alien Alf, you’ll find it in some corner of the web.  And that’s because the modern internet has enabled anyone to create an online storefront selling anything they want, anywhere they choose.

Whether you’re an established business or an individual entrepreneur, it’s possible to set up an online shopping operation with nothing more than a credit card. But what exactly do you need to start selling via your own e-commerce storefront?

Planning and preparation

The first step in starting an e-commerce business might sound obvious, but it’s important nonetheless: planning. You’ll need to conduct a significant amount of product and market research. For starters, what are you going to sell? You’ll need to work out which product categories are the most popular, as well as looking for gaps in the market where you can carve out your own niche.

You’ll also need to establish how much to charge, which means figuring out the market rate for those goods and setting a competitive price while covering your costs and still leaving you with a reasonable profit margin.

The next step is actually selling your chosen goods, which is where your website comes in. If you’re building one yourself, you’ll need a web designer and developer to create your store page. Services like Shopify, Magento and Big Cartel allow you to quickly set up online storefronts, but will still require a degree of know-how to properly manage and configure. Alternatively, you can choose to list your products exclusively through third-party marketplaces such as Amazon, but this limits your potential customers.

Product marketing

With the infrastructure of your e-commerce storefront in place, you can begin creating pages and listings for your products. Product photography is what will draw your user in, so it’s important to make sure that it’s eye-catching and engaging, but it should also give a clear view of what your product is. Product photos must be well-shot and high quality. The best option is to hire a professional photographer to shoot and edit your product images, with multiple pictures of each item.

The descriptions that accompany the pictures are no less key. These should be descriptive and clearly-written, and should use proper spelling and grammar for maximum professionalism. You should additionally include any relevant technical details or specifications such as the item’s size and colour, as well as price and shipping details. This text is also used by search engines to direct shoppers to the items they’re searching for, and there are numerous specialists who are experts at crafting pages to target specific search terms and keywords – a practice known as ‘search engine optimisation’, or SEO.

If you don't want to rely on search engine traffic, you can always attract shoppers with some well-crafted marketing campaigns. Social media can be an excellent way to put your goods in front of customers, but managing it is no easy task. You’ll need to make sure that you’re planning a specific strategy for social media activity, as well as taking the time to create engaging posts to grab followers’ attention.

You can also launch paid-for online advertisements, which can be an excellent way to quickly and cost-effectively alert potential customers to things like promotional offers or new product launches. Email marketing is a good channel for this too, and setting up a regular newsletter can be great for bringing customers back to your site again and again.

Monitoring the metrics

Once your store is up and running, your priority should be tracking how well it performs over time. There are a huge range of tools you can use for this; Google Analytics and Facebook both include a wide variety of pre-built tools for tracking e-commerce sales. These can be a little labour-intensive and confusing to initially set up, but once they’re up and running, they’ll provide you with large amounts of actionable data via regular reports and informative dashboards.

You may also want to think about finance and accounting; it’s a complicated area, and mistakes could lead to penalties for things like misfiled taxes. If you’re just starting out, hiring an accountant may be the easiest way to make sure that your books are kept up-to-date.

This may all sound complicated, or require more effort and expertise than you can give it. Happily, however, you don’t have to do it all yourself. The ‘gig economy’ offers a slew of freelance professionals that you can sub-contract specific tasks like SEO optimisation, web design and product photography to.

Freelance marketplace Fiverr provides a wealth of highly-qualified specialists in areas including market research, copywriting, analytics setup and more. Freelancers are rated and reviewed by customers, with options available to suit every budget. For the skills you need to start your own online store, head to Fiverr’s e-commerce section now.

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