How to Build & Open an Online Store, Step By Step From Scratch

by Jul 20, 2020eCommerce

Building and opening an online store is one of the more popular ways to start making money online. The costs of starting an ecommerce store are ridiculously low, at least compared with a physical store.

Even if you are a freelancer or digital marketer or having a full-time job, it may be a worthwhile side project to start an online store and see where it brings you. Building an online store is a great way to learn how to make money online for beginners.

How to Start an Online Store - Ecommerce share of total global retail sales

Source: eMarketer

In fact, ecommerce is booming, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic. And there is still a lot of room for growth. eCommerce is one of the best industries to start your business now!

What is ecommerce?

First, what exactly is e-commerce?

Ecommerce refers to the buying and selling of goods or services over the internet.

Here are some examples of ecommerce businesses.

Ecommerce usually refers to the sale of physical products online, but in fact, it’s a general term that describes any commercial transaction facilitated online. (In other words, it could mean selling digital products too.)

Read also: eCommerce vs eBusiness – what’s the difference?

What is an online store?

Here’s a typical definition of an online store:

An online store is a website through which customers place orders for goods or services. This could be a small online-only store, a major ecommerce retailer with a physical retail presence, or an online marketplace such as eBay or Amazon.

To run an online store, you’ll need a website that displays your products, a shopping cart software, and payment options.

In this article, we are going to focus only on a small business online store that you can set up in a day.

How to build an online store?

I know the information out there is overwhelming, so I have compiled everything you need to know about building and opening an online store – in simple terms.

This guide will help you discover, step by step, how to start, build, and open an online ecommerce store – completely from scratch.


1. Decide on your niche

The very first thing to do before you build your online store is to decide on your niche. The advantages of segmenting the market are many, including the ability to build a community and email list around your market. Then you can keep selling things to your chosen market again and again. Your marketing messages will also resonate directly with your market.

Answering these questions will give you some ideas on what niche to focus on:

  • Who will you serve or sell to?
  • Which market can you identify most with and resonates most with you?
  • What are the products YOU tend to buy – whether online or offline?

The last thing you want to do is to sell everything to everyone. We are not going to create another Amazon!


2. Choose your ecommerce model

Next, you want to choose your ecommerce business model. Here are the most common business models when it comes to ecommerce.


The simplest form of ecommerce is dropshipping. Basically, when a customer orders a product from your online store, you order the same product from your supplier and ask the supplier to ship directly to your customer. This frees you from buying and managing inventory, warehousing stock, or dealing with packaging.

But there are caveats to dropshipping. If your suppliers are slow, product quality is low, or there are problems with the order, your online store reputation takes a hit.

Apart from selling ready-to-ship products, you can also consider print on demand products. Print on demand is a process where you work with a supplier to customize products (like t-shirts or tote bags) with your own designs to sell them on a per-order basis under your own brand. This means you don’t pay for the product until after you’ve actually sold it, so there’s no need to buy in bulk or hold any inventory yourself.

Dropshipping is a great entry-level method to earn money from home without any investment.

Wholesaling and warehousing

Wholesaling and warehousing ecommerce businesses are the “traditional” types of commerce. These require a lot of investment at the start – you need to manage inventory and stock, ship customer orders, keep track of orders and shipping information, and invest in the warehouse space itself.

Private labeling and manufacturing

If you’ve got a product idea, but don’t have the cash or desire to build your own factory, this could be the right business model for you. A private label product is usually sourced from a manufacturer and then sold under your own brand exclusively. You may also have the ability to tweak the product to create a truly unique brand.

On-demand manufacturing allows you to change suppliers quickly if you encounter problems with product quality. Startup costs are minimal. If your long-term plan is in opening your own production facilities later, this is a great way to test a new product or concept.

White labeling

White labeling is similar to private labeling, but with an important difference. With white labeling, a generic product is created by a manufacturer for multiple resellers like yourself. You will be able to rebrand the product as your own, but without any modification to the product itself. This is a fast way to get to the market, but your product will be the same as other retailers.


Subscription ecommerce businesses deliver products to customers at regular, scheduled intervals. These companies have a relatively stable income due to the recurring nature of the revenue stream. Examples of such businesses include coffee subscriptions, personal grooming products subscriptions, etc.

3. Select an ecommerce platform

After you choose your nice and your ecommerce business model, now’s the time to pick the right platform. There are plenty of ecommerce platforms to choose from. But we are just going straight to the two most popular and proven ones.

Best for newbies and the less technical folks, Shopify is our favorite when it comes to opening an online store. If you are in doubt, just pick Shopify. They have a 14-day trial, so you can even challenge yourself to make a sale within the first 14 days so that your subscription is essentially free!


Shopify Pros
  • There are thousands of apps to extend your store’s functionality.
  • The themes are plentiful and beautiful – even the free ones.
  • Shopify handles almost everything for you from hosting to security to payment gateways.
  • You don’t have to worry about a surge in traffic – as that is taken care of by Shopify.
  • It literally takes just a few minutes to launch your store.
  • Dropshipping is simple with Shopify.
  • You have access to good customer support – if you ever encounter issues.
  • The pricing is fair and attractive for the huge amount of time saved in setting up an online store.
Shopify Cons
  • You don’t have as much control over your site with Shopify.
  • It’s harder to customize your store, other than installing third-party apps.
  • The blogging functionality is more cumbersome to use than WordPress.
  • You’re stuck with a monthly payment that’s only going to get higher, especially if you subscribe to many apps.



WooCommerce Pros
  • WooCommerce offers complete customization and control. This is good if you are a developer.
  • WordPress has a huge community online, so you can seek help easily.
  • There many themes and plugins to choose from – ranging from free ones to paid ones.
  • WooCommerce is simple to configure on WordPress (though not as simple as Shopify).
  • Both WordPress and the WooCommerce plugin are free, so you only need to pay for hosting (at the minimum).
WooCommerce Cons
  • WordPress does have a bit of a learning curve. So if you’re technically challenged, I wouldn’t recommend it at all.
  • You may find that WooCommerce ends up being more expensive due to plugins, themes, and hosting.
  • You need to manage everything from hosting to security, and maintenance to backups. If there issues such as a surge in traffic, you need to know how to handle these.
  • There’s no customer support, so you’re pretty much on your own!


4. Set up your online store

Steps to set up a Shopify store

  1. Start a free trial of Shopify:
  2. You’ll be prompted to enter a store name
  3. You can also register for a custom domain name during setup, or you could do so later
  4. Follow through with the setup by answering some simple questions
  5. Set up your payment gateways (e.g. PayPal, Stripe, or Shopify Payments) in order to receive payments
  6. Select a free or paid Shopify theme to create the look and feel of your store
  7. Design a logo (you can find a designer on Fiverr or design one using Canva) and upload it
  8. Set up your homepage – headlines, images, sliders, etc. Keep it neat and simple
  9. Choose your color palette and fonts
  10. Set up basic pages like Contact Us, Terms & Conditions, and Privacy Policy


Steps to set up a WooCommerce store

  1. Register your domain name (recommended: NameCheap)
  2. Choose your hosting plan (recommended: BlueHost)
  3. Install WordPress using Softaculous (bundled with all SiteGround plans)
  4. Install WooCommerce and other essential plugins (recommended: Wordfence Security, WP Fastest Cache, The SEO Framework)
  5. Select a free theme or purchase a paid one, to create the look and feel you want
  6. Set up your installed theme (e.g. colors, typography, etc.)
  7. Set up your payment gateways (e.g. PayPal, Stripe or Shopify Payments) in order to receive payments
  8. Design a logo (you can find a designer on Fiverr or design one using Canva) and upload it
  9. Set up your homepage
  10. Set up basic pages like Contact Us, Terms & Conditions, and Privacy Policy


5. Populate your store with products

What’s a store without products? The last important step in building your online store is to populate it with products.

Depending on your business model, you may need to do this differently.

For dropshipping, you can easily populate your online store with products using apps like Oberlo (for Shopify) and Dropified (for both Shopify and WooCommerce). Simply choose the products you want from a supplier directory like AliExpress, change the product titles, descriptions, images, and prices – and you’re good to go.

For other business models, you will probably need to do this manually – by uploading product images, titles, descriptions, and prices. For Shopify, this will be pretty much a breeze, while for WooCommerce it’s slightly more difficult. There are also third-party tools you can use to upload your products in bulk, typically via a spreadsheet.


What next after building your online store

Now that you have set up your online store and populated it with products, the next step is to drive traffic to your store and get paying customers. Common traffic generation methods include social media marketing, online advertising, search engine optimization, influencer marketing, etc. We will explore more of these in upcoming stories.

However, if you find that ecommerce is not for you, you may want to explore these other options: