How to start an online store
Updated: Jun 13, 2021
he time has come, you need a website, either to start a business or to further advance an existing one and you want to create it yourself. The first thing on your journey to building a site worthy of your time and effort will be to choose which platform you will use to create your site. What is a web platform? A web platform is the tool used to create and manage a website. Some examples of these include: Wix, Squarespace, WordPress, and PageCloud, just to name a few.
Step 1: Selecting a website creation platform
Selecting the platform that will be best for your website is the first and probably most important step in building a site. You will have to decide between many different ones. All of whom will be promising to be the best and exactly what you will need, just input your credit card details and you will not regret it.
Unfortunately, this is rarely the case, because despite what is undoubtedly their best intentions, not every web platform will be correct for you.
This blog is not intended to tell you which platform to choose, or what we think the "top 5 platforms of 2021" are.
There are more resources available on our website regarding various platforms.
What we aim to do in this blog is to show you what to look for and some of the important things to consider when deciding on which platform to use.
To make a decision, you will need to do some research (we actually recommend a lot of research) to find the one that will not just do everything you need but be able to do it without scarring you mentally and emotionally in the process.
For further information on what individual platforms can do and how they operate, there are many reviews and articles available on our website as well as Google or Youtube.
Let's get into it.
1: What will you need from your website? (Not all platforms are created equal)
There is a big difference between creating a basic landing page to show who you are and what you do compared to running a retail store online with inventory to keep track of and money exchanging hands.
It will be important to know what you currently need, and also what you are likely to need in the foreseeable future from a website because different platforms have different capabilities.
Some are essentially just there to create a simple site with a home page, about page, contact page and a couple of other pages to show what goods and services are provided.
Others may offer the whole shebang, site creation, inventory management, point of sale services and integration with your existing account and inventory software but at vastly differing levels of usability and cost.
This is why it will be good to know what you will likely want from your website before you begin the search for a platform.
What type of site do you require?
A site to showcase your business, 4-5 pages, pictures, links to social media. Essentially just for advertising and brand awareness for your business
A slightly more advanced site that also has the ability to sell items online, with basic inventory management. You sell straight forward items that don't have a lot of variations (sizes, colours, etc) with a relatively low or easy inventory to keep track of.
A larger retail site that has full inventory management, offers greater depth on item variations (sizes, colours, etc), is able to work with your existing accounting and inventory software, links to postal services.
These are simplified breakdowns of what your site may need but gives you a starting point to work from.
2: Is it easy to use?
This might seem a bit redundant but is still an important factor. Platforms vary greatly in how they work, and having one that is reasonably straightforward to use and not overly complicated but still provides the tools that you need for your site can be a challenge.
How easy a site is to use will depend on a few factors, one of which will be your personal computer skills and experience. The more basic platforms will try to make things easy to use by having a similar user interface (UI) to popular programs or apps such as Facebook or TikTok. They make it simple to add pictures and write text where required. However, this quickly becomes untenable with anything more complex such as stock management and sales come into play.
It would be best to make sure that you understand how a platform functions and to familiarise yourself with that platform before putting any money or too much time into one that you just can't quite get the hang of or drives you crazy trying to use.
For further information on what individual platforms can do and how they operate there are many reviews and articles available on Google or YouTube.
3: Is it easy to customise and how customisable is it?
Some platforms will provide you with a few basic layouts, some base options to add a few pictures and lines of text and that is about it. If you only need a small simple site this can be fantastic and get you up and running in no time. However, if you are going to require more from your site you will need to determine which platform will give you the depth of customisation you will want and make sure you know how to take full advantage of it.
(Do you want to do coding, are looking at doing it yourself?, brand design)
4: Is it mobile friendly?
These days with over 50% of internet traffic coming from mobile phones, it is necessary to ensure when creating a website that it works well on all devices.
Not all platforms work well on mobile devices. Remember that site you looked at on your phone that was slow to load, looked really strangely laid out, and cut off a quarter of the text meaning you didn't just have to scroll up and down but side to side as well to read it?
That site probably looks good and runs fine on a PC monitor but either doesn't offer mobile integration or doesn't do it well.
No matter what, you will need a platform that does this properly.
Invest some time into researching how potential platforms integrate their PC, mobile and tablet layouts. More intricate sites can require more input and editing to get full functionality and have your site displayed properly. You will need to understand how this works on your chosen platform.
5: What integrations does it have?
This is how the site will work with other software such as inventory management and accounting software.
If you have existing software in use and will be using your site for online commerce this will be important for everything to work together.
It is not good when you sell an item in your physical store and because it doesn't immediately update to your online store that item then sells again when you no longer have any stock on hand. It looks bad for your business and puts customers off from returning to your site.
As well as avoiding those one star Google reviews having a platform that has a lot of integrations and a strong app market will give you a lot of flexibility in the future to accommodate the growth of your business.
A quick note on this: If you are using older or more niche systems you may find it difficult to find anything that integrates with your systems. In this case, you may need to convert over to a different system. This is usually the biggest hurdle to get over especially when you are using older systems in a business that has been operating for many years.
6: Is it SEO friendly?
If you are unaware SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. Basically the better your SEO, the higher you will appear in search results for terms and keywords related to your business.
For example, if you are selling skincare for women and someone types women’s skincare products in Google it will determine whether you are at the top of the first page or last on the 11th. Where your product ends up in the search will often depend on how well the SEO of your selected platform performs.
SEO can be very complicated and in-depth. Unless you are looking to build a website for a small commercial business, it is probably not going to be overly important to your choice of platform but is still something to consider in case you become the next Amazon.
7: How reliable is the platform?
Confucius said "A man who lacks reliability is utterly useless" and the same can be said about website platforms.
If a potential customer is looking for something your site provides but it is down due to technical issues they will go elsewhere, most likely to never return.
A platform that claims its sites are operational 97% of the time is still down for 11 days per year. That is a long time when a business may be unable to function properly without that site.
While all sites will experience down time and technical difficulties from time to time, you will want to ensure that the platform you choose doesn't have a regular history of issues and extended periods offline.
8: What is their customer service like?
This one is fairly straightforward, when you encounter a problem you want someone available to help.
FAQs, troubleshooting algorithms, and online bot chats can assist with basic knowledge and problem solving, but when you inevitably encounter an issue that you can't find the answer to you will need to speak to someone.
Check whether your potential platform offers 24/7 phone support. Many sites will offer 24/7 online chat but only a limited 9-5 phone service, this will be particularly difficult if the 9-5 is USA pacific time and you are in Australia.
9: How scalable is the platform?
Bandwidth, it all comes down to bandwidth.
If a site doesn't offer enough then when your business grows and you get more and more people going to your site then eventually that site starts to slow down (slow page loading, pictures taking forever to load, etc). Worst case, if you get enough traffic then your site could crash. This is particularly undesirable at peak times such as during Black Friday sales.
A platform should offer enough bandwidth to see your business grow a reasonable amount beyond your current needs.
If your business grows far beyond this point you will probably be requiring a custom site with your own IT department at that stage.
The cost of a platform is more than just what monthly subscription fee they charge. Each platforms will offer a range of:
Credit card fees
The added cost of an external transaction service if your platform doesn't offer one.