Do you want to start an online store the right way? We know that starting an online store can be a terrifying thought, especially if you do not have any ecommerce experience. Having helped over 100,000+ users build an online store, we have decided to create the most comprehensive guide on how to start an online store without any technical knowledge.
What You Need to Start an Online Store?
- A domain name idea (this will be the name of your store, e.g. Ecommerce Sprout).
- An online store builder account (that is what you will use to build the store, e.g. Shopify).
- A payment processing service to accept payments (e.g. PayPal).
- Your undivided attention for approximately 30 minutes.
Yes, you read it right. You can start an online store from scratch in less than 30 minutes, and we will walk you through the whole process, step by step.
In this tutorial, we will cover:
- How to choose the best online store builder.
- How to add a custom domain name to the store.
- How to change your theme.
- How to set up shipping and tax rates.
- How to add your first product.
- How to accept credit card payments.
- How to add a store return policy.
- How to add additional functionality to the store from the app store.
- How to write your first blog post.
Ready? Let’s get started.
Step 1: Setup
The biggest mistake beginners make is when starting an online store is choosing the wrong online store builder. Thankfully you are here, so you will not be making that mistake.
For the users that are tech-savvy, it makes more sense to use a self-hosted (free) online store builder because it gives you more control over your store. A self-hosted online store builder requires more advanced hosting, which will end up costing a lot of money.
For the average Joe with a small budget, it makes more sense to use a hosted online store builder like Shopify because it is cheaper and easier to use.
To get started, you need to sign up for a Shopify 14 day free trial. Please have a domain name idea ready (this is optional but highly recommended).
Open up Shopify in a new window and follow along.
First thing that you need to do is type in your email and click on the big get started green arrow.
On the next screen, type in a password and the name of the store (both can be changed later).
On the next screen, answer the two questions and click on the big next green button on the bottom right of the screen.
Lastly, you will need to add your account information (e.g. name, address, phone number, email address, and website) to start your free trial and complete the signup process.
Once completed, you will receive an email with details on how to login to your online store. This is where you will manage everything – add products, fulfill orders, publish blog posts, etc. After you login to the admin dashboard for the first time, there is an optional getting started checklist that guides you through vital store configuration steps.
Step 2: Get a Domain Name
Getting a domain name for the store is optional, but we highly recommend it because it enhances your brand and your customers will remember it easily.
You can access the domain screen from the checklist that we mentioned above or by going to the left sidebar and clicking on online store and then domains. Once on the domain screen, click on the buy new domain blue button in the top right corner (or if you already have a domain, you can transfer it to Shopify).
A white box will pop up and you will need to type in the domain name that you want and then click on the check availability blue button. We recommend buying a .com extension, which costs $13 a year. Once completed, the URL of the store will now match the domain name you bought.
Step 3: Selecting Your Shopify Theme
The visual appeared of your Shopify store is controlled by the theme you choose. The default theme that is installed on your store is the Debut theme. You can change to a different theme whenever you want. Shopify offers a handful of free themes and dozens of premium themes that you can purchase.
You can change your theme by going to your Shopify dashboard and clicking on online store and then themes. You can customize the existing theme by clicking on the blue customize theme button or go to the theme store by clicking the visit theme store in the top right corner of the page.
Go ahead and click on visit theme store.
On the next screen, you can search for free and premium Shopify themes. You can sort by free, premium, most popular, and industry type.
When you have found a theme that you like, click on it. On the next screen, select the style that you want and then click on the black button that says start with this theme. Shopify then asks you to enter your store URL. The last screen will ask if you want to make it the default theme.
For this tutorial, we are going to choose the free Simple theme with a light style. The Simple theme is a very basis theme, but we feel that it is a good starting point as you do not have to change anything to get started.
If you need to change something, you can customize it anyway that you want using HTML and CSS. In addition, you can download the theme files and work on them offline.
Once you have selected your Shopify theme, you are now ready to configure shipping and tax rates.
Step 4: Set Up Shipping and Tax Rates
First, we will set up shipping rates. Once on the Shopify dashboard, go ahead and click on settings on the bottom of the left sidebar. You then need to click on shipping.
Shopify has the shipping zones already created for you, but we will update them. Under zones and rates, click on edit under domestic shipping.
On the next screen, we are going to add USPS weight based shipping rates for this tutorial. You can add price based rates or use the default calculated rates that Shopify has already set up for you.
Go ahead and click on add rate that is located under the weight based shipping rates. On the next screen, we are going to name it standard shipping, and check the free shipping box. If you do not want to offer free shipping, you can adjust the shipping fees as you wish. After you are done adding a shipping rate, go ahead and click on the blue done button on the bottom. This will take you back to the shipping screen where you can add more shipping rates. You can also add international shipping rates using the same process. After you are done with shipping, click on the blue save button on the top right corner of the screen.
To configure taxes, click on taxes on the left sidebar.
We do not charge any sales tax so we do not need to touch this section at all. But for the ones that need to charge sales tax, you have the option to have the tax fees included in the price. You can also choose to charge taxes on shipping rates as well.
If you need to charge sales tax for specific states or countries, scroll to the bottom of the page.
Go ahead and click on United States.
On the next screen, you can add the state that you need to charge tax in. Shopify will automatically add the percentage rates for you. After you are done, make sure to save your changes.
You are now ready to add your first product to your store.
Step 5: Adding Your First Product to Shopify Store
From your Shopify dashboard, go to your left sidebar and click on collections to add a product category first. For this tutorial, we are going to add a category for video games.
After you add a category, go to products. On the next screen, go ahead and click on the blue add product button that is on the top right corner of the page.
We are going to add a PlayStation 4 500 GB Console Uncharted 4 Bundle as our first products. After you add the product name, fill in the product description, add product images, set a price, and choose whether or not you want to track inventory.
After that, check the box for this product requires shipping, and add the product weight. On the bottom of the page, you can edit the search engine listing for the product. If you type in the product name and description correctly in the beginning, you may not need to edit this at all.
After you are done, scroll back to the top and direct your attention to the right sidebar. Start by adding the product type and then add the vendor name. Finish off my adding your product to the collection (or category) that you have created earlier, and then add two to three product tags – we are going to tag the product with PS4 and game consoles.
Make sure that you fill out the product page with as much information as possible. Think about the information that you like to see on a product page when shopping online.
After you are done, save the product. You can view the product by clicking on the icon with three dots on the top right of the page, right next to the save button. You can also duplicate the product using the same process.
Here is how the product page will look like on your store:
Step 6: Set Up Credit Card Payments
In order to increase your conversions, you will need to accept multiple payment options such as PayPal and all major credit cards.
To begin the process, go to settings and then click on payments. We recommend using Shopify Payments to avoid transaction fees. Simply click on complete account setup and Shopify will walk you through the process. It takes about two minutes to complete and you will be approved right away.
Alternatively, you can use the same page to enable PayPal, Amazon payments. For instance, if you plan on using Authorize.net, you will need to copy some information from your Authorize.net account dashboard.
Step 7: Add a Return Policy
To generate the sample policies, click on the generate button next to each policy, and Shopify will automatically fill in the policies for you.
After you are done, save your work by clicking on the blue save button.
Step 8: Use App Store for More Features
The Shopify app store is filled with free and premium apps that you can install to add more functionality to your online store. In this step, we are going to show you how to install the Google Shopping app that will add your products to Google Shopping.
From the Shopify dashboard, go to the left sidebar and click on apps. On the next screen, go ahead and click on visit Shopify app store on the top right corner of the screen.
On the next screen, type in Google Shopping in the search box and select it from the drop down menu once it pops up. Go ahead and click on the green get button. On the next screen, go ahead and click on the blue install app on the bottom of the page.
After you install the app, Shopify will walk you through creating a Google Merchant Center and Google AdWords account. Both of these Google accounts are free and need to be linked together in order for the app to work correctly.
After you complete everything, Shopify will automatically submit your products to Google Shopping using the app you just installed. You will need to add some required Google attributes on the app before syncing it to your Google Merchant Center account.
The process is the same for installing any other app.
Step 9: Writing Your First Blog Post
All Shopify plans come with a fully functional blog. Posting frequently to your blog helps improve search engine optimization, which is what you need for organic search engine traffic.
To write your first blog post, go to online store and then click on blog posts. On the next screen, go ahead and click on create blog post on the bottom.
After you are done adding the post title and description, you have a bunch of other things that you can do. You can add a custom post excerpt, change the other name, upload a custom featured image, and edit the search engine snippet on the bottom.
The key here is to add as much relevant information as possible so that Google can crawl your posts, and eventually rank your store higher on search engines.
We recommend publishing multiple blog posts per week to get the best possible results. For instance, you can post product reviews, new product releases, and coupons to your blog.
Step 10: Choose a Shopify Plan and Launch Your Store
After you are done with all of the above steps, it is time to launch your online store by choosing a Shopify plan. Your store will not be live until you choose a Shopify plan.
To complete this step, simply go to your Shopify dashboard and click on the green select a plan button. On the next screen, choose one of the three Shopify plans available.
The last screen is the billing information. Simply enter your billing information (credit card and address) and choose the billing cycle. After you are done, click on confirm changes.
Your store is now active and ready for orders.
Final Verdict on How to Start an Online Store
This ultimate step by step guide on how to start an online store has helped 100,000+ users and if you follow it correctly, it can help you too. Here is an overview of what you need to get started:
- A domain name that suits your business but is easy to remember.
- An online store builder account (we recommend Shopify).
- A payment processing service such as PayPal
That is how you start an online store using Shopify.