How to Set Up Shop on the Web

Before starting your online store, make sure your checklist includes these important strategies.
create online store
Small business owners need to be smart with the amount of time spent marketing products online. (Marharyta Pavliuk/Shutterstock)

So you are ready to launch your own online store. Good decision.

In 2018, the web will account for 11% of total retail sales, up from 8% in 2013, according to a new Forrester Research e­-retail forecast, and reported by

Now you are just looking for some advice to get you started. Meet Jess Hutton, a content strategist with experience developing e-­commerce websites for small businesses, and Uri Foox, founder and president of Zoey, an e­-commerce platform for high-­growth brands.

These two experts agreed to outline the best practices for building, marketing and maintaining an online store.

Carefully vet vendors

“If you’ve never run an online company, look into (e­-commerce) vendors who are strong in strategy and long-­term campaigns, and who are varied enough to offer you a lot of options,” Hutton suggested.

No matter which type of vendor you elect to work with, make sure you vet them properly.

Foox says business owners should start by creating and sharing with vendors a request for proposal (RFP).

“This document does not need to be exhausting, but should still outline facts about your organization, the challenges you are facing today, what you hope to accomplish from this investment, and a list of must-have requirements,” he said.

Then, take the time to interview vendors, contact their references and set up a test contract before committing to a long­-term partnership.

“It’s better to find out sooner that their services aren’t right for you than to be locked into a two-­year contract that isn’t getting the right work done,” Hutton said.

Build a three-­pronged business plan

To help an e­-commerce site reach its goals, Foox says business owners should conduct research into three key areas: competition/market, target audience and financials.

Start by analyzing other businesses that sell similar products or services, and plan how to differentiate and improve upon their online offerings.

Then, figure out who your target customer is so you can tailor your e­-commerce website to their needs. If you already have a website connected to Google Analytics, study metrics to learn the demographics of your site’s visitors. You should also research the buying habits of customers coming into your brick-and-mortar store or spending money with your competition.

Finally, zero in on the financials of your online business. Foox recommended creating realistic projections that illustrate expected growth and where the growth is coming from.

Get social (and smart)

Business owners don’t have endless hours to spend promoting their online store on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media, so you need to be smart and strategic with your social media marketing.

Foox said that the type of business you own should determine your social media strategy.

“Some companies, such as B2B (business-­to-­business) dental products, don’t need to spend as much time on social media because dentists find out about dental equipment through other outlets,” Foox said.

However, he continued, “businesses like B2C (business­-to­-customer) fashion brands, for example, might invest a large amount of time on social media because that’s where your customers go to research and talk about fashion.”

As a minimum, set up profiles for your e-­commerce site on all major social platforms and be consistent with your branding.

“In this day and age, not having a social media presence can throw up a red flag to would-­be customers,” Foox says.

Also, spend a couple hours a week testing various social platforms to see which are most responsive to your products, and invest your resources there.

If you can afford it, it’s worth hiring a dedicated social media manager to grow your business.

Develop essential content

There are a few basic pieces of content every e-­commerce site should have: FAQs, About Us, and product photos and descriptions.

● FAQs (frequently asked questions) provide an easy way for customers to learn about shipping times, return policies, special services and how your products make a customer’s life better.

● The About Us page tells customers more about your company’s background and mission.

● Product photos and descriptions are arguably the most important piece to focus on.

“People want to see clean, well­-lit professional photography of the product and lifestyle imagery of the product in use,” Hutton said.

Compelling product descriptions not only act as a virtual salesperson for your products, they also help your site rank in search engines, Foox said.

Once you’ve got a handle on this content, enhance your e-­commerce website with promotional banners and an informative blog.

Be creative with partnerships and promotion

There’s no cookie-­cutter formula to ensure success for an e­-commerce website. Our e­-commerce experts recommend being creative with every aspect of your online business and taking experimental approaches to sales and marketing. Here are a few expert suggestions:

● Build relationships with businesses that offer complementary products, Hutton says. For example, if you offer graphic design services, a partnership with a printer could be beneficial to both businesses and the customer. You could offer customers who work with both businesses a coupon or build cross-­promotions that connect each business to the other’s customer base.

● Gather customers’ email addresses. “Once you have a shopper’s email address, you can create an email marketing campaign to send product news, discounts and other promotions to inspire a first­-time or repeat purchase,” said Foox.

● Offer limited-­time discounts and giveaways. These are proven ways to woo a site visitor who has yet to make a purchase. Foox suggested setting up a referral program that allows current customers to share your e-commerce site with new shoppers in exchange for a discount or freebie.

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