How To Set Up Your First Online Shop

Nowadays physically (or should that be virtually?) setting up an online shop really couldn’t be easier. But getting it to work and actually making sales from it isn’t. To be honest, it’s probably harder than with a bricks and mortar shop. If you’re new to the world of online selling then here are a few tips which might help set you off on the right foot:

Before you start, know what the purpose of your online shop is.

If you don’t really know why you’re doing it …. if it’s only because it seems the ‘thing to do’ …. it may be best not to bother. For a small business, it’s much easier to compete in the offline world than the online world.

If it’s just to generate publicity there are easier ways of doing that, such as blogging.

If it’s to sell products and services online, congratulations! (In which case you need to see your online shop as a medium-long term commitment and be willing to put the time and money into it.)

Be prepared. Build the foundations. Before you set up your online shop your business should already have a reasonably successful online presence. This will make it much easier to make your shop work and to start making sales from it from day one.

You should already have website that attracts decent traffic, have a blog, and have some presence on social media. If you don’t work on those aspects first.

Have a strong USP. In a world with millions of websites selling almost every product you need to give your shop a USP or unique selling proposition – in simple terms something that makes it different to all the other online shops selling similar products. If you don’t, it will be very difficult to get your shop known amidst the many other more established and bigger online shops.

For example, let’s say you sell tyres. There are already lots of online stores selling tyres. So your USP could be selling tyres for 4×4 vehicles. Let’s say you sell handmade chocolates. There are already lots of online stores selling handmade chocolates. So your USP could be selling handmade Yorkshire chocolates (or wherever) selling Yorkshire ingredients.

In a world where lots of online sellers use the fact that they are cheap as a USP, cheap is no longer a very powerful USP.

Choose a good name for your shop. A good name still ranks highly as a reason why potential customers click on an online shop. Your shop name doesn’t have to be the same as your business name and if you can think of something better it may be best if it isn’t.

It should: Be as short as possible, be eye-catching and, ideally, give some indication of what you are selling.

Remember to check out the availability of your name as a domain name at an early stage – a lot of the most obvious domain names are already taken.

A few essentials you need to know about setting up your online shop. It’s impossible to cover everything in a short article, but here are a few musts:

Your shop should be much more than a shop – some interesting and useful information around your product area will help optimise your site and make it more attractive to visitors. Offer visitors news, reviews and opinion. Think of it as a website that just happens to sell things, rather than just a shop.

Your design must be eye-catching and contemporary – it’s OK to use pre-designed templates from WordPress or an online shop platform such as Shopify but make sure they look professional.

Your website should be simple to use – ideally with as few clicks as possible from landing to ordering. Don’t make your visitors search for the product they need and then have to jump through hoops to buy it – mistakes made even by big company shops.

Your website must be mobile-friendly – if most online purchases aren’t already being made from a phone or tablet they soon will be.

How will you market your shop. Having a site that works well and has good content will help it get found in online searches to some extent but you shouldn’t rely on this as a method of making sales. So, it’s important to have a marketing campaign planned from the outset.

Here are a few marketing methods you can use:

Link your shop from your own website and blog. This can be done by using obvious banner ads. and more subtle links in your website or blog content.

Promote your shop to your existing customer database, either using online or offline methods.

Promote your shop using whatever social media you use. This is best done subtley, by posting recommendations or links to useful information rather than posting product ads. as such.

Promote your blog by using pay per click advertising on search engines. This needs a degree of skill though, so it makes sense to research and plan your campaign before you even set up your shop.

Be aware: There is a lot of competition for popular search terms – for example ‘tyres’ – and so they are expensive to buy. This is another reason for having a strong USP.

Online marketing, publicity and PR. Send relevant news stories to new sites and ask review sites and influential bloggers in your subject area to cover or even endorse your site.

Offline marketing, publicity and PR. Is as an effective, if not a more effective, way of generating traffic for online shops as it is for offline businesses. Set up a PR campaign with relevant media. Don’t entirely rule out advertising your shop using conventional media advertising either – it can be effective in some circumstances.

Mark Hempshell is a copywriting consultant and content marketer. You can contact him with questions and queries here: Mark Hempshell