Thinking about starting an e-commerce business? Whether you have an idea of what you’ll sell or not, there are some clear steps you can take to begin the process. The global e-commerce growth rate for 2023 is 10.4%, and global e-commerce sales have reached $6.3 trillion. Starting an e-commerce business attracts many entrepreneurs because the startup costs can be lower than opening a brick-and-mortar store, thanks to options like dropshipping. If you want to know how to start an e-commerce business, here are eight key steps to follow to get started. 1. Choose A Product To Sell First, you need to choose a product or category of products to sell. You can sell just about anything online these days, so you’ll need to narrow down your options. Start by brainstorming a list of products that would be great to sell direct-to-customer. Some of the most popular items to sell in an e-commerce store include: Apparel and accessories Baby items Jewelry and accessories Kitchen items Home decor Tech and gadgets Tech accessories Don’t forget to research product options and pricing to determine where you’ll get your items from or what materials you need if you choose to make it. You can look into dropshipping, wholesaling, or partnering with a private manufacturer. Also, if you’re selling clothing, attending local trade shows can help you find vendors to source products from. Visit this post for more e-commerce business ideas. 2. Evaluate Your Market Once you have a product idea that you’d like to sell, it’s important to validate your product idea by confirming whether people are actually interested in buying it. Look for e-commerce sales reports and stats from previous years for your specific product category. You can also try sharing a poll on social media or creating a survey to see what people are interested in buying. Or check Google Trends for specific terms to see how often people are searching for certain products. If there doesn’t seem to be enough demand for your product, this could be a potential red flag. However, it’s crucial that you also narrow down your audience and target market. Your e-commerce store may not appeal to everyone, and that’s okay. Maybe you love animals and decide to create a pet accessories store. You can narrow down your niche even further by choosing only products that help dogs with anxiety, arthritis, or other medical challenges. 3. Research The Competition The next key step is to identify and research the competition. You’ll want to know who’s running e-commerce stores that sell products similar to yours. Choose about three to five top competitors and perform a competitive analysis. A competitive analysis helps you determine advantages and barriers in the market based on what others are doing. How it works is you analyze each competitor to pinpoint their strengths and weaknesses. Do you notice a gap in the market that the other company is not serving? Have they made mistakes in the past that you want to avoid? Also, looking at a competitor’s marketing strategies and pricing can be extremely helpful. You don’t have to copy these aspects exactly, but it can help you stir up your own creative ideas. Plus, you’ll be able to ensure customers are getting a competitive price. Here are some additional factors to consider during your competitive analysis of other companies: Who are their target customers? What makes the company different or unique? How are key product features and benefits expressed? What are other people saying about them? (i.e., check their reviews and ratings) What is the company’s shipping process like? 4. Develop A Business Plan Once you know what products you’ll be selling and have performed necessary market research, you’ll want to start writing a business plan. A business plan is vital for laying out how your business will operate including your plans for marketing products and earning a profit. Even if you’re new to e-commerce, you don’t want to just make things up as you go. A solid business plan can guide you through each stage of your business and help you avoid costly errors. Start by determining a name and mission for your e-commerce business. Write an executive summary, which is just a few sentences explaining: what your business is, what products you’ll sell, and what your overall mission will be. Having a detailed and effective mission statement can even help you secure funding for your e-commerce business should you need it now or in the future. Your business plan should also include a company description and explain how you’ll operate and sell your products online. Include details from your market analysis, as well as how you’ll source the products for your store. Other features to include in your business plan are: The legal structure of your business Description of your products and how they benefit your target customer Your marketing and sales plans Financial projections When you’re starting an e-commerce business, it can seem difficult to come up with financial transactions. However, this can be crucial in helping you identify startup and ongoing costs, as well as setting some realistic sales goals. 5. Create Your Branding Branding is one step you don’t want to overlook or speed past when starting an e-commerce store. Think about the e-commerce businesses you interact with and what you like about those brands. Now, consider how factors like the logo, color scheme, and even website fonts encourage customers to engage with the brand. Brainstorm some logos you like or consult with a marketing or branding expert to come up with a color scheme, fonts, and taglines for your unique brand. Don’t forget about social media either. You can start social media pages before you even launch your e-commerce website. Once you have your basic branding elements in place, choose a few platforms that you think your target customer would be using and create your page. You can publish posts and videos about your upcoming store or even tease some of the products you’ll be selling. Also, realize that you don’t have to make social media content all about products and selling. Many people like to follow pages for information or entertainment. You can still work these themes into your goal of getting more customers for social media. For example, one online clothing store tends to do well with social media because they have really creative content. Some of their Instagram Reel videos show the model styling one of the outfits that can be found on the site to give viewers an idea of how it's worn. Other Reels are just fun skits and short clips showing different people dressed in various clothing options sold on the site. This content is explicitly telling people to visit the website and buy, but it showcases the product and helps people become more comfortable with the brand overall. 6. Set Up Your Store Now, it’s finally time to start actually building the store online. There are many e-commerce platforms or content management systems you can choose from, including options like Shopify, WordPress, Wix, Big Commerce, and Squarespace. At this stage, if you haven’t already, you’ll also need to purchase a domain name for your e-commerce website. Some e-commerce platforms help you choose and purchase a domain name during the setup process. Here are some additional steps you’ll need to take to set up your store: Choose a theme/design for your store - This is where your branding will come in handy. You can add your professionally-designed logo to your store website. Then, choose a design theme that you can customize to match your brand. Many sites have templates you can use, with user-friendly drag-and-drop features. If you’re looking to make a lot of custom changes, you may want to hire a graphic designer to design your e-commerce site. Create product listings and pages - This step is easy, but may be tedious, depending on how many products you want to list as you get started. Be sure to include high-quality images for each product and write a detailed description. Include details like the color, size options, and other important information to help shoppers understand what they’re buying. Set up a payment gateway - You can’t start an e-commerce store without a payment gateway to help customers make secure payments online. There are several options for your store’s payment gateway, so be sure to compare pricing, fees, and overall functionality. For example, if your store integrates well with PayPal or Stripe, it might make more sense to use one of these options. The goal is to make the shoppers purchasing experience go smoothly, while keeping the process secure for them. Implement search engine optimization - Search engine optimization (SEO) is something you want to consider utilizing to help boost search traffic to your store. If your e-commerce platform has certain SEO tools, be sure to utilize them. Add specific keywords and tags to your website pages, as well as product listings, to help improve your search traffic and conversions. Determine your shipping strategy - Decide how you’ll fulfill orders and if you’ll ship internationally. If you’re dropshipping, the shipping process will be significantly simplified. But if you aren’t, you’ll need to plan for shipping and packaging supplies and choose the most efficient method possible. 7. Launch Your Business All of these steps have led us up to one huge moment: launching your e-commerce business! Test your store to make sure everything functions as expected, which you can do by placing some sample orders and see how they do. Also, be sure to check your website on a mobile phone and different devices to ensure that your site delivers a quality experience on each one. Announce your e-commerce store launch on social media and consider even running a marketing campaign. You can publish a press release and offer different deals and offers during the week or build an email list and send limited-time coupons to boost sales. 8. Market And Drive Traffic To Your Store Once your launch is over, it’s time to continue implementing different marketing strategies to grow your business and drive traffic to your store. There are many ways to market your products. Start building your social media following and encourage people to subscribe to your email list. You can start sharing behind-the-scenes updates, promotions, and more with your email list. If your budget allows, you can look into paid advertising options, like pay-per-click ads and Facebook ads. Other marketing strategies include: Maximize email campaigns - Set up a series of welcome emails to show customers the benefit of subscribing to your emails. Also, send out regular newsletters to keep people engaged with your business, as well as thank-you emails. Another strategy is to capture each person’s birthday when signing up, so you can send them a special birthday email and store coupons during their birthday month. Target repeat customers - Offer rewards and loyalty programs for repeat shoppers Add a blog - Depending on what you’re selling, publishing blog content to share tips, advice, and tutorials can help build trust with your audience and encourage them to buy your products. Invest in influencers - Consider partnering with some influencers in your niche to share and promote your products. Pitch your store to certain outlets - You don’t have to hire a PR professional to generate press for your e-commerce store. Consider using sites like HARO or Qwoted to connect with publishers looking to feature certain tips and brands online. You can market yourself as an expert and share your knowledge in exchange for a link back to your store as some free promotion. Starting an e-commerce store is no simple task, but it can end up being one of the best business moves you make. E-commerce is here to stay and starting an online store can teach you so much about marketing, sales, and customer service. These are invaluable skills that you can take anywhere you go as you continue on your entrepreneurial journey. Looking for financing to grow your e-commerce business? Learn more about e-commerce financing options.