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How to start an eCommerce business

Editorial Team

6 min read
Man fulfilling online orders

Even before the pandemic, brick-and-mortar retailers were struggling to compete with eCommerce stores, thanks to the speed, convenience, and prices that online shopping offers. Once lockdown restrictions went into effect, however, the gap only widened; online merchants were able to continue selling even as physical stores temporarily closed.

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If you’ve ever considered starting an online store, now may be a good time to begin. When set up correctly, you’ll be able to sell products around the clock, without having to worry about rent, capacity restrictions, or any of the other concerns that occupy the thoughts of so many brick-and-mortar merchants.

Below are six actionable tips for starting an online store. Following these steps can help you save time and get up and running smoothly.

1. Do some pre-business planning

Starting an online store involves a lot more than simply setting up a website and adding a “buy” button. Whether physical or virtual, all businesses require extensive planning to succeed. To get your venture off the ground, you’ll need to:

  • Decide on a niche or product(s) in which to specialize. Although many entrepreneurs are guided by profit potential, there’s no harm in choosing a niche that inspires you.

  • Determine if there’s a ready market for what you plan to sell. All businesses exist to solve problems. Knowing how to build an online store won’t matter if no one is willing to buy whatever solutions you’re selling.

This is also a good time to choose a brand identity for your budding business. Over time, you’ll work out the finer details, but it helps to have a top-level overview of why your business exists and what values it represents.

2. Make your business legal

Registering an online store may involve less paperwork than your brick-and-mortar counterparts. However, even if all your sales are digital, you still need to make your business a legitimate entity. This requires:

  • Creating a legal structure for your business, with sole proprietorships, partnerships, limited liability companies, and c-corporations being some of the most common. For a detailed explanation of the relative pros and cons of each corporate structure, be sure to read our longer article on registering your small business
  • Applying for an employer identification number (EIN) with the IRS. This federal tax ID is basically a Social Security number for your business
  • Acquiring any relevant permits or licenses for your eCommerce store. Many states, for example, require that online retailers obtain seller’s permits. Depending on your niche, you may also be required to secure industry-specific licenses. Online merchants that sell alcohol, for example, must fill out more paperwork than those that sell electronic gadgets

If you get stuck with any of these steps, we’ve published a companion resource on How to Start a Small Business.

3. Map inventory fulfillment

If you intend on selling physical inventory, you’ll need a plan to secure the requisite supplies so that you can continue fulfilling online orders. This typically involves partnering with a distributor or wholesaler to help with logistics. However, it may be better to form relationships with several partners. Even though many online stores remained open during the pandemic, supply chain disruptions left many vendors depleted of stock.

Although some eCommerce merchants manage orders manually, having an inventory management platform can help automate the process – complete with low-stock alerts, auto fulfillment, and delivery tracking.

4. Build an eCommerce site

The next step in setting up an online store involves designing a virtual storefront through which to sell goods. Some online merchants choose to hire a professional developer to design their eCommerce sites. While this approach allows you to create a truly customized storefront, making future changes can be costly and time-consuming if you aren’t familiar with code. When just starting, it may make more sense to use a ready-made template that works out of the box.

Fortunately, there is no shortage of free and paid themes that are specifically designed for eCommerce sites. Just remember to choose a website theme that supports:

  • Galleries and multimedia so you can display stunning visuals of your inventory
  • Shopping cart integration (although this is fairly standard with most eCommerce themes)

5. Add payments

In the physical world, merchants use point of sale (POS) terminals to process in-person payments. In the online world, payment gateways are the virtual equivalent of these physical POS readers. They’re responsible for securely capturing the payment details that each customer inputs during checkout. The payment gateway then relays these details to your payment processor, which then sends it to the card network for authorization.

At Clover, we support in-person and online payments – backed with PCI-compliant data security, point-to-point encryption (P2PE), and credit card tokenization to help keep you and your customers safer from payment fraud.

Our eCommerce solutions also come with inventory management support and seamless integration with our eCommerce platform partners and other software applications from the Clover App Market. With detailed business analytics, you can run customized reports to help quickly identify important metrics such as best-selling items or busiest days of the week. These business insights can help you make better-informed decisions about potential opportunities and challenges on the horizon.

6. Launch your store

Once your business is legally set up with an SEO-friendly site that supports PCI-compliant payment acceptance, you’re ready to officially open.

Virtual launches don’t typically generate the same type of buzz as their physical counterparts. Yet with enough digital marketing and social media outreach, it’s possible to have customers lined up around the corner (metaphorically speaking) to buy whatever you’re selling. With a customer engagement program, you can send promotions via text, app, or email to help drive those initial sales and turn those customers into repeat buyers.

To learn more about how our PCI-compliant payment solutions can help you quickly and more securely process sales for your eCommerce store, schedule a free consultation today.

This information is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal, financial, or tax advice. Readers should contact their attorneys, financial advisors, or tax professionals to obtain advice with respect to any particular matter.

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