How to start an eCommerce business

Editorial Team

5 min read
Man fulfilling online orders

You may not have a ribbon to cut, but launch day for your eCommerce business is just as momentous an occasion as it is for brick-and-mortar shops. Setting up an online store correctly means 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.

This post dives deep into the essentials for how to start an eCommerce business so that you can hit the ground running on opening day.

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. Consider both profit potential and areas you’re passionate about.
  • 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.
  • 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

Even if all your sales are digital, you still need to make your business a legitimate entity. This requires:

  • Choosing a business name or “doing business as” (DBA) name within your state.
  • Creating a legal structure for your business, which may be a sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company, or c-corporation. For a detailed explanation of each corporate structure, check out 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. 

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 to secure supplies so that you can continue fulfilling 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 to cover your bases in case of supply chain disruptions.

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

When starting an online store it’s crucial to have an attractive and accessible virtual storefront. While you may choose to hire a professional developer to create a customized storefront, making future changes can be costly and time-consuming if you aren’t familiar with code. 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
  • Search engine optimization (SEO) so that your site ranks well for relevant keywords
  • Shopping cart integration (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. When setting up an online store, you’ll use a payment gateway, which securely captures each customer’s payment details during checkout. 

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. Streamline shipping and delivery

The great thing about eCommerce is that you can reach customers all over the country, or even the world. But that also means that you need a rock-solid shipping policy

Reliability isn’t just about choosing carriers, it’s also about clear communication and easy, automated tracking. That means that you’ll want a well-documented shipping policy that covers expected delivery times, shipping costs and methods, payment and tracking information, shipping restrictions, and international rates, if applicable. Returns should also be made easy for your customers, so that they can make purchases worry-free.

7. Set the tone for customer loyalty

Good customer service and easy communication are the keys to creating long-term loyal customers. When setting up an online store, provide a detailed FAQ section and offer multiple access channels for customer inquiries, including email, chat, and phone. While you’re at it, be sure to set customer expectations: How long can they expect to wait before receiving a response? 

Other ways to generate customer loyalty from the get go include creating a loyalty program and offering a subscription service. Loyalty programs can help you cultivate deeper customer relationships. And subscriptions can offer a sure path to both customer loyalty and revenue stability.

8. Launch your online 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. While virtual launches may not generate the same type of buzz as their physical counterparts, digital marketing and social media outreach can have your customers waiting in anticipation. 

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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