Selling products, services, or digital content online is one of the most exciting business ventures you can embark on. Whether you’re exploring the idea of selling online, or you’ve made the decision to get started, our guide to how to sell online will empower you with the tools you need to answer those questions and succeed at building, launching, and marketing your own ecommerce business.
Step one: Decide what to sell online
Before you build anything, your decision to sell online should start with a single question:
What do you want to sell?
If you know you want to try ecommerce, but you’re not sure what to sell, it helps to consider the following:
What do you enjoy doing?
What do you have experience in?
Which industries are currently growing?
What you decide to sell might intersect with a few of those categories, or only apply to one of them. Either way, the types of things you can sell online are nearly infinite: physical products you hand-make or invent, time-based services like classes or consultations, or even digital content like videos or ebooks.
Step two: Brand your online business
Once you’ve landed on what you want to sell online, it’s time to identify and develop your brand identity. Many elements go into establishing your brand, and they all come together to ultimately answer the question:
How do you want your customers to feel?
A few key branding elements to consider include:
Name your business
The name for your business reflects a lot about your business’s identity: what you sell, your voice and tone, and your vision, mission, and values. While you’re brainstorming a business name, a good place to start is to search for website domains similar to your name ideas. That helps you discover which names already have unique businesses attached to them, and which names are available for you to choose from.
Set up a business email address
A small but meaningful detail of building cohesive branding is to create an email address that’s exclusively used for your business. Your business email address should end in your business’s unique domain name. That creates a consistent, more trustworthy experience for your audience whenever they receive emails from you.
Create a logo for your business
Your brand’s visual identity includes everything from the photos on your website to your product photos to your aesthetic on social media. You can start getting a feel for the visual identity you want to establish by creating a logo for your business. A custom logo can make a big first impression on your audience. It’s a simple way to start building a cohesive visual identity across your online presence, including your online store and social media profiles.
Step three: Design a website for your online store
Building a website to house your online store is a core step toward establishing a professional, consistent brand experience for your customer base.
Consider these key components while designing a website for your online business:
Buy a website domain
If you’ve already started browsing domain names while deciding on the name of your business, you’ve kicked off the first step to building a website. Your domain name will help customers find your website and recognize your business.
Choose a design template
Website templates make it easy to build a professional, branded website with no development or design experience. Squarespace offers website templates that are designed specifically for launching an online store. Those templates give you the power to customize the functionality you need for your online store to succeed, including the ability to list and sort an unlimited number of products and customize your product details page (PDP) layouts.
Customize your website navigation
The navigational flow of your website affects how easily customers can find, learn about, and purchase your products. Organizing your website in an intuitive way starts with understanding the most important elements to pay attention to and optimize. These include: an organized product menu, a functional search bar, and an effective checkout experience.
Step four: Add content to your online store
The way you display products in your online store directly impacts how potential customers feel about your brand. Two key areas to focus on are your product descriptions and product photography. Both are critical if you sell physical or digital products, but if you sell services, it’s just as important to use imagery and text to accurately represent your offerings.
Product descriptions for your online store
With thoughtfully crafted product descriptions, you’ll be more likely to make sales, and less likely to field too many customer questions about your product specifications.
When writing each of your product descriptions, keep three goals in mind:
Persuade customers to buy your product by showing why it stands out from competitors and what solutions it provides.
Help customers understand if your product has the specifications they need.
Act as a surface for search engine optimization so customers can find your product.
Product photography for your online store
Especially if you’re selling physical products, even the best product description will benefit from strong supporting product photography — your customers need to see your products in their best light.
Taking good product photos is something anyone can do — no photography degree required. You can even take quality product photos with nothing but your smartphone, natural lighting, and a clean backdrop. When you take product photos, remember to capture the types of angles and contexts that will best highlight your product for its target audience.
Step five: Manage your online store
Decide how to manage your inventory
An effective ecommerce inventory management strategy helps you maintain stock levels in line with the demand for your products, while minimizing your cost of stocking inventory. All of that ultimately benefits your bottom line.
Depending on what types of products you sell, your first step to inventory management is to decide whether you’ll manage inventory yourself or outsource to third-party suppliers (also known as dropshipping). Both options come with their own pros and cons around space, time, and cost management.
Set up shipping
Getting your products to your customers in a safe and timely way is crucial for any ecommerce business. To accomplish that, there are many factors to consider, including optimizing shipping costs, branded packaging, and return policies.
As you decide how you’ll package and ship your products, keep in mind these top three priorities:
Be cost effective.
Streamline your operations.
Create a positive experience for your customers.
Step six: Launch and market your online store
Once you’ve built your online store, it’s time to create a marketing strategy that incorporates both unpaid and paid advertising to get your online store in front of your target audience.
Many of the ways to consider marketing your online store fall under the category of unpaid advertising, which simply means that you don’t need to invest money into these marketing tactics. Instead, unpaid advertising requires an investment of your time, energy, and ingenuity.
Unpaid advertising tactics include:
Search engine optimization (SEO), which involves incorporating keywords into your website and online store to make them more visible in search engine results shown to your target audience.
Social media, which involves building community and promotional content around your brand on the social media platforms where your customers are most likely to find you.
Blogging, which involves consistently running a blog on your website that covers topics relevant to your industry or the products you sell.
If you have the budget for it, paid advertising can be an efficient way to increase brand awareness around your products and reach your target audience. Depending on which types of paid ads you decide on, they use algorithms and keywords to reach the people most likely to want your products.
Paid advertising tactics include:
Social media ads, which allow potential customers scrolling through their social feeds to discover and purchase your products directly from their feeds.
Pay-per-click (PPC) ads, which advertise your online store to potential customers directly on search results pages, and don’t cost you anything until people click on the ads.