How do I create an online shop? What do I have to pay attention to? 10 years ago I asked myself this. The store I founded in the middle of the last economic crisis and launched in 2010 from my parents’ basement now has a seven-figure turnover. This year we are celebrating 10 years of store anniversary and have more than 50.000 satisfied customers.
If you are currently dealing with the topic of creating an online store, your back may be against the wall. The Corona crisis has drastic consequences for everyone, especially for local retailers. Having your own online store makes you independent and provides an additional source of revenue.
In this article I present 10 points that you should definitely consider when creating an online store.
I report here partly from experiences and observations of other Onlineshops. But many are my own. I would like to contribute with this article to make the start easier for you. So you don’t have to repeat the same mistakes I made. So that you can save the teaching money, and put it into building your online store.
This article is constantly updated since 2012 and supplemented by my latest findings. Look gladly again.
Start an online store today – a good idea?
So you want a Set up an online store. This is (almost) always a good idea.
Although competition has increased in many areas today. In comparison, the situation was more favorable until a few years ago. By that I mean the likelihood was higher that it would become a no-brainer. But even today, there are still plenty of areas, industries and niches where you can do better* than the competition. (* What I mean by "better", I have explained at the end of the article.)
So if you think you can offer the customer more or. to be able to offer something better than already existing online stores do: Let’s go!
From a purely technical point of view it has never been easier to enter the eCommerce business, than today. Nevertheless, there are some aspects that online store operators should consider carefully before setting up a store.
1. The right store software
Finding the right store software is not that easy. There are countless providers for online store solutions. Generally you can distinguish between three online store solutions. The first is the rented Onlineshop as for example with Strato, Jimdo or Lightspeed (ehem. SEOshop) [→ The links all lead to our experience reports with the corresponding systems]. The second The second solution is a self-hosted open source solution like Magento, Oxid, Shopware or XTC. The third Variant is a proprietary development. Which solution is the right one for you, depends on many factors and is often very individual.
2. The right merchandise management
What is often not considered by many from the outset is the right choice of merchandise management system. While at the beginning there are usually still few sales and transactions, accounting, inventory management and CRM are often still very easily manageable. But with increasing sales, the effort behind the store scenes also becomes greater. Often, many online stores fail to have a proper inventory management and bookkeeping. That’s why you should make sure to work with a good software for merchandise management right from the start. Above all, it is important to have a functioning interface to the online store, in order to avoid double-entry bookkeeping.
3. Long-term planning of the online store structure
Also of great importance is the structure of the online shop. You should plan this very early in the startup process. Even if you don’t have so many products and categories in the beginning, you should already create the navigation structure with foresight. It should be logical and short. There are too many online stores where you can’t see any structure in the navigation. This is often due to the fact that the online stores have grown and simply added more and more new categories. Often there are duplicate categories and that confuses the customers. Other online stores have one sublevel after another and the customer has to click through to the product forever. So you really should have the ‘big picture’ in mind from the beginning, even if you start with only a few products at first.
4. SEO basics are mandatory
One of the most important points, which is unfortunately too often neglected by online store founders, is SEO. You don’t have to be an SEO professional to create an online store. But you should at least have dealt with the basics beforehand. SEO is so extremely important because, especially in the early stages of an online store, there is usually no budget for advertising in z.B. Google Ads is there. So most of the traffic comes through the search engines. But in order for the online store to be successful at all on Google& Co. can be found, it needs a decent SEO base. But this is totally neglected by a lot of online store owners. You can of course also rely on SEO agencies, but here too the basics are important. Unfortunately, there are far too many SEO agencies that are totally overpriced or simply have no clue and can even harm the customer. Especially here it is important to know at least the basics. Then you can judge their work and competence to some extent and will not be ripped off. Also, SEO basics already play an important role in the structure of the online store, or when writing product descriptions and many more. SEO is THE number 1 tool for every store owner to get customers into the store.
[You can read more about link building, an important aspect of SEO, in the article "Link building for online stores – traffic and SEO in one go"]
Start now with your own store
5. Speed in shipping is the key
This is a point that always amazes me, especially with the large mail order companies. I have just recently placed an order with a large and well-known German mail order company. It took me 6 days to get my order! Then there was also only half of my ordered articles in the package and in addition a note. The note said that the other half would be delivered in 4 weeks, but that I should pay the bill within 14 days. You can’t do that nowadays! A package should arrive at the customer after a maximum of 1 to 2 days. I have often heard from merchants that this is ‘not so easy’. But then I ask myself why Amazon almost always manages to deliver the parcels to me the next day. Not only that! Amazon already offers a same-day delivery option in some cities. So ordered in the morning, delivered in the evening. Customers expect fast shipping and therefore this is mandatory in eCommerce.
6. Payment methods for online stores
Also an important point are the payment methods offered in the online store. Every online store has very different target groups and for each target group a certain payment method is required. In general, there are the standard payment methods that are very popular with online merchants, such as prepayment or PayPal. However, sales potential is often lost due to a lack of payment methods. You therefore need to analyze your target group carefully to determine which payment methods are needed. For example, if you start an online store with a target group from the middle to upper class with a high income, I would definitely not do without credit card payments. If your online store is aimed at a target group with a rather low income, you can probably do without credit cards. The age structure of the target group also plays a big role in the preferences of the payment method. Therefore, a thorough analysis of the target group is a very important prerequisite here.
[More about payment methods incl. you can read about their advantages and disadvantages in the article "The 6 most important payment methods for online stores"]
7. Learn HTML& CSS Basics
This point is one of those things. In general, you don’t need to know HTML and CSS to set up and run an online store these days. Many providers of store solutions advertise loudly that such knowledge is not necessary for their store system. Also web design agencies often claim that they set up the store turnkey and you don’t have to do anything else yourself. This may be true. But I have made the experience that it is helpful to acquire at least basic knowledge. Often you only want to change some small things in the store design, for example. But without help from the outside you will be lost very fast. However, getting a programming service provider to help with every little thing is not only annoying and time-consuming, but also expensive. That’s why I think it can’t hurt to learn a little bit about HTML and CSS. The possibilities are really manifold and you can learn the most important things via tutorials on the internet. You don’t have to become a "professional hacker". But you should at least know the basics. Also, to have a say when the next bill comes from the programmer.
8. The customer is king
This is a topic that many online store owners forget: But today, especially in online retail, the customer expects a certain level of customer service. Amazon shows the way. Do it. Many online store operators (or retailers in Germany in general) forget that their customers can also shop elsewhere at any time. The next store is only a click away However, to keep your customers and get returning customers, you have to offer them something that is not available from the competition. This can be products, prices or exceptional customer service. And it’s not even that hard: an easily accessible& Simple returns process. A phone number that is openly communicated and also used (in fact, many online stores have their number only in the imprint and do not take advantage of this added value for the customer). Goodwill is also an important topic. Very often I have taken back items after the right of withdrawal has expired and I have never regretted it. On the contrary, because just these customers later show themselves as very loyal. They appreciate it when the online store goes beyond its legal obligations to meet the needs of customers.
9. Make product images yourself
In general, many manufacturers and suppliers offer product images for download, which you as a store operator may then use online. This is often a very easy way to get product images. However, you have to keep in mind that other online stores use the same images as well. For example, when a customer does a product search on Google Shopping, dozens of the same images are displayed. Therefore, it makes sense to use self-created images to stand out from the crowd. you can create product pictures yourself relatively easily and inexpensively. The basic equipment is quickly procured. It only takes time and a bit of fiddling, but it’s worth it. I will write a tutorial on this topic and show how easy it is to make good product images yourself.
10. The right legal form for online shops
The last point is of course the choice of the right legal form. A frequently used model is the sole trader, the GmbH or unfortunately also the Ltd. Especially the English Ltd is not advisable, because in eCommerce it is very much about trust. This is rarely the case with a Ltd. A new trend is also the Mini GmbH, because it is relatively simple, cheap and quick to set up. And after a while can be converted into a limited company. The choice of legal form is also related to what you intend to do with your store in the long term. If you build the online store with the goal of an exit and want to sell it at some point, the holding structure can be an interesting option. Talk best with a tax consultant who knows about eCommerce. Also to this point a detailed article is in planning.
*) On the subject of "doing it better than the others
At the beginning I mentioned that it still makes sense to invest your own power and energy (and possibly. It’s not a good idea to invest your own money in the development of an online store if you do it better than the competition.
By this I mean that it doesn’t matter WHAT exactly you do better.
The main thing is that you do SOMETHING better.
- Offer your customers better / more sophisticated products. Put yourself in your target group’s shoes: What could your customers find annoying about the competitor’s product?? Do it better!
- Or you take the Customer service before:
- Maybe you found out that it’s not common in the industry you’re targeting to offer free shipping. Then do it differently and offer free delivery!
- Your competitors run the telephone customer hotline through a call center? With you the Customer service on the phone by the boss himself!
- Know your products better than the competition: Convince in your store through customer oriented product descriptions. List advantages and disadvantages of the individual products.
- Set your assortment more thoughtfully together than the other stores. Choose very carefully if and what you include in the store. Sometimes less is more, rather than overwhelming customers with choice.
- Inspire your store visitors with a better Usability and clarity. The keywords here are: User Experience and Usability.
- Offer this best mobile shopping experience. Many stores load slowly and are simply no fun on the smartphone.
- Be Better in SEO! Write Advice texts With real added value, not just SEO blah blah blah.
- Make cunning marketing: Keep your eyes open for advertising channels where your competitors are not active. Cooperate for example with bloggers, if the others do not do it.
- Be more present in the social networks, approach customers, be open and interactive.
You see: Most of the time you can find a starting point in every industry, where you can deliver a better performance for your own online store than the competition.
You just have to look closely!
I hope I could give you a first overview of points most important for me to start a business in eCommerce. They were all points that, in my experience, you should consider carefully before creating an online store. I will write a detailed article on each one over the next few weeks. If you have any comments or testimonials, I’d love to hear from you in the comments. I would also be interested to know what other points you find very important. Maybe I didn’t even think about it or even forgot something. In any case, I would be very happy about a comment.