Building An eCommerce Website: A Complete Guide


Bart Keating


2019 February 12th


Every day, millions of people purchase things online. In 2021, yearly eCommerce sales are expected to reach nearly 5 billion dollars. And this growing market doesn't seem to stop.

So if you're thinking of starting a new eCommerce business - you definitely should. There's plenty of room for everyone.

But how should you build your online business, so you become the next Amazon and not the next Blockbuster?

It all starts with a solid eCommerce strategy, which is exactly what I'm here to help you develop. By following the structure below, you'll be prepared to deal with all the major hurdles you're likely to encounter while building an eCommerce website:

  • Step 1 - Decide what to sell
  • Step 2 - Source your products
  • Step 3 - Develop a pricing strategy
  • Step 4 - Pick an eCommerce platform
  • Step 5 - Choose an eCommerce web host
  • Step 6 - Install your eCommerce platform
  • Step 7 - Add product and key eCommerce Pages
  • Step 8 - Create a Merchant Payment Account
  • Step 9 - Begin Selling and Promote Your Online Store

1. Decide What to Sell

Chance are, you already know exactly what you're planning to sell.

But if not, well, begin by making sure you know your product.

Without a product to sell, building an eCommerce website is not the best idea. It would become just another webpage full of empty promises and premises. "Products are coming soon, we promise!" rarely ever works.

Here are two techniques you can use to help identify the right merchandise for your business:

Building An eCommerce Website Amazon BestsellersTake a look at the best selling eCommerce items on the internet today. Amazon's Most Wished For list and Ebay's Trending Now page will, at a glance, let you see the most successful eCommerce products on the internet today. Ask yourself if your hobbies or passions lead you to a particular commodity. If you're an expert on a particular industry, you may be able to capitalize on your knowledge to help kickstart your eCommerce site.

Try listing the consumer goods you know most about, and decide if basing a business around one of those appeals to you.

2. Source Your Products

Next, work out how to source or manufacture your goods. There are two paths you can pick here. Either you can resell goods purchased from a discount wholesaler, or you can sell bespoke items you make yourself such as handcrafted furniture.

Whichever method you choose, you'll need to find a distributor to purchase raw materials or ready-to-sell stock from. Check out industrial websites such as WareHouse115 to find wholesalers.

Building An eCommerce Website Warehouse115

Many online stores decide to do dropshipping via AliExpress - a Chinese marketplace, selling everything from car brake systems to engagement rings. With a good supplier, you would receive an order, and a system would automatically order the merchandise from the supplier, who would pack, label and ship it accordingly. One of such systems is AliDropship, but there are plenty of other options, too.

Thoroughly research any company you consider sourcing from before placing orders.

3. Develop a Pricing Strategy

Now you need to design a pricing structure. This right here is the part that matters the most. You can make plenty of sales, but if you don't make any money off them, what's the point?

Start by calculating the total cost of attaining and distributing your products.

Take all of the following into account:

  • Raw material price
  • Price of additional manufacturing supplies
  • Cost of shipping
  • Labor costs for employees
  • eCommerce hosting costs

After adding those figures, do some market research to see what your competitors in the same retail space are charging. Look at how different brands have positioned themselves to justify the prices they charge and estimate where you'll fit in.

Then put your results together to find a competitive price point for your product that will allow you to profit from every sale, and calculate how many you will need per month to pay yourself a reasonable wage.

Finally, ask yourself difficult questions about the numbers you've come up with.

Is the required number of sales realistic?

How much initial outlay will you need and can you afford to lose it if your business doesn't take off? 

4. Pick an eCommerce Platform

Now it's time to focus on the technical aspects of setting up your store, starting with deciding what sort of eCommerce program to use. Major platforms can be divided into two camps.

There are hosted platforms such as Shopify, Weebly, Wix, and BigcommerceIf you aren't particularly tech-savvy, you should use one of these.

Hosted platforms do a large portion of the heavy lifting for you by taking care of things like server maintenance:

  • Shopify is one of the easiest eCommerce platforms to use. Thanks to its intuitive drag-and-drop design, you don't need any design experience to use it to create a functional online store. Shopify plans are available from $29/month, and there are thousands of themes available, making it easy to customize your site. 
  • Weebly is another popular hosted option. Although it won't let you create online store free, its base eCommerce plan is affordable at just $12/month.

Alternatively, you can opt for a self-hosted eCommerce platform like Magento or WooCommerce. These require you to use a third-party web hosting service and to take charge of your own platform installation and site management:

  • Magento is an open source platform, and a good choice to create an online store for free. It's ideal for developers as it prioritizes features and customization over ease-of-use.
  • WooCommerce is the internet's most popular eCommerce platform: nearly 30% of online stores powered by it. A wide range of WooCommerce plugins is available, allowing you to modify nearly every aspect of your store.

Remember, these are just a handful of the eCommerce tools available. For other options, check out our in-depth comparison of eCommerce toolkits. 

5. Choose an eCommerce Web Host

If you intend to use a self-hosted eCommerce platform, you need to find a web service to host your site. Look for all of the following attributes when picking a host:

  • Low page response time: Customers won't complete purchases if they have to wait for product pages to load.
  • Consistent hosting uptime: It's important your site provides a reliable customer experience.
  • Helpful customer support: When (let's be realistic) your eCommerce site experiences a technical failure, it's important to have a knowledgable customer service team to help get you back online.

My personal recommendation is Hostinger which offers affordable hosting and is compatible with WooCommerce and Magento. Security is vital to any eCommerce site, so you can find other good eCommerce hosting providers in my list of the most secure web hosts.

Building An eCommerce Website Hostinger

Whichever host you choose, you must add an SSL certificate to your package to show customers their connection to your site is encrypted.

You'll also need to purchase a domain name for your site.

Think hard about what to go for as the right URL can give your brand a big boost.

6. Install Your eCommerce Platform

If you're using one of the hosted platforms, such as Shopify, just follow the instructions on the website and you're all set for step 7. But if any help is needed, we actually have a tutorial on how to create a Shopify store!

If you chose to use software and your own hosting, log in to your hosting control panel and find the 'Auto-installer scripts' or 'Softaculous Apps installer' button:

Building An eCommerce Website Control Panel

In the pop up that opens, find your platform in the 'E-Commerce' app category and click 'Install'. 

Building An eCommerce Website Install Magento

7. Add Product and Key eCommerce Pages

Now, make your site your own by adding details and branding material. You'll need to add pages covering all of the following:

  • Product info: Add clear attractive photos and informative descriptions of every item you wish to sell.
  • A home page: Keep this up to date with sales and upcoming promotions.
  • An 'About us' page: Even if your brand is 5 minutes old, you should still tell customers about its origins.
  • A 'Contact Us' page: Customers should always have an easy way to get in touch with you.

Those just cover the basics though. You should spend several days creating additional content, experimenting with different plugins and testing new themes to properly personalize your eCommerce site.

And throughout all of this, don't forget that your website has to look good. Attractive pictures of the products are a great start, but if you want your style and personality to really work, you should get a fitting theme. If you need any help, we've covered some great WooCommerce themes you can choose from.

8. Create a Merchant Payment Account

To get paid for your wares, you need to link a merchant account that can process credit card transactions to your site. You can sign up for one with big financial institutions like PayPal or Square.

Generally, you'd benefit from offering your visitors the most possible gateways. The easier it is to do a purchase, the more users will complete it. That's pretty simple.

But of course, doing that may be a little bit expensive, so always consider whether a bigger investment would be worth it.

9. Begin Selling and Promote Your Store

Congratulations! You've put everything in place to open your eCommerce site for business.

Now, promote your site through any means available. Whether it be social media, word of mouth, or even skywriting, it doesn't matter. Everything should be put into consideration!

Building an eCommerce Website - Wrap Up

There are loads of things - both planning and technical - you need to consider when building an online store. But remember, running any digital business is a constant learning experience. Gather and respond to customer feedback to take your eCommerce business to the next level.

And sometimes, the plans you have in mind may simply not work out. And that's fine - life's like that sometimes! To continue to improve, adapt to changes, and dominate your field. Best of luck in your future endeavors!

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