Did you know that almost anyone can start an online store?
However, there are many options available when it comes to starting your own ecommerce business.
In this article, we will cover the main types of online stores: one-product, niche, and general stores. Then, we will guide you through the main steps on how to start one!
You will learn how each type of store operates differently and what benefits it brings.
How do you know which one is best? How can you be successful in any type of online store?
We will answer all these questions, so don't hesitate to read on!
How to start an online store in 9 steps
Are you looking to (potentially) step out of your comfort zone and start your very own online venture?
If so, you are in the right place. This post will cover everything you need to know when it comes to starting an online store and succeeding at it!
Here are the nine steps of starting an online store in 2023:
- Pick your preferred ecommerce platform
- Choose a fulfillment method
- Decide between a general, niche, or one-product store
- Pick out the right products to sell online
- Define your ideal target audience
- Find a supplier
- Design and brand your online store
- Set up your payment gateways
- Promote your store with social media and content marketing
Whether you want to do dropshipping or print on demand, a general, or a niche store, we'll go over all those options and more to determine which type of store will be best for your needs.
Let's start with the first step of starting an online store; choosing your ecommerce platform.
1. Pick your preferred ecommerce platform
Your ecommerce platform is the base on which you will build your online store. Choosing a platform that is easy to use, has excellent features, and has good reviews will ensure your online store's success.
However, there are many ecommerce platforms to choose from, so picking the best one can be challenging.
The truth is, there are quite some platforms out there that could be called ‘the best,' but that doesn’t mean they are the best for you.
The best ecommerce platforms to create your online store with
The best ecommerce platform out there depends on your goals and preferences.
For instance, do you want the platform built specifically for dropshippers, do you want a platform that includes hosting, or are you looking to start with the cheapest platform out there?
You can determine the best store builder based on your needs using the table below:
|You need:||The best options(s) for you:||Read Review|
|The best platform overall||Shopify or BigCommerce||– Shopify Review|
– BigCommerce Review
|The best SEO performance||WooCommerce||– WooCommerce Review|
|The platform built for dropshipping or POD||ShopBase||– ShopBase Review|
|The cheapest option||Shift4Shop (in the US) or ShopBase||– Shift4Shop Review|
– ShopBase Review
|The platform with the best resources||Shopify||– Shopify Review|
|The most flexible and customizable platform||WooCommerce||– WooCommerce Review|
|The platform with the easiest setup for an online store||Shopify or ShopBase||– Shopify Review|
– ShopBase Review
Related article: How to Start a Shopify Store: The Definitive Guide (2023)
2. Choose a fulfillment method
Before continuing, you will have to define your plans further.
‘Starting an online store' is not detailed enough!
Online stores can use various methods to manage their inventory and order fulfillment. These are called ‘fulfillment methods.'
Here's a table showing a quick overview of the leading fulfillment methods, including the pros and cons of each one:
|Fulfillment method||Short description||Pros||Cons|
|Dropshipping||Sell products without keeping them in your inventory.||Quickly test various products.||Less control of the fulfillment process.|
|Little start-up costs.||Long shipping times.|
|Low-risk.||A lot of competition.|
|Print on demand||Sell self-designed products that are printed on-demand.||Ability to (partly) design products yourself.||Lower profit margins.|
|As easy and low-risk as a dropshipping store.||Returns can be challenging.|
|Your store is only as good as your designs.|
|In-house fulfillment||Manage the fulfillment of your products yourself.||Full control over the fulfillment process.||It can require more time or money.|
|Great opportunity to use custom packaging.||Distracts you from other tasks.|
|Learn more about the whole fulfillment process of an online store.||You are responsible for everything.|
Let's look at these in a bit more detail:
Dropshipping is a fulfillment method for online stores that allows you to sell hundreds of products without managing your own inventory.
How that's possible?
Well, it's possible because you will be working with a particular type of supplier, a dropshipping supplier.
These are companies that manufacture and stock products for you.
Once you get an order on your online store, your dropshipping supplier will simply send the product directly to the customer. This means that you can run your store without inventory!
Take a look at how it works here:
Pros of dropshipping
- Quickly test various products. As you don't have any inventory, you can easily switch the product catalog on your online store without any consequences. Does a product perform worse than you expected, just try selling a different one!
- Little startup costs. The main costs you will have to cover when starting an online dropshipping store is your domain, ecommerce platform, and any apps you use.
- Low-risk. If a product of yours is not selling, you won't be left with a ton of leftover inventory.
Cons of dropshipping
- Less control of the fulfillment process. You are almost completely giving away the control of your order fulfillment process to your supplier. So, you will have to make sure to work with a supplier that consistently offers quick processing and shipping times.
- Long shipping times. Dropshipping suppliers are often located in China, while most customers are located in the US or Europe. However, you can achieve faster shipping times by working with local dropshipping suppliers (who are also located in the US or Europe).
- A lot of competition. Many people start a dropshipping store (a lot of competitors!), so you will have to differentiate yourself from your competition!
Note: Some cons of dropshipping can be solved by dropshipping with dropshipping agents instead of dropshipping suppliers. Take a look at how that works here!
You can also look into private label dropshipping if you want to brand your products!
Print on demand
If you are looking for a dropshipping alternative that most closely resembles dropshipping, you should look at print on demand (POD).
Print on demand is a fulfillment model that allows sellers to design products with their own graphics. Once a seller receives an order, a manufacturer will “print” the designed graphics on the product and ship it to the customer.
If you can't choose between dropshipping and print on demand, take a look at this infographic:
Pros of print on demand
- Ability to (partly) design products yourself. For instance, you can create t-shirts with graphics that are completely designed by yourself!
- As easy and low-risk to set up as dropshipping. A print on demand store is easy to set up, requires little startup costs, and doesn't require you to manage your own inventory.
Cons of print on demand
- Lower profit margins. Print on demand businesses generally struggle with lower profit margins.
- Returns can be challenging. This is due to the fact that the product is custom-made.
- Your store is only as good as your designs. Generally, print on demand businesses are only a good idea if you are creative or have access to someone who is creative.
If you want full control over the fulfillment process of your dropshipping store, then the in-house fulfillment model may be the choice for you.
By choosing the in-house fulfillment model for your ecommerce store, you will have to make sure that your store has enough inventory and that once you get an order, those products will be packed and shipped to your customer.
As the name of in-house fulfillment implies, you may literally do this by keeping an inventory in your own house.
An alternative is to contact a third-party logistics (3PL) company. This way, you can send your inventory to them, and they will automatically take care of the packing and shipping for you!
Pros of in-house fulfillment
- Full control over the fulfillment process. No more sudden delays or out-of-stock items!
- Great opportunity to use custom packaging. With in-house fulfillment, you can create, order, and use custom packaging for your products.
- Learn more about the whole fulfillment process of an online store. This will be great for you knowledge of ecommerce and may come in handy later on in your life!
Cons of in-house fulfillment
- Can take more time or money. Taking care of the fulfillment process yourself takes time, and outsourcing it to a 3PL company can lower your profit margins.
- Distracts you from other tasks. For instance, the marketing and customer service part of your online store is crucial too!
- You are responsible for everything. If something goes wrong with the fulfillment process, you can only blame yourself.
3. Decide between a general, niche, or one-product store
Once you have a clear idea of how you will manage the fulfillment process of your online store, it's time to decide which type of online store you will start.
There are three types of online stores: general, niche, and one-product stores.
Each has its unique benefits and challenges, which we will outline below. We will also give you a couple of tips to increase your chances of success for each type of store!
Again, for a quick overview, take a look at this table:
|General store||An online store that sells products in various categories.||Take advantage of product trends.||It can be difficult to market.|
|Reach more people.||It's challenging to build a loyal customer base.|
|Niche store||An online store that is focused on a single niche (e.g., fitness or hiking)||You can focus on a specific target audience.||It can be hard to pick a niche and stick to it.|
|You can start social media theme pages.||Less freedom.|
|Upselling is easier.|
|One-product store||An online store that sells just a single product.||Dedicate your focus to a single product.||It's crucial to sell a winning product.|
|It's easier to optimize marketing campaigns.||No possibility of upselling or cross-selling.|
|Improve your conversion rate.|
If you can't decide between these online store types, let us give you our recommendation.
Generally, we recommend starting with either a niche or a one-product store. This is because the pros and cons of a niche or one-product store generally outweigh those of a general store.
In short, it will be easier to build a long-term online store with a niche or one-product store!
The general store
A general store is a type of online store that sells products in various niches.
In other words, a general store’s product catalog can contain everything and anything, ranging from plushies to kitchen tools.
You can think of it as a small-scale Amazon type of store!
General stores usually appeal to people who want the convenience of one-stop shopping.
Pros of starting a general online store
- Take advantage of product trends. With a general store, you can advertise all products that are currently trending and selling well without having to create a new store for each product niche.
- Reach more people. There is nothing that restricts you from targeting a broad range of people. By offering different products, you can attract different kinds of people.
Cons of starting a general online store
- Can be difficult to market. General stores can be more difficult to market because they are competing with big-name retailers who have a lot of money for marketing campaigns.
- It's challenging to build a loyal customer base. Sadly, it's likely that most people will only purchase something from your store a single time. That is, unless you come close to the size and popularity of an online store like Amazon!
Tips for starting a successful general store in 2023
- Realize that starting a general store generally requires more work. This is because general stores usually sell a higher number of unique items compared to the other store types. You will have to manage and create a product page for each product! (Here are 10 product page examples)
- Keep your store name neutral. Often, general online stores have more ‘neutral' names that allow them to sell products in different categories. Examples include ‘Life Booster Shop', ‘Buy It Carl', and ‘Inspire Uplift'.
- Try to minimize the number of suppliers you are working with. Considering a general store sells anything and everything, it can be tempting to work with multiple suppliers. However, the less suppliers you work with, the easier it will be to fulfill your orders.
- Test products until you find a winner. With a general online store, it's important to test, test, and test until you find a winning product. Once you have found one, you can proceed to scale it and earn some good money!
Note: Looking for more tips that will help you start a successful general online store? If so, you will find eight tips in total here!
The niche store
A niche store is a type of store that focuses on products that fit in a specific niche.
Pros of starting an online niche store
- You can focus on a specific target audience. For example, with an online store in the fitness niche, your marketing efforts will be easier as you can target people who love fitness. As it's likely that your target audience will like a lot of your products, the chances of attracting more loyal customers are higher!
- You can start social media theme pages. You can post niche content to your social media theme pages to gather new followers. Then, you can turn them into customers!
- Upselling is easier. For example, if someone comes to your store with the intention of buying a dog toy, it is likely they will also purchase a similar product like some dog foot wash cups.
Tip: You can find more advantages of starting an online niche store here!
Cons of starting an online niche store
- It can be hard to pick a niche and stick to it. There are so many niches, it can be hard to choose one! (However, you can find 25 niche ideas here.) Also, if you are a beginner, it might be tempting to switch to a different niche, while it may be better not to give up yet.
- Less freedom. Once you have created your niche store, you are limited to selling products within that niche!
Tips for starting a successful niche store in 2023
- Choose a niche you are interested in. Choosing a niche you are passionate about will help you choose the best products, write more accurate product descriptions, and offer better customer service for your customers.
- Try to find a niche supplier. These suppliers are specialized in products that fit your niche. So, they will often sell many unique products in your niche and be able to answer many of your questions regarding the products or niche.
- Pick a domain name related to your niche. For example, Delta Hiking is a great name for an online store in the hiking niche! A name like this allows visitors to recognize that you are specialized in selling hiking products, increasing their trust in you.
- Show your store's expertise within your niche. By showing your store's expertise (for example, by writing blogs), you can convince your visitors that you have experience in your niche, you sell high-quality products, and that you will be able to your customers in case of any problems.
Note: You can find the full explanation of these (and three other tips) here!
The one-product store
A one-product store is an online store that sells just a single product.
If your goal were to start a one-product store, you would try to find a winning dropshipping product and design your entire store around it.
Pros of starting an online one-product store
- Dedicate your focus towards a single product. With a one-product store you will have the time, energy, and resources to ensure your product is being shown to visitors in the best possible way!
- It's easier to optimize marketing campaigns. You will be able to spend 100% of your marketing budget to test all kinds of audiences, ad variations, and pain points. In short, you will have a much better chance of finding the ‘winning' combination and running a profitable ad campaign.
- Improve your conversion rate. First of all, your customers will think that you are the expert around your product (just like for a niche store). However, the fact that you only offer a single product will help your customers to improve their quality of decision making.
Cons of starting an online one-product store
- It's crucial to sell a winning product. As you will be selling just a single product, it's crucial that it's a great one! Otherwise, you will receive few orders for your product and making a profit will be hard.
- No possibility of upselling or cross-selling. You won't be able to upsell or cross-sell your customers with complementary products during the order process. Because of this, you might miss out on some additional revenue.
Tips for starting a successful one-product store in 2023
- Spend a lot of time on product research. One of our favorite tools for product research is Sell The Trend. You can learn how to identify a winning product here.
- Choose a theme that fits a one-product store. Did you know that certain store themes are best suited for a specific type of store? If you are building your one-product store on Shopify, you will be able to find a collection of themes that fit a ‘small catalog'.
- Focus on building an excellent homepage too. An advantage of starting an online one-product store is that you can design your homepage like an ecommerce landing page. This means that you will already start the process of selling the product to your visitors on the homepage.
- Consider working with a private agent. A private agent is specialized in helping you find the best suppliers, negotiating for the lowest prices, offering the fastest shipping times, and helping with the branding of your product and packaging.
Note: Again, for more tips and a more detailed description, visit this article!
4. Pick out the right products to sell online
In our opinion, your products, together with your supplier and marketing, are one of the most crucial aspects that determine the success of your online store.
It's common to see that some products are relatively easy to sell while others are fairly hard to sell.
The ‘easy' products are also called ‘winning products‘ and often have some common properties, as you can see here:
As you can see, winning products may provide decent profit margins, solve problems, or have a ‘wow factor.'
Keeping an eye on properties like these is key in deciding what products to sell!
The best product research tools
Unfortunately, finding winning products can be time-consuming and complex. This is especially true for beginners, who often don’t know what to look out for when searching for products to sell on their online store.
If you are struggling with picking the right products to sell, you may be interested in using a product research tool.
These tools collect many popular products, making it easier for you to find a winning product!
Let's take a brief look at three of the best product research tools:
|Research tool||Pricing||Read Review||Try Out?|
|Sell The Trend||$39 per month||Sell The Trend Review||Free 7-day trial|
|Niche Scraper||$49.95 per month (or $13 per month with our discount code)||Niche Scraper Review||Use code ‘DoDropshipping' for 75% off (register here)|
|Thieve.co||$15 or $49 per month||Thieve.co Review||Click here|
5. Define your ideal target audience
Once you've figured your products out, it's good to start defining your target audience.
Your target audience is the specific group of people you target with your marketing campaigns. It is a group of people with similar interests, hobbies, age, or gender that you expect to purchase your product.
It's important to find your ideal dropshipping audience because those are the people with the highest chance of purchasing your products!
And this isn't just our opinion. For instance, Philip Kotler, an American marketing expert, even said the following:
There is only one winning strategy. It is to carefully define the target market and direct a superior offering to that target market.Philip Kotler
For a detailed step-by-step guide on defining your ideal target audience, check out this article!
6. Find a supplier
When starting an online store, you will need to find a supplier regardless of your store type. This company will supply you with the products you will be selling.
However, just like there are multiple categories of online stores, there are multiple categories of suppliers.
Suppliers can be divided into ones suited for dropshipping and in-house fulfillment stores and those suited for print on demand stores.
When searching for a supplier for your online store, make sure to learn how you can spot a good dropshipping supplier. In short, it's all about the following things:
Let's look at some of the best suppliers out there now!
Best suppliers for dropshipping and in-house fulfillment stores
This section will guide you in the right direction on where you might find a supplier that will fit your future online store.
A new tab will open to that supplier's website by clicking on the supplier's name. Besides, if you click on ‘Read Review,' a new tab will appear where you will be able to read our review of that supplier, including things like their pros and cons!
|Supplier||Primary location||Pricing||Read Review|
|Spocket||US/EU||$25 to $99 per month||Spocket Review|
|SaleHoo||US||$67 per year or one-time $127||SaleHoo Review|
|Syncee||Worldwide||$29 to $99 per month||Syncee Review|
|Avasam||UK / US||£20 / £50 / £100 / £150 per month + VAT||Avasam Review|
|BigBuy||Europe||€69 to €99 per month + €90 registration||BigBuy Review|
If you are especially interested in suppliers that are located in a specific region, you will be able to find them here:
- Best suppliers in Canada
- Best suppliers in the United States
- Best suppliers in Europe
- Best suppliers in the United Kingdom
- Best suppliers in China
- Best suppliers in Australia
- Best suppliers in New Zealand
Best suppliers for print on demand stores
The suppliers mentioned above can't be used for print on demand stores.
That's because you will need a supplier that is able and willing to customize their products based on your designs.
Here are some of our top picks if you are looking for print on demand suppliers:
|Supplier||Primary location||Pricing||Read Review|
|Printful||Worldwide||Click here||Printful Review|
|Printify||Worldwide||$0 to $29 per month||Printify Review|
|Art of Where||Canada||Free||Art of Where Review|
For more print on demand suppliers, check out our article here with the 15 best print on demand companies!
7. Design and brand your online store
Are you signed up for an ecommerce platform?
Now, it's time to design and brand your online store.
One of the first things to do is think of a name for your store.
When doing so, it's important to pick a unique, short, and memorable name related to your niche.
Tip: Check out this article for ten tips on choosing the perfect name for your online store!
Next up, it's time to design and build your online store.
Make sure to spend some effort on this. You don't want to give your visitors the impression that your entire store was created in just a couple of days!
While building your store, it's a good idea to take some inspiration from some of the best players in the industry. You will be able to find some great inspiration here:
- 8 Product Description Examples for Ecommerce (+ 5 Tips)
- 14 Awesome Shopify Homepage Examples
- 23 Most Successful Shopify Dropshipping Store Examples
Last but not least, don't forget about branding!
Branding an online store allows you to create an online business (or ‘ebusiness') for the long term. It does great things for your visitors' trust in you and increases the percentage of customers returning to your store.
If you would like to give the same ‘branded' vibes to your store's visitors, check out seven tips on how to brand your store here!
8. Set up your payment gateways
Keep going; you are almost there!
One of the last steps of starting an online store is setting up your payment gateways.
Once this step is finished, you can start focusing on getting your first few orders!
A payment gateway enables a customer to buy something from your online store on your checkout page (for example, via a credit card). It handles all money transactions for an online store.
There are multiple payment gateways out there that you could use for your store. When picking one, it's important to consider the following:
- If your store's business model is accepted (some payment gateways don't support dropshipping stores).
- Whether it works with the country and currency of your target audience.
- The transaction fees.
- The customer service.
Don't forget that you can combine multiple payment gateways to offer your customers multiple payment options.
The best payment gateways for your online store
Wondering what the best payment gateway will be for your online store? You will find it here!
|Payment gateway||Price rating||Read Review|
|Shopify Payments||Cheap||Shopify Payments Review|
|Amazon Pay||Expensive||Amazon Pay Review|
|Google Pay||Cheap||Google Pay Review|
|Apple Pay||Cheap||Apple Pay Review|
The best way to pick a payment gateway is by going through the following steps:
- Find out which countries you would like to sell to and what the most popular payment methods in those countries are.
- If possible, pick some of the more popular payment gateways like Shopify Payments or PayPal.
- If you have trouble with those, you can always try and test some of the smaller ones.
Note: Don't forget that it's often also possible to accept Bitcoin and other cryptos on your online store. You can check out this article for more details.
An online store is nothing without proper marketing strategies. You will need to promote your business (for example, via ads) in order to attract customers and get sales.
Without marketing, shoppers simply will not find you. Your store's traffic will stay at zero.
There are 12-24 million online stores in the world, but only around 650,000 of them generate more than $1,000 in annual sales.Source
Luckily, you can use multiple sales channels for your online store to attract customers.
Again, the best one will depend on your goals and your online store itself. Before choosing a marketing method, it's crucial to know:
- In which niche you will be operating. (Check out 25 niche ideas here!)
- What product(s) you will be selling. (Take a look at 13 product examples here!)
- What audience you will be targeting. (Check out how to develop a buyer persona here!)
If you can answer all of those questions, you will be able to find your best marketing method in this article!
However, if you are looking for a brief guideline of which marketing method fits you, check out the following infographic:
Why you should start an online store in 2023
Did you know that online shopping is one of, if not the fastest-growing segments of the retail industry?
Just take a look at the growth of retail ecommerce sales worldwide:
You can see that the sales are growing rapidly. From 2020 to 2027, the global ecommerce market is even expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 14.7%!
The image above also shows the boost that online shopping got from the start of the worldwide pandemic. Global ecommerce sales increased by nearly a trillion US dollars from 2019 to 2020 due to the increase in online shopping.
Starting a web-based store now is your opportunity to be part of this growing industry!
Besides starting a business in a growing industry, an online store will enable you to:
- Start a business without huge investments
- Have flexibility on your working hours and location
- Have scaling potential
- Develop a business that (may) earn money for you 24/7
Sounds awesome, right?
Still, you should never forget that starting an online store is not a way to get rich quickly. So, before you start, make sure to have the right mindset!
FAQs of starting an online store
The most frequently asked questions about starting an online web store are answered right here!
How much does it cost to start an online store?
To start an online store, it's likely that you will have to pay around $10 for your domain, $39 for your ecommerce platform, and some money to register your store as a business in your country.
Over time, it's expected that your costs will increase as you will need things like more advanced apps, a marketing budget, and a product testing budget. Click here to learn more about the budget you need to start an online store.
Which country should I target for my online store?
Generally, some of the top countries to target as an online store are the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Germany.
If you are interested in learning why this is the case, check out our article about the ten best countries to target here!
What type of products should I sell in my store?
Good products to sell usually have a ‘wow' factor, are not easy to find in typical retail stores, have good profit margins, or solve a problem.
To learn more about these ‘winning' products, check out this article.
How can I make sure that my online store is successful?
The truth is, an online store needs to have quite some things in order to be successful.
In short, it's all about having the right mindset, products, suppliers, store design, and marketing campaigns. If you struggle with getting the first sale for your online store, these 14 tips are for you!
How can I get a logo for my online store?
How do I determine the best retail price for my products?
There you go!
Ready to become an entrepreneur?
We hope this article has been helpful for you and that you are now ready to start building your online store.
Remember to follow the main steps we have highlighted above, and don't forget to check out further resources about the topics you are working on to learn about all the little details.
If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments section below, and we'll be more than happy to help!