How to Build an Ecommerce Website the Right Way (2024)

Having an ecommerce website is the first step to starting your entrepreneurial journey. It’s your digital store, the place where customers can shop for the items you’re selling.

Building an ecommerce website is just the first step; you’ll have to personalize it over time to really match the look and feel of your brand.

Most successful ecommerce websites share a few similar features: they allow users to jump seamlessly between product listings, have lots of informative and educational content, and allow for easy sharing on social media platforms.

In this guide, I’m going to take you through the process of setting up an ecommerce website that best fits the service or product that you want to sell.

Step 1: Identify your Business Model

Before we really get into the weeds, it’s important that you have a clear definition of the business model that you want to follow. You may already know about these two:

  • B2C (Business-to-customer): Arguably the most popular ecommerce model, where businesses sell directly to end-consumers. Amazon’s a good example (though they also have a B2B arm).
  • B2B (Business-to-business): This is when a business sells goods and services to another business. Salesforce, for instance, offers an array of services to help other businesses.

There are other models too, such as C2C (Customer-to-customer), which are basically online marketplaces. Craigslist, for example, is a good platform to sell goods to other customers.

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Step 2: Select your Ecommerce Platform

While you still have the option to hire a developer and code your site from scratch, it’s just not a good use of time (and money).

Instead, you can choose an ecommerce platform and build your site within a few hours. Here are some of the best ecommerce website builders chosen by our experts:

Shopify

When I think of a robust and user-friendly ecommerce platform, Shopify always comes to mind first. We ranked it as the best ecommerce platform, and here are just a few reasons why:

  • Easy to use: You don’t need to be a tech whiz to get started. All it takes is a few clicks to get started and launch your store.
  • Flexibility in design: With 100s of design templates (themes) available, you can customize your store to match your brand's aesthetic. Many are just plug and play too!
  • Integrations: You get access to thousands of apps to further improve your store’s functionality, from marketing tools to inventory management solutions.

BigCommerce

You may have already heard of BigCommerce. It’s commonly used by ecommerce businesses that want to rapidly scale, and is also used by many enterprise-level organizations.

Here’s why we like BigCommerce:

  • Scalability: BigCommere was purpose-built to help small businesses create a professional-looking store that they can scale.
  • Lots of features: It offers a host of built-in features, from analytical reporting to multi-channel selling.
  • No transaction fees: Unlike Shopify, BigCommerce doesn’t charge transaction fees. That’s a huge bonus in my book, especially for stores that sell lots of products.

Squarespace

Squarespace has found its own niche in the ecommerce space, with many business owners preferring it because of its unique design aesthetics.

Personally, I’ve seen some amazing sites built using this ecommerce platform.

Here’s why I like it:

  • Gorgeous templates: We love the diversity of the templates that Squarespace offers right out of the box.
  • Content and email marketing function: Squarespace includes built-in blogging and email marketing tools too, so you don’t have to spend extra.
  • Trial length: One of the best things about Squarespace is just how simple it is. You get a 14-day free trial, which is great in my opinion. That’s more than enough time to really understand the platform and understand its strengths.

WooCommerce

If you want to go with a self-hosted option, WooCommerce is your best bet. It’s free to use, and it’s ideal for those who have experience with WordPress.

It’s very different from other hosted platforms on the list, obviously. Here’s why I recommend it:

  • Free: As I mentioned, the WooCommerce plugin itself is entirely free to use. However, that means you’ll have to pay for hosting, the themes, and other plugins to fully flesh out your store.
  • Control: You have full control over your website and all related data. For privacy-focused businesses, this is a significant advantage.
  • Customization: It’s highly customizable too, thanks to the wide range of plugins and themes that you can tap into in the WordPress ecosystem.

Step 3: Start Building Your Site

As you can probably tell, I prefer hosted ecommerce platforms, simply because they are so easy to start with.

I’ll use Shopify as an example for this section:

1: Sign Up for a Shopify Account

Go to Shopify’s website and click on Start free trial. You get the first three days free, and only have to pay $1 for the first month.

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Now, you have to create an account. Just enter your email address, create a password, and enter your store name. Click “Create your store” and let Shopify work its magic.

2: Set Up Your Store

The next step requires you to add your business information. Fill the dialogue boxes with relevant information that Shopify requires, including your address. Shopify uses this information to calculate shipping rates and taxes.

On the next screen, you’ll be prompted to select a Shopify plan that fits your needs. There are three popular plans, but I recommend starting with the Basic ($29/month).

3: Customize Your Store’s Design

Go to the Shopify Theme Store and choose a theme that suits your brand. I recommend starting with a free theme first before upgrading to a premium one later on.

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Remember, you can always customize the theme to your liking using the Shopify Theme Editor. You can change colors, fonts, and layout to create the brand and feel you prefer.

4: Add Products

In your Shopify admin, click on “Products” and then “Add product”. You’ll have to enter details for all the products you want to list.

Fill in the product title, description, price, and other relevant details. Make sure to also add high-quality product images.

Also, you’ll see an option for “Collections,” which are basically categories. It’s a great way to organize your products and make sure everything’s grouped accordingly.

5: Set Up Payments

This step is important to ensure that you’re able to receive payments from your customers. Go to Settings > Payments in the sidebar to select your preferred payment gateway. Shopify Payments is the default option, and it lets you save on transaction fees.

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This is also a good time to set up additional payment methods such as PayPal, Amazon Pay, or manual payments like bank transfers. The more payment options you support, the easier it is to get customers.

6: Set Up Shipping

Shopify can automatically calculate shipping rates, but it requires a bit of a setup. Go to Settings > Shipping and Delivery and you’ll see a host of options. This is where you can set up shipping zones and rates based on your location and shipping preferences.

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Shopify also lets you configure different shipping carriers. If you want to offer carrier shipping, you can integrate with carriers like USPS, UPS, or FedEx. This is useful, as it lets your customers get shipping quotes in real-time.

7: Set Up Taxes

As an ecommerce store owner, you’re liable to collect sales tax. Thankfully, you can sidestep those confusing calculations with Shopify.

Go to Settings > Taxes: Configure your tax settings based on your business location and where you sell. Shopify can automatically calculate taxes for most regions globally, and you can always set up custom rates too.

8: Create Legal Pages

Legal pages protect your business in case of liability. With Shopify, you can auto-generate these pages, though we recommend that as your store grows, you have a lawyer build those out for you.

To start off, go to Online Store > Pages: Create essential pages like Terms of Service, Privacy Policy, and Refund Policy. You can use Shopify’s template generator for these pages.

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Note: Make sure to add links to these legal pages in your store’s footer for easy access.

9: Set Up a Custom Domain

Now, you need a domain name before launching the store. Shopify is a domain registrar, so you can buy a domain name directly through the platform. Conversely, you can also transfer an existing domain.

Just make sure to set your newly purchased domain as the default one for your store.

10: Test Your Store

Just one last thing before you launch: checking to ensure everything is as it should be. You can use Shopify’s Bogus Gateway to place a test order and gauge the experience for your potential customers.

I recommend that you check all the main pages. Navigate through your store to ensure all links, images, and functionalities work correctly before moving on to the next step!

11: Launch Your Store

Before you launch, it’s imperative that you remove password protection so that your store’s accessible by the general public. To do this, go to Online Store > Preferences and disable the password page to make your store live.

Now, it’s time to make some (digital) noise! Announce your new store launch on social media, send out emails, and start running ads!

Tips to Improve Sales on Your Ecommerce Website

As I stated at the start of this piece, launching your store is just the first step. If you’re new to the ecommerce space, I want to make sure that you have the tools and the information to succeed.

We work with ecommerce stores of various sizes, helping them grow their business by implementing different strategies that best fit their needs. Here are a few tips that can position you for success from the get-go:

Focus on the User Experience

My most important tip would be for new entrepreneurs to focus on enhancing the user experience. Ideally, you’d want your website to be easy to navigate, mobile-friendly, and of course, ensure that it loads fast.

A seamless experience keeps customers on the site longer and reduces bounce rates. I've seen conversion rates improve significantly just by streamlining the checkout process, making it as straightforward as possible, with minimal steps and clear calls to action.

Create High-Quality Product Listings

Another crucial aspect is the quality of product listings. High-quality images, detailed descriptions, and customer reviews can make a big difference.

When consulting with clients, we review and make sure each product page provides all the necessary information a customer might need, reducing any hesitation they might have about making a purchase.

People have become incredibly careful and selective when buying online, and it’s imperative that you provide as much detail as possible, both through written descriptions and through images, to help potential customers convert.

Don’t Sleep on Social Proof

We’ve seen conversion rate jumps of over 10-20% just by adding social proof to smaller ecommerce stores.

Showcasing customer testimonials and reviews can reassure potential buyers about the credibility and quality of your products. Additionally, offering a solid return policy can also go a long way in fostering trust between your audience.

Diversify your Marketing Efforts

Running ads on your site is a good way to start generating sales instantly, but it’s not enough. When working with ecommerce clients, we always recommend that they diversify their marketing efforts.

I’ve found success by employing a mix of email marketing, social media promotions, and search engine optimization (SEO). Personalized email campaigns that offer special discounts or highlight new products can drive lots of repeat business.

Now, I know a lot of ecommerce entrepreneurs who simply prefer running ads because of the instant gratification, but it’s just not a long-term approach. If you want to really build a brand, it’s important to produce engaging content and promote it on multiple platforms.

Conclusion

A well-designed ecommerce website could be the launchpad for success for your online business. Plus, with so many ecommerce platforms now available, it’s no longer difficult to “build” a site from scratch like in the old days.

Once your site is live, you can then begin to focus on promotion and marketing. Just remember, ecommerce sites are quite iterative.

If you feel something isn’t working, you can always change things around and gauge the impact!

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How to Build an Ecommerce Website the Right Way (2024)
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