The Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Online Store – Step-by-Step Guide for 2020

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Starting your own online store isn’t as hard as it sounds. All you have to do is follow a few simple steps and you’re good to go. Your choices usually whittle down to WooCommerce on WordPress, Shopify, Wix, and OpenCart. From our own experience, we feel WordPress is the easiest to use by far and offers tons of customization options. In just a few minutes, you’ll have your own professional looking store in no time.

Here is our comprehensive step-by-step guide to help you build your online store with WordPress.

Use the table of contents below to quickly jump to different sections of the article!

Cover the Basics of Starting a WordPress Store 

But before we get started, we have to discuss three things that you absolutely can’t do without when starting your online store:

  • A web hosting account (here’sour review of the best WordPress hosting providers)
  • A domain name (learn how to brainstorm ideas here)
  • Content – and lots of it

That’s all it takes. As long as you already have your assets ready for upload (such as graphics, logos, content, and promotional materials), you can start your ecommerce store in as little as $4.

Step 1: Find a New Business Name 

While you can run a business as a solo entrepreneur, you’ll look more professional if you run the business as a separate entity – usually an LLC. There are a few business structures (from different countries) to choose from, but the most prominent of these are LLCs and Corporations in the US.

There are a ton of services that let you set up a business without requiring much in the way of paperwork from you. Here are a few places to choose from:

  • com
  • com
  • com

Your business name should be relevant to the target audience but try not to go overboard with too many keywords. The main thing with business names is that people spend too much time thinking it over. Our recommendation is to give yourself a deadline of 1 to 2 days max to choose the name if you’re going in circles. Otherwise you will be stuck for several months trying to figure things out and never get anywhere.

Here are a few dos and don’ts when it comes to choosing business names.

  • Do choose a name that is easy to pronounce
    Spelling and pronouncing a difficult business name can be hard and most people would rather just jump ship altogether. So make sure the name is easy to pronounce. Try not to borrow variants of names from popular businesses because you will end up redirecting traffic to them.
  • Do choose a name that you can make a brand out of
    It is important to choose a business name that is related to the niche you’re selling to. This makes it easier for people to understand what the business is all about. Bonus points if it has a deeper, more personal meaning to it. And if it has a compelling backstory, you’ll soon be on your way towards creating a recognizable brand name.
  • Do try to be as original as possible
    It may be tempting to use a business name like “Valmart” to cash in on the popularity of Walmart, but by doing this you run the risk of getting risky lawsuits. Not to mention the fact that online consumers just don’t like dealing with businesses that are too sloppy to do their own branding.
  • Do try to choose a name that has an available .com domain

It is an extremely good idea to choose a business name that already has a .com domain name available for it. That being said, this is only a best-practice, not a rule that is written out in stone. Once again, the goal is to make it easy for customers to find you.

  • Don’t Choose a Very Long Name
    The business name should be 1 to 3 words max. We strongly recommend sticking to 2 or 1 words only. It’s best practice at this point because smaller names are easier to pronounce. Think Microsoft, Apple, Razer, Samsung – these are the names that roll off the tongue naturally. Something like “Mike’s Delicious Pizza in Birmingham” really doesn’t do the trick and it would take forever to type it out on search engines.
  • Don’t Choose a Business Name that is Composed of Numbers

Unless you’re deliberately trying to sound unprofessional, simply avoid using numbers. A name like “Number 1 Pizza in Town” won’t be sending the right kind of vibes to customers.

  • Don’t Choose a Name That is too Narrow
    It is tempting to create a business name after your most promising product or service. But you are only restricting your choices for diversification and expansion, later on, should you decide to add more products and services to your fleet. The last thing you want is to be ‘’typecast’ as a business that only sells a singular product.

If you’re still stuck out on ideas for a new business, you can hop over to businessnamegenerator.comOpens in a new tab. to automatically generate free ideas for a business name. Simply type out the niche you want to sell to and it will get working. Here’s what it looks like:

search domain 1 The Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Online Store – Step-by-Step Guide for 2020

Step 2: Choose Your Niche

If you’ve decided to start an ecommerce store, you probably already have an idea for the product that you want to sell. Just make sure to keep in mind that certain products are easier to sell than others, especially when they can’t be viewed in person. In this case, it is important to find ways to market your product in a way that resonates with your target audience.

Knowing what product or service you want to sell is only half the journey. You still need to figure out what it is that differentiates your business from the countless other services that people will want to choose over. For example, why should someone buy your mechanical keyboard when they have a thousand other stores to choose from?

This is why it is important to learn all there is to know about your niche and your competitors.

  • Try to offer something that is truly original. If you’re selling mechanical keyboards, try to market its most original features that could draw a larger crowd. It could be free key caps or a certain feature, such as armrests – if that matters to your customers.
  • Check up on your competition. Use a tool like SEMrush to see the keywords that they’re ranking for. Visit their blog, carefully analyze their website to see how they are marketing themselves. Are they using paid ads on Google and Bing? Or are they simply banking on the notoriety they’ve gained over the years?
  • Finally, make online shopping easy and intuitive for your customers. Even if your product is too similar to what is already being offered by the competition, you can set your store apart by making the online shopping experience as fluid and responsive as possible. Again, the key is to be extremely responsive to customers as and when they visit your website.

Step 3: Start Building Your eCommerce System in 2020

If you process payments and accept sensitive information on your website such as credit card numbers, then you’ll have to set up an SSL certificate. The good news is that Bluehost offers users a free domain name, free SSL certificates, and extremely affordable web hosting. If you don’t already have Bluehost as your hosting provider, click hereOpens in a new tab. to do so now.

You will be asked to choose from three plans, choose one that makes the most sense to you and click Select.

eCommerce System The Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Online Store – Step-by-Step Guide for 2020

This will take you to the next page where you will be asked to either choose from domain names you already own, or find a new one.

domain 1 The Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Online Store – Step-by-Step Guide for 2020

Creating a new domain name is free so make sure to avail this opportunity to save a few bucks. Hit Next.

This will take you to the next page where you’ll have to provide your account details and payment information. Once you’ve filled in the details and completed the payment, you will receive an email on how to get in to your Cpanel (web hosting panel). This is where you will get admin access to your hosting resource.

So go ahead and log in to your cPanel. BlueHost will already have installed WordPress along with WooCommerce on your website. To access the new website, click on “Login to your site” and it will take you to the admin dashboard on WordPress.

That’s it, now you’re ready to move on to the next part, and that is to set up your online store.

Note: If Bluehost didn’t already create WordPress on your website, you can do this easily with the one-click installer. Click here for instructions.

Configuring WordPress 

If this is your first time logging into WordPress, you will receive a welcome message like the screenshot below:

Wordpress Dashboard The Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Online Store – Step-by-Step Guide for 2020

Closing the setup wizard will reveal the complete WordPress admin dashboard that looks something like this:

Dashboard The Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Online Store – Step-by-Step Guide for 2020

Next, you should click on Settings followed by General to fill in your Site Title and Tagline. This is important because it will define how search engines and customers perceive your blog.

Settings The Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Online Store – Step-by-Step Guide for 2020

Configure HTTPs to Start Using SSL 

Bluehost provides a free SSL certificate with its hosting packages. It is already installed and set up. You just need to change the settings in your WordPress site to load as https instead of HTTP.

We have already mentioned the merits of using SSL certificates earlier in the blog and won’t bore you again with the details.

Click on Settings followed by General, and then change your WordPress URL and Site URL to HTTPS instead of HTTP.

General settings The Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Online Store – Step-by-Step Guide for 2020

Make sure to save the changes by scrolling down to the page to store the new settings. This will complete all the basics of setting up WordPress. Now it’s time to manage your new online store.

Setting up the WooCommerce Store 

To start selling, you’ll have to set up a few things like payments, shipping, and currency.

Every new installation of WooCommerce will initiate a setup wizard to help you set up the basics. It will also prompt you to add a payment processor.

WooCommerce The Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Online Store – Step-by-Step Guide for 2020

You can add more payment gateways later on.

The next step is to choose a shipping option:

shipping option The Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Online Store – Step-by-Step Guide for 2020

Next, you’ll be asked to give a few extra features to choose from, including themes for your WooCommerce website. If you don’t already have this figured out, you can check out our review of the best WordPress themes here. For now, you can install the default theme that comes with WooCommerce, called Storefront.

woocommerce store The Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Online Store – Step-by-Step Guide for 2020

If you live in a country where WooCommerce offers its incredibly useful cloud-based services that automatically calculate shipping rates and taxes at checkout, you’ll want to enable the feature.

Jetpack The Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Online Store – Step-by-Step Guide for 2020

Once this setup wizard is complete, you’ll be taken to your ecommerce-ready WordPress store. Make sure to visit the Settings tab to review all your information.

Adding Products to Your Store 

You’re now ready to start adding products to your online store.

Simply visit Products and then click on the Add New page to add a new product.

Now you can create a new title for your product and provide a detailed description. The right-hand column will show you the Product Categories box. Click on +Add New Product Category to create a new category for the product. This will let you and your customers sort and browse products with relative ease.

Product Category The Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Online Store – Step-by-Step Guide for 2020

Scroll down further to configure the Product Data box. This is where you will enter information crucial information related to the product such as pricing, shipping, inventory, and more.  

shipping The Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Online Store – Step-by-Step Guide for 2020

Scroll down even further to add a short product description. This information will be shown to users when they view multiple items on a page.  

description The Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Online Store – Step-by-Step Guide for 2020

Finally, if you look at the right hand column, you’ll see boxes to add a main product gallery and product image.

product image The Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Online Store – Step-by-Step Guide for 2020

If you’re happy with the product information that you just added, you can click on the Publish button to make it go live on the website.

You can repeat this process for all the products and services on your website.

Customize the WordPress Theme 

This is an extremely important step because the WordPress theme will control how your store is displayed. You can choose from thousands of free and premium WordPress themes. The default theme for WooCommerce is Storefront, but you can (and should) customize it to meet your needs.

On the WordPress dashboard, go to Appearance and click on Customize. This will launch the theme customizer where you can manage different theme settings.

Customize The Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Online Store – Step-by-Step Guide for 2020

If you’re not happy with the default theme, you can choose a different theme by clicking on Appearance > Themes.

Themes 1 The Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Online Store – Step-by-Step Guide for 2020

Utilize Plugins for Your Online Store 

You can make your online store even more productive with plugins that add useful elements such as an about us page, contact form, galleries, and a lot more. You can choose from thousands of free and paid WordPress plugins.

Optional: Dropshipping vs. Your Own Products 

Once you’ve selected a business name, set up the online store, and decided on your niche, it’s time to decide whether you want to dropship or sell your own products. Dropshipping has grown extremely popular because it’s insanely easy for anyone to get started selling right away. But like everything else in life, dropshipping has its fair share of challenges.

In this section, we’ll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of running a dropshipping store versus selling your own products to help you make up your own mind on the best choice for you.

What are the Merits of Dropshipping 

In many ways, dropshipping may feel like the ultimate shortcut to making lots of money with little to no effort.

For starters, you don’t hold any inventor, which means:

  • You don’t need to spend your own money to purchase products
  • You can list as many items as you want on your ecommerce store at little to no risk to you
  • You won’t have to pay any warehousing costs at all – that is a sizable chunk of money most small businesses don’t often carry around

In other words, the only thing you have to worry about is the marketing side of things. All you have to do is create a nice looking online store (which we’ve already covered above) and you’re all set. Even a college student with only $4 in their pocket can start a dropshipping business from their monthly allowance money!

But there are limitations with dropshipping. You have next to no control over fulfillment. While it definitely feels good to have someone else take on the burden of fulfillment on your end, it doesn’t feel good when they mess up – and mess up they will.

For online stores that handle their own fulfillment, it’s simple enough to rectify the problem, apologize, and move on.

But for dropshippers who have to deal with manufacturers from seven oceans across the planet – communication can get downright difficult, often impossible.

Moreover, product returns are also a pain to deal with, so much so, that most sellers don’t do returns. And even if they do, it will take you forever to replace your customer’s defective item to the manufacturer, getting the replacement from them, and then shipping it back to your client.

This leaves you with two options:

  1. Issue a no-returns policy to avoid this problem from the get-go
  2. Commit to returns on your own dime and absorb the cost

Option 1 can discourage customers from ever placing an order in the first place. Option 2 will restrict businesses that are starting out on a barebones budget since they won’t be able to commit to returns.

Our suggestion is to always have a returns policy. This is because you’re a new business that needs to start from the ground-up, and this requires building trust with customers. Here’s a good business practice that won’t break the bank and will make you look trustworthy to customers:

Offer returns on items, but only if they are defective, and clearly state that the product should be sent in a small time interval to qualify (maybe 5 days). At the same time, make sure to keep the complete record of the returns that you do end up getting.

This is important if one manufacturer consistently sends out defective items to you, so you can stop working with them and look for a different manufacturer instead.

Another big disadvantage of dropshipping is the complete lack of branding.

Sure you can ask your manufacturer to not include their own promotional items when they ship the package to your customers, which is a great way to mask the fact that you’re dropshipping. But chances are, they’re not going to use your own custom packaging with your logo and company name on it. This can really kill their unboxing experience and with it, their investment into your brand.

Basically, all they’re receiving is a very generic box with a bunch of shipping labels on it. Nothing on the packaging will indicate that the box is from your store.

If you’re just trying to make a quick buck, this shouldn’t be a problem. But if you want to create a successful business with its own brand, this will be a major challenge.

There are manufacturers who may use your custom packaging with the box, but this will likely cost you a fortune.

Holding Your Own Products/Services

Now let’s cover holding your own products. This has a bunch of disadvantages that are fairly obvious:

  • Buying new products costs money
  • Storing products costs money
  • Packaging and shipping products cost money
  • Tending to defective products cost money

A direct comparison with dropshipping makes it clear which option is superior if you don’t have the capital right now.

But the biggest advantage of holding your own product is that you can make sure the customer’s experience is perfect. This is very important because statistics show us that the most unhappy customers won’t ever tell you they’re unhappy. They will simply turn tail and never contact you again.

If you don’t do something about this behavior, you’re likely going to hurt repeat business with customers (and a ton of revenue) without knowing it. Statistics show that it is more expensive to acquire new customers than to sell to past clients.

To ensure you provide the best possible deal to your customers, here are a few best practices to improve customer service:

  • Quick turnaround
  • Thoughtfully designed custom packaging
  • Knowing the product inside out
  • Fixing any problems just as soon as they are brought to your attention

This is important because when customers get angry, they tend to discuss their bitter experience with the world. They will post angry rants on Facebook, complain to friends, and even post nasty reviews on places like TrustPilot. You don’t want customers to spotlight you for all the wrong reasons because too many negative reviews will erode your business for good.

According to the pros at HelpScout.netOpens in a new tab., news of bad customer experience reaches twice as many people compared to a good customer service experience.

Another major benefit of holding your own products is the superior profit margins. You’re buying products from manufacturers at a discounted rate if you adhere to their Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ) rules. You could sell these products at a higher margin of sales or pass on the discounts to the customers, in a bid to increase sales.

In both cases, this drives up revenue for your store.

Finally, the biggest advantage of withholding your own products is that customers finally get to recognize your brand. Your products will be shipped in thoughtfully designed, branded packaging that is perceived to be more attractive and desirable.

Put yourself in their shoes and imagine how you would feel if a boring looking cardboard box was sent over to you. That’s not a good feeling at all. It definitely feels like they’re trying to con you.

Step 4: Grow Your Online Business 

The WordPress and WooCommerce combo is an incredibly robust tool that lets you get on your feet in no time. But there are a couple of things you can do to keep your business head and shoulders above the competition.

Monitor Site Traffic

Rule number one of doing business is to know who your customers are, where they’re coming from, and what they’re actually doing on your website. This data will help you fine-tune your online store to address their favorite features. There are a couple of tools (free and paid) that let you do this. One of the most popular is Google Analytics.

Simply inject a small bit of code into your website to set this up and visit Google Analytics to keep track of traffic. The real-time data will reveal a bunch of metrics, such as social media advertising, landing page conversions, and so much more. We won’t bore you with the details on installing Google Analytics because Google has plenty of tutorials on this subject matter.

Click hereOpens in a new tab. to learn how you can set up Google Analytics.

Create a Newsletter

GetResponse is an email autoresponder tool that lets you send powerful marketing campaigns straight into your subscriber’s inboxes. It provides an excellent opportunity to offer discounts, coupons, make announcements, and provide helpful information. More importantly, a newsletter helps you establish a relationship with your subscribers.

You can easily integrate most email marketing platforms with your WordPress website. Here is an in-depth tutorial on integrating GetResponse with WordPress.

Wrapping Up 

So there you have it. All the most essential steps needed to set up an online store. But like all successful businesses, your online store will require time and commitment. The more time you spend tweaking your ecommerce store, the greater your sales.

If you like this article or want to offer your own tips, we’d love to hear what you have to say. Send us all your suggestions in the comments below.

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