How to set up an online shop

June 7 2018

There are many different things that you need to consider when setting up an online shop. Whether you’re starting a new ecommerce site as part of an existing business or striking out alone for a side project, many of those considerations remain the same.

Our intention with this article is not to go into minute detail at every stage of the process of setting up an online shop. Instead, we want to draw your attention to the range of things that you need to think about if you want to be successful.

You may have already considered some of them but there are likely be others that you haven’t got round to yet. Whatever stage of the process you’re in, our hope is that this information will help you to create an engaging online shop that’s capable of meeting your business goals.

1. Create a distinctive brand identity

Your brand is your shop’s identity. It’s how people will recognise you whether they’re on your site, scrolling through a social feed or looking at an ad. It should be memorable, unique and eye-catching.

Important elements of your branding include logos, fonts, colours and your website’s graphic design. These should all work together to create a cohesive image of what your brand is. This is your chance to communicate to your target audience and engage with them in a relevant way.

If your audience is young and on-trend, your branding should be slick, bold and modern. If you want to inspire trust in an older audience, you need to ensure that the brand looks professional and serious.

Those are generic examples, but they highlight an important principle. You cannot afford to make a decision on branding based on your personal preferences. Instead, you need to consider what your target audience will expect from your brand and adapt to those requirements.

2. Go through the legal process of registering your business

Assuming you’re setting up your online shop as a new business and not as a new project for an existing company, you’ll need to register it for tax purposes. There are two main routes you could go down: registering a limited company and registering as a sole trader.

Registering a private limited company

A private limited company – the standard type of business that protects stakeholders from personal liability – has a two-pronged setup. You’ll need to register with Companies House and with HMRC.

Registering with Companies House is how you set your business name and legal information (like address and shareholders). Registering with HMRC is how you make sure you’re all set to pay tax.

For more information, take a look at these government resources:

Registering as a sole trader

If you intend to keep your ecommerce business small, you could set yourself up as a sole trader. This means that you’re personally liable for the company’s finances, but makes it much easier to keep the profits you make without jumping through legal hoops.

You’ll need a confirmed business name for registration purposes, but you don’t need to go through Companies House in the same way as you do to set up a limited company. Instead, you’ll set everything up with HMRC through the government website.

You also need to remember to register to pay VAT if you’re business’s turnover is over the annual £85,000 threshold. Once you’re registered, HMRC will be able to calculate your taxes accurately when you fill in a self-assessment form.

3. Create the best shop you can with your budget

There are multiple ways to create an online presence for your shop. Which one is right for you depends on your budget and business objectives.

Option 1: Selling on an existing marketplace

Amazon, eBay and Etsy all allow you to sell your own products through their own marketplaces. If you have a smaller budget, these platforms have many advantages.

They’re much easier to set up than a full website as they come with much of the functionality in place already. All you have to do is decide on your designs and load on your products. The whole payment side of things is handled for you.

On the other hand, you lose a lot of control and you’ll have to pay continuously to use these services. It will also be hard to establish yourself as a truly independent brand if your only presence is on other ecommerce sites. Even so, many larger businesses often have a presence on eBay and Amazon, even if they run their own sites as well.

Option 2: Pay for an ‘out of the box’ website

Many larger ecommerce platforms offer ‘out of the box’ web design solutions. These make it relatively easy to build an online shop even if you’re short on time or web design skills. Shopify, Magento and WordPress all offer these solutions.

As with anything in the online world, the more you pay the more freedom you’ll have. If you’re intent on keeping costs to a minimum you’ll be forced to use basic options in a lot of places, which will limit the functionality and design of your website. However, if you’re willing to pay for custom themes and additional functionality, you’ll gain a lot more control.

Option 3: Work with a web design agency or freelancer

If you have more money to spend, you may want to consider paying someone else to do the bulk of the work for you. Agencies and freelancers will have the technical knowledge to build the website you require, giving you much more flexibility than the ‘out of the box’ solutions.

Agencies and freelancers should also be able to train you in all the functionality of the site, which means you’ll be able to get to grips with everything you need to know much more easily than if you’re forced to teach yourself.

Even if you have the money to get a site built for you in this way, it will still take time. If you need a website ASAP this may not be the best route to go down.

4. Buying and storing stock

In order for your ecommerce business to be profitable and sustainable, you’ll need a strategy for buying stock at a good price and storing it until it’s bought. Of course, if you’re setting up an online shop as the digital arm of an existing brick and mortar store, you’ll have these processes in place already.

In order to get a good deal on the stock you buy in you’ll need to take the time to research your industry’s distributors. Look around online and, if you can, visit people in person at trade shows in order to get a feel for costs and logistics.

Storage is another important consideration with varying requirements. If your online shop is a hobby or side project and you have space in your house to accommodate the stock, you may not need to look any further afield. For more ambitious projects, you could consider self-storage as the next level. However, if you’re running the shop as a full-time business, it’s likely that you’ll need to look into more permanent solutions, such as a building of your own that you can access easily.

5. Fulfilling orders

The words of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos should be ringing in the ears of anyone trying to break into the ecommerce space: “It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, ‘Jeff I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher,’ [or] ‘I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.’”

Bezos says that customers will always want two things from ecommerce stores: low prices and fast delivery. How are you, as the owner of a new online shop, going to fulfil those desires?

Focusing on fast, cost-efficient shipping is a great way to kill both birds with one stone. There are multiple courier options out there, including Royal Mail and a host of private companies. Research your options and choose the one that meets the needs of your business and customers.

Choosing the right packaging is another key part of the puzzle. You need to make sure that you get the right sized boxes at the right price, along with any protective packaging materials to keep your products safe in transit. Browse our range of single and double wall boxes, or create bespoke boxes with our box calculator to find the perfect fit for your products.


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