The Retailer’s Checklist for Starting an Online Store

eCommerce is hotter now than ever. If you’re not selling online already, the time to get started was yesterday. Shoppers are switching between sales channels, and are more inclined to buy online. 

But you probably already know that—the question isn’t Should you. It’s How. Starting an online store doesn’t have to be hard if you have a little help. Luckily, we’re here with the advice you need to make it a breeze.

In this article we’ll go how to start an online store, including how to:

  • Register a domain
  • Choose a theme
  • Set up your products
  • Organize all your categories
  • Design your homepage
  • Add supporting pages
  • Configure checkout
  • Get shipping set up
  • Integrations with third parties
  • Open your store

The true cost of operating an eCommerce site

To accurately estimate your future costs and plan for expenses, find out the 10 major costs of SaaS eCom solutions and open-source software.

What is the cost of opening an online store?

The costs associated with opening an online store include the domain name registration and hosting, ongoing costs (inventory budget and shipping and payment processing fees), and any additional costs you might add to your store (like plugin subscriptions). You should also consider advertising costs if your marketing plan depends on paid (non-organic) social media promotion.

There is no average figure—you’ll have to calculate the costs for your particular situation yourself. You will need to build and code an online store from scratch. However, you can use a pre-built theme or a dedicated developer. eCommerce platformThis will reduce the cost. 

Your online store’s success will bring you more revenue than the costs. Online sales open your business up for a wider range of potential customers. 

Checklist for starting an online shop

Getting started online can seem intimidating if you’ve never done it before. That’s why you break it up into steps and focus on getting the best of your store up first, and keep building as you go.

Here’s what you need to do to launch your online store.

Register a domain

Your Domain It is the web address that shoppers will use in order to access your site. A domain name can be broken down into three parts:

  • The subdomain:The www. (or equivalent—some addresses use shop.For example, the URL may begin with a “”.  
  • The root domain is: the middle of the URL—the site name. This will be your business name.
  • The top-level domain The end of URLs. The most searched top-level domain is .com

You’ll get your root domain and top-level domain from a domain provider like GoDaddyOr, and you’ll pick your subdomain when you connect your domain to your eCom store provider. 

Domain providers often advertise domains. $9.99 – $14.99 a year, but the initial purchase price can increase if you’re after a premium domain. 

Premium domains are .com domains that are highly in demand and easy to remember, and their visibility—.com is the most popular top-level domain, and so might be the one your shoppers are looking for—makes them more desirable. domains may not be premium domains. However, if the name you are interested in for your store has been flagged by the registry as a premium domain and is prohibitively costly, you can try to find a similar root domain with a different top level domain such,.net.

Choose a theme and customize it

You can code your theme from scratch. Or you can hire someone to do it. It’s much cheaper and easier to open an online shop with a pre-made, customizable design.

Your theme is the first impression that potential customers have when they arrive on your page. It should impress them.

  • Be mobile responsiveThis means that it should have a mobile theme, which it automatically switches to when shoppers browse on a smartphone. 
  • It’s easy to navigate Your categories and shopping cart should be easy to find for shoppers. If they’re confused, they’ll leave. 
  • Load quickly: Website speed is crucial to keep browsers on your site long enough to convert to shoppers. How fast does a website need to load? Think seconds—36% of visitorsIf it takes more then 3 seconds to load, your site will be removed.
  • Focus on the visuals. Bold, visual-focused design catches eyes. A theme that emphasizes images will help you communicate brand values without having to rely on a lot text that shoppers might scroll past. 

When you customize your theme, be sure to keep your business’ identity in mind. What fonts and colors do you use for your logo? What color and design accents do they use in your store? You can bring that feeling online, so your virtual space feels just like your physical space. 

Create product pages with descriptions, photos, and pricing

If you’re going to sell online, you’ll need products to sell—but you shouldn’t start with your entire catalog at once. Focus on setting up eight of your best-selling products for launch, and work on adding more once you’re up and running. 

Each product needs a title and a meta description. Here’s what you need to keep in mind:

  • Title: while your product titles should include a keyword where possible, don’t fall into the word salad trap. Keep it short.
  • Meta description: When your page appears in search results, the snippet text search engines display. It should be a sentence of at least 155 characters that includes the keyword(s) used in the title.
  • Product description: You can be more detailed here, but keep it short and simple. Include details about the product, including any important measurements, material or model details.
  • Photos: At least one, but it’s better to have more. These should be high quality and show the product at multiple angles—if it’s apparel, try including models wearing different sizes. These photos must be yours or you have permission from your vendor.

Did you know? Small Biz Sense Retail connects to eCom so your inventory automatically syncs with your online store. This allows you to reduce the time to get your products eCom ready.

Organize your inventory for eCom

Your category structure might not be ready for eCommerce shoppers if you and your employees are the only ones to see it.

Instead of replicating your brick and mortar categories, starting an online store means you’ll need to review your categories and potentially do a little clean up. For maximum browsing efficiency, they should be set up as department > class > sub-class. 

Here’s an example:

Women’s clothes

Design your homepage

Once you have chosen your theme, you can begin to think about the look you want for your homepage. 

Don’t overload visitors with information. It is important to make sure that everything is clear and easily accessible. Try to catch their attention at a glance—include the information they need to know to want to dig deeper. Showcase your top products and include seasonal sales or discounts on a banner.

Your supporting pages should be created

In addition to your products and your home page, you’ll want to consider supporting pages like:

  • About page: what’s your business’ story? Detail it here—and don’t forget to give shoppers details on your physical locations and their opening hours, as well as contact information.
  • Terms of service This page outlines the terms that shoppers must agree to when they shop at your store or browse your site. Sites like TermsFeed to automatically generate the content you’ll need for this page. 
  • Frequently Asked Questions: Ask any questions you might have in-store. Be prepared for any questions that online shoppers might have, such as about your size chart. This page will answer your questions.
  • Shipping: Although you can provide shipping information on your frequently asked questions pages, it may be better to dedicate a separate page. You should detail who you ship with and to which countries, as well as your rates. 

Configure your shopping cart

A checkout is a core component of starting an online store—shoppers need a way to pay, after all. Your eCom platform must have a variety of payment providers for your area. Choose one and sign-up for their services to make your checkout functional.

You’ll also want to be sure you’re offering quick checkout options, like those Apple Pay® and Google Pay™Allow.

While Buy Now, Pay Later (also known as BNPL) technically comes into the picture earlier than checkout—shoppers will see it offered on product pages—this is a good time to explore it as well. You can offer BNPL by checking with the companies that your eCom platform integrates.

Establish shipping methods

How will you ship your purchases to customers? Will you offer curbside pickup and local delivery? What are your fees? Before you can get your online store up and running, you’ll need to answer these questions. 

You can probably handle curbside pickup, pick up in store, and local delivery on the internet, but you might need an expert to help you with mailing orders. Your eCom platform must integrate with shipping companies such as ShipStationOr Easypost. A shipping integration can be used to coordinate shipping and reduce shipping fees.

Don’t forget to personalize the shipping notice emails your eCom platform sends. 

Connect your online shop to Google Analytics or Facebook Pixel

Google Analytics tracks the performance of your website by tracking how many people visit it, their origins, and their demographics. The Facebook Pixel is a tool that helps you build and measure audiences for ad campaign. 

While you can launch your online store without them, they’re powerful tools for getting to know your site’s traffic and crafting more effective Facebook ads. It’ll be easiest if your eCom platform has integrations for these tools—Small Biz Sense does—but you can set them up manually as well. 

Open your store

You’ve followed all the steps for starting an online store: you’ve got your products set up in a category system that makes sense, you’ve filled out your home page and supporting pages, shoppers can pay and pick their shipping method. You’re ready to go live!

Make sure you follow your eCom platform’s instructions for connecting your store to the domain you bought. After that, take a moment to verify that you own your domain. Google Search Console. Once that’s finished, you can submit a sitemap to Google—this means you can let Google know your site exists and should be indexed for an SEO boost. 

That’s it—your initial setup work is done. It’s time to promote your store!

It’s easier than you think to open an online store

eCommerce doesn’t have to be intimidating. Break the setup down into steps and remember that you can add products as you go, and you’ll be just fine—but you’ll have an even easier time with a commerce platform built with your needs in mind.

To discuss how selling your business online could be a benefit to your company, reach out to us—let’s see what you could do.


Cyndy Lane

Cyndy is business journalist with a focus on entrepreneurship and small business. With over a decade of experience covering the startup and small business landscape, Cyndy has a reputation for being a knowledgeable, insightful and approachable journalist. She has a keen understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing small business owners and is able to explain them in a way that is relatable and actionable for her readers.