Starting an Ecommerce Business, in a Nutshell

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It may be obvious but after a discussion in the office we decided to put together a simple guideline for getting into e-commerce.

This is a list of things that you need to do in order to start selling from your own web site.

Get a Domain Name These are so cheap yet so fundamentally important it really should be one of the first things you do. Always ensure you can get the .com even if you intend to run from the If budget allows, buy all the top level domains you can afford simply to ensure they are yours - eg .com, .net,,, .info etc etc.

Find a Supplier The first thing you need is a supplier that you can buy from cheap enough to markup and earn a reasonable profit. Often this is one of the hardest bits, especially when you are starting out, finding a supplier that will agree to supply you can be tough. Be prepared to pay for stock up front initially and also to take on stock holdings.

You May need Retail Shop Even though you intend to make ecommerce the primary focus of your business, you may find some suppliers simply will not work with you if you do not have a retail shop. You need to double check this. Some times it is enough to have a few counters or a display rack in your warehouse, or some kind of “trade counter”. Other times you may really need a plate glass high street store front to get supply.

Decide on your Fulfillment You need to decide how you are going to fulfill customer orders. Are you going to do everything yourself? Are you going to use a fulfilment company to take care of this for you. You may find that your supplier(s) offer a drop shipping service where they will fulfill orders directly for you.

Decide on Shipping Methods and Charges Are you going to offer next day courier? Do you need to worry about insurance? Can you get away with Royal Mail? There are lots of things to consider when thinking about this aspect of the business.

Merchant Account If you want to take credit card payments, and any serious ecommerce business should - I definitely believe it is not enough to simply offer paypal - then you are going to need a merchant account. You will also need a business account - these do not have to be from the same bank, though they would have you believe they do. Shop around for the best rates - this can have a distinct impact on your bottom line, especially if margins are tight.

Payment Service Provider The payment service provider is the system that will actually allow customers to enter card details and will report transactions back to your merchant account. Again its worth shopping around for the best rates. Bear in mind you can only have one PSP per merchant account.

Choose your Shopping Cart Platform You need to choose which platform you want to base the site on. Choices generally include Magento which is without a doubt the most popular and powerful, Open Cart, osCommerce and derivatives are still popular though not really for new sites these days.

Get a Design Your choices for design range from using an off the shelf theme which is the cheapest option through to getting a full custom design created. If you are looking for templates, simply search google for {platform} template or {platform} theme. For example Magento Templates.

Implement your design on your Cart If you have chosen a template then this is usually a case of installing that template and then making whatever customisations you want/need to make in order to brand the site with your logos, colour schemes etc. If you have chosen to go for a custom design then this is a much larger task but the end result is something that is exactly what you want. This is definitely something that Edmonds Commerce can help you with.

Load your Product Data You need to populate your store with product information. In its barest form this should include name, description, SKU, price and images. You may find getting the data is tricky. Alternatively you may be lucky enough to have suppliers that offer a full data feed and images for their products making this very easy. If you need to bridge the gap, getting a custom scraper built to get product data from your suppliers web sites can be a very cost effective solution.

Choose a Hosting Company Whilst your store is in development you will not generally need hosting. All of our client work is carried out on our local environment and staging server. It is only when the site is ready to go live that hosting is required. When choosing a host there is lots to consider. The first and most obvious is the hardware spec of your server. Are you going to go for the cheapest shared hosting, a VPS with reasonable power or a dedicated with large RAM and CPU resources?

The other big question that I think a lot of people do not consider in enough detail is the level of support you need from your hosting company. This has a dramatic impact on the price. It’s possible to get a very powerful dedicated for around the £100 per month mark. However don’t bother calling the support line at 2am on a Saturday Morning. If you need full phone support, especially 24/7 then expect to pay for this. I would also advise trying to ring the support lines at these kinds of times just to check that it really is there.

Launch Your Store You can launch your store as soon as you have product data and a means of payment set up and the store is accessible by visiting your domain name. There are different schools of thought on when you should launch. One is that you should not launch until your site is 100% finished and ready to impress your visitors with its sheer amazingness. Another school of thought is that you should launch ASAP to allow search engine spiders to get in and also to allow visitors to start trickling in allowing you to ensure your systems are all working properly before you switch on the more powerful marketing that will drive large traffic.

Register Self Employed If you are starting out in business you need to remember to register yourself as self employed with the revenue. Here is some more info.

Unleash the Marketing Your store will not succeed unless you have an effective marketing strategy in place. This could involve simply SEO + PPC or might extend through to TV adverts, billboards etc. The main differentiator is scale and budget. SEO is a long term strategy, it is unlikley you will achieve great results from the get go. PPC offers an instant response though the costs can be very high so maintaining profitability can be a concern.

Continuous Improvement Once your ecommerce business is up and running you should commit yourself to a continuous cycle of improvement. It’s the only way to ensure you stay ahead of the game and achieve the level of progress you desire.

You need to plan on the fact that you will need to periodically upgrade your shopping cart. Especially if you are using Magento - it is being updated all the time.

Tags: oscommercedesignmagentoecommercehostingpaymentsupportpsptipsitelaunchnewmerchantaccountbanksupplierwarehousefulfillment