How to Start an Online Store That Won’t Disappoint You
Did you know that about 6 out of every 10 online shoppers tell their friends about a negative shopping experience? This information clearly shows how vital word-of-mouth is when it comes to online selling.
Many reports have verified this data. For example, a study by Adobe has found that about 9 out of every 10 online shopping experience is influenced by friends.
Fig: Factors that influence mobile online shopping.
Most ecommerce enthusiasts, when knowing about these facts, rush into building their first online store. Thus, they fail to deliver a “wow” inducing shopping experience.
People would start avoiding your online store like the plague. The lack of a satisfactory feel is one of the key reasons (highly likely) that over 300,000 Shopify stores are inactive.
Thus, It is crucial that you take strategic and research-based steps before opening your online store. We are going to discuss 10 such steps in this discussion.
If you want to deliver a satisfying experience to your store visitors and make money, do read on.
Step 1: Decide on a niche
This step is, to be honest, intuitive.
Most ecommerce enthusiasts would go to AliExpress.com or Amazon, look at the best-selling items and zero in on a product they are passionate about.
That is very romantic. But not effective.
When deciding on a niche, it is imperative that you perform a little more research.
Please don’t let “research” intimidate you!
We suggest you think of it as an exploration.
The more niche research you would perform before you open your online store, the less hair-pulling moments you would experience down the line.
So, how can I perform this niche-research?
This research would not involve reading thousand-page books. So you can relax. Suppose you have no idea what you want to sell in your online store.
It’s totally fine if you don’t.
The first step in niche research for your online store: Explore a variety of niches
The first step you need to take is, have a look at a list of niches. An excellent place for this purpose is the Amazon best-selling products list.
As you can see in the image above, there are many niches in the list. These include entertainment collectables, health & household, office products, pet supplies, arts & crafts and many more.
When you click on any item in the hamburger menu, it will lead you to sub-niches. It would be easier for you to choose from among the micro-niches.
The second step in niche research for your online store: Find ones you are passionate about.
The next step would be to select a few niches from the list above you are passionate about.
Why is passion necessary?
Well, if you are not passionate about the niche of your store, you would not be able to push yourself through the tough times. Or more like you would not want to.
So for the sake of this discussion, let’s say you are passionate about the clothing, beauty & health and pet supplies niche.
Each of these has micro niches. For instance, under the clothing niche, there are men, women, baby, boys and girls.
Under the “women” sub-niche, there are: sporty, everyday dresses, workout, romantic, weekend, work dresses etc. Suppose you have chosen the workout clothes of women as your sub-niche.
What should you do next?
The third step in niche research for your online store: Determine peoples’ interest in your chosen niche(s).
We recommend you not to be too ecstatic with the number of sales and reviews of products on Amazon. You must be wondering why we say this.
The reason is, those who go to Amazon would not go anywhere (your store, for example) to buy their intended product.
That’s the reason you need to find out if people search for products in your chosen niche on search engines. If they do, it means they are looking for a better price, sale/discount offers or “buy X, get Y” deals.
Thus, after you have chosen your niche (fitness clothes for women for this discussion), the next step would be to head over to Google Trends and find out how interested people are in your niche items.
As you can see, “fitness clothes for women” has considerable search volume (but only in the USA).
But if you run “gym clothes for women”, you would see that it has about four times as much search volume worldwide as compared to “fitness clothes for women”.
This data wonderfully visualises the importance of using proper keywords in your online store.
The fourth step in niche research for your online store: Break your niche into sub-categories.
Your choice of niche is still a broad field. What you need to do is narrow it down further.
So, how can you do it? It is straightforward.
Just go on to google.com and type your niche (gym clothes for women for you). Google autocomplete function would give you several suggestions.
Furthermore, the related searches at the bottom would give you even more queries people use to look for items of your niche.
You can do something similar in Amazon.
Just type “gym clothes for women”, and Amazon would give you a list of suggestions.
For this tutorial discussion, let’s suppose you have chosen “gym clothes for women sets plus-size” from the Amazon suggestion list.
You can go for other sub-niches such as:
“gym clothes for petite women”,
“gym clothes for all purposes”,
“gym clothes for lifting”,
“gym clothes for intense aerobics”,
“gym clothes for yoga.”
“100% cotton gym clothes for women (with sensitive skin)” etc.
As you can see, your niche can be based on specific features of your niche items.
For instance, fully cotton-made gym clothes, gym clothes with stripes or of a specific colour, gym leggings with pockets that fit any smart-phone etc.
Or it can be targeted to specific groups of people (in this case, women with sensitive skin, women of a particular build, working women, women preferring items on a budget).
Step 2: Find out what your competitors are up to
Surveilling on your rivals in your desired niche is easier said than done. Yet, it is crucial for your online store to succeed.
If you think it is a huge challenge, then know that it is. So let’s buckle up.
First, google your niche (in this case, gym clothes for women sets plus size).
Carefully look at the first 3-5 links in the SERP.
Google has figured that a person using this search term is most likely willing to buy gym clothes. Thus, all the pages in the SERP above are of brands/online stores.
There are several factors that you, as a would-be online store owner, need to find out about your rivals.
- Social impact of the brands in the SERP.
- An estimation of their website traffic and the traffic demographic.
- Number and type of reviews they have on platforms like Amazon and AliExpress.
- Their entire product range.
- Their product prices.
- What are their USPs?
- Their ad campaigns.
- Their products are most popular or have received a significant number of negative reviews.
Products of your rivals with negative reviews give you an insight into the market condition.
If you provide those products at a lower price, ensure better quality and customer support, it is likely to give your returns in a manifold.
Step 3: Determine your unique value proposition
After performing competition research, you would have a substantial amount of knowledge about the business operation of our rivals.
You know what products they are offering, their price range, the ad campaigns they are using, a unique selling point that makes them different from others, their source of traffic and traffic demographic.
Now you need to figure out your future online store’s unique value proposition.
Wondering what unique value proposition is?
Well, it is that unique aspect/criteria of the products you are going to sell or the way you present them to your prospects that makes you different from the other sellers in the market.
For instance, Fabletics, a popular athleisure brand, offers membership and personalised activewear recommendation. The price is you browse through all their new collection on their website by 5th of every month.
When you do, shop or skip at least one product (at the click of a button). If you don’t, your credit card would be charged $49.95. You would be able to use this amount as store credit later.
It is a fantastic way to bring people to your store and encourage them to buy.
When you are just starting your online store, you would not be able to offer such a robust form of uniqueness.
Instead, you would need to go for something simple.
For instance, you can offer the following:
- Gym clothes and personalised diet and fitness recommendation for plus-size women.
- Gym clothes and easy healthy diet preparation equipment for free or at a discount.
- Offering a combo of activewear such as leggings, tops, water carrier and gym shoes.
Your online store’s UVP doesn’t have to be any of the three above. It can be anything unique that would draw attention and make people want to buy from your store.
Step 3: Perform keyword research
If you are new to ecommerce, blogging or selling online, you may not have heard about keyword research before.
Let us then clarify it.
What is keyword research?
Keyword research is the process of finding out the words and phrases people use to look for products in your chosen niche on search engines and social media platforms. It also includes finding out the number of monthly searches of those phrases.
Last but not least, it is also crucial to know how many other brands are competing for those phrases. The more the number of competing brands, the more challenging it would be to rank on search engines for those phrases.
So how can you do keyword research for your online store? There are many tools for this purpose.
Let’s have a look at how to use a few of them.
Google should be a key tool in your keyword research arsenal.
Well, your potential customers look for items in your niche on Google. Thus, it would be like drawing from the source.
The process is simple.
Just type your chosen niche. In this case, let’s go with “gym clothes for women sets plus size”.
There are two points we would like to announce.
- We have “Keywords Everywhere” extension installed in our Chrome browser.
- In the “Region” section of Google, we have selected Australia because our office is there.
As you can see in the image above, there are many related keywords on the right-hand side of the SERP.
We strongly suggest you copy and paste them in an Excel file or Google sheet.
Then there is the “People also ask” section.
This section contains questions many of your target customers are asking. If you click on the downward arrow beside one, Google will show you a snippet and a link. If you close the question, Google will load this section with even more questions that people are asking.
And finally the related searches section at the bottom.
These also make valuable keywords.
If you open any of these in a separate tab, then you would have another SERP. If you scroll to the bottom of the screen, the related search section of that SERP will give you more keywords.
We suggest you collect as many keywords as possible at this stage.
Ahrefs is one of the most robust keyword research and website analysis tools under the blue sky.
The reason you would benefit from using it is, it gives you the monthly search volume and competition score data.
After logging in, you would need to click the “Keyword explorer” tab in the nav-bar. It would take you to the window where you would be able to type your niche and get keywords related to that.
As you can see above, you can find keywords people are using on Google, YouTube, Amazon and many other platforms.
Type in each of the keywords you have collected using Google (mentioned above). For each keyword, you would get the search volume, keyword difficulty, number of clicks the search result links receive and keyword ideas list.
You can export the keyword ideas list as an Excel file as well. If you are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of data Ahrefs provides, do let us know.
Since Ahrefs data analysis is one of our day-to-day activities, we are optimally placed to simplify keyword research for you.
Disclaimer: Ahrefs is a paid tool.
Step 4: Develop engagement on relevant social media platforms
When you performed competitor research, you must have checked out their social pages. When doing that, you have seen the amount of engagement they receive on their social profiles.
Let’s say, you have seen your potential rivals run maximum promo campaigns on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Then these are where you need to have pages for your future online store.
We suggest you set up profiles on other platforms such as Quora, Reddit and Twitter as well.
Come up with a unique and easy-to-remember business name for your future store. Along with the business name, prepare an eye-catching and elegant logo as well and buy a domain as well.
Before you prepare your social profile, decide on a colour palette for your brand as well.
These colours should be used in each of your content (photos and videos) on your social profile. It would help establish an associative impression of your future store on your prospects.
Once your social profiles are up, start sharing content (photos, GIFs, videos, blog posts, etc.) which people would find helpful.
Join other groups based on your niche. Ask people questions about their life pain-points which you can address through your store products.
These activities would help establish your brand as caring and value-driven. You would do well to remember one thing in mind.
The more consistently you would share helpful content on your social profiles, interact with your audience and build rapport with them, the quicker you would create a loyal customer base.
These efforts, if regularly done, would continue to deliver you the benefits of word-of-mouth for years to come.
Step 5: Develop a sample buyer persona of your target customers
When you have a buyer persona for your would-be customers, you would be well-placed to anticipate their pain points.
The more pain points you would address, the more your customers would love you! That’s as true as sunshine.
But how do you prepare a buyer persona?
For this purpose, first, visit the social profiles of 10-15 people who have consistently engaged with your rivals.
Find out what they have in common.
The factors you would need to focus on their age, gender, profession, location, what else they have engaged with (like, comment, share) which are common to most of them.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to them. Tell them who you are and ask them about their preference when it comes to fitness. Let them know that you are going to bring a new brand to the market.
With the info that you have collected so far, prepare a buyer persona.
Step 6: Run paid ads on relevant social channels
So you have set up social profiles for your online dream store. People are engaging with your posts, as well. Now is the time to take an aggressive step.
That would be to run a paid ad on two platforms. These would be the two where your rivals have run paid ads as well.
The purpose of this ad is simple: gain email addresses of at least 50 people who are interested in your brand and what it has to offer.
For this ad, we suggest the following criteria:
- Make it a video ad.
- Tell your audience exactly what values and benefits you intend to offer through your future online store.
- Address the pain points of your potential customers.
- Target your ad to a very narrow and specific audience (under 2 million).
- Run it for two days and adjust your ad copy and targeting accordingly to drive results.
- Set a budget of $50 ($100 would be better) with a daily spend of $5.
For running paid ads, you would find the following resources helpful:
- How to run Facebook ads.
- How to optimise Facebook ad to drive conversion.
- A step-by-step guide to Facebook ads.
Step 7: Set a goal for your store
Setting small yet specific goals for your store is crucial to keeping all your actions aligned to driving sales.
Well, it is easy to be fixated on getting sales. You, as a customer-centric store owner, need to stand apart from that crowd.
Your target is making the lives of your buyers better. And that mindset should reflect in your store goals.
But what should these goals be? We recommend only one for the initial phase:
- Get 100 (at least) visitors to your site in the first seven days after store launch.
Now, let’s break it down.
100 visitors to your online store over 7 days means approximately 15 visitors every day (100/7=14.29).
And suppose, the average conversion rate for your niche is 1.2%. That means, from every 100 visitors, you can expect 1 sale.
The next thing you need to figure out is, how much you have to spend in paid ads to drive 100 visitors to your brand-new store every day.
How much would it cost to drive the daily target traffic to your online store?
To make an educated estimation of this amount, you need to have data about the click-through-rate of paid ads of a platform (let’s say Facebook).
You can get this data by talking to other store-owners in ecommerce groups. Blog posts on Facebook ad benchmarks can provide you with reliable data as well.
Thus, we recommend you visit the articles in the SERP and get an average number. The average conversion rate for Facebook ads across all industries is 0.9%.
That means, for every 100 people that see your ad, only 1 person clicks on it. Remember our daily traffic target? It was 15 visitors every day. That is 15 clicks every day.
That means you would need to show your ad to (15100)=1,500 people every day. For Australia, the average cost-per-click is $0.97. Thus, getting 15 clicks on your online store link would cost you (150.97)=$14.55 (approximately) every day.
According to the above calculation, you would need to spend (14.55*7)=$101.85 over seven days to get a total of 100 visitors to your online store.
We recommend you read further on calculating the cost of Facebook ad campaigns.
Step 8: Prepare keyword-focused content
Remember the keyword list you prepared in step 3 of this discussion? That was not just to feel good about yourself (that time will come)!
From that list, select 10 long-tail keywords (phrases with 4+ words). These should have at least 50 monthly search volume and a keyword difficulty score of under 30 (we recommend under 24).
Then, either write 10 pieces of content yourself or have an experienced content writer prepare these for you. Make sure these content provide valuable and unique information to the readers. Otherwise, your effort would just go down the drain.
Another thing about these blog posts. Each of these must be optimised for search engines.
When building your online store, publish these in the blog section. Provided your blog posts provide useful and fresh content; organic traffic would flow to your store for months on auto-pilot.
Step 9: Design a favicon
A favicon is a small image that appears on the browser tab beside the text.
Even though it is small in size, it is capable of leaving an impression on the minds of your visitors. Whether you do it yourself or hire a professional designer, make sure the favicon adheres to your brand colours.
Step 10: Choose a CMS.
CMS stands for the content management system. Examples of popular CMSs include Shopify, BigCommerce, WordPress, Squarespace, Wix, Weebly etc.
Most of these have three to five pricing plans suitable for different purposes and budgets.
But when you are just starting, you would most likely want a flat pricing plan. Having to choose one from multiple plans (each comes with a wide range of features) may feel overwhelming.
If that is the case, then WebCommander would be suitable for you. You would have a 15-day trial period with 300+ themes at your disposal.
Whatever niche you would have selected, there is a theme that is just the right fit.
We have tried our best to cover every step prior to starting your online store in as much detail as possible. Has any query crossed your mind at any point during our discussion?
If no, then great! Good luck with your store.
If you do have questions, feel free to send it our way. Addressing online store opening related issues is our life-blood (just being honest)! Until next time.
Helen Golubeva, a storyteller at X-Cart eCommerce shopping cart. Addicted to yoga, interested in philosophy, and totally mad about copywriting. I love to use the power of words to inspire people and help them grow their eCommerce businesses.