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How to Build an eCommerce Website: Beginner’s Guide (2021)

Building an eCommerce website takes blood, sweat, and tears. But with this guide, you'll be well on your way to succeed.
How to Build an eCommerce Website: Beginner’s Guide (2021)

eCommerce has very quickly become a juggernaut of an industry and everyone seems to be getting involved. As traditional brick-and-mortar retailing has declined, the power of the internet has lowered the barriers to entry, and a global supply chain has made huge strides in solving last mile delivery – there’s never been a better time to get into eCommerce.

But that journey starts with building an eCommerce website and that can be a little overwhelming if you’ve never done it before.

Well, if that’s the case, then you’re in the right place.

In this article we’re going to run through how to build an eCommerce website from scratch in a step-by-step fashion, that you can apply to get up and running in no time!

What is an eCommerce website?

It’s important to get a sense of what we’re trying to accomplish here, before we start building. An eCommerce website is an online store or portal where you sell products and/or services to customers virtually.

It’s typically made up of product listings and descriptions, checkout functionality for buyers to add items to their virtual cart, a payment processing piece to collect the funds, and then a dispatch sequence that gets those goods to the customers.

When done well, these websites can provide a superior shopping experience for the customer, while keeping incredibly low overheads and fixed costs – and that’s what makes them such lucrative opportunities.

Ready to learn how to build an eCommerce website from scratch?

Here we go…

How to build an eCommerce website from scratch

Step 1: Define the product / service you are going to sell

Before we think about building anything, you need to decide on what you’re going to sell. Best practice is to select a niche that you have some domain expertise in, and sell something in that range, but there are also entrepreneurs who look more opportunistically for undervalued items which they can market and sell on to the right audience.

Whichever route you go, spend some time thinking about what you’re going to sell and who your target audience is going to be.

Step 2: Select an appropriate business model

The business model is the framework through which your business is going to run and so you need to figure out how you’re going to do it.

This choice will depend on how much time and resources you have to devote to the store, what margins you’re aiming for, how much experience you have with selling online, and various other factors.

Here are some business models to think about:

  • Dropshipping. In this model, you never actually handle the goods themselves, but connect a supplier with the end customer, with you acting as the marketing and brand building piece in the middle.
  • In-house shipping. You could do the shipping yourself if it’s a handcrafted piece or something that you’re making by yourself. In this case you would make the sale and then physically ship the items yourself.
  • Digital Assets. You don’t have to be selling physical items. You can have great success selling digital assets such as information products, and other virtual goods that can be delivered instantly to buyers on checkout.
  • Marketplaces. You can outsource the selling portion to a large marketplace like Amazon, or the like – keeping your site only as a virtual home to then push traffic to these marketplaces which will deal with all the other components of the business.
  • And many more…

Once you’ve selected a business model that works for you, it’s time to learn how to build an eCommerce website.

Step 3: Register a domain name

Your domain name is going to be your home on the internet and it’s where you’re going to try and push traffic to in order to make your sales.

Select a domain name that evokes the sort of connotations you want to be associated with your brand, and make sure that it’s something that is memorable and easy to spell.

You can buy domains in a number of different ways, and once you’ve got one – that’s going to be the home for the eCommerce store itself.

Step 4: Sign up with an eCommerce Platform

The world of eCommerce software has come an awfully long way and you don’t have to do any of it yourself anymore. There are a range of really good solutions for eCommerce stores including Shopify, Wix, Squarespace, WooCommerce, and others which are fantastic out-of-the-box solutions that can get you up and running in no time at all.

Personally, I recommend Shopify because it is the market leader and has a fantastic service that you can trust. With eCommerce, reliability is crucial for customer experience so going with a tried-and-tested platform is a must.

However, the other platforms can also be good options for various use cases, so shop around a bit and see what suits your store the best.

Step 5: Build the site

Your virtual storefront needs to be compelling enough to catch the attention of potential buyers and usher them down your sales funnel. As such, it’s important to spend some time designing and building a site that you can be proud of.

  • Make use of themes. Most of the major eCommerce platforms will come with a range of really awesome themes that look great right out of the box. For most people this is more than good enough and there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Adapting a theme to your needs means that you’ll have something that looks sleek and professional – which is a very important component.
  • Write compelling content. Your sales copy, product descriptions, and supporting text throughout the website need to be carefully crafted to entice your target audience and clearly demonstrate the value of what you’re selling. By spending the time and resources to get this right, you ensure that you patch up any leaks in your funnel and lead your buyers down the path efficiently and gracefully.
  • Include awesome photos. Buying something is a very visual experience and so it’s important to include high-quality images and/or videos of your goods in action to appeal to potential customers. A product photo can be make or break, so this is not something to skimp on.
  • Include customer reviews if you can. Social proof goes a long way to allaying potential concerns about buying something online. So, if you do have genuine reviews that you can add to your product pages, be sure to do that so other potential customers can see why your products are so valuable from someone slightly less biased than you are.

Step 6: Integrate a payment processor

Once your site is up and your products are listed successfully, you’ll need to ensure that you have a payment gateway installed that can handle the financial part of the transaction. Most of the platforms will come with payment processors already included, so all you’ll need to do is adjust the settings and make sure that everything is set up as you want it.

Pricing on these payment processors can vary widely, and they can sometimes be difficult to compare because the features are articulated and distributed in different ways. There are also significant variances depending on currency and what part of the world you’re in. Do your research here and look for the most economical option for your business and for your customer, assuming that it gives you the functionality and security that you need.

If you want to do it yourself, there are a range of plug-in payment processes that you can bolt on to your website to achieve the same objective.

Regardless of what way you do it, spend some time making sure that you eliminate as much friction from the transaction as possible. You want things to be as seamless as possible.

Step 7: Select a shipping partner

Once you’ve collected the money, you’ll need to ship out those goods to their new owners, and that requires shipping integration.

The method will differ here depending on what business model you’ve chosen, but for the vast majority of platforms – they will have agreements with various shipping providers, and you can go through their processes to set up the shipping on your website.

Pay close attention to the terms and conditions, user reviews, fees, and other pertinent information about your shipping company of choice because at the end of the day, you are responsible for a pleasant user experience.

The buck stops with you.

Easy as that!

And there you have it. Follow those steps and learn how to build an eCommerce website from scratch in absolutely no time. It’s amazing how easy so many of these steps have become, compared to what you needed to be able to do just a decade or two ago. The industry has blown this opportunity wide open and now anybody with an idea can be selling online in a matter of days.

This doesn’t mean that you’ll succeed though, of course. You still have to pick the right items and be good at what you do.

But if you keep your wits about you and put in the work, you could find yourself with a burgeoning eCommerce store that changes your life.

Don’t hesitate on this one. Take that idea and put it into action.

I can’t wait to see what you build!