Online Retail Business: 10 Step Guide to Start an Online Business

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Often, the largest obstacle that business owners face is being unfamiliar with the process: they are trying to figure out how to start an online retail business. So here are ten easy steps to learn how to open an online store, whether you already sell products in a brick-and-mortar location or you're starting an online business from scratch.

Step 1: The Business Plan

Would you open a brick and mortar business without a business plan? You should not attempt to start an online retail store without one either. A business plan is critical to developing the roadmap and framework necessary to establish a successful business. A business plan for an online business should include the approach that will be used for financing, marketing, and advertising of the business. It should also establish a clear idea of how it will reach success. If you need funding, you will also require this business plan to get venture capitalists on board with your ideas. These elements don't become any less important just because you're saving overhead on facility costs.

Step 2: Choosing an Online Retail Business Structure

After establishing a plan for your online business, you will need to choose an appropriate business structure. If you are unsure of the structure that is best for your company, consider the tax benefits and requirements of each. The IRS website can help you with this decision. After making this decision, you will be able to file all of the documentation to make your business and its name legal. This is generally the end of the offline process. Now, it’s time to take the steps to get your store established online.

Step 3: Choosing the Products You Will Sell

While your business plan probably outlined the general types of products you want to sell, this step entails a much more thorough list of your offerings. You should include the different products, as well as their unique colors, sizes, or other features. In addition to deciding on the types of products, you will also decide how they will be manufactured. In general, if you're not producing your offerings yourself, you will need to get a supplier or find a solution that allows you to distribute through reselling or drop shipping.

Step 4: Getting Bar Codes for Your Products

To legally sell products to consumers through an online store, you will need UPC bar codes for each item you are selling. Does your product come in different sizes, colors, or patterns? You will need a separate barcode for each product, with each combination of features. Luckily, purchasing barcodes can usually be done easily online. You can even buy large batches of consecutive codes at a discount through various online services.

Step 5: Building Inventory

If you are just establishing yourself online, you will need to have a decent sized inventory of products. This is true regardless of whether your ecommerce store is your only storefront or if you have a physical location as well. Nothing can make an online business lose money quite like having a surplus of backed up orders. In addition to establishing your inventory, you will need to make decisions about storage. The good news is that even if you do not have the money for a warehouse yourself, many companies will store your items and ship them out as orders come in for an affordable rate.

Step 6: Choosing a Domain Name and Site Location

First, you must choose a hosting provider like SiteGround. You also have the option of purchasing a domain name and setting up a site yourself. However, this requires an understanding of technical processes that many business owners may not have.

Some of the most popular options to use for building an online retail store include Shopify (read our Shopify review), BigCommerce (read our BigCommerce review), and Wix (read our Wix review). The great thing about these sites is that they allow you to purchase your own domain name, as well as provide you with the basic tools and instruction that you need to build your website from the ground up.

Step 7: Building the Site

Once the technical parts of the site are set up, you will need to choose an overall design for your website. This includes setting up the theme, headers, product categories, and more. You will also need to organize your products into categories, and decide whether you want to include sections such as About Us or a company blog to attract customers to your site.

Step 8: Setting up the Shopping Cart

If you choose to go with an ecommerce platform to help you with your online retail business, setting up the shopping cart should not be difficult. When you do set up a cart, it is often beneficial to use hosted shopping cart software. When you choose self-hosted software, some potential customers may turn away from your business because they are unsure of the security of your site. This is a big factor to consider when establishing your online retail store — read more about features you should consider here.

Step 9: Launching, Advertising, and Marketing

Once your business has been established, your products are ready for sale, and all the bugs have been worked out of the site, you are ready for the official launch. After the launch, you will need to work hard on your ecommerce marketing and advertising strategies to grow your base of loyal customers.

Step 10: Maintaining the Business

Once everything is up and running, the final step – actually this is a step you'll do every day for the whole life of your business 🙂 – is maintaining your business. This includes taking care of technical aspects, such as working out any bugs on the site. It also includes continuing to manage the company inventory, make decisions about new and discontinued products, and providing customer service that will keep customers coming back for more. Finally, this will require you to market using techniques such as promotions, sales, emails, and more so that your business continues in its success. There are few instances where you can “set-and-forget” about your shop but I would focus on making sure I do everything I can to make the best of a good start.

Feature image curtsey of Creativedash

Comments 21 Responses

  1. laurence says:

    hey, i would like to start up an online cosmetics store thruogh instagram and facebook. The problem for me now is where can i find distributors for the products. And, is this a smart idea. if there are better ways, please let me know. This is my first time doing retailing

    1. Bogdan Rancea says:

      Hey Laurance,

      You might want to consider dropshipping. You can find more info here.

  2. Zacky says:

    I want to start selling my Amway products using Shopify, is that smart

  3. gary brown says:

    im starting to sell amway i need help set up a web page

  4. Bundayy says:

    Thanks for the write up, I’m a full stack web developer. I’m planning on starting an online retail store that connects buyers and sellers. The problem is how do I make profit, I don’t know about business and all

    1. shin says:

      hey Bundayy, I am creating same projects as well starting from retailer, the problem I couldn’t find web developer who can work with web. I took a web designer but still need somebody more professional and can give full support of the technical support and create better website. maybe we can collaborate?
      anyway you can read a lot of books that can help you have an idea about business.

  5. Maxwell says:

    Hi to everyone!
    I want to open an online retail store, what documentation do I need to get started?

    1. Bogdan Rancea says:
  6. nichol collins says:

    I want to establish a clothing company online.I have established a domain name already.My next pursuit is getting a LLC I guess or what do you suggest.

    1. Bogdan Rancea says:

      Hey Nichol, you don’t necessarily ned an LLC, depending on where you live setting up your business as a sole proprietor could be an option. The next step would be finding the right ecommerce platform. The articles below might help:


      Bogdan – Editor at

  7. xperto says:

    hi I am a software developer and I what to go into sell of computer parts and I don’t known how to go about it.

  8. yvonne says:

    Hi I would like to start a clothing online store and I don’t we to start, can you please assist me

  9. Yes Kay says:

    Dear Catalin, thanks for your detailed information. Really a great help.
    I want to start to sell products online (planning phase now); do I need to have my own inventory as i do not intend to manufacture them?
    Is is possible to have the manufacturer deliver the product to my customer – would this work?
    Also, the manufacturer will have his brand name on his product; so if I am trading his product, can i get to change the brand name – is this a normal question?
    Please help

  10. Sam says:

    Hi, I’m planning on renting products online, and I don’t really know where to start from. I’m also a bit worried about the shipping my products cuz they’re pretty bulky so it might cost a lot to mail out. But thanks for creating this page! Very useful. I will follow the steps.

  11. Sharon B says:

    So if i want to sell both digital and physical products, like photos (jpeg and also printed and framed) from the same web site and same boutique what ideas do you give me?

    1. Catalin Zorzini says:

      I would go with Shopify + the Fetch addon (for digital stuff). Best of luck!

  12. Ocean Sports HD says:

    I would personally still advise an SSL cert on any store, because you are storing customers, emails, passwords, addresses etc which still should be passed over SSL.

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