how to start an online store

Wondering how to start an online store?

The internet is full of all sorts of weird and wonderful things. Online stores fall under the wonderful side. Ever since the early days of the Dotcom boom, huge companies have been formed by using an online selling platform. Companies like Amazon and EBay have become billion dollar entities over the last 2-3 decades. But they all started from nothing more than an idea, an idea to sell things using the internet. This article will show you how to start an online store, focusing on two different methods. Shopify and the WooCommerce plugin for WordPress.

WordPress isn’t just for blogging. With each new update, the developers are adding more and more options for the millions of users who have created their site using the platform. Many plugins exist that will change your humble website into a thriving online store. Today we will be walking you through how to start an online store using WordPress and WooCommerce.

Shopify runs using the WordPress platform, but is purely designed and aimed at starting online stores. It boasts great functionality from day one and is used by many big name brands worldwide. If you’re just starting your own store, or taking an existing brick and mortar store online, Shopify has a range of payment plans to fit your business model.

Where do I start?

Reading this article is a great way to start! If you have made if this far then you have a strong interest in starting your own online store. It is a huge undertaking, and though at first it seems like a daunting process, once you learn how to start an online store, you are well on your way to building an ecommerce empire!

What product should I sell?

This is completely up to you. It’s a crucial part of how to start an online store. Anything can be sold online these days from shoes to Lamborghini’s. Whatever it is you choose to sell, make it your mission to find out everything possible about it. Do your research and find out all of your production, shipping and inventory costs before starting a store.

The best things to sell online are small, must have items. Aim for something with quite a high profit margin, as you will have to deal with shipment costs and the heavier the item, the higher the price is will cost to ship them to the customer.

Meet WooCommerce

WooCommerce was created by the guys over at WooThemes. The same company which has created over a hundred themes which in turn, are used by millions of WordPress Users. WooThemes’ have now been acquired by Automattic (the company behind many WordPress services &, and is now the most popular and fastest growing eCommerce platform. The best part about it is that the core product itself is completely free — meaning you can setup a shop with no startup costs, but you’ll need to purchase extensions to tailor your custom ecommerce experience.

WooCommerce boasts many features, it would take too long to list them all, but here are the key features:

  • Fully audited by Sucuri, a WordPress security company
  • Full in depth store management system
  • Multiple reporting options
  • Simple one-page check out
  • Accepts a variety of payment options and gateways
  • Many marketing and promotional options
  • Helps you along with learning how to start an online store

WooCommerce Installing

Ensure the current theme you are using with WordPress is compatible with WooCommerce. Most of WooThemes’ own themes are compatible, so if you are starting from scratch, start with a WooTheme. Premium themes are the way to go when learning how to start an online store.

Installing WooCommerce is a simple process, previous WordPress Users will be familiar with how simple it is to install plugins. Simply search for WooCommerce in the WordPress plugin library and click install now, wait for a few moments, and then activate the plugin.

Activating the plugin will take you to the WooCommerce settings page. A notification will be at the top of said page, informing you to install the WooCommerce pages. Once you have added the pages you will be taken to the WooCommerce welcome screen.

Simple as that. You are now free to configure the store options. The team at WooCommerce has also put together this WooCommerce 101 – Installation Guide.

Configure WooCommerce

Check the WooCommerce system status to ensure the installation went as planned, assuming there are no issues you are ready to continue. Learning how to start an online store is easy with WooCommerce.

Head over to the WooCommerce settings and work your way through the page. At the top of the page will be a number of tabs, make sure to work through them all and fully set up your page.

Here is a quick rundown of the tabs and their contents:

  • General – Your basic setup information is here. Things like location, API and currency options.
  • Products – This is where you can configure your product setup. Things like measurement units, review options, product and shop options, product images, inventory options and so on. Products are a big part of how to start an online store.
  • Tax – Nothing unexpected here, this tab allows you to calculate your tax payments.
  • Checkout – This is where you configure your cart and checkout pages. Things like Payment options, payment gateways, PayPal, credit cards and other options. Coupons are also found on this tab. Coupons are a great tool to keep happy customers returning and spending more money.
  • Shipping – This is where you state your shipping options. Things like shipping charges, shipping methods, international shipping options etc.
  • Accounts – you can administrate different user accounts for your store here.
  • Email – as the name suggests, this is where you can manage your email settings, set up your email templates and triggers which send out information to customers.
  • Webhooks – This is a tab that allows you to set up pop ups to prompt your customers to buy products or sign up for discounts.

If you choose to use WooCommerce, you can skip the next few segments on setting up Shopify and move straight on the product data section. You’re nearly ready to start selling! Your process for how to start an online store is well under way!

Meet Shopify

Shopify was founded in 2006. Started by 3 guys who wanted to sell snowboarding gear. The three boarders searched online to find out how to start an online store easily but found nothing. That prompted one of the three to spend months coding away on his own platform. 2 years later they decided to share that platform with the world.

10 years later Shopify plays a huge role in the ecommerce industry, hosting mega brands like General Electric, Evernote and Pixar.

Shopify is a very easy platform to use, those who are familiar with WordPress will recognise the dashboard instantly. It runs using the same source code as WordPress and as such, is naturally very easy to get used to. Folks with absolutely no experience in coding or web design will be able to set up a store and start selling in as little as 5 minutes. You can read more here about how to connect it with WordPress.

Shopify has some great features some of the key ones are listed below:

  • Set up an online store without writing a single line of code
  • Over 100 professionally designed themes, all tailored to look like amazing, modern online stores
  • A massive community of experts who will tell you how to start an online store with ease.
  • Simple shipping options via the normal Shopify section or can be expanded to drop-shipping set ups via third party plugins available in the plugin store.
  • Price plans to suit you. Shopify lets you start on $14 a month and can grow with you, as your project grows into a fully-fledged brand.

Shopify Setup

Signing up is a simple, easy and tells you how to start an online store at every step of the way. Head over to their website and fill out all the required information.
Next you have to name your store, you must have a unique name for your storefront, Shopify has a handy online Name generator if you’re stuck for ideas.

After the first signup page you will be asked for a few more options, things like your location and if you hold inventory. If you’re just having a look you can choose the ‘I’m just playing around’ Option to avoid wasting time setting everything up yet.

For those of you who are not sure about the platform. Take Shopify’s 14-day free trial, go through the movements and see if it’s a good fit for your store and personal preferences about how to start an online store.

When you have signed up, check your emails for a confirmation message, and follow the link in the email to finalize your application.

Head on over to Shopify and login using the credentials you just created, you will be greeted with the familiar dashboard.

If you want to connect Shopify to your WordPress website, Shopify has their Shopify plugin for it.

Configuring your Store

Your first call of action is to fill out your stores settings. Click on Store settings and fill out all the required settings. Many of the options are the same as mentioned above for the WooCommerce setup, so if you’re unsure what a setting is, check the previous sections out or get in touch with Shopify’s support team, who will also help you with learning how to start an online store.

Product Data and Description

This process is the same for WooCommerce and Shopify.
You are fully setup and ready to start adding products, simply click ‘Add a Product’ and you will be taken to the product page.

The window will look exactly like when you post a new blog on WordPress. Your product title and description is a crucial part of how to start an online store and should be done with passion. Add the product title and fill out the description. Learning about copywriting will greatly help you sell your products by just describing them the correct way, alternatively, you can hire a professional copywriter to type up your descriptions for a fee.

Remember to add Categories and tags to all of your products, so if a customer searches for something particular they will be taken to exactly what they are looking for, without having to trawl through your entire store.

Product SKU’s are unique numbers which you create, they enable you to sort inventory and invoices without having to search through all of your products when shipping. They can be as simple as BAG-01 to complicated unique strings of numbers akin to Barcodes e.g. 5010296745124.

Add familiar or add on products to your items, this allows you to upsell to customers and prompts them to purchase more items, which in turn will increase your sales.

Your product gallery

Having a range of high quality images for each product is a huge aspect of how to start an online store. As customers can’t physically interact with the goods, they need to have compelling visual cues to assist with the sale. You should aim for at least 5 images per product which are from different angles, and highlight particular areas of interest such as intricate stitching of your handbag.

Keeping items on a white background is a strongly suggested tip for all product images. This allows the viewers eyes to stay focussed on the item and not wander off to any other part of the image.

It is wise to run your images through a photo enhancing programme like Photoshop. As not all computer monitors have the same depth of color, it is important to portray the item in the very best way. I’m not suggesting you touch up the image so it doesn’t give a true representation of the product, but a little bit a light trickery can go along way! Hire a professional to help with this if you don’t know what you are doing with this aspect of product imaging


Once your store is up and running, and after a few months of steady sales. Check out the report section of both WooCommerce and Shopify. There you will find insights of great value, such as page views and bounce rates. Reports are key when learning how to start an online store.

Understanding your audience is key when it comes to increasing the performance of your store, and these reports will help you identify the strong and weak parts of your store. If you find a particular item is selling strongly, check your reports to try and identify the trigger which causes people to buy. Use that information and apply it to your other items to see if it works for them too.

Continuing to experiment with your store is the best way to keep up performance in the long run, when something works keep doing it. If something doesn’t work, pivot immediately and try something else!

You now know how to start an online store. Now go forth and build your empire!