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How to Start an Ecommerce Business: Build, Launch, and Grow a Profitable Online Store

A complete blueprint for starting an ecommerce business

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The future of ecommerce is incredibly bright. But, learning how to start an ecommerce business is intimidating. It requires hard work and demands many steps and decisions that need to come together at the right time.

To help, we’ve put together a comprehensive blueprint on the best way to start an ecommerce business, compiled from Shopify’s best content. These blog posts, guides, and videos have been organized based on the most important tasks you’ll face when researching, launching, and growing a profitable ecommerce business.

I. Choosing a product

Finding a product to sell

The first step in how to start an ecommerce business is knowing what products you want to sell online, wholesale, or direct-to-consumer. This often is the most challenging part when you start an ecommerce business. In this section, we’ll highlight strategies you can use to find product opportunities, explore the best places to look for business ideas, and finally, look at trending products to consider.

Evaluating your idea

The best way to start ecommerce business is to make sure you’re set up from success even before launch. So once you have a product idea in mind, how do you know if it will sell? In this section, we’ll cover a few approaches that active entrepreneurs have used to validate their product ideas and potential market.

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How to Find and Source a Winning Product to Sell

In less than 40-minutes, let us walk you through how to find product ideas, how to validate them, and how to sell the product once you have an idea you want to pursue.

Obtaining your product

After landing on a strong product idea, your next step in how to start ecommerce businesses is figuring out where and how you’re going to obtain your products. The next four posts cover the various methods for acquiring your products, along with the pros and cons of each model.

Sell your retail products online

Many independent retailers face a challenging road ahead. Shifting your brick-and-mortar business online can help you weather this storm, generate cash flow, and build a more resilient business.

II. Research and prepare

Research your competition

You’ve found your product, evaluated its potential, and sourced a supplier—now it’s time for the next phase of how to start your own ecommerce business. You’ll need to thoroughly research your competition so you know what you’re up against and how you can differentiate your business from theirs.

Writing a business plan

With your competitive research complete, it’s time to write your business plan to help start your own ecommerce business. A business plan is a roadmap that helps bring your ideas and thoughts together. A business plan is vital in determining what to prioritize, avoiding common business mistakes, and how to effectively reach new customers.

🎯 TIP: If you're interested in writing a business plan but turned off by stodgy paperwork, we've developed a sample business plan template that you'll actually use. Thousands of people have made a copy to repurpose for their own plan, and it's completely free to use.

III. Setting up your business

Start your ecommerce business by setting up an online store

Naming your business

Aside from figuring out what to sell when starting an ecommerce company, another challenging decision is determining your business or brand name and deciding on a domain name. These tips will help you tackle these important tasks.

Creating a logo

Once you’ve selected a memorable name and registered a corresponding domain, it’s time to craft a simple logo. In these resources for how to set up an ecommerce business, we’ll show you several options for creating a great logo for your new business.

Learn more: From a logo maker and business name generator to gift certificate templates and a discount calculator, Shopify offers free marketing tools to help run your business.

Understanding search engine optimization (SEO)

You’re almost ready to begin building your ecommerce business. However, before you jump into it, you should understand the basics of SEO so you can properly structure your site and pages for Google and other search engines.

Free Download: SEO Checklist

Want to rank higher in search results? Get access to our free, checklist on search engine optimization.

Building your store

With a better understanding of search engines, it’s time to build out your store. There are many crucial elements to consider in this step of how to start an ecommerce business. Below, we’ve listed our essential reads to help you build high-converting product pages, write captivating product descriptions, shoot beautiful product photography, choose your ecommerce color palette, and much more.

Don’t forget, if you run into any problems getting your store set up, one of the best ways to start ecommerce business is to hire help from Shopify Experts. If you need help setting up your store or stocking inventory, and are looking for a way to fund your business, check this guide on how to get a business loan to help you get started.

Choosing your sales channels

Once you’re really ready to figure out how to start ecommerce, you’ll need to choose sales channels where they already shop. The right mix of sales channels will depend on your products and your target customers, but there are a number of great options that can complement and support your self-hosted store.


IV. Preparing to launch

As you prepare for the launch of your new business, you need to figure out how to run an ecommerce business. To start, there are several shipping and fulfillment elements you need to prepare for. In this section, we’ve curated a few comprehensive guides on how to determine your shipping strategy.

It’s also a good idea to define your key performance indicators up front so, once you launch, you know what measures of success to track.

As a final checklist for this section of how to start your own ecommerce business, the below post covers the 10 essential things you need to do before launch.

V. Post launch

Successfully launching your ecommerce business

Acquiring your first customer

Starting an ecommerce company successfully also requires marketing. Once you’ve launched, the hard work of marketing your products begins. While many new store owners should consider selling their physical products in person, the rest of digital marketing rests on doing one thing well: driving targeted traffic. Next, we’ll share a variety of marketing tactics that will help you in your first months.

Marketing your store

You’re well on your way and now likely have a few sales under your belt. It’s time to get serious and focused. The following posts will help you zero in on your top-performing marketing tactics or expand into new ones for driving traffic and converting that traffic to sales.

Email marketing essentials

Free Ebook: How to Grow Your Ecommerce Business with Email Marketing

Whether you're just getting started or dreaming up your next big campaign, this email marketing guide will provide you with insights and ideas to help your business grow.

Driving traffic from social

Driving traffic and conversions from paid ads

Optimizing for higher conversions

Using analytics to uncover insights

A blueprint is just the beginning

Learning how to run an ecommerce business is as exciting as it is challenging. At a rapid pace you’ll learn a ton about choosing a product, evaluating its viability, figuring out how to get it produced, building an ecommerce store, and marketing and selling to new customers. The process can feel like you’re solving a head scratcher of a puzzle, but it’s rewarding all the same.
We hope following this resource roundup for how to set up an ecommerce business provides you with a clearer roadmap. As always, the best advice anyone can give is to just get started and to enjoy yourself along the way.

Illustration by Cornelia Li

Frequently asked questions about ecommerce

How do I start an ecommerce business?

Research what products you'd like to sell or can source to sell, select a business name, register your business with the government, obtain permits and licenses, choose an ecommerce platform and create your website, load your products onto the site, launch and start marketing your business.

Is ecommerce profitable?

Yes, the ecommerce industry is profitable. Successfully starting an ecommerce company is a marathon, not a sprint. It can take 18-24 months for your business to get off the ground. It’s critical that you don’t measure the success of your business by your first year profitability.

Is it hard to start your own ecommerce business?

No, starting an ecommerce company is easy with platforms like Shopify enabling brands to go online in just a few days. Starting a brand consists of hard work and continual market research to improve your business. We encourage you to read all our guides on how to start a business before you set up a store.

What are the different types of ecommerce?

There are four traditional business models or types in ecommerce. This includes B2C (Business-to-Consumer), B2B (Business-to-Business), C2B (Consumer-to-Business) and C2C (Consumer-to-Consumer). You may also commonly hear the term D2C (Direct-to-Consumer), which is similar to B2C, wherein the business takes the products directly to the consumer.

How much does it cost to start an ecommerce business?

An ecommerce business can be started for as little as $100 which is spent on a subscription and purchasing a theme for your store. New ecommerce business owners can expect business costs to rise up to $40,000 in the first year which is paid back to the owner through profit margins.

What is the best ecommerce platform for a small business?

Shopify is the best ecommerce platform for a small business. Shopify is a fast and secure ecommerce platform with online store customization. It offers the fastest checkout experience through Shop, easy inventory management, and has integrations with Google and Facebook to make marketing and selling online easier.
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