How do I set up an online shop? What do I have to pay attention to? I asked myself that 10 years ago. The shop, which I founded in the middle of the last economic crisis and started from my parents’ basement in 2010, now has seven-figure sales. This year we are celebrating our 10th shop anniversary and have more than 50,000 satisfied customers.
Anyone who is currently dealing with the topic of creating an online shop may have their backs to the wall. The corona crisis has far-reaching consequences for everyone, especially for local retailers. Having your own online shop makes you independent and offers an additional source of revenue.
In this article, I present 10 points that you should definitely consider when creating an online shop .
I am reporting here partly from experiences and observations of other online shops. But many are my own. With this article, I want to help make your start easier. So you don’t have to repeat the same mistakes I made. So that you can save yourself the hardship and invest it in the development of your online shop.
This article has been updated continuously since 2012 and supplemented with my latest findings. Please drop by again.
Starting an online shop today – a good idea?
So you want to set up an online shop. This is (almost) always a good idea.
In many areas the competition has increased today. In comparison, the situation was even more favorable until a few years ago. By that I mean, there was a higher chance it would be a sure-fire success. But even today there are still enough areas, industries and niches in which you can do better * than the competition. (* I explained what I mean by “better” at the end of the article.)
So if you think you can offer customers more or something better than existing online shops: let’s go!
From a purely technical point of view , it has never been easier to get into the eCommerce business than it is today. Nevertheless, there are some aspects that online shop operators should carefully consider before setting up a shop.
1. The right shop software
Finding the right shop software is not that easy. There are countless providers of online shop solutions. In general, you can differentiate between three online shop solutions. The first is the rented online shop such as Strato , Jimdo or Lightspeed (formerly SEOshop) [→ The links all lead to our experience reports with the corresponding systems] . The second solution is a self-hosted open source solution such as Magento, Oxid, Shopware or XTC. The third variant is an in-house development. Which solution is right for you depends on many factors and is often very individual.
[You can find out more about shop software in our article Founding an online shop: Which shop system is right for me? ]
2. The right inventory management
What is often not considered from the outset by many is the right choice of inventory management. While few sales and transactions usually take place at the beginning, accounting, inventory management and CRM are often very easy to understand. But as sales increase, so does the effort behind the shop scenes. Many online shops often fail because of proper warehousing and bookkeeping. That is why you should make sure that you work with good software for inventory management right from the start. Above all, a functioning interface to the online shop is important in order to avoid double bookkeeping.
3. Plan the online shop structure for the long term
The structure of the online shop is also of great importance. You should plan this very early in the start-up process. Even if you don’t have that many products and categories at the beginning, you should create the navigation structure in advance. It should be logical and short. There are too many online shops in which you cannot see a structure in the navigation. This is often due to the fact that the online shops have grown and new categories have just been added over and over again. This often leads to double categories and that confuses customers. Other online shops have one sub-level after the other and the customer has to click through to the product forever. Therefore, you should really have the ‘big picture’ in mind right from the start, even if you start with only a few products.
4. SEO basics are mandatory
One of the most important points that is unfortunately too often neglected by online shop founders is SEO. You don’t have to be an SEO professional to create an online shop. But you should at least have studied the basics beforehand. SEO is so extremely important because, especially in the initial phase of an online shop, there is usually no budget for advertising in Google Ads, for example. So most of the traffic comes from the search engines. In order for the online shop to be found on Google & Co. at all, a decent SEO basis is required. However, this is totally neglected by very many online shop operators. You can of course also rely on SEO agencies, but the basics are also important here. Unfortunately, there are far too many SEO agencies that are totally overpriced or simply have no idea and can even harm the customer. Here in particular, it is important to at least master the basics yourself. Then you can judge their work and competence to some extent and will not be ripped off. SEO basics also play an important role in the structure of the online shop, or when writing product descriptions and many more. SEO is THE number 1 tool for every shop operator to get customers into the shop.
[You can find out more about link building, an important aspect of SEO, in the article ” Link building for online shops – traffic and SEO in one go “]
5. Speed in shipping is the key
This is a point that always amazes me, especially when it comes to the large mail-order companies. I recently placed an order with a large and well-known German mail order company. It took a full 6 days to get my order! Then there was only half of the items I ordered and a note in the package. The note said that the other half would be delivered in 4 weeks, but that I should pay the invoice within 14 days. You can’t do that anymore nowadays! A package should arrive at the customer after a maximum of 1 to 2 days. I have often heard from dealers that it is ‘not that easy’. But then I ask myself why Amazon almost always manages to deliver the parcels to me the next day. Not only that! Amazon already offers a same-day delivery option in some cities. So ordered in the morning, delivered in the evening. Customers expect fast shipping and that’s why it’s a must in eCommerce.
6. Payment methods for online shops
The payment methods that are offered in the online shop are also an important point. Every online shop has very different target groups and each target group requires a specific payment method. In general, there are standard payment methods that are very popular with online retailers, such as prepayment or PayPal. Often, however, sales potential is lost due to the lack of payment methods. You must therefore analyze your target group carefully to determine which payment methods are required. For example, if you set up an online shop with a target group from the middle to upper class with a high income, I would definitely not do without credit card payments. If your online shop is aimed at a target group with a rather low income, you can probably do without the credit card. The age structure of the target group also plays a major role in the preferences of the payment method. Therefore, an in-depth analysis of the target group is a very important requirement here.
[You can find out more about payment methods including their advantages and disadvantages in the article ” The 6 most important payment methods for online shops “]
7. Learn HTML & CSS basics
That point is such a thing. In general, you don’t necessarily need knowledge of HTML and CSS these days to set up and operate an online shop. Many providers of shop solutions loudly advertise that such knowledge is not necessary for their shop system. Web design agencies also often claim that they set up the shop on a turnkey basis and that you don’t have to do anything else yourself. That may be true. But in my experience it is helpful to at least acquire basic knowledge. For example, you often just want to change a few small things in the shop design. But without outside help you are quickly lost. However, getting a programming service provider for support for every little thing is not only annoying and time-consuming, it also costs money. So I think it can’t hurt to do a little bit of HTML and CSS. The possibilities for this are really diverse and you can learn the most important things through tutorials on the Internet. You don’t necessarily have to become a “professional hacker”. But you should at least know the basics. Also in order to be able to have a say when the next bill comes from the programmer.
8. The customer is king
This is a topic that many online shop operators forget: But especially in online retail, customers today expect a certain level of customer service. Amazon is showing the way. Do it. Many online shop operators (or retailers in Germany in general) forget that their customers can always shop elsewhere. The next shop is just a click away. However, in order to retain your customers and get returning customers, you have to offer them something that the competition doesn’t offer. This can be products, prices or exceptional customer service. And it’s not even that difficult: An easily accessible & simple returns process. A phone number, that is openly communicated and also used (in fact, many online shops only have their number in the imprint and do not take advantage of this added value for the customer). Goodwill is also an important issue. Very often I have already taken back items after the right of withdrawal has expired and I have never regretted it. On the contrary, because it is precisely these customers who later show themselves to be very loyal. They appreciate it when the online shop goes beyond its legal obligations to meet the needs of customers.
9. Take product pictures yourself
In general, many manufacturers and suppliers offer product images for download, which you as a shop operator can then use online. This is often a very easy way to get product images. However, you have to note that other online shops also use the same images. For example, when a customer searches for a product using Google Shopping, dozens of the same images are displayed. Therefore, it makes sense to use self-made pictures in order to stand out from the crowd. You can create product images yourself relatively easily and inexpensively. The basic equipment is quickly procured. It only takes time and a little tinkering, but it’s worth it. I will write a tutorial on the subject and show how easy it is to take good product pictures yourself.
10. The right legal form for online shops
The last point is of course the choice of the right legal form. A frequently used model is the sole trader, the GmbH or, unfortunately, the Ltd. The UK Ltd in particular is not advisable, as eCommerce is very much about trust. This is seldom the case with a Ltd. Mini GmbH is also a new trend, as it is relatively easy, cheap and quick to set up. And after a while it can be converted into a GmbH. The choice of the legal form also depends on what you plan to do with your shop in the long term. If you set up the online shop with the aim of an exit and want to sell it at some point, the holding structure can be an interesting option. It is best to talk to a tax advisor who is familiar with eCommerce. A detailed article is also being planned on this point.
*) On the subject of ” doing it better than the others”
At the beginning I mentioned that it still makes sense to put your own strength and energy (and possibly your own money) into building an online shop if you can do better than the competition.
By that I mean that it doesn’t really matter what exactly you do better.
The main thing is that you do SOMETHING better.
- Offer your customers better / more sophisticated products . Put yourself in your target group: What could your customers find annoying about the competing product? Do it better!
- Or you take on customer service :
- You may have found out that in the industry you are targeting, it is not common practice to offer free shipping. Then do it differently and offer free delivery !
- Do your competitors use a call center to run the customer hotline? With you, the customer advice on the phone is done personally by the boss!
- Know your products better than the competition: Convince your shop with customer-oriented product descriptions . List the advantages and disadvantages of each product.
- Put your range together more carefully than the other shops. Choose very carefully whether and what you will include in the shop. Sometimes less is more instead of overwhelming customers with choices.
- Delight your shop visitors with better usability and clarity . The key words here are: user experience and usability.
- Offer the best mobile shopping experience . Many shops load slowly and are simply not fun on smartphones.
- Be better at SEO ! Write advice texts with real added value, not just SEO blah blah.
- Do smarter marketing: keep your eyes peeled for advertising channels that your competitors are not active on. For example, cooperate with bloggers when others don’t.
- Be more present in social networks , approach customers, be open and interactive.
As you can see, in every industry there is usually a starting point where you can deliver a better performance for your own online shop than the competition.
You just have to look carefully!