How to start an online shop

Ready to join the growing e-commerce industry? Check out our 5-step guide to opening an online shop and pave your way to online retail success…

An estimated £17.7bn was spent online over Christmas 2015, and in 2017, UK mobile ordering for the festive season rose to 49.7%, with countless shoppers shifting behind their screens instead of braving the high street crowds. In Britain alone, over £260bn is thought to be spent online every year, while globally the figure sits in the trillions. The web’s connecting buyers and sellers like never before.

The opportunities for retailers are endless, so starting an online shop should be a top priority. What are the steps you need to take then? And how do you go about starting an online store?

Step one: research, research, research…

Before anything else, take a little time to do some market research. With all the online opportunity comes incredible competition, and chances are that there are others out there selling similar products to you.

That said, that shouldn’t put you off - instead, use your competitors to shape your own site. Take inspiration from what they’re doing best and aim to beat them where they’re failing. Consider kicking things off with a SWOT analysis to define your own strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, and use its findings to fuel how the online shop you set up will operate.

Step two: pick a platform

To run a successful online shop you’ll need a good back-end platform, from where you can design your site and then manage it day-to-day. For this there are slick subscription services - like Shopify and Magento - as well as free platforms like Wordpress eCommerce, which offer slightly fewer features.

Broadly speaking it’s best to go for these off-the-shelf options - especially if you’re not too techy - as they’ll simplify your life in the long run and spare you from dabbling in complex code. Additionally, they ease your online marketing efforts (more on that later…)

Step three: don’t forget the details

You’ve done your research and set up your e-commerce site - almost there, no? Unfortunately not, as there’s still the tricky topic of logistics.

Postage is likely to be your biggest consideration here - both in terms of cost and time - as your products won’t pack themselves and delivery isn’t always cheap. With that in mind, factor this into your financial planning and bring in extra hands if you need help. Just bear in mind you’ll need to cover yourself with employers’ liability insurance if you do take on staff. Look at our tailor-made online retail insurance too, as this can help you counter the e-commerce risks.

Step four: get marketing

Building your ecommerce site is only half the battle - next you have to get it seen. There’s some key concepts you’ll need to learn to succeed on this front.

The most important is SEO (search engine optimisation) as this is what you’ll need to do to get visibility on Google and other search engines. Our introduction to search engine optimisation is a good place to begin, as this can get you to grips with the basic principles. Check out the Kissmetrics and Search Engine Land guides to e-commerce SEO too.

Also, if you’ve built your site using Shopify, Magento, or Wordpress, try to explore some of their helpful SEO add-ons. These include but aren’t limited to:

Experiment with Google AdWords, and check our small business guides to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube too, and explore the basics of content marketing whilst you’re at it.

Step five: learn the legislation

Last but not least, it’s wise to learn the law before setting up an online shop. There are a number of e-commerce specific laws designed to protect consumers and it’s important to stick to these in any online trading that you do. In the UK key laws you’ll need to adhere to are included in’s site. Read up on the following, specifically:

  • VAT rates and charging VAT
  • Exporting and doing business abroad
  • The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations (PEC Regulations) 2003
  • The Consumer Rights Act (CRA) 2015
  • The Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013
  • The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPRs) 2008
  • The Provision of Services (POS) Regulations 2009
  • The Data Protection Act 1998 and upcoming GDPR enforcement
  • ICO Cookie Law

By and large these laws aren’t too restrictive, as they basically involve applying some common sense. provide a good overview of what applying them entails, whilst provide an excellent explanation of the new Consumer Contracts Regulations. These replaced the Distant Selling Regulations in June 2014.

Follow these five steps and you’ll be on your way to running a successful online store. Any more questions or tips to add? Put them in the comments section below.

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