What does it take to sell online? Well, it depends on how invested you want to be. Some people create a brand from scratch and build it into a household name, while others are selling a couple of products as a side hustle. Either way, starting an online business doesn’t have to be difficult. Use this ecommerce checklist to start your ecommerce business and you’ll be selling online in no time.
Step #1: Decide Your Business Structure & Model
How is your business going to be structured? Here are a few options you can choose from:
- Sole Proprietorship
Please note, if you don’t choose to operate as an LLC or corporation, the IRS will automatically consider you a sole proprietor. One drawback to becoming a sole proprietor is that it doesn’t protect your personal assets. If you’re ever sued, your personal assets can be seized if the business doesn’t have enough money to cover debts.
After choosing your structure, you’ll need to decide which ecommerce business model to implement. Here are the most popular models:
- Dropshipping: You don’t handle the products directly, instead you transfer customer orders to a third-party supplier (e.g. wholesaler, manufacturer, etc.) who then manages fulfillment and shipping.
- Retail Arbitrage: You purchase products from retail stores and sell them online for a profit.
- White Label/Private Label: You purchase products from manufacturers and add your own brand elements.
- Wholesale: you sell specific products in large quantities, either to retailers or individuals.
- Liquidation: A ‘last resort” strategy in which you sell unwanted products at discounted prices.
- Artisan: You Create products by hand, using raw materials, and selling them online.
- Subscription: Consumers pay for your products on a subscription basis.(e.g. Subscription boxes, book of the month, etc.)
No matter which route you decide to take, it’s important to legitimize your ecommerce store. A business license not only benefits you for tax purposes, but also it expresses your professionalism to the government and your customers. This process varies depending on your location, so we suggest contacting your local city licensing office or department of revenue.
Step #2 Choose a Product to Sell
Possibly one of the hardest questions to answer: what are you going to sell? There are several things entrepreneurs consider before deciding what to sell.
- Market competition
- Market saturation
- Customer pain points
The most successful businesses typically do extensive research into market trends and yearly projections to find a product that will sell. Other times, choosing a niche product with little competition and higher customer interest yields better results.
Step #3: Choose Business and Domain Name
It’s time to use your creativity. What’s your business going to be called? Before you come up with something too clever like She Sells Sea Shells, ask yourself these questions:
- Does it represent what I sell?
- Is it easy to find?
- Is it unique?
- Can I turn it into a domain name?
To help you answer these questions, we’ve created an article on how to create a successful ecommerce business name.
When you’ve found your perfect name, be sure to register it with your county clerk or state agency (depending on where you live). You should also consider trademarking your name. A trademark will prevent competitors from using a name similar to yours.
Next, secure your domain name. This will take some research. You’re looking for a domain name that represents your company name without breaking the bank.
Find something that is memorable, shorter in length (if possible), and relevant. You may come across the perfect domain name, but find out it’s already taken. Don’t get discouraged. Stay alert and try some of these options out.
- Use an abbreviated variation.
- Use a catchphrase, slogan, or keyword.
- Monitor your desired domain for price and availability
- Check if it’s for sale.
You’ll find one that matches your brand with the right amount of research. For some additional help, check out these ecommerce domain name generators.
Step #4: Buying Products
Where are your products coming from? Are you an artisan selling your own creations? Are you a dropshipper selling from across the country? No matter the type of seller you choose to be, you’ll need to find a way to source your products (or materials). There’s a lot of competition in the ecommerce world, so you want to find the best products or materials at the lowest cost. Check pricing and quality, but also look at any customer reviews of your potential vendors. Here are a few options for dropshippers and wholesalers:
Founded in 1985, Petra distributes over 800 brands of consumer technology ranging from tools and cleaning supplies to cell phones and home theatres. Petra distributes tens of thousands of products to online sellers across the US.
The Wholesale House has been one of the largest consumer product distributors in the US since 1978. Specializing in the mobile audio and video market, TWH offers online sellers thousands of SKUs to choose from. With products that range from home and outdoor electronic products to automobile and marine accessories.
Salehoo helps retailers find profitable products to sell from thousands of wholesalers. It’s a great resource for artisans looking to craft products from low cost raw materials. You can use it as a supplier directory, research tool, and online community.
For more help finding the right supplier for your business model, check out our product sourcing guide.
Step #5: Market Your Brand
Although this doesn’t happen overnight, there is one big factor in creating a brand that reaches internationally: marketing. A good marketing campaign can be the difference between 10 people knowing about your company and 10 million! Here are some great marketing resources to get you started:
Email and Social Media
Two of the best ways to communicate with your audience, email and social media allow you to inform, update, and support thousands of current and potential customers. There are several social platforms you can choose from, each with their own unique features. Following these social media best practices will help you expand your brand’s reach on those platforms. Email marketing can be a game-changer for retailers but they need a good strategy. From shopping cart abandonment emails to order confirmation emails, it spans across each stage of the buying process.
This marketing platform offers communication solutions through email, social media, and ad targeting. Klaviyo stores all of your customer data in one system so you can easily plan your next marketing campaign.
Originally focusing on email marketing, Constant Contact has since evolved into an all-encompassing online marketing platform. Users have access to website builders, Google Ads, SEO tools, and much more.
Buzzstream is an outreach and link building tool designed to help you improve your online connections. You can find guest bloggers, influencers, or backlink opportunities without spending hours on search engines. Their system also allows you to email potential partners, keeping track of replies, and sending follow ups.
Providing your audience with useful information like blog posts, news articles, pictures, and videos will not only give you favor with search engines like Google, it also gives you a voice as an industry expert. A strong portfolio of content will give you that extra boost to your online traffic. With the right content strategy, your audience will flock to your website. Here are some resources to help you find great content ideas:
Buzzsumo generates information that is topical and relevant to your industry. You can find content to share on social media sites as well as your own personal blog. They also provide tools to research trends, find influencers, and much more.
Most stock photo sites will make you jump through hoops to download their images. Unsplash offers free pictures to use on your website or content with the option to tag the artist. It’s a great place to find images that will catch your customer’s eye.
I’m sure you can name one company you’re loyal to based on the color of their logo or even a vague ten-second commercial. That’s the power of brand development. Implementing your colors, logo, voice, and other brand elements can make simple aspects of your business appealing to viewers. Small things, like branding your checkout process, make a big difference when you’re selling online. Here are few applications to improve brand development and awareness:
One of the most important aspects of selling online is your product listing. And what makes a good listing stand out? The image; same thing applies to social media. You want your product photo to catch your customer’s eye. Instasize is a photo editor with over 100 filters, borders, and tools to help you create an aesthetically pleasing product image.
Smile.io provides ecommerce stores with unique customer rewards programs. Companies who utilize Smile’s programs can significantly improve their customer loyalty. With over 50 million consumer participants, it is no wonder Smile.io is one of the best reward program providers in the world.
You don’t have to be ready to sell to start marketing. Set up social media profiles for your business and get started with a “coming soon” page. Include relevant content to get your potential customers interested and excited.
Step #6: Ship Your Products
The last step in this checklist is to make sure you’re able to fulfill the orders that come in. That means having the stock, delivering your products in a timely manner, and confirming the receival of those orders. The shipping process is just as much customer experience as it is fulfillment. Which is why it’s important to have a reliable system set in place.
Do you have a delivery method in place? Before deciding on a shipping carrier company, ask yourself these questions. Will you offer free shipping? Expedited shipping? Or the famous same-day shipping? Keep in mind your business has to be able to act on this strategy which means if you offer free shipping you’ll be covering the cost. Here are some popular solutions to help you ship your products effectively:
Order Management Software
Shipstation streamlines the fulfillment process making it easier for sellers to get their products to the customer. From branded tracking pages to managing returns, ShipStation is a great solution for online retailers.
Specializing in ecommerce management, ecomdash is revolutionizing the way online sellers manage their operations. Our easy-to-use order management software helps you track products throughout the sales process from the time you list an item to the time it’s shipped to your customer.
Third Party Logistics (3PL)
Leasing warehouses throughout the US, Deliverr is a fulfillment center that offers online sellers a storage and delivery solution. Similar to FBA, this 3PL promises faster shipping at a lower cost.
Online merchants send their inventory to Amazon warehouses where it’s maintained until sold to consumers. Amazon will handle the entire fulfillment process including delivery and returns.
Popular Carrier Options
One of the most prestigious shipping companies in the world, FedEx, offers online sellers expert fulfillment management solutions. Although FedEx is a large company, they provide small and medium-sized businesses with efficient shipping services.
Providing postal services to millions of online sellers, USPS is one of the leaders in mailing and shipping across the globe. They partner with Endicia and Stamps.com to bring merchants printable postage online.
Your delivery method is set up, now to lay a difficult fact on you. You’re going to get returns. It is almost inevitable. Studies show that nearly 20%+ of online sales are returned. This is why you need to have a contingency (policies). A clear return policy not only informs customers on how you handle potential product returns, but it can also improve your customer loyalty. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
You’re Ready to Start Making Sales
If you’ve checked off all the above steps on the ecommerce checklist, you’re ready to launch your ecommerce business. Now the fun begins! But don’t get too comfortable. You’ll want to start thinking about where your products should be sold. The top sellers have a finger in every pie; in this case, the pie is online marketplaces. The more marketplaces you sell on, the more opportunity to reach new customers. Now, if you want to build your personal brand, shopping carts will be a more beneficial route. Some of the top online shopping carts give you the freedom to create branded sites and sell your products from there. Once your online business is up and running, take a look at our eRetail multichannel ecommerce tips eBook with 70+ ideas to help you boost online sales!
For even more helpful tips and tricks, we’ve curated an extensive ecommerce resource hub filled with in-depth articles, guides, and eBooks to help you through every aspect of online selling.
Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published March 2017 and was updated in May 2020 to reflect more accurate and relevant information.