Small Business Advice

Your guide to starting an online store for your brick-and-mortar business

Looking to add an online store to your business? Not sure where to start? Use this guide as a handy overview of the process.

Jump to:

Table of Contents

Own your own brick and mortar store and want to start selling products online?

US shoppers spend 36% of their shopping budget online. E-commerce is growing at a rate of twenty-three percent every year. Given that the coronavirus has forced many brick-and-mortar businesses to reduce hours or close shop altogether, now just might be the perfect time to boost (or create) your online presence.

But where do you begin?

Do you need a shopping cart? What about payments and shipping? Should you do it yourself or hire a web developer?

We explain different ways to sell your products and services, including through a marketplace. You'll learn how to take secure payments and receive tips on delivery. We also look at the basics of online marketing through Google and pay per click advertising.

Choose a Marketplace

The first step to selling online is deciding where and how to sell your products or services.

You have three options: through an online marketplace, selling independently, or both.

Each has its pros and cons, and deciding which to choose will steer how you will do business in the future.

Online Marketplaces

Many brick and mortar owners hate the name, but most are aware that Amazon is the top e-commerce company in the world. But did you know that independent traders can sell their products through the Amazon marketplace?

Last year, small businesses in the US sold 4,000 items every minute via Amazon. There are over 2.5 million active sellers worldwide with more joining each month. 

To help SMBs start trading, Amazon has a dedicated website:

Of course, they aren't the only established marketplace. Don't forget about eBay, Etsy, Rakuten, and even Walmart. Consider your market as you choose your marketplace. If you sell homemade, gift-worthy soaps, woodcrafts or custom shirts, Etsy may be your best bet. If you specialize in rare films, most of your customers are probably on eBay. If you sell bestseller books and well-known toys, a more general retailer like Amazon or Walmart may be better for you.

Selling Independently Online

Why would you want to 'go it alone' when a marketplace can do the hard work of selling for you, and help new customers discover your products?

It boils down to cost.

Online marketplaces charge a fee to sell your products. They also take a percentage cut, and most charge a monthly membership.

To avoid these extra charges, many small businesses take the independent approach and sell directly to their customers. This also gives them greater flexibility and they aren't tied down to corporate policy changes which can severely disrupt business.

Do Both

Don't think you need to choose only one way to sell online.

Many traders own their own e-commerce websites but also sell on sites like eBay and Amazon. Those marketplaces act as a shop window and discovery tool that can redirect customers to your independent store.

In order to sell through your own site, you'll need a shopping cart platform. And the first step is to register a domain name.

Register Your Domain Name

A domain name is the that identifies you on the Internet. 

Think of it as your store's physical address. Customers can type it into their browser bar and they're sent to your site when it goes live. No matter where you build your site (Wix, Squarespace, Shopify, etc), you will need a domain name.

Traditionally “.com” was used for most online shopping websites but today you've lots of options to choose from like:


One point to note is that you don't actually own the name. You rent it, usually for two or more years at a time.

How Much and Where to Register?

Googling 'domain names' displays hundreds of companies you can use to register your address.

A popular choice is or

Visit their site and enter your business name without spaces into the search box. You'll see a list of the available domain names and those that have already been registered, plus how much they will cost. Choose the one that you like and follow the process to secure your selection.

Remember, you don't necessarily have to use your company name as your website address.

Google actually promotes sites with a domain that includes search phrases people use. For example, may rank higher than for a shoe-related search.

At the same time, think long term. Your domain name will be on all your marketing materials moving forward so it should be a good fit from the start. Aim for a domain that is short (2-3 words) and easy to remember, ideally without any dashes or complicated spellings. 

Website Designers vs DIY

Once your domain has been registered, it's time to choose who will create your online store: a web designer or DIY.

Developer Option

Web developers specialize in building e-commerce sites. They understand coding, web hosting, and everything required to go online. Hiring a developer is a hands-off approach that allows you to spend more time on content and product, rather than learning a new skill.

The downside is the expense.

Costs vary depending on what you want, ranging from $200-$6000 to build and $50-$100 of monthly fees. These estimates don’t include marketing expenses, payment fees, content creation, and related costs.

However, a good developer will help you through the tough learning period because of their ample experience.

Do It Yourself

If you have a limited budget or want to dip your toe in the water, then you can set-up your store yourself.

In the next section, we'll discuss low-cost software options that are relatively easy to use. You can select a pre-designed theme, add your content, and alter it to suit your brand.

DIY sites don't require coding knowledge either, and have tutorials that show you how to set everything up.

E-Commerce Store Software

If you go the DIY route, you should ensure you’re picking a platform that offers:

  • shopping cart
  • product pages
  • payment processing

Paid Store Apps

E-commerce platforms such as Shopify, Squarespace and Wix have everything you need to sell online. Everything's made as simple as possible so novices can add their products quickly. You will likely need to purchase a premium plan in order to have a “shopping cart” function and be able to process payments, so keep that in mind when comparing prices and functionality.

Premium features also include integrated search engine optimization and customer engagement, as well as customer support if you need help building your website.

Free Store Apps

If you are more computer savvy and are short on cash, consider setting up your shop on WordPress, the world's most-used content management software. It's free and has an excellent e-commerce plugin called WooCommerce.

Wordpress usually requires a little more DIY and knowledge of coding, but with a bit of time and patience, you can have a beautiful website shopping experience, with far fewer fees.

Website Hosting

If a domain name is your physical address, website hosting is the ground rent.

A website host holds all your product pages, images, and site content for your visitors to see. Your domain name points to the host and often the two are linked by the same company.

Hosting is usually charged per year.

For WooCommerce sites, expect to pay $100-$200 on average.

On the other hand, for paid store apps (like Squarespace, Shopify and Wix), hosting is part of the plan price, so you won't have to worry about it.

Shipping Options

As you put your products on your store, consider that selling physical products requires some sort of postage. Your e-commerce site needs to consider shipping options and how much you'll charge.

"Free shipping" for all products or for orders over a certain limit is a great way to attract customers. In fact, it’s considered critical by many business leaders to avoided the dreaded problem of cart abandonment. It’s a psychological trick, but by raising the price of your goods and offering free shipping, customers are still more likely to buy because they will not have encountered an extra fee at checkout.

However, that still leaves you with the ultimate problem of shipping your goods.

Take a bit of time to research delivery couriers and estimate how many items you're likely to sell to attract the best quotes. Don't stick to the big firms like UPS either. Shop around. While your website will help you track your orders, services like ShippingEasy and even PayPal can help you track your postage labels, and make it easy to print right at home.

Another cost to consider is packaging.

You'll need boxes, tape, labels, etc. and the space to process your orders. It’s also important to figure out who will be packing and shipping out your product, and ensure you have time carved out for this each week. It can sneak up on you!

Payment Processors

Taking payment securely requires a processing company.

The first step is to contact your bank or whoever handles your existing business card payments. See if you can use them to trade online but shop around for the best percentage.

PayPal offers a simple way for any business to accept payments, and many online consumers prefer it for ease of use.

Their transaction fees are comparable to many providers and lower the more money you receive. Rates start at 3.4% per transaction plus a fixed fee of $0.30.

However, it’s a good idea to consider accepting both PayPal and a credit card processor like Square and Stripe.

Online Marketing

Your new store is ready to go live. The problem is that nobody knows about it!

First, submit your site to Google through the Google Search Console.

The search engine will crawl or examine your site and include it in its directory. However, even if you're in its index that won't mean you'll arrive on page one in a search.

To improve your online presence, you need to optimize your site.

SEO or search engine optimization makes your store appealing to Google. Your content and site structure match the keywords or search phrases your customers use to find you. Other factors like links to your new store are also important.

You can also use pay per click adverts to promote your site, meaning that you're only charged when someone clicks on your advertisement.

Google Ads lets you create campaigns that link to your product pages, and you'll appear at the top of the list if your budget is high. This is great if you have a budget, but otherwise, be sure to check out these tips to improve your SEO organically-- this is, improving how quickly your site will appear in a search, without you having to pay for ads.

Need a Little Inspiration?

Check out these stories of Lady Falcon Coffee Club and Rize Up Sourdough, taking on the challenge of building out their online shops during a pandemic.

Building out an online store can be challenging at first, but once it's live, you only have to maintain it. It's a bigger chunk of work now for larger payoff down the line. Consider how broad your audience will become-- it's definitely worth it!


Free report and guide
How COVID-19 Impacted Incomes of the Self-Employed Workforce
How did the pandemic impact the income of  gig workers and entrepreneurs? Download to learn more.
Get The Report

Frequently asked questions

No items found.