Nobody said starting an online business would be easy, but it doesn’t have to be a headache either. With the right guidelines, you’ll be well on your way to establishing a business that will support you for years to come.
Get the best ecommerce startup checklist below!
Why you need a plan before starting an eCommerce store
As one of America’s most famous founding fathers Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” His words ring true to this day, even in the age of technology, and even in the world of e-commerce. If you were thinking of launching a Shopify start up or starting an online store without a business launch checklist – think again.
Even though ecommerce operating costs are lower compared to brick-and-mortar stores, that doesn’t mean you’ll have the freedom to make countless mistakes. In the end, you’re still spending money to build up a successful business. If you keep investing but don’t see a strong ROI, you’ll eventually find your pool of funds dried up.
That’s why you need a Shopify checklist – or any other sort of ecommerce checklist.
You can avoid such an unfavorable situation by planning ahead. Find a well-formulated ecommerce checklist (e.g. a Shopify launch checklist, dropshipping startup checklist, etc.), or create your own ecommerce startup checklist to suit your business’s particular needs. On that note, take a look at our own checklist below and feel free to use it to start your online business.
Note: The list below is extensive, but still doesn’t cover all of the top e-commerce challenges you’re likely to encounter in your business journey. Be sure to keep your eyes and ears open for any and all advice (e.g. ecommerce checklist PDF files) that can help you prepare your online business for all potential challenges it may face.
15 point eCommerce checklist
- Selecting an ecommerce platform
- Website hosting
- Choosing a domain/brand name
- Registering your company
- Website design
- Payment processor
- Return policy
- Legal requirements
- Marketing (SEO & PPC)
- Email setup and notifications
- Website analytics
- Inventory management
- Shipping methods
- Price strategy
- Customer satisfaction
Important: Even if you implement each of the 15 steps listed below, you’ll remain at a huge disadvantage unless you follow one crucial step that comes above all the rest.
Track your ecommerce profits and expenses. Planning ahead is great, but without continuous oversight of how your business is performing financially you’ll essentially be sailing a ship without a compass. You might reach your destination, but the chances are pretty slim.
Use a profit and cost tracking app like BeProfit Profit Tracker for keeping accurate tabs on all of your Shopify store’s expenses and profit margins. The app uses automation to streamline your business analysis, and turns your store’s complex data into easy-to-understand charts and graphs.
With such an extensive toolbox of features, tools, and integrations, BeProfit offers Shopify store owners a better way to track their business’s true profitability.
1. Selecting an ecommerce platform
For first-time online business owners, the easiest way to get started is to use an ecommerce platform that offers pre-made templates which streamline the design process. The alternative option would be to start a website from scratch, and that requires lots of experience with coding and digital design.
Instead, you can take your pick from the list of best e-commerce website builders for small businesses. We’ll touch on some of the main advantages of choosing an ecommerce platform over creating your own website – for now it suffices to say that it will save you a ton of time, energy, money, and stress to learn how to launch a Shopify store, WooCommerce store, Wix store, and so on.
2. Website hosting
Each e commerce platform has its own advantages and disadvantages. Some, like Shopify, make website hosting part of the package at no extra cost. Others may impose costly limitations on what you will be permitted to do through their hosting plans, including limited file storage, bandwidth limits, extra fees if you choose a different payment processor than they provide, and so on.
But, to reiterate the point made above, the alternative to choosing an ecommerce platform to host your website is to create your own website from the ground up – the costs of which can far outweigh the expenses associated with ecommerce platforms.
3. Choosing a domain/brand name
The third most basic step you’ll need to complete in setting up your ecommerce business is to choose a name for your website and your brand. Ideally, the two should be one and the same. If your business name is The Best Store Ever, how awesome would it be to have the domain “www.thebeststoreever.com”? It’s a bit of a stretch, but hopefully you get the point.
Of course, if you need or want to, you can make your small business brand name different from your domain name. Just keep in mind that you must put more serious thought into coming up with a website name that either resembles or accurately represents your brand. After all, if people can’t remember your online store name/website, how can they become recurring customers?
4. Registering your company
You may be running your business online, but you’ll still need to register with the appropriate state and/or federal government agencies in order to operate according to the letter of the law. Before registering, consider whether you’d like to open as a sole proprietorship or a limited liability company – or even a corporation. Depending on which route you choose, you’ll need to submit an assortment of paperwork to become officially registered as a legal business entity.
While some people might find it tempting to proceed without registering their business (for whatever reason), we urge you: do not skip this step.
If you do skip this step, the best case scenario is you’ll end up losing a lot of potential customers because you won’t meet legal requirements and that will lead to a lack of trust. Worst case scenario is you could end up owing a ton of money to the government for not paying the correct taxes. Our advice: do it by the book from the beginning and you’ll be on the right track to success.
5. Website design
Back in the day, if you wanted to have a snazzy-looking website, you had to either learn all the ins-and-outs of digital design, or pay a professional to do it for you. Today, there are plenty of ways to get around this obstacle without having to shell out a ton of money. With that said, there’s a lot more to optimizing your website design than just having it look nice.
Your online store’s design will play into every step of your ecommerce customer journey. Consider the following questions when designing your website:
- Will your design be optimized for m-commerce?
- How fast/slow will your website perform?
- Can you make your website accessible to those with handicaps or disabilities?
- Does your web design make it easy for your customers to navigate through?
- Will your website have landing pages that convert?
There are other questions to consider, but these will help you get started. If you’re looking to outsource your website design, using the help of experienced Shopify developers is highly common and can make all the difference between just another online store to an eye-catching shop that converts your visitors into sales.
6. Payment processor
You’ve set up your website, registered your business, and optimized your store’s design to generate sales. The next step is to make sure you can accept payments! In case you were wondering, no, we didn’t forget about selecting a profitable product to sell online – we’ll get to that further down list. Regardless of what you’re selling, your online business will simply not survive if you do not have a way to accept payments.
The answer to this dilemma is to pick a payment processor (also known as a payment gateway for ecommerce – click this link for our list of the top 7 payment gateways). They each have their own set of rules, limits, and costs, so you’ll have to do your due diligence to figure out which one is right for you. Important factors to consider include security measures offered, types of payment methods supported, and the difficulty of setting the payment gateway up.
7. Return policy
If you’re accepting payments, be ready to get your fair share of return requests. There’s certainly no shortage of returns in the online retail marketplace – in the U.S., in 2017 alone, the value of ecommerce items returned exceeded $121 billion.
To efficiently handle the virtually never-ending influx of returns, and even limit them, you should include a clear return policy on your website. It’s even a good idea to place links to the return policy at several points in the customer journey – on your home page, at the checkout screen, and so on. Once again, communicating openly with your customers goes a long way to building trust.
Plus, displaying your return policy can also help you reduce cart abandonment.
In the U.S., in 2017 alone, the value of #ecommerce items returned exceeded $121 billion. To efficiently handle the virtually never-ending influx of returns, and even limit them, you should include a clear return policy on your website.… Click To Tweet
8. Legal requirements
Abiding by legal requirements is yet another one of those steps that many first-time online business owners may overlook, but definitely should not. There are many, many pitfalls that online retailers need to be aware of (and avoid in earnest) if they have any serious plans to survive and thrive. Many of those pitfalls have to do with copyright infringement or the protection of customer data.
To steer clear of those legal obstacles, take some time to study up on what makes for strong and effective privacy policies, cookie policies, terms & conditions, and copyright protection policies.
9. Marketing (SEO + PPC)
From the get-go, one of the main pillars of your ecommerce business will be lead generation and brand exposure, otherwise known as ecommerce advertising. Marketing your business online can be done by employing a number of different methods, but each one ultimately falls into one of two broad classifications: paid or organic.
Probably the most commonly used form of paid marketing online is pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. As the name suggests, you only pay if and when someone clicks on your ad. This is a popular form of advertising on Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter – just to name a few. Influencer marketing is another form of paid marketing that’s been on the rise in recent years.
When it comes to organic marketing, what we’re really referring to is search engine optimization (SEO). In a nutshell, it’s the process of improving your content development in order to start ranking higher on search engine results pages. Check out the best ecommerce platforms for SEO.
You can start a Shopify blog to aim for keywords related to your products, for example. Or begin shooting videos to share on YouTube. Or any other form of content generation that resonates with your target audience. Don’t forget about social media marketing.
10. Email setup and notifications
Another highly valuable but often overlooked form of ecommerce marketing is email marketing. As a matter of fact, email marketing has consistently ranked as the most cost-effective form of digital marketing with a median ROI of roughly 122%. If you haven’t done so already, you should start compiling an email list and use a variety of different approaches within your email marketing strategy.
You can start a newsletter (and include blogs or videos you’ve created or come across), you can send reminder emails when customers abandon their carts, you can design email templates designed to present customers with items they might like, and much, much more. The bottom line is that, although it’s considered something of a relic in the age of the internet, emailing people is still a hugely successful form of marketing.
Email marketing has consistently ranked as the most cost-effective form of #digitalmarketing with a median ROI of roughly 122%. How is your #onlinestore using email marketing? Click To Tweet
11. Website analytics
Another key component to building a strong online store is to constantly analyze your website’s performance. You can use many different indicators to determine who your site visitors are, how they are interacting with your website, where their attention shifts to and away from, if and where there are any dropoff points where visitors suddenly exit your website, and so on.
By keeping your finger on the pulse of your website’s performance, you’ll be able to make data-driven decisions that help you optimize your site’s design and increase conversion rates.
12. Inventory management
Will you be working with one supplier or several? Or will you produce your own goods (D2C)?
Where will you store your products? Or will you consider starting a dropshipping business?
How will you track and gauge your inventory needs across multiple sales channels to avoid overselling or overstocking? What sorts of tools will you use to manage your sales?
All of these questions are extremely important to answer when setting up your online business. E-commerce inventory management is a key aspect of your store, so it’s completely necessary to sort out how you’ll be keeping your supply of goods in order before you launch.
13. Shipping methods
Unless you plan on fulfilling your customers’ orders yourself, you’ll need to find a shipping method (or several) that work best for your online business. Depending on if you’ll be selling locally, interstate, or selling online internationally, you’ll need to take into account a number of different taxes and fees when selecting a shipping solution.
Apart from the actual delivery process, you’ll also need to factor in the costs associated with packaging, handling, and all other aspects of fulfillment. And once you learn that shipping expenses can constitute up to 20% of your entire budget, it doesn’t take long to realize that reducing your shipping costs for your online store should be near the top of your priority list.
14. Price strategy
In the early stages of your ecommerce business, you may need to sacrifice your ability to earn a profit in exchange for claiming a spot in your niche. After all, without a reputation to stand on, how else can you generate business?
That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t work toward increasing your business profits, don’t get us wrong. It’s simply to say that the pricing strategies you put in place can (and really should) change as your business grows and develops over time.
The strategy alluded to above is called penetration pricing, whereby you undercut your competition and ‘penetrate the market’ by offering customers very favorable prices. After you’ve gained that business, you can gradually raise your prices to begin earning more profits. Just be careful not to hike up your prices too quickly or you’ll lose the trust of your customers.
15. Customer satisfaction
Happy consumers means your business is a boomer. If customers feel burned, they’re unlikely to return. Don’t believe us? Then consider the fact that 75% of U.S. consumers say they’d stop giving their business to a company after just one bad experience or poor customer support.
Quick tips for customer satisfaction:
- Personalize every interaction, don’t let customers feel like just a number
- Customize the shopping experience so customers get tailored recommendations
- Reward loyalty with special deals, discounts, or even free gifts
- Create a checkout process that’s simple and fast to get through
- Make the return process easy to avoid broader issues, like bad reviews
Although customer satisfaction appears at the end of our list, you shouldn’t dismiss its real importance to the success of your online store. Do your business a favor and invest some serious effort into creating a customer experience that exceeds your customers’ expectations.
Ready to start your business?
We won’t pretend that these 15 steps are all you’ll need to do in order to create a successful online business. There are countless other tasks that will arise at one point or another, plus a range of obstacles that you’ll likely face along the way – so many that we couldn’t possibly list them all out in one article.
But, as is usually the case in life, the best teacher is experience. In the meantime, you can use the 15 steps outlined in this ecommerce launch checklist as a great way to get started off on the right foot! Feel free to bookmark this page and share it with other prospective online business owners.