Coming up with a business idea and launching your business can be a difficult—or, at the very least, time-consuming—process. Luckily, learning how to build an ecommerce website to sell your products or services online is easy.
Modern ecommerce platforms are economical and extremely user-friendly, allowing you to create a custom website for your ecommerce business with just a few clicks. Most ecommerce platforms also offer key elements like secure payments, shipping, and marketing on a plug-and-play basis, so you likely won’t need any coding experience to set up a professional-looking ecommerce website.
Interested in learning more? Our guide to building an ecommerce website will walk you through everything you need to know to build your ecommerce website so you can start selling online.
How to build an ecommerce website in 5 steps
Step 1: Choose a name and get your domain
If you’re new to building an ecommerce website, your domain—also called a URL—is your web address. This is your ecommerce website’s “home” on the internet, and what shoppers enter into the browser bar to visit your website.
Choosing a good domain name is important to both your branding and overall success. If possible, select a business and domain name that’s closely connected to what you sell. By using descriptive keywords or key phrases into your business and domain name, your customers know what you sell up-front, plus it helps you rank well in search engines, which is crucial to your business’s SEO strategy.
For example, if you specialize in organic honey, you can look for names that include “organic honey,” like KatiesBeesOrganicHoney.com. Or, if you sell custom pet collars, you can try CocosCustomCollars.com. If you have a niche business, it’s pretty easy to come up with a keyword-focused name for your ecommerce website.
One you have a few ideas for a name, you can purchase your domain using a domain registrar service like GoDaddy, Bluehost, or Google Domains. Simply head to one of these websites and enter your business name. It will tell you if that domain is available, as shown below.
Above, you can see that KatieBeesOrganicHoney.com is available. If your name is already taken, these sites will display options, like .net or .co, or an alternate name. It’s a good idea to stick with a .com if possible because that’s the most common and trusted usage. However, if you’re set on a particular name and the .com is taken, the .net and .co options are widely recognized, too.
Your domain name will typically cost between $12 to $25 per year, depending on the service and any add-ons you choose, such as domain privacy. You may also find that whichever ecommerce platform you choose to build your ecommerce website also includes a free domain with your purchase, which brings us to our next point.
Step 2: Pick your ecommerce platform
Your ecommerce platform is where your site “lives” online, and you have many options to choose from. There are free ecommerce platforms with limited features and nearly free ecommerce stores built on WordPress. You can add ecommerce features to popular website builders, or go with a dedicated ecommerce platform that can support unlimited growth.
Here are some top ecommerce platform options to consider when deciding where you’ll build your ecommerce website:
Dedicated ecommerce platforms
Dedicated ecommerce platforms are the easiest way to quickly launch a full-featured ecommerce website. These solutions are very robust and expandable and deliver powerful built-in functionality like secure payments, shipping labels, email marketing, and multichannel sales support. These solutions aren’t free, but deliver a ton of tools starting at around $30 per month.
Three top dedicated ecommerce platforms to consider include:
BigCommerce: BigCommerce is geared to multichannel sellers and perhaps the most expandable small business ecommerce platform. Plans start at $29.95 per month.
Shopify: Shopify is the most popular dedicated ecommerce platform and ideal for startups and drop-shippers. Shopify plans start at $29 per month.
3dcart: 3dcart is another top contender in the dedicated ecommerce platform field and offers a budget startup plan for just $19 per month.
All of these dedicated ecommerce platforms offer a free trial period, so you can test-drive each of them completely risk-free before deciding which one you’ll use to build your ecommerce website.
Website builders with ecommerce features
Popular website builders Wix, Weebly, and Squarespace all offer ecommerce functionality. If you already run a website on one of these platforms, you can add online sales features by simply moving to an ecommerce plan.
Wix: Wix offers hundreds of beautiful, easy-to-use website templates with ecommerce features starting at $23 per month.
Weebly: Similar to Wix, you can quickly and easily create a beautiful site on Weebly with ecommerce features for $25 per month.
Squarespace: Squarespace ecommerce features start at $30 per month and you can choose from hundreds of design templates.
Simplicity makes website builder platforms popular with the DIY and side-gig crowd. However, if you’re building an ecommerce website with the intent to grow, a dedicated ecommerce platform delivers more integrated sales and marketing features for similar costs.
Ecommerce plugins for WordPress
The WordPress platform is a powerhouse that drives over half of the world’s ecommerce websites. The reason for this is twofold. First, WordPress is virtually limitless—you can build anything with it; and second, it can be a very low-cost ecommerce options. In fact, you can add online store functionality to any WordPress website for free using the following ecommerce plugins:
WooCommerce: The free WooCommerce plugin adds complete ecommerce functionality to WordPress websites.
WP EasyCart: Like WooCommerce, WP EasyCart adds a full suite of online store features to WordPress.
BigCommerce: Dedicated ecommerce platform BigCommerce also plugs into WordPress, so you can combine their multichannel sales features with a brand-building blog.
Free ecommerce website platforms
Free ecommerce platforms let businesses with just a few products sell online with no upfront or ongoing costs. These platforms either limit the number of products you can list for free, or have fewer features than the ecommerce solutions covered above.
Here are three free ecommerce platforms to consider for your ecommerce website:
Square Free Online Store: Square users can easily expand online with Square’s free online store, which is built into every Square account.
Freewebstore: Freewebstore offers a free ecommerce platform for up to 20 products; paid plans cover more products.
Ecwid: Ecwid offers a free ecommerce website for up to 10 products; paid plans cover added items.
Picking your ecommerce platform is a very important step in the process of building your ecommerce website. So, take the time to test-drive the options and consider your growth goals before settling on a solution.
Step 3: Plan and build your ecommerce website
After settling on an ecommerce platform, it’s time to start creating your ecommerce website. For this, you’ll need to gather the following elements and information:
Logo and brand imagery
All ecommerce platforms let you create a simple type logo, or you can head to Canva to create your own logo using free logo templates. Canva also has royalty-free photos that you can use in a pinch to help brand your website. However, your own branded images will more effectively tell your story. Done right, DIY cell phone shots are surprisingly good for this—so give it a try.
Product photos, descriptions, and data
Product information is front-and-center on most ecommerce websites, so this is a key part of your ecommerce website build. Here is a checklist of information to include, plus a few tips to help you market products effectively.
Great product photos: You can capture great product photos with a little creativity and a cell phone camera. Be sure to take photos from several angles and show your products in use, if possible.
Product videos: You don’t need a slick, pricey video to sell products. Authentic, real-world videos are proven sales tools, and you can capture these with your cell phone.
Detailed product descriptions: Want to minimize customer emails and calls? Create great product descriptions that cover every detail. Include the size, weight, and material for each product you sell and add answers to frequently asked questions. Use keywords in product titles and descriptions where it makes sense to achieve search engine ranking.
Product options: Options like size and color are called variables, and ecommerce platforms let you create multiple variables for items that come in different sizes, colors, etc.
Product SKUs: Make sure you have your internal stock keeping units (SKUs), plus any manufacturer’s codes on-hand. Sometimes buyers will search using a manufacturer’s code, so these are good to include in product data.
Product pricing: Many ecommerce platforms give you single-item and group pricing options, plus sale and discount pricing. Some even let you track your product costs for reporting.
Item size and weight: Ecommerce platforms use item size and weight to determine real-time shipping costs and to print labels. This is optional, but can be a handy timesaver that automates your shipping process.
Inventory: Insert a stock amount for each item and your ecommerce platform will track your inventory as products sell down.
Not sure what to sell on your new ecommerce website? See how to source products to sell online or start a dropshipping business with no upfront costs.
This is your chance to connect with potential buyers, so make the “About Us” section on your ecommerce website sing. Share your personal journey—is it the fulfillment of a lifelong dream? Or a fun side-gig experiment? Whatever your reason for learning how to build an ecommerce website, tell it here. Embellish it with photos and videos and make it entertaining and engaging to keep buyers coming back for more.
Customer service pages
Great customer service keeps shoppers coming back, so use the customer service page of your ecommerce website to clearly set expectations. Key elements here include:
Shipping rates and times: State your typical shipping turn-around, the rates you charge, and average delivery times.
Returns and exchanges: Cover your returns policy and clearly state who pays for return shipping—that way there are no surprises.
A great way to create ongoing content and increase your ecommerce website’s search engine rankings is by blogging. Done right, blog posts are part of your overall marketing strategy. You can continually repurpose this content via social channels and email marketing to get more mileage from your efforts.
Your ecommerce website menus help shoppers easily navigate your shop, blog, and website content. Most ecommerce websites let you create a main menu bar, along with footer menus and sometimes top and sidebar menus.
It’s common practice to use the main menu to highlight your online store categories, then use the sitewide footer or top bar for About Us and Customer Service pages. Blog posts can be built into the main menu or into sidebar or footer menus. Experiment to see which combination works best for your product collection and content.
Step 4: Set up payment, tax, shipping, and marketing tools
How you handle these tasks when building your ecommerce website will depend on your ecommerce platform. All-in-one solutions like BigCommerce and Shopify come complete with built-in payment processing, tax calculations, shipping label printing, and marketing tools. Most others require integrating a few outside services to handle these tasks.
Payment processing and tax table setup
All of the ecommerce website platforms covered above offer plug-and-play integration with top payment services like Square, PayPal, and Stripe. Shopify even has their own payment solution, Shopify Payments. To enable payment processing using these solutions, you simply click a few buttons, set up your account, and you’re connected.
Most ecommerce platforms also let you connect your own payment gateway and merchant account. However, built-in and plug-and-play payment services are the simplest, and often the most economical, options for startups.
After setting up your payment processor, you’ll configure sales tax rates to be collected from shoppers. All ecommerce website platforms support sales tax collection and let you apply taxes to select or all items and orders. The sales tax rates you charge depend on your state and, in most cases, your overall sales volume.
Your can—and should—integrate shipping software with your ecommerce platform to streamline the order fulfillment process. Integrated shipping seamlessly connects orders to shipping software so you can select carriers and shipping methods, print labels, and automatically notify customers when their orders ship.
BigCommerce, Shopify, and WooCommerce all offer built-in shipping, so the integration is already done for you and setup takes just minutes. Most other ecommerce platforms require that you connect a third-party solution like ShipStation or ShippingEasy to print labels and trigger customer notifications. These integrations work well with most platforms, but can add monthly costs.
Once your shipping solution is set up, you can create shipping rates to charge your customers shipping fees. Most ecommerce websites let you add real-time rates, which is the actual cost of shipping each order. Or, you can set up flat rates based on order totals, or offer free shipping for all or select orders.
Email marketing and social media setup
Like payments and shipping, some ecommerce website platforms offer robust built-in marketing tools. All-in-one solutions BigCommerce and Shopify lead the pack with complete marketing toolkits. You can easily build and use email lists to connect with customers, plus sell products and send promotions across your social media accounts in a few clicks.
Other ecommerce platforms require a bit more work to set up marketing features. For example, you can connect WooCommerce to top email marketing services like MailChimp using free plugins. However, you need paid plugins to connect your products directly to social media accounts for social commerce.
Clearly, the time spent in this step depends on the ecommerce platform you choose. Building an ecommerce website with all of the marketing bells and whistles is easy with dedicated ecommerce platforms. You’ll spend more time, effort—and perhaps money—if you use other platforms.
Step 5: Test and launch your ecommerce website
The last step in building your ecommerce website begins with processing a few test orders. Each ecommerce platform handles testing differently; however, all let you run a few pre-launch test orders through the system. These orders connect with your payment processor, but don’t charge your card. Once you’ve sent a few test orders through successfully—or have worked out any bugs you noticed while navigating around your ecommerce website—you’re ready to open for business.
Of course, launching your ecommerce website doesn’t equal instant sales. It takes time for search engines to find and index your new online store. You can speed this along by verifying your new ecommerce store in Google’s Search Console and uploading an xml sitemap, which ecommerce platforms provide for this purpose.
In the meantime, you can also use social media and Google Adwords advertising to get the word out once your online store is live.
Building an ecommerce website: The bottom line
It truly is easier than ever to build an ecommerce website. A decade ago, setting up an online store required some technical skill and several integrations to make everything work. But today’s modern platforms make the process quick and seamless.
If you have just a few product pages to build, you can be up and running in a day or less. So, if you’ve been dreaming about testing the ecommerce waters, check out the platforms covered above, pick the best one for your ecommerce needs, and dive right in.
This article originally appeared on JustBusiness, a subsidiary of NerdWallet.