11 Steps to Start an E-Commerce Business

11 Steps to Start an E-Commerce Business: Supply Chain, Shopping Cart & Beyond

E-commerce has grown significantly in the past decade and is still on the rise. In fact, the global market volume of e-commerce is slated to be worth over
$3.7 billion by 2028. This forecast accounts for an annual growth rate of 9.83%.

Many entrepreneurs are starting e-commerce businesses of their own so they can capitalize on the growth. Fortunately, there are plenty of tools and resources for aspiring e-commerce retailers ready to take the first steps in building their businesses.

This guide will discuss the steps you need to follow to start a successful e-commerce business. We’ll cover all the critical elements of building this sort of business, including securing a reliable supply chain, using an effective shopping cart, and more.

How to Start an E-Commerce Business

With ‌proper planning and preparation, launching your e-commerce business is certainly within reach. Here’s what the process looks like for many aspiring e-commerce retailers.

1. Choose a Niche

The first step in starting an e-commerce business is to choose a niche. Identify the industry you’d like to operate in and start thinking about a specific audience within that industry that you could serve and the products you might like to offer.

This step may feel like a no-brainer if you have a passion or experience motivating you to start an e-commerce business, as you likely have a good idea of the direction you’d like to take. 

However, if your drive is simply to sell products online, you’ve got some digging to do. You must dive heavily into learning about the niche you choose to understand the audience you’re serving. Without building a foundation of knowledge, the rest of the process becomes trickier.

We recommend reading books, accessing online materials, and talking to other professionals in the industry. 

Take a close look at data and trends that provide insight into the industry’s vitality. By taking the time to understand the inner workings and needs of the market, you’ll set yourself up for success.

E-commerce trends

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2. Create a Business Plan

Starting your online store requires careful planning and strategic execution. It’s wise to allot time to map out a business plan.

By delineating clear objectives, outlining market analysis, defining target demographics, and detailing financial projections, a comprehensive business plan provides a roadmap for success. 

Whether you’re seeking investment, expanding product lines, or entering new markets, having a structured plan enables you to make informed decisions and navigate challenges effectively for long-term success. 

That’s where a business plan template is valuable. This resource helps ensure that all your bases are covered so you can proceed strategically.

3. Choose Your Products

With a niche and strategy in mind, it’s time to choose your products. Many businesses start with a single product or a minimal collection of products for their launch. This approach makes it easier to find your footing so you can expand from there.

As you consider which product to offer, think of it in terms of the solution it provides. What is the “why” behind the product? What is it used for?

Beyond that, do some research into the demand for a product. You can use keyword research tools like Keywords Everywhere or Google Trends to gauge how much people are searching for terms related to the product you have in mind. Demand forecasting technology is helpful at this stage, as well.

We also recommend using Amazon to see what other options are available in the market. Look at reviews of products that are currently available to see what customers like or dislike. Negative reviews help identify needs in the market and give you ideas on how to fill those needs.

Negative review on Amazon

Screenshot provided by the author

4. Find a Supplier

Once you’ve determined which products you’d like to sell, you’ll need to find a wholesale supplier to provide these products. If you plan on manufacturing your own products, you’ll need a supplier for the raw materials. 

However, most entrepreneurs exploring e-commerce are better off buying products that have been manufactured.

Alibaba.com is one of the most popular places to connect with wholesale suppliers since there are millions of sellers worldwide. Amazon Business and BigCommerce are popular options, as well.

Screenshot of Alibaba.com

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It’s worth ordering samples from several suppliers as you negotiate your contracts. Having the samples in hand makes it easier to compare apples-to-apples rather than solely basing your decision on pricing and terms.

As you compare suppliers, consider the strength of the supply chain. A supplier may have items in stock currently, but it’s essential to consider what their manufacturing and sourcing of raw materials looks like. The reliability of the supply chain will determine if you can fulfill your orders or not.

Another consideration when choosing a supplier is the fulfillment process. If you’re using a dropshipping business model, you’ll need a supplier that handles fulfillment on your behalf. If, on the other hand, you prefer to handle fulfillment yourself, be sure to choose a trusted courier service to partner with.

5. Build Your Brand

Now, it’s time to build your brand. You may have some business names in mind, but now is the time to lock one down. Think of something catchy and memorable but not too complicated. 

You should also sort out the visual identity and positioning of your brand. Determine how you’d like the brand to be personified and use colors and imagery to bring that to life in your logo and other assets.

It’s possible to DIY this step, but if you don’t have branding experience, it’s wise to work with an experienced brand strategist and designer. These professionals have likely honed their skills and can help you effectively curate your brand in a way that truly connects with your audience.

6. Handle the Legalities

As the process progresses, it’s crucial to handle the legalities of the business. This includes local registrations, licensing, and so forth.

At this stage, consulting with a business lawyer is wise to ensure everything is structured correctly. You may also benefit from consulting with your accountant to ensure you’re prepared to operate in a way that’s mindful of taxes.

If you need to secure any copyrights or trademarks for your brand or product, now is the time to get those in motion since they can take some time.

7. Build Your Storefront

Screenshot of OpenCart

(Image Source)

Now, it’s time to build your storefront. Your storefront can live on either your own site or an established marketplace like Amazon or Etsy. Each of these options comes with unique benefits.

Creating a storefront on your own site gives you total control over the branding and customer experience. There’s no middleman, so you don’t have to worry about paying a commission to the marketplace or other products being promoted around your own listing. 

On the other hand, selling on a marketplace is excellent for gaining traffic to your listings. It also provides a sense of trustworthiness for customers who have previously purchased from the platform. Plus, some marketplaces, including Amazon, handle fulfillment on your behalf, which certainly can be useful.

As you build your storefront, you must ensure a seamless checkout. This process is already set in stone if you are selling on a marketplace. However, if you’re selling on your own site, you have more say in the matter.

Some ways to improve the checkout process include abandoned cart reminders, one-click checkout, auto-filling order information, and multiple payment methods. Removing any resistance, such as extra steps or pricy shipping fees, is key.

8. Finalize Your Fulfillment Process

Throughout this process, fulfillment has come up a few times. At this point, you’d likely know whether you’d like to fulfill orders in-house or outsource this step to a dropshipping supplier.

Drop shipment model diagram

(Image Source)

Now is the time to map out the fulfillment process precisely when somebody places an order at your e-commerce store. 

Determine the journey of the order from the warehouse to the buyer. Map out the sequence of actions needed for this to happen and who’s responsible each step of the way.

As you iron out the details of your fulfillment process, create a timeline for each order so you can set realistic delivery timeframes for buyers.

9. Create a Marketing Plan

It’s time to create a plan to bring customers to your e-commerce storefront. The beauty of the e-commerce business model is that there are so many digital marketing techniques that can be put into action. 

Some common techniques for marketing an e-commerce business include:

  • Video content marketing (on YouTube or Twitch)

  • Search engine optimization (SEO)

  • Live shopping (on your site)

  • Social media marketing

  • Influencer marketing

  • Paid advertising

We encourage you to experiment with different techniques and strategies to determine what resonates best with your audience. Finding a groove with your community may take some time, but since several options we listed are low-cost, experimenting should be pretty feasible.

10. Launch Your E-Commerce Store

Congratulations! Once everything is in place, it’s time to launch your e-commerce store! 

For some retailers, simply publishing and marketing their storefront is enough of a launch. However, if you have the budget and the desire, consider hosting a launch party to create some hype around the occasion.

No matter what direction you take for your launch, be sure to prioritize the customer experience from this point forward. Happy customers are the best marketers, so your brand must leave a positive impression if you want to grow.

11. Assess and Iterate

If you thought launching your e-commerce storefront was the last step in this process, think again! Businesses take time to grow and develop, so the launch is truly just the beginning. 

It’s important to review all the data available and any customer reviews so you can assess what is working and iterate accordingly. You may need to adjust your product offering, or you may be able to reach your goals by simply tweaking your marketing strategies.

Either way, you’ll be better equipped to make educated decisions for your business by assessing what has worked so far and what hasn’t.

Valuable Tools for E-Commerce Start-Ups

As we briefly mentioned, many tools make it easier to get started and sustain a thriving e-commerce business. Here are a few tools that you should consider as you create your e-commerce storefront.

E-Commerce Platform

An end-to-end e-commerce platform like OpenCart is extremely valuable for retailers who want to manage their essential e-commerce business operations in one dashboard. 

This technology can bring a lot to the table, including store management, storefront design tools, checkout workflows, and integrations with other important tech. 

OpenCart screenshot

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Demand Forecasting Tools

A game-changing resource for many retailers is demand forecasting technology. As the name suggests, this sort of tool makes it possible to assess ‌ demand in the current market and assess projections for future demands.

These projections can come in handy when choosing what sort of products you want to offer and determining how much inventory you’ll invest in.

Admin Tools

Admin tools are essential to keep things running smoothly behind the scenes. Some basic admin tools include bookkeeping technology, business suites (from either Google or Microsoft), and tools for communication.

Depending on how many people you employ, HR software, payroll software, benefits management software, and similar technologies will come in handy to manage your team.

Another helpful admin tool is an enterprise password manager. If you’re unfamiliar, this is a tool that can help you manage and protect your passwords across your e-commerce business. 

1Password enterprise password manager

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Final Thoughts

Starting an e-commerce store has never been more accessible, thanks to the insight and technology available to aspiring entrepreneurs. With a strong plan and the right tools, you can easily build a successful e-commerce brand.

Looking for an end-to-end solution to launch, manage, and grow your e-commerce business? Sign up for OpenCart to access the open-source technology that powers more than 350,000 e-commerce stores!