10 important steps to take when you’re setting up an online shop

By: Alex Astell

Date: 3 August 2010

There are millions of online shops, and whether they're selling clothes, books, tools, gifts, homeware or camping equipment they all had to take the first steps towards getting their store online.

Setting up an e-commerce shop might seem daunting, but by reading these tips and following them up you can make the process smooth and hassle free.

1 Decide on a name for your shop and buy your domain name

It should be memorable and not too long. You can buy domains at Go Daddy, 1&1 Internet and Easyspace plus hundreds of other sites. Make a note of your username and password – this is essential as your web developer will need these details.

You could also look into buying domains that are related to the products you're selling and then point them towards your primary domain.

2 Talk to your bank about setting up an Internet Merchant account

You can then link this to SagePay and/or Streamline (secure card payment service). This can take time, so it's best to start the process early.

3 Work out your budget

This is crucial as it will help you focus on what you actually need at the moment and what would be nice to implement in the future. It will also help you choose who will build it (see point 5). Be realistic and remember that the more you invest in your new website at this stage, the less time and money you'll have to spend in the future developing the site.

4 Think about the branding, pages, content and functionality you'll want

This will enable you to give a clear brief to your potential design agencies. It'll also save time in the long run if you have a clear picture in your mind of what you're aiming for.

5 Start researching web design providers - both agencies and freelancers

Look at e-commerce websites that you like and find out who built them or search online for agencies that can help. If you can look at testimonials from their customers or even speak to people who've used their services, you'll be able to make a decision on who you feel most comfortable with.

6 Prepare your product list and images

You'll probably find that this takes most of your time. Your web designers will give you advice on what they need from you, but if you want to get a head start you can create the product list on an Excel spreadsheet. The column headings would be along these lines (depending on what you will be retailing):

  • Unique product code
  • Category
  • Sub category (if applicable)
  • Product name
  • Image file name (this should be the exact file name for the relevant main image – e.g. "rolling-stones-tshirt-lips.jpg" or it could be labelled by the product ID code, e.g. "100233.jpg"
  • Product description (remember to make it informative and use your keywords for the search engines)
  • Sizes available
  • Colour
  • Price
  • In stock (1) or out of stock (0)
  • Quantity in stock

7 Prepare your images

PLEASE don't snap away with that disposable camera you stole from a wedding two years ago! There's nothing worse than seeing a well-designed website with poor, fuzzy pictures. You may already have professional photographs from the manufacturer or you may need to book a photographer. The crucial point here is that your images must be crisp and clear.

Label them well and file them in an organised way so they will be easy to find and sift through as and when needed. Your web design provider may need to crop, cut out or alter the images for your new website and the better the quality of the photographs, the easier and more effective this will be.

8 Make sure you're completely happy with the visuals from your website designer

Any tweaks to colours, layout, typefaces, etc should be requested now as it would be very difficult (and expensive) to change these further down the line.

You would be wise to steer clear of anything that's too "of the moment" and fashionable when it comes to design and colour - this will date very quickly. Neutral tones will ensure your website remains a contemporary classic and it will need little future investment when it comes to design.

9 While your website is being built, make yourself available for any queries from the web developer

The faster you can come back with the answers, the sooner your website will be ready to launch.

You'll also need to test, test, test. Think of every possible scenario, try out the payment system and ask your friends to do the same. Their comments will be invaluable as you don't want your customers to come across too many glitches in the system. There are bound to be a few teething problems and the aim here is to reduce them as much as possible before you launch to the general public.

  • Is all text free from spelling errors?
  • Has content been placed consistently?
  • Have enquiry or shopping cart forms been tested and processed correctly?
  • Have the compulsory question and answer fields been tested?
  • Do your enquiry and order forms send to the correct recipient?
  • Has your website been fully optimised for search engines?
  • Does your website display correctly on all browsers
  • Is your Web Statistics package (e.g. Google Analytics) installed and operational?

10 Launch date!

Tell as many people as possible about your new website. If you already have a customer database, send them an email to let them know that their shopping experience is about to improve beyond measure.

If you have a Facebook account, set up a business page too and invite all your friends to "like" it. Join Twitter to promote your website and try out using Google AdWords if you have the budget.

Check that your web design providers have submitted your site to Google, and register with as many relevant online directories as possible such as FreeIndex and let the universe know about your new site. Make sure your web address is on all your stationery and business cards, and make good use of them.

Allie Astell of Manage My Website