How to start an online store in 2021 – best options and lessons learned

Welcome to read our guide to setting up your own online store. This page aims to help you in at least two ways for launching and running an online store: to start off we introduce two nice programs for building an online store and then after that there some “lessons learned” from running an online store.

What is required to easily create an online store?

Creating an online store really requires only two things: a domain name for your ecommerce store and a program to build your own online store quickly. Anyone can register a domain right away without any special technical skills, and setting up an online store doesn’t (necessarily) require much more. 

What is the best program for launching an online store?

There are these days numerous so-called ecommerce platforms that allow anyone to build their own stylish e-commerce store in just one night. My personal favorite of those ecommerce platforms is Shopify.

Why do I think Shopify is the best choice for 2021? In my experience Shopify is, for example, particularly easy to use and reasonably and openly priced. Shopify is also exceptionally well suited for both local and international ecommerce.

Shopify’s pricing: Shopify’s cheapest standard plan costs $29/month, and you can get a discount on that already inexpensive price if you pick an annual or longer subscription (more information about the Shopify discount). Currently Shopify also gives new customers a 14-day free trial. Even during those 14 days, you can put your e-commerce store online and get a pretty good idea of ​​whether running an ecommerce store and using Shopify for it is the right choice for you. Open a Shopify account (opens in a new window).

Looking for more information about Shopify? Check out Shopify review.

Setting up and maintaining an online store for free (or starting from about $50/year)

As Shopify is currently free for 14 days, even with it in the literal sense you can create an online store for free. However, if in addition to creating your store for free, you also want to run your store for free in the long run, then there is one option that I can recommend. Although admittedly even this option has some clear limitations.

The option in question is free for those who already have a WordPress website (bit below there is information about the costs for those who don’t yet a have a WordPress-site). In practice for WordPress there is a free add-on called ‘WooCommerce’ with which one can easily build an online store. And although WooCommerce is free, it is possible to build a really nice looking ecommerce store with it.

The downside to choosing WooCommerce is that it is very possible that at some point you will want to buy add-ons/plugins for WooCommerce itself. The need for those add-ons might arise, for example, if you want to engage in dropshipping or want to add more possible payment methods to your online store.

What does WooCommerce cost if you don’t already have your own WordPress website? Of course, it is also possible to use WooCommerce by first setting up a WordPress site and then installing WooCommerce on it. If you go that route, you should set aside at least about $50/year. That amount is an estimate of what a domain name and good web hosting will, at least, cost per year.

Things to note if you haven’t used WordPress before: WordPress is a fairly easy to use publishing system, but if you haven’t used it before, it’s probably much easier and faster to create a good-looking online store with Shopify than with WordPress + WooCommerce. Shopify is also in many ways more advanced than that combination.

More information about WooCommercce: I have written about WooCommerce and my own experiences with it here and, of course, their own website also contains lot of useful information. Go to WooCommerce (opens to a new window).

Things I learned from running an online store

From this section, you will find small insights based on my experiences from the time I first set up an online store in 2018 and ran it for a short time. If, at some point in the future, I start an online store again, I will try to take advantage of these lessons learned from running the previous store. Hopefully these little insights will be of some use to others as well.

The first thing I learned about running an ecommerce site was how easy it is to try different things. Somehow I was of the misconception that, for example, the shipping costs I would charge from the customers could not be changed in an instant, but would instead be a longer process. Fortunately, I was wrong about that. The fact that things can be changed very flexibly and quickly also allows for comprehensive testing. For example, different discount deals can be tested quickly and efficiently, as well as, for example, different product images and descriptions.

The second lesson I learned relates to the fact that it was surprisingly difficult to get customers to complete the shopping process. In other words, based on my experience, it is quite easy to get people to the product-page, but then very few people end-up adding products to their shopping cart and placing an order – even if they were already aware of the price of the product before they arrived to the product-page. 

After my own personal experiences of struggling to get people to buy from my store, I learned that according to international statistics only 3% of visitors end up buying from the online store they visit. Personally, I didn’t get even into that figure. My own poor results were likely impacted by the facts that the products I sold had long delivery times and the fact that my brand was not well known. Having learned this lesson, I would in the future strive to shorten delivery times and create a brand for the store that new customers dare to trust. In addition, it is naturally useful to study how big and successful online stores entice customers to complete the buying process, as those stores are likely to have very comprehensive statistics on what works and what doesn’t.

The third lesson learned was that the little stuff in an ad has a surprisingly large effect on how eagerly potential customers click on it. I tried a bit of purchased online advertising for my store’s products and found that, for example, color scheme changes and fonts could have a surprisingly large effect on clicks, even though the different ads had the same product for sale and the same price. This is a very good thing in the sense that it makes it possible to constantly look for more effective ways to carry out advertising on the basis of statistics and thus get more customers to shop at a lower cost.

The fourth thing I learned is about the fact that setting up an e-commerce store is certainly not an easy way to get rich. Instead, doing ecommerce needs to be approached from the long-term perspective and things really need to be thought through and tested. In summary, I believe that the most important question to keep in mind is probably why customers would buy from your particular store and not from somewhere else. Unique products? Really good brand? Relevant marketing?