Picking a domain name for an e-commerce business

One of the most important decisions you will make in the process of launching your own online store is choosing a name for the shop. And when talking about an online business, almost always deciding on what name to use for the store goes in hand in hand with deciding on the domain name you will use for the shop. In this article we will look at several things to consider when deciding on the name.

Brandable name vs descriptive (domain) name

There are really 3 types of names you can use for your business: 1) brandable names, 2) descriptive names and 3) mixtures of brandable and descriptive.

Brandable names are names that a store could have (almost) regardless of what it is selling.

Brandable online store names

Examples of a brandable name are for an example Bonobos (sells clothing) and Warby Parker (sells eye-glasses). The advantage of using a brandable name is that it allows the store owner to easily change directions or broaden the product range, as the name doesn’t seemingly restrict the offering. A good brandable name can also be very memorable, Amazon is a good example of this. The disadvantages of using a brandable name include for an example the fact that it doesn’t automatically tell a person what they can expect to find from a website, if they have just heard the name of it. Brandable names can also easily cause confusion. This is true especially if you are using a name that is not really real word e.g if someone had for the first time mentioned a photo sharing site called “flickr” to you, you would most likely at first go to flicker.com (flicker has solved this issue by buying the domain name flicker.com — likely at a high price). Brandable names and an international audience: it is especially important to be careful with the brandable business names if you are planning on selling products to an international audience. Lot of “cutesy” names that are easy to understand for English speaking people, might be difficult for people who don’t speak English as their first language. And obviously you want to make sure that the name doesn’t, for an example, mean something offensive in the country you plan on targeting. 

Descriptive domain names

A descriptive name is a name that tells exactly what the store is selling. A good example of a descriptive name is MobilePhones.com, when you see that name in search results or hear it somewhere, you will immediately have an idea what you can buy from a store located at that domain. The problem with descriptive names is that if you decide that you no longer want to sell (for whatever reason) the products mentioned in the name, it might be difficult to change directions completely. The other challenge with the descriptive name is that almost all of them are owned by someone at this point and they are most likely not willing to sell the domain cheaply (there are couple tips for negotiating with the current domain owner at the bottom of this page).


Mixtures are simply names that contain elements of brandable names and descriptive names. E.g SunglassHut.com.

When your desired domain name is owned by someone else

If you don’t get really lucky or choose a niche in which there are very few existing companies, the odds are that the first domain name idea you came up with for your store is registered by someone else. That is especially true for the descriptive .com domain names.

When the domain you wanted is registered by someone else you have 2 options: 1) come up with a new idea for name (this can also mean using an alternative domain extension, e.g “.shop” instead of “.com), 2) try to buy the domain from the current owner. The number 1 option is pretty straightforward, but the number 2 can take little bit of work.

If you decide to try the option 2 we recommend the following strategy:

You should at first visit the domain name you wanted to register and see how it is currently being used. If it is an actual, active, website the odds are that the current owner would want lot of money to even consider selling.

If the domain doesn’t resolve (it shows up as blank page or as some type of error page) or simply shows up as some really simple site there is a better chance that the current owner might be open to the option of selling. In that case you will need to contact the current owner to initiate the negotiations.

Owners of unused domains have often set-up a “make-an-offer” feature on their webpage, this usually just means that there is simple form in which you can enter your offer and contact details, if this option is offered try it before contacting the owner in other manner. If there are only contact details on the page, use them to make an offer.

Owners of unused domains have often set-up a “make-an-offer” feature on their webpage, this usually just means that there is simple form in which you can enter your offer and contact details, if this option is offered try it before contacting the owner in other manner. If there are only contact details on the page, use them to make an offer.

If there is no make-an-offer feature or contact details on the page (or the domain doesn’t resolve) you can try contacting current owner via the whois details. This means going to a webpage (for an example www.domaintools.com) where you can see who owns the domain and what his / her contact details are. In the case of domaintools.com simply enter the domain name in the “whois lookup” -field and hit enter and it will automatically shows the contact details. You can then use the contact details to contact the owner (it is usually best to try with email, at least at first). It is good to note that the domain owners can use a service to protect their details, so in case of some domains you won’t see the actual owners details even in the whois-page.

Even when a domain is not in active use by it’s current owner, it is unlikely that they will be ready to part with it for a price that is the same as the registration price of a new domain. The price expectations of the current domain owner usually depend on few things 1) how good the domain is (e.g shoes.com is clearly superior to myshoestore588.com), 2) who is selling (people who are experienced domain owners usually want more money) and 3) the impression they get of you.

You don’t have lot of control over 1 and 2, but you do have some control over 3. So when you first approach the current domain owner you should make an offer that is not disrespectful (e.g don’t offer $5 for a great domain) but also not the maximum price you are willing to pay (unless it is a rather low amount and you make it absolutely clear that you won’t offer anything over that). The latter is true because most domain owners automatically assume that you are at first offering only a fraction of the amount you are actually willing to pay.