You’d like to sell online but want to keep costs under control and avoid taking on a lot of extra work? Having your own online store offers plenty of opportunities. You can make it big or small, simple or diverse. It’s completely up to you. And it’s not difficult, as you’ll discover in this post. Here you’ll find everything you need to know, including step-by-step instructions and useful tips. And best of all, you don’t need to have any previous experience.
- Selecting the shop system
- Content and functions
- Legal issues
- Online marketing
E-commerce: the benefits
Having their own online shop gives all companies, whatever their size, more opportunities to stay in touch with existing customers, gain new ones and expand their sales. And this sort of move is completely on trend. The customer journey is now omnichannel. In addition, by setting up their own outlet, retailers are making themselves independent of fee-based online marketplaces such as Amazon or Ebay. E-commerce makes them available worldwide 24/7 – without the need for major capital investment. This is a scalable business model with limited personnel costs and, in some cases without having to pay any store rental. Depending on the product range, it can also be a crisis-proof enterprise.
Digital transformation is being accelerated by the Covid pandemic
More and more retailers and manufacturers are using their own online shops to achieve additional sales. In this way, retailers can combine the advantages of a regional store that has regular and walk-in customers with those of a supraregional store on the Internet that is open 24 hours a day. Retailers who do not yet operate an online shop on the internet are playing catch-up and losing out on some of the advantages. E-commerce newcomers benefit, though, from the rapidly growing range of free (or low-cost) and user-friendly shop systems for which they need no specialist prior knowledge.
In January 2021, for example, the German Federal Statistical Office reported that profits in online retail have been rising for years with a 31,8% increase in 2020. The Institute for Marketing Management at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences talks of an increase in Swiss online retail of over 50% in 2020. The Austrian Trade Association was expecting e-commerce to grow by 17% in the same year. And, according to statista.com, things will continue to go in the same direction in 2021 with B2C e-commerce sales in Germany of over EUR 84 billion (compared to EUR 59.2 billion in 2019). According to forecasts, a market volume of EUR 103 billion will be reached in 2025, corresponding to expected annual revenue growth of 5.4%.
Step by step guide: It’s never too late for your own online shop
Uncertainty, lack of experience, time pressures or financial constraints: these days, there’s nothing to stop you creating your own successful online shop. For bricks-and-mortar retailers, e-commerce offers a second channel – and often the only one during the current Covid pandemic. Manufacturers can expand their sales by enabling online orders – B2B and/or B2C. Young entrepreneurs, though, often start online right from the outset and only establish a bricks-and-mortar channel later on, if at all.
Whatever your business plans, this guide will get you to your goal easily, quickly and inexpensively in 8 steps: your own online shop! You’ll learn everything you need to know – from planning and implementation to sales and shipping. Proceed in a structured way and use a shop system tailored to your requirements. You can be online in just one or two days, presenting your offer to new and existing customers. Here’s how:
Step 1: Concept
Bricks-and-mortar retailers who want to additionally offer their existing product range online basically already have a shop concept, a product range and customers. But the question is: Do they stand out clearly from the competition? Rethink, expand or change your concept so that it also works on the Internet. Define the positioning, the value proposition, your USP and target groups. Build on a solid foundation.
Let’s take as an example a local stationery retailer: To retain existing regional customers, it makes sense to put their entire existing product range – or even a wider offering – online. But in order to stand out from competing online stationery shops, the owner could also focus on specialist items such as handmade paper and superior fountain pens.
Step 2: Products
Think about what goods you want to sell online. What would be profitable? Research the prospects of your product selection by checking the trade press, chamber of commerce and economic research institutions. Calculate the margin – not least in order to determine the maximum advertising costs per sale.
For optimal scalability of your shop, you need information about suppliers and supply chains. Take part in knowledge-sharing events (Link zu Conzoom Solutions Digitale ERFA) that allow you to get in touch with other retailers and manufacturers and exchange information about suppliers. Or order directly on Nextrade. On Messe Frankfurt’s digital order platform for the Home & Living sector, you can order items from over 200 consumer goods manufacturers around the clock with just a single login. Supplementary product assortments can also be worthwhile, for instance the addition of seasonal products to your core product range.
Step 3: Requirements
Having decided on your concept and product selection, you’ve already made a good start. Now think about what functions your shop must provide. Support? Search function? Integration of your social media channels? Take a look at some existing online shops. Make a time schedule and set a budget. This will make it easier for you to choose a suitable shop system.
Step 4: Selecting the shop system
You now need to decide on the optimal shop system for your requirements. Below we have listed our top three providers of modular systems (plus eight others) for which you do not need any specialist knowledge. They are available free of charge or for a small monthly fee. Free test or demo versions are available for most fee-based shop systems. You can find more information directly on the providers’ websites.
Our top recommendation: great flexibility in terms of design, animations are also possible, great for start-ups and small shops, inexpensive.
Our second recommendation: extremely easy, very good for newcomers and also suitable for large shops, inexpensive.
Our third recommendation: a solid classic with modern layouts and good SEO function, inexpensive.
Other fee-based providers:
Great package for multilingual pages, includes phone support.
Very simple with lots of payment options. No App Store.
Extremely intuitive and flexible, App Center, no German support.
International Google partner. Sales possible via Amazon, Google, Instagram, Facebook and Ebay.
Sector-specific package also for large shops with integrated search function. Practical: “Azura local” end customer app.
Other free providers:
Wordpress e-commerce plugin, straightforwardly integrates shops in website.
Open-source shop system, certain features have to be paid for.
European provider, very legally secure, free basic version, differentiated choice of fee-based modules and functions.
Step 5: Setup
Trust in your abilities. Creating your own online shop is really not that difficult. Alternatively, you can of course commission an agency. First of all, select a domain name and register it. The name of your domain should be short, it should not sound complicated and it should be memorable.
A good web layout is just as inviting as effective customer guidance in a retail store. The area of the website “above the fold”, i.e. that area displayed on first click without scrolling, should encourage visitors to browse further and should be a “call-to-action”. Use tried-and-tested structures to create a customer-oriented and user-friendly design. Place functions at standard positions, e.g. the Home button at the top left of the screen. Make sure that the layout offers excellent user guidance. Attract the attention of visitors with labels such as “bestseller” or “limited availability”.
In order to be able to use the selected shop system and all its functions, we suggest you include a short familiarisation period in your planning. Most systems work with a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor, which hides the actual code in the background. This means that the text and layout are exactly as you see it in the editor. With WordPress, too, you don’t have to do the programming yourself. Here you work with themes and templates. Simply try out the relevant test or demo version, if available. With a little practice, you’ll find the setup quite straightforward. Also, don’t forget that optimisation for mobile devices is important.
Easy-to-follow navigation should include a clear header menu and easily understandable categories that cover your entire offer and are mutually exclusive. Intelligent filter functions and internal links are also useful. Lead your online shop visitors by the hand.
Step 6: Content and functions
You’ve got the framework in place. That’s great. Now comes the content. The products that you want to sell to customers are the key element of your shop. For the best results, follow these expert tips:
Take great care with product descriptions. Because of copyright laws, compose your own text rather than simply copying the manufacturer’s descriptions. Appealing texts are good stories. They surprise and touch people emotionally. Put each product in a memorable and comprehensible context. Use images and metaphors. Link data, facts and benefits with feelings by telling little stories from the day-to-day lives of your target group.
Take your readers along with you and invite them into the world of the product. Stay human and authentic. Effective text draws in the reader to become part of the action and the situation. Where possible, build suspense into your product stories: from the initial situation, through the clear development of the storyline and ending with the “moral of the story”, i.e. the conclusion and the purchase recommendation. Your descriptions don’t need to be longer than others. But they can certainly be more absorbing and convincing. Target the reader’s mind with important information and arguments – and their heart with inspiration. Follow the guiding principle of “no text without search engine optimisation”. And there are plenty of practical tools for this task. Keyword research, for example with AdWords, Autocomplete or Keyword Finder, helps you to be found quickly.
Do you have multiple product versions or specifications? If so, you now need to decide how to manage them. Most shop systems offer solutions, e.g. for displaying different colours and sizes. Important: Assign each version a separate URL.
Integrate customer testimonials, reviews and quality labels. Reviews from sources such as Google My Business and use of the trustedshops trustmark create a sense of confidence. Give advice in the same way as you would in a bricks-and-mortar shop. Making recommendations is a very personal thing and helps build a relationship. Also point out similar products in other categories.
Inform your customers as fully as possible about the various shipping options, delivery time, returns and complaints procedure. A mobile app with inventory management is a practical option – as is drop shipping, providing that method fits your concept and your suppliers offer it. Make sure you offer several different payment options: Online customers attach great importance to the payment method. With an appropriate range of options, you can make shopping as easy as possible for your shop visitors, e.g. cash on delivery, advance payment/bank transfer, credit card, Paypal, Amazon Payments, Apple Pay, Google Pay, WeChat Pay. Bear in mind that payment on account is still the most popular method with customers in Germany because payment is not made until after the goods have been delivered.
Step 7: Legal issues
Stay within the law. This checklist covers the most important issues. Check:
- The legal form of your online retail outlet
- The line of business of your online retail outlet
- “Legal notice” or “Imprint” page
- Data protection information
- SSL-TLS certificate
- Prices and tax information
- Right of withdrawal from the contract and general terms and conditions
- The wording of the order button: Order with obligation to pay
- Order confirmation
- Double opt-in for e-mail marketing
- Disposal and environmental regulations for the products
- Special legal conditions for specific product ranges
Step 8: Online marketing
Make yourself and your offering known. Onsite and offsite SEO brings you further up in the search engine rankings. Google My Business costs nothing and is much more than simply a business listing. It allows you to reach new prospects via Google Maps and Google Search. Communicate directly with your target groups via social media – stay really close. Find out what moves your followers, what products they want, what features they find important and more. With just a few posts a week, you will get yourself and your business noticed. And you’ll get the dialogue going again and again. Set aside time to do this. Research relevant content and attention-grabbing images. Refer to things such as holidays or seasons of the year with their moods and specific activities. Social media posts are, in the best sense, a conversation with and for your target audience. Authentic communication and genuine interest in the community come first here, advertising second.
A monthly newsletter with information, news and special offers generates customer loyalty and helps to build a relationship. Create a clear, uncomplicated design. Less content has more impact. You can generate the addresses for the newsletter, for example, from competitions on your social media account. Don’t neglect communication before, during and after orders. Notify customers when shipments are being sent, ask for feedback and thank them! You can also obtain addresses via these touch points – and turn one-time visitors into long-term customers.
If you are able to invest a bit more, we recommend using resources such as AdWords, BingAds, FBAds, IGAds, P2P advertising in magazines and of course influencer marketing. Lookalike audiences and retargeting can also be used to target potential customers.
Conclusion: Not difficult, not expensive, not time-consuming: your own online shop
However, during steps 1 to 3 you may have realised that for you it’s easier to sell through a platform. If so, the good news is that you’re not just limited to Amazon or Ebay. Innovative community platforms such as Sugartrends, which is designed specifically for local stores, make management and marketing easier. Alternatively, you may have decided to take a more in-depth look at existing online shops and pay particular attention to which features you are lacking and which features you like when shopping. That’s good, too! Try out the recommended shop systems such as wix.com. In this way, you can acquire best-practice examples for your successful launch.
Feel free to report your experiences via the comment function here directly below the post. Share ideas with other retailers and benefit from tips from your fellow traders. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
About the author
svaerm is an online marketing agency with core competencies in web, SEO, social media and content creation for B2B and B2C. As a strategic, editorial and creative partner based in Frankfurt am Main, svaerm helps businesses grow.