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Ecommerce For Dummies: How To Build an Online Store

The step by step guide to creating an ecommerce store for beginners. No technical experience required!

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Updated Sep 16 2021 Juhil Mendpara Juhil Mendpara

A mere seven years ago, people considered designing an online store one of the hardest parts of starting an ecommerce business.

The top-voted answer to

The top-voted answer to "What is the worst thing and hardest part of running an ecommerce store?" in 2014.

That’s not the case anymore.

Today, anyone can build an ecommerce store and start selling online in under 30 minutes!

And I’ll show you how in this step-by-step guide.

Start Here: 3 Things To Do Before Starting Your Online Store

Now, before you pull out your credit card and sign up with any of the recommended ecommerce builders, ensure you:

1. Clarify your goals

Knowing what you want to sell and how you’ll sell it (in the present and the future) will help you choose the perfect platform for your store.

Answer these questions to simplify the process:

  • Is it going to be a single product store? If yes, do you plan to sell multiple products in the future?
  • Do you want to sell digital products, physical products, or both?
  • Will you manufacture the product(s) yourself, buy wholesale, or dropship?
  • In the foreseeable future, will the store size be small to medium (< 100 products) or large (> 100 products)?

Got your answers? Now, go to step-2.

Side Note: This will also help you choose a proper domain name. For example, say you are currently planning to sell dog food; then, you’re likely to choose something like pupfoodxyz.com. However, if you’d pre-plan for the future and know there’s a chance of selling other supplies, then you’d prefer pupsuppliesxyz.com.

2. Decide on how you’ll make your store

The three common ways are:

  1. Using a website builder that supports ecommerce (Squarespace is the best)
  2. Using an ecommerce website builder (Shopify is the best)
  3. Using a CMS plugin (like WooCommerce)

For most small to mid-sized ecommerce stores, we recommend Squarespace for its beautiful templates, drag-and-drop builder, and ease of use.

On the other hand, Shopify is slightly complex but gives you advanced functionalities through the Shopify app store with 6300+ 3rd party apps (for example, Oberlo for dropshipping). Overall, it’s great for stores of all sizes.

As for WooCommerce, it’s less beginner-friendly than the other two, but a good choice if you want to have other content (like video or photo galleries) alongside ecommerce and are already familiar with WordPress.

3. Get the domain name for your store

Once you know the scope of your store, list down a few domain names in priority order. Then, search for the availability of each domain from top-to-bottom.

Register as soon as you find one available. Ideally, register from the ecommerce platform you choose ⁠— both Squarespace and Shopify’s plans include free domain registration.

1. Using a Website Builder with Ecommerce Plans

These days most major website builders let users create ecommerce stores alongside other website types (blog, landing pages, small business websites, etc.).

We prefer website builders because they’re typically easier to use. For example, Steve created his Squarespace-powered, one product store for his music in approx. 10-15 minutes.

What is a website builder?

Website builders are all-in-one website building tools with everything you might need: templates, photo galleries, web hosting, forms, ecommerce , and more.

Besides, most website builders include a drag and drop visual editor to add/arrange/edit visual elements of your store.

What’s the best website builder with ecommerce features?

These two are the overall best website builders and top website builders with ecommerce functionalities:

  • Squarespace ⁠— It’s the best website builder in our experience. For ecommerce, it has an intuitive editor, outstanding templates, and all fundamental features: built-in tax tool, discount code generator, point of sale, simplified & secure checkout, free SSL certificate, all ways to sell (physical products, digital products, subscription, appointments), and more. Plus, it has a handful of extensions like Shipstation to print shipping labels for a streamlined ecommerce experience.
  • Wix ⁠— It’s a great website builder with standard ecommerce features. However, it’s a bit complex and messy for beginners.

A Step-by-Step Guide To Building Your First Online Store With Squarespace

Now that you’ve some idea of how website builders help build an online store, let’s walk step-by-step through creating a store with Squarespace:

Step 1: Create a Website

As soon as you sign up with Squarespace, you’ll see the “Create Website” button. Click it to get started.

If you want to make a standard website first, check out our how to make a website guide. We discussed a lot more about designing and styling the website there. Here, I’ll just focus on the ecommerce aspect.

Step 2 : Choose A Template

Next, you’ll have to select a template ⁠— Squarespace has 100+ templates to choose from.

Filter the templates as needed. I'll stick with

Filter the templates as needed. I'll stick with "online store."

Of the many, I chose the Crosby template :

You can customize it however you want ⁠— change images, choose colors, add buttons, edit texts, remove sections, etc.

Step 3: Add Site Title

You can add your site/store’s name right from the start or skip it for later.

I'll call it the

I'll call it the "SBR Test Store."

Step 4: Add Online Store Page

Once you add the initial info, you’ll land on the Squarespace editor.

Add/remove pages, change the site design, enable/disable commerce features, set marketing campaigns, and more from here.

Add/remove pages, change the site design, enable/disable commerce features, set marketing campaigns, and more from here.

Under Pages, I’ll remove all the existing pages and add a store to keep it simple.

Adding store - SBR Test Store

Adding store - SBR Test Store

Step 5: Adding Items

Here’s how the site looks with just the store page:

Now, let’s add items.

Click on the plus (+) icon to add new products. Next, you’ll be asked to select the product type you want to sell.

Choose your product type - Physical, Digital, Service, Gift Card.

Choose your product type - Physical, Digital, Service, Gift Card.

I’ll choose the most common one for the demo - Physical.

Step 6: Add Product details

Now let’s add all the product details.

Add Basic Details

  • First up, add the product title.
  • Then, the product description,
  • Product images,
  • And the thumbnail image.

Next, insert the price of the product. If you want to show it on sale, enable the option and set the sale price.

Quantity of products you've available

Quantity of products you've available

Also, enter the quantity of the product you’ve in the inventory to show it’s sold out when the set number is sold.

Setting Variations Of The Product

If you sell multiple variants of the same product, you can add those options while entering the details:

For example, if you sell a headphone in different sizes and of different materials, add the variation and price for the size & material here.

Product Organization:

Organizing your products is essential. For example, if someone is looking for over-ear headphones, there’s no sense in showing them earphones or earbuds.

With Squarespace’s Organization, you can set the product categories and tags to make searching easier for the visitor.

Lastly, add proper SEO title, URL, and description to stand a chance of getting organic traffic to the product page.

Step 7: Add Custom Elements To The Product Page (Optional)

You can also display product reviews, charge customers repeatedly with Squarespace Subscription, collect visitors’ details using the form, show related products to cross-sell, and do a lot more on the product page.

Step 8: Tada! The Product Page Is Ready!

The SBR Test Product-1 is up for sale.

The SBR Test Product-1 is up for sale.

Step 9: Add a Way To Get Paid

Okay! The product page is ready. Potential purchasers can now scroll through your website, discover the products you sell, and even add it to their shopping cart. But…

They can’t quite make a purchase yet.

You need to set up a payment processor to accept online payments.

So either select "Add a way to get paid" from the setup assistant or go to Commerce > Setup > Payments to connect a payment processor.

You can set up Paypal to accept Paypal payments and Stripe for all other primary payment methods - credit cards, debit cards, Apple Pay, etc. Additionally, if customers are hesitant to pay upfront (because your store is new & doesn’t seem trustworthy), you can use Square for POS (Point Of Sale) payments (for US customers).

Step 10: Add Shipping Rates

You can set shipping rates under Commerce > Setup > Shipping. Keep either a fixed price or dynamic price depending on weight, location, and shipping carrier.

Step 11: More Features (Optional)

Your basic store will be ready by Step 10. On top of that, you can add MANY features like express checkout, minimum order to checkout, related items, notifications, email marketing, collect taxes from customers, etc.

Step 12: That’s It - Choose a Squarespace plan

The store’s ready! Now, choose a Squarespace plan to keep it live after the 14-day free trial.

Squarespace has three plans that support commerce:

  • Business: $18/month
  • Commerce Basic: $26/month
  • Commerce Advanced: $40/month

Bonus for SBR readers: We have exclusive Squarespace promo codes!

2. Using an Ecommerce Website Builder

Ecommerce website builders (aka online store builders) are easy-to-use builders designed to build online stores of all sizes.

Because they are not the jack of all trades (like the general-purpose builders) and master of one (just for ecommerce), everything is designed keeping ecommerce in mind, making them ideal for building online stores. However, they are a bit more complicated than the website builders meant for the general public.

What’s the best ecommerce builder?

For typical stores, these two come to mind:

  • Shopify : It’s arguably the best ecommerce builder for beginners. It has 80+ templates to play with. Moreover, the Shopify app store, with 6300+ apps across categories like dropshipping, design, fulfillment, shipping, merchandising, marketing, etc., is the best among all ecommerce builders.
  • BigCommerce : BigCommerce is another big name in the ecommerce industry. However, it’s difficult to use and has an inferior app store compared to Shopify, and hence is not ideal for novice store creators.

A Step-by-Step Guide To Building Your First Online Store With Shopify

Building a store with Shopify is pretty much the same as with Squarespace, barring the different interface, of course. So I’ll skip over the non-essential parts I already discussed in the previous section for this guide.

Step 1: Choose a Theme

As soon as you sign up with Shopify, the setup assistant will show the Customize Theme option. Click on that or choose Themes from Online Store on the left-hand bar of the interface.

The “Visit Theme Store” will take you to the Shopify theme store, wherein you can choose from 82 responsive themes across categories like free, paid, single product, small catalog, large catalog, wide layout, grid layout, etc.

I chose the first decent one I saw ⁠— a theme named Dawn.

Step 2: Add Product

The next natural step ⁠— and the one setup assistant suggest ⁠— is to add a product.

Click All products" src="/assets/images/lqip.png" data-blink-src="https://ucarecdn.com/7ef877ef-8826-4560-9222-2b1cc3e628c9/-/resize/1800x/" alt='Click "Add product" under Products > All products'>

Click "Add product" under Products > All products

Adding Product Details

The interface to add product details is pretty similar to Squarespace. You can enter:

  • Product title & description
  • Product images
  • Product categories/collections & tags
  • Product variants
  • Page SEO title, description, and URL

And the product is live:

Step 3: Set Up Payment Methods

To accept payment, set up the store’s payment provider(s).

Go to

Go to "Settings," located at the bottom-left of the Shopify dashboard, and choose "Payments."

From there, you can add Shopify’s own payment processor, Shop Pay, or choose from local, national, and international third-party payment gateways like Stripe, RazorPay, Paypal, and many more. Your customers can also express checkout with Shop Pay, Apple Pay, Google Pay, Facebook Pay, and Amazon Pay.

Step 4: Customize Checkout

You can also customize Checkout options.

You can enable guest checkouts and checkouts with minimal information by setting up what details are required from Settings > Checkout.

Step 5: Shipping & Delivery

Just like in Squarespace, you can select your shipping service and set charges for shipping (fixed price or dynamic based on package size, weight, and customer’s location) with Shopify.

Step 6: Add Features With Shopify App Store (Optional)

Shopify covers all fundamental features, so you can create a standard store without looking for any external apps. However, if needed, you can choose from 6300+ apps on the Shopify app store.

The Shopify app store

The Shopify app store

Final Step: Pick Your Shopify Plan

Shopify offers a 14-day free trial.

Past that, select one of these three plans depending on the number of staff accounts and total inventory locations you want, and transaction fees you’d be less sad to pay:

  • Basic Shopify: $29/month
  • Shopify: $79/month
  • Advanced Shopify: $299/month

3. WooCommerce - The WordPress Ecommerce Plugin

Though not extremely beginner-friendly, WooCommerce is right up there alongside Shopify & Squarespace in terms of popularity.

It’s the de facto WordPress ecommerce platform, and people use it for two reasons:

  1. It’s free: You don’t have to pay to use WooCommerce. However, you’ll have to pay for hosting, domain name, premium themes, add-ons, security, SSL certificate, etc.
  2. It’s open-source: You have access to the whole code, and you can tweak it as you like, which simply isn’t an option with something like a Shopify or Squarespace. However, because it’s open-source, Woocommerce is a barebone platform ⁠— most things will be up to you, and you might need to code.

For example, there’s no drag and drop builder or pre-made content blocks out of the box, so you’ll have to add code or use a third-party plugin to make design changes. Similarly, you’ll need to add a plugin like Yoast for SEO. And so on.

A Step-by-Step Guide To Building Your First Online Store With WooCommerce

To build a WooCommerce store, you’ll first need to install & set up WordPress. We discussed the step-by-step process to build a WordPress site in our “website for dummies” article ⁠— refer to it if you don’t know how to. (That in itself is quite complicated, and therefore we suggest starting with a website builder if you aren’t familiar with WordPress.)

Step 1: Install WooCommerce Plugin

Like most WordPress functionalities, you’ll have to take the hassle of installing a plugin (WooCommerce) to enable ecommerce.

Search for “WooCommerce” in the WordPress plugin store, and install it.

Step 2: Setting Up The Store (Optional)

Once you install WooCommerce, the setup assistant will take you through the step-by-step setup process.

Add store details, product types, business details, select theme, etc.

Add store details, product types, business details, select theme, etc.

Step 3: Add Product

On the left-hand side of the WordPress dashboard, you’ll see WooCommerce. And under it, Products.

Click on “Add new” from under Products.

Then, add:

  • Product title and description,
WooCommerce's comparatively unintuitive

WooCommerce's comparatively unintuitive "Add product"dashboard

  • Product images,
  • Pricing,
  • Inventory,
  • Related products,
  • Shipping options, etc.

Last Step: Add Payments

Finally, let’s add a payment processor to enable the store to accept online payments.

WooCommerce ⁠recommends WooCommerce payments. It’s a good option to process payments coming from credit cards, debit cards, Apple Pay, and more.

But besides that, you can also add one of the 70+ payments extensions for payment processing.

Install Stripe, Amazon Pay, Square, Paypal, or one of the 70+ payments extensions.

Install Stripe, Amazon Pay, Square, Paypal, or one of the 70+ payments extensions.

Tips & Tricks: The Secrets To Great Online Stores

Hopefully, now you know How To Build an Online Store. But “building an online store” and “building a successful online store” are two different things.

Here are a few elements of great online stores you should copy while building your store:

Tip #1: Design your website properly

This one’s obvious, but many beginners miss it in the hurry of going live with their store. Your website design directly impacts the look and feel of the store ⁠— it impacts conversion rate, bounce rate, trustworthiness, and consequently the bottom line of your online business.

So consider these design elements of successful ecommerce websites while creating your store:

  • Fast loading speed
  • Mobile responsive theme ⁠— to give a great experience to 50%+ of potential customers who buy from a mobile device.
  • Convenient navigation ⁠— with brand logo leading to the homepage, breadcrumbs to navigate throughout categories, categories & tags to filter effectively, and a search box to look for specific products.
  • Clear visual hierarchy ⁠— with about page, contact page, FAQs section, navigation menu, hero image, featured product, etc., accessible from header, footer, or homepage.

Even after your store is live, you must keep improving the design for convenience and conversion. For example, Smartwool A/B tested a new design and increased the conversion rate by 17%.

Tip #2: Accept popular payment options

People prefer to checkout with Paypal, Apple Pay, Google Pay, credit cards, e-wallets, etc. Therefore, most top ecommerce stores accept all those types of payments. And your payment gateway must too.

Tip #3: Well-written product descriptions

Product descriptions serve two purposes:

  1. It adds to the SEO value of the page.
  2. It gives customers all the necessary details about the product.

Therefore, write clear, in-depth, and keyword-rich descriptions while keeping them scannable and visually appealing.

Tip #4: Use high-quality photos

75% of online shoppers rely on product photos when deciding on a potential purchase. So having high-resolution, good-looking, and details-showing photos of the product is essential.

Tip #5: Show Product Reviews For Social Proof

Over 74% of customers believe word of mouth is a key influence in their purchasing decision. And product review from unknown people is the closest to a recommendation from friends or family in the online world.

Therefore, collect as many product reviews as possible (even incentivize customers to leave an honest review) and display it under each product.

Last Tip: Do Effective Marketing

Goes without saying, successful ecommerce businesses are successful because of effective marketing strategies.

Even the biggest of all ⁠— eBay, Amazon, etc. ⁠— run Facebook ads & Google shopping ads, do SEO, implement influencer marketing campaigns, maintain social media presence, build email lists, track Google Analytics, incentivize customers to share products with friends & family (aka affiliate marketing), and do a lot more to spread awareness, gain visitors, and convert them into customers.

Here’s a video that’ll help you understand the basics of it.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to make an online store for free?

There are free website builders that include ecommerce features, but there’s always ⁠— and obviously ⁠— a give and take. For example, Square’s $0 plan lets you sell online, BUT you’ll have to pay 2.9% + 30¢ per transaction + you can’t use a custom domain + Square ads will be shown throughout the store.

How to create a free ecommerce website with WordPress?

The WooCommerce plugin ⁠— the de facto ecommerce platform for WordPress ⁠— is free. However, you’ll need to pay for hosting, domain name, premium themes, add-ons, security, SSL certificate, etc.

Which is the best overall store builder?

If you are looking to set up a store quickly without any hassle, Squarespace is the best. For big stores that’ll need more functionalities than the essential ones, Shopify is the best overall store builder.

How long does it take to create an online store?

Honestly, it depends on your requirements. If you have just a few products, you can go live with your store in under 30 minutes of signing up with Squarespace or Shopify.