Setting Up Your Own Online Store
This page is for people who are looking to set up their own online store (for selling their own handmade items etc.) and also for people who already have a store, but aren’t totally happy with it.
There are many different options to choose from when setting up an online store. The problem is which option to choose? There is no single answer that would suit everybody since every person is different. It depends on how computer literate you are, how much you know about website design as well as many other factors. Listed below are some of the different ways to start selling online and the disadvantages and advantages of each option. Hopefully this will help you decide which option is best for you.
For those who don’t know much html (Hyper text markup language) or css (cascading style sheets):
www.shopify.com is a website where you can set up an online store in minutes without any knowledge of html. Gone are the days when there were no set monthly fees, you now have to pay $24 a month for the basic plan, $59 a month for the professional plan and $299 a month for the enterprise plan. In additional to this, you also have to pay a commission fee of either 2%, 1% or 0.5% depending on the plan you choose. You can use your own domain name with the professional and enterprise plans, but not the basic one. There is a free trial available (no commission costs up to five orders), which is great for those who want to test the waters. I would recommend changing the template to avoid looking like other sites.
Advantages: Easy to set up and you don’t have to pay a thing if you don’t sell anything (if you use the free trial). Great for start-ups.
Disadvantages: If you don’t change the template your site will look the same as other shopify sites. Not good if you sell a low volume of goods
For those who want to create their own website:
There is a lot of free e-commerce software out there, some of the most popular are Oscommerce, Zencart and Cubecart. These are all open-source software (apart from Cubecart), which are completely free to use. Oscommerce is the most popular of the three, with the most people using it. However, I actually prefer Cubecart mainly because the template is easier to change and the software was designed in the UK so it has a Royal Mail shipping option and an English county drop down list. Some people have reported paypal problems with using cubecart, but I haven't (yet) had any trouble with it.
Advantages: You don’t have to pay a commission fee and more flexibility.
Disadvantages: You will have to find a web hoster. Every now and again you will have to upgrade the software. The templates that come with free e-commerce software are usually hideous, so you will need to change it. Thankfully there are free templates around the net (there are free templates on my own website: www.ellen5.co.uk) . You will need more knowledge than if you were to use something like shopify.com.
www.heartinternet.co.uk offers a free hosting account (click on the free hosting link on the bottom of heartinternet.co.uk's homepage) and low cost domain names. There are no ads and you can use it for commercial purposes. They don't offer very good support, but it is free (although only available to people in the UK). Domain names are also quite cheap. You cannot use e-commerce software like the ones I have mentioned above because there are no databases available with the free hosting account. You can only use simple shopping cart solutions (e.g. Paypal's buy-it-now buttons). Heart internet also offers paid hosting accounts from £2.49 per month (paid by the year).
www.1and1.co.uk offers the cheapest domain names that I have come across so far. About £4.70 for a .co.uk domain name for two years including VAT.
www.123-reg.co.uk has cheap web hosting packages with lots of features.
For those tech-saavy and totally computer literate people:
You could always write your own software and create your own shop totally from scratch.
Advantages: Total flexibility and the satisfaction of creating something new.
Disadvantages: Only people with a very good knowledge of html, css, php, mysql etc. will be able to do this.
Other Useful Stuff
You could get someone to set up a website for you, but this would cost a lot (unless you know someone who would do it for free, e.g. spouse, sibling, friend etc.). I only recommend this if you are certain that your online store will be a success or if you already have a bricks and mortar store. I’m not really a fan of paying for something if you can do it yourself for free!
I recommend doing as much research as you can about online selling before setting up shop, it will save you time in the long run. There are many books about the subject and also a lot of information on the web, www.businesslink.gov.uk is a good place to start. There are other good ways to sell online which I haven’t mentioned yet, such as etsy (low fees) for handmade products as well as other virtual stores. More can be found at: www.bcentral.co.uk.
For those who would like to learn more about creating websites, I found the Sitepoint books quite good. They can be purchased at www.amazon.co.uk and www.amazon.com. Sitepoint books are not great tomes and they describe how to do things in easy to understand language. Some of the following Sitepoint books helped me a lot when creating my website;
www.csszengarden.com is excellent for design inspiration and for learning more about css.
The fiveandahalf.net blog has a great post on setting up shop online (for all the things I missed).