How to Set Up an E-Commerce Site

You can use an online marketplace or build your own store

There are several ways to set up an e-commerce site. The best way for your business will depend on the type of products you are selling, and the resources you can devote to setting up the site.

Using a marketplace

The first decision is whether you will build your own e-commerce store or sell online through a shopping site such as eBay, Amazon or a specialist marketplace.

The latter will be relatively simple to set up, but you won’t have the same degree of control as you would if you sold through your own e-commerce website.

Designing your e-commerce site

If you decide to build your own e-commerce store, you have a choice of starting completely from scratch or using one of several off-the-shelf solutions which offer a range of design options, including templates that can be tailored to your needs.

It will make sense to use commercial shopping cart software – which will display your products and enable your customers to select them – unless you have the resources to build a custom solution.

Your e-commerce website design should make the site easy to use, with clear instructions and plenty of pictures and information. Make sure that product selection and payment is both quick and easy – online shoppers are not patient, and you need to avoid shopping cart abandonment.

Order fulfilment

You will need to think about how your products are going to be packaged and delivered. If there is a high demand, you might want to outsource this, although it will impact on total product cost to the customer.

You may want to concentrate on delivering within a limited geographical market (the UK, or even your local area) but if you’re planning to deliver to other countries you may need to deal with local regulations and taxes. You will also need to comply with distance-selling regulations.

Accepting payments

If your business already accepts credit and debit cards, you may be able to transfer this to your online shop (although you will need to ensure complete security).

Alternatively, you can use a payment processing service, which will accept the payments on your behalf.

Customer service

Finally, bear in mind that setting up your e-commerce site is only the beginning of online retail: you’ll need to provide customer service after the sale, to answer queries and deal with complaints.

This article was originally published on 29 March 2012, and updated on 03 September 2020.