Whether you want to sell a new product you know will change the world, delve into dropshipping or offer exemplary service in a niche you’re passionate about – building an online store is the way to go. WordPress or an ecommerce website builder can offer you all of the resources you need to build your very own customised website - but where do you begin before you get into the nitty gritty?

This article will explain everything you need to think about before getting your ecommerce store set up, as well as all the steps on how to build an online store.

Why build an online store?

Building a website, or more specifically, an online store is going to get you ahead of the competition. If you need convincing, here are some of the many reasons why you should consider building an online store.

1. Reach all kinds of customers

Creating an ecommerce store opens you up to the world – literally. You can ship internationally (if that’s your aim) and reach different audiences. So if global reach is your goal, then an online store is going to get you there. 

2. Keep it running 24/7

Unlike a physical store, an online shop never sleeps. This means customers can shop whenever they want at anytime of day – giving you lots of flexibility and the potential to reach even more customers in different time zones.

3. It’s cost effective

An online store means low overheads, compared to running a physical store. It means you may not necessarily need to hire staff (unless you need specialist help). Plus, one of the main reasons to use an ecommerce website builder from Fasthosts is that you can utilise our many automation tools with our control panel, which can seriously streamline your processes – giving you lots of free time.

4. Product listings are endless

Do you have more than one type of product you wish to sell? An online store gives you tons of capacity to list all kinds of products and their multitude of variations. Plus, if you’re in the dropshipping game, you don’t need to worry about having any physical storage. Again – your product range can reach new audiences too!

5. Understand your audience

Our control panel and hooking up your store with the likes of Google Analytics allows you to gain more insight into how users interact with your online store. This data can tell you where you need to improve – do you need more website copy to explain your products? Is it not obvious where customers need to checkout? All of this is possible to find out with an online store.

6. Scale as you grow

When you build an online shop, you'll undoubtedly intend on that business growing. As this is a website you know will scale up in future, we'd recommend a VPS. This is because Virtual Private Servers are highly flexible and easy to scale up to your needs. If you do host sites on a VPS and you begin to see your website(s) near traffic capacity – you can simply get in touch with us to increase your SSD, CPU or RAM capacity.

Need more power than a VPS? Our Cloud Server and Dedicated Server solutions are perfect for online stores with serious traffic or computing demands.

How much does an online store cost to build?

The cost of building your own online store varies. It’s dependent on how much of it you decide to build yourself, how much you promote it (and if you invest in paid advertising), if you pay for photography and/or videography of your product range. Here are some things to consider which may (or may not!) add to the cost of building your online shop:

1. Your chosen platform

The ecommerce platform you choose will factor into your outgoings. For example, our Website Builder and Ecommerce Website Builders starts at £1 for the first three months. You can also opt for WordPress Hosting with us which starts at just 50p per month for the first six months.

2. Your domain name

Registering a domain with Fasthosts starts from as little as £1! Before you commit to one, make sure the equivalent social handles on platforms you intend to use are also free. Check out our AI-powered Domain Name Generator if you're stuck trying to pick a domain name. Or, if you already have a domain, we can support you with free domain name transfers.

3. Web hosting

If you want to host a website with us, you'll need to consider your options. A new site might get away with living on shared hosting, but as traffic to your site increases, you may want to consider moving to something more substantial such as a VPS or Cloud Server.

4. Web design

We offer tons of themes when you build your website with us. However, you may have your eye on a particular theme or wish to work with a developer – and that’s totally fine!

Developer costs can be quite high if you require lots of specific features, which is why we always recommend choosing one of our many themes to start with. If you must work with a developer, then expect to pay £100 - £1,000 (again – depending on the size and needs of your online shop).

There are many other things you’ll need to consider too which we’ll touch on as we go, such as:

  • Payment processing
  • Artwork (photography, video, illustrations etc.)
  • Shipping options
  • Marketing and advertising
  • Website maintenance
  • Additional apps and plugins.

11 steps to build an online store

We hope you’re ready to get started with building your online store! If you’re a little daunted, don't worry. We’ve outlined all the steps for you to get started with building an online shop, from picking a business name all the way through to automating processes so you can do what you do best – build your brand!

1. Research your market and what you want to sell

Is there a particular niche you want to market to? What product is missing that could help solve a problem that’s in demand? Start by brainstorming these ideas and begin to plan how you can develop your very own product (or line of products) for your online store.

You’ll also need to do some market research to see what competitors are doing. Are they selling similar products? If so, how can yours be better? Take the opportunity to identify your USPs (unique selling points) so that you’re ahead of the game when it comes to building your online store.

2. Decide on a platform

While it may seem easier to begin with a free or budget web hosting option, there are many drawbacks. One of the main concerns is you’ll have to migrate your site at a later date (as free sites often have limited storage and bandwidth). In order to avoid this, it’s best to get started with an ecommerce site that you can easily scale from the get-go.

Be sure to ask yourself how many products you wish to sell, the kinds of products you want to sell, the website features you’ll need to build into your online store and what integrations you may need to get your online shop running smoothly. OpenCart and PrestaShop are very popular ecommerce platforms, working on PHP and cloud respectively – so it’s worth reading up on them, as well as WooCommerce and Shopify to find the best integration for your needs.

Naturally, we’re going to boast about our own amazing WordPress Hosting, Website Builder and Ecommerce Builder here. And why wouldn’t we? Here are some amazing benefits you can expect:

WordPress Hosting

  • Instant setup wizard
  • On screen guidance
  • Dedicated ecommerce platforms like WooCommerce
  • A curated list of plugins
  • Security updates handled on your behalf
  • Scalable performance on a pay-as-you-go model
  • An average of 386ms loading speed time
  • Plenty of WordPress themes

Website Builder

  • OneClick app installer
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Unlimited subdomains
  • PHP 8.2, 8.1 and 8.0 support
  • Free domains and SSLs
  • Free email addresses
  • Host multiple clients (up to 100 – great for custom services!)

Ecommerce Website Builder

  • Free domain and SSL security
  • 50GB Microsoft Exchange mailbox
  • Facebook and Instagram shops
  • No coding expertise is required – pick one of our amazing themes!
  • Choose from a wide range of payment providers (including PayPal)
  • Automated emails and abandoned cart recovery

3. Pick a business name 

You’ll want to use this step to research how to register a business, as the rules are different for sole traders and limited companies. When you’re just starting an online store, many will opt to become a sole trader first. Just be sure to check Companies House to ensure your chosen business name isn’t being used elsewhere.

4. Register your domains

Yes – plural. When you decide on a business name, you’ll need to register a domain.

However, we also recommend registering domain name typos so that you can easily redirect customers to the correct website if they happen to get your domain name wrong. You may even want to take this a step further and register different country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) for the same reason.

You’ll want to be quite careful during the process of choosing a domain name, as you need to see your domain name as the “storefront” of your online store. Think about popular brands you like and their strong identity – are their names easy to remember? How simple are they and how have they expanded online throughout the years?

5. Pick a template 

Once you’ve registered your domains, it’s time to get your site looking like a functional online store! Our Ecommerce Website Builder comes with a wide array of well-designed templates ideal for any type of online shop.

Ensure it’s responsive

With more mobile users browsing ecommerce sites, it’s crucial for your template to be responsive so that it can be easily viewed on any mobile device. You can test your website’s layout by using the “Inspect” element on a web browser, and switching the device to mobile and/or tablet to get a view of how it’ll look. You can also use this to determine whether your theme is suitable and adapt it accordingly.

6. Get your branding sorted

Branding can make or break your online store. Here are some questions you should consider when branding your site.

What website features are important for building your online store?

You need the right features for your online store to function as you intend it to. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How many product categories do I need?
  • Do you want to display similar products under the main product pages?
  • Do you need any image galleries or maps to any physical stores you have?
  • Do you want to integrate videos or a social feed?
  • How will your sitemap look?

How do you want your site to look?

Your homepage serves as the virtual storefront for your brand and will give site visitors the first impression of your store. You’ll need to think of ways to capture your audience’s attention as soon as they land.

Make things visually appealing with imagery, video and spaced-out copy so that users aren’t greeted with huge blocks of text. Ensure it’s easy to navigate so that users can click through to the products they wish to find.

You’ll also want to ensure you do your due diligence and look at what’s out there. If your online store is upmarket – does the font, information and imagery reflect this? Last but certainly not least, you’ll want to have a colour palette for your brand. Again, this is where competitor research comes into play. Use sites like Coolers.co to find the right colour palette for you, or consider enlisting the help of a branding expert if you need additional support.

How will you make your online shop easy to navigate?

Following on from the previous point, you need to ensure your UX and UI are on point. After all, users have little patience these days!

A well-structured navigation bar is going to really help you out. It’ll allow customers to effortlessly explore your online shop and could even be the key to more conversions. Even if you think your site is easy to navigate, someone else may not agree, so it’s worth having people test your site to see how they browse before you hit publish.

A rule of thumb is to build a left-to-right hierarchy – beginning with the most important content first. Try to avoid including pages with no value, and group similar pages together within a category for easy navigation. Say for example you own a clothing brand and you sell dresses, it’s a good idea to have “dresses” as a category, followed by sub-pages or sub-categories of variations such as “party dresses”, “a-line dresses”, “midi dresses” and so on.

Lastly, adding a sitemap is going to help massively. It should reflect the “map” of your online store. Ensuring its accessible to users (as well as Google) shows all the pages and files on your site and how they are connected. This map helps search engines find and understand your site, which is important for getting good SEO rankings. Even something as simple as your logo at the top left of your online store is enough to help users know that it can link back to your homepage.

7. Add your products

Now that you’ve picked a platform, registered your domain, picked a template and sorted your branding – it’s time to start adding your products!

Consider adding the following information to ensure users find out everything they need:

  • The product name
  • A series of pictures at various angles
  • Video demos of the product
  • Dimensions (plus fit and size guides if you’re selling clothing)
  • Materials
  • Weight
  • File sizes (if you’re selling digital products such as templates or eBooks).
  • Product variations (such as colours and sizes)

Our guide to copywriting may help you write effective product descriptions, as well as other areas of your site that require copy. If you need help adding products using our Website Builder – our guide to adding products to Fasthosts Website Builder details everything you need.

Quick tips on effective store images and videos

  • Images and videos should be unique wherever possible, rather than stock imagery
  • Use multiple high-quality images showcasing your product(s) in various angles and settings
  • Keep videos short and to the point, with a focus on the product and how it can be used
  • Maintain image and video sizes across your online store
  • Take your own photos if you’re not able to hire a photographer – modern-day smartphones are capable of shooting RAW imagery to capture sharp detail
  • Allow customers to be able to zoom in on products so they can see it close-up

8. Setup your payment method(s)

It’s worth considering where your potential customers are, as some territories may prefer one payment method over the other.

Our Ecommerce Website Builder simplifies this process by allowing you to pick from an array of payment methods such as PayPal, Visa, Stripe, Apple Pay and more.

The three most widely used methods for receiving payments on ecommerce stores are:

  • Merchant Account and Payment Gateway: This involves working directly with your bank to handle all payments.
  • Payment Gateway Packages: Alternatively, you can opt for all-in-one software solutions that link your store's shopping cart to the card processing network.
  • Simplified Credit Card Payment Processing: Another option involves uses a service that seamlessly integrates with your store's checkout process, such as Shopify's proprietary payments gateway. This way, your customers can complete their purchases without leaving your website.

Some payment options may incur fees, which usually equate to a percentage of the transaction – so you’ll need to confirm what they are before you proceed.

SSL certificates

SSL certificates stands for Secure Socket Layer – which encrypts your users’ data. This makes their online shopping experience more secure and is easy to identify by the little lock symbol in the address bar. Security is paramount, which is why we’re proud to offer free SSL certificates with all of our Web Hosting, WordPress Hosting and Ecommerce Website Builder packages.

9. Establish your shipping and returns policy

Shipping and returns can be a minefield if they aren’t clearly defined, so here’s everything you need to get right before launching your online store.

Now that your customers have a way of finding and buying your products, you’ll need to have a shipping and returns policy for customers. You've added products for customers to buy and set up payment options. Here are the basics you need to know about shipping when building an online store:

Have a shipping address

Shipping from a warehouse or somewhere that isn’t your main base of operations? You’ll need to have your shipping origin clearly defined for tax purposes. Plus, if users wish to return their items, this will be crucial so that you can process them properly.

Choose your shipping location

Shipping rates vary depending on which country or region they’re shipped from. So say you ship worldwide but your business is in the UK – you can offer far cheaper rates to domestic customers.

Define your shipping options

After deciding where you'll ship, determine how you'll deliver your products. Here are some common options:

  • Free shipping
  • Flat-rate shipping
  • Real-time quotes
  • In-store or local pickup
  • Shipping based on order price

Choose your desired courier

Some well-known couriers include Royal Mail, Evri, Yodel and DPD, but there are a variety of others out there with their own set of benefits of drawbacks. Depending on your shipping integration, it may already partner with specific couriers, which in turn may lower your shipping rates.

Define a clear returns policy

Clear returns policies are going to ensure both you and your buyers are protected. Depending on the products – you may offer various return policies, but no matter what, you must stipulate a reasonable timeframe and clear instructions on how customers can process their returns, plus options on if they miss the deadline (such as store credit or partial refunds).

10. Promote your website on social media 

With everything built – how do you ensure your site visitors grow? You need to plant the seed across the web, and one way to do this is through various social media channels.

While it could be a separate guide in its own right, having social media pages for your online store will allow people to discover you far more easily. Ensure your posts are a mixture of promotional as well as helpful content. Don’t be afraid to incorporate your personality and humour – people love to relate to content!

If you feel you’re up for the challenge, you could even sign up for influencer gifting platforms or outreach to influencers you like that you may wish to gift a product in exchange for a social post to boost your brand’s presence. It’s not uncommon for influencers to ask for payment – so consider your budget and only invest if their engagement rate is strong.

Tip: You’ll also want to ensure your social channels are visible on your online store!

11. Optimise your website over time

As you grow, so should your website and product offering. Our final word is to simply monitor your site’s progress and optimise where necessary. See where users may be dropping off since you’ve launched. You may also want to monitor pain points such as:

  • Checkout issues
  • Plugin functionality
  • Inventory management
  • Site content (are there any FAQs or guides to support your products?)
  • Mobile responsiveness
  • Browser updates (and how they affect the appearance of your site)

Frequently asked questions about how to build an online shop

How do I get an SSL certificate?

Fortunately, our Web Hosting services come with a free SSL certificate, meaning you won’t have to go through a different provider.

How many items should you start an online store with?

If you already have an online presence and are currently selling on a third-party website, then you may wish to keep your existing number of products. If however, you’re starting out fresh, we recommend keeping the number low and using your audience insights to build a case to develop and offer more products further down the line.

Should I host my website on a server?

Hosting your website through a hosting server provider has numerous advantages such as scalability, speed, full root access and much more. Plus, if you run into any issues, we offer 24/7 customer support to help you whenever you need it.

Ready to build your online store? Contact us to find out more about our hosting services, Ecommerce Website Builder and other Web Hosting options. Our business hub will also aid you in maintaining your online store with the latest business and marketing tips.