You may have bought stuff from online stores such as Amazon and ebay. Have you wondered if it is difficult to set up an online store? Do you wish you can set up an online store to sell things like clothes, books, electronic devices or toys that you may have? The good news is, it is very simple to set up an online store.

Starting an online store can be a very exciting new journey. This “how to set up an online store” will help you build a website from scratch without knowing anything about web development, IT network, or programming.  This step by step  guide will help you set up a reliable online store that is of commercial standard, one that an experienced web developer or digital marketing agency would build. You can get your online store up in less than an hour and save lots of money.  After learning this, you may even be able to earn some extra pocket money and be a freelancer building websites for companies.

A. Some Internet Basics

Before we begin, if you have no background knowledge on internet, you need to under a few important terminology –Hosting, Servers, URL and Domain names. If you already know these terms, you can proceed directly to section B or C.

The internet is a worldwide collection of interconnected computer networks. The World Wide Web (often called the web) is a giant collection of documents or pages, stored on computers around the globe. This collection of pages are stored on computers called servers. In internet terminology, we say that the websites or web pages are hosted on the servers. Servers are interconnected computers running software that allows them to serve up information to end-users’ computers.

Every page on the web has a unique address called a URL which stands for Uniform Resource Locator. An URL is essentially the web address of a web page. The URL of a web page looks something like this:

htt[p://www.examplecompany.com/services

In the above URL, www.examplecompany.com is the Domain Name of the website. A website usually has several pages. Each page will have an unique URL containing the Domain Name of the website. For example, the Contact page of the website may be:

http://www.examplecompany.com/contact

while the Shop page of the website may be:

http://www.examplecompany.com/shop

B. Which is the best e-commerce platform?

When you set up an online store like Amazon, you are essentially setting up an e-commerce website. There are essentially 3 ways you can build an online store:

    1. Coding -Build your web pages with programming languages–HTML, CSS, Javascript
    2. Use a Content Management System (CMS), e.g. WordPress.org, Joomla, Magento, etc.
    3. Use a Cloud-based e-commerce website builder, e.g Shopify, Wix, Big Commerce, WordPress.com, Weebly

What is Coding?

In simple terms, coding means writing instructions understood by computers. That means, you use computer language to program the computer to execute tasks for you. In other words, programming. The most programming languages required to build websites are HTML5 , CSS, Java, Javascript, PHP, SQL, etc. If you build a website from scratch by writing codes, it is going to take a long time. Nowadays, there are more efficient ways and they are used by most commercial agencies.

What is a CMS?

A Content Management System (CMS) is a software tool that enables you to build a website simply by uploading your content (articles, images, videos) and styling the design and functionalities of the website without any coding. IThere are hundreds of Content Management Systems (CMS). According to W3Tech, as of April 2021, among the CMS, WordPress has a market share of more than 60% and powers more than 40% of all websites.

WordPress has two types of solutions: WordPress.org and WordPress.com. For WordPress.org, it is a free, opensource software where you can download and use it to build a website. As it is open source, it grants developers a license to use and to build upon it. As a result, there are a lot of functionalities software (called Plugins) developed by thousands of developers in the world. This enables WordPress.org to be packed with all kinds of capabilities. You can add a feature to your website by installing a plugin with just a click. Many of these plugins have free versions for use. WordPress.org is a self-hosted solution. That means, you will need to look for a hosting company to host your website.Most hosting companies provide a one-click install of the WordPress software.

WordPress.com, however, is a cloud-based solution similar to Wix, Weebly, Shopify, Blogger, Squarespace and many other cloud-based platforms.

What are Cloud-based platforms?

Cloud-based platforms provides Website Building Softwares that enable you to build, design and equip your websites with functionalities without having to write codes as well as hosting your websites on their servers. Cloud-based platforms are not open source. Hence, the functionalities available may not be as wide as that of open source platforms.

Which is the best platform to build an online store? Our recommendation is WordPress.org because it is a free open source software that is equipped with thousands of plugins (functionalities) that will enable you to build a good online store economically.

The following section provides a step-by-step guide to set up an online store using WordPress.org software.

How to set up an online store using self-hosted WordPress?

Step 1 – Choose a Web Hosting Company

The reason why we recommend choosing a web hosting company before you even think of a domain name is because many of these hosting companies provide free domain name for the first year. Hence, do not miss such promotion.

There are hundreds of hosting companies. It is important to choose a good hosting company as it will impact the speed and security of your website. You should also choose a company that provides you the necessary support when you need them.

Here at SGTOD, we only recommend products that we have been using and are sure that they are good. The following are the best among hosting companies.

We have been using Dreamhost for almost a decade for the following reasons:

  1. Dreamhost provide excellent support. If you encounter an issue while setting up your website, you can go drop them a message or request for a Live Chat and they will help you get the problem fixed.
  2. Dreamhost offers one of the most competitive and best value hosting plan where you get FREE domain for the first year and FREE domain name protection forever. It is important to get domain name protection, otherwise, you will get lots of spam emails marketing all sort of products.

 

Step 2 – Choose a Domain Name

When you click on sign up for a Dreamhost hosting plan, you will be taken to the folowing screen where you can regisster for a Domain name.

Dreamhost-register domain

Select the “Register a new domain” and enter the domain you want. Dreamhost will check the availability of the domain. If it is not available, a list of suggested domains will be displayed. If it is available, you will see a few options available on the right sidebar as shown in the diagram below. You can opt to pay monthly, Yearly or 3-yearly.

Once the order is processed, your WordPress e-commerce website is automatically set up for you. You will receive an email containing links to your WordPress login page and instructions on how to access your admin dashboard.

Step 4 – Select A WordPress Theme

When you visit your website for the first time, you’ll be guided by Dreamhost’s Website Builder , BoldGrid’s start-up wizard to select a theme:

Dreamhost-theme selection

Do not worry too much about the selection because you can easily switch theme with just  a click. After you have selected your theme, you will be guided to enter your website’s name and contact details. When you click “Finish”, you will be guided to your WordPress admin dashboard. If you do not like any of the free themes provided, you can change the theme. To change the theme, on your WordPress admin dashboard, on the left side menu, click on Appearance and select Theme. Then type in ecommerce in the search bar.

WordPress Ecommerce Themes

 

You will see a list of themes provided. As mentioned earlier, self-hosted WordPress is an open source software. Hence, there are thousands of developers and website companies who have developed very beautiful and sophisticated WordPress theme. Many provides free themes. However, for free themes, there are limitations to what you can change and customize.

Our Recommendation : Elegantthemes

Over the past decades we have we’ve dealt with more web templates companies than you can imagine; in our opinion, the best is  Elegantthemes. Divi is Elegantthemes flagship theme and visual page builder. It’s the most widely used premium WordPress theme in the world according to stats from BuiltWith.com. Divi is more than just a theme, it’s a website building framework that enable even a beginner to design beautiful websites without ever touching a single line of code and without installing and configuring dozens of disjointed plugins. Divi is the most popular WordPress theme in the world and powered 767,154 websites. We strongly recommend Elegantthemes for the following reasons:

1. A full library of ready-made templates

Elegantthemes provides a library of hundreds of ready-made beautiful themes that you can easily download and get your online store ready in minutes. Check out the templates here.

2. Easy to use Drag and Drop Website Builder

Elegantthemes website builder is simple to use and allow you to customize almost anything on the website. You may be a beginner but you certainly can get a very professionally designed website up and running in minutes.

3. Option of a Life-time purchase

With the life-time purchase, you get unlimited updates. We have been using ElegantThemes since 2013 and they have been constantly rolling out new features, new platform, new templates and new customization features. Hence it is a good value for money purchase.

As of April 2021, Elegantthemes provide 25 Online Stores design with 149 page layouts  that you can use:

Elegantthemes online store templates

The best part is you are not limited to the design of specific template pack that you download. For instance, you may download the Juice Shop pack but for the contact page, you prefer the contact page layout in the Tea Shop pack, you can choose to download that specific contact page from the Tea Shop pack for your contact page.

Step 5 – Install WooCommerce

Woocommerce is a free plugin developed by the company that develops WordPress. It is a proven and tested plugin that allows you to build very professional online store. The best thing is, you can get it installed with just a click.

On your WordPress dashboard left side menu, navigate to Plugins>Add New. Then in the Search bar, type in Woocommerce. Click Install. Once the Plugin is installed, click Activate. The Woocommerce plugin will automatically run the setup widget. You will be guided step by step to complete the setting up of your online store. In the last step, woocommerce will prompt you to select one of their Theme. Choose to proceed with current theme instead. Once you finish the setting up, proceed to create your first product.

woocommerce set up widget

Conclusion

That’s it! In just 5 simple steps, your online store is set up. You do not have to pay thousands of dollars to a web developer nor a few hundreds of dollars for monthly fee. For less that $10 a month, you now have your online store.