To start, a lot of the decisions you’ll have to make about setting up your first ecommerce site have to do with the economics of what you’re planning to sell — how much volume, how many SKUs, and shipping logistics. For example, if you’re only selling a dozen units of one SKU per month, that’s a lot less to worry about than selling thousands of units each of dozens of SKUs, shipped in a refrigerated truck.
If you’ve never run an ecommerce site before, I usually recommend starting with Shopify. Shopify is a hosted solution that helps you manage your inventory, and handles the payment end of things. All you need is a payment gateway (like Paypal, or preferably Stripe) that connects Shopify to your bank account. The upshot is that you don’t have to assume the risk (and cost) of securely doing the credit card processing yourself.
There are a lot of steps in a credit card transaction, and as the payment transaction is handed off from Shopify to your payment gateway to the credit card company, each provider along the way has their hand out for a cut of the transaction. For example, Shopify’s pricing tiers are here, and Stripe’s fees are here. I don’t know that I can say definitively which Shopify tier will work best for you — if you’re shipping a lot of units, paying a smaller per-transaction cost may make better economic sense. If you’re only shipping a few units, keeping your monthly subscription fee low could work better.
If (at this point) you’re worried that I’m assuming you’re small potatoes, and you plan on doing more than a million dollars of business per month, there’s Shopify Plus, too.
If you find a perfect plan, then you can either choose a theme off-the-shelf, or someone (like me) can design a custom theme for you. Then it’s just a matter of them loading up your SKUs, and launching the site. If you don’t need a custom design for your store (and you’re in an adventurous mood), this could possibly be a DIY project for you. Shopify’s user interface is very easy to use, and it’s a breeze to add, remove and edit products in your store. Of course, if you need someone to help get you started, you might consider hiring a Shopify Expert.
Prior to setting up your Shopify account or working with a Shopify Expert, I recommend getting the following together:
- A list or spreadsheet of all your SKUs with their prices and attributes (size, color, description, dimensions, weight, etc.)
- High-quality images for all your SKUs (higher resolution is better)
- Sign up for a Stripe account (this can take a few days while they authenticate with your bank)
- Define a plan for fulfillment and shipping, and the costs associated with that
Knowing these things ahead of time will make setting up your store that much easier. Good luck!