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Arian Simon

Web Designer - Business Owner - Entrepreneur who makes happy little mistakes.

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How To Create An Online Store Website For Free – Ecommerce Guide

In the next couple of weeks I’m going to focus on ideas and concepts you can use to build and run a profitable online business.

The exact formula to online success is always the same: 

  1. Validate it
  2. Market it
  3. Build it
  4. Market it more
  5. Success

I have written a post on idea validation already. And I have written a couple of introduction posts to online marketing and search engine optimization.

In this series of posts I’m going to write about the third step: How you can actually build your online businesses.

The first post is about how to create an online store for free. Yes for free, you just need your brain and time.

Why You Should Build It On Your Own

The truth is:
It will cost you time. You are already sitting here reading my post and spending time. However you will save thousands of dollars by learning it one time and using your know-how for all websites you will ever build.

Let me sum up the benefits of learning and doing it yourself:

  • You save thousands of dollars by not hiring an expensive web agency.
  • You save your nerves by not hiring a freelancer.
  • You are not dependent on a freelancer or agency.
  • You save time on communication because you don’t need to communicate your wishes.
  • You are in full control over the outcome.
  • You are in full control over the next steps.
  • You can grow your know how and you will get better every day.
  • You understand better how the web works which contributes to your success.
  • You can use your know how to build a web design business building websites for clients.

And these are only some of the benefits you have after you learned how to create websites on your own.

This series of posts will provide you with various how to’s to create different kind of online businesses. The first in line is a simple online store. You can use an online store (also called ecommerce store, web shop or web store – or any combination of these words) to sell all kinds of goods. One popular example and cool way to start your first online business is to sell clothing through your online store.

Sell Clothing With Your Online Store

Clothing is great as it’s not perishable. You can design cloths at various online vendors and brand it with your label. The easiest way to start your clothing brand is by selling t-shirts or sweaters. Search the web for a t-shirt print company. Some even have an online designer where you can design your t-shirt live on their website (these generator tools cost about 3.000$ to 10.000$ and more at the low end, so probably not the right thing to include in your own first online store).

Afterwards you put together your designs and showcase them in your online store.

Some hints and things to consider:

The online t-shirt store space is already crowded. Before you start, think about your unique selling proposition to your target audience.
Who is your target audience.
Design something unique or market your t-shirts irresistible good to your existing fan base and friends.

Another thing to keep in mind is that most countries require you to have a revocation policy for your customers. This means your customers can return your t-shirts for no reason. Be prepared to handle that too. Most commonly the revocation option ends after 2 weeks. This depends on your country’s laws however.

By the way, if you are already popular and gathered a loyal online fan base: selling t-shirts online is a great way to monetize your efforts.

How To Create An Online Store For Free

Create an ecommerce website

Ok, let’s start into the action because you want to know how to create an online store for free, right?

To get this out of the way up front: It’s not possible to create your online store completely for free. However the way we are doing it is with minimal costs and a professional outcome. In fact the costs are so low that I wouldn’t think about them and just call it free. If you get successful with your store, your biggest expenses will be your payment provider fees (and your employees).

First of we need a base, a framework, a platform to build on. Because you surely don’t want to build everything from scratch which would require years if you do it alone.

Why I Would Not Choose An Online Store Platform

It may be tempting to simply pick one of the big online store platforms. However I found this as a big no no. You may sign up there for free but as soon as you actually earn money you are forced to pay big chucks of it to these platforms (called transaction fees or similar). And if you don’t have transaction fees you will pay big time through monthly fees. Or a mixture of both.

  • You pay far more compared to self hosted or open source options
  • You are fully depended on these platforms to deliver you on top service (what if their servers crash all the time, what if they are too busy to support you,…?)
  • You are limited in extensibility and design (you can’t just simply add interfaces to other services or add cool new features)

Examples of such online store platforms are Shopify, Bigcommerce and Volusion.

How I Started All My Online Stores For Free

In my opinion (and many others) the best way how to create your online store for free is to use free software frameworks. There are a couple of good ecommerce tools available, the most popular ones are:

Now to my findings. First and foremost I didn’t use all 5 personally.

I started with WooCommerce which is the in-official offcial WordPress online store solution with more than 11 million downloads and according to their website 30% market share of online stores.

WooCommerce

WooCommerce is a cool framework which is highly extensible with lots of free and paid addons. It handled all my stores well. Now to the other options and a couple of bullet points why I still use WooCommerce for my projects.

Magento

A great powerful tool with great extensibility. It’s seemingly really mighty but also hard to adapt – means a lot of coding required. I really wanted to dig into it more and use it for a project of mine but lacked time.

OpenCart

Seems to be a robust solution too. Would be my tool of choice if WooCommerce wouldn’t exist.

PrestaShop

The newest one in this lineup. I had high hopes for it however extensibility is connected to a huge price tag. Therefore I never used it.

Zen Cart

Seems outdated however most probably a solid solution too.

Others

There are a couple of other ecommerce frameworks like xt-commerce. However I think the first four above are better solutions.

How To Start Your Online Store For Free

To start your online store for free you have to go through a couple of action points.

Choose a fast host

Before you start creating your online store you need a server where you can store and host it. You can either host the website on your own server or buy a shared server. Hosting it on your own server leaves you in full control over your website. However you need a strong hosting environment for your website to perform well.

The easiest way is definitely to go with a shared hosting provider. I recommend using an SSD (solid state drive) hosting provider as SSDs speed up your website big time. It may not have a huge impact for your site’s visitors but definitely for you when you work on your online store. I wrote about different hosting options in my 5 Steps Website Setup Guide which you can download below.

I really recommend Inmotionhosting, as they offer by far the best performance (thanks to SSD and their “2 server sites setup”) for an unmatched price. Therefore I included an affiliate link. If you click on it and buy it, I receive a small commission and you support the blog for more free stuff! Sincerely thank you!:

Setup Your Framework

Next you need to setup your core framework. For all my tutorials I go with WordPress so therefore the online store tool of choice is WooCommerce for me. My guide on how to setup WordPress on your website can be downloaded here:

Setup WooCommerce

After you set up your WordPress website you need to install WooCommerce. WooCommerce is delivered as a WordPress Plugin. In your WordPress Backend (the “admin menu”) go to Plugins -> Install and type “WooCommerce” in the upper right corner to search for the plugin. Alternatively you can also download WooCommerce here and upload it with your FTP client to your web server.

Follow the on screen instructions. You will find two new menu items “WooCommerce” and “Products“. Go to WooCommerce -> Settings and go through each set of setting to configure your online shop. Include your payment options thoroughly as this is one of the most sensitive parts of your online store.

Afterwards you can add new Products via Products -> Add Product.

As a last step include your “Shop” page in your main menu (Appearance -> Menus), so your website’s visitors can browse through your products.

Payment Providers

There are different payment providers you can choose for your online store. Don’t take this choice lightly. They all have different fees and choosing the right one can drastically boost your income.

Here are a couple of options:

  • Amazon Payments – Amazon’s Paypal competitor.
  • Authorize.net – Most probably the oldest payment provider of this list
  • Dwolla (U.S.) – No transaction fees below 10$ and above only 0.25$ per transaction.
  • Google Wallet (U.S.) – Google’s Paypal competitor.
  • Paypal – Just Paypal. Probably the most popular payment provider on this list.
  • Stripe – Great API and a popular runner up designed for developers.
  • WePay (U.S.) – Simple solutions to accepting payments.

Probably the easiest one to integrate into WooCommerce is Paypal. Just be aware that their fees are not the lowest and even differ from country to country. (for example Austrian Paypal fees are FAR higher than German Paypal fees [what a !”§($/%§!]).

I’ll definitely look into Dwolla for my next projects as it seems to be reasonable priced.

Terms Of Use

Every great online shop requires good terms of use. I won’t suggest you put them together by copy & pasting from other online stores but it’s definitely better than nothing. As soon as you validated your concept and got your first sales invest this money into a lawyer to create new or review your existing terms of use.

Especially your revocation policy should be created thoroughly.

Launch Your Online Store

Create an online store

That’s pretty much it. You are prepared for launch. However if you have done everything in this guide you will only come this far. Your next challenge is marketing. Tell the world what you got for them and be persistent. Even if your first store fails you will learn so much that your second one may already be your breakthrough.

Coming Up

I hope you enjoyed this guide and learned a thing or two. Coming up are other different kinds of online business ideas for you to copy, adapt, improve and launch.

Have fun and tell me your stories afterwards 🙂

Cheers,
Arian

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