As contemporary shopping habits continue to shift, setting up an online store has never been more important for your small business. Customers have rushed to embrace online shopping methods, with official eCommerce data showing the huge transition from bricks and mortar to online shops taking place.

The amount spent using online retail channels soared by 46.1% in 2020 compared with 2019, marking the biggest year-on-year jump since 2008 and proving the shift to digital is here to stay.

Instead of being hesitant about this rapidly growing trend, you should capitalise on the opportunity to invest in eCommerce solutions like Square Online and learn how to set up an online store.

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What is online shopping?

Online shopping or E-commerce refers to the process of buying and selling goods and services online. Setting up an online shop is important because it allows your small business to both better serve existing customers (by making shopping easier for them) and find totally new audiences (people who may never enter your physical shop).

Like any digital technology, the process of starting an online shop has evolved over the years and continues to advance rapidly. Electronic commerce was first introduced in the 1960s with the development of electronic data interchange (EDI), which allowed mail and fax to be delivered electronically. E-commerce grew as the internet became more accessible and expanded. Starting in the 1990s, online shopping began to target a consumer market and retailers like Amazon and eBay started popping up. Now, almost anyone can start an online store in minutes – no matter the size of your business – or sell through sites like Amazon, Instagram, Etsy or Facebook.

Internet transactions are usually divided into three different categories:
  • Business to business (B2B): B2B e-commerce refers to the sale of products or services between two businesses through the internet. Examples of B2B e-commerce businesses include manufacturers, traders and retailers. B2B customers tend to be more strategic since they are purchasing products with purpose, so your strategy to sell should reflect that.

  • Business to consumer (B2C): B2C e-commerce is when businesses sell products or services to consumers online. B2C customers tend to buy with their heart, instead of their head, so you should take emotion into account (or capitalise on it) in your strategy when setting up an online shop.

  • Consumer to consumer (C2C): C2C e-commerce facilitates the transaction of products between customers. It’s a newer model that has vastly expanded in recent years with companies like eBay and other auction sites.

Benefits of setting up an online shop

Even with physical stores back open again following the lockdowns of Covid-19, half of consumers remain positive about buying things like clothing over the internet.

By offering an anywhere, businesses setting up an online store can provide the convenience and immediate answer to demand the modern consumer has come to expect of retailers. Not convinced you should start an online store? Here are a few benefits of running an e-commerce store:

  • 24/7 shopping: E-commerce platforms allow shoppers to peruse your products and make buying decisions at any time, day or night. This makes shopping easier for your customers and that kind of accessibility is a huge competitive advantage.

  • Widened scope: With a physical shop, you are limited to selling to consumers who are in the area. But starting an online store allows you to open your doors to people all over the world, which vastly expands your customer base and can boost your revenue.

  • Purchase-funnel clarity: You’re not able to track how often a single consumer comes to your shop and tests your products before making the purchasing decision. When you start an online shop, however, you’re able to track your customers’ every click, which can give you a better representation of the purchasing process.

Starting an online shop vs bricks and mortar

Many of Britain’s high street giants have failed to keep pace with shifting shopping habits. As a result, bricks-and-mortar shops have been pitted against E-commerce platforms making businesses feel like they need to choose between the two.

But even in these uncertain times, it is the brands who have struck the perfect balance who are enjoying a retail boom thanks to their omnichannel experiences. Offer your customer the best of both worlds by continuing to manage your retail location while setting up an online shop.

Starting an online store while maintaining your brick-and mortar shop helps you satisfy the needs of a broader customer base. Most retailers have customers who would prefer to order everything online and others who have to see something in person before they buy. And then there are other customers who don’t have a preference but want both options so they can shop according to their own schedule. By providing multiple options, you are more likely to create repeat customers (and more revenue in the long run).

Our electronic Point of Sale and Square Online website building service can quickly get your physical and online channels working together in harmony. You can automatically import your product catalogue from the POS tool into your Square Online eCommerce platform – so your orders and inventory stay in sync, whether items are sold via the web or in store.

How to start an online store

Creating an online business has never been easier. You don’t even need to have a technical background – eCommerce platforms like Square Online offer easy-to-use site-building templates with no coding expertise required.

But it’s only about having an attractive website design. It’s also vital to consider the following when you start an online store for the first time.

  • Make the most of synced payment processing: Investing in a single, joined-up payments system helps you to connect your physical and online stores – saving all your key business and customer data in one handy place.

  • Focus on strong security: To win the trust of new and existing customers, security should be high on your agenda when setting up an online shop. Without reassurance, consumers may become fearful of data breaches and go elsewhere. Know your duties when it comes to PCI compliance and immediately follow up any online activity that looks suspicious.

  • Develop an omnichannel business strategy: Link up your physical, online and mobile channels to offer a seamless shopping journey for your customers. Think about how services like click-and-collect and next-day delivery could boost your reputation further. Ensure your marketing strategy also promotes your omnichannel approach – with Instagram, Facebook and Twitter posts flagging the different ways customers can shop and connect with you.

Signing up with Square Online

Setting up a free online store is quick and straightforward with Square Online. Create a professional-looking website, sell products securely and accept customer payments, all in one place.

Try our website builder to develop a full-blown, eye-catching online presence, or sell individual products via your blog, social media feed or email account with the support of our Checkout Links service – the choice is yours.

Ready to start an online shop with us? Just follow these easy steps:

  1. Sign up with Square.
  2. Choose the ‘Online’ option in the Square Dashboard.
  3. Click on ‘Get Started’, then choose a multi-page website for your small business or a single online ordering page.
  4. Enter your type of business; preferred shipping, pick-up and delivery methods; and any other key requirements.
How to add products and key product pages

Once you’ve signed up, you can quickly add products to your new eCommerce platform. To add a product for the first time, head to the ‘Square Online Overview’ page and find ‘Items > Site Items’. Then click on ‘Create New Item’.

Enter the name of the item and the product description you want to appear on your website. Next add images of the product, along with any delivery, pick-up, local delivery and self-serve ordering information. Finally, enter the price, product ID, weight, and choice of variations (e.g. sizes) if applicable, before saving.

Next comes categorising your items with the help of product pages. First, head to ‘Items > Site Categories’ in the ‘Square Online Overview’ page and click ‘Add Category’. You’ll then be able to enter a category name and relevant image, before adding products to that page by clicking ‘Choose Items’. Hit save once you’re done.

Customising online store themes

When setting up an online shop for your small business, the look and feel of your website may prove as important as how it functions. Don’t worry if you lack technical know-how – simply choose one of our attractive templates to instantly achieve a professional design.

To pick the right theme for your company, select ‘Edit Website’ within the ‘Square Online Overview’ page. Then click on ‘Site Design’ in the bottom left-hand corner to select different colour and font settings.

Along with a clean design, you can make your online store even more user-friendly, by:

  • Importing your brand logo and eye-catching photography.
  • Linking up your Instagram account and homepage so customers can browse your products from their feed.
  • Showcasing particular products or special offers on your homepage by creating a specific section.
Deciding how to fulfil orders

Once you’re set up as an online business, you’ll need to think about how customers’ orders will be fulfilled. For example, will your products be shipped out nationally, or are they more suited to a local delivery service? Could you perhaps offer a click-and-collect service within your physical stores?

All these options can be set up through Square Online – whether you’re a bakery looking to deliver food within a fixed area, or an arts and crafts shop sending out products nationwide.

Setting up a payments system

You’ll need a trustworthy payments gateway to keep the data of your customers safe – and your reputation intact. Setting up a payments system with Square Online is easy and highly secure. We’ll automatically collect payment whenever a customer makes an order from your Square Online website – and even email them a confirmation receipt.

Keeping track of payments is straightforward too.You’ll find them in your transaction history when you log in to your Square Dashboard. Syncing your Square Online account with Square Point of Sale can also offer an item-by-item breakdown of the stock you’ve sold, both online and in-store.

Launching and marketing your website

Don’t be shy of promoting your online store when it’s all designed, synced up and ready to go. Come up with a marketing strategy to promote it to existing customers using social media tools, posters in-store and leaflets handed out with purchases. Add the domain name to your branding and any adverts you run.

To hook in new customers from the web, make the most of search engine optimisation (SEO). This is the process of adding keywords and descriptions to your website to help push it higher up search engine rankings. To enter a site title and description that will show up in search engine results, head to the ‘Square Online Overview’ page. Click on ‘Website > SEO’ and ‘Update SEO’.