Person creating online store on laptop

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?

When people buy goods or services through a website or via social media they’re shopping online or through an eCommerce platform. It’s a great way for small business owners to service existing customers by giving them more flexibility around how they shop. It also lets them reach new target markets who would never enter their physical shop.

Online shopping or eCommerce 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.
Like any tech, online shopping has evolved to the point almost anyone can start an online store in minutes – no matter the size of their business – or sell through sites like Amazon, Instagram, Etsy or Facebook.

Benefits of setting up an online shop

Online shopping witnessed a huge surge during the lockdowns of Covid-19. Brick and mortar stores may be open once more but the boom in internet shopping shows no signs of slowing down. And it’s not surprising really - the modern consumer wants convenience, flexibility and the opportunity to buy at the touch of a button. Online shopping provides that and much more:

  • 24/7 shopping - eCommerce platforms let shoppers view 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.

    How to create 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 website templates. But it’s not 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.

Define your target audience

Your target audience is the people or group of people you’re selling your products or services to. This could be any type of people or any size and you could have more than one target audience but it’s important to decide upon who that is for your business so you know who you’re going to market to.

Defining your audience is essential because then you can market specifically to them, attract the people who are really interested and increase your ROI.

Typically you’ll define them by:

  • Demographics - characteristics such as age, gender, education, income, occupation
  • Location - where they’re physically based which can be further divided into specific locations
  • Interests - what they enjoy, what their hobbies are, activities which might relate to the products you want to sell etc.

For example, if you run a beauty spa, your audience might be women aged 25-45, with an average annual income of £30,000, who spend about £100 a month on beauty products and live within a 50 mile radius of your salon.

If you already have products to sell, it can help to think about the type of people who would be most likely to buy it. You can take it even further, creating detailed, individual buyer personas to really nail down your ideal customer.

Choose your product line

Choosing the best products to sell is a big decision and one which some entrepreneurs may stumble over. But if you’ve defined your target audience you can start to think about what products they most need or desire.

You might choose to appeal to keen hobbyists or to sell something you are personally passionate about. Or you could look at what is already trending and what products are likely to become popular in the near future.

You could manufacture products yourself or find manufacturers who make it for you. Alternatively, you could try dropshipping where your website merely acts as a shop window while a third-party deals with the inventory and fulfilment.

Create your brand name and brand assets

Once you know what you’re selling and who you’re selling it to you need to decide upon a name, logo, colours and overall branding that you can use on your online store. You can come up with a brand identity and your own brand kit using a site like Canva or you could employ a professional to create one for you.

Whichever avenue you choose, make sure your brand identity is a true reflection of the image and message you wish to convey and that it will appeal to your target audience.

Choose a business structure

If this is your first time running your own business you’ll need to decide how you want to organise it. There are three main routes:

  • Sole trader - this is the simplest form of business and you own and run your business as a self-employed individual. You’ll need to inform HMRC you’ve become self-employed and you’ll have to file annual tax returns detailing your earnings from the business. A sole trader keeps all the profits from their business after tax has been paid on them rather than sharing it with a partner or other shareholders in a business.

  • Partnership - In a partnership you and your business partner personally share responsibility for the business and its liabilities. You share the profits and each partner pays tax on their share of the profits.

  • Limited company - A limited company is a separate legal entity where the company rather than the individual is responsible for the company’s financial liabilities and debts. A limited company has shareholders and directors. Shareholders receive a share of the profits from the business. An owner can be both a shareholder and director but not all directors are necessarily shareholders.

Directors have certain responsibilities and undertakings and you’ll need to file separate annual company accounts to HMRC.

Choose an eCommerce platform

You’ll need to build your online store to be able to sell products through it. You can have a go yourself - there are many web hosting sites now which make it easy for you to design a simple site or you could hire a web designer to create one for you.

You could also use an online store platform like Square where you can design your site for free with the help of easy-to-use templates. With something like Square the functionality is built in and intuitive so you don’t need any in-depth technical know-how in order to get up and running quickly.

Square also gives you access to a wide range of tools to help you run your business from anywhere, effectively and easily, including integrated payment software.

Design your online store

Square has many website templates to choose from so you can quickly build a site which reflects your brand. It’s easy to sign up and you follow the simple prompts to get building and add product images and descriptions.

The product pages are where your customers will make their decision to purchase or not so it’s worth spending time on the descriptions. Things like size and dimensions really matter so get in all the details you think they want to know about.

Don’t forget to use professional-looking pictures either. The images you use can really set the tone for your website, the type of buyer you’re trying to attract and whether they commit to buy or bounce off and visit another site.

Optimise your website

If you know the keywords your customers will likely search for you can work them into your page titles and product descriptions to increase the chances of your site being found organically through Google or other search engines.

If you’re not sure what keywords to use you can undertake some keyword research. See what your competitors use and try out a few yourself to see what comes up. You can also use a keyword research platform like Semrush to get a better idea of the best keywords and phrases to use as well as their search volume and competitiveness.

Connect a payment gateway

If you’re selling online you need an easy way to take payments from customers. With a Square site you have a built-in payment gateway so you can take payments online, via links, QR codes and with a virtual terminal.

If you have built your site elsewhere such as on Wordpress or Wix you can integrate with Square so you can take payments.

Square only charges you when you make a sale and our fees are transparent so you will always know exactly how much each transaction costs - 1.4% + 25p for all UK card payments online and 2.5% plus 25p for all non-UK cards.

Get your store ready for launch

Once you’ve uploaded your products, created your online storefront, set up shipping and optimised your product descriptions and pages you’re almost ready to launch.

If you’re using a web design platform you may have a domain name which includes that web platform in it. You can buy a custom domain and use that instead if you want a name that wholly reflects your new brand.

You can also create additional sales channels to sell your products such as through your social media platforms to maximise your reach and go where your customers are - Instagram and Facebook.

Register Your Business

If you operate your business as a sole trader you’ll need to register as self-employed with HMRC. Even if your site is a side hustle you’ll still need to let them know and file an annual tax return detailing any income made from your online store.

If you decide to operate as a limited company you’ll need to register with Companies House. You can begin trading as soon as you receive your registration number which should take a few hours.

Launch your store

Hooray, it’s finally launch time! It can be daunting actually launching your store so it’s live on the web and it won’t be perfect but until you actually put it out there for the general public you’ll never know what works and what does or start making sales! Once you’ve published your site you can make tweaks as you go along based on the sales and data you receive.

Market your store

The hard work doesn’t stop once you press publish. In fact, it’s only just beginning. In order for your store to be a success you need to market it to your target audience.

Marketing is different for everyone depending on what you’re selling, who you’re selling it to and what budget you have, if any. There are many different ways you can market your business but creating a marketing strategy so you have a cohesive approach to it is sensible.

There are many other things you can do to market your store:

  • Analytics - With Square you’ll have access to sales reports and sales trends data over time through your Square dashboard. This valuable information will tell you where your sales are coming from, your online conversion rate, what your bestsellers are and so on. You can use this information to inform future marketing activities.
  • Automated marketing - Square’s automated email marketing lets you collect customer data at the checkout, easily design custom emails, send automated marketing campaigns and analyse the effects on your sales.
  • Facebook Pixel - If you’ve ever been on a site, viewed a product but not bought anything, then seen an ad for it on another site a few days later then that’s thanks to Facebook Pixel. This clever bit of code learns how people interact with your brand enabling it to personalise the adverts they see over time.

Facebook Pixel is a powerful tool, especially if you plan on advertising on Facebook or Instagram in the future.

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’.