Got a great product that you want to sell online, but not sure where to start? Read Ruby Studio’s  beginner’s guide to launching a successful online shop in 2017.

This is a comprehensive guide aimed at those entrepreneurs who are thinking of launching an ecommerce business, but are feeling overwhelmed at the massive amount of information out there and don’t know where to begin. Use it as a basic checklist and research further from here.

I’ve put in all the info I learned while setting up online shops for numerous clients.

1. Before launching, be 100% certain your prices and delivery charges are very competitive

It’s obvious, but many new online shops still make this huge mistake. People shop online because they can easily, conveniently and quickly compare prices from different vendors to find the best deal (including delivery charges).

If your products are not competitive your online shop will fail. Do extensive research to ensure your price is right the first time before going live. You only get one chance. If customers don’t like what they see they will not return.

A massive incentive is free delivery on orders that exceed a certain amount. Try your hardest to offer this, and make sure you know what your competitors are offering so that you can match or beat it.

2. Sell something unique and one-of-a-kind

Major online retailers such as Amazon (international) and Takealot (South Africa) are dominating online trade because they are able to offer incredibly competitive prices, with fast (often free) delivery. They also have massive online marketing budgets and have built reputable brands that consumers trust.

The best way to compete with these major online retailers is to not compete at all by selling merchandise they don’t (and can’t) offer. That gives an e-retailer something unique to offer consumers and means they aren’t vulnerable to online price comparison because, if someone wants the product, there’s only one place to get it.

NOTE: If your product is not unique, you can still launch a successful ecommerce business, but your pricing will need to be unbeatable and you’ll need to work hard on SEO (search engine optimisation) to ensure your online shop ranks on the first page of Google so you actually get customers through your virtual doors. More on SEO further down this guide.

Word of warning: Even if you have something unique to sell, make sure it will remain unique in the future by trademarking it or getting an exclusive distributor’s licence.

I know of a company that was the first in South Africa to start selling Google Cardboard online, which is a device that enables you to view Virtual Reality videos with your smartphone. The company did well in the first year, but then a whole lot of other retailers started selling the product, which dramatically reduced their revenue resulting in them closing the online shop and selling the product via Takealot instead.

A friend of a friend recently launched Anatomy of Everything, an online store selling his unique drawings of well, everything. Check it out it’s lovely – Photo sourced from the Anatomy of Everything website.

3. Plan your website navigation thoughtfully and logically

Make sure it’s easy for visitors to find what they’re looking for by crafting a logical navigation menu that appears at the top of your website on every page.

If you have a large online store selling lots of different products,  spend time grouping those products in the correct categories that your customers will understand.

For example, if you’re selling household items, create categories such as ‘kitchen’, ‘bathroom’, ‘bedroom’, etc.

4. Create an amazing, unforgettable first impression

The internet is gigantic, growing with more information every second. In this atmosphere, it takes seconds for users to decide whether they will explore your online store or leave. This means making a great first impression is vital to getting sales.

How do you do this?

Craft a strong USP (unique selling point) or tagline that is designed to hook your target customers as soon as they arrive at your store, so it must appear above the website fold.

Pair this with great web design and big, beautiful product / lifestyle photography and graphics appropriate to your target customers and you’re well on your way to getting visitors hooked on your website.

Some great ecommerce homepage examples: 

I recently discovered The Veg Box Company. The best thing is they’re located just up the road from me in Rosetta, Nottingham Road. They sound like such an awesome company and I’m definitely going to be ordering from them. Plus their website is stunning. Vibrant, enticing and easy to use.

Death Wish Coffee says it like it is –

I love the Allbirds website. It’s so tactile and their use of animation is charming and adds so much to the interactive user experience.

Check out more examples of awesome ecommerce websites here –

5. Use big, beautifully-styled brand and product photos on your homepage and pair them with strong call-to-actions

This goes without saying so make sure you do it! Creating demand for what you are selling begins with big, beautiful product and lifestyle photos that will make your products irresistible to the right audience.

Pair these with call-to-actions, such as ‘sale items’, ‘new in stock’, ‘most popular’, etc. Use photos to lead users on to the next point, i.e., your product pages.

Add a ‘Pin It’ button to visuals and graphics so visitors start sharing your visual content on Pinterest.

Tsonga’s product photography is always tantalising. Every season they launch a new visual concept showcasing their gorgeous leather shoes in beautiful lifestyle shots. Photo taken from the website.

6. Find an affordable and reliable courier partner

Courier companies’ delivery charges and services vary hugely, so it pays to do careful research before selecting a courier partner.

Most courier companies will be willing to negotiate an exclusive deal if you can ensure a minimum number of deliveries over a specified time period. They often include a grace period so you can grow sales over this time.

Don’t go with the first courier service you engage with. Meet a few to find the right fit for your business and do your research to make sure they’re reliable.

Keeping your promises when it comes to delivery timescales is crucial to retaining and growing your customer base.

Don’t promise something you can’t deliver on, you will lose the customer and it’s unlikely they’ll return.


7. Hire an expert to build a user-friendly, results-driven online shop

There are many platforms that promise you a beautiful online shop with no web design experience necessary, but your shop will more likely be successful if you hire an expert.

While on the surface ecommerce platforms like Shopify, Magento and BigCommerce look simple, the fact is that they require front-end web development knowledge to implement successfully.

Of course you could learn this as you go along, but it would be very tedious, frustrating and incredibly time consuming, especially if you have a large store. If you have time, patience and tenacity go for it. If not, find someone who knows.

An expert will ensure your online shop adheres to the latest web design, digital marketing and ecommerce best practices. They will also make sure your online shop ranks highly in organic search results, resulting in more website traffic and thus sales. This is an art in itself requiring strategic search engine optimisation across your entire website. I’ve written a section about this further down this article.

Under the guidance of an expert, your online shop will look professional, be secure to protect online transactions and work efficiently. The right expert will also know the importance of effective copywriting and content marketing, and will be able to help you with this or point you in the direction of someone who can assist.

If you already have a bricks and mortar store, your expert will also ensure easy integration between all your point-of-sale systems on all your stores. This is critical for accurate, real-time stock taking, amongst other issues.

REMEMBER: You will be working closely with the web designer and/or web developer, so make sure they are someone you feel comfortable communicating with, who understands your vision and business.

WORD OF WARNING: Steer clear of developers who make you feel like an idiot by using technical jargon and complicated explanations.

The right expert will describe the process to you in a way you understand. They won’t complicate things to confuse you. Never be afraid of asking questions – it’s your online shop and your precious investment.


Photo by Craig Garner on Unsplash.

8. Research payment gateways, it’ll save you money

A payment gateway is the financial company that facilitates online transactions, whether by credit / debit card, EFT or e-wallet. As with courier companies, make sure to research payment gateways and the fees they charge, before committing.

Usually they will charge a small percentage of the online transaction, anything from 0.5% up to 4.5%, as well as a monthly account fee, much like a bank account charge.

For high value items, 4.5% going to the payment gateway company is a serious knock on your profits so make sure you investigate all charges before signing up for anything.

In South Africa, I’ve found that PayGate is the most affordable payment gateway. They’re also a great company to work with; efficient and friendly.

TAKE NOTE: If using a platform such as Shopify, BigCommerce or WordPress / WooCommerce you will also be charged a small percentage fee per transaction on top of the payment gateway charge. These fees vary depending on the plan you’re on.

9. Learn about best practice SEO and implement on your website

Your online shop is doomed if it has not been optimised to rank highly on search engines such as Google and Bing.

SEO is a constantly changing, time-consuming task requiring, amongst many other things, careful keyword research targeted to your area of business, strategic implementation of those keywords across your entire website (including homepage content and all other pages, titles, metadata, URLs, blog posts and product listings), and fresh, original blog content to ensure your online shop builds and maintains its ranking.

Potential customers will never be able to find your online shop, no matter how beautiful it looks, if it does not have good SEO.

SEO is important in every corner of your online shop, including how you name, tag, organise and describe your products. Good SEO also includes facets outside of your website like link building, business listings (including on Google My Business), Google Webmaster site verification, regular reports and analytics.

SEO takes time and dedication. Don’t expect your online shop to rank highly immediately, but if you keep working on improving SEO, your online store will hopefully find itself appearing on the first page of Google for relevant keywords.

Infographic source from PageTraffic.

10. Outstanding customer service

Great customer service is crucial to the success of your online shop. It will build customer trust and ensure people remember you for the right reasons. Make sure it’s easy and simple for customers to get hold of you. If you can, implement a live chat service on your website. Respond promptly, politely and helpfully.

Of course, you will always run into problems caused by human error or situations beyond your control (something goes wrong with the delivery, the wrong product is shipped, etc), the key is to be honest and genuine with your customers. Apologise promptly and offer them something in return that will turn a bad situation into a good experience for all parties involved.

Also make sure your online shop’s Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policy, Disclaimer, Terms of Service and FAQs are easy to locate and understand. In these documents remember to explain policies like delivery charges, returns policy, refunds policy, website security, protection of personal information, payment procedures, etc.

Photo by Zachary Nelson on Unsplash.

11. Develop your content marketing strategy 

Your content marketing strategy doesn’t have to be complicated. Know your target customers and write one weekly article that interests them and adds value to their lives. Here’s a useful infographic to download.

Post the article on your online shop’s blog, using lots of relevant images (make sure you have permission to use them) to make it look great. Then use a free online design programme such as Canva to design eye-catching social media visuals to go with your post. Size these images according to each social media channel you’ll be sharing them on.

Pinterest is one of the greatest social media channels to use to drive more traffic to your online shop. Research how to use Pinterest for your own ecommerce business. I’ll be writing a post about this in the future to help you leverage the most from it.

12. Get visitors to sign-up to your newsletter by offering a discount to new subscribers
Start building your email marketing list as soon as possible. Helpful newsletters are an effective way to increase your sales online, just make sure to not bombard people with useless information and ensure the stuff you do send adds value to their lives – deals, tips, guides and offers.

Don’t send them an email more than once a week.

13. Don’t lose hope. Persevere, work hard and keep learning

Many experts say it takes, on average, about 2 years to become a profitable online business. Yes, there are cases where online shops turn a profit much faster. Usually well-known household brands and/or those with big marketing and advertising budgets, or launching in an underserviced, high demand market. But if you are starting small, don’t expect to become an overnight success.

It takes time to grow your reputation and customer base. It also takes time to fine tune your online shop’s processes, such as customer service and shipping, so starting slowly will be an advantage as you successfully navigate the teething stages of your new business venture.

Shew. Well done for reaching the end of this epic guide. Please let me know what you thought of it by commenting in the box below.

I am passionate about helping businesses launch successful online shops. Drop me a line if you’d like to find out more about what I can offer you.


  1. marie-anna

    wow thanks for all those tips….am half thinking of an online shop :)))

    • admin

      Thank You Marie-Anna 🙂


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *