How to Build an eCommerce Website in 10 Steps
Without a doubt, online shopping is the way of the future and the present. In 2021, worldwide eCommerce sales accounted for 4.9 trillion U.S. dollars—and that figure continues to grow. If you’re not yet selling your products or services online, you could be missing out on a piece of that pie.
However, before you can take your business to the masses, you’ll need to create an online storefront.
Not sure how to build an eCommerce website? You’ve come to the right place. We’ll be walking you through the why and how of setting up your own online store.
Why Create Your Own eCommerce Website?
First and foremost, your current and future customers are online. In 2020, more than two billion people purchased goods or services via the Internet at least once. Having an eCommerce store means meeting consumers where they are.
But there are other benefits to creating an eCommerce website. A custom-built online storefront also allows you to:
- Strengthen your branding – When you sell your products on marketplaces like Amazon or Etsy, customers see their branding, not yours. Building a dedicated site for your eCommerce business lets you inject your brand voice and image into the entire shopping experience.
- Expand your market – As soon as you take your business online, you immediately gain the ability to reach millions of people you couldn’t have reached as a brick-and-mortar store. An eCommerce store is also much easier to market since you can run ads that link users directly to your shop.
- Offer unique opportunities – An eCommerce site can be so much more than a place for your customers to buy products. Online stores provide opportunities to supplement or augment the traditional brick-and-mortar experience. You can embed educational videos, offer virtual private shopping, sell digital goods, and bring together communities of like-minded people through forums.
The Cost of Creating an eCommerce Website
Depending on your wants and needs, building an eCommerce site can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $50,000 or more. Here are some sample costs for each component you’ll need:
- Website hosting: $5–$350/month
- Domain name: $5–$20/year
- eCommerce software: $30–$300/month
- SSL certificate: $10–$250/year
- Site theme: $0–$150/year
- Payment processing fees: 1.3–3.5% of sales
- Website developer (optional): $1,000+
It’s worth noting that when you opt for a managed eCommerce or WooCommerce hosting plan, several of these expenses may come bundled together.
How to Build an eCommerce Website, Step by Step
Building a website may feel like a monumental task, but site-building platforms have made the journey easier than ever. Such platforms can help you create the perfect user experience for your online business. Follow these ten steps, and you can have a high-quality site in no time.
1. Determine Your Platform
Your platform is your eCommerce software and the backbone of your website. Today’s platforms take care of most of the behind-the-scenes aspects of website creation.
Here are some of the platforms you can use to build your eCommerce website:
- Square Online
Our top pick is WooCommerce, as it seamlessly integrates with WordPress—the most popular and powerful content management system available. Whenever we use an example, we’ll use WordPress and WooCommerce.
2. Pick a Domain Name
Your domain name is the name of your website—and the way your customers will find you. For example, our domain name is wpengine.com.
Some eCommerce platforms will help you secure a domain name, but it’s usually cheaper to buy and register your domain name yourself. To do that, you’ll purchase a name from a domain name registrar like:
- Google Domains
Ideally, your domain name should be the name of your business. If yourbusinessname.com is already taken, you can always try choosing a different top-level domain (like .co or .biz).
To learn more, check out our guide on how domain names work.
3a. Find a Developer or Site Builder
Now that you have picked your domain name and an eCommerce platform, you can start developing your site. If you want a fully custom eCommerce site and don’t have a background in programming, you can pay someone to make it in WordPress for you. A professional web developer can build you a functional, appealing website from the ground up in no time.
Keep in mind that hiring a web developer will be the most expensive part of developing an eCommerce site. You’ll likely have to spend a few thousand dollars on initial setup, plus several hundred per year on ongoing maintenance. But hiring an eCommerce website builder is always an option for a fully customized online store.
3b. Pick a Theme
If you’re on a budget, you can always handle website development on your own by choosing a premade theme from your eCommerce platform. Think of a theme as a customizable template for your site. Themes encompass design elements like:
- Page layout
When choosing a theme, look for options that fit your brand aesthetic and offer plentiful customization opportunities. Think of the user experience you’d like your customers to have regarding the aesthetic when viewing your website. Between free and paid themes from WooCommerce and other theme marketplaces, you should be able to find an option that suits your needs and get that custom eCommerce website feel.
4. Customize Your Site
Once you have a theme (or a custom-made site from a developer), it’s time to customize your website to your needs. When you work with a site builder, this step entails going back and forth with your designer to tweak the aesthetic of the site to align with your vision.
However, if you choose a website theme, you can do the website design and customization work yourself. Even if you have no experience in coding, many themes allow you to effortlessly change colors, page layout, typography, and more—all from the dashboard of your chosen platform. You can make further changes by installing plugins (add-ons that modify the look or function of your site). There are plenty of plugin options for whatever you need including WooCommerce shipping plugins to simplify the process.
If you do have some CSS knowledge, you can customize your site even further by modifying the code. Should you take this route, be sure to make all changes in a child theme to avoid overwriting your changes.
5. Add Products
As an eCommerce business, the product page is the most important. As such, it’s a terrific place to start when building out your pages.
If you use WooCommerce with WordPress, you can easily add your products and start selling in minutes. To add your first product page, log in to your WordPress dashboard, head to the left-hand side, and navigate to Products > Add New.
From there, you’ll be able to add all the essential details, including:
- Product name
- Product images
- Product descriptions
- Shipping details
6. Create Other Important Pages
Of course, your eCommerce store needs to be more than a list of products. Consider rounding out your site with other pages like:
- Home page
- About page
- Shipping and returns
- Frequently asked questions
- Contact section
The more information your site has, the more confident your customers will feel when checking out.
With WordPress, you can create your informational pages from the dashboard by clicking Pages > Add New. For the transactional pages (such as the cart and checkout sections), WooCommerce will automatically create them for you upon setup.
You can then customize these pages from the WordPress dashboard by clicking on Pages.
7. Setup Payment
Next, you need a way to take payments from your customers. If you’ve installed the WooCommerce plugin, setting up your payment options is simple.
When you first install WooCommerce, the setup wizard will help you set up your payment options. However, you can edit your payment methods at any time by navigating to WooCommerce > Settings > Payments.
On this tab, you’ll be able to enable or disable any of the payment methods WooCommerce offers, which include:
- Major credit cards
- Apple Pay
- Bank transfers (BACS)
- Cash on delivery
To access some of these payment gateways (and many other regional options), you’ll need to download additional WooCommerce plugins. WooCommerce also supplies you with a dashboard for all your transactions.
8. Setup Shipping
If you sell physical products, your next step is to set up shipping for your online business. With WooCommerce, you’ll start in the WordPress dashboard, then navigate to WooCommerce > Settings > Shipping. From there, you can create shipping zones that automatically calculate rates, choose different shipping classes, set up local pickup options, and more.
Don’t forget to create a webpage that explains shipping rates and times.
Need more options? The WooCommerce marketplace offers proprietary and third-party shipping extensions that help you manage your shipments. For example, WooCommerce Shipping allows you to print shipping labels without leaving your dashboard.
9. Do a Trial Run
At this point, you’re almost ready to share your eCommerce site with the world. But before you publish your website, you’ll want to run a few tests.
To test your site, begin by opening it on several different devices and browsers. If everything works, go through the purchase process a few times and see what the experience feels like.
As you complete your tests, ask yourself:
- Does everything load properly?
- Are any assets missing?
- Is the journey ever confusing or frustrating?
- Does the navigation make sense?
It’s also worth asking friends and family members to explore your website and share their feedback. Be sure to take note of everyone’s experience with the site, and implement any changes thereafter.
10. Publish Your Site
Congratulations—you’ve made it to the final step! If all your tests were successful, all that’s left to do is go live. If you used WordPress and WooCommerce to create your website, you’ll publish your website through your host. If you opted for a website builder like Wix or Squarespace, you can publish your site from your dashboard.
Once your eCommerce site is live, you can immediately begin directing existing customers to it—and marketing it to new customers to expand your audience.
Build a Successful eCommerce Site with WP Engine
Whether you’re starting an eCommerce site for the first time or changing an eCommerce platform and rebuilding your existing one, at WP Engine, we have managed WooCommerce hosting plans that suit your needs. Plus, you can find more tips for running a successful eCommerce site in our resource center, including our comprehensive guide to using WooCommerce.
Get in touch with us today to find out more about our eCommerce solutions.