How to Launch Your Own Online Store With Shopify

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In our new series Getting It, we’ll give you all you need to know to get started with and excel at a wide range of technology, both on and offline. Here, we’re walking you through the process of setting up your own shop with one of the most popular online retail platforms, Shopify.

Launching a store used to be a major undertaking involving leasing space, buying inventory that might or might not sell, building shelves, and working long hours behind a cash register. Now, thanks to that little innovation known as the World Wide Web, setting up shop can be done with little more than a few mouse clicks and a few hours of your time. Here we’ll look at one of the most popular ways of launching an online store.

Shopify

Unquestionably the easiest way to open an online store is by using Shopify. Launched in 2004, the e-commerce giant began as an online store itself (selling snowboarding gear), but now serves as a platform that hosts more than 500,000 merchants from 175 different countries.

Shopify offers a 14-day free trial for each and every store you wish to open, so giving it a try will cost you nothing and, during that time, you can experiment with shop design, plugins, inventory selection, payment processing and other aspects of the site. After your trial, pricing is available at $29, $79 or $299 per month depending on the features you need. The Basic Shopify plan at $29 per month is more than adequate for most beginning online retailers.

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Setting Up

When you sign up for an account with Shopify, the system will ask you to name your store and it will then assign you a site address. Choose a store named “WeSellStuff,” for example, and your site address will be “wesellstuff.myshopify.com.” While you’re always welcome to keep this site address as the home of your store on the ‘net, you’re more than likely going to want to change it to something more catchy, easy to remember, and not focused on Shopify.

Fortunately, setting up a personal domain name is fairly routine.

Upon joining Shopify, after entering your shop name, the system will ask you a few questions about the type of shop you are opening and then ask for some personal details. After that, you’ll be on the main dashboard page. Simply click on the “Add Domain” button here and then either buy a new domain from Shopify (which typically costs $14.99 for a .com domain), or follow the instructions to connect one you’ve already purchased from a different registrar.

You can use the Shopify default address during your setup and then connect it with your domain name after your two-week trial ends.

Window Dressing

The next step in opening your virtual store is to figure out how you’d like it to look. You can do this by clicking the “Customize Theme” button on your dashboard screen. Click on the “Explore Free Themes” button to check out the options available as part of your Shopify package. Be aware that some of the themes shown actually have two or more overall skin options that you’ll see after you open the popup window describing the theme. If you don’t see anything you like here, you can click on “Visit Theme Store” and purchase a theme.

All themes are very customizable after selection, so many users find that a tweaked free theme works just fine for their stores.

Once you find the template you like, click the “Add” button in the pop-up window. Then, somewhat counterintuitively, scroll down and click the “Actions” button and select “Publish.”

After your theme is selected, click “Customize” and you’ll be able to add pages, change photos, add text, create a blog, customize your header and footer, and more.

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Products

Of course, no matter how good your online shop looks, it won’t really do much for you if you don’t have any products displayed. There are two basic ways to populate your page with products. The first would be if you already have possession of the physical products you want to sell.

To set up your products, click the “products” text link in the left-side menu. Then click “Add product.” This will take you to a page where you can enter your product title, images, variants (like sizes and colors), shipping weight and other details. You can also set a “Compare At” price, which will show next to the actual price on your site as a crossed out amount, letting customers know that they’re getting an item for less than the suggested retail price.

If you don’t already have products to sell, you could consider dropshipping, a system whereby someone else warehouses and ships your products for you. You basically become the middleman, marking up products you find and selling them through your online store, while another company (or set of companies) manufactures, stores and ships your products.

One of the most popular ways to work the drop shipping model within Shopify is to use the Oberlo app (more about apps in a minute). In fact, if you click on the “Find Products” button from the Products main page, Shopify will automatically take you to a page detailing how Oberlo works. It’s basically an app that connects your Shopify store with AliExpress, a collection of merchants in China manufacturing items with low cost points. The app will automatically import the products you select to your store, including photos, so it cuts down on the work you need to do considerably.

One disadvantage of this system is that shipping times from Asia can be excessively long, so you might want to try to find other drop shippers in your home country that could get your customers their products in a more reasonable amount of time. Two online directories that could help in this regard are Doba and Inventory Source.

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Collections

As you add products to your store, it’s a good idea to place them into collections, groups of similar items. So “socks” might be one collection, “watches” another, and “sale” another. Many of the Shopify templates work with collections, so it’s wise to set them up from the outset.

You can create collections by first clicking “Products” in the menu on the left and then choosing collections. Once the collections are set up, you can then choose them from a drop-down menu each time you add a new product to your store.

Pages

While your Shopify template will automatically place each product you add on its own page, you might want to add additional pages to your site for such things as FAQs, contact forms and shipping information. If so, it’s as easy as clicking on “Online Store” in the side menu, choosing “Pages” and then clicking “Add page.”

Enter the details on the next page. If you want to include a contact form, be sure to select the “page.contact” option from the drop-down menu on the right.

Once you have created a new page, it will be available for you to link to from other areas of the site. You can also include a link to the page in your footer by clicking on the “Navigation” link beneath “Online Store” in the menu on the left. This is also where you can adjust what appears in the menu at the top of your site.

Blogs

Adding a blog to your site is equally straightforward. Choose “Online Store” in the left-side menu, then “Blog posts,” followed by “Create blog post.” After writing your post, be sure to click the button next to “Visible” in the upper right. Also, you might want to copy the first paragraph of your post and paste it into the “Excerpt” area.

Once a blog post is created, add it to your homepage if you’d like by clicking “Online Store,” then the blue “Customize” button on the right. Click on the “Add section” link on the left and choose “Blog post.” You can also adjust the flow of your home page here by clicking on the six dots to the right of the choices in the left-hand column and dragging the item to the position in which you’d like it to appear.

Apps

Oberlo is just one of hundreds of apps available through Shopify. These plugins allow you to do more with your store that the basic Shopify interface allows. You can find apps that let you put email-collection pop-ups on your site; those that offer sale-countdown clocks; and those that grant you the ability to provide gift cards – just for starters. Apps typically cost either a one-time or monthly fee, so be careful as you add them, and only choose those that add real value to the site. To find high-quality apps, simply sort by the “Popular” tag at the top of the page and look for apps with five-star ratings.

To access the Shopify app store, click on “Apps” in the left-side menu, then choose “Visit Shopify App Store.” Once you purchase an app, you’ll be taken to a different page to set it up, and that app will always appear in your app list, when you choose “Apps” from the Shopify menu.

Payment Processing

A Shopify store automatically comes with credit card processing as part of your monthly fee. Shopify charges you 2.9% plus $.30 of every transaction they process. Your store also comes with the ability to process PayPal payments, although you’ll need an account of your own in order to activate that service.

This feature of a Shopify store can be a huge cost savings. If you were to set up an online store on your own, you’d have to contract with a third party credit card processor such as Authorize.net, who would not only charge you a per-transaction fee in the same neighborhood as Shopify, but they’d also likely hit you with a setup fee in the hundreds of dollars, as well as a monthly maintenance fee which tends to be in the $30 range. When you’re just starting out, those extra fees can put a lot of drag on your launch, so using Shopify’s payment gateway is a smart move—unless you already process payments on another site with a third-party provider.

To set up payment processing, click on the word “Settings” next to the gear icon in the bottom left-hand column, then click on “Payments.” If you’re happy to use Shopify as your processor, click on “Complete account setup,” and follow the steps provided. Otherwise, click on “Change provider” (top right) and choose another processor.

The payments page also allows you to set up other payment options such as Amazon Pay and Coinbase.

Communication

Shopify has an impressive set of email templates baked in, which are sent out to your customers during certain trigger points in the shopping and purchasing process. To access them, click on “Settings” again and navigate to “Notifications.”

Here you can tailor which notifications you send to your customers—such as order confirmations, tracking information and notes about cancelled orders—and edit exactly what those emails say. You’ll need to feel comfortable working in a bit of code, as the email templates are displayed in HTML, but it’s pretty simple to figure out where the text is and make amendments as needed.

The Notifications page also allows you to set up alerts that can be sent to third-party fulfillment providers when orders come in and it gives you the ability to set up desktop notifications that alert you to new orders.

Discounts

Shopify also makes it extremely easy to offer discounts to your shoppers. Simply click “Discounts” in the left-hand menu bar, followed by “Create Discount,” and you’ll be walked through the steps necessary to knock some money off your customers’ purchases. You can set discounts up to kick in on either a percentage, fixed amount or free-shipping basis, and you can tell the system if the discount applies to a whole order, a collection, or a single product. You can also set a time window in which the discount will be active, or keep it open-ended.

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Summary

If you’re looking to set up shop fast on the web, you’re really not going to do much better than Shopify—especially if you’re not too familiar with the under-the-hood workings of the internet. The interface is super smooth and navigating around the site comes pretty intuitively. There is also great customer support in the form of the site’s super-responsive live chat, a feature that is disappearing faster and faster these days from online companies.

If there are any downsides, it’s that you may find the site a little constrictive if you really have a need for out-of-the-box design or functionality. Also, because you’ll need to purchase an app to add in enhanced features like email or discount popups, the monthly fees can climb pretty quickly. Still, the site—even in its un-enhanced-by-apps format—provides plenty for a beginning e-retailer to sink their mouse into.

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