Getting started in ecommerce: Your essential guide.

Craig Greenup 25/04/24, 07:50

Getting started in ecommerce: Your essential guide

When you start an ecommerce business, you open up your store to millions, if not billions, of potential customers.

Here in the UK, we have one of the world’s largest ecommerce markets. Ecommerce accounts for 30% of all UK retail sales. And in 2021, 82% of the UK population made at least one online purchase – that’s 55.2 million people!

So whether you want to start an ecommerce business from scratch – or you want to expand your brick-and-mortar store by selling online – you can count on a large and receptive market.

That’s a great start. But what else do you need to do to get your brilliant business idea off the ground?

If you’re just getting started in ecommerce, take a look at this essential guide. It gives you step-by-step instructions on how to hone your business idea, tick the boring (but very necessary) admin boxes and launch an exciting, new online store.

How to start an ecommerce business

1. Hone your ecommerce business idea

So you’ve got an amazing business idea. But before you plough ahead and open your ecommerce store, you need to do some serious thinking and some serious research.

Writing a business plan is a crucial first step when you’re getting started in ecommerce. It helps you get a clear idea of what you need to do next. And it helps you work out whether your business idea makes sense in practice.

A business plan should include:

Market research

Find out about your target market. How many people form your target market? Is this market likely to grow or shrink? What are the buying habits, needs and demographics of your target customers?

You might like to conduct surveys or interviews with your customer base. Online keyword research is also useful. It can help you work out how many people tend to search for your chosen product.

Competitor analysis

You need to identify the companies already selling similar products or going after a similar audience. Google can help you to track your competitors down.

Once you know who the competition is, take a look at their offering. What are their strengths and weaknesses? Think about:

  • their pricing
  • their delivery methods
  • the quality of their products
  • the strength of their brand/website/marketing
Info on your products

An ecommerce business plan should also feature information on your products.

What products will you sell and what are their unique selling points? Are there any disadvantages associated with your product? And, if so, what do you plan to do about them?

A marketing and sales strategy

Even if you just come up with a rough strategy at this stage, it’s worth thinking about how you plan to price and promote your products. Think about the marketing channels you’ll use, the price range you want your products to fall within and the key product features you plan to highlight.

An operations plan

Your ecommerce business plan should also look at operations. You need to consider how you will:

  • Source products
  • Store products
  • Ship products

You also need a plan for managing information on things like stock levels, orders and your company finances.

A financial plan

This is one of the make-or-break sections of your business plan. Because if your idea isn’t going to make you money, it’s not something worth pursuing.

When coming up with your financial plan, you need to think about startup costs. What initial investment will you need for logo design, a website, and stock?

Also take ongoing costs – like rent, utilities, insurance, employee salaries, ecommerce platform fees, packaging and shipping – into account

Then, based on your pricing strategy, work out how many items you need to sell to break even and turn a profit. You should also forecast sales and cash flow.

Your business goals

When you’re getting started in ecommerce, it’s important to think about the future. Where do you want your business to be after one year? Or after five? By setting short and long term goals you create a business roadmap, which helps you make better decisions along the way.

As well as setting goals, work out how you plan to measure your progress. What performance indicators tell you whether you’re meeting or falling short of your objectives?

Writing a business plan is a challenge. But it provides an important foundation for your business. Create at least a rough business plan during this stage of the ecommerce process and you’ll be off to an excellent start.

2. Choose a name

Time to give your amazing new business a name. The name you choose should be short and catchy. It should be memorable and simple to spell – so people find it easy to type your company name into their browser. And it should say something about your brand or products.

Start by brainstorming all of the names you can think of. Don’t be too critical. Get all of your ideas on paper without editing. If you’re struggling for ideas, look to the dictionary or the thesaurus. You can also enlist the help of online tools, like a business name generator.

Also, take inspiration from some of the very best company names. Try including a few examples of the following in your brainstorm list:

  • Company names that get specific about your products – like Toys R Us or Burger King
  • Succinct, modern names that evoke a feeling – think Nike, Uber or Lush
  • Company names that include your name – like Marks & Spencer or Ben & Jerry’s
  • Names that roll off the tongue – like Krispy Kreme, TikTok or even something like Spotify

Once you’ve done all the brainstorming you can, narrow down your ideas into a shortlist and use a domain name search to find out whether your chosen name and URL have already been taken.

Then, compare your shortlist to competitors. These are the names your customers will see in Google search results. Does your name stand out from the crowd or fade into the background?

It can help to get the opinions of friends, family and social media followers. That way you know your chosen company name resonates with people who don’t know your company and products as well as you do.

Company name sorted? Then it’s time for a logo! Here at Radical, we create beautiful, eye-catching logos that communicate exactly what your brand is all about. Take a look at our graphic design service to find out more.

3. Register your business

Once you have a name it’s time to make it official. When you want to start an ecommerce business in the UK, you first need to decide on your structure. You have three key options.

Setting up as a sole trader: This type of company is easy to set up but you’re personally responsible for any business debts.

Setting up a limited company: As an Ltd., you keep personal finances separate from business finances – but reporting and management responsibilities are more complex.

Setting up a partnership: A partnership is an option if you’re setting up a business with one or more other people. Like a sole trader company, you have personal liability for business debts.

Your responsibilities vary depending on which type of company you choose to set up. For example, a limited company has to register with Companies House and register for Corporation Tax. As a sole trader, you have to tell HMRC that you’re trading, keep financial records and submit a tax return each year.

You have to understand all of your responsibilities before picking a structure and getting started in ecommerce. At this point, it’s also worth finding out whether you need to register for VAT. You should also take a look at the government’s rules for online selling and data protection.

4. Source your products

You can’t start an ecommerce business without products. They’re the heart and soul of your company. Perhaps you plan to make products yourself. But if you intend to source products from a manufacturer, there are a couple of different options.

Ordering wholesale

You buy products in bulk from a manufacturer or wholesaler. Buying in large quantities at discounted prices gives you good value for money, as long as you have space to store stock and can manage shipping too.


Dropshipping is where products are manufactured or sourced by the dropshipper when an order is placed. Inventory and shipping are taken care of. But you get much less control over the process.


This is when you order items in bulk from a manufacturer – but either they or you apply your company branding before products are sold to consumers.

Retail arbitrage

Retail arbitrage means buying discounted or clearance items from retail stores and then reselling these products to your own customers.

Consignment inventory

In a consignment model, retailers receive stock from a supplier or manufacturer – but they don’t have to pay for it up front. They only pay the supplier when they sell an item and can return unsold stock to the supplier when necessary.

5. Build your ecommerce store

So you have your plan and your products – and you’ve registered your company with all relevant bodies. Now it’s time to build your ecommerce store.

Your ecommerce store carries a lot of weight on its shoulders. It needs to fulfil the practical function of listing and selling products. But it also needs to showcase who you are as a brand and – to prompt customer loyalty – give consumers an experience that has them coming back for more.

When you’re getting started in ecommerce, there are three key ways you can sell your products online.

Sell via an online marketplace

You can start selling straight away via a marketplace like Amazon or Etsy. But this approach has its drawbacks.

The platform charges seller fees that can really eat into your profits. You’re also very limited in terms of SEO, marketing and branding – so it’s really hard to make your ecommerce company stand out from the millions of others competing for customer attention on the platform.

Set up a DIY ecommerce website

Another way to set up an online store is via a no-code website builder – think Shopify or Woo Express. You can use templates to create a site, even if you’re not particularly tech-savvy.

These websites charge ongoing fees. You don’t get total control over the look and functionality of your site. And you may still need the support of a web designer or web developer to get an ecommerce website that looks slick, professional and unique.

Nevertheless, if speed is your priority, a DIY ecommerce website is fast to set up. And it gives you more personalisation opportunities than you get with a big online marketplace.

Get a bespoke ecommerce website

A bespoke ecommerce website involves more upfront cost than the two other options listed above. But over the long term, it will help you to build the profile and customer relationships that can really skyrocket your profits.

When you go bespoke, you get to create exactly the ecommerce website you’ve dreamed of. You can showcase your branding, incorporate marketing functions, ace your SEO and deliver a next-level user experience (UX). You can also count on perfect mobile responsiveness.

If you’re serious about your ecommerce business and want to get it off to the best possible start, a bespoke ecommerce website is the way to go.

Whichever way you choose to sell your products, you’ll need lots of lovely content for your site. Professional product images and beautifully written, SEO-optimized product descriptions will help your products get seen when people search.

6. And launch!

Congratulations! Your new business is now online and ready to trade! Enjoy the feeling as those first orders come in. But don’t rest on your laurels.

Getting started in ecommerce is just the beginning. Now you can work to increase sales with savvy marketing. Look to social media, local PR, influencer marketing, content creation and paid ads to get the ball rolling. A marketing calendar can help you get organised.

Also, dive into your ecommerce website analytics. Here you’ll see where your customers are coming from and get a sense of why some of them don’t make it to checkout. Use this data to improve your ecommerce conversion rate and turn more website visitors into happy customers.

Want more tips for starting a competitor-beating ecommerce business? Then check out our blog post: The secret recipe for a successful ecommerce startup.

Get your business off to the best start with ecommerce web design

Here at Radical Web Design, ecommerce web design is a speciality. We’ve helped many online entrepreneurs turn a great business idea into a thriving ecommerce store.

So whether you’re taking a high street store online, want to start an ecommerce business from scratch or need to refresh an existing ecommerce site, we can help you achieve your goals.

Get in touch to chat about your ecommerce business. We can’t wait to hear all about it!