How to Start an Online Shopping Website

Although creating and setting up an online shopping website has gotten considerably easier over the last few years it is still a very confusing area.

The first thing you will notice when you do some research is the large number of options that are available.

In order to choose the best solution for your needs you should acquaint yourself with the basic concepts, and components that make up an online shop/store, and the various implementation methods.

In this tutorial we look at:

  • Mixing online and Offline options
  • Small Business Examples
  • Shopping carts- self hosted and externally hosted
  • Accepting Payments and Payment Providers

Should You Use Simple Offline Solutions

The term ecommerce has become widely used, and it has different meanings to different people,.

Many people  think that they need an ecommerce site when in fact they don’t.

Although it may be tempting to try, and do everything online your business may be better suited for collecting payments and/or orders offline.

Take, for example, a bed and breakfast or small hotel site.

It is perfectly feasible, and maybe better to use the site to attract customers, but handle the booking and payments by traditional methods.

You can use the telephone and email for reservations and payment on checkout, rather than trying to emulate large hotel chains that handle the reservation and payment using an online booking system.

General Guidelines For Online Shopping Sites

If you are only selling a small number of products/services then using a traditional website, and adding the ecommerce/shop functionality by using PayPal (or equivalent), or handling the ordering/payment offline is probably the better choice.

If you are selling a large number of products (>20) then usually an online shopping site, with a shopping cart system is the better option.

Business Ecommerce Examples- For Illustration only

Business: Computer consultant selling general computer services.

Solution: Standard website and take orders using telephone/contact form and email. Billing using invoice and payment by cheque and or PayPal.

Business: Hardware shop selling 100s of products.

Solution: Shopping cart for product listing, payments using PayPal or other payment provider of choice.

Note: You may have noticed PayPal is mentioned frequently as it is really the best payment option for small businesses when the online transactions are under about $2000/month.

Getting Started with Your Shop

How you go about building your store or shop will depend on several factors:

  • Is is primarily a shop?
  • Is it primarily a website/blog with a shop attached?
  • How technical you are.

An online shop can be divided  into two main areas

  • Product Management and
  • Product Payment.

Which, in turn, are implemented by two distinct, and separate online systems:

  • a shopping cart system and
  • a payment processing system.

Therefore creating an online store involves choosing a:

  1. Shopping Cart/store System
  2. Payment Processing System.

Obviously the two systems must be able to work together, but you will find that most of the major shopping cart systems support the major payment systems.

Shopping Carts

There are three shop or store types, and hosting options that you will encounter, and you will need to decide which type best suits your needs. They are:

  • Externally Hosted Website and Shop
  • Own Website Plus Externally hosted Shopping cart.
  • Own Website Plus Self Hosted Commercial Grade shopping Cart.

Which solution is best for you will depend on

  • Your current situation i.e. Do you currently have a website
  • What and How many products you wish to sell
  • Your technical ability
  • Your Current website Host capabilities

Externally Hosted Website and Shopping Cart

This type of solution is provided by many website hosting providers as an alternative to simple web hosting, as well as by specialist shopping cart hosting companies.

This solution is probably the simplest for new website owners to implement, and is meant for businesses that just want to sell products, as in this scenario the website is the store/shop.

Advantages and Disadvantages


  • All in one solution
  • No additional software required
  • Easy to use for non technical website owners
  • No need to worry about technical details
  • Website and shop are in a single package.
  • Much quicker to setup than other solutions


  • Most expensive solution. (typical costs around £20-50 per month)
  • Not as Flexible as own hosted store or third party hosted.
  • Moving can be difficult.
  • May not be Search engine friendly

This is probably the best choice for most new store owners. Take a look at online stores like shopify. (affiliate link)

Own Website Plus Externally hosted Shopping Cart

This option offers much more flexibility than the fully externally hosted option, but requires slightly more technical ability to setup and configure.

In this case the website is setup and then the shopping cart is integrated into the website.

The website is hosted on a server of your choice, and the shopping cart provider is sourced from a third party provider of your choice.

This usually involves creating the product database on the third party server, and then copying HTML/JavaScript code on your website.

This is the way PayPal Buy Now Buttons and PayPal shopping carts work.

This tends to be used when you have an existing website, and want to sell one or two items from it.

For example a consultant selling a book or course.

 Own Website Plus Self Hosted Shopping Cart

This option offers much more flexibility than the externally hosted option, but  requires a lot more technical ability to setup and configure if using a fully featured solution.

In this case you will be responsible for installing and setting up the store and integrating it into your site (if existing).

The website and store software sits on your server (usually a shared host -standard small business website) but for larger stores you would need to consider a virtual or dedicated server.

If you only want a small/medium sized stop, then you can use WordPress with a shopping cart plugin like woo-commerce, wp-ecommerce or eshop and/or a shopping cart theme.

This is a good platform for technically minded store owners that like to have complete control of their store.

It is still much more difficult than using an externally hosted solution.

This is my recommend option for technical website owners only.!

For very large shops then fully featured Open source solutions are available and supported by most hosting companies.

Some hosts like Blue Host provide simple script installs for the popular carts like

You need to be very technically competent to use this option

Accepting Online Payments

Selling online usually involves accepting online payment via credit and debit cards or alternative systems (e.g. PayPal), which in turn requires a payment processing system.

There are two main choices that need to be made and they are:

I recommend that you start with PayPal and then as your business grows then you might consider getting your own merchant account to reduce your transaction charges.

The threshold at which you need to consider a merchant account is, I believe, around $1,000 to $2000/month  but it is dependent on merchant account providers, and how much they charge per transaction.

Ebay and Amazon

Before you build your own shopping site you might want to consider using Amazon and/or ebay.

Both offer third parties a chance to sell through their platforms. Using Ebay auctions or Amazon marketplace is probably the best place to start if you have a new product idea and want to test it out.

They both offer two important advantages over a traditional store:

  • They have access to an established market ( it’s like getting a shop in a busy shopping centre.)
  • They are established brands with a good reputation.
  • You aren’t reliant on promoting your own store via SEO and ads

The main disadvantages are:

  • They can be more expensive compared to having your own store, but usually only if you sell a lot.
  • You are tied to them and it is difficult to establish your own brand.

Here is a link for Amazon market place  and here is a link to Amazon pricing (UK).

Here is link to get you started with ebay.

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