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7 min read

Setting up an online shop

With high costs for retail premises and the current Covid-19 restrictions, it is definitely not the ideal time to be thinking about opening a shop on the high street. Indeed, choosing to create an online shop is likely to make things much easier for you in 2021 – whether you are only just establishing your business or need to make the transition to online retail.

Despite the manifold benefits of creating an online shop, the sheer quantity of possibilities when creating an online shop can be overwhelming.

This article will help you – whether you are a unique creative, making the products yourself, or you have aspirations to act as an online distributer – to create an online shop tailored to your needs and sell your products online. 

Decide on the platform

Whether selling online is going to be an add-on to your already flourishing small business or your first business endeavour, it can be difficult to decide whether you want to list your products on an already popular ecommerce website or create your own individual online store.

Choosing the right platform for your store is very important if you are going to make your online shop a success.

There are many reasons why using an existing ecommerce platform could work better for you than employing a web developer to build you your own unique store; not least of those reasons is that you avoid spending precious time and money on something which may cause you a lot of hassle in the long run.

When it comes to deciding on your ecommerce platform, you have two main options:

  • 1. Integrate an ecommerce platform package into your own website


    • existing customers know where to find your online shop
    • you can have everything customised to your brand
    • you have a greater level of control
    • your products will not appear side by side with your competitors’


    • it requires time, money upfront and some technical knowledge
    • you have to do all of your own marketing
    • you may be invisible to new clients
  • 2. Sell on an existing ecommerce website


    • very quick, cheap and easy to set up an online shop
    • you get automatic access to a pool of potential buyers
    • new clients feel confident that you are reputable


    • your products will not appear side by side with your competitors’
    • you have less control over the look and customisation of your online shop
    • if you have existing customers, you will need to ensure they know how to find you

Adding an ecommerce platform to your website

If you feel that selling your products on your own website would work better for you, then it is important that you choose an established and reputable ecommerce platform. Brands such as Shopify and BigCommerce are current market leaders and could provide you with the perfect small seller solutions.


Shopify has been around for almost 15 years and has over a million stores using its platform.

  • Seller experience

    Shopify is user friendly and intuitive, making it the ideal add-on to your website if you are selling straightforward goods or services that need a minimal amount of configuration. Shopify allows you to sell a single product, or multiple products, simply; no technical ability is required on your part. There are even iPhone and Android apps which will allow you to manage your shop from your mobile device, so you can keep on top of your sales no matter where you are.

  • Customisation

    The Shopify platform comes with a range of templates and themes, allowing you to customise the appearance of your online shop to suit your brand’s aesthetic reasonably well (though you will have to pay extra to access them all). Further customisation options include the ability of sellers to add extra features, functionalities and integrate it with other apps.

  • Security and reliability

    A further benefit of Shopify is the security it offers to you and your customers. It’s reputation as a secure and reliable platform will give your customers the confidence needed to buy from you and ensure that payments go through without a hitch every time. They offer free SSL certificates with all of their plans.

  • Marketing

    Shopify can also help you with your marketing. Even their basic package includes Search Engine Optimization (SEO) features and e-commerce analytics, allowing you to learn from your transactions in order to improve your businesses. They also give you the option to create discount codes and gift cards.

  • User experience

    Thanks to them being an established and globally hosted ecommerce platform, Shopify boasts excellent responsiveness and loading speed. All of the Shopify themes are optimised for mobile shoppers, reflecting the increased usage of mobile devices for online purchases. Because Shopify also offers buyers a Stripe payment option, buyers don’t have to worry about getting stuck with extra fees for transactions which will keep them happy.

  • Unique Selling Point

    The USP of Shopify is likely to be that it will help you to get up and running quickly and easily, allowing you to focus on marketing and other important things as soon as possible.

Big Commerce

BigCommerce, unsurprisingly, tends to attract bigger, even multinational corporations. Yet don’t dismiss it too soon. BigCommerce Essentials is a platform for small businesses which is still powerful, while remaining affordable.

  • Seller experience

    Listing your products with BigCommerce is extremely simple, and they also enable you to easily synchronise and update your products on other ecommerce marketplaces so that you have more selling options without any additional hassle.

  • Customisation

    Unfortunately, many of BigCommerce’s customisation options are designed with their larger businesses in mind and can, therefore be expensive. But if you do have a higher budget for building your online shop, then the themes are visually-pleasing and you can do some customization of the layout.

  • Security and reliability

    BigCommerce also offer free SSL certificates with all of their plans and are also trusted leaders in ecommerce. Priding itself on having ‘uncompromising security’, using multiple security layers like file integrity scanners, firewalls and intrusion detectors, it will also allow you to rest assured that everything is taken care of for you.

  • Marketing

    Every BigCommerce plan allows you to create discount codes for shoppers to use, includes customizable URLs, title tags, and captures metadata for SEO.

  • User experience

    With its many built-in sales features, such as ratings and reviews, real-time third-party shipping quotes and unlimited staff accounts, BigCommerce helps you to improve your user experience without lifting a finger. They have also integrated one-click Google Shopping which means your buyers do not have to waste time logging in to PayPal or entering card details.

  • Unique Selling Point

    An excellent choice for fast-growing small businesses or small businesses with many product variations as it can accommodate up to 600 variations per product.

Setting up an online shop on an existing ecommerce platform

If you decide that it would be better for your small business to list your products on an existing website, you still need to think carefully about which to choose.

Some of the most known and used platforms in the UK are Amazon, Etsy and Ebay. We will highlight what each of them can offer, so that we can help you find the best existing platform for your needs.

  • Selling on Amazon

    Amazon, now a household brand name in most parts of the world, has established itself as the unrivalled number one for speed and flexibility of delivery, even boasting same-day and remote location delivery. By undercutting all other platforms on delivery speed and, in many cases, prices, Amazon have built a gargantuan empire, offering their sellers a pool of potential customers in the figure of multi-millions.

    With their seller profile, you to manage your orders, organise shipping and initiate refunds (if necessary) easily. They have two seller plans to choose from, giving sellers flexibility to pay by fixed monthly subscription plus sale fees or a higher fee price per item sold.

    One downside to consider, however, is that Amazon has a bad rep when it comes to ethical business, tax contributions, workers’ rights and sustainability; so you will need to consider if your association with the platform could damage your brand in the long run. 

  • Selling on Etsy

    Etsy is known for being the selling platform for creatives and professional-hobbyists, making it a great option for businesses selling products which are handmade or unique. Indeed, if you do not fit into this category, you will not meet Etsy community guidelines and your shop is likely to be removed.

    Etsy has really come into its own over the last 10 years, now boasting more than 60.27 million buyers. Trendy, friendly and renowned for being a ‘one of a kind’ community of independent creators – Etsy looks set to expand even further over the next few years.

    More customisable than other online marketplaces, Etsy allows sellers to ramp up their branding. In addition, their streamlined Shop Manager system is very user friendly for new sellers.

    While it does offer access to global markets, Etsy is designed to target potential customers in your area rather than worldwide; thus, if you’re looking to go global straight away, this may not be the right platform for you.

    One final important thing about Etsy is the fees. While not expensive, there are at least three fees (for listing, transaction and payment), so do factor this in when you are coming up with your product prices. The up-side is that Etsy buyers seem happy to pay a bit more to know that they are supporting unique, independent sellers.

  • Selling on eBay

    Although eBay is the least formal and slick of the online ecommerce platforms, they still have a huge existing number of buyers (over 24 million in the UK alone).

    Some of the benefits of selling on eBay are their international selling tools, their seller protection plan, and their optimised mobile app that allows you to make listings and track sales on the go.

    eBay’s fees are twofold: first, there is a listing fee (but you can actually list 1,000 items per month for free anyway) and then there is also a sale fee. The sale fee is 10% of your earnings per sale.

    Despite historically being known more as a private marketplace than a marketplace for shops, eBay has a detailed seller site which allows professional sellers all the necessary benefits of managing orders, tracking sales and even building your brand. However, the seller site is a little bit complicated and can take some time to get used to.

Choosing post and packaging methods

For small businesses, shipping your goods can be difficult to manage. Delivery that is too slow could damage customer-relations, yet choosing faster shipping could compromise your earnings.

Regardless of whether you decide to create an online shop on your own website, or have it hosted by an existing virtual marketplace, deciding how to get your products to your customers after sale is the next big decision you will have to make.

Fortunately, there are now many options for small business when it comes to shipping; but since different postal and courier services offer different prices, speeds and security, you will need to carefully consider the needs of your business and of your customers before choosing a carrier.

Some of the most common shipping options in the UK at the moment are:

In order to help you select your parcel carrier, we advise using the shipping calculators on carrier company websites to help you estimate their costs. We also recommend researching the special programs and discounts that these services might offer to small business who intend to use them regularly – many people don’t realise, but most companies offer some sort of small business package.

You can also cut down on your costs by choosing the right packaging. Instead of opting for unnecessary plastic wrappings and fancy digitally printed packaging, use the most economical option such as flat rate cardboard boxes and paper envelopes. Even better, use recycled packaging materials, as this will help your funds go even further and will also make your business’ shipping practices a little more sustainable: an essential consideration in 2021.

Create an Online Shop FAQs

  • How to set up an online shop UK?

    You can set up an online shop with an existing ecommerce platform in just a few steps:

    1. Decide on the platform – work out if you want to use Amazon, Etsy and eBay.
    2. Personalise your shops and products.
    3. Customise your online store.
    4. Choose post and packaging methods – some of the most popular shipping options include Royal Mail, DPD, Hermes and Yodel.

  • How to set up ecommerce business?

    Decide on the products you want to sell, or can source by conducting market research. Register your business with the HMRC and Companies House and choose an ecommerce platform to sell your products. Once you have completed these steps, you can load your products onto the website and start marketing your company.

  • Do I need to register a company to sell online UK?

    In most cases, you can trade without a business license in the UK, however, you are legally required to register with the HMRC as you are effectively a sole trader. There are extra rules you need to follow in order to sell online in the UK. These include providing customers with certain information on your goods and the right to cancel their order up to 14 days after their order is delivered.

    You can start the process by visiting the GOV.UK web portal.

  • Is ecommerce profitable?

    Yes, having an ecommerce website can be a profitable way to make money for your business online. The high costs of renting retail premises, and the increasing demand from consumers for purchasing products online, means more businesses are making the transition to online selling. However, it can often take 18-24 months for your business to become profitable online.

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