While others are using the coronavirus lockdown to catch up on Netflix, finish off DIY and sort out “that” cupboard, this could be your opportunity to realise that dream of running your own eCommerce business and starting to sell online. 

At Expandly, we’ve seen an increase in enquiries for how to set up an eCommerce business from scratch. All from people wanting to use the next three weeks to plan, build and execute an online store. 

To help, we’ve created this guide to selling online for the very first time. Let’s jump straight in. 

Why eCommerce, why now?

eCommerce is a booming industry, experiencing nearly 15% growth year-on-year. Selling online is popular because it’s an industry with an extremely low barrier to entry. 

You can start selling online with minimal start-up costs, experience or even storage space. It’s a business that can be built around your current lifestyle and resources and scaled to achieve your dream lifestyle and resources. 

Even better, you can start selling online from the comfort of your sofa and even in the middle of a lockdown. Let’s take a look at how.

How to start an eCommerce business from scratch

There are 10 fundamental steps for turning your eCommerce dream into a profit-making reality. 

1. Research the basics

You must understand the basics of eCommerce before jumping into the industry. Invest some time into researching the basics of selling online by:

  • Reading eCommerce blogs to find out about the latest news and trends. 
  • Browsing online marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay to see how other sellers approach online selling. 
  • Using eCommerce guides to understand what goes into running an eCommerce business. 

2. Brainstorm product ideas

There are millions of different products to choose from when selling online. What you want is a product that interests you and has the potential to generate repeat profits. 

Brainstorm as many product ideas as possible, using the following resources:


You probably already have some great product ideas buried away in your head. Think about your hobbies, products you enjoy using, trends you’ve noticed or ideas that get you excited. 

Online marketplaces

Next, go on a virtual shopping spree by browsing online marketplaces and stores to see what’s popular, what’s on offer and what products stores are driving their audiences towards. Excellent resources include Amazon Best Sellers, eBay Daily Deals, Trending on Wish and Etsy Trending now

Social media

Another top resource for product inspiration is social media. Browse Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest to find out what products people are talking or complaining about and add them to your list. 

Friends and family

Use your daily video and Whatsapp chats to seek inspiration from family and friends on the products they love and the products they need to solve common problems. 

3. Validate your product ideas

Next, it’s time to consolidate your list into ideas that will generate profits now and in the future. To do this, ask and research the following five questions. 

Is it a niche?

Online selling can be impossibly competitive if you pick the wrong product. Common, everyday items already sold by well-established sellers should be avoided. What you’re looking for is a niche product that serves a specific customer base and is yet to be monopolised by sellers. 

Is there demand?

To make sales, you need consumer demand. Use tools such as Google Trends, social media and online forums to identify a current and growing market for your product.

If you have time, you can also run surveys, pre-orders and sample orders to test demand in practice. 

Can you beat the competition?

A small amount of competition isn’t a bad thing, but it’s crucial that you can beat it. Use Google Keyword Planner to determine the cost per click for relevant keywords and assess whether you can compete financially. Then analyse your competitors’ marketplace listings and eCommerce websites to identify your USP – i.e. what’s going to make you bigger and better for your customers.

Can you source the product?

To sell a product, you must be able to source the product. Research different sourcing options such as wholesale, manufacturing and dropshipping, including the cost, time and minimum order quantities of sourcing. 

Is there a profit to be had? 

Finally, use all of your product validation research to calculate the potential profit now and in the future. This includes accounting for costs such as sourcing, selling, marketing, packing and shipping. 

Once you’ve identified the products you want to get started with, place your orders now. Given the current situation, you may experience longer lead times than normal.

4. Create your business plan

Your eCommerce business needs a business plan – it keeps you on track, focused and accountable.

The following headings should help to get your business plan started.  

Executive summary

What are the key points of your business plan?

Company overview

What does your business do, how is it structured, and what are your objectives, visions and values?

Market analysis

What does a SWOT analysis of the industry, target customers and competitors reveal?

Product information

What products or services do you sell and where do you source them from?

Marketing plan

Who are your target customers, what’s your pricing strategy, which marketing channels do you use, and what’s your USP?

Operations plan

How does your business operate, and how do you source, store, sell and ship products?

Financial plan

How is your business funded, and how do you make a profit?

5. Set up your business

Now onto making your eCommerce business idea a reality. You’ll need to register your business, submit relevant returns and pay the right amount and types of tax.

We won’t go into the details because the government has kindly created the relevant guidance and advice here.

6. Pick your sales channel(s)

There are two main sales channel(s) you should use to begin selling online. These are:

Online marketplaces – websites where multiple products are listed by multiple sellers for purchase by online shoppers. Amazon, eBay, Etsy, Wish and Wish are all online marketplaces. 

eCommerce platform – your own website from which you can connect with and sell to customers. Shopify, WooCommerce and Magento are all eCommerce platforms. 

Why sell on both? As a new online seller, you need to reach as many new customers as you possibly can, and this is difficult to achieve with a website that no one knows about. 

Online marketplaces powers you to reach shoppers who automatically start their search on Amazon or eBay, for example, and introduce them to a business they’ve never heard of. Your eCommerce platform powers you to create a personalised shopping experience for customers who come back for more or discover your website through Google or social media. 

It’s all about maximising your reach by being in all the places your target customers research and shop online. 

7. Create your stores

Setting up your online marketplace stores and even own eCommerce website is relatively simple. 

Opening an online marketplace store

Head to Amazon, eBay, Etsy or Wish and follow the onscreen instructions for setting up your store. Alternatively, you can sign up via the Add sales channel screen in Expandly. 

Building an eCommerce website

Head to Shopify, Magento, BigCommerce or your eCommerce platform of choice and follow the onscreen instructions for creating an account, building your store and customising your theme. Alternatively, you can sign up via the Add sales channel screen in Expandly. 

8. Create your listings

Next, you need to create listings on each of your sales channel(s). A listing is essentially a sales page for a product, including all relevant information that will encourage a customer to buy that product from you. 

You can create listings by logging into your sales channel(s) and uploading the relevant information about your products. Alternatively, you can list your products to multiple sales channel(s) at once, by creating a listing in Expandly and pushing it to your marketplaces and eCommerce platform. 

Essential elements of a winning product listing include:

  • A short and descriptive title containing relevant keywords
  • High-quality images of the product at multiple angles
  • A video of the product in use
  • Bullet points of the product’s key features, including keywords
  • A more detailed description of the product and its uses
  • Any supplementary information about returns, shipping and customer reviews. 

9. Prepare your operations

Selling online is much more than advertising your products and making sales. You need to process orders, update stock, ship items, reconcile invoices and report on your progress. This is where many new online sellers stumble and leave the dream for another day. 

However, creating a robust eCommerce back-office doesn’t need to be hard or scary. Expandly, for example, is a multi-channel management tool that enables you to manage your back-office operations from one platform. That includes:

Regardless of the tool you use to manage your eCommerce operations, it’s essential that you can streamline the process to maximise efficiency, minimise shipping times and exceed customer expectations – especially during the current climate. 

10. Launch

Once you have everything in place, it’s time to launch your eCommerce marketplace stores and website. This involves pushing listings to live, advertising your new store and processing sales orders. 

What next?

This is a quick overview of the steps required to build an eCommerce business and start selling online over the next few weeks.

Going forward, you’ll need to market your store on social media and through advertising channels, streamline your eCommerce operations and learn how to maximise your profits across multiple sales channel(s).

Take a look at our blog for more help and tips.

About Expandly

Expandly multi-channel eCommerce software helps you to set up and manage multiple sales channel(s) from one platform.

Listings, order management, shipping labels, inventory, accounting and reporting – Expandly integrates all of your tools so you spend less time working and more time growing.

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