Ending Soon! Save 33% on All Access

How to Build, Grow and Make Money With Ecommerce To grow your online business, you need to develop a strategy and invest your time wisely. These actionable tips can attract customers and increase online revenue.

By Entrepreneur Staff Edited by Dan Bova

Key Takeaways

  • The success of your ecommerce business hinges on your pre-launch work.
  • Customer service can make or break your ecommerce shop.
  • An accessible ecommerce site helps you reach more consumers and improves the user’s experience.

By the end of 2024, ecommerce is expected to be a $6 trillion market. In addition to the money-making potential, many entrepreneurs are attracted to online businesses because of the freedom they offer.

Instead of working long hours at a brick-and-mortar store, you can run an online store from almost anywhere. Much of the work can be automated, meaning business owners can enjoy flexibility and independence.

Selling goods online may sound easy. But like everything in business, running a successful ecommerce company takes work. According to some estimates, 80 to 90% of ecommerce sites fail within 120 days. Staying afloat means knowing what consumers want, getting them to your site and being able to deliver — literally.

So, in a market with more than 26 million ecommerce sites, how do you differentiate yours and drive a profit? Below are the tips and tricks to get your site up and running, establish your marketing, dominate SEO and grow your revenue.

How to build an ecommerce site

The prospect of starting an ecommerce company can be overwhelming. You have to craft content, individually load each product on your site and negotiate with manufacturers. Most importantly, you have to turn potential buyers into loyal customers.

However, before all of that happens, you need a good foundation. If you're just starting out, here are the steps you need to follow to set your business up for success and long-term growth.

Purchase a domain name

It's simple: You need a domain name that will identify your brand. Don't overthink the process, but choose a name that's easy to spell and easy to remember. A site like GoDaddy allows you to purchase a domain name for $10 to $20.

Find a web developer

If you want to launch your site in a relatively short time span and have it look professional, make sure to vet your developer. Get references from other ecommerce sites the developer has built, and get a timeline for how long they anticipate it will take to launch the site.

Get your paperwork in order

Register your business, get a vendor's license and start researching legal business issues, ideally with the help of a local attorney. If you'll be making taxable sales, you'll also need a seller's permit or vendor's license with the appropriate state agency. Many vendors require you to have this before they agree to work with you.

Select your hosting platform

To save time and money, select a popular ecommerce platform, such as Shopify, WooCommerce or BigCommerce. Most developers are familiar with these, making it easy to integrate things like plugins and payment processing.

Get a payment gateway

You're probably familiar with platforms like PayPal or Stripe. But if you want to accept credit cards, recurring billing and mobile payment, use a gateway like authorize.net or 2Checkout.com. You'll need to set up a secure checkout process on your website, create a privacy policy and return policy, figure out your shipping and delivery methods and have a working customer service phone number and email address. This process can take a while, so start early.

Take your website live

As soon as you commit to starting your business, take your site live, even before listing any of your products. Have your developer create a homepage, an "About Us" page and a contact page. This allows you to establish legitimacy when negotiating deals with vendors and getting news coverage.

Sign up for Connectively

Connectively provides journalists with a database of sources and daily opportunities for businesses to secure valuable media coverage. Respond to reporter queries relevant to your site because consistent outreach to journalists can result in valuable media coverage.

Sign up for Pitchbox

Pitchbox automates the grunt work of media outreach so you can focus on what you do best — running your company. After Pitchbox sends an initial pitch to reporters, the software will send automatic follow-up emails to those who didn't respond. You can craft your own emails so the message still sounds personal.

Make your outreach personal

Personalized relationships are important for both vendors and the media. Do research on the reporters and editors you want to pitch so your story idea doesn't get buried in their inbox or deleted. With vendors, meet your reps for coffee. These are the people who dictate sales and know most about the products you're selling. Let them know you're on the same team.

Set up Google Shopping and Facebook product catalog

When you're in the final stages of development, set up your Google Shopping campaign to ensure your product images populate when users search for relevant keywords. There are also plugins for ecommerce platforms like Shopify and WooCommerce that will create an automated feed on Google's Merchant Center. You can use this same data feed and upload it to Facebook's product catalog.

Order packaging and establish shipping and storage protocols

Before you can launch your website, you'll need to figure out how to store and ship your inventory. Will you be utilizing drop-shipping, or will you store all of your inventory in a warehouse? Will you use USPS? UPS? FedEx? What will you ship your package in? What size packaging do you need? You need answers to all of these questions before you're ready to ship out any merchandise.

Implement retargeting

The ecommerce conversion rate in the U.S. hovers between just 2.5% and 3%, according to Shopify. Retargeting — in which you place a pixel on the backend of your website to track visitors — helps boost those rates. For example, Google Shopping might direct someone to your site, but that person is comparing prices among three competitors. Your retargeting advertisements remind them to come back and buy from you.

Setting goals for your ecommerce site

Although the market for online goods and services is growing rapidly, so is the competition. That's why it's important to have marketing goals that can attract potential customers and convert them into regular buyers.

Don't wait to focus on marketing until your ecommerce business is up and running. You should be thinking about your company's goals from the start. Write them down, identify the steps to meet those goals and then take action.

If you're not sure about your marketing goals, here are some ideas to get you started.

Product page and search engine optimization

As more companies enter the ecommerce space, it's more urgent for brands to invest in SEO, or search engine optimization. Increase your domain authority by building credible links, which make it easier for search engines to find your store and display it in search results. Be patient: This is a time-consuming process, and it can take over a year to reap the benefits. But once you do, potential buyers will find your site thanks to your heightened brand awareness.

Social media

Social sites like Instagram and TikTok can produce some of your most promising leads, and businesses with multiple social channels can build a large audience of potential customers. Instagram, for example, allows sellers to tag products in their posts and drive consumers directly to their sites. Be sure to pick a platform that's used by your target demographic.

Sign-up forms

It's normal to have store visitors who eye certain products but aren't ready to make a purchase. They might need a little more convincing, and this is where email sign-up forms can make a difference. With a sign-up form, you can collect contact information and then send people messages and deals. Your emails should aim to nurture leads, counter any buying objections and eventually lead to a purchase.

Upselling and cross-selling

Upselling is when you offer a better and more expensive product than what the customer is looking at. Meanwhile, cross-selling is when you suggest an additional product that can improve the customer's experience with the product they have in their cart. These are powerful tools to increase the value of a customer's purchase, so brainstorm ways for your company to use them.

Abandoned carts

About 70% of online shoppers abandon their items after adding them to their carts. The reasons for this range from slow shipping times to a complicated checkout page. To avoid this problem, assess what could be stopping shoppers from completing their transactions and find a way to make checkout frictionless. Save billing and shipping information, use as few forms as possible and automatically set shipping to the cheapest option. The less friction at checkout, the more orders your site will be handling.

Customer loyalty

It's far less expensive to sell to a past customer than to acquire a new one. This is why brands invest in customer retention, and one way to do this is through a customer loyalty program. With discounts, freebies and exclusive items, you can give customers compelling reasons to purchase and repurchase from your store.

The importance of accessibility for ecommerce success

When you make your site more accessible, you're opening up the number of potential customers, as well as opportunities to build your brand identity. Don't let this be an afterthought. When you plan for accessibility at the beginning of a project, you're laying the groundwork for a positive user experience. Designers can build accessibility into their web pages when creating resources that will be shared across their design and development teams.

Some of the most common issues around accessibility are easy fixes, and following SEO best practices can point you in the right direction — in part because search engines and assistive technology, such as screen readers, are designed to be readable by machines. Both use the keyboard to navigate and parse content through semantics. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are internationally recommended practices for making your site accessible for users with disabilities. Of the errors test users identified, 96.4% fell into just six categories:

Low-contrast text

The on-screen text should be easy to read without straining the eyes. Ensure proper contrast between text and background.

Missing alt-text for images

In addition to image alt-text, it's best to add transcripts and captions to videos. This way, users who are hard of hearing or simply scrolling by can understand the content.

Empty links

Continually test the links on your site, as their quality may deteriorate over time.

Missing form input labels

This is an HTML element that helps organize and display the forms that exist on your website. For users with screen readers, missing or mismatched labels will make a page less navigable and may leave them unable to submit their email or checkout, for example.

Empty buttons

A button exists on your page to trigger an action — submitting a purchase, downloading a file, resetting a form. Empty buttons will confuse screen readers and leave users unsure of what to click on.

Missing document language

Document language is an HTML element coded into your site that determines the language used on that page. Without it, screen readers may not be able to orient themselves, leaving users unable to access your site or its content.

How to provide excellent customer service for ecommerce customers

Customer service can be one of the biggest growing pains when it comes to expanding your ecommerce business. When you have more customers to please that means more issues to address. How you treat shoppers can be a deal-breaker — or a deal-maker. Your products may be stellar and your prices competitive, but it's your customer service that leaves a lasting impression on buyers.

Think about your last experience with a brand's customer service. Did you leave that experience with a different view of the company? Did it alter your buying decisions next time around? At best, great customer service can build brand loyalty and turn a customer into an advocate. At worst, it can be the downfall of your business — upsetting would-be shoppers and tanking your reputation.

In a sector like ecommerce, with no face-to-face interactions, customer service is just as vital as in a brick-and-mortar store. You need to make a positive, lasting impression without ever seeing your customers. Here are some tips to ensure shoppers leave your online store satisfied and eager to return.

Meet customers where they are

At any given time, your company might hear from customers over Instagram, X, email, chat functions, phone calls or via physical mail. Equip your customer service structure to handle all of it. At the very least, customers should be able to reach you via social media, chat, email and phone. And don't underestimate the power of a short phone call with a knowledgeable rep — it can make or break a customer's experience.

Speed up response time

The longer you wait to address a shopper's issue, the less likely they are to return as a customer. One Statista survey found that a slow response time was the second most common cause of customer service frustration. Customers should ideally receive a response within 12 hours, but always within 24 hours. Even if you can't solve their issue in that time frame, respond and let them know they're a priority.

Encourage and feature customer reviews

Who are you more likely to trust: a company's paid spokesperson or actual customers interacting with a brand? Probably the latter, and for good reason. Customer reviews are generally unbiased, unfiltered insights that drive buying decisions. In fact, a consumer survey from Power Reviews found that 93% of shoppers rely on customer reviews when making purchases. Encourage customers to rate and discuss your products, and incentivize reviews by giving out sales discounts for users who do.

Build a loyalty program

Invest in the customers who already love you by building a program to reward repeat buyers because these are the shoppers most likely to keep spending money. A 2023 report from the customer engagement platform Emarsys found that 50% of respondents said having an account or loyalty card with a brand "significantly influences" their spending habits. Encourage even more loyalty by thanking these customers with coupons, special discounts, early access to products and exclusive perks.

Track your progress

Your customer service should be an evolving system — always improving and finding ways to optimize. Invest in software that tracks every aspect of customer service, from email response times to support tickets to resolution times. Look for bottlenecks in the system and adapt.

How to improve your ecommerce customer return policy

Customer service is about more than providing friendly support and rewards for loyal shoppers. You also need easy-to-understand return policies. These are key to developing customer loyalty, but many retailers continue to make the process far too onerous. Too often, they bury their return policy deep in their website and load it with technical jargon. Many policies also fail to give shoppers a reasonable amount of time to make a return.

A clear and generous return policy assures shoppers they can test products and not end up stuck with something they don't want, says Harley Finkelstein, the president of Shopify, an online retail platform that provides point-of-sales for more than two million businesses. A return policy, Finkelstein says, "is as important as the price or the product. I don't think people realize that."

Here are ways to make your return policy more consumer-friendly and build customer loyalty.

Make return policies easy to find

Retailers worry that by making return policies too prominent on their websites, they're encouraging customers to send products back. But hiding return policies can frustrate customers — and create more work for a company's employees. Consider launching an online "Return Center," where customers can initiate their return, print their own mailing labels and track their status, rather than having to call and speak to an employee. If you can't afford such a system, Finkelstein says, simply add a link to your return policy at the top and bottom of every page on your website.

Give customers more time for returns

Extending the return period makes customers feel more comfortable about making their purchases in the first place. For instance, the online shoe retailer Zappos was one of the first ecommerce companies to offer a 365-day return period. This strategy can drive larger purchases, as shoppers know they have plenty of time to return products if necessary.

Use plain English

Although your return policy should lay out the terms of exchange, you don't want it to be laden with legalese. "When I click on your return policy, I don't want to see a three-page document," Finkelstein says. Instead, give customers a concise step-by-step summary of how to handle a return — including information on the time frame for returns, how payment processing is handled and who is responsible for shipping costs.

Ask customers for feedback

Consider sending customers a thank-you note and a discount on a future purchase about a week after processing their return. Take that opportunity to ask them for comments about their experience. Would they come back again? Would they recommend your business to others? How do they feel about your return policy? Make clear that you hear their concerns, and respond with action. If numerous customers voice the same complaint, consider altering your policy and making an announcement about the change.

Be patient and consistent

Your ecommerce business will take time to grow, so be patient. Amazon didn't become Amazon overnight, and your company will face its share of challenges as it expands and reaches more customers. In a market where most businesses fail within months, following these tips and strategies can help you stand out from the pack — and start building the foundation of a successful ecommerce company.

Expert tips for growing your ecommerce business

It's one thing to run a small, bustling online shop. It's another thing to grow your business at scale. Thankfully, there are dozens of ways to expand your store while maintaining quality and integrity. Although some businesses focus on high-ticket items, others focus on dominating hyper-specific product categories or interests. Neither strategy is right or wrong. It depends on your business. But there are some universal tips that can benefit any company, big or small. Below, you'll find 10 of them to help revolutionize your ecommerce strategy.

1. Think like a customer

Your product should always be in line with what customers actually want. So, keep your focus on the customer's interests by building your inventory around what is selling to avoid a backlog of unfulfilled orders.

2. Intertwine email and social

By cross-targeting through social media platforms and email, you'll likely see higher conversion rates. To do this, you can use software like Connectio, which lets you automate and optimize strategies like Facebook advertising.

3. Learn by doing

Many first-time entrepreneurs think too much before they actually start, but failure creates the opportunity to learn, and every failure is a step forward. If you follow the "act, fail, learn" cycle, you'll make important strides while avoiding analysis paralysis.

4. Convert customers with email

Generating leads is crucial for ecommerce, and email is an important aspect of that strategy. To improve and monetize your email lists, consider tools like Keap, a customer-relation-management (CRM) tool that helps businesses convert sales.

5. Maximize a funnel approach

In sales, the funnel approach means narrowing your target audience and going after it strategically, knowing only a small percentage will ever buy from you. Some will make it to your website, some will fill their shopping cart, but only a few will actually click "purchase." Map out your funnel and track how customers move through your site.

6. Find a backend system that grows with you

Entrepreneurs need to create a backend system that can grow along with the company. It's essentially your point-of-sale (POS) that can track analytics and operations. Switching backend systems is a complicated process once you have established infrastructure, so making the smart choice early will save you valuable time as you grow.

7. Map out the customer journey

It's important to understand how a customer moves from seeing your product to buying it. This means tracking that journey and going through it yourself. Knowing the touch points of your brand is essential to success.

8. Sell in a unique way

Creativity is rewarded in sales, so break the normal marketing mold, find a distinct audience for your product and sell in an outside-the-box way. By targeting niche groups, your ad costs on a site like Facebook can drop significantly.

9. Stay up to date

Entrepreneurs should check in on projects and ad campaigns continuously. You can't just set an advertisement and not optimize it, so check your ads throughout the day and optimize ones that aren't performing.

10. Use video ads on social media

Utilizing video ads on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and other social platforms should be part of your ecommerce plan, as the return on investment can be huge. Moreover, you can learn what demographics interact with your videos and target your future efforts to those potential customers.

Get your site up and running

Running a successful ecommerce site takes strategy, dedication and a bit of creativity. Much like any other business, you need a plan for marketing, operations, growth and sales, as well as dedicated customer service to keep shoppers coming back. Ultimately, you can grow your ecommerce business to whatever size you see fit.

Entrepreneur Staff

Entrepreneur Staff

Editor

For more than 30 years, Entrepreneur has set the course for success for millions of entrepreneurs and small business owners. We'll teach you the secrets of the winners and give you exactly what you need to lay the groundwork for success.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Business News

Sam's Club Is Removing a Beloved Free Perk and Members Are Not Happy: 'No Benefits for the Cost'

Disgruntled Sam's Club members are complaining on social media about the new change, effective August 19.

Side Hustle

This 27-Year-Old Started a Side Hustle on Facebook Marketplace — Now the Gig Earns Over $500,000 a Month

Valentina Zapata wanted "something positive to do on the side" — and it turned into a major money-maker.

Business News

How Much Does It Cost to Develop AI? The CEO of an $18 Billion AI Startup Reveals the Current Price.

There's a sky-high bar to creating AI, and an expert says it will get even more expensive.

Franchise

These Creative Marketing Hacks Can Help Deliver Big Returns For Your Bootstrapped Startup

When resources are tight, creativity becomes your most valuable asset in marketing. In this challenge lies an opportunity to innovate, stand out and boost marketing ROI.

Business Solutions

Get AI Photo Editing Support with This $150 Deal

Act fast during this limited-time price drop.

Franchise

Is Franchising a Good Side Hustle? It Depends on These 3 Factors

As a franchise consultant, I am often asked whether franchising can be done on the side while continuing to work in a full-time corporate position. The answer? Ultimately, it depends on your circumstances. Here's what I mean.