Want to be an online retailer? 9 steps to start

10 min read
Quentin Aisbett

As it turns out, there’s nothing like a pandemic to create seismic growth for eCommerce businesses. Online retailers have reported a spike in sales, as more and more people turn to online shopping.

MarketingMag reported that “More than 200,000 Australians shopped online for the first time in April 2020.”

Furthermore, the Australia Post “projects that eCommerce’s total share of retail will reach 15% by end of 2021, close to the 16% total the market was previously expected to reach by 2025.”

The numbers paint a bright picture for the future of online retailers in Australia.

But what if you haven’t started yet? Is it too late to be getting online? Absolutely not. There’s no need to wait for the right time. The right time is now.

9 steps to becoming an online retailer

Becoming an online retailer is an exciting venture for any small business looking to expand. Check out how to get started with the nine steps below.

1. Research

Getting online is not an overnight venture. If you’re going to do it well, it will take a lot of your precious time.

Do yourself a favour and do some background research to understand the full scope.

Begin by analysing your competition. Unless you believe you can grow the market itself, then you’re essentially aiming to steal customers away from existing businesses. Can you beat them on:

  • Price?
  • Quality?
  • Service?

Or do you have a unique selling point?

Understand if you have a sustainable business model. Identify all of your costs from build and marketing software subscriptions to packaging and delivery.

2. Choose an eCommerce platform

Yes, they are all different. Getting this wrong will cause you headaches that you don’t need.

If you’re looking for easy set up and management, then I recommend using GoDaddy. Their Online Store builder is really easy to set up — even for someone with no tech skills.

Person working on a laptop and using WordPress
One of the drawing cards of WordPress is the many quick-start designs to choose from.

You may be familiar with Wordpress, as it is the most popular site builder on the web. If that’s the case and you want to use it, be sure to get high-quality WordPress hosting from a reliable provider.

Learn more about the difference between WordPress and do-it-yourself (DIY) shop builders like GoDaddy’s in this post.

3. Find a web designer/developer or choose to DIY

When building a digital store, online retailers have two broad choices:

The latter is the more expensive route.

If you’re the sort of person who wants to DIY, then by all means go for it. If you’re not already familiar with Wordpress, I would encourage GoDaddy’s Managed WordPress, as it comes with WordPress installed.

Not the DIY type? You can also choose to go with one of the following options to give your site a personalized touch:


Sometimes the thought of DIY can leave you feeling anxious, especially if you want a website that’s totally one-of-a-kind. In this case, you need to find a reputable agency to customise a theme for you.

When it comes to agencies, try to look for smaller shops.

The big guys will likely come with bigger price tags.


Freelancers can be a great option if you’re on a budget, but don’t get carried away and go too cheap! As an online retailer, you’ll want to find a happy medium here.

Remember, you’re going to be the new competition and you have to stand apart from the rest. Before hiring a freelancer, see if you can talk to past clients. Sometimes websites change and you don’t know what happened to get those websites completed.

Website designers

Want to add custom functionality or know that your website is an absolute one-of-a-kind? Try seeking out a website designer first. Sometimes you’ll find an agency that can handle both design and development.

Editor’s note: Choosing one of GoDaddy’s Web Design plans will also get you a free domain name.

Whether you go with an agency or freelancer, look at their previous work and reviews. Both can customise an online retailer’s website, but you’ll need to do your background research to ensure you get the most bang for your buck.

Search for local designers and developers, look at their work and see who’s built your competitor’s websites.

4. Engage an SEO consultant

Imagine spending the time and money getting online, only to find out no one is visiting your online store -- let alone buying.

People are searching for your products on Google. It’s hard to deny that. If they’re not finding your shop, then perhaps you have bigger issues.

But why get a search engine optimisation (SEO) consultant now? Your site isn’t even live yet.

This is completely understandable, but the earlier is truly better here. If you can get an SEO consultant involved during the development phase, you will save a lot of time and heartache later on.

Not every web designer or developer appreciates taking direction from an SEO professional. Some may not even be willing to enter into a conversation with one. But the fact is, eCommerce SEO is tough and technical. If your site is not up to speed, then it’s really difficult for you to succeed.

Two women chatting and looking at a laptop
If you don’t understand SEO, consult with an expert before you design your website.

An SEO consultant will know what performs well for eCommerce sites. They also have access to the tools that will help online retailers identify what potential customers are searching for. This can and should help you shape the development of your site.

5. Find a copywriter and photographer

Of course you can do it all yourself. You know how to write and you have a smartphone.

Copywriters make it their job to use words that shape behaviour or sell.

Have you invested that much time into your writing? If not, then how many more products could you sell with a professional copywriter?

Likewise with a photographer. You’re asking people to buy from you online, so you want to represent your products in the best possible way. Customers are relying heavily on the photo you have published. Are your photos going to sell as well as a professional photographer?

6. Plan for a product experience that wows

Once you’ve launched, a lot of focus will go toward getting people to your site and turning them into repeat buyers. But the post-purchase experience is also vital to online retailer success.

If you do this well, you’ll improve the likelihood of:

  • Earning online reviews
  • Acquiring more links and social shares
  • Getting people to tell their friends and family about you (via social or in-person)
  • Increasing loyal and repeat customers

So think about the experience from the moment they add their payment details and click ‘Check out.’ You’ll want to ask yourself the following questions to ensure all bases are covered:

  • How will you keep them informed about their delivery? What packaging will you use?
  • Can you send them any valuable information to improve the experience they have with your product (i.e. Product care tips)?
  • How can you ‘wow’ them when they open your product?
  • If for some reason they need to return the product, how easy will you make it?
  • Will you follow-up to see how they’ve enjoyed the product? Will you ask for a review?

Read 5 ways to improve your customer experience for more details on this.

7. Choose your online payment providers

A payment merchant is a third party that accepts your online payments. This step is crucial for online retailers and you’re going to need one that’s reliable and easy-to-use.

Plan on doing some research

If you’re using a DIY shop builder, your options will be limited to whatever is offered. For example, GoDaddy’s Online Store allows you to offer free shipping, flat rate per order, or weight-based using local shipping sources. Other eCommerce platforms can do the same, but you’ll want to do some research.

Discuss options with your developer

If you’re using a web designer or developer and they recommend a merchant, understand that they may be on a reseller scheme. This means that they could have a vested interest and it may not be your best option.

Choosing which is best for you will come down to the number of transactions and total revenue you believe you will do.

8. Get your Google Analytics right

Google Analytics is a free tool and takes minutes to install. But make sure you have it set up to track everything you need as an online retailer. Take a peek at the following tips for getting started.

Enable eCommerce tracking

This is going to give you access to tons of valuable data. It’ll also help you better understand the purchasing behaviour of your buyers.

Analyse your cost per acquisition by traffic channel

This data alone will give insight into the ROI (return on investment) of different marketing activities. Online retailers can then use this information to allocate their budgets accordingly.

Learn how users are navigating your site

Beyond the transaction data, Google Analytics can be a wealth of information on how users are using a website. Even something as simple as what people are searching when they land on your site can be enabled. Google Analytics gives terrific insight into how to improve a site’s overall experience and therefore its success.

Analytic report displayed on a tablet

For some online retailers, the thought of all that data may sound intimidating, but don’t ignore Google Analytics. Get it set up right before you launch. If you’re looking for something simpler, consider opting for basic shop insights delivered to you in an email report.

9. Start marketing

You’re ready to start selling. You just need people to come and buy.

This deserves its own post, so I’m not going to go into too much detail here. But I will say that online retailers have some good opportunities in:

  • Content marketing: Create content that helps convert visitors to customers. Then, create content that motivates people to research.
  • SEO: Content is a big part of this, but it is so much more. Be proactive about your organic search presence.
  • Email marketing: This includes newsletters right through to cart abandonment emails.
  • Social media: Think Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Keep in mind it’s essentially pay-to-play now, so you’ll need to allocate some budget towards advertising.
  • Paid search: Google Shopping is a great way to sell online. They even have free listings.
  • Affiliate marketing: Get other people to promote your products in return for a commission on sales.
  • Influencer marketing: Find people online that have influence over your target audience.

Editor’s note: If you need extra help in this area, try Digital Marketing Suite — it comes with all you need to create and manage your email, Facebook and Instagram promotions from one screen.

Getting online and staying ahead of the curve

The eCommerce landscape in Australia is booming and shows no sign of slowing down. Online retailers have a terrific opportunity to get online and start selling.

But while it’s easier to do now, you’ll likely have more competition to contend with.

You need to place high expectations on your customer experience.

This means leaving no stone unturned when it comes to the development of your website and your search and checkout experience.