UPDATE: This eCommerce post was originally published on 10 August 2018 and updated on 19 July 2020 and 14 January 2021.
Online stores make it so convenient for us to shop for the things we need. We can buy just about any products we want from our phones and tablets and have them delivered to our doors. In the 12 months to May 2020, Australians spent $34.18 billion on online retail, an increase of about 18.7% over the same period in 2019. So if you’ve got a great idea for a product or service that can be sold online, this guide will help you start an eCommerce business in Australia.
6 steps to starting an eCommerce business in Australia
Preparation is critical. Your eCommerce business is far more likely to succeed if you take the time to plan and test the market. Set up your business with the minimum viable model, so you can learn and grow your business as customer demand increases.
Here are the steps to setting up your eCommerce business.
1. Know your market and your competition
You’ve got a great idea. But does anyone want to buy what you’re selling? Undertake market research to make sure there is demand for your product or service.
Is your product unique? Maybe someone else is already selling something similar. If they are, you need to understand your competition. How can your product be different or have an advantage over theirs? How can you communicate the difference to your customers?
Invest time and money in market research. To confirm your eCommerce idea is viable, make sure there is enough demand from customers to buy your product or service. Don’t be afraid to adjust your initial idea if your research uncovers a better one.
2. Create business and marketing plans
Start by writing your business plan using the free template here (you'll need to scroll down the page). A business plan helps you clarify what you’re selling, how you’re going to make and sell it, your budgets for expenses, your business cash flow, and how you’ll measure your success.
There are lots of free resources to help you start your eCommerce business.
Next, create your marketing plan using this free template. A marketing plan helps you understand your competition, clarify who your customers will be, how much you’ll charge, and how you’re going to promote or advertise your business.
3. Register your business
If your market research and business plan determine that your business is worthwhile, you’re ready to formally create your business. Next step is to get an Australian Business Number (ABN) and an ASIC-registered business name.
Stumped for a business name? Get start-to-finish help on picking a winning name to call your own here.
4. Get a matching domain name
It’s a good idea to create your business name and domain name at the same time to ensure they match. This makes it easy for customers to remember your business name and website address. Nothing is more confusing than a business named Melbourne Wellness Solutions that uses OutbackCures.com.au for their web address.
Search for a business domain now!
5. Create your eCommerce website
The next step is to create the online store itself. An eCommerce website needs to:
- Make it easy for shoppers to select items and check out.
- Safely accept and process payments.
- Manage inventory.
- Collect customer information and ship purchases.
The most important feature is that eCommerce websites must be secure, to protect your customers’ personal data and credit card details from theft.
This is why GoDaddy's do-it-yourself online store builder includes an SSL certificate, along with security seals to display on your eCommerce website. Such visual indicators reassure shoppers they’re safe to submit private data like banking details upon making a transaction with your business.
Make sure your online store is mobile-friendly. Customers should be able to browse and buy your products entirely on their mobile or tablet. These days, people want convenience, so if they have to switch to a desktop to complete their purchase, you’ve lost the sale.
Options for building your store
You only need to type “build an eCommerce store” into your browser to see that there are many options out there. Two of the most popular eCommerce options are:
A WordPress web store
Wordpress is the most popular content management system in the world. There is a learning curve to using WordPress, but you’ll have no trouble finding tutorials online. You’ll also find thousands of themes you can use if you want to DIY or free online tools like GoDaddy Logo Maker that feature hundreds of customized templates and fonts to choose from. And if you don’t have the skills or the time, you can engage a professional website designer to build your custom site.
WooCommerce is a WordPress plug-in that allows you to add an online store with secure payment processing to any WordPress website.
Not big on doing regular WordPress maintenance like updates and security patches yourself? Try GoDaddy’s WordPress Websites — you get all the control and flexibility of WordPress without the drudgery of upkeep.
You can also build an online store yourself on Shopify with intermediate computer skills. A Shopify online store can be completely customised to suit your business and products and includes secure credit card payments. Shopify also integrates with product tags for Instagram, Amazon, Pinterest and Facebook, to show your products to more customers through targeted ads.
Editor’s note: Learn what the big online retailers already know — read our start-to-finish guide to building a high-performing eCommerce website.
6. Learn about SEO
For any business that exists purely online, your website is the only ‘face’ of your business. If customers can’t find you, you’ll miss out on sales. And in order for customers to find your store, search engines must find it first. So you’ll need to become skilled at search engine optimisation (SEO). This is the process of making sure search engines find and list your website on search results pages.
When customers search online for “floral silk scarf” or “men’s runners size 10”, Google and other search engines show results that closely match the words they typed. You need to know what words your customers are using when they search online for your products, so you can add those words to your online store. Keywords are just as vital for voice search, a practice more and more Australians are adopting. Learn more about how to find your keywords here.
Customers don’t always know what they want.
They might be searching for a solution to their problem. So the best search term might not be the exact name of your product.
For example, it might be a question, like “How to clear a blocked shower” and the answer they need is on a website about a drain cleaning product. Or they might search “Best gifts for Mother’s Day” and the solution is a website with lots of beautiful gift ideas, with fast and free shipping.
Your SEO toolkit
You can learn a lot about SEO online. Check out these tutorials from the experts at Moz, for example:
Because it entails adding keywords and tags to the content on your eCommerce site, optimising is best done while building your website. That way you create your website with solid SEO principles to please Google and win more customers.
Start with the free tools and tips. If you’re not getting results in a few months, bring in the experts.
Professional copywriters write compelling product descriptions to convince customers to buy your product or service. Most web copywriters also specialise in SEO, so they’ll create website copy that includes the words your customers are searching for. You might need to invest in SEO services and targeted ad services such as Google AdWords until your organic rank increases.
What kind of businesses suit eCommerce?
eCommerce is the perfect addition to just about any bricks-and-mortar shop, from clothing boutiques to flower shops.
Anything that can be posted or sent by courier can be sold online: Gifts, homeware, art, fashion and accessories, sporting goods, toys, furniture and more.
The list of things to sell online is virtually endless. In fact, eCommerce is perfect for specialty and niche products because you can reach customers anywhere in the world.
The economies of a digital shop
eCommerce sales are a great opportunity for brand new businesses because the setup costs are much lower than for a retail shop. You don’t have to commit to expensive shop rental and fit-out costs. All you need to set up an eCommerce business is a great product, a marketing plan, a website with a secure payment portal and a way to deliver products.
You can test the market for your idea, and grow your business as demand allows. Read the story of The Daily Edited, and discover how the owners started a monogrammed leather goods business on the side of their day jobs as lawyers. The Daily Edited collections started as an online-only eCommerce store and exploded from there. Their business has grown to a turnover of $15M in its fourth year.
If you’re offering online courses or other web-based business services, customers can buy and download your courses from the comfort of their homes. Once your course videos are created, you can earn ongoing income from online sales.
Have a buffer, and be patient
Your business might not generate a full-time income for a while. It helps to calculate your break even point, as this is a useful barometer of how you’re doing. If you can set your new venture up on the side of other work, do that first to give your business time to grow.
Having a savings buffer will help ease some of the financial stress if your business is slow to start.
The list of things to sell online is literally endless, so that should be your first decision. Then read up on the business links above and create your plan. When you’re ready to go, register your domain name at GoDaddy and start building your brand new eCommerce website. Tap into some of that $41 billion potential!