How to build an eCommerce website

11 min read
Jasmine Williams

Nowadays, you can buy pretty much anything you want with a few mouse clicks or swipes of a touchscreen. From handcrafted goods to household staples, there is not much that you can’t purchase online and have conveniently shipped to your front door. Which leads a lot of enterprising Canadians to wonder how to build an eCommerce website of their own.

In Canada, online shopping is booming and shows no signs of slowing down.

By 2019, experts predict that Canadians will spend $39 billion online and that eCommerce transactions will comprise 9.5 percent of all retail purchases in Canada.

So, if you’re looking to start selling your products online, there is no better time than the present.

However, if you find the prospect of building an eCommerce website nerve-wracking, you’re not alone. The 2015 CIRA Internet Factbook reported that over 40 percent of Canadian small businesses still did not have a website.

Fortunately for you, we’ve created this comprehensive guide to help you start selling in no time.

Editor’s note: Like detailed instructions? Bookmark our start-to-finish guide to building a high-performing eCommerce website.

3 ways to build an eCommerce website

There are basically three ways to get an online shop up and running. Which makes sense for you?

  1. Do-it-yourself with an easy store builder.

  2. Build an eCommerce website in WordPress.

  3. Do-it-for-me (hire a web pro).

Before we dive into your options, let’s list the must-haves for any successful online store.

The elements of any eCommerce website

Every eCommerce website — no matter how big or small — is comprised of five basic building blocks:

  • A payment processing platform to manage financial transactions.
  • An SSL certificate, to encrypt private data like banking details during checkout.
  • An online storefront with product pages and a shopping cart.
  • Shipping and fulfillment; in other words, a means of delivering your products to your customers.
  • Website hosting which allows your website to be viewed on the internet.

For each one of these elements, there are a variety of options to choose from, so it’s important to find the service provider that best suits your needs.

Let’s dive a little deeper into each of these elements, shall we?

Payment processing

In order to process transactions, you will need a merchant service. This is a broad term for the hardware, software, services and financial relationships needed to accept debit and credit cards, PayPal, Apple Pay and other types of payments.

There are several ways to add payment processing to your website. For example, if you have programming skills (or can afford a web developer), you could add stand-alone payment processing, which will require you to open a merchant account and possibly add extra code to your website to integrate the necessary payment tools.

Wondering how to build an eCommerce website in WordPress? Those who have a WordPress website can add an eCommerce plugin such as WooCommerce to their sites. WooCommerce offers payment processing, as well as pre-designed product pages and a shopping cart (more on this later).

The easiest and fastest way to set up an online store with payment processing is to use an eCommerce store template or theme.

How to Build an eCommerce Website Managed WordPress

This is basically a pre-built eCommerce shop that you customize to suit your business. Swap out photos, add text and products, configure shipping options and you’re in business.

An SSL certificate

When it comes to eCommerce, it’s critical that you have an SSL certificate. SSL, which stands for ‘secure sockets layer,’ protects transactions by encrypting sensitive data such as credit card numbers and personal information as it moves to and from your website.

Starting in July 2018, Google Chrome 68 will display a “Not Secure” warning next to any web listing not protected by an SSL certificate.

SSL certificates can be purchased from third parties such as domain resellers or independent companies. However, the most convenient option is to obtain one from the company from which you purchase your domain and store builder.


From the visual design to the user experience, there are a lot of elements that make up your online storefront. Of course, you can’t have a store without anything to sell, so one of the first things you should do is compile your product catalog. Your storefront represents all of the information — written and visual — that will inform your shoppers and encourage them to make a purchase.

Many eCommerce platforms have features that can help you create and a maintain a product catalog for your business. However, you can also use plugins and widgets to add this functionality to an existing website. Some of the information you will need to collect include:

  • Product name
  • Model number (if any)
  • Product categories
  • Product description
  • Price
  • Image files

Your product pages are where all this information will live, so pay close attention to their look and design. Make sure your product descriptions are complete and written with your target market in mind. A well-placed, brightly coloured “Add to cart” button draws the eye to the action you want your customer to take. Adding reviews and product stock information (Only two items left!) can help increase conversion rates.

How to Build an eCommerce Website Island Spice Canada
Island Spice Canada, which sells Jamaican spices, was built with Online Store from GoDaddy.

Your shopping cart is your customer’s “virtual shopping basket” where they can collect items intended for purchase. If you’re new to eCommerce and not ready for a website, selling on a multi-vendor marketplace like Etsy or Amazon is a great place to start. If you’re successful, you’ll eventually need a website in addition to your marketplace listings. At this point, a tool like Online Store might be right for you.

Whatever you pick, make sure you find a tool that offers simple setup, professional and customizable themes and 24/7 customer support in case you need assistance.

Shipping and fulfillment

While shipping is the last step in the eCommerce process, you shouldn’t let it be an afterthought. From pricing to packaging, there is a lot to consider. Will you offer free shipping, charge a fee, or offer free shipping with a minimum order amount? What type of packaging do you want to use? Thinner options like envelopes or coffee bags will be cheaper to ship, however, larger boxes give you the option to artfully arrange items for a pleasant customer unboxing experience.

Larger shipping providers like FedEx or Canada Post tend to be the best option for heavier packages and offer peace-of-mind with their tracking capabilities and delivery guarantees. However, these features come at a price, so it’s important to compare service providers to find the right fit. Read this terrific post for the low-down on shipping.

Editor’s note: With Online Store, setting up shipping is a matter of a few simple selections — we handle all the back-end details.


Hosting is what makes it possible for your website to be visible to viewers around the world. Since most people can’t afford to have their own server, they rent space on someone else’s server.

Before deciding on a hosting service, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do they optimize the websites they host for speed?
  • Do they offer 24/7 technical support?
  • How much storage and bandwidth do they offer?
  • How will they handle sudden spikes in traffic?
  • Do they include regular website backups?

Depending on the size of your business, some of these factors might be more important than others. For example, for most small- to medium-sized business, unlimited storage or bandwidth might be more of a ‘nice-to-have’ than a ‘need-to-have.’

3 options for building an eCommerce website

Now that you know everything that goes into an eCommerce store, it’s time to build your site. Depending on your business, your budget and your familiarity with web development, there are different options to suit your needs.

1. Do-it-yourself with an easy store builder

If you’re a tech newbie on a budget, an eCommerce site builder is the way to go. These solutions are generally inexpensive and require little technical knowledge to implement. The great thing about this option is that it’s a one-stop solution, including all the elements of an eCommerce store: Payment processing, a customizable storefront, shipping and hosting.

How to Build an eCommerce Website Online Store
Online Store gives you a pre-built template — you simply add products, photos and text.

You should look for a service that offers professional-quality templates and designs so you can easily build your web store without outside help. Some other features to look for in a site builder are mobile functionality, built-in shipping methods, search engine optimization and email marketing (all included with Online Store from GoDaddy).

2. Build an eCommerce website in WordPress

Next, let’s address how to build an eCommerce website in WordPress. For those with some tech skills (or the willingness and time to learn), WordPress has a lot to offer.

There’s a reason WordPress is the No. 1 content management system in the world.

A virtually endless list of WordPress themes and plugins offers users a high degree of flexibility when it comes to customizing your web store.

How to Build an eCommerce Website WordPress WooCommerce
There are many, many WooCommerce-friendly WordPress themes to choose from.

For example, WooCommerce is the most popular and widely used online store plugin among WordPress users looking to add payment processing, product pages and a shopping cart to their WordPress sites. There are even WooCommerce-friendly themes that will help you create a visually appealing, user-optimized online shop with little coding. This path does require you to do your own WordPress installation, as well as daily backups and regular software updates.

Editor’s note: Want WordPress without the upkeep? Try Managed WordPress and let your dreams take flight.

3. Do-it-for-me (hire a web pro)

If you’re looking for a higher degree of customization and have the budget to make it happen, outsourcing your website build to a skilled professional might be your best bet. However, while you might be contracting out the work to somebody else, you will still have to put in some time and effort to find a quality web developer. Create a custom website tailored to fit your business.

Before you start reaching out, you first need to figure out what you need and what you can afford. Look at other websites you like and make notes so your developer has some inspiration to work from. Also, keep in mind that even a simple website could cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

If you don’t have a developer in mind, use your connections. Reach out to friends and family to get their recommendations. You could also contact the owners of websites you like and get their designers’ contact info.

Once you’ve found a few options, it’s time to research the web professionals themselves. Look at their website — is it well-designed? Look at their client roster — have they worked with businesses like yours? Also, look to see if they have any reviews or testimonials on their site. Lastly, make sure you find a developer with strong communication skills. It’s a good sign if they ask lots of questions and really take the time to find out more about you and your business.

Tips on building a store that sells

Now that you have the basics of setting up an eCommerce store under your belt, here are some tips to help you build an online store that works.

Create compelling content

Think about your target audience when crafting your store content. Do you need to relate to older adults or appeal to a young demographic? Each market requires drastically different tones and writing styles.

Take captivating product photos

Since your customers can’t touch or test out your products, good photography is crucial for eCommerce businesses. Use natural light and focus on the details of your product.

Include contact information and testimonials

Contact information makes it easy for your customers to contact you if they run into any issues. Additionally, reviews build trust and convert casual browser into buyers.

Use an easy navigation and checkout process

Group similar products together, make the checkout button easy-to-find and make your call-to-action stands out to make their shopping experience as smooth as possible.

Link to social media profiles

While you don’t want to spread yourself too thin, an active social media presence is important for building brand awareness. Pick one or two platforms popular with your customer base and engage with your following to turn your fans into customers.

That’s how to build an eCommerce website

If you’re new to the eCommerce game, setting up your online store for the first time might seem daunting. However, if you take the time to reflect on your needs, abilities and business goals and do a little planning before stepping on the gas pedal, you will be in for a much smoother ride. Here’s to a successful launch!