Setting up an online store can seem daunting, but the online tools available today actually means you can be up and running in less than a day.

It used to be the case that ecommerce websites had to be built in a piecemeal approach, where you needed to piece together the following:

  • Domain name/URL: purchased separately, then linked to a website.

  • Web hosting: round-the-clock server space subscribed to, then linked to website.

  • SSL certificate: the padlock icon next to the URL, confirming it is safe to enter payment details on your site.

  • Online payment system: ‘payment gateway’ of payment processor, installed on website.

  • Website-building software: platform where you create, edit and code the web pages.

  • Design templates: pre-designed themes for the look of the website.

  • Growth features: integrated features like social media share buttons and visitor analytics.

Each of these things can still be acquired separately for an online shop built from scratch, but this requires technical know-how and time spent learning how to link it all up.

If you want to build an online store quickly without much knowledge of websites, the way to go is through an all-in-one ecommerce platform with an out-of-the-box setup including all or most of these necessary building blocks. The following steps tell you everything you need to know to start selling tomorrow.

1. Pin down how you want to sell online

Before you build anything, you should consider what exactly you want out of an online shop, because it determines all the following steps and can save you time and money if there is actually an easer way to sell online. There could be a shortcut you haven’t thought of which would totally fill your need without having to set up a standalone website.

To give examples, these are all great ways to sell online:

  • A listing on Just Eat, Deliveroo, Uber Eats or other takeaway service platforms (food businesses only)

  • Payment links shareable in texts, emails, messaging apps and on social media

  • Over-the-phone payments that you process in a web browser for the customer

  • Shop tab on your Facebook Business Page

  • Shop profile on Etsy, eBay, Amazon and other marketplace platforms

  • Adding a shop section or ‘order and collect’ page to existing website

  • Building your own online store with a checkout integrated

Each of these options will give you a different setup, determine delivery options and so on. Building your own online store (the last option) is also building a website, so naturally takes more time to set up. However, many business will find it necessary to do this, so that is what we’ll focus on in the following steps.

2. Choose an ecommerce platform

So you’ve decided to build an online store from scratch quickly. If you haven’t got a company website already, you’ll first need to pick an all-in-one ecommerce platform aligned with your type of business.

The easiest website builders that could work for most business types include:

Platform Ecommerce lowdown Monthly plan* Link
Wix Comprehensive drag-and-drop-builder, can create site quicker through streamlined builder, many add-on features (Wix review here) £16-£25/mo
Weebly Very user-friendly drag-n-drop builder, manages any size website well, Square Payments integration (Weebly review) £14-£32/mo
Squarespace Beautiful & simple designs focused on imagery, best for service businesses, few integrations but less complexity (Squarespace review) £21-£37/mo

*Pricing excludes VAT.

Platform Lowdown
Wix

£16-£25/mo*


Comprehensive drag-and-drop-builder, can create site quicker through streamlined builder, many add-on features (Wix review)
Weebly

£14-£32/mo*


Very user-friendly drag-n-drop builder, manages any size website well, Square Payments integration (Weebly review)
Squarespace

£21-£37/mo*


Beautiful & simple designs with focus on imagery, best for service businesses, limited integrations that reduce complexity (Squarespace review)

*Pay-monthly plans, excluding VAT.

If you’re also considering taking payments in person (now or in the future) you will save time with a provider that also offers a face-to-face selling solution. This way, you can sync your physical shop’s products with the online store and view how sales are going online and in person in one place.

These are the most user-friendly ecommerce and point-of-sale (POS) combinations available:

POS-online combo Ecommerce lowdown Monthly plan* Link
Square Easy to use, suitable for many business types, option for instant payouts, features don’t overwhelm you (Square Online Store review here) £0-£60/mo
iZettle Easy setup, user-friendly, gives you a good amount of features without overwhelming you, low PayPal fee (iZettle E-commerce review here) £29/mo
Lightspeed Good for analytics, in-store sales and customer profiles linked to create a unified sales experience POS subscription + £30/mo
Shopify Advanced ecommerce features, big choice of integrations, good for big inventories, dropshipping option (Shopify review here) US$29-$299

*Pricing excludes VAT.

POS-
online
combo
Lowdown
Square

£0-£60/mo*


Easy to use, suitable for many business types, option for instant payouts, features don’t overwhelm you (Square Online Store review)
iZettle

£29/mo*


Easy setup, user-friendly, gives you a good amount of features without overwhelming you, low PayPal fee (iZettle E-commerce review)
Lightspeed

POS subscription + £30/mo*


Good for analytics, in-store sales and customer profiles linked to create a unified sales experience
Shopify

US$29-$299*


Advanced ecommerce features, big choice of integrations, good for big inventories, dropshipping option (Shopify review)

*Pay-monthly plans, excluding VAT.

Of all the above POS-ecommerce combos, Shopify is the odd one out because its POS system is the not the most competitive, and the website builder is quite advanced compared to iZettle’s, Square’s and Lightspeed’s. We don’t recommend Shopify as the fastest way to build an online store, but its shopping cart software and customisation options are pretty solid and worth considering for those with clear long-term goals for their online business.

Alternatively, SumUp Online Store Starter is a very basic online shop created from the SumUp App. This would suit SumUp merchants needing an online store in a matter a minutes – it’s that quick to set up. It has no order management features, though.

Designers, makers and artists should take a look at Big Cartel and Squarespace (or Etsy if you can do with just a marketplace profile), as they have excellent templates designed to emphasise products visually.

If you already have a website and want to add a shopping section

You may already have a website without a shop section. Rather than building a new site from scratch, certain ecommerce providers allow you to add a shop section or Buy Buttons to an existing site so it effectively becomes an online store. These easy solutions offer this:

3. Buy a domain name

A domain name is the internet address (URL) of your website. Many all-in-one ecommerce platforms offer a free URL that might be good to use temporarily, but it often contains the name of the ecommerce brand. That is, it looks very promotional and not so ‘serious’.

The format of such a free domain might be something like username.ecommercebuilder.com/yourbusiness. Buying a domain gives you the freedom to choose anything that’s available in a simple format like www.yourbusiness.com.

To look like a serious business, we strongly recommend buying a domain in line with your brand. URLs ending with .com are usually most popular, but there are lots of endings to pick from, and UK-specific shops could also use .co.uk. It is best to include your brand name in the URL, but variations of it could be necessary if the domain is already taken.

Most simple ecommerce builders enable you to purchase a domain through your user account, which can then be linked in a user-friendly way. If you’ve already purchased a domain, you should always be able to link it to the website builder by following the instructions of the ecommerce platform.

4. Set up payments

Many ecommerce platforms include an integrated payment system with fixed transaction rates. This is by far the easiest option for those who need to sell straight away, as you only need to register your bank and business details through a streamlined online form.

You usually have a choice to add other payment methods, such as PayPal or Amazon Pay. The amount of options depends entirely on what the platform offers, and in some cases whether you are able to manually install a different payment gateway (requires technical know-how).

Whatever your choice, UK merchants should accept Visa and Mastercard in some form, and it’s beneficial to add other methods that your customers may prefer.

5. Decide on collection and delivery options

Setting up delivery options is crucial for planning how you will provide the products or services purchased. Physical products usually have these options:

  • Shipping: fixed postal prices or dynamic calculations based on geography, shipping method or product size.
  • Pick-up (also called Order & Collect, Click & Collect): paid for online, then the customer can pick it up