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How to Start an Online Store the Fast and Easy Way

Woman who started an online store shipping product orders

Maybe you’re a great baker and want to sell cupcakes made in your home kitchen. Or maybe you’re an excellent woodworker and you’re thinking about selling those wooden toys you made for fun. You took nice, almost professional level product photos of your products. Now, you’re ready to open for business. Maybe not a physical store, but definitely on the web. So how do you start an online store quickly, without spending a fortune, and start selling ASAP?

We share some ideas below. But, to cut to the chase, the easiest, fastest, and often the cheapest way to start selling on the web is to start an online store that lives on a larger platform like Facebook, eBay, and Etsy.

But which one is best for your type of business? Here are some things to think through.

Components of an Online Store

Before we get to the details, let’s first look at what makes an online store different from, say, a blog website (like this one you’re reading). This will help you understand the minimum features needed to start a simple online store.

Most webstores have:

  • Product pages
  • Shopping cart
  • Checkout page (with sales tax calculations)
  • Payment processing provider
  • Shipping provider

Some of these components are visible to a shopper, but others are not.

You also don’t always need a shipping provider. If you’re selling a service or digital goods, you’ll instead need a way for your customers to access or download the item.

Types of Webstores

At the highest level, there are three types of online stores:

  • Stores that live on a larger shopping platform. Think of these stores as shops in a shopping center. It’s very clear that your store lives on the larger platform. You won’t need your own domain name. Examples include Facebook Shops, eBay, and Etsy.
  • Stores that are powered by a platform but can look like independent stores. You’re using the platform provider’s software, server, and maybe even payment processor. But, to a shopper, you look like an independent store with your own web address. Examples include Shopify, Square Online, and Wix.
  • Completely independent webstores. Here, you pick the website hosting service, software platform (typically something open source like WordPress), shopping cart provider, payment processor, shipping provider, or anything else you need.

We’ll go into the pros and cons of each type of online store in more detail below.

Start an Online Store That Lives on a Larger Shopping Platform


  • Easy to set up
  • Intuitive to use
  • All-in-one service provider

As we said in the intro, starting an online store on a shopping platform is the fastest, easiest, and cheapest way to start selling your product. Mostly, this is because all you have to do is to open an account and populate your page with product photos and descriptions much like you would for any social media profile page.

Typically, there is a payment processor that is already integrated with the platform, so you can take credit and debit card payments right away. Your shopping cart and checkout are all standardized, and sales tax calculations are all taken care of. There may or may not be a linked and discounted shipping provider. But there is always the post office, if private shippers end up costing too much.

You’ll usually have to set up your company information, taxpayer ID number, and similar with the platform. Sometimes, you have to sign up separately with the payment processor as well. Usually, it’s free to set up a webstore on these platforms. The platform makes money only after you make a sale by taking a percentage from the sale.


  • One in a crowd of many
  • Hard to build brand recognition
  • Can’t take the store to another platform

There are negatives to starting an online store on platforms like this, of course. For one, there are a lot of other merchants on the platform. So, it might be difficult for you to differentiate yourself from your competitors or even be found by prospective customers. For another, you don’t have a website, so it might be difficult to establish brand recognition on such platforms.

While you’re a small seller, letting the platform take a percentage on each sale might be OK. But if you start to sell in large volumes, the platform charges can get pretty high. As to credit and debit card processing, there are other cheaper ways to process payments. Lastly, if you decide in the future that you don’t like the platform, it could be time consuming for you to move your store elsewhere.

Shopping Platform Examples

For our series on easy-to-set-up webstores, we looked at three well-known shopping platforms. We think these platforms can be great places for you to start an online store:

Click on the links for a more detailed article about each.

We Haven’t Forgotten About Amazon or

Before we move on to the second type of online store, we want to say a word about the two most well-known shopping platforms: Amazon and

There’s a lot to becoming an Amazon or Walmart merchant. For one, there’s a huge amount of competition on each platform. A lot of stores spend money to optimize product descriptions and figure out search terms so they rank high when people search for a particular product. In fact, there are folks who specialize in these optimization techniques on these platforms as a career.

For another, Amazon and Walmart have complicated listing requirements such as product photo requirements. If you’ve never set up a webstore before, you can get bogged down with these details very easily.

So, we will address how to become an Amazon or Walmart merchant in future articles. Right now, we want to help you start selling online as quickly and as easily as possible. That’s why we’re focusing on other platforms first.

Start an Online Store Built with Proprietary Software


  • Easy, intuitive software to build website
  • Many integrated service providers, including payment processors
  • Can set up what looks like your own website
  • Plenty of professional web developers to help if you do not wish to do it yourself

Most people don’t know how to build a website, let alone the specialized sort of website that we call an online store. Even just a few years ago, the software tools used to build websites were not very intuitive. So, you almost needed to know computer programming before you could build a website.

Some companies saw a business opportunity. They set out to make it easier for non-techies to build their own websites. Often, the technology used drag-and-drop style components to make website building a more visual experience. At the same time, they integrated a lot of components you’d need for a webstore, components like shopping carts, checkout pages, and even payment processors.

You can start an online store using one of the platform’s domain addresses (called subdomain). Or you can buy your own domain name but run all the other parts of your store on the platform. To a shopper, it’ll look like you’re running an independent webstore.

The end result is that most people could build a pretty good-looking website themselves. Most of the coding needed to make the site fast and pretty and show up in search engine results all run in the background. They’re maintained by the platform’s tech support folks. And, if you decide that even the drag-and-drop style of website building is too much for you, there are plenty of professional website builders who can help you.


  • Difficult to leave platform due to proprietary software
  • Platform costs may be high

Of course, there are downsides to starting an online store on such a platform. Typically, you have to pay a monthly platform fee. As you grow, your fees tend to grow.

Usually, if you use a service and the service gets too expensive or you become dissatisfied with the service in some other way, you can look for another service. But, with these proprietary website platforms, you can’t simply pick up your webstore and leave.

You built your online store using their software. And you can’t take that software with you. So, other than the words you wrote and maybe the pictures you uploaded, if you leave these platforms, you basically lose your entire website. You’d have to spend time and money to build a new site.

This is the biggest drawback to using these platforms.

Major Webstore-Building Platforms Using Proprietary Software

Still, there are quite a few companies that offer this type of service. The major ones include:

Click on the links to find out more about each company.

Because we don’t recommend you build your first online store using these platforms, our articles are short, intro articles. We will eventually replace the shorter articles with more in-depth articles.

Start a Fully Independent Online Store


  • Software is free (open source)
  • Can be moved to different hosting companies for best pricing
  • Flexibility in customization and service providers
  • Plenty of website developers to hire for help

The last type of webstore—and in our opinion the type of webstore you should ultimately build—is an independently built webstore. Here, you get to put all the parts together. This means you can shop around for service providers of all types, so should be able to get the best pricing for the service.

To build an online store like this, you can typically get your website-building software for free. The biggest names include WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal. They’re all open-source software. And, at least with WordPress, the software are also moving more and more towards the drag-and-drop style of website building.

One of your biggest expenses for this type of site is renting the hosting space for your site. However, depending on how many people visit your site, you can adjust fairly easily. And if the hosting company’s server is too slow or too expensive, you can easily move your site to another company with little to no downtime.

You’ll also have full control over the shopping cart, checkout, and even the payment processor you use. Often, there are multiple providers to each service, so you can shop for the best price.

Most of the time, running such a webstore is complex. You might need to have (or have to learn) basic computer networking or software management skills. Fortunately, there are also plenty of very competent developers who can help you build and maintain your webstore. All you have to do is to find the right person to work with.


  • Can be difficult to build and maintain without help
  • Must deal with multiple suppliers of software and services
  • Some developers can be expensive

Ironically, everything listed as a positive in the Pro section can also be a negative. When you have too many choices, you can easily be paralyzed by all the options.

For example, how do you know which web hosting company provides the best service? Should you go with a starter plan or the pro level plan that offers the fastest website? And what are the advantages of taking credit card payments through PayPal or Stripe over Chase Payments or Clover?

Of course, you can hire a developer to help you build your online store and suggest some options like which shopping cart plugin works best for your type of business. But you might be too new to the entire concept of website building to even be able to tell the difference between a good developer and a bad one.

This is why we recommend you start with an easier type of webstore that is built on an e-commerce platform. After you’ve run your business for a while, you’ll start to understand the website building terminology better and know what you will and will not need for your business.

We do plan to have articles on how to build an online store yourself. But that will be far into the future. We at The Missed Details blog believe in starting small and building bigger, using the money you’ve earned from your business. So, we’re focusing first on how to start a small webstore that costs you little to no money.

The Bare Minimums of Starting Your First Online Store

For most small businesses, your first customers are family and friends and friends of family and friends. To reach these folks, you rely more on word of mouth than advertising.

Our Three Must-Haves for Stating Your First Online Store

To target your first customers, all you’ll need are:

  • An easy to remember online place for customers to find you
  • Easy-to-set-up storefront that you can build yourself without professional help
  • Ready-made, online selling support such as payment processing and discounted shipping

This is why we think that starting with a webstore on a shopping platform is the best way to go. Sure, there are a lot of competition on these platforms. But because you’re initially acquiring customers through word of mouth, the fact that you’re just one store among many shouldn’t matter. Your customers will more likely go directly to your online store than browse your competition and be lured elsewhere.

How to Use Your First Online Store to Grow Bigger

Selling to friends and family and their friends and family are very well. But, eventually, you’ll need to sell your product to complete strangers. You can easily advertise on these online store platforms so you show up better when prospective customers search for a product. On Facebook, you can even do direct advertising.

You can also set up a blogging website with your own domain name. (Blogging sites are a lot easier to setup than a webstore). Then, you can advertise on, for example, Google or Bing or maybe show up on organic search results. Once a potential customer has read the information on your website and is ready to buy, you can point them to your Facebook Shop or Etsy store to complete the sale.  

We understand the philosophy that anything worth doing is worth doing it right the first time. So, we know some folks feel that they should just start with an independently built webstore. Be aware, though, that a professional-looking webstore can cost a lot of money unless you build it yourself. It can also take a lot of time to build. Your business won’t be taking in any money while you’re doing all this.

Of course, if you’re a well-funded startup, this can be all fine. Keep in mind that most startup businesses will have unexpected expenditures and delays. So, spend your money wisely. Separate your must-haves from your nice-to-haves. This way, you give your business the best chance to survive.

But How Should You Open Your First Online Store if You Sell an App or Digital Goods?

Everything in this blog post applies to businesses that sell physical products. But what if you plan to sell software or an app or other types of digital goods? While you can indeed sell software on some of the platforms profiled here (e.g. Shopify), we expect most software would sold as apps on Apple’s App Store or Google Play.

And that’s what we’ll cover next. We’ll take a quick look at the business model and restrictions related to selling software and digital goods on these two platforms. Yes, we know that there are other platforms like the Microsoft Store or Samsung’s Galaxy Store. But, for now, we’ll focus on the two most popular stores. After all, every startup like your business and ours have limited time and money so must focus on things that give the greatest return. At least in the beginning.

So, here’s our next series: Should Every Small Business Build an App?

Interested in starting and running a small business? Here’s the beginning of our step-by-step guide: What to do right after getting that great business idea.

Questions? Comments?