How to Start an Online Retail Business in 6 Steps


As more and more people start shopping online, it’s more important than ever for your business to have an online presence. Beyond just a website, an online business can expand your company, consumer base, and brand recognition. More importantly, having an online business can help you reach customers from long distances and in new ways. 

If you’ve already started your brick and mortar retail business, you should be considering starting an online business as well to expand to new audiences. After all, if you have loyal customers now, there could be many more loyal customers interested in shopping online. If you haven’t started a business yet, starting an online retail business is a great way to start reaching your customers and getting your business off the ground. 

Whatever your current position with your business, starting an online business can be beneficial. Not sure how to get started? We’ll walk you through 7 steps to starting an online retail business to help get you started. 


Step 1: Examine Your Niche

If you are using an online business as the start for your company, the first step is to find a niche for your business to occupy. You’ll want to find a need that your product or service could meet—especially one that isn’t oversaturated. When you think of some products or services, you may immediately think of some brand names that already meet that need. If you can think of those well-known brands, that may be an oversaturated market where customers will rely on brand loyalty, rather than branching out to a new company. Instead, you’ll want to find a niche where customers aren’t looking for a specific brand and could come across your online business. 

If you’ve already established a brick and mortar store, you won’t necessarily need to find an entirely new space to market your products or services. Instead, you’ll want to examine the niche your company already occupies and see if you can adjust it if necessary to fill a new need for the online audience. Essentially, you want your online business to be something people will actively be looking for online. 

To find or adjust a niche, you’ll need to do market research. Google Trends is a handy tool that can show you what kinds of products and services are trending. Of course, you shouldn’t limit yourself to just trending products. You’ll also want to consider the longevity of the products. Some products are only trending for a moment and won’t be marketable as a business, so you’ll want to strike a balance between need and longevity. Or if you already have your general niche, you’ll want to do market research to find where your customers are online, so you can determine how best to reach the right audience for your product. 


Step 2: Consider Your Audience

As with most things in life, if you don’t consider your audience, you might completely miss all your opportunities. You can’t create a product without keeping in mind who this product is for and how they may want to use it and find it. Before launching your online business, determine who your audience is. From there, you’ll also want to explore what your audience is looking for and what kinds of problems they may be having that your business could help solve for them. 

It’s also important to consider what your audience wants and what they might need. Sometimes these two things can be different or diverge in some ways. If they do, consider how your business could help customers find what they want while also providing what they need. Another key factor is to consider what kind of obstacles or questions your customers might run into. If you can figure out what kind of questions they might be asking, you can make sure your company is there to answer them. If you can figure out what kinds of obstacles they’re facing in finding solutions to problems, your company can also be right there to help them solve those. 

If you’re starting a brand new company or adding an online presence, knowing who you’re trying to reach is key to crafting the right business strategy and finding success online. 


Step 3: Develop Your Products and Branding

Every online business needs a product to sell and a brand to sell it under. Now that you understand your niche, you can determine what products and services might fill that space and meet your audience’s needs. If you already have products you sell in a store, you only need to consider how you can sell those same (or similar) products in an online marketplace. You should also start considering whether you will produce your products internally or externally because that will shape a lot of how you approach the rest of your business. 

When it comes to branding, you will need a business name, a logo, a mission statement, core values, and anything else you consider important to your branding approach. As you choose these, remember that it’s important to be memorable, clear, and professional. Choose a name that’s unique but easy to pronounce. Consider hiring a professional designer to create your logo and marketing templates. Craft a mission statement and value proposition that speaks to your goals and will help attract the right kind of customers who will also believe in your mission. 


Step 4: Find a Supplier for Your Products

If you decide you will produce products externally, you need to find a supplier to get your business running. If you already have a supplier for your brick and mortar store, talk with them to see if they would be able to continue supplying your company for an online business as well. If you’re looking for a supplier for the first time, here are some ways to get started: 

  • Search for similar products. Once you’ve found similar products, track down their suppliers. From there you can generate a list of potential suppliers. 
  • Begin searching for general suppliers. You can also approach this situation by finding suppliers in general and eliminating those that wouldn’t work for your products. 
  • Make sure your suppliers work with small businesses. If you’re just starting, you want a supplier that’s comfortable with small business needs. 
  • Determine how much you’re willing to invest. Before contacting suppliers, do some math and research to figure out how much you can budget to invest in a supplier and have that ready when you negotiate an agreement. 
  • Be willing to make a larger deposit upfront. If you are able to make a larger deposit upfront, you will have more negotiating leverage that can help you determine better terms for the long run. 
  • Contact suppliers. You can email suppliers and ask for estimates and to express your interest. Many suppliers are very friendly and reaching out can be a positive experience. 


Step 5: Create a Domain and Website for Your Online Store

Once you have products and a way to get those products, it’s time to create somewhere to sell them. For an online retail business, the point of sale will be a website. The website will need to be functional, clear, aesthetically pleasing, and fast in order to provide the best customer experience for your target audience. You will also need to officially register a domain name to create an easy way for your customers to find your store online. 

Getting a good website running is absolutely essential to running a successful online retail business. But creating a professional website can be difficult to do on your own. That’s why this step may be one where you need to outsource to professionals who can craft a website for your business that will draw in customers and provide them with a positive experience. Hiring professionals might be outside of your budget at the moment, which is why small business loans can be an important part of getting your business started. Using a small business loan can help you fund a website and suppliers as you set up your online presence in a way that will be successful. 


Step 6: Make and Execute a Marketing Plan for Your Online Retail Business

If you have a brick and mortar store or not, every online business needs a marketing plan. Your online marketing plan should differ from one you have for a physical store. For an online marketing plan, you should consider how you will approach many of the following channels: 

  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Email marketing
  • Facebook ads
  • Google ads
  • Blogging
  • Guest blogging
  • Link building

Each of these channels are great ways for new customers to find your business and online store. As a small business, you can’t approach each one equally, so your plan should help you determine which channels will be a priority for your company at the start. In addition, your plan can outline how your company will approach your prioritized channels, what portions of the budget will go into it, and who will be in charge of it. Having each of these aspects set up from the beginning will help you get off to a good start.


Step 7: Fund Your Online Retail Business

No online business gets off the ground without funding. Finances are arguably one of the most important parts of starting a business or expanding your business. Without the right funding in place, your business can stall on any one of these steps or within the first few months online. From approaching suppliers to crafting a beautiful website, your company will need reliable funding to fall back on to get the process moving. That’s where National Funding can help your small business. 

We offer small business loans and funding that can provide you with the funding you need to start your online retail presence without having to worry about your company stalling. Whether you already have a business or you’re starting out brand new, we have funding that can help your business. To get started, we have a simple and fast application process where you can apply for funding today. 

Overall, starting an online retail business will take some time, but it is ultimately a beneficial business move. An online business allows you to reach new customers and to appeal to modern trends in online shopping. Following these 7 steps can help you get started with a stable online business. Focusing on developing your products, audience, and branding plans will help you be ready to face future business challenges as they come. As your small business works to develop its online presence, National Funding is ready to provide you with the financial support you need to get started. Apply for funding today to get started.