I have divided this mini-guide (sounds better than just an article) into many small sub-topics.
- Platform and Payment Gateways
- Shipping Logistics
- Legal and Taxation
Setting Up Store
I am not going to focus on ‘why do you need an online store’ part. If you have already made up your mind and wanted to dive into the ecommerce boom, congrats and let’s move forward. Why have you made that decision, it’s totally up to you and I’m pretty cool about it.
You’ve two options when it comes to selling online:
- Sell on Marketplaces like Snapdeal, Amazon, ShopClues, Flipkart, PayTM (and other big names in this field)
- Build your own store
Marketplace vs You Own Store
Each has its pros and cons. Marketplaces have more money, better infrastructure and more customers. They invest heavily in marketing, infrastructure and take care of support and other important stuff. So, you can just upload your products there and wait for them to promote your products.
However your own store helps to build a brand. You are not lost in the marketplaces with other merchants. You also have better control on inventory, marketing and end-user experience. Marketplace might be a cheap option at start but their fee might be a problem in long run.
How about a hybrid approach? Introducing ‘Multi-channel Retailing’- Build your own store and get more customers and orders via those marketplace. We will be focusing on multi-channel retailing in a bit.
Ecommerce Platforms or Softwares
You have decided to build your own store and want to choose the best platform out there. One thing to understand – None of them is the perfect and each one has its of limitation and advantages.
My two favourites are Shopify and WooCommerce. Other popular alternatives are Zepo, KartRocket and Magento.
One thing to remember here- I am focusing on platforms for small business or one man operation. If you are big enough, I would recommend building something from scratch.
Shopify brief review
Payment Gateways- PayU, PayUMoney, AirPay, CitrusPayments
Shopify comes at the top of my list of recommendation to a new store owner. Why? Because it’s the simplest platform out there with excellent customization. Period. I love this platform and will try not to be a big fan.
Shopify is DIY (Do It Yourself) hosted platform with affordable pricing (Plans start from just $29/month). You don’t have to think about designing, development, hosting or anything. Just choose one of the theme, upload products add payment gateway and you have your operation.
You don’t have to be a programmer or even hire a programmer to build your store. Its knowledge base is extensive and support guys are awesome and help you at every point.
Recently they added support for multi-channel selling. You can now sell directly on your Facebook Page, A different web site, Facebook Messenger, Pinterest and Twitter using Shopify.
Its App and theme Marketplace (Which is lacked helps you to add new feature or use a new design for free or added cost.
Scaling is easy. You don’t have to worry about switching boats when you get large, just opt for higher plan and you’re done.
M-Commerce or Mobile Commerce is very important and Shopify got you covered out there. All of Shopify themes are responsive and it’s checkout is optimized well for mobile devices.
It’s being used by more than 150,000 stores and the list is getting bigger every day. Just look at this chart from BuiltWith about new stores using Shopify.
- Easier to start
- Minimum Setup cost
- Awesome Support
- Owner friendly (Better UI than competitors and easier to adapt)
- Feature Packed
- Extensible with App Marketplace
- Mobile friendly
- Excellent support
- Good ecosystem
Shopify used to have a single payment gateway support before but that’s not the case anymore. Also it’s not as much as Customizable as WooCommerce.
- Shopify Trial 14 days
- Shopify Stores in India
Payment Gateways- PayU and CCAvenue
You have probably heard of WordPress and ease of use for publishing. WooCommerce is just a WordPress plugin which adds the Ecommerce part.
It was developed by WooThemes and recently got acquired by Automattic, the company behind WordPress. WooCommerce became very popular since its inception due to WordPress ecosystem and open source nature.
WooCommerce is self-hosted platform. So, you have to host it at your own server/hosting account and manage it yourself. That has its own set of pros and cons.
The positive things about WooCommerce and other self-hosted platform are they offer more control over your own site, it’s bit cheaper than hosted platform and offers more customization using unlimited plugins for almost anything. That’s the power of WordPress.
The negative of self-hosting is that it makes the setup and management bit harder for newbies. You have to understand and bother with frequent updates, plugins and performance optimization which is already taken care in platforms like Shopify.
However WooCommerce is very simple to use after the initial setup. It
WooCommerce and Shopify comparison come close when you compare the features. If you don’t mind a hosted platform, Go for Shopify or else choose WooCommerce.
- Cheaper than Hosted Platforms
- Unlimited customizability
- WordPress ecosystem
- Simple to use
- Mobile friendly with responsive themes
WooCommerce has higher setup costs, requires maintenance and paying for many plugins might be annoying.
Hosting/Server for WooCommerce
My favourite is SiteGround.
SiteGround is a good choice if you need excellent 24*7 support, Fast server and easy user interface at affordable price (starts from $4/month).
StudioPress offers Hosting plus good looking themes in one package.
- WooCommerce Plugin
- WooCommerce Themes Free and Paid
KartRocket and Zepo
They are new Indian player and trying to be the Shopify of India. Honestly, they still need to evolve more to bridge the gap between their Canadian counterpart (Shopify).
One can think about using them because of their tight integration (Special pricing for the merchants) with Payment Gateways and Logistics and Indian Support.
I have heard good things about Zepo team. No direct experience with KartRocket but recent investments in the company gives good hope. I’ll write about KartRocket is depth when I have reviewed it.
Magento is the big brother. It is the most popular ecommerce platform. However it is not suitable for a single man operation and bulky for small stores. Setup cost is much higher than any other platform listed here.
Shipping and Order Fulfilment
You will need a courier service to deliver your products to the customers. Boom in Ecommerce has also helped the Shipping and Logistics business and there are many new players (Delhivery, Ecom Express, GoJavas etc) in this field now.
No clear winner here. I am just going to list the popular ones and contact their local representative and get the best deal.
You also might want to offer the Shipment tracking to your customers. These are some Shipment tracker and Logistic solutions to help you out.
I mentioned about the Multi-channel retailing at the start. It might be a good way to generate more revenue and customers using those big players.
How do you do it?
You can upload your products to the marketplaces directly and manually manage inventory at your store backend. However the task is daunting and therefore we have integration to automate this.
Two of the popular names here are BrownTape and Unicommerce. No Direct experience again (Meh! So much for being an ecommerce consultant) but choose the one which integrates with your store software.
Legals and Taxation
It’s not required to set up a company to do ecommerce. You can be registered as a sole proprietor and that should be enough. However some payment gateways asks for Business ownership documentation, so it’s better to just register an LLP. I have been a partner in LLP and it’s very easy to setup.
You can also consult your Lawyer friend or a CA for more detail.
You can get details about taxation here and here.
Did I miss anything? Do you have something to add? What would you want me to write about next? Use the comment box below.
I finally updated this post. You won’t believe how hard it was for a compulsive procrastinator :). Please let me know if you have any suggestion or want to add anything as comment.