Quick introduction to online store platforms

When it comes to starting an online store, there are many things to take into consideration. One of the most important aspects is which platform you are going to use to run your e-commerce site.

I’ve been mainly using Shopify because I believe it offers the most customisation whilst being competitively priced. The admin interface is by far the easiest to navigate and use out of the big three small business e-commerce platforms. The other two are Volusion and BigCommerce.

Furthermore, you can build an ecommerce site with website builders, too. If you want to check them out, read my website builders review here.

In regards to customisation, Shopify allows almost every aspect of their templates to be altered in some way. You can also change the functionality of most parts of your site. On top of this they also have the largest app store for added functionality. Comparatively, Volusion only has one template that can only have minor changes made to it.

The only real downside is not being able to fully customise your checkout. Shopify restricts access to this page for security reasons. However the checkout comes fully responsive, so it will work perfectly for customers shopping on mobile devices.

How to set up your own e-commerce site with the help of Shopify

Setting up Shopify

Signing up with Shopify and starting your store couldn’t be any easier and they even offer a 14 day free trial to get you going.

To launch your Shopify store, you must sign up for an account.

1: Sign Up

To start, visit Shopify.com. Use the signup form to start creating an account.

Enter the required details and then click the ‘Create your store now’ button.

Your store name needs to be unique or Shopify will ask you to choose something else.

2: A Few More Details

After this initial screen you’ll be asked for a few more details, these include your name, address, country and a contact number.

You will also be asked if you have products and, if so, what you aim to sell. If you’re just trying out Shopify to see if it works for you, you can select ‘I’m just playing around’ in the ‘Do you have products?’ dropdown, and ‘I’m not sure’ in the ‘What will you sell?’ section.

Once complete, click ‘I’m done’.

3: Start Setting Up

After you’ve signed up you’ll be directed straight to your store admin screen. Now you are ready to start customising your store’s look, uploading products and setting up payments and shipping.

Shopify homescreen Your home admin screen tells you all you need to know to get you up and running.

Choosing a theme

Shopify has its own official theme store. These themes are all guaranteed to have full support from the designers so you know your store is in good hands.

All themes come with a comprehensive list of modifications you can make without having to touch a line of code. The premium themes come with more modifications, but that’s not to say you can’t achieve a great looking site with a free one. These changes are outlined in the next section.

If you want to make wholesale changes to a theme, there are very few limitations on what can be achieved by accessing the HTML and CSS. Don’t worry if you haven’t got any coding experience. Shopify has an international team of design agencies they call ‘Shopify Experts’ that you can hire to fully customise your site.

To find a theme that suits your needs we recommend the following:

1: Browse the Theme Store

Log into Shopify and visit the Shopify Theme Store at themes.shopify.com. Here you’ll find over 180 theme variations to choose from, including a good selection of free ones.

You can filter by paid or free, industry and by features. You can also sort themes by price, popularity, and most recent.

browse-theme-store The Shopify Theme Store.

2: Check the functionality and reviews

Once you’ve found a theme you like, click on the theme’s sample image. You’ll be given more information about the theme, such as whether the theme is responsive/mobile ready among other features.

Scroll down to read some reviews to find out what e-tailers using the theme think of it.

Step 3: Preview the theme

To see the theme in action, click View Demo. You’ll see this below the green ‘Preview Theme in your Store’ button.

If the theme comes in a range of styles, you can also view demos of the different styles by clicking on them.

4: Get the theme

Once you’ve found a theme you like, click the green button.

Shopify will ask you to confirm that you want to install the theme.

Click Publish as my Shop’s Theme.

Don’t worry if you’re not 100% sure it’s the right theme for you. You can always change your mind later.


5: Finish up

After the theme has installed, Shopify will let you know, and will give you the option to Go to your Theme Manager. Click this.

Your theme manager shows published themes (the one you installed or activated most recently) and unpublished themes below (previously installed themes).

finish your ecommerce store


Tweaking Shopify

The majority of Shopify themes allow you to make simple changes that can massively change the appearance of your store, so you can rest assured knowing you won’t end up with a website that looks like a clone of thousands of other stores.

shopify store templates

These stores are all built using the same theme.

On your admin screen, select ‘Themes’ from the left hand navigation menu. On this page you will see your live theme in a box at the top, in the top right hand corner of that box will be two buttons. The first one is of three dots, which gives you some basic settings changes. One of these allows you to make a duplicate of the theme. We highly recommend you do this incase you make some changes you don’t like, then you can delete the duplicate and start again. The second button says ‘Customize Theme’. If you click that you will be taken to a page that controls all the basic functionality of your store. This is a great time for you to have a thorough play with the settings and test out all the features so you can find out what your site is capable of.

shopify custom theme settings

Your themes custom settings.

changing colours in your theme

Changing colours in your theme.


The most common features will include:

  • uploading logos
  • uploading slides to a homepage carousel
  • adding related item functionality to product pages
  • choosing how many items appear on each line of the collection pages
  • colour schemes
  • font choices.

Some themes will also allow you to reposition elements on pages such as showing product images on the left, right or center of the page. You can also choose whether you want to display social like/tweet/pin/+1 buttons.

Adding products

Again, navigating from the bar on the left select ‘Products’. You will then see a blue ‘Add a product’ button in the top right hand corner of the page. Use the following screen to add as much detail as needed about your products. Especially look at those that will help with SEO such as name, description and URL. Also include as much detail about variants as possible to help inform customers about your items.

This is also the screen where you upload product pictures. Once the images are uploaded you can rearrange them so don’t worry about uploading them in any particular order.

Your product screen

The Product screen. Make sure you fill out as much information as possible.

Product images can make a sale so make sure you show your products off to their best and highlight any special or unique features with close up photos. To keep your store looking tidy we suggest you keep all images the same dimensions. Unless of course you plan to make your collection pages look like a Pinterest board.

Once everything is filled out always remember to click the ‘Save product’ button in the top and bottom right hand corners.

Setting up collections

A collection is any group of products that have some feature in common that customers might look for when visiting your store. For example, your customers might be shopping for:

  • clothes specifically for men, women, or children
  • items of a certain type, such as lamps, cushions, or rugs
  • items on sale
  • items in a certain size or color
  • seasonal products such as holiday cards and decorations.

Products can appear in any number of collections. Usually, you would display your collections on your homepage and in the navigation bar. This helps customers find what they’re looking for without having to click through your whole catalog.

Your product screen

The Collection set up screen works in exactly the same way as the Product screen

Manual and automatic collections

When you add a new collection, you can select how products should be added to it. These are the two options:

  • Manually -
You add and remove products in a manual collection individually.
  • Automatically -
You can set up selection conditions to automatically include products that meet certain criteria.

Payment gateways

A payment gateway allows you to take payment from your customers via your website. The price and commission rate is important, but it’s also important to see what features they offer. Not all payment gateways are created equal.

You need to look at the following when choosing the right payment gateway for you.

payment gateways

  1. Transaction Fees

When you take a payment, some gateways will keep a small percentage or flat fee (or sometimes both) for letting you use their service. Compare these based on what your anticipated sales are.

  1. Card Types

You need to know what types of card are accepted by your chosen Payment Gateway. All accept VISA and Mastercard, while most accept American Express. Paypal is also becoming popular for online payments.

  1. Offsite Checkout

Some gateways will take the payment on their own servers via their own form. This means the customer is taken away from your checkout and they pay on the form provided by your payment gateway. They are then redirected to your confirmation page once the customer successfully pays. This allows you to have a bit more control of the checkout process. Now you can circumvent Shopify’s limitations in that they don’t let you customise the checkout other than with CSS.

Payment gateway transaction fees are added on top of Shopify’s own transaction fees. However as of November stores based in the US and UK can use Shopify Payments. Depending upon your Shopify plan, you can save on these extra costs. Relative to your plan you will receive these highly appealing rates.

  • Basic 2.4% + 20p
  • Professional 2.1% + 20p
  • Unlimited 1.8% + 20p

Depending on how many transactions you make every month it could be worth upgrading to take advantage of these savings.

If you live in the US or UK your store will automatically use Shopify Payments. To complete this, click the ‘Complete Shopify Payments account setup’ button found in Settings > Payments. If you wish to use a third party gateway you can use the ‘enable payment gateways’ link on the same page.

Making your store live

Before your site can go live you need to add a few more details about your company and how you plan to make deliveries and pay tax.


Make sure all your business information is filled out on this page. Also make sure to make use of the Google Analytics feature. This can prove to be an invaluable source for tracking your stores visitors.

general shopify settings


taxes for shopify online store

  1. Go to the Products page of your admin
  1. Click on the name of a given product.
  1. Scroll down to the section called “Inventory & variants”.
  1. Click on the edit link next to your Product Variant to open a dialog window.
  1. Make sure the checkboxes next to Charge taxes and Requires shipping are checked if you need to include these with your products.
  1. Some stores won’t need to charge taxes or shipping on products like digital goods. On the other hand, a T-shirt store will likely need to charge both.
  1. If you are planning to ship your product to customers, make sure to enter the product’s weight in the appropriate field.


If your shipping rates are too narrow, or you don’t give enough options, you may lose out on some sales. Shopify will only calculate a shipping rate for your customers based on the rules that you define in the Shipping page of the admin. To make sure you won’t lose any sales:


  1. From your store admin, go to the Settings > Shipping page.
  1. In the “Shipping rates” section, look to see if you have set a weight-based shipping rate and adjust it according to your product’s specifications.

Test your order system

To test your system you can simulate a transaction using Shopify’s Bogus Gateway.

To use the Bogus Gateway:

  1. From your store Admin, click Settings, then Payments to go to your Payments settings
  1. If you have a credit card gateway enabled, deactivate it before continuing. (Click Edit, then Deactivate, then confirm your deactivation.)
  1. In the Accept credit cards section, click Select a Credit Card Gateway to open the drop-down menu.
  1. Scroll down the list to Other, then click (for testing) Bogus Gateway.
  1. Click Activate (or Reactivate, if you’ve used the Bogus Gateway before).
  1. Go to your storefront and place an order as a customer would. At checkout, enter the following credit card details instead of genuine numbers:

Testing a real payment gateway with a genuine transaction:

  1. Make sure you’ve set up the payment gateway you want to test.
  1. Make a purchase from your store as a customer would, and complete checkout using genuine credit card details.
  1. Cancel the order immediately, to refund yourself and avoid paying transaction fees.
  1. Log in to your payment gateway to make sure the funds went through.

Is this free?

Yes – just be sure to cancel and refund the order soon after you place it.

If your billing cycle hits after you’ve placed the test order but before you cancel it, the transaction fees will appear on your bill. You can still cancel after paying your bill to Shopify, but you’ll receive the refund as a transaction credit on your account. You can use transaction credits to pay future transaction fees.


To get your site live you’ll need a domain name. You have two choices for this. Firstly you can buy a domain from Shopify and it will be added to your store automatically. This saves you time, especially if you have no knowledge of hosting a website. These domains typically cost $9-$14 USD per year. Your second option is to purchase a domain from a third party such as GoDaddy. These domains start from $1.99 USD a year. The downside is that you’ll have to redirect the DNS records yourself which can seem daunting at first.

Here are the steps to put your new Shopify store live on a third party domain name.

  1. Add the new domain in Shopify

In the Shopify admin, from the left hand navigation go to Settings and then Domains and add your domain name using the ‘Add an existing domain’ button.

  1. Update DNS records

Login to your domain registrar and make the following changes to the DNS records:

  • Replace the @ or main A record with the following IP address:
  • Add or replace the www CNAME with storename.myshopify.com (i.e. your store Shopify link without the http bit, which you can see on the domains settings page)
  1. Remove any storefront passwords

Otherwise no one will be able to access your site even once it’s live.

  1. Set as primary if relevant

Whilst in Settings > Domains, you can choose your main domain by using the dropdown at the top of the screen:

primary domain


Ensure that you also check the ‘Redirect all traffic to this domain’. This means that traffic to all other domains will be directed to your primary domain. This is crucial for good SEO.

  1. Adding other domains 

You can repeat steps 1 and 2 with other domain names you own. All domain names will redirect to the ‘Primary’ domain, which you can change at any time with the ‘Set as primary’ option next to each domain name.

Note that the number of domain names you own has no influence on SEO.

adding custom domains on shopify


And that is all there is to it. In theory you can have a great looking, unique and fully-functioning store in less than half an hour without having to be a web expert. This way you can spend most of your time marketing your product rather than having to maintain the site.

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  1. Hi,

    I just had a question… after the website is set up when people buy products how does the business owner get paid? Is that an easy thing to understand and setup or does it require a link with ones bank account? Also, Are there ways to link quickbooks to this type of websites?

    Thank you so much,

    • Hi Christa,

      You can set up “PayPal” payments link or Quickbooks too. Shopify also has its own built-in payment processors that you should make thing really easy. If you get confused a bit, feel free to get in touch with Shopify support chat – they have always been really helpful.

      Let me know if that helps,

  2. Hi Robert, I checked the list of gateways and If I want to setup an online store in Colombia (south America) which one can I use? . This country is not on the list? Please advise.

  3. Bilqees Fatema Syed

    Hi Robert,

    I had a query.
    We are a team of nutritionists. And we want to open a website for online nutrition consultation/nutrition counselling/diet planning. Its going to be a paid service. We plan to give diet plans, do skype calling for nutrition counselling and even write articles for viewers to browse through. What would you suggest for this?
    Please help.

    • Hi Bilqees,

      You seem to have a solid plan for a website. I’d start off with WordPress, though. It seems you don’t have much products to sell besides a diet plan and Skype consultation. If you are planning to write articles/blog posts too then WordPress seems to be best fit.

      Let me know if that helps,

  4. Hi Robert,
    Which website would you recommend for affiliate marketing?Shopify or WordPress?I am planning to make a niche affiliate website with good from Amazon mostly.

  5. Hi Robert,

    Which is better for my vision, WordPress or Shopify? I will be starting a website that has blog posts, hair advice, hair consultations, video tutorials, all the while selling hair products and t shirts. Looking forward to your response.

    • Hi Kathy,

      WordPress seems a bit better option as it suits well for content, blog posts, videos, images etc. Shopify isn’t that good for this kind of stuff – it’s mostly for selling things.

      Hope that helps

  6. Found the answer in the same post! Sorry, lot of info in one day… I should download a plugin for WordPress and create and online store 🙂 Thank you anyway, let´s see now if I´m able to do all this by myself!

  7. Hi Robert: have you used WooCommerce? What do you make of it? I’ve used it recently and was quiet impressed with it, so I’m wondering why you’re not even mentioning it. Many thanks.

    • Hi Sophie,

      I haven’t used WooCommerce, but it’s a great alternative (WordPress + WooCommerce) for Shopify. I might write a blog post about it in the near future. Thanks for letting me know :).

  8. Hi Robert

    We are planning to open an online store for a range of clothing/designer stuffs. We want to launch an e-commerce website which shall enable the visitors to shop while they browse. Which should be a preferred option, Shopify or WordPress?

    Abhishek Sinha

    • Shopify would be a better option, but WordPress is more tweakable. I guess if you’re just starting out then go with Shopify – you can always move onto another platform (like WordPress) if needed.

  9. thanks so much for your sites- very informative.
    I am trying to build a site for custom monograms- the customers first pick their product w/size, color… and then pick the monogram design and then pick the letters of their name…

    sort of complex, I am noticing as I try to build a site myself. Which site would you recommend? Do you think I could do it myself or I should hire someone? How much would it cost?

    Thank you!

    • Hi Annie,

      Everything you explained is fairly easy to do with WordPress/Shopify, but the monogram design can be a tricky one. I think it’s wise if you hire someone for it from codeable.io (WordPress) or peopleperhour.com

  10. I have a question, sorry if it sounds dumb.. I am new at this … I am starting an online boutique store I was trying to see what would be a better option for me to use shopify or wordpress?

  11. Hi Robert,
    I want to establish my online Jewellery selling website but as a starter I want it for free. Kindly let me know the best possible options for this purpose.

  12. I’m just now starting a website. I came here because I thought that after I got the domain I was good to go. Silly Me. I have a blog…. however, I want to have a store on my wordpress site…. or website…. can I do this with shopify? or do I need to look for a wordpress plugin?

    • If you want a really large shop with tons of items, go with Shopify.
      If you want to sell 10 – 30 items, go with WordPress.

      Shopify is better for larger ecommerce sites while WordPress is better for smaller ones.

  13. Hi Robert,

    I want to build a professional looking website featuring my coaching and public speaking practice. I will have a “Services” section with one1one online coaching sessions, public speaking events, and a few ebooks that I will sell (in the future I am planning to add more products like online trainings etc). What website builder do you suggest? Should I go for wordpress or shopify?

    As well, would you mind telling me what do you think about other website builders? I really want it to look very professional, I don’t care about the price too much.

    Thank you!


    • Hi Gabriela,

      Great questions. If you only have few services/coaching then WordPress is probably a way to go. If you’re dealing with more than 50 products – Shopify might be a better solution.

      I’m not a big fan on website builders, but I’m currently testing them out and soon will be adding a final review on WebsiteSetup.org

  14. Hi, I’m looking to build a site to sell a monthly recurring consulting program… What would my best option be? Does WordPress offer a recurring ecommerce or would shopify be better? Thanks, Dan

  15. Hi Robert,
    i want to create a store on shopify but i don’t have a personal products, but i will import items from other markets (ebay, amazon, aliexpress).
    how can i shipping product to Customers?
    there are some shopify’s apps help me to dropshipp products?

  16. Hi Robert. Does WordPress or Shopify have any fees while using their platform? Thinking of creating an ecommerce like website for fun.

  17. Hi Robert…
    Do you have any tips for getting more traffic to Shopify shop? I just created it, now trying to figure out how to get more visitors.

  18. Hi, Robert!
    Does the shopify handle with all the php and the back ending stuff? I mean, can use wordpress and/or shopify just to handle the css and html to me?
    Thank you for your time and considaration.

    • WP and Shopify are pretty similar to each other. You’ll be able to tweak the code by yourself from the back end (if needed).

  19. So if I am going to sell jewelry and want a website do I use WordPress AND shopify or just one of them? I was going to do my domain name on bluehost then use WordPress but can I sell on there or do I need shopify instead?

  20. H Robert,
    First of all I would like to thank you for the information. Your step by step direction are easy to follow. I have a small embroidery business, at this point was just a way to generate a little extra money but has so much more potential. If I set up my on-line store can I limit my customers to Paypal?

  21. Hello good sir!

    I had a question, I am trying to build a website for product delivery. Sort of like choosing a pizza, paying for it and then setting up for delivery. Do you suggest WordPress + Shopify?


    Alex O.

  22. Hello sir,

    First of all, thank you so much for all the help you’re providing for the newbies our here.

    I own an outdoor media company. We print banner ads and billboards for customers. our customers mostly place bulk orders and we print ads in varying sizes (no standard sizes). I’m unable to create a store with the option where the size of the print required is specified by the customer himself. Consequently my bill is always per squarefoot Another problem is that I require the customer to upload the file which needs to printed on the banner. I’m not able to provide these two options. I have tried using many different websites that help creating an online store.But I’ve had no success. Do I need to be able to use the back-end if I have to upload these specific options on my website? Is there any other sites which I could try that would allow me to freely customize my products page?

    Thank you for the help

  23. Hi Robert
    I heard that you are able to dropship on Shopify. I wanted to opening a dropship store online. Could I also use eBay and Amazon to dropship from?

    • Hi Patrice,

      You could definitely do dropshipping via Shopify. I know many folks who use Alibaba, Ebay & Amazon to dropship. Once you’ve set up – let me know how it goes 🙂

  24. Hi Robert,
    Just found your site and it is GREAT! I have a quick question. I’m trying to help my wife set-up an website/online store for a long time brick and mortar business she owns. We want both the website and shopping function, would like to use invoicing through square as the primary means of payment, and she will have a couple hundred (or more) product options with pictures. Each item will have a secondary option for customization. Should we use WordPress or Shopify?

  25. So if you are looking to sell around 10-15 products/ would WordPress be better? Does it still offer a checkout features and payment processing option like shopify? Also how can these be linked to something like outreach for bookkeeping/invoicing etc?

    • I think so. Shopify is more made for robust e-stores. If you have no more than 15 products, you’d be better off going with WordPress and using an e-commerce plugin. Let me know if that helps.

  26. Hi Robert.
    First of all I want to thank for the all the inforation you’ve provided here.
    I want to sell my designs and logos online. So which way is the cheapest one to achieve that. Do you recommend wordpress to build site like that.
    Sorry, I have another question, do you recommend to use wordpress to build site for people as bussiness ( small sites) or I shold use hand coding to build them?
    I highly appreciate your response.