Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to build your own online shop with Shopify.
I’ll cover all the basics and a bit more, so you could get your online store up and running ASAP (We’re all busy, I know).
If you get stuck (I doubt you will), leave a comment or get in touch with me via the contact form.
Let’s get started…
How to Set up Your Own Online Shop with the Help of 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 with Shopify
Visit Shopify.com. Use the signup form to create an account.
Enter the required details and click the ‘Create your store now’ button.
Your store name needs to be unique or Shopify will ask you to choose something else.
After this initial screen, you’ll be asked for a few more details, including 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’.
2. Start Setting Up Your Online Shop
After you’ve signed up you’ll be directed straight to your store admin screen. Now you are ready to start customizing your store, uploading products and setting up payments and shipping.
3. Choose a “Theme” or a “Layout”
Shopify has its own official theme store. These themes are all guaranteed to have full support from the designers so you know that 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 you can also 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 customize 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. 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.
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 about what other e-tailers using the theme think of it.
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.
After the theme has installed, Shopify will let you know and will give you the option to Go to your Theme Manager.
Your theme manager shows published themes (the one you installed or activated most recently) and unpublished themes below (previously installed themes).
4. Edit Shopify Settings
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.
These stores are all built using the same theme.
On your admin screen, select ‘Themes’ from the left navigation menu. On this page you will see your live theme in a box at the top, in the top right 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 in case you make some changes you don’t like, you can delete the duplicate and start again.
The second button says ‘Customize Theme’. If you click it 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.
Your themes custom settings.
Changing colors 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
- color 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.
5. Add Your Products to The Store
Navigating the bar on the left select ‘Products’. You will then see a blue ‘Add a product’ button in the top right 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. Include as many details as possible to help inform the customers about your items.
This is 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.
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 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 corners.
Set up collections (groups of products)
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 sizes or colors
- 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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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 more popular for online payments.
- Offsite Checkout
Some gateways will take the payment on their own servers via their own form. This means that 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.
You can circumvent Shopify’s limitations – they don’t let you customize the checkout other than with CSS.
Payment gateway transaction fees are added on top of Shopify’s own transaction fees. 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. Depending on 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.
6. Get Your Online Shop “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. Make sure to use the Google Analytics feature. This can prove to be an invaluable source for tracking your store visitors.
- Go to the Products page of your admin
- Click on the name of a given product.
- Scroll down to the section called “Inventory & variants”.
- Click on the edit link next to your Product Variant to open a dialog window.
- Make sure the checkboxes next to Charge taxes and Requires shipping are checked if you need to include these with your products.
- 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.
- 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:
- From your store admin, go to the Settings > Shipping page.
- In the “Shipping rates” section, 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.
Using the Bogus Gateway:
- From your store Admin, click Settings, then Payments to go to your Payments settings
- If you have a credit card gateway enabled, deactivate it before continuing. (Click Edit, then Deactivate, then confirm your deactivation.)
- In the Accept credit cards section, click Select a Credit Card Gateway to open the drop-down menu.
- Scroll down the list to Other, then click (for testing) Bogus Gateway.
- Click Activate (or Reactivate, if you’ve used the Bogus Gateway before).
- 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:
- Make sure you’ve set up the payment gateway you want to test.
- Make a purchase from your store as a customer would, and complete checkout using genuine credit card details.
- Cancel the order immediately, to refund yourself and avoid paying transaction fees.
- 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.
7. Consider Buying a Domain Name
To get your site live you’ll need a domain name. You have two choices. 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 about 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.
If you’re unable to come up with a good domain name, read my tips on how to choose a good domain name.
Here are the steps to put your new Shopify store live on a third party domain name.
- Add the new domain in Shopify
In the Shopify admin, on the left navigation go to Settings and then Domains and add your domain name using the ‘Add an existing domain’ button.
- 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: 18.104.22.168
- Add or replace the www CNAME with storename.myshopify.com (i.e. your store Shopify link without the HTTP, which you can see on the domains settings page)
- Remove any storefront passwords
Otherwise, no one will be able to access your site even when it’s live.
- Set as primary if relevant
Whilst in Settings > Domains, you can choose your main domain by using the drop-down at the top of the screen:
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.
- 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.
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 products rather than having to maintain the site.
Alternatives for Shopify?
I’ve been mainly using WordPress & WooCommerce combo (cheaper & easier), but Shopify can be a good alternative.
For further reading: Shopify vs. WordPress (WooCommerce)
Furthermore, you can actually build an e-commerce site with website builders, too. If you want to check them out, read my website builders review here.
In regards to customization, Shopify allows almost every aspect of their templates to be altered in some way. You can also change the functionality for the 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 customize 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.