The current situation has all businesses feeling the pain to varying degrees, but it’s independent retailers that are hurting the most. At Shopify, our immediate priority is to help retailers shift from brick-and-mortar to online, so they can weather this storm and build a more resilient business.
Even lightweight solutions, like creating a simple Shopify store to offer local pickup or local delivery to your customers, can eventually lead to a more holistic shift to selling all or most of your products online.
Below, we’ll outline the essential steps to get your brick-and-mortar business online. You'll learn how to treat your homepage like your storefront and transition some of your physical store experience onto your product pages—and we'll include additional resources to help you every step of the way.
How do I create an online store?
1. Start a Shopify 14-day free trial
Here you’ll choose your store name, which will become the URL or domain name that your customers will use to shop from your store. We recommend the Basic plan to start with, but you can always upgrade as you see fit.
Note: You'll need to add your credit card or PayPal address. Since you’re on a 14-day free trial, you won't be billed for the duration of the trial period, and we’ll send you a reminder before your trial ends.
2. Choose a theme
Find the right theme, or website template, for your online store in the Shopify Theme Store. You can start with a free theme built by Shopify, or you can purchase a theme developed by one of our Partners.
You want synchrony between your brick-and-mortar store and online presence, so try browsing themes by collection or industry and choosing one that best-fits your brand. Of course, no theme is restricted to any industry, it’s just helpful to get you started quickly. You can always customize your theme later.
Prep your essential pages
The faster you make your online store available, the sooner customers will be able to continue purchasing your products. Focus on the basics: make sure your store features recognizable aspects of your business (like your logo or brand colors) and makes it easy for people to browse and buy.
No need to worry about the frills. Your priority is to get your products online and sell your in-store inventory. Here are the pages we recommend creating before you launch:
Treat your homepage like your retail storefront. Shoppers use the homepage to discover new offers and promotions, and navigate to product pages. Consider having a banner or notification bar that shares crucial information with customers, like what purchase or shipping options you've made available, or how they can support you with a gift card purchase.
Recent supply chain challenges have been affecting shipping services in unpredictable ways, your customers may have a few shipping-related questions for you. Ask around to see how other local businesses are dealing with their Shipping FAQ at this time. It's important to share any extra steps you're taking to keep customers safe as you ship orders to their door, such as added precautions when you prepare or package your products.
Return and exchange policy
A written return policy allows you to establish clear, consistent guidelines for how customers can replace or refund their purchase. Dealing with return and exchange requests on a case-by-case basis isn't sustainable, and can add unnecessary complexity (and cost) to your operation.
A good Contact Us page sets the right expectations with customers and makes it clear where and when they can reach you. Consider including a map of your store location for local shoppers, as well as a contact form so people don’t have to leave your website to get in touch with you.
Your product pages are where you sell the value of your products, so it’s important to make them detailed and compelling. Below we’ve listed resources to help you build high-converting product pages, write compelling product descriptions, shoot good-looking product photography with the tools you have available.
- Complete DIY guide to product photography
- Must-know tips for optimizing your images
- How to write product descriptions that sell
- Shopify experts share how to optimize product pages
Add your products
Adding your products can take some time if you have a large catalog, but there are ways to quickly get started. We've recently rolled out updates to make this process faster and easier, and we’re now offering free data migration services for customers launching their online store for the first time.
Here are a few ways you can add products:
- Bulk upload from your Shopify admin. If you’re a Shopify customer, you can do a simple bulk upload of your inventory into Shopify.
- Use Shopify Mobile or Shopify POS. If you haven’t been up-to-date with your inventory, use the Shopify Mobile app and take pictures of your products with your mobile device’s camera, and add them to your online store, all in one simple workflow.
- Use our free POS data migration service. For those of you who aren’t using Shopify POS for your brick-and-mortar store, this service will help you migrate your POS data into Shopify’s platform. Migrations are available for most POS systems, including Lightspeed, Square, Quickbooks, Vend, Shopkeep, and more.
💡Tip: List your in-store inventory first. If you have a SKU-heavy business and the thought of adding your entire catalogue feels daunting, use your inventory management or reporting tool to identify top-performing products and upload those first. If you don’t have a system in place, perform ABC analysis instead to identify your best products.
Set up gift cards
Selling digital gift cards is one of the fastest ways for a brick-and-mortar business to start selling online and secure immediate cash flow. Here’s how it works:
- You create a digital gift card
- Customers can then buy and pay for gift cards through your new online store
- Purchased gift cards are then delivered to your customers by email
- All active gift cards can be tracked and managed in Shopify as customers redeem them in the future
- As you launch new products that can be purchased online or make your products available for local delivery or pickup, customers can redeem gift cards at checkout. By default, the gift cards you create never expire.
💡Tip: Make your gift card program discoverable by submitting it to community directories that organize offers from local businesses. For example, the town of Cornwall, Ontario set up the Main Street gift card directory, and is encouraging the community to purchase local gift certificates for future use.
Set up shipping
Shoppers are stuck at home and many need order to reach their doorstep, which means providing an affordable and convenient shipping experience is now crucial. Here are some recommendations to keep your business moving during these uncertain times—while staying safe.
1. Keep shipping costs down
Shipping costs can quickly eat away at independent retailers’ margins, so be strategic about the way you approach shipping and fulfillment. Here are a few suggestions:
- Opt for manual shipping: Print labels, send shipping notifications and track every part of your orders and manually fulfill orders where possible.
- Skip the fancy packaging. You can get free packaging from all major couriers in the United States (USPS, DHL Express, and UPS) and Canada (Canada Post).
- Set up local delivery. You now can give nearby customers the ability to select local delivery at checkout. When you enable local delivery from your shipping settings, you can define the delivery area and price that best suit your business. You can then track and manage all local orders from your Shopify admin.
2. Try Shopify Shipping
Shopify Shipping works with USPS, UPS, and DHL in the United States, and Canada Post in Canada, and offers multiple mail classes with each carrier, so you can access features like overnight delivery, package pick-ups, tracking information, international shipping, and more depending on the carrier and mail class you choose.
We’ve also worked with carriers directly to negotiate competitive rates for each shipping service, and those rates are automatically included on every plan at no extra cost to you.
3. Set up “curbside pickup” for local customers
Curbside pickup allows your local customers to buy something online and pick it up outside your store—without ever having to leave their car. This “drive-through” option not only minimizes person-to-person interactions, it’s also faster and reduces shipping costs. Here are the steps:
- Your customer will order and pay you online through your new online store
- You’ll get the order emailed to you, so you can prepare it safely
- You’ll then tell the customer when it’s ready for pickup
- Your customer will drive to your store and pop their trunk
- You’ll safely place their order in their trunk
- That’s it, you're done!
Set up payments
There are a few things to consider when you're choosing which payment methods to offer online. If you want to let your customers pay using a credit card, then you can use Shopify Payments or a third-party provider. There are also several ways for customers to pay online without using a credit card, like PayPal, Amazon Pay, and Apple Pay. Finally, accelerated checkouts like Shop Pay save shipping and payment information for returning customers to help them check out faster.
Read these considerations and instructions to make sure you choose the right payment methods for your business.
Let shoppers know you’re open for business
After you've set up your online store, your first priority is to inform current customers that you're still open for business. Here's how to announce that you’ve launched an online store, along with a few places you can likely reach your customers:
- Email your customers. Have you collected customers' emails in-person, through an existing website, or through your point of sale software? Now is a good time to stay in regular contact with them, and email provides a direct line to their inbox. To start, let customers know about recent changes, and how they can continue to buy your products or support you with gift card purchases.
- Add signage to your storefront. For your local foot traffic, a sign on your door directing shoppers to your online store can be a simple but effective solution for notifying people about your new online store.
- Post to social media. If you’re active on social media, add your store’s URL to your Instagram bio, pin a Tweet with your new URL or domain name, and share a status update with a link to your store on your Facebook page.
- Add or update local listings. Google My Business is a free tool that helps you market your local business in Google Search and Google Maps. For example, you can post your website URL and photos of your products on your Business Profile, which can appear in Google's search results. You can also list any of your special promotions or offers so customers have a reason to online shop with you.
- Announce it on your homepage (when it’s live). Remember, your customers are likely feeling just as isolated and disconnected as you are, so communicate with them often and make it easy for them to get in touch with you. Independent retailers rely on the personal connections they develop with their loyal customers, so the contact page should serve as a reminder to your customers that you’re still there for them.
How Shopify can help
Independent business owners like you are the heart of Shopify, and we‘re doing everything we can to support you. For more information about the actions we’re taking, answers to your questions, or access to resources to help you navigate your business during these uncertain times, read our COVID-19 response.
Shopify's global support team remains available 24/7 to offer help, anything from getting your retail business online to advice on navigating the current situation. Shopify's Expert Marketplace and Shopify's App Store is also available if you need specialized work or urgent turnaround. We've even curated experts and apps that will be the most helpful in response to COVID-19 demands. Whatever you need, we’re here to help you get through these tough times and get you set up for future success.
Illustration by Gracia Lam