Top 7 Mistakes to Avoid when starting your first Online Store

New store owners have a lot on their plate when it comes to running their online stores. Design and Development of the store, inventory management, customer satisfaction, payments, and shipping are only a few tasks that take up valuable time when starting out. Only between 5 and 10% of online stores succeed long term, and it can be a costly and time-consuming endeavor. 

Merchants need to do extensive research before starting and be keenly aware of all the potential pitfalls and roadblocks that lie in wait on the road to e-commerce success. 

So what potential mistakes can be avoided when starting your first online business

1. Not focusing on your specialty and trying to be an everything store

Keep it simple by starting with a smaller product catalog

Often new merchants believe they have to offer thousands of choices for their customers and become the next Amazon. They make the mistake of trying to add as many products across as many categories as possible. More options are not always better, and first-time merchants might benefit from focusing on what they are already good at, what their specialty is, and what they are passionate about. 

Doing this will help them be overwhelmed by the severity of the task of uploading numerous products or having to carry stock for each. Starting with a smaller product catalog will keep things nice and easy. 

Start with ten products and focus on providing as much detail as possible on your products, incl: 

  • High quality and high res images
  • User and SEO Friendly Product Titles
  • Detailed descriptions that entice shoppers to buy and educates them on the benefits of buying from you
  • Proper category/collection structure that makes sense to users

2. Not doing market research on the competition in the pre-build phase

Many merchants who start out make the mistake of not researching what is already available online. Some key questions to ask yourself:

  • What are the competitors doing well, and what could you improve on that they might be getting wrong? Or is there a gap in the market that you can fill? 
  • Doing this early in the planning phase will help you understand the market segment that you will be competing in and the amount of work required to make it a success. Some key questions to ask yourself?
  • How crowded is your market segment?
  • What design ideas could you borrow from them and improve on in your site?
  • What features do they offer that can give you an edge? Are they using loyalty programs to keep customers coming back? Do they have live chat, free shipping, or any other incentives to get people buying?
  • Are there any roadblocks in their buyer journey that increase users' friction?
  • Do they have a social media strategy, and how engaged is their audience.
  • Are they using discounts, and can you match them on price or quality?
  • What is the average cost per click on ads for your type of product? 

Doing the above research beforehand can give you the edge and help to avoid costly mistakes. It may also ensure that you don't have to spend more money or time fixing some of the issues after the fact. Or you might even decide to focus on a less competitive product category if a few big players already dominate the space.

3. Not having a marketing plan ready

Often people fall head over heels in love with their new business idea that they get blinded by it. They believe everyone will feel the same way they do about their products and will flock to the new site to buy. One of the biggest mistakes we've seen is that this blind faith makes them oblivious to the fact that they will still need to market their product. 

The hard truth is no one will come to your site right after launch if you don't have a plan to get them there. There is a wise saying in online shopping that is often ignored: 

“You have to buy your customers.”

Online shoppers have more choices these days than ever before. There are millions of online shops to choose from on the internet, and your store will have to fight for these shoppers' attention.

That means you will need a strategy first to find out where those customers are and how you can grab their attention.

Three of the critical metrics to online success are 1. number of store visits. 2. conversion rate and 3. average order value. 

In other articles, we focused on how to improve the last two, but the first point is where it all begins.

You can't convert shoppers if they don't even know you exist.

This means developing an effective marketing strategy. You have to ask yourself if you have the following in place or the budget and time to do it properly. Just having an Instagram or Twitter page means nothing if you aren't actively using it to market yourself and your products

Your marketing strategy needs to include some of the following:

4. Building your site on the wrong platform

Today, prospective online merchants have multiple choices on what platform to build their site and sell their products. It is not a one-size-fits-all, and it is essential to do your research on the pros and cons of each platform. They all offer different features and price points, and you will benefit from carefully deciding which one would suit your specific product. A furniture company might be put off from the per-transaction cost of Shopify and decide on Woocommerce. Or you might decide that building on Woocommerce means you would need a developer on call, and it would be best to stick with Shopify, where security and updates are taken care of.

Make a shortlist of all the platforms that match your needs and compare all the features, limitations, and pricing. Start with a free trial offered by most platforms, and get comfortable with the interface before deciding on the final one.

Some of the Top e-commerce platforms available include:

5. Using the wrong theme for your design

Choosing the right shop theme is one of the most important choices facing new store owners. There are thousands of themes available for Shopify and Woocommerce, and if you choose the wrong one, it might mean a complete redesign in the future. You might only realize after launch that your site is not mobile responsive. Or that your site speed is affecting your conversion rate and ranking. Or that the built-in design template doesn't match your products

You could go with a free theme first only to realize afterward that you now need extra apps to accomplish what many advanced themes include built it.

Some of the best themes include advanced conversion features as standard:

  • Free Shipping message in the Cart and Checkout
  • Back in Stock Notifications
  • Upselling/Cross selling
  • Related Items sections
  • Product Bundles
  • Quantity Discounts
  • In cart recommendations
  • Size Charts on product pages
  • Popups
  • Mega Menus
  • Cookie consent
  • Product Quickview
  • Sticky Add To cart
  • Wishlists
  • Compare Products
  • Search Suggestions

You should also consider how difficult the theme is to work with is? Does it need a lot of coding knowledge, or is it user-friendly? Does it offer good support long term? Is it reasonably priced compared to other offerings? 

Top tip: Go through the reviews of the themes you consider and see what other merchants say regarding the theme features, ease of use, and support. 

You could also look outside the traditional theme marketplaces. For instance, the Shopify theme shop has some great options but can be expensive, with some themes costing $400 compared to a similar high-quality one available at sites like Themeforest that sells for $69. 

6. Not taking customer service seriously

Your customers are your most valuable resource when it comes to honest feedback. You must make sure you listen to your customers and improve based on the feedback you receive. Make it easy for customers to connect with you by clearly displaying your contact details in the header, footer, and contact page. Add a live chat icon on your site so a customer can engage in real-time regarding any questions they might have. (Make sure that the live chat icon isn't blocking key areas of your site like the checkout button!)

Make a list of all the questions you get and add these to your FAQ pages. This will save you time in the future and also answer your customers' questions within the site. FAQ pages also tend to rank high in search results, and Google sometimes even includes your questions and answers as Search Snippets.

Top tip: Check your abandoned checkout section weekly for any customers who tried to check out multiple times within a short time. Manually contact them to enquire if anything went wrong or if they needed any help. Your customers will appreciate the human touch, and you'll be able to spot any technical issues early on, like a faulty payment gateway or issues with shipping zones.

7. Offering a low-quality Search function in your shop

Your shop's search functionality can make or break the experience for potential customers. There is nothing more frustrating than searching for an item and either getting no results or having unrelated products showing. It is vital that your site search works seamlessly within your store and quickly displays all the relevant information to help the customer find what they are looking for. Suggested search and live predictive search are extra features that help improve your users' overall experience. 

Many themes come with some of these features built-in, or you have the option of going for an Advanced Search app that brings the above and many more features to your fingertips. For instance, some apps also provide valuable analytics data on what users are searching for most, what search terms brought in the most sales, and also what searches displayed zero results. This data can then be used to point users in the right direction the next time they use your site or even be used to upsell related products to customers while they search.

Most merchants never even consider the search function a potential roadblock for users and are oblivious to how it affects their conversion rate. Advanced search can have a significant impact on your customer satisfaction and revenue. 


We hope our readers find value in the above points on what to avoid when starting out. eCommerce is an exciting yet daunting venture for many first-time merchants, and proper research and planning will go far in helping store owners to succeed long term. 

Let us know your experiences with starting your online business in the comments below.

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