Starting an online store may seem like an intimidating process. But the barrier to entry for becoming an online retailer is actually quite low. That’s because e-commerce platforms enable you to quickly and easily set up shop on the web – even if you’ve never done it before.

We’ve put together a simple guide to help you start your own e-commerce store: first, select a hosting provider, then choose the right e-commerce platform, and then select your payment gateways. Let’s jump right in!

Hosting your e-commerce site

To set up an online store, you’ll need a website listing your products for sale. The three key elements you’ll require at this stage are a registered domain name, a hosting account, and an HTTPS connection.

First on the list: your domain name. This acts as your site’s address, and makes it possible for customers to find and browse your store. Choosing an easy-to-recall name and registering it will help drive visitors to your site.

Next up, your hosting provider will manage the server where your website is stored. It’s important to choose a provider that you’re comfortable working with on a long-term basis, because this will be an ongoing relationship. Before choosing a hosting company, you might want to test out each option’s customer service. You’ll want to look for 24/7 availability, quick responses to your queries, and clear explanations.

Here at Hetzner, we register domain names, provide high-quality web hosting and are known for our reliable customer service. We host plenty of top e-commerce stores, so you can be assured that you’ll have everything you need to get started.

See our web hosting packages

Essential e-commerce security

E-commerce involves asking customers to trust you with sensitive information, including their credit card details. SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificates enable HTTPS, a secure connection between web browsers and your site’s server, so your customers’ information isn’t  likely to be stolen. We provide free SSL certificates to all Hetzner customers.

Of course, additional security measures can further protect your customers by preventing attacks and hackers. For instance, you may consider adding a Web Application Firewall (WAF) to your site. This helps to maintain your store’s reputation as a safe place to shop online, and protects both your brand and revenue streams. Hetzner has partnered with Cloudbric to protect your site without slowing it down, and is offering a free three-month trial. Cloudbric actively blocks hacking attempts against your site, in order to provide ongoing protection. You can try it for free for three months to see what true peace of mind feels like.

Choosing your e-commerce platform

Now that you’ve got your website hosted and your security sorted, it’s time to choose an e-commerce platform. These platforms make it easy to display your products and accept payments online. You can choose between platforms such as Shopify and WooCommerce – the latter can be easily added to any WordPress site.

‘Hosted’ platforms, such as Shopify, don’t require a hosting infrastructure, which seems like an advantage. The downside is that they limit your control over your content, along with your design and development choices.

Maintaining a hosting infrastructure so you can use a ‘self-hosted’ solution like WooCommerce may initially seem like a drawback, but at Hetzner we make it simple for you. Our basic plans let you maintain your e-commerce site with web hosting, a domain name, an SSL certificate, and Cloudbric security.

With a self-hosted platform, you also have ultimate control and flexibility over your store’s content and design. WooCommerce offers extensions to help you with shipping, product display options, social media marketing, data analysis, and much more. In other words, you can fully customise your store to meet your exact needs.

Selecting your payment gateways

Once you have a platform and hosting in place, you still need to decide how customers will pay for your products. Choosing the right payment gateway to offer is no small task. After all, you want to be sure that your customers’ payment information is in good hands.

Fortunately, popular e-commerce platforms tend to support multiple well-known and trusted payment gateways:

Many of these payment options are quite affordable. For example, PayPal and PayFast are available on both WooCommerce and Shopify with no upfront costs. You’ll have to pay transaction fees, of course, and there will be costs required to upgrade your subscription. For a store that’s just getting started, however, these gateways can be strong choices.

Some of the other trusted gateways you may want to check out include SnapScan and MyGate. Subscriptions for SnapScan start at R408, and it’s adept at providing a fast and simple mobile checkout process. As for MyGate, a single-site subscription costs R1111.

No matter what gateways you choose, it’s best to opt for those that don’t require a merchant account, and are supported by WooCommerce or one of its extensions. You’ll also want to conduct careful research into the fee structure for each option, in order to avoid any surprises.

SA e-commerce on the rise

With South African e-commerce expected to grow almost 9% annually over the next five years, now is the perfect time to get into online retail. Fortunately, you now know what you’ll need to start an online store.

Your first steps are to select a hosting provider, choose the right e-commerce platform, and select your payment gateways. Then you can start adding products to your site and making sales!