So you have decided to take the plunge and open an online store?
Congratulations, you are joining the wave of online selling that will transform retail as we know it.
If done correctly, creating an online store can multiply your business many fold and give you a lot of freedom and flexibility.
I know there are hundreds of questions that need to be answered before you can confidently make a choice on how and when you will launch your store online.
Being in India, opening an online store is has different challenges. The infrastructure is still evolving, credit cards are used by a small fraction of the population, there are language barriers, people don’t understand and trust online stores easily, and many other issues.
Despite the challenges, there are many successful e-commerce businesses that are flourishing.
Keep reading to understand how you can do the same for your online business.
What It Takes To Open An Online Store In India
There are hundreds of things to consider when you want to open an online store, in this guide I will cover the following.
- Choosing the right platform to sell online
- Choosing Hosting (for some platforms)
- Choosing Payment Gateways
- Legal Issues and Taxation
In other posts, I will cover the following aspects as well:
- Finding the right products to sell online
- Finding and contacting suppliers
- Promoting your online store
Choosing The Right Platform To Sell Online
Choosing the right platform is a lot trickier than it looks. With the growing number of options coming up, the choice can be overwhelming to make.
Broadly speaking, the first choice you need to make is between:
- A hosted solution
- A self hosted solution
A hosted solution would mean that you essentially choose a service provider to make your online store. The service provider would own the technology, servers and hosting where he/she will host your online store.
Since the service provider owns everything, they are responsible for keeping your store up and running, store security, features and everything else. Your responsibility would be to manage your products and taking care of your orders and customers.
Hosted solutions usually have a fixed month fee i.e. you a pay a fixed monthly fee to operate your online store.
Advantages Of Hosted Cart Solutions
- Suitable for tech newbies
- No need for active store management
- Upgrades happen automatically
- Small upfront investment and small monthly payments
- Integration with payment gateways done for you
- Integration with shipping providers done for you
Disadvantages Of Hosted Cart Solutions
- Little or no customization available
- Support can be a problem (depending on company)
- Themes can be generic and your store might not stand out
- Integration with other services can be problematic
The Most Popular Hosted Solutions For India (In No Order)
I’ll keep updating the list as I find more.
Let’s look at the platforms one by one.
Shopify.in is the Indian arm of the Canadian company Shopify which is based in Canada.
Shopify is a public company and extremely popular throughout the world. It’s a simple but powerful way to build an online store.
- Easy to build your online store
- Good ecosystem (Themes and App Marketplace)
- Lot of payment gateways supported
- Extensions and themes tend to be expensive
- India specific features can be hard to find in the plugin store
Shopify Supported Payment Gateways in India
- PayU Money
- PayU India
- Citrus Payments
- PayPal Express Checkout
- Mastercard Payment Gateway Services
and a few more.
Shopify pricing starts at just 9$ (585 INR) per month for selling without an online store.
To sell with an online store, you need to shell out 29$ (1885 INR) per month.
To understand if Shopify is the correct choice for you, take a 14 Day trial and explore the features. No payment method is required for trying out Shopify.
KartRocket is an India based company which helps you create your own online store.
Started just a few years ago, KartRocket powers thousands of stores on their platform.
Since they are India based, they offer many India specific features like COD verification, COD based on pincodes etc.
Check out the complete KartRocket Features here.
- Easy DIY solution
- Lets you create a mobile app for your store (using Apptuse)
- Free Citrus Payments and PayU Money Payment Gateway
- Integrated Shipping with 10,000+ pin code coverage (in the enterprise plan)
- No customization possible except adding basic scripts
- Support can be slow sometimes
- Some features might be buggy
See all the features of KartRocket here.
KartRocket pricing starts at Rs.3000 per month and goes upto Rs.7000 per month and above.
For detailed pricing of KartRocket, click here.
To see if KartRocket is the right platform to choose, I would recommend that you use their 14 Day free trial and test all the features.
Zepo is another e-commerce service provider that lets you create your online store quickly and easily.
Started in 2011, Zepo has over 2000 customers from India.
Zepo has all the basic and advanced features that help you sell online.
Some of the features are:
- Mega Menu
- Sorting and Flitering Featires
- Social Login
- Disount Code Generation
- SSL for extra security
For complete list of Zepo features, visit this page.
- Easy DIY solution
- Lets you create a mobile app for your store
- Free Payment Gateway
- Integrated Shipping with 20,000+ pin code coverage
- No customization possible except adding basic scripts
- Responsive site is an option only in the higher plans
Zepo offers a month price or a fixed one time fee with annual maintenance.
The pricing starts from Rs 1,999 and goes upto Rs 9,999 a month for their monthly plan.
For their one time plan, the pricing goes from Rs.49,999 to Rs.1,49,999 and above.
To check out the feature comparison and pricing for Zepo, click here.
Zepo also offers a 14 Day free trial. You can start a trial by clicking the button below.
Self Hosted Solutions
Self hosted solutions are the ones in which you are responsible for every thing that needs to be done to launch an online store.
Usually, the following things needs to be taken care of when using self hosted solutions.
- Buy a domain name
- Choose an appropriate hosting provider
- Choose an a shopping cart solution (CMS or content management system)
- Install the CMS on your selected e-commerce hosting provider
- Configure the CMS for taxes, shipping rates
- Choose and integrate a payment gateway
- Integrate logistics provider for automated tracking
- Upload your products and start selling
The strength and weakness of using a self hosted Shopping Cart software is that you get more control over the entire operation.
The reason that it’s a good thing and a bad thing is because if you have the technical skills you can create highly optimized and fully functional eCommerce store very easily.
But if you do not have the technical skills necessary you may end up creating a clunky and non performing eCommerce Store.
Think of it like this.
Imagine you are participating in a drag race.
For the race, you customize your car.
You open up the engine, tweak the transmission, upgrade the tires, the works.
Your car is now faster than ever.
But if you had little or no knowledge about how cars worked, your customization attempts would have turned you car into a clunker.
Similarly, if you are going to choose a self hosted e-commerce platform with little or technical skills, then you are setting yourself up for failure even before you begin.
Then what’s the good news?
The good news is that there are hundreds of professionals that that can help you create a online store with self hosted solution at a very affordable cost.
For people who have a general understanding of how technical things, work here is a step by step guide on how to setup your online store using many of the popular open source E-Commerce solutions.
Let’s look at the steps one by one.
Buying A domain Name
I hope why this point you have already decided what you will call your online store.
If the answer is yes then all you need to is go to your favorite domain registrar and buy the domain name that you need.
There are many options to choose from here
Choosing An Appropriate Hosting Provider
Choosing a good host is a very important.
A good host can mean the difference between fast running, low maintenance store and a slow and clunky web store.
It’s also very important that you choose the right host the first time as it is very painful and time consuming process to switch your hosting provider.
Here are some hosting providers that I have personally used or have heard good things about.
- Cloudways (for pre-configured and optimized stores)
- BigRock (for small stores)
- BlueHost USA
After you have chosen your hosting provider the next step yes to select the appropriate CMS for your online store.
A CMS means a content management system. It’s like a software that would be installed on your host that will help you manage your store.
In slightly technical terms, it will help you create a backend and a frontend for your store.
There are hundreds CMSs out there, I would recommend that you choose only one of the top and most popular eCommerce CMS.
The top CMSs are open source and are developed and maintained by hundreds of professionals around the world .
This means that your online store would have the most important features while being secure at the same time.
Here are my top 4 choices to create online store.
Woocommerce is an extension to WordPress which is the most popular CMS in the world.
WordPress is made by company called Automattic while Woocommerce was made by a company known as WooThemes.
WooCommerce was recently acquired by Automattic and is now part of WordPress itself.
The benefit of using Woocommerce is that it is extremely easy to setup and manage.
Not only that, Woocommerce is also an extremely flexible which means that you can customize almost everything about your online store with limited or no technical knowledge.
From a development point of view, the amount of free plugins and themes available is staggering. That means that any customization you need can most likely be done using a well made plugin at a very small price.
WooCoomerce is also extremely popular. According to Wappanalyzer, a staggering 37% of all online stores are powered by WooCommerce.
- Easy to setup and manage
- Large number of free plugins available
- Easy access to developers
- Extremely flexible
- Can be setup and run with limited technical knowledge
- Almost all payment gateways will provide an integration plugin for Woo-Commerce
- Not built from the ground up for e-commerce, but plugins help a lot
- Installing large number of plugins may slow down your store
- Not suitable for stores with large number of products (50,000 and above) without customization
- Recommended Hosts
- Free Plugins and Themes
- Premium Plugins and Themes
You might not have heard about Prestashop, but it has been around a long time.
Prestashop power 2,50,000 stores in over 200 countries and its a great solution to build an e-commerce store.
Prestashop has a long list of features and its easily the most feature packed e-commerce CMS.
To view the list of features, click here (PDF).
You can also check out the Prestashop’s official Theme and Plugin Marketplace to purchase plugins for features that you might need.
- The most feature packed e-commerce CMS out of the box
- Extremely light and efficient
- Can run of small servers (low hosting costs)
- Official theme and plugin marketplace makes it easy to add features
- Plugins are expensive compared to WooCoomerce Plugins
- Finding Indian developers is not easy
- Not all payment gateways have free integration kits for Prestashop
- Support can be expensive
- Number of plugins and themes are limited compared to WooCommerce
- Cloudways (Managed Cloud Hosting)
- TMD Hosting (Prestashop Recommended)
- InMotion Hosting (Prestashop Recommended)
Plugins and Themes
OpenCart is another worthy contender in the e-commerce CMS space with a long list of features.
OpenCart is used extensively by Indian merchants as its very easy to develop for and use.
The interface is user friendly and the latest version 2.2 is responsive out of the box. That means your e-commerce store will look great even without minimum customization.
For the complete list of features of OpenCart, click here.
- Light weight (less hosting cost)
- Easy to customize
- Developers are easy to find
- Official marketplace for themes and plugins
- Lots of features have to implemented via modding
- Number of freely available plugins is less compared to WooCommerce
- OpenCart Official Theme and Extension Marketplace
- Other OpenCart Premium Plugins
- Other OpenCart Premium Themes
Magento is the big daddy of the e-commerce CMS’s out there. For small business with resources, Magento can be the best solution out there to create a beautiful looking and fully functional online store.
Magento is owned by Ebay, which acquired Magento in 2011.
Magento offers multiple products, but here I will reference Magento Community Edition only. The community edition is open source and free to use.
Magento is a beast of a software and is designed from the ground up for features and scale meaning it can be a one stop solution for your e-commerce store.
- Fully Feature Rich e-commerce platform
- Highly scale-able
- Built specifically for e-commerce
- Magento requires high resources to run (high hosting costs)
- Needs optimization to run fast
- Difficult to customize as compared to other platforms
- Lesser number of free plugins/themes available
- Extensions can be very expensive
- Magento official extension marketplace (for Magento 2.0)
- Magento extension marketplace (for Magento 1.x)
- 3rd Party Magento Themes
- 3rd Party Magento Plugins
Choosing the right payment gateway is a very important task. A good payment gateway must be secure, user friendly, have high success rate and most of all, trustworthy to your customers.
India has quite a few payment gateways now. Here is a list of the top payment gateways in India.
I am not going to compare payment gateways here and will reserve it for a future post.
Shipping is the backbone of your business. You can create the best online store, have the most amazing products of the highest quality, have amazing pricing and it won’t matter if the shipping didn’t go well.
India’s economy is progressing quickly but shipping can still be an issue sometime.
Here are some of the e-commerce focused shipping/logistics companies.
For automated tracking of your shipments, you can use a service like Aftership.
If you are small e-commerce startup and not sure how much volumes you will do, a lot of logistics companies will hesitate to tie up with you.
Logistics companies work on a low margin – high volume business and it won’t make business sense for them to tie up with a small provider.
To the rescue come shipping aggregators.
Shipping aggregators are companies that tie with multiple logistic providers and then then provide their service to multiple e-commerce merchants.
This gives e-commerce companies the volumes they desire while new startups can start small.
Here are few shipping aggregators.
Selling on Marketplaces And Your Own Store
Its the best of both worlds when you can sell your products on your own store and also on the leading marketplaces.
Not only would you generate more revenue, you would also get brand exposure for your business. Its a win-win.
In the hosted solutions, both KartRocket and Zepo claim to be connected with multiple marketplaces for order processing and other operations.
If you self host, there are 2 popular solutions that exist.
Taxation and Legal Issues
You can start and run your business as a sole proprietor and well as a separate legal entity (LLP, Pvt Ltd). There are no additional regulations unless you plan to sell multiple brands and raise capital from outside India.
To get consulting on taxation and incorporation issues you can contact many online services which can give you legal guidance. Some of these companies are:
Now is a great time to launch a successful online business. If taking your business online is on your mind, now you possess the necessary knowledge to take action.
I have tried my best to cover all the topics related to starting an online store.
In the next few posts, I will cover specifics about creating your stores using Zepo, KartRocket, Shopify, WooCommerce and more.
If you think I missed out on something, be sure to ask me in the comments. I’ll do my best to help out.