How To Start An Online Shop

One of the most common questions we get goes like, “Hey, how do i set up an online shop?” Because we’re all about seeing the Internet come through for people in Kenya, especially financially, I decided to write an article on how to start your own online shop, easy. Enjoy πŸ™‚

Trust me, it is a very daunting task and it involves a hell of a lot. Are you up for all that? I do not know. I do know one thing though, the opportunity to make lots and lots of money is still very much there. In all markets most online stores are, for lack of better words, a complete waste of time.

No joke – there are so many badly designed and structured online shops out there that you’d be surprised. You could choose any market place and still have a very good shot at making a killing. If only you use correct procedure. And guess what? The wealth of tools available for your use is just unbelievable – challenging the Top Dogs in any market is something very do-able.

Where do you start?
As I said earlier, starting an online shop is no easy task. Should you start your own, you are bound to make lots and lots of mistakes. However, I beg you to always work with this in mind: “Customers first, money second“. Got it? Good, you’ll never go wrong. Many, many businesses mess up this simple task.

Before anything else, you need to ask yourself the same questions you’d ask yourself if you were going into business in the offline world. Do you have something to market? Will people buy what you want to sell? Will they pay enough money for you to make a profit?

Next you’ll need to choose a name for your site/shop. Since this will be your identity, it is VERY important. Take time to choose a good and easy-to-remember name. Read more about this, if need be.

Building your website
Unfortunately, if you want the best results there are only two courses of action:

  1. Hire professionals to build you a site. People like us. πŸ™‚
  2. Do it yourself, but only if you have the technical know-how.

That said, here are some things you should keep in mind:

  • How many products do you have? If you have just a few, your site will look bare. (Depending on how it is built)
  • What type of products are you selling? This will affect how you display them – jewellery will be displayed differently from, say, aquariums. :p
  • You must have good quality pictures of your products.
  • Include item descriptions jameni! Of course your customers want to know this.
  • Ensure that your site loads quickly and that it is easy to navigate.
  • As well as making your site the best it can be for customers, make sure it is very easy for you to update it i.e. add new products or change prices.
  • Make the selling process as easy and as fast as possible. You don’t really need to make your customers register at your site, do you? This is an unnecessary step that will cost you sales!

Because I love my readers, I shall suggest a super easy way to build a top-of-the-range online shop. Listen carefully:

  1. Download wordpress
  2. Install wordpress on a server somewhere. How?
  3. Install this wordpress theme. How?
  4. Install this wordpress plugin. How?
  5. You have your very nice online shop!

Other tools you can use: Magento, osCommerce.

Web hosting
One your website is made, it needs to be hosted somewhere. This is so that it is accessible to the whole of the Internet. Learn more.

If you’re going to handle any kind of financial transactions through your website, you need to make sure your web host offers secure servers. This means that they offer SSL encryption. You should find out whether your prospective web host offers SSL encryption as part of its regular package or charges extra for this service.

When your website is your storefront, if your website is down, your store is closed – or worse, effectively nonexistent. So you need a web host that offers at least a 99% uptime guarantee. While asking about a web host’s uptime guarantee, you might also inquire as to its back up systems in case of emergencies.

There are hundreds of good web hosts out there. I recommend that you choose us. πŸ™‚

Marketing your online shop
The key to online retailing is to strive to get as many people visiting your shop as possible. Please, please keep search engine optimisation (SEO) in mind. If need be, hire someone to do your SEO.

There are some helpful articles here and here. Oh and we are also available to help you with SEO.

Dealing with payments
You will need a way to accept payments online, or at the very least accept orders online. Many modern online shop creation systems (like the ones I suggested earlier) do this right out of the box. If you intend to sell to people in Kenya, it would be helpful to be able to receive payments by ZAP and MPESA. Here’s an article we wrote about this topic.

We haven’t covered everything you need to know in this article, but most of it is up there. You can have your shop ready by next week if you follow what the article says.

Good luck πŸ™‚

PS I was thinking of doing a follow-up article on this topic by going step by step through what I did when setting up an existing online shop. Anyone interested?

Image courtesy of Jesse757.

Additional Resources


  1. A working example always helps. The info here is all very good, but it’s also completely abstract [and almost alien] without an actual .ke sample; sounds like something you could only do ‘out there’. So re: follow-up, yes please. πŸ™‚

  2. @CB a working example is the strawberry store that stocks home decor stuff. Do you love bags? How about Hungry? Some examples I can remember…

    @Kelvin why are the costs for setting up an online sooo prohibitive. My inquiries made my head spin with the figures been fronted between 50-80k, I understand the need to make the site secure to the shoppers but dont you think its still prohibitive for the local kijana looking to start making money selling their wares online instead of the streets of Nai?

    • Well, more than anything else, you are paying for people’s time and expertise. An online shop requires that a web designer/developer apply all his knowledge and extreme care. Perhaps that is why the costs are so prohibitive.

      That said, I do not see why a simple shop should not be around 20 or 30k

  3. Sorry abt the food site here is the correct link

  4. @kelvin I don refute the fact that such site need some serious expertise and care on the developers part but the fees are still high for a new market like ours. But, the 20-30k is much affordable for those seeking to start their online shops.

    • I agree completely πŸ™‚

      I’ve seen some sites where no actual financial data/info processing is handled on the site i.e. customers just place an ‘order’ on the site and then pay later. Such sites are pretty ordinary and have little difference to any other sites

      YET people are charged much the same to the other sites that do process financial info. This is wrong.

      I guess what I am trying to say is that a large portion of those huge sums is totally unjustified.

  5. I just opened up an online shop 3 months back. How do i get kenyans to trust online shopping. Im in Msa so need payment before delivery but accept returns. Its still really slow in kenya. Any ideas?

    • Well, that’s always going to be hard. I’m not fully certain how to deal with it but what has worked for me before is a lot of marketing. Specifically something I call “Social Proof”. Social proof is a way to make people trust you by letting them know that you have worked with other people successfully before.

      Do you usual online marketing – SEO, Social Media, etc etc but make efforts to ensure that you put confidence and trust (in yourself) in the market. Things like customer testimonials and reviews work very well.

      For example, when started, online shopping was relatively new in the USA so they did something brilliant – they let customers write review on all their products and they did not moderate these reviews. What this did was to give them a lot of social proof. Today, they are the largest online shopping destination.


      • πŸ™‚ Am doing all that… have a feedback page for my customers to leave but thats also an issue people dont want to leave feedbacks although they r happy with their products n shop again. i guess its slow but we’ll get there someday. πŸ™‚

        • Ah, that’s super! I expect that business will pick up soon. Keep up the good work πŸ™‚

          Incidentally, we’ve been looking for someone with an online shop to interview. Would you mind?

  6. Not at all. But am in Msa not Nbi. Thanks

  7. Absalom Okwaea says:

    Good afternoon Kevin, its quite unfortunate i am seeing such a good read years after it was published, I am not certain if the follow up was finally done, but I would wish to set up an online shop, your advice and charges please.


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