The first time I set up an online store, I remember staring at the blank canvas before me not knowing where to start.
I agonized over picking the perfect theme. I started building my homepage before adding any products. And I spent a lot of time trying to get the wrong things exactly right before I launched.
Looking back, the mistakes I made are not uncommon for first-timers. That’s why I wanted to create the kind of resource I wish I had when I started—a walkthrough of all the decisions that go into setting up a ready-to-launch online store on Shopify that anyone can follow along with.
The example I’ll be using in this guide is the simple hot sauce store pictured below. I’ll be peeling back the curtain to show you the thinking that went into the product listings, homepage design, copywriting, shipping settings, and the dozens of decisions involved in translating a business idea into an online store.
- How to set up an online store
- Start a free trial of Shopify
- Add the products you want to sell
- Create key pages for your store
- Pick a theme and customize your online store
- Customize your shipping settings
- Configure your tax settings
- Set up your payment gateway and payouts
- Prepare your store for launch
- Launch your store
1. Start a free trial of Shopify
If you haven’t already, you’ll need to start a free trial of Shopify. The 14-day trial should give you more than enough time to build an online store that’s ready to launch if you follow this guide and keep in mind that you can continue to add products and improve your store after it goes live.
Enter your email address
When you start your trial, you’ll be prompted to enter a store name, which will become your default URL (e.g., storename.myshopify.com). You won’t be able to change this, but you will be able to buy a custom domain (e.g., yourstore.com) later on, so don’t worry about picking the perfect name right now.
After answering a few questions, you’ll find yourself inside your own Shopify account.
a new shopify store
Here’s a quick checklist of what you should have before you begin and what I’ll be working with to build my store:
A business idea. Since so many hot sauce brands brag about being “the hottest hot sauce ever,” I thought it would be fun if my example store, Kinda Hot Sauce, sold great-tasting mild hot sauces for the semi-adventurous. If you don’t have a business idea yet, you can browse our list of business ideas for inspiration.
A business name. I used Namechk to see what domains and social media profiles were available before settling on my final business name. Since some .com URLs are hard to come by, I went with kindahotsauce.shop as the domain. Don’t know what to call your store? Learn how to come up with a catchy business name.
A logo. I worked with a designer to come up with this logo for a “challenger brand” that’s clever, mischievous, bold, and spicy (tongue-in-cheek for a mild hot sauce company). I prepared a .png file with a transparent background so it’s easier to resize it without losing quality. You can follow our guide to create your own logo, for free or by hiring a designer.
kinda hot sauce logo for online store setup
Products to sell. You can sell physical products, digital goods, or services in your Shopify store. My products aren’t real, but I’ve tried my best to make them realistic. I’ll be adding four products to the Kinda Hot Sauce store: Hot Enough Habanero, Born to Be Mild Thai Chilli, The Friendly Ghost Pepper, and a three-pack hot sauce bundle. If you don’t have any products to sell yet, you can read our guide on how to find a profitable product idea or use one of the many product sourcing apps available on Shopify.
Photos. Clean product photography helps you put your best foot forward. I’ll be using mockups of my hot sauce bottles on a white background, along with some stock photos for lifestyle imagery. If you’re on a budget, you can shoot your own product photos, even with just a smartphone camera, or use free stock photos until you can shoot your own custom lifestyle photos.
2. Add your products
What’s an online store without anything to buy? Adding products should be one of the first things you do, because your products are what you’ll design the look and feel of your website around.
In your new Shopify store, go to Products > Add product to create your first product listing.
add a product in shopify
There’s a number of decisions we’ll be making on this page, so let’s break them down into steps.
Write your product title and description
Product pages are where customers go to learn about a product and decide whether or not to buy it. Details matter, and sharing the right information in the right way, from pricing to sizing, through text or visuals, can make all the difference. If you’re not sure what to include, you can look at other online stores in your market for inspiration.
Your product title should make it clear what the product is. This is what customers will see as they browse your store and what will help them find what they’re looking for in your catalog. Try to keep it short and use your product description or variants (more on those later) to surface other specific information or product options, such as colors or sizes.
For our first product title, we’ll just use the name of our flagship hot sauce, Hot Enough Habanero.
Product descriptions describe and sell your product. They’re also a common source of writer’s block. The good news is you don’t need to be a professional copywriter to write a compelling product description. You just need to:
Know who you’re speaking to. Think about what your customer needs to know to feel confident buying your product and try to communicate it in your description.
Highlight incentives. Do you offer a generous return policy or free shipping? Are your products eco-friendly? Consider what features, benefits, and offers really matter—and cut the fluff. Many stores mix text and icons to quickly communicate these selling points on their product pages.
Anticipate common questions or objections. What might make a customer hesitate to buy? Are they afraid of buying the wrong size? Do they need to know what your products are made of in case they have allergies? Do they need to know that your products are ethically made?
Make your text easy to scan. Make your descriptions easier to read with short paragraphs, bullet points, subheadings, bolded text, etc. Then ask yourself how quickly a visitor can pull out the information they need.
Help customers see themselves using your product. Customers can’t taste, feel, touch, or try on your products. Outside of product photos, you can bring your products to life by listing the materials you use, including a sizing chart, or sharing the story about how they’re made—it all depends on your product.
For a product like hot sauce, we can confidently assume customers care about the following details in particular when making a purchase: ingredients, flavor, quantity, how spicy it is, and what it pairs well with. So I’ve done my best to make all this information accessible at a glance for my store’s visitors.In the Media section of your product page, you can upload any visual media that helps you share richer details about your products: photos, GIFs, videos, or even 3D models.
Presentation makes all the difference. Help customers imagine owning your product. Help them see it in action or proudly displayed in their space. Here are a few points to remember:
Use high-quality photos that put your products in the best light. Avoid blurry or low-resolution images.
Try to maintain the same aspect ratio (i.e. the ratio between the width and height) across your product photos so that all your photos appear the same size. This consistency creates a cleaner, more professional appearance for your store.
hot sauces bottle product photos with consistent aspect ratios
If you’re on a budget, most modern smartphones are capable of shooting high-quality product photos and you can use free photo editing tools to touch them up (like remove.bg, which lets you remove the background for free).
After uploading an image, you can click on it to perform basic edits, such as cropping and resizing. You can also edit the Alt Text for accessibility to describe your photos to people who cannot see them. For example, I’ve written “a 150ml bottle of Hot Enough Habanero by Kinda Hot Sauce” to help anyone with a visual impairment shop with me.
I’ll be using a single photo of a hot sauce bottle on a white background. But for products where the customer might need more visual information, such as clothing or jewelry, using multiple photos that offer additional angles or details can help improve customer trust.
shopify store media upload
Set your price
Now it’s time to set the listing price for your product. This is what customers will pay to buy your product.
Optionally, you can use the Compare at price field to communicate what the product would typically cost, especially in the case of a sale. For example, if we wanted to show savings on buying our hot sauce three-pack, we could enter the original price of three bottles here. However, I caution against using this without good reason, especially if you’re selling premium products as it could cheapen their perceived quality.
The Cost per item field is also optional. If you like, you can use it to track your profit margin for an individual product. On the Shopify plan or higher, this lets you track profit in your profit report.
price in shopify
While there are some exceptions, businesses that sell goods and services have to collect taxes each time someone orders from them, so we’ll check that box and configure our tax settings later.
To keep it simple, we’ll assume that my per-product cost, or the cost to produce and package one bottle, is $5. If I sell each bottle for $15, I’ll be making a healthy margin that leaves some room for discounts and marketing.
If we were dropshipping or using a print-on-demand service, we wouldn’t need to track inventory. But since Kinda Hot Sauces makes, sells, and ships its own hot sauce, we want to keep track of inventory in Shopify to know how much we have left of each sauce and how much more we need to produce as orders start coming in.
If it’s your first time selling online, you might see a few unfamiliar terms here, so we’ll quickly run through them.
SKU. A stock keeping unit is used to track and manage your inventory for specific products and variants. Create a consistent system using numbers or letters that makes it easy for you to identify what the exact item is at a glance (e.g., MHS-HEH tells me it’s the medium hot sauce Hot Enough Habenero).
Bar code. Bar codes (ISBN, UPC, GTIN, etc.) are typically used if you’re reselling products or eventually want to add scannable bar codes to your items for easier inventory management. We can leave it blank for now since we’re making and selling our own products.
Quantity. This is how much of a specific product you have on hand. If you have multiple locations holding inventory and have them set up in Shopify, they’ll display here. In the case. of my example, I’m starting out with a small batch of 10 bottles for each hot sauce and using my own space to hold inventory.
Since it doesn’t take long to make more of my product, I can turn on “Continue selling when out of stock.” But you can turn this option off and mark items as “Sold out” if your inventory is limited or it takes longer to replenish your supply.
In the shipping section, you’ll enter details that will automatically calculate shipping rates and print the appropriate shipping labels for each order.
For my Kinda Hot Sauce store, we’ll check “This a physical product” and enter the following information:
Weight. The weight of one bottle on its own. I’m going to enter 0.5 lbs.
Customs information. This is important if you plan to sell internationally. We’ll put “Canada,” since Kinda Hot Sauce is made in and shipped from Canada, and use the search bar to find the Harmonized System code for condiments, which is 21309.
Setting the actual shipping costs and options that you’ll offer to your customers will come later on in this tutorial.
shipping information example on a shopify product page
I’m not going to be setting up variants for my products, but I still want to cover how since many Shopify store owners do.
If your product comes with different options, like sizes or colors, instead of adding each one as its own product, you can simply add them as variants of the same product. Each variant can have its own image, price, tracked inventory, and individual settings associated with it
With variants, you can even add additional product options, for example, offering multiple colors that come in different sizes.
product variants in shopify
When you add variants to your product and hit save to refresh the page, the Media, Pricing, Inventory, and Shipping sections we covered above will need to be set for each specific variant.
Since our product comes in one size and doesn’t have any variants, we’ll leave this section alone. If you’re selling distinct variants of the same product, however, be sure to edit each variant with the appropriate product page information. For example, a photo of an orange t-shirt for the orange variant if you offer different colors.
product variant settings in shopify
Organization and product availability
In the Organization section, you can label your products to help group them together and make it easier to manage your store’s product catalog, curate products for customers to shop, and apply rules or discounts to specific products. Here’s what each label means:
Product availability: You can choose from a multitude of sales channels, like Facebook Shops or Amazon, to list your products on, which we’ll go into later. For now, just make sure your product is available in the “Online store” or it will be hidden.
Product type. A product category that you can use to identify certain products (e.g., t-shirt). Each product can have only one product type. We’ll just use “Hot Sauce.”
Vendor. This is the manufacturer, wholesaler, or third-party vendor for the product. You can filter your product list by vendor, which can speed up ordering inventory. Kinda Hot Sauce is the manufacturer, so we’ll list it as the vendor.
Tags. Tags are keywords that you can associate with your product. You can add multiple tags to a product to help customers find it through your online store’s search bar. You can also use tags to automate actions in your store, like adding a product with a specific tag to a specific collection. I’m going to leave this blank since I don’t have any reason to use tags yet.
Collections. Collections are important. They let you organize and curate your products for specific purposes and audiences. For example, an apparel brand could create a collection based on products for women, products for men, a summer sale, or new arrivals. The same product can be included in multiple collections. We’ll be setting up our collections after we’ve added more products.
product organization settings in shopify
3. Create key pages for your online store
So far, we’ve focused on products. But your online store needs to do more than just have products to purchase. It needs to help shoppers understand your business, give them reasons to trust you, and make other essential details available to customers who are looking for them.
You can create most of these pages under Online Store > Pages.
You don’t need to have all your pages ready for launch, but some of the most helpful ones to create include:
Contact page. This page gives customers clear ways to reach you if they have questions or points them to a place to find answers, such as an FAQ page.
About page. An About page connects personally with customers, explains your business model, and/or shares the reason you started your business. A persuasive About page can go a long way in earning trust for new online stores.
FAQ page. A frequently asked questions page helps alleviate some of the more common customer support inquiries.
About pages are a great way to embrace the “small” in small business and earn trust as a new store.
You can have a video introducing yourself as a founder, links to awards and press mentions, images that explain your supply chain, or include anything that helps this page tell your customers who you are and what you’re about.
For Kinda Hot Sauce, we’ll be creating a simple About page, written like a letter to the customer that explains our philosophy and our reason for starting the business.
When someone visits my store and they’re not quite sold on making a purchase, I want them to be met with an endearing and heart-felt message if they choose to visit my About page to learn more.
Since we’ll be relying mostly on text, I’ll use the formatting options available in the toolbar to make the copy more eye-catching.
about page example shopify
Check it out
Just like you did for your products, you should also customize the Search engine listing preview section of your pages based on what you want the URL to be and how you want the page to appear in search engine results.
Your Contact page is what customers will look for to ask a question or get support.
Most Shopify themes let you create one easily. Simply create a new page, go to the Template section on the right side, and choose the Contact template. This should add a form to your page. You can then write some instructions to help customers get in touch or even link out to other pages, like an FAQ, to help shoppers troubleshoot their own problems first.
how to create a contact us page in shopify
Check it out
There are also live chat apps you can install to make support even more accessible to shoppers.
Policy pages are standard practice for online businesses. They give your customers a place to understand how you conduct your business and what to expect from you. They also help protect you in case of a customer dispute.
Under Settings > Legal in Shopify, you’ll be able to generate templates that you can customize according to your business and local laws:
Return policy. What’s your policy regarding returns and exchanges? How long do customers have to initiate a return? What condition does the product need to be in? A generous return policy can help customers buy from you with confidence.
Terms of service. Your terms of service policy is an agreement between you and your customers outlining how you will operate and what rights you reserve.
Shipping policy. A shipping policy helps you set customer expectations around shipping costs, manufacturing times, and delivery speeds for the regions you ship to.
(Please note that these templates aren’t legal advice and should be adapted for your store.)
4. Customize your online store
Now that we’ve got some products in our store and some pages ready to go, it’s time to head over to Online Store > Themes in Shopify and start thinking about what we want our website to look like.
Choose a theme
The first step is to choose a theme: a template we install in our store that we can use as a starting point to design our website. The Shopify Theme Store is home to both free and paid themes, each with its own set of styles and features.
5. Set up shipping
Shipping can be one of the most complex considerations involved in running an ecommerce business. Between product weights, packaging costs, shipping destinations, carrier rates, and your potential profit per order, there are a lot of variables to juggle.
Luckily, we can boil it down to a few main approaches, which you can even blend together depending on the unique needs of your business, to find a shipping strategy that works for you:
Offer free shipping. Free shipping can be an effective incentive for customers to shop with you, whether it’s applied to certain products, order amounts (e.g., if they spend over $50), or regions of the world. Keep in mind that you will need to factor this into the retail price of your products if you plan on absorbing the cost of shipping on behalf of your customers.
Charge real-time carrier rates. Shopify integrates in real-time with various carriers like USPS and Canada Post to generate shipping options and live pricing. This allows your customers to choose the exact service and price they want. You can take advantage of discounted rates through Shopify Shipping.
Charge a flat rate. Flat rate shipping works best when your products have similar sizes and weights, making actual shipping expenses easier to predict.
Offer local pickup/delivery. You can also give local customers the option to pick up their online order at one of your locations, setting specific notification settings, pickup instructions, and other details for each location.
For more advice on creating a shipping strategy, you can read our Beginner’s Guide to Ecommerce Shipping and Fulfillment. Remember that, like most of what we’ve done so far, this is something you can revisit and adjust over time.
6. Set up taxes
As a business that sells goods or services, you have to collect taxes to send to the government each time someone orders from your store (some exceptions apply, such as for digital goods in many jurisdictions).
Shopify will help you automatically handle most tax calculations using default sales tax rates around the world. Even so, it’s a good idea to conduct some research or ask a tax professional to ensure you’re charging the correct amount of sales tax.
You can override the default tax settings if there are specific requirements for your region, such as taxes for specific products or for shipping.
Go to Settings > Taxes in Shopify to set up your tax regions. Here you can edit the default rates if you like, or apply overrides if specific conditions apply in your region or to your products.
Since Kinda Hot Sauce operates in Canada, we’ll set up our default tax rates for Canada. If you have a tax number you can enter it here or you can do so later. You’ll be able to see how much tax you’ve collected under Analytics > Reports.
shopify tax settings
None of this should be taken as tax advice and you should consult with a tax professional if you’re uncertain about your tax situation. Shopify doesn’t file or remit your sales taxes for you.
7. Setting up payment gateways and payouts
We’re in the final stretch! Next up is deciding how your store will accept payments and how you as a store owner will get paid.
Go to Settings > Payments to set up your payment provider. Shopify has made it easy to start accepting all major forms of payment with Shopify Payments. As long as you operate your business in one of the supported countries and aren’t considered a prohibited business, you can activate Shopify Payments in just one click and pay 0% in extra transaction fees. You can also choose from over 100 third-party payment providers here or offer your customers additional payment options, such as PayPal.
In my case, I’ll Complete Account Setup for Shopify Payments by entering my business and banking information. I can also Manage my settings for Shopify Payments and do things like:
Choose the payment options I want to offer, like different credit cards (e.g., Visa), and accelerated one-click payment options like Apple Pay and Shop Pay. Shop Pay is Shopify’s one-click payment option that lets any customer of any store with Shop Pay enabled save their payment information for future purchases.
Sell in multiple currencies, which will automatically convert your prices into the customer’s currency if you enable it. Since we’re selling mostly in Canada and the US, we’ll add the US dollar and the Canadian dollar to our enabled currencies.
Set your payout schedule. You can receive your payout daily, weekly, or monthly—it all depends on your preferences when it comes to your cash flow.
Toggle extra fraud prevention measures such as CVV and postal code verification to add an extra layer of security.
Customize how you appear on your customer’s bank statements. We’ll use KINDAHOTSAUCE to make our brand recognizable to customers on their credit card statements.
The currency you sell your products in can be set under Settings > General. I’m going to be selling in US dollars since it will be familiar for both US and Canadian customers.
8. Prepare your store for launch
With all the work we’ve done so far, we could actually launch our store now if we wanted to. We would just disable the password protection under Online Store > Preferences, which is the final step to flip the open sign and let people in to start buying our products.
In fact, if you’re in a rush to go live, you could skip some or all the following steps and revisit them later when you have time.
But in this tutorial, I’m going to ensure that my store not only makes a strong first impression and offers a smooth customer experience at launch, but is also in a good place for me to start marketing.
That said, here are the final steps we’ll be going over:
Adding a custom domain
Installing relevant sales channels
(Optional) Customizing your email/SMS notifications
Setting up your store for marketing (tracking and analytics)
Adding a custom domain
Buying a domain is like claiming land on the internet. That’s why it’s called a “web address.”
A custom domain is a fully branded URL that replaces the default URL that was created based on the store name you chose at setup (e.g., you could buy yourstore.com to replace yourstore.myshopify.com as your public URL).
Under Online Store > Domains, you can buy your domain directly through Shopify in a matter of seconds, or you can transfer your domain from another registrar and connect it to your store.
Since the .com is taken, I’ll be buying the .shop extension for KindaHotSauce through Shopify. KindaHotSauce.shop is now my store’s URL.
buy custom domain in shopify
Installing relevant sales channels
One of the advantages of using Shopify to power your business is that your online store is just one of many sales channels you can use to sell your products. You can connect your products to additional sales channels to meet your customers where they are, while keeping track of your products, inventory, and reporting in the same Shopify account so you always know what’s going on in your business.
While you don’t need to connect all of them right away, it’s good to have them in mind when you’re ready to explore new ways to get your products in front of the right shoppers.
Not every sales channel will be relevant for your unique business, but here are some that are worth highlighting:
Shopify POS. Our point-of-sale solution for accepting in-person payments and easily syncing physical retail sales with your online Shopify store and inventory.
Social networks. You can sell your products through a Facebook Shop on your Facebook page, product tags in your Instagram posts, Pinterest, and more.
Marketplaces. Many shoppers start their purchasing journey on marketplaces like Amazon or eBay.
Google channel. Google is the most popular search engine in the world. With the Google channel, you can run Google Shopping campaigns and list your products for free in the Shopping tab in Google search results.
Buy button. If you have an existing website or blog where you want to sell your products, you can install the Buy button sales channel to embed your products onto another webpage, allowing customers to purchase them and check out there. You can even create checkout links to send directly to a customer and have them jump straight to checkout.
shopify sales channels
You can quickly add sales channels by clicking the + button next to Sales channels or view our full list of sales channels in the Shopify App Store. Then, on your Product pages under Product Availability, you can choose which products are available on which sales channels.
I’ll be considering the Facebook and Instagram channels for sure since a brand like Kinda Hot Sauce will rely heavily on social media marketing.
Customizing your email notifications (optional)
Shopify comes with a series of ready-to-use automated email and SMS notifications to let customers know about order confirmations, status updates, and more.
I’ll be leaving them alone for now, but if you need to customize these for any reason—to communicate specific information or simply reflect your brand better—you can edit these notifications under Settings > Notifications.
customizing shopify notifications
Setting up your store for marketing
Marketing is different for every business, but regardless of your strategy, it’s important to set up the right foundation as soon as you can so you can get the most out of your efforts as you drive traffic to your store.
In particular, I want to cover the fundamentals of nearly every ecommerce marketing strategy that are important to know for new store owners.
Shopify Reports (under Analytics > Reports) not only helps you monitor traffic and sales generated by your store across all your sales channels but also serves as a treasure trove of great insight for improving your business over time.
You can learn where your traffic and sales are coming from, your overall online store conversion rate, traffic and sales over time, and more.
For more granular analytics and flexible reporting, you can set up Google Analytics for free.
Have you ever visited an online store, considered a product, but left without buying it, only to see an ad for it a few days later? Or have you ever seen an ad for a product from a business you’d never heard of that seemed like it was made for you?
That’s made possible through something called the Facebook pixel, an intelligent code that learns from how people interact with your brand and your website—from liking your social media posts to making a purchase—and makes it possible to personalize how you advertise to them over time.
The Facebook pixel learns from all the traffic you send to your online store, so if you plan on advertising on Facebook or Instagram at any point in the future, it’s important to have your Facebook pixel set up.
You can get clear instructions on how to set it up for your Shopify store by using our free Facebook Marketing app (note that this process will require you to also set up a Facebook page and ad account for your business).
Search engine optimization (SEO)
Many shoppers turn to Google and other search engines as part of their purchasing journey, whether it’s to find a product they saw or heard about through a friend or they’re conducting some comparison shopping for a purchase.
Helping your online store’s pages and your products appear in these search results can create passive streams of relevant traffic for free. However, it takes time to grow this source of traffic.
You can lay the right foundation through a practice called search engine optimization (SEO), which we were first introduced to when we set up our Products and Pages in our store.
Another area of your store where you’ll want to keep SEO in mind is the Title and meta description fields, which can be found under Settings > Preferences. For Kinda Hot Sauce, I want to make sure I include my brand name and a description of what my business is about, based on the keywords people might search for to find my business.
You can use a free keyword research tool like Ubersuggest or Keyword Surfer (Chrome extension) to estimate how many times people search a specific query in a month and what types of searches happen around that keyword. Estimated monthly search volumes aren’t always 100% accurate and the more popular a search is, the more competitive it usually is.
Always remember that the job of a search engine is to show the most relevant results to the user, so you should try to prioritize keywords that are directly relevant to your business.
Let’s take Kinda Hot Sauce as an example to illustrate some of the key findings that can come out of even the simplest keyword research:
“Medium hot sauce“ and “mild hot sauce” come up with 480 and 40 estimated monthly searches, respectively. Since they relate closely to what my business is about, I can prioritize them in my homepage title and description.
Many people also search for a variety of recipes for spicy foods (e.g., “how to make crispy hot wings”), meaning I could introduce a blog later on to create content around searches related to recipes that involve hot sauce.
optimizing store for search and social
While I’m here, I’m also going to add a Social sharing image to make sure that I create a strong first impression whenever a link to my store is shared on social media or in direct messages.
Recommended: Check out our SEO checklist for other steps you can take to help your store show up in relevant search engine results.
9. Launch your store
I’m finally ready to launch! Is my store perfect? No. But I feel good enough about it to bet time and money marketing it and learning from the feedback I get to make it even better over time.
I can remove my password page (under Settings > Preferences) and start telling the world I’m open for business.