How to start an online store

How to start an online store

Here’s how to start an online store based on my recent experience while setting up this one on Take Charge of Your Money blog. The post is a good follow on from my article on how to start blogging in South Africa, and if you haven’t read that yet, I’d suggest you do so first.

Contains some affiliate links, although some links are just useful. lol

What do you need to start an online store?

Much like a physical store, you need somewhere to sell your items. And you need to be able to accept money. These two things are separate and independent although, they may sometimes seem to be the connected. Think of it this way, you could move premises and still use the same credit card machine from the bank, or you could simply decide to find a cheaper payment system.

The reason I’m starting with that is because in the online world, things are much the same.

You need an online shop, which we will discuss in detail later, as well as a payment gateway. Some online store system include payment gateways and it’s easy to think that they are the same thing, or that one is dependent on the other, but this is not true. The do however need to be compatible in a techical sense.

Now when it comes to choosing the system, think of the following in terms of a physical store. You can move premises at any time and keep the same payment system. Moving is quite a mission though and requires planning, time and effort. It’s the same for an online store. You can change systems, but it’s an effort. Switching to a new payment gateway (payment system) is quite easy though.

So spend time deciding on which online store or system to use but spend less time deciding on the payment gateway. That is easy to change later.

So to recap, you only need these two things to start an online store:

  • an online shopping “system” of sorts,
  • and a payment gateway.

How to set up an online store

Let’s look at what your options are regarding an online store. Ideally one would want to integrate your shopping cart into your existing website or blog. In this case your visitors could purchase items without leaving your site. To do this you would need to find a shopping cart system that integrates to whatever system you are using.

You really need to decide whether you want to use a free (or cheap) ecommerce system that you host and manage, or you can pay a monthly cost for a fully hosted and managed online shopping cart. It’s up to you.

Using WooCommerce and WordPress

If you read my article on how to start a blogging, you’d know that I recommend using WordPress. I personally like to use a WordPress hosted site and you can see my reasonings in my post on blogging. You can however self-host too via any hosting provider.


If you already have WordPress, then WooCommerce is almost a no-brainer. WooCommerce is a fully featured shopping system that plugs in to WordPress for free, and it’s very easy to setup and manage. You literally just search in the plugins section and install it through WordPress.

This is a great option and will get you going quickly.

The pros of using WooCommerce are:

  • It’s very quick and easy to set up
  • It’s free
  • Works with WordPress without needing any coding experience
  • Integrates with South African payment gateways such as PayFast and Yoco; for free
  • Caters for physical or digital products
  • Has many useful features such as Coupons, download management for digital products, customer details, etc
  • Has an extensive collection of extensions (add-ons)

The cons of using WooCommerce however are that:

  • You need to pay for customisations and many of then extensions.

Note: It has enough free “out of the box” features to run a full online store in South Africa and plug in to South African payment gateways with no hassles.

Open source shopping carts

An open-source shopping cart simply means that you don’t pay for the software. It’s free. But, you need to host it yourself (using Afrihost as an example) and you will need to apply updates, patches and any security maintenance. This is a great option if you have some technical knowledge and are willing to “fiddle” with settings every now and then.

Some open-source shopping carts integrate directly with WordPress or other blogging content management systems. Some are stand-alone and require their own URL. You would need to find one that suites your needs. Some of the open-source shopping carts that integrate with South African payment gateways include (in no particular order):


Shopify is a very popular online commerce system. It’s very quick and easy to setup and requires no technical knowledge and no hosting. It’s all done for you, at a monthly cost.

You can get your online store up in minutes and they will help you through the process. As Shopify is a seperate system (and web address) you would need to send users of your site to your shopping cart as it won’t be fully integrated into your existing site. There are pros and cons to this; depends what you need right now.

Remember where we started, this is only the shopping cart; you will still need to integrate with a local payment gateway in order to receive money.


Shopstar is a South African ecommerce solution. This is a hosted solution for which you pay a monthly fee. As with Shopify, it is super easy to get your online store up and running within minutes. Once set up, you will still need to integrate with a local payment gateway in order to receive money.

Other shopping systems

There are of course hundreds of shopping cart management systems to choose from. If you want to integrate your shopping cart in your existing site then you’d need to investigate what plugins or integrations would work for you. If you want to get a shop up quickly though and are happy with a seperate URL (web address), then a hosted online shopping cart would be perfect.

As mentioned at the beginning, you can changed your shopping cart software at any time but it will involve planning and effort and possibly even some downtime. Take your time in selecting the best ecommerce software for your needs.

How to choose a payment gateway

As a recap, the payment gateway that you choose is separate and different to the shopping cart system that you use. It’s also quite easy to change your payment gateway at a later stage, provided that the new one you choose is compatible with your ecommerce solution.

The payment gateway solution is really just the software that allows you to process credit card payments or direct EFTs. As you will see, different solutions offer different payment options and you can decide what methods you would like to support.

The two main payment gateway providers in South Africa are PayFast and Yoco. These are the most popular and well-used systems. PayPal is also quite widely used but it is slightly ticky getting your money out as it can only be done via Standard Bank.

Yoco vs PayFast

When deciding on what payment gateway to choose, there are 4 main areas to consider:

  • Costs – fees to process payments and fees to withdraw your monies.
  • What payment methods are accepted? (ie credit cards, instant ETF, Bitcoin, SnapScan, etc)
  • How easy is it to get your money paid into your bank account
  • How easy is it to integrate into your online shopping cart system?

A brief Yoco review

Yoco is a fast growing payment solution system, mainly focussed at small business. They offer on premise credit card solutions as well as mobile solutions for small business owners. They also offer an online payment gateway solution.

Looking at the above points, this is how Yoco fairs.

Costs: Free signup, no upfront costs. Transaction fees 3.4% (excl VAT). No fees to withdraw your money.

Payment methods accepted: Credit cards, Debit cards.

How to get your money: Quick and easy with no fees.

Integrations: Integrate with WordPress, WooCommerce, Wix, Shopstar.

Other nice things: Get a cool app with reports to manage your sales.

A brief PayFast review

PayFast is South Africa’s leading payment gateway. Founded in 2007 they have robust systems and great experience in the online market space. They accept the most forms of payments and are commonly used by many large online retailers.

Costs: Free signup, no upfront costs. Transaction fees vary but are more expensive that Yoco. 3.5% (excl VAT) + R2.00 per credit card transaction and a falt fee of R8.70 (excl VAT) when you withdraw your funds.

Payment methods accepted: Credit cards, Debit cards, Instant EFT, Mobicred, Masterpass, SnapScan, SCode, Zapper.

How to get your money: Easy process, but a fee of R8.70 (excl VAT) per withdrawal.

Integrations: Integrate with WordPress, WooCommerce, Wix, Shopstar an dover 80 systems.

Other nice things: View your account online, add your logo to the payment page.

Conclusion to how to start an online store

Starting an online store is not as complicated as it may seem. If you are not technically inclined or you simply don’t have the time, sign up for a fully functional online shopping cart system that has it all built in. You simply add your products and link your payment gateway.

If however you wish to integrate your shopping cart into your existing site, you’ll need to use a system that allows you to. As mentioned, you can change your solution at a later date, but this will come with a fair amount of time and effort.

Let me know if you have other suggestions for how to start an online store and feel free to contact me about my experience. I’m not a web developer though and certainly not an expert in this. I can only share from my limited knowledge. 🙂

1 comment

  1. Thank you so much for breaking down the process for us!
    You make it seem so do-able 😉 Much appreciated. Not yet sure I am ready to do physical items just yet. But will refer back when I am at that stage!

Please share your thoughts