Want to start your online store? In this guide, you’ll learn everything about about how to start an online store in South Africa.
Today, starting an online store has become easier than ever. With platforms like Portmoni, you can build a store, feature your products, and start taking orders in a matter of hours.
But there’s more to the process than just building a store online. There are a lot of steps you’ll have to go through to get from having a dream to making your first sale.
Our guide takes you through each of these steps and shows you the best practices you should follow for how to start an online store in South Africa.
Here is what we’ll cover:
Let’s dive into it!
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How to Start an Online Store in South Africa – Overview
Ready to get started? Here are the main steps involved to start an online store in South Africa:
- Pick a niche.
- Decide which products to sell.
- Decide on a name and logo.
- Select the best platform to create your online store.
- Set up your online store.
- Promote your online store to attract clients.
Now, let’s review these steps in detail and see how to start an online business in South Africa.
Choose an Idea
The first step when you’re wondering how to create your online store in South Africa is to choose an idea. And that starts with picking a niche.
Pick a niche
Picking a niche is the best place to start with any eCommerce business. A “niche” is the focus of your business – the category, product, or service you want to specialize in providing your customers.
Examples of niches can be as simple as:
But if you want success in the online market, you need to niche down. Niching down means focusing on a specific category of your niche.
A niche like “clothing” is too broad; there are too many types of clothing. Instead, you could focus on men’s footwear. You could focus on printed tees. Or you could just focus on dresses.
The important thing is making yourself a leader in a small area. This not only gives your business and products more authority, but also helps market your brand.
Maybe you already have a niche in mind, something that you’re passionate about, or that you see has a gap in the South African market.
Define your unique selling proposition
To help choose a niche, you should also figure out your Unique Selling Proposition (USP).
A unique selling proposition is the space where what you do well and what your customers want meet. This proposition should ideally also be something your competitors aren’t already doing well themselves.
It could be a niche you think is missing in your market. Or it could be a dedication to service and quality products that sets your company apart. The sky’s the limit. As long as it fits those two categories – what you do well, and what your customers want.
Picking a niche shouldn’t be a step you rush. Your niche will be the focus of your entire business going forward. But once you’ve chosen your niche, it’s time to move on to sourcing your products.
Decide which products to sell
Part of the work of choosing your products will already be done when you pick your niche.
But there are still two things to consider before settling on what products you will sell in your online store:
- Where you will find your products.
- Is selling these products profitable.
Where to find your products
There are a few places you could find your products. And each of these sources has its benefits.
First, you could make them yourself or offer a service you do yourself, like cooking or cleaning. Making your products gives you more control of your supply, lets you offer a unique product from anything else on the market, and lowers cost. But you also have to consider the cost and time of the physical labor you put in for each product you sell.
Another option is to order supplies in bulk from wholesalers. Buying products from wholesalers gives you access to a lot of different products. But you often need to make a large order the first time you order with a wholesaler, and you’ll need to store your products until they sell.
Here’s a list of some South African wholesalers.
And finally, you could use dropshipping. Dropshipping is a great way to minimize the work and financial investment on your end. You can select products you want to sell from a list the dropshipper provides. And anytime a sale is made, the dropshipper will ship the products from their warehouse directly to your client, on your behalf. But because the dropshipper is doing most of the work and providing the product, your profit margins will often be lower.
Here’s a list of some South African dropshipping suppliers.
And if you are looking for product ideas, you can also check out our guide about the best selling products in South Africa.
Is selling these products profitable
To see if a product is profitable, you need to calculate its unit economics. Unit economics is how much you make from a sale versus how much that sale costs you. In other words, it is the revenue you get from one product sold, minus the costs of that sale.
There are a lot of things that can contribute to those costs. For an online store, these might include marketing, shipping, and even the cost of the store and domain, not to mention the products themselves.
These are all things you should consider when deciding what products you want to sell. If the unit economics don’t add up to a good profit per unit sold, you might want to consider other products.
Decide on a name and logo
Now that you have your niche and products, your next step is deciding on a name and logo for your online store.
Decide on a name
There’s no science to choosing a name for your business. But there are some guidelines.
- Keep it short and simple
Something short and simple will be a lot catchier to customers online. It’ll be easier to remember and easier to market.
- Make it general
A name that’s too specific might limit your business and what you can sell. Choosing a more general name gives you more freedom to pivot your products and branding.
- Make sure you can get the domain
Consistent branding is important for any business. Make sure your business name and domain match.
Design your logo
Once you’ve settled on your name, you’ll also want a logo. You should design something that fits your brand and story.
Why are you selling your products? What is your company’s mission? Who is your audience?
These questions, and the products themselves, can help inspire the design of your logo.
And if you need help designing your logo, there are many free online tools you can use, like Canva.
The important thing is to cater your name and logo to your audience. You should know what they want and where they’re coming from. And knowing that, you should test out your name and logo with people that fit that audience, online or in your local circle.
One bit of advice is don’t be too precious. There is no “perfect” name or logo. So, if a domain name is already taken, or if your test audience doesn’t like your logo, let it go. It just means, now’s your chance to come up with something even better! Catchier! Simpler!
Set up your online store
With your niche chosen, your products ready to sell, and the perfect name picked out for your business, you’re ready to set up your online store. First, you’ll need to select the platform you’ll use to create your online store, and then configure it.
What is the best platform to start an online store in South Africa?
There are many popular eCommerce platforms in South Africa. Here we’re going to highlight the three most popular ones:
- WordPress + WooCommerce
Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of each.
And if you want a greater breakdown of these platforms, check out our article on the best eCommerce platforms in South Africa.
Portmoni is a great all-in-one platform. Everything you need is already built-in, from product reviews and discounts to abandoned cart recovery and template design.
This makes Portmoni the simplest platform to use, and the best platform to get things done quickly. You can create a free store online in a few minutes.
It might not have as many customization options as other platforms, but every feature you need is already there and easy to use.
Shopify is another popular and powerful eCommerce platform. It provides a lot of features and options to its users.
Shopify comes with a range of templates, payment providers, and apps to customize your store.
But the cost of these can add up. Many of Shopify’s features cater to Enterprise-level businesses, with apps that add on additional fees.
WordPress + WooCommerce
WordPress is widely known for its blogging capabilities. With the WooCommerce plugin, it is also a powerful eCommerce platform.
WooCommerce gives you a great opportunity to customize your site and features exactly how you want through coding and community-built add-ons.
But its greatest strength is also its weakness. WooCommerce is the most complex of the three platforms listed here, with a lot of add-ons being not only complicated but costly to integrate.
Which platform to choose?
While all of the platforms we’ve mentioned are great, Portmoni is the only one that offers a combination of simplicity and built-in features that make it number one.
This is the option we recommend to start your online store in South Africa.
Setup your online store
Then, the next step is setting up your online store. In this section we’ll show you step-by-step how to make an online store for free, using Portmoni as an example. If you use another platform, the process will be similar.
So, let’s see how you can setup your store in Portmoni today.
To get started, just go to portmoni.com, click “Start your 14-day free trial” and follow the instructions. Don’t worry, none of the information the platform asks for on setup will affect how your store works or looks. You’ll always get the same great experience and features.
Now, we’re going to breakdown our setup into 4 parts:
- Design your store
- Add your products and organize them
- Configure the admin
- Test and launch
Design your online store
The first step for your online store setup is to design how you want it to look. When designing your site, you’re going to edit your homepage and design preferences, as well as your menu.
Edit your homepage and design preferences
Portmoni makes it easy to edit the homepage by adding and removing sections. You can move the sections up and down, fully customizing how the homepage looks and feels.
By default, you’ll find a banner image across the top of the homepage. But you can edit or remove that in the Header section. And change the colors and fonts to follow themes or customize them yourself.
Remember, you can add a lot of options to your homepage, but customers often appreciate simplicity and a clean design.
Edit your menu
Your menu is the links across the top of your site or in the three lines on phones. This is another easy feature to customize in Portmoni.
You should spend some time thinking about what pages you want to feature on your site. To help, here is a list of some of the main pages businesses feature:
- Products page
- Services page
- Testimonials/reviews page
- About page
- Contact page
- FAQ page
- Terms and conditions page
All these pages are available in your Portmoni site editor, and you can edit them to add your content.
Add your products and organize them
Adding products is a key part of building an online store. In Portmoni, you can add products, but if you have more than 3 or 4 products, you should also add categories. And if you’re looking to create more customer loyalty, discounts can also help.
Adding a product will give you the option to give the product a name and description, set the price, and add one or more photos.
To add products, just follow the steps in this video guide.
You can also add “options” (or variants), like different sizes of shoes, or different colors of shirts.
And when pricing your products in South Africa, remember that they’re subject to the Value-Added Tax (VAT). That extra 15% is something you should factor into your prices.
Once you’ve created your products, you’ll want to group them into categories. So, if you were selling shoes, you’d put all your men’s running shoes in one group and all your men’s hiking shoes in another group. This helps customers find exactly what they need faster.
To add categories, follow this video guide.
Finally, for products, you can setup discounts. It’s not necessary for all businesses, but it can help you lure in new customers and start making your first sales. It can also be a nice reward for loyal customers who keep coming back.
This video guide on discounts will help you set them up quickly.
Configure the admin
Then, the next thing we’re going to do is setup some of the back-end administrative features of the online store. These include setting up payments, setting up shipping, or adding your social media accounts.
Setting up payments
The payment options define how will receive payments from your customers. You can use different options there, such as EFTs or cards.
You can find the payment options under the “Products + online store options” section when editing your site. Just click on the Edit/add payment options button.
Then choose Add payment option, and you’ll have four choices of payment options to use in your store.
Most just need a few options selected. But if you want to accept credit and debit card payments, Portmoni links with Payfast and Yoco to process payments. Portmoni’s Payfast guide and Yoco guide will help you set that up.
Setting up shipping
Shipping can be found in the same “Products + online store options” section as payments. Click on Edit/add shipping options, then choose Add shipping option.
The important thing to know about shipping is that it’s done by country. This means that you can add rates specifically for South Africa, the United States, or any other country in the world. Those rates will only appear for that one country.
Choose the country, set the price, and any additional details. Additional details allow informing your clients about expected delivery times or other details.
Then scroll right down to the bottom and configure the “Minimum requirements”. This is the total cost of an order before this shipping rate appears as an option at checkout. This way, you can set different rates for different order amounts.
Adding social media accounts
Adding social media accounts can be a powerful tool for marketing and for reach.
To display your social media accounts on your site, click on “Edit social media links” to add links to your Facebook, Twitter, and other accounts.
You can also “Edit social media share preferences” to add options for your customers to share your products, blog posts, and other things on their own social media accounts.
This is nice to have, as customers spreading the word about your business widens the reach of your content and brand.
Add a blog
Having a blog on your site is your chance to announce new products, introduce your team, and get the word out about your company ideals. You can feature your blog posts in your menu and on your homepage!
To add a blog, click on the “News + blog posts” link in the back-end dashboard. Then select “Edit/add news and blog posts.”
Test and launch
With your products added and your store designed, we’re almost ready to launch. But there are still a few things you should do first.
Test your store
It’s important to know that everything is working the way it’s supposed to. To do that, press the orange “Click here to preview your site” button.
Now, just act like you’re a customer on your site. Navigate through your site, add products to your cart, and place a test order. Once you place your order you’ll get a notification by email, and see how the process works.
Get your domain
Adding a domain is important for branding and trust. Before upgrading, you can check if a domain is available through the “Domain” tab in your site editor.
And once you’ve chosen a plan, just go back to the domain tab in your Portmoni dashboard. Here, you’ll be able to get a new domain, search to see if your domain name is available, or use an existing domain from another host.
There are a lot of extras you can do to help brand and support your store.
You can make money on your site by displaying ads with Google AdSense.
You can monitor your Facebook ads with the Facebook Pixel.
And you can add Testimonials to show your authority and trust, link to Google Forms for customer feedback, or even setup Donations.
These might not suit some businesses when you’re just starting out, but they’re nice extras to build a full experience for your customers and your brand.
And finally, you launch. There’s no “Launch” button, but your store is online and will now appear in Google searches. You can also share your site address with friends and clients.
And that brings us to one of the most important steps in starting an online store in South Africa. You have your products, you’ve designed your store, but you still need to make sales.
You need to build your audience.
Promote your Online Store and Build your Audience
When building your audience, you should focus on two types of marketing:
- Active Marketing
- Passive Marketing
Active marketing includes things like email marketing, display advertising, and even sending out flyers. It often includes a call to action, directing users to a product page, a signup form, or some other special action they can take.
Passive marketing focuses more on things like SEO and content marketing. It’s a way of helping users find you online, by telling your story, building your brand awareness on social media, and making sure search engines know exactly how to categorize you.
Let’s look more in-depth at both of these types of marketing.
Active marketing is what you do to actively bring visitors to your online store.
Email marketing involves building a subscriber list, and marketing to those subscribers with great content. This could be for instance brand announcements, niche-specific news, or special offers.
Every store built on Portmoni comes with a signup form in the footer. You can edit the form in the back-end in “Other Settings – Newsletter Preferences.”
Online advertising includes any kind of visual ad with text, video, or images on a third-party website. This can be any website and includes banners or ads in the margins. But most often, people recognize online advertising from Google, Facebook, and Youtube Ads.
One of the most popular forms of online advertising, Google Ads are the suggested links that appear at the top of your search engine result pages (SERP) whenever you do a search on the platform.
These paid results help get your products and brand in front of the right audience’s eyes. With how popular Google continues to be, you’d be foolish to ignore Google Ads as one of your best tools for advertising your brand.
This guide goes into greater detail on how to set up Google Ads. It includes choosing keywords, targeting the right audience, and managing your advertising budget.
But to get started on your own, head over to Google Ads.
Facebook continues to be a key social platform in our daily lives, and it can be a great way to advertise your products to different audiences.
You can put ads in Facebook Feeds, the Facebook Marketplace, the Facebook Right Column, or on other Meta platforms, like Instagram and Messenger. So, you have a lot of choices, and where you decide to place your ad largely depends on your audience.
Younger 20 to 30-year old millennials often favor Instagram, while older generations prefer Facebook. Meanwhile, some audiences might only use phones. In that case, ads in the Right Column won’t appear to them, as these ads only appear when browsing on a desktop.
Facebook has a great guide to help you get started in setting up ads on their platform and determining exactly the right audience for your needs.
Connected with Google, you’d set up Youtube Ads through the Google Ads platform. But these ads will exclusively run at the beginning of Youtube videos or overlayed on the lower 20% portion of a video.
You can learn a bit more about the types of Youtube Ads and get started setting up your own ads here.
Just remember, you will need a Google Ads account before making any Youtube Ads.
Even in our digital age, flyers continue to be an effective marketing strategy. They’re cost-effective and a great way to build brand awareness with clever designs and catchy marketing copy.
A physical extension of your business can be helpful even if your company is purely online. You can reach new audiences and help give people a tangible part of your business, with unique offers and branding.
While there are plenty of new online marketing strategies today, you would be foolish to ignore strategies that have worked so well in the past, like flyers.
Passive marketing techniques allow your potential clients to find you when they are looking for things related to your offers.
SEO is an important resource for any website or online business. It helps your site and your products rank in search engine results, like Google.
When editing your SEO in Portmoni, you can edit your SEO fields for all the key pages of your site, including your products, services, or blog posts. You’ll have the option to customize your Page Title and Meta Description.
This title and description are what will appear in Google searches. For example, you can see Portmoni’s Page Title and Meta Description in the image below:
You’re limited to 60 characters for the Page Title and 160 characters for the Meta Description, because Google cuts off any characters past that max. If you have longer titles and descriptions, they often look less professional cut off like that.
It’s important to edit your Page Titles and Meta Descriptions. If you don’t, they’ll be automatically taken from the name and description of the product, which can often be longer than the character max.
Content marketing is all about telling your story. You want to create a narrative that reflects your brand well and connects with your audience. To do that, you have a lot of great tools, many already built into Portmoni.
Setup a blog
A blog can be a great way to make announcements and tell the story of your brand’s development and history.
You can add a blog to your site from the “News + blog posts” section of the Portmoni back end.
While blogs are a passive marketing strategy, they can work with active marketing strategies, like email marketing, advertising your latest blog and announcements to your subscriber list.
Adding Social Media accounts to your Portmoni website is as simple as visiting the “Social Media Links” section of “Contact + Social Media Links” in the Portmoni back end.
Social Media accounts, like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram work together with your website. They can be a great way to directly engage with your audience and customers, humanize your brand, and make real connections. Your website will funnel customers to your social media accounts, which will then funnel customers back to your website, driving more engagement and sales.
While Youtube Ads are a great way to actively market your business, Youtube videos can be another passive tool, like blogs, to tell your brand’s story.
You can get the faces of your team out there to help drive home the message of your brand. All while featuring your products, and providing links back to your online store for more sales.
This guide can help you set up your Youtube account and start posting your first videos.
The Bottom Line
There are a lot of steps to creating an online store. It can feel overwhelming, like you’re always a step behind or not doing enough.
But Portmoni makes the process so much easier. It gives you the right tools to build your store quickly and simply.
So what are you waiting for? Sign up with Portmoni today. Build your online store. And start selling your products.
There’s a niche waiting to be filled. And there’s an audience waiting for your story and products. All you have to do is build it.
Want to start your online store?
Create your online store and start selling in 5 minutes.
How to Start an Online Store in South Africa – FAQ
Do I need to register an online business in South Africa?
If you are just getting started and your business falls below the limits of the CIPC and SARS, you do not need to register an online business in South Africa to start operating. In that case, you can for instance work as a sole proprietorship. However, even if your business is not registered with the CIPC, in all cases you need to register your business with SARS to pay taxes.
Note that this is not tax advice. It is recommended to check with a tax attorney and the relevant authorities to make sure the status you choose is legal.
How to register a business online?
To register a business online in South Africa, you just need to go to the CIPC website and register your business. It is a quick and easy process.
How to start an online business in South Africa?
To start an online business in South Africa, you start by picking a niche and selecting the products you want to sell. You then decide on a name and logo, before starting to create your online store. Once you have chosen your online store platform and configured your shop, you are ready to launch!
This is how to open an online store in South Africa.
What are the options to create a free online store in South Africa?
Most eCommerce platforms offer a free trial or free plan to create a free online store in South Africa. For instance, Portmoni and Shopify both offer a 14-day free trial to start your shop for free and configure it before switching to a paid plan. Other platforms offer a free forever plan, but it usually comes with a lot of limitations and advertising.
If you are serious about your business, we recommend using one of the best-in-class available options: Portmoni, WooCommerce, or Shopify.
What is the price of an eCommerce website in South Africa?
An eCommerce website price in South Africa will typically range between R50 and R1500 per month.
The cheaper option will be for shared hosting of a WooCommerce site. However, the performance will likely be poor and require strong technical skills to put everything together. The high range will be for larger sites including a very high number of products.
A great value option will be between R200 and R250 per month, like the packages we offer at Portmoni.
Want to start your online store?
Create your online store and start selling in 5 minutes.