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E-commerce 101: an essential guide to the sector

Choosing from the multitude of e-commerce options for your business can seem like an intimidating task. From plugins to online stores, finding the right choice for your particular needs can be a challenge.

The great thing about having lots of options is that you can be confident in eventually deciding on the perfect solution. To help you get started, we’ve put together an ‘e-commerce 101.’ This blog post will explain everything you need to know about e-commerce, as well as highlighting the best e-commerce platforms and letting you know how to get started.

What is e-commerce?

Breaking down what e-commerce – or electronic commerce – actually is can help answer some of the questions around choosing the right platform and site. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, e-commerce can be defined as “the buying and selling of goods and services over the internet.”

Simply put, anytime a transaction takes place over the internet, e-commerce is happening. e-commerce is also sometimes referred to as e-business or internet commerce and it can include many different types of transactions, including the transfer of data and goods.

Why is e-commerce so important?

The importance of e-commerce is easy to understand when you think about the world of today. The internet has become a focal point of a huge portion of our lives. From entertainment and dating to food deliveries to banking, our lives have gone online.

That’s why it makes sense for business owners to look into how their product or offerings can be translated online. As of 2020, around 59% of the world’s entire population were online – that’s 4.45 billion people. You should aim to target and showcase your services to where potential customers are, and, as these numbers prove, they are highly likely to be online. According to Nasdaq, it’s thought that by 2040, 95% of shopping in the UK will be facilitated by e-commerce.

Take a closer look at how you can adapt your products or services to the online world.

What to consider when choosing an e-commerce platform

In the next section of this blog post, we’ll break down different e-commerce websites for you to consider and select from. But first, let’s take a look at the features of an e-commerce site and the things you should think about to guide your choice.

Site design

The style and themes that an e-commerce platform can offer are important to consider when choosing which site or plugin is for you. Different options allow you different levels of customisation when it comes to things like logos, colours, product catalogues and individual designs.

If you’re just about to begin your e-commerce journey a simpler interface would be ideal for you. Having limited design choices might sound negative, but it’ll actually allow you to focus on the important tasks that come with adapting your products or services to suit being sold online.

On the other hand, if you’ve already started selling online or you have a bit more experience in web design, then more complex plugins could be perfect, as they allow you to tailor the interface to match your brand and style.


Especially if you’re just starting out in the e-commerce world with your first online store, it’s crucial that you choose an e-commerce option that gives you good support should you have questions.

Whether that means a technical support team to help if things go wrong, or a dedicated key account manager to keep an eye on how your business is doing and offer advice when it’s needed, check the level of support you’ll receive before selecting an e-commerce site.

Mobile suitability

With your audience viewing your products and looking to make purchases on the small screens of their mobile devices, it’s important to consider which e-commerce site will give them the best experience.

Look into how mobile-friendly the e-comm platform will make your online store. Does the design work? Are the pages easy to follow? Is it simple to select products, order and pay? All of these questions need to be answered when choosing your e-comm solution.


When you’re asking your customers to trust your website and to hand over their financial details to make orders and payments, you need to make sure you protect these details safely and securely.

You need to make sure that how you choose to take payments is fully compliant with legal regulations and that how you store data is in line with GDPR requirements.

Where to start

As previously mentioned, there are a lot of options available for business owners who want to move into the e-commerce space. To begin with, let’s take a look at SumUp’s own solution…

Online Store

A great place to start with e-commerce is with the SumUp Online Store. This option is fantastic, especially for small business owners and people who are already using social media to promote and advertise their products.

With the Online Store, you can start selling your products online in a matter of minutes through your SumUp profile. In a few taps, add your products, social media links, and shipping details.

You can even run your store on the SumUp app, so you truly can sell from anywhere.

Sell online today


Depending on the nature of your business, you might want to look into alternative options. For example, you might have already launched an online store but want to explore payment opportunities, or maybe you fancy yourself as a coder, so building a website from scratch might be more up your street.

With SumUp’s integration products, partners can use our e-comm API to accept customer card payments from within their own platform, creating a rounded and connected omnichannel experience. Some of our e-comm partners that you should consider are:


If you’ve already set up an online store using the WordPress CRM system, then taking advantage of SumUp’s plugin with WooCommerce is ideal for you. WooCommerce is a WordPress e-commerce plugin available to download. SumUp’s Payment Gateway for WooCommerce will give your website the option to accept payments in your online store. The plugin is a lightweight option that enables quick and easy integration with limited technical expertise.

This option enables customisation and provides your customers the convenience of securely buying products from your website without being redirected to other pages. Transactions are processed through the SumUp payment platform, allowing you to track your transaction history through the SumUp dashboard.


Wix is a great, all-in-one e-commerce option. Its simplicity and easy-to-use drag and drop style interface makes it the perfect option for beginners and people who don’t have any coding experience. While WooCommerce requires some prior developer knowledge in order to make significant modifications, Wix has fixed templates and a dedicated team to introduce new features and fixes.

Wix does have a few more restrictions when it comes to customisation in comparison to WooCommerce, but it’s been designed and set up in a specific way which makes it perfect for non-developers to use. You can find templates, plugins (including the SumUp integration), security and technology all housed within one system, making setting up a professional e-commerce website simple and easy.


If you’ve got some experience with web development, another great option is the OpenSource e-commerce solution, PrestaShop. Given the nature of the OpenSource software, PrestaShop allows users to make completely customisable e-comm stores, with no restrictions or limits. There are also training materials and a support team on hand to help with any technicalities.

PrestaShop is integrated with SumUp as a payment provider for transactions on your site, meaning you can trust that your e-comm finances are 100% secure and reliable. The interface is simple and easy-to-navigate so your customers can select and then pay for their items quickly and smoothly.

What next?

Your store is only a part of starting your e-commerce business. Like anyone else, you also need to define your market and product and register yourself.

Find your niche

Your niche means the products you’ll offer and the audience you target. Figuring out who you’re targeting means answering a few critical questions:

  • What problems do your potential customers face and how will your products address them?

  • How much are customers willing to pay for your solution?

  • Does your solution have a unique spin unavailable elsewhere?

The way to answer all these questions is by doing market research. Market research means looking up demographic information like what age your customers are, their income, levels of education, where they are located, browsing and social media habits, and reading customer reviews to find out what they value.

You can easily find data on customers using platforms like Facebook’s Business Manager, which let you narrow down your audience by giving you options for targeting specific demographics like education level, age, race, location and many others and combinations thereof. You can also scout out which pages and brands your audience likes to get an idea of their preferences.

When figuring out how to market your product to customers, pay attention to popular keywords. You want to look up every possible term and combination of terms associated with your product, from the general to the very specific, so you can see what returns the highest volume of results, as well as what produces results most relevant to what was searched.

An easy way to do this is with keyword search tools like Google Trends or Google Keyword Planner, both of which are free.

You should do market research on your competition just as you do your audience. You want to find out:

  • Who are the other businesses in your niche?

  • How much are they charging for similar products?

  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of their products?

  • Which problems are competitors trying to solve for their customers?

  • What demographics are they serving?

Understanding how your competition does things will allow you to differentiate yourself and come up with a more persuasive argument as to why customers should choose you over them. And looking at competitors can help you figure out logistical things like how much you will charge for your products, how wide a range of products you’ll offer, and if it makes sense to offer subscriptions to your products.

Make it official

Just because your business is online, doesn’t mean anyone can make a website and call it a business. There are rules, regulations, and business licences that potential entrepreneurs need to follow and obtain just as with physical businesses.

The EU’s general regulations for e-commerce businesses can be found here, although depending on which country you‘re in, you’ll have other criteria to adhere to.

To obtain a business licence in general, even as a sole trader, the EU has some general recommendations and standard practices that it encourages all member states to follow. In addition, it collects all the information about which authority to contact per country for help setting up your business, so you don’t have to hunt down all the forms yourself.

The EU even points business owners towards potential areas for funding. Several EU funds exist to help entrepreneurs and startup businesses get funding, and several sites exist where you can easily connect with potential investors, both domestic and international.

Whatever stage you’re at when starting an e-commerce business, SumUp can help. From the SumUp Online Store for smaller businesses, to the numerous e-comm integration partners that SumUp are working with for larger merchants, we’ve got a solution for you.

Complete the simple form below and our dedicated team will get in touch to start the conversation.

Ashleigh Grady

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