SHOP TO IT: How to Open an Online Store with Shopify

Published on 09 April 2020

Phil Martin and Elize Hattin sitting on a black couch


Phil Martin, Director of Bitplex, Central Queensland's largest software development firm says the easiest way for businesses to capitalise on the current situation is to set up a Shopify store.

"Shopify is an e-commerce platform that makes it incredibly easy to get your products online, allows you to take money from your customers and enables you to ship your products to them in an easy, very straightforward way.

"E-commerce is short for electronic commerce and it just means any time there's a transaction, it's for a shopfront hosted on the internet rather than in person," Phil explains.

Effectively e-commerce allows a business owner to transfer a physical shopfront which people walk by, to an electronic platform that allows customers to buy from you, virtually.

An e-commerce platform like Shopify lets a business list its products, categorise them, post information about them, set up payment methods and allows business owners to track orders, so they can ship to customers.



Phil reassures businesses looking to set up an online shop for the first time will find the process easy, if they are familiar with blogging tools and creating pages.

Even less tech-savvy business owners with little to no experience will still be able to achieve this, especially with so many resources and tutorial videos available to guide the process.

Shopify is best suited for people that are selling physical things needing shipping. The platform has been built to handle dimensions and the weight of products to calculate shipping.

It can also sell digital products, even though it was not originally designed for this.



Phil advises there is some pre-planning and preparation required before setting up and launching your own Shopify store.

The main thing is having an existing shopfront or being a service-based operation wanting to start selling things that complement that business or service (for example, an art gallery that wants to sell art supplies so people can do it at home, particularly if they're going to be forced to stay at home for the next few weeks).

Phil says another requirement is a bank account and credit card to pay for the online shopping service.

He advises businesses need to be prepared to take quality photos of the product you're selling; good photos and videos make all the difference.

"Take honest photos of the actual product and avoid trying and make it look like something it is not. If you can take it with either a white or a clean background, or better yet, have action photos where people are actually using and enjoying the product.

"Lighting has the biggest impact on your photos. If you can take your photos in a room with lots of natural light or if you can afford actual soft lighting or a photography studio, use those as well. Avoid taking photos in a dark room using flash photography as you won't get very nice results," Phil cautions.

Elize adds avoiding putting photos online that do your product a disservice.

To get started with e-commerce, Phil advises business owners will need an email address you are willing to use for customer contact.

You will also require a physical address tied to your business so people can contact you.

You need a name for your shop and you need your product descriptions and photos ready to go. It is also a good idea to have your pricing models worked out, which if you are operating a bricks and mortar business, you should have already.

Investigate shipping costs. Know how much products weigh, how much your shipping, postage, packaging and your handling costs to avoid shortfalls.

Phil maintains if you decide on free shipping, ensure you have enough margin in your product to cater for that.

"Essentially you can do business with people in America or all over the world; be prepared to have that information as well. So, if someone from the UK buys something in your shop, how much will the shipping be then?" Elize questions.



With the above shopping list sorted, Phil says the next step is to set up a Shopify account at

To help demonstrate how to set up an online store, Phil is creating a hypothetical art store called Art at Home CQ; selling paint brushes and canvases.

Phil acknowledges a browser search will bring up results for numerous e-commerce platforms; Shopify being only one of many.      

"Shopify has good parts and it has bad parts. If I was selling digital products, I'd use something else. If I was selling physical products, then I would use Shopify because it's quite straightforward to use and has good reporting. There's no one best platform, it depends on what your individual business needs are," he says.

When creating the mock store Art @ Home, Phil enters his email address, his name, the name of the store and physical address to initiate setting up the virtual shopfront.

Phil advises during these initial steps, Shopify will ask you to provide a little bit more information about what we're doing so that they can tailor their product a little bit better. He advises it is not mandatory to fill this out to use Shopify; this section can be skipped. 

With a new URL set up - Art at, this Shopify store will appear under construction until the set-up has been completed and is ready for customers. 

"The landing page says Art at Home CQ is coming soon. Be the first to know when we launch. This is a great way to build your customer mailing list which they automatically join," Phil explains.

At this stage, if you are not quite ready to 'go live', Elize suggests creating a Facebook page and start posting straight away to direct potential customers to your 'under construction' store and join the mailing list.

"As soon as your store opens, all the people who signed up will get notified that your store is officially opened," Phil confirms.


ONLINE STORE LAYOUT: How do we set up an online store?

Phil demonstrates the left-hand side of the Shopify site contains the components of what he calls the back office.

"This is where you define your customers and your products, get reporting and set up any add-ons you might want and manage your orders…this is independent of the online store component,  this is just all about you as a shop.

"The sales channels is where you manage how your shop looks like… colours, fonts, images and themes," Phil says.

Shopify provides users with a starting process to follow; the first step being adding a product before selecting what you want the store site to look like.

Phil explains because businesses have already decided what they will be selling, once products are listed you can decide what your online store looks like and how it all fits together with those products.

When adding product, Phil says the description is what people will see in the line item and in their shopping cart, with an additional detail section when they click on your product for more info.

Photos of the products can be easily uploaded from your computer.

The next step involves setting pricing. In the hypothetical online art supply store Phil is building, he elects to sell a set of 12 brushes for $10.

"At this stage you will see a ‘compared’ price, very often in shopping stores you'll see a product that is now on sale for $10, used to be on sale for $14 … the compared price is the original price before the current price. So, it was $14 and you're getting an absolute bargain at $10.

"If you wanted to track your costs as well for profit reporting, you can actually put your cost per item in as well ... let's say I was buying the product for $4, it would tell me how much I was making and that's a margin of 60%, or $6 profit.

"If I have physical inventory management, almost everything we have has SKU numbers and barcode numbers which lets us tie in our Shopify store with our physical inventory," Phil demonstrates. 

The platform requires shipping information such as product weight and country of origin where everything will be shipped from.

Shopify also caters for multiple variants of products, such a size, colour or feature.

"You can have one product that you're selling but have variations within that and that could be varying T-shirt sizes or T-shirt colours. It also gives you the option of varying the price as well.

This is all it takes to get your first product added to your virtual store. Make sure to 'click save' often to avoid losing your work.



With products listed, the next step is to set up the store so customers can buy your products.

To allow your products to be seen on your Shopify homepage, you need to select a theme for your store.

"Your Shopify homepage is always managed by what's called your theme, then your theme controls how your site looks and feels right from when someone first visits to when they checkout and leave your store.

"Shopify has several free themes you can use, as well as a theme store you can purchase from at varying prices from $50 to $300 or $400," Phil says.

The free themes available on Shopify give users a great deal of flexibility to create a unique looking site, by change fonts, sizes, colours and using free images as well.

Phil explains the featured collection component allows you to group products and display it on the page.

Adding testimonials is vital for gaining trust with your online customers, as people respond positively to other messages that people have sent.

"You want to ensure that your home page builds a lot of trust and credibility with your customers so they feel they can buy from you and what they're going to buy is going to actually arrive at their front door. Therefore, testimonials are so important and that is why selecting good images are also so important," Elize urges.

It is important to demonstrate to Shopify you have an inventory of product to sell.

Now it comes to how to connect the sales channels and online store.

The product and customer management section contains all payment options are in the settings.

"This is where we set up all our store wide configuration like which languages do we work in? How we do our billing. Which channels we have. How do we manage our shipping, all of that," he says.

Phil explains payment providers are the way to link everything together and how businesses receive money through usual channels including Visa, MasterCard, Amex, Google Pay, Apple Pay and more.

"Shopify has its own payment platform which is really easy to use. I recommend using it if you're starting out.

"It's a little bit more expensive than probably what you're paying for your EFTPOS machines in your brick and mortar store, but not that much more and the ease of setting up is really, really good," he claims. 

At this point you will need to enter personal information, banking details and ABN number to the site.

Phil recommends Australian traders get an ABN number to help manage GST obligations easily. You can still set up a Shopify store without an ABN, by opting not GST registered and ABN not applicable.

Shopify also gives users the option to add a domain. Phil advises this process sits in the middle of being easy and difficult.

"If you're familiar with domains and websites, it's straightforward but if you've never done anything like it before, it's really daunting.

"If businesses need help with this, they can contact me at Bitplex and we're more than happy to provide help. There's also lots of online forums and help; Shopify is more than happy to help you via the Shopify help centre," he advises. 

To start receiving orders and payments, businesses need to switch their Shopify store from a trial into a paid product by choosing a monthly plan.

Finally, disabling the password will then enable the site to go live and become visible to customers.



Setting up a Shopify store is free. As soon as you start trading however, Shopify is a paid platform only and Shopify charges US$29 per month plus 1.75% of your transactions and a 30-cent processing fee, all in US dollars.

"Compare that to the rental that you're paying in your bricks and mortar business, it's pretty good value.

"If you're renting a commercial property in Rockhampton, that's very high value. Great value for money. It's still daunting if you're just starting it up and all you're doing is online sales and you haven't yet shipped any products … but it's a worthwhile investment because you need customers and it's the easiest way to take people's money," Phil says.

The software developer says it would be 'prohibitively expensive' to have a similar website designed for you, and there's no need to rebuild something that already exists. It's also time consuming; taking six months to a year to rebuild Shopify.

He suggests investigating Shopify Lite, which is simpler and allows you to sell products on your Facebook page and existing website for just US$9 a month.



Phil says businesses can have as many Shopify stores as they want, each with its own set of logins.

Whenever you log in to Shopify, it will ask you which store you are logging in to and then ask for your email address.

To buy something from your online store, a customer clicks on your product which adds it to the shopping cart.

Once a purchase is made, the business owner receives an email notification from Shopify that someone has placed an order, what they have ordered and the shipping methods.

"If we go back to our Shopify store to our orders section, our order is there, the payment has been authorised.

"The customer will receive an SMS from Shopify saying, ‘thanks for your purchase from Art @ Home CQ. We'll notify you when it ships'.

"And those things are also configurable … if you prefer to communicate over email then you can make them type in their email address at the checkout, or in this case they are prompted for a mobile phone which can be typed in," Phil explains.

Once an order is placed, it is over to the business owner to select the product from their inventory, pack it, mail it at the post office and then mark the order as fulfilled.

"Shopify allows you to enter the check-in number the post office supplies you, so once you post the product it will notify the customer of shipment," Phil explains.

While Phil has explained the set-up process for a basic Shopify store, he notes there are endless add-ons for calculating exact shipping prices based on product dimensions, digital downloads and page builders to create sophisticated landing pages for marketing.



Both Phil and Elize say the best way to learn is just to have a go.

"Set up a store even with 10 of your best-selling products and then use your social media channels to let your customers know you're open for business and post about these products and services.

"Your customers need to see and hear from you at least 10 to 15 times before they register you are open for business and potentially see something they want to purchase," Elize suggests.

Phil concurs, saying it doesn't cost businesses anything other than their time to set up a store.

"The only time it starts costing you money is when you're ready to make some actual sales. The sooner you start, the sooner you'll be able to make your first sale.

"Online shopping is the norm now … that's where people search for services first. Embrace the online world of shopping because your customers certainly are … and if you're not where your customers are looking, then you'll be missing out," Phil says.

Watch Phil set up a Shopify Store here

Phil has worked in the software industry for 17 years and has experience in all parts of the software life cycle, from initial idea development and prototyping through to ongoing support and upgrades.

Phil is also Turbo-Traction Lab's local resident tech expert. Turbo-Traction Lab is a hands-on program designed to build a modern business in 80 days, delivered with a ‘lab’ mindset.

An initiative of the Australian Government, in conjunction with Capital[b] Pty Ltd and Rockhampton Regional Council, Turbo-Traction Lab is a program delivered by the SmartHub.

The SmartHub encourages entrepreneurs and business owners to adopt technology and modern based business practice to make the entire business journey more profitable, more enjoyable, more effective and more efficient.

Being part of the SmartHub gives local business owners opportunities to meet with and learn from mentors, to help them learn the discipline required to succeed in business.


If you’d like to learn more about becoming part of the SmartHub, contact us via the following channels:



Phone:             07 4936 8444


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