How to Start an Online Shop

Hello Sammy,

I just came across your post about 100 ways to make money online and I was suddenly very interested in ecommerce. How can I make my own simple online store? I don’t have the need to sell as many items as Jumia, just some electronics that I import as a side hustle. The only experience I have with web development is a WordPress blog, but don’t want to pay someone to set up the online store for me (tight budget). Is there a way I can do this on my own?


I received the following email a few days ago from Steve, and in the middle of crafting a response, I realized that the reply can benefit more people if published as a post.

Being a digital media enthusiast, the growth of e-commerce in the region is a welcome sight especially since web technology is becoming increasingly easier to navigate for the ordinary user. It is now very easy for anyone to build their own e-commerce store, and in this post, I will share with you the easiest way to build inexpensive websites to sell anything without any knowledge on web development.

Why go online?

  1. It is cheaper. You can set up a fully functional online store with less than Sh.5000 ($50) for a whole year. In Nairobi, it is practically impossible to find retail space at such a price for a month, let alone a year.
  2. Open 24/7.
  3. Access to a larger market.
  4. Easy to start and manage.
  5. Easier to scale.

Jumia, the largest e-commerce site in the region, is experiencing a slow-down in their initial exponential growth. This boils down to two key factors; competition and their inability to scale in tandem with the growing e-commerce market. These leaves a significant portion of the e-commerce market untapped. I feel that it is always easier to dominate a niche market as opposed to all markets especially if you don’t have the marketing budget of Jumia. Customer acquisition is the largest expense in e-commerce.

A niche market is division of a larger market that places emphasis on a specific product. It can be any product as shown by Phonesoko which has specialized in mobile phones, ByHand Products which specializes in Art, Biashara Insight books which specializes in non-fiction ebooks and Young Freddy that specializes in fashion.

How to Build the Website

If you don’t have any knowledge on web development, your best option would be to use an e-commerce CMS. A content management system (CMS) is a computer application that allows publishing, editing, modifying, and organizing, deleting, and maintaining content from a central interface. The CMS will allow you to run the online store without having to deal with the site’s backend. Furthermore, the CMS will allow the freedom of adding/modifying features as well as building a customized design.

A majority of e-commerce sites are run on CMS because it is very easy to manage the site even on your own without experiencing major issues. According to builtwith the top e-commerce technologies include WooCommerce, Shopify and Magento. I would also recommend these three as they each serve different purposes and you can pick the right one depending on your CMS.

How to Choose an e-Commerce CMS

ecommerce CMS
Source: Social Beat


This is my preferred option since it is a plugin for wordpress sites. WordPress is what we use to run our sites, and it is probably the easiest to use. The plugin provides almost all the features that are available in the other open-sources CMS’ listed here. WooCommerce might work out more user-friendly and cost-effective for smaller businesses as well as for those familiar with WordPress.


  • Easy setup – WordPress requires very little time to get familiar
  • Very easy to integrate Mpesa payments.
  • Runs on Wordpess – so does not have powerful servers requirements
  • Good number of lower-priced add-ons and themes available
  • Huge WordPress support community


  • Might not work for mid and large size businesses or for businesses looking to scale up soon

Sites using WooCommerce: Biashara Insight books


Unlike Woocomerce which is an open source platform, Shopify is a hosted Platform with it’s own perks. Shopify handles most of the difficult tasks that come with running a site such as hosting. However, this is a slightly expensive option.


  • Large number of add-ons and beautiful professional templates to choose from for an attractive storefront
  • 24/7 customer support – Can be reached by phone, online live chat or email.
  • SEO Compliant


  • May work out slightly more expensive as compared to other platforms
  • A bit difficult to attach local payment services.

Sites using Shopify: Phonesoko


Magento is the most popular e-commerce platform in the world. However, Magento works best for bigger sites and it requires some understanding of web development. The best option if you plan to scale quickly.


  • Robust platform with a high level of functionality and customizability
  • Large number of marketplace extensions available
  • Highly active community for assistance with tutorials and troubleshooting options
  • More SEO-friendly as compared to most other platforms
  • It is highly-scalable – no need would arise to upgrade to another platform while scaling up in future


  • It requires sufficient server space to operate efficiently at high speeds. Smaller servers may cause speed and other related issues
  • Might be too complex for businesses that are too small

Sites using Magento: Konga


Pick the right platform and let the power of e-commerce work for you.

Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook.

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  1. Nice article for starters but just to add,due to the sensitive nature of ecommerce i would rather have newbies build a selling platform on social media preferably Facebook i.e. using Fan Pages and Groups to build a customer base. Potential clients tend to fill rather comfortable their by interacting with other buyers on the same platform.Once you have a strong customer base with successful orders and delivery from the platform one can proceed to websites,the transition will be much easier for buyers.

  2. hello guys,I sell scripts for storybooks,poems and songs to people who are interested to buy and publish in their own names.
    call me through 0705131329 if interested.

  3. These arabamazing articles. I have learnt so much. Am launching an retail online store and want to use square space platform. ( I think it’s the same as shopify but slightly cheaper).
    As I create my business plan I have been wondering how I will be able to attach local payment methods for my customers. Seeing phone soko using shopify made me feel that i can get it done too . Would you care to explain a bit further about how I can get started?
    Best regards,

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