online store
Online shopping and delivery service concept. Photo credit: Shutterstock

So, you’re looking to start an online store / shop in Uganda? That’s great! Ecommerce is growing industry in Uganda, and there’s space newcomers like you. To all of you who have been running retail shops offline, I say “Welcome to the online space!”.

Starting an online store comes with a lot more advantages than a traditional storefront, as there’s no need to rent a commercial space and you can millions of customers globally from the comfort of your home.

For your online store / shop to succeed, you will need to have great products, a professional and user-friendly website and an executable marketing plan.

In this guide, I will take you through a comprehensive guide to start a profitable online shop in Uganda. As you could be already knowing, online shops are the future of any product based business that exists. So, let’s get started!

Also read; Will Traditional Shops Survive The E-commerce Explosion In Uganda?

Why i start an online store / shop in Uganda?

We are living in a contemporary world where everything is going online making businesses no longer defined by geographical boundaries. Traditionally, the only way people would know about the existence of your business was by passing outside your workplace and seeing a small sign post that describes your business. This is now history as businesses can now easily be accessible online.

Today, almost everyone has a smartphone and can access internet from anywhere…and because of this, moving your business brings closer to millions of internet users who are looking to buy goods and services online. The internet enables you to more people that you would never reach using traditional advertising methods.

Innovative and hardworking Ugandans are already repeating big from this internet trade. I can hear you excuse that you have always wanted to start too but you do not have any background in IT. Starting an online business is not only limited to IT guys, anyone can do so regardless of their skills or educational background.

An online shop is cheaper to start since the expenses that you would spend on rent or warehouse are eliminated, but just like a conventional storefront, you need capital to start an online store. Statistically, an online store that is done the right way standards higher chances of making more profits than a conventional store.

Also read; The Insider Guide To Starting An Online Business In Uganda

Online store niche ideas in Uganda

Here are some of the online store niche ideas worth considering

  • Electronics
  • Fashion
  • Handmade crafts
  • Wearables e.g watches
  • Mobile makeup
  • Baby products
  • Food delivery
  • Home use items
  • Bookstore
  • Jewelry
  • Beauty products
  • Herbal products
  • Natural Nutritional Supplements
  • Technology devices
  • Hair products
  • Footwear
  • Eyewear
  • Beverages
  • Mobile Massage services
  • Agricultural produce
  • Second hand products
  • General Merchandize

Also read;

Steps to start online shop in Uganda

Below are the steps that you need to follow to start your store / shop in Uganda:

  • Decide what you want to sell
  • Write a business plan
  • Find a name for your store and register your business
  • Build your website
  • Pick a domain and buy web hosting
  • Setup payment gateway and get paid
  • Market your online shop
  • Test your store before launching it

1. Decide what you want to sell

Before you open your online store/shop, you need to decide what kind of products you want to sell. It could be of your own or you want to outsource products from other manufactures are sell online.

Ensure that you choose products that marketable are on demand within your target audience. In such ecommerce businesses, you need to give people what they are exactly looking for.

Take time to learn about the gaps in the market and what people search for online. If your target audience is looking to buy mangoes online, sell them mangoes, do not try to sell them apples.

Finding the right products to sell online is one of the most essential aspects of starting an online shop in Uganda.

2. Write a business plan

An executable business plan is very crucial in the success of any business. Before you start the process of opening your online shop / store, first craft a business plan. Whether you are planning to present your plan to investors for financing or not, having a business plan will help you plan the steps you need to take for your online store to be successful. Figure out cost of production and lay down a marketing strategy. While writing your business plan, consider the following points:

  • Production costs if you will manufacture products yourself
  • Shipping costs. How will you ship orders to customers?
  • Taxes ie URA tax and website/domain annual renewal fees.
  • Cost of developing a website
  • If applicable, employee wages.
  • Marketing strategy and its costs

3. Find a name for your store and register your business

Finding a name for your store is a critical step that shouldn’t be taken lightly. A name can make or break your business. Choose a simple, short and brandable name that describes your store. A brandable can also be any word without any specific meaning but memorable e.g Google, Amazon, Jumia etc.

Do you need to get license to start an online business in Uganda? Well, this depends on how you look at it. But any organized business should operate legally by registering a business and acquiring necessary operational licenses.

Some people would refuse to register their online businesses to avoid paying taxes but it should be noted that this attract heavy penalties or even lead to closure of your business if by any bad luck this government catches up with you.

While registering a business is not mandatory, it is important to do so at start to avoid problems that may arise in future such as your business getting shutdown by tax authorities over intentional tax evasion.

If your online store is registered, it is acknowledged as a legal business which makes it easier for you to acquire much-needed funding from investors, traditional banks or local credit unions.

Tip: For better SEO benefits, your store name should match your domain name. For example for if your store name is “Nova Electronics”, your domain should be www.novaelectronics.com [That’s if it is still available for registration].

Also read; Should You Start A Business With Your Best Friend?

4. Pick a domain name and buy web hosting

Your domain name is your online address [or URL] where your customers can find you. An example of a domain is, of course, www.ictguy.com. Choosing a domain is a very big business decision that must not be taken lightly. Pick a domain name that is simple, short (below 15 characters), brandable and clearly describes your business. The best domain extension is .com [dotcom]. Domains go for an average of $12 (about UGX 45,000/-).

After you have decided on what domain to register, buy web hosting. In a layman’s language, a web host is simply a powerful computer, sometimes called a server, that enables your website to be accessible on the internet. Your website files are stored on the server.

When choosing a web host, go for one that is reliable, offers the features you need to run your online store, offer free technical support and should have an uptime of at least 99%. I do not encourage anyone to host with a Ugandan web hosting company because of their unreliability and poor support. Go for a global reputable web hosting company.

A good web host goes for an average of $80 (about UGX 280,000/-). The good news is that most web hosting providers offer a free domain to first time customers. This means when you buy web hosting, you will get a free domain.

Below are my recommended companies you should register your domain or buy webhosting from.

NB: You will get a special discount when you buy your hosting through the above links.

Related; The Ultimate Guide To Web Hosting In Uganda – Everything You Need To Know

5. Build your website

You cannot have an online store/shop without a website. There are several SaaS based ecommerce solutions that you can use to build your website even if you have no programming. The most popular one being Shopify. These solutions come with pre-inbuilt theme/templates with drag and drop features making it easier to set up. This is the easiest way to setup and online shop on your own, however method is not a long term solution.

Usually, these solutions come with very limited features and customization capabilities….and you also need to pay a monthly or annual fee which makes the solution expensive in a long run. Shopify pricing basic starts at $29 (about UGX 110,000) per month and $299 (about UGX1,100,000) per year.

Alternatively, if you cannot afford readymade solutions like Shopify, you will need to hire a professional ecommerce web developer to design for you a website using premium WordPress ecommerce themes or create for you a custom website from scratch depending how you want your online shop to look or function like. Premium ecommerce WordPress themes at Themeforest cost a maximum of $70 (about UGX 250,000) exclusive of the developer’s labour costs.

Building a custom website from scratch is more costly than building one using a premade WordPress template. So define your budget accordingly.

Build a website that only has features you need, and must have room that accommodates the needs of growing business ie must be scale or upgradable.

If you would like me to help you design your online shop website, at a cost of course, feel free to contact me here or shoot me a WhatsApp on +256797326164. Or you can hire any other competent developer or web design agency of your choice.

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6. Setup a payment gateway and get paid

Now that your website (store) is ready, you customers can now visit it and start making orders. However in order for you to accept payments online, you will need integrate a payment gateway in your website. There are several ways to accept payments online in Uganda. The most popular ones include Mobile Money, Pesapal, Credit/debit and PayPal [If you have a supported account]. However due to rampant online scams in Uganda, most Uganda buyers prefer to pay cash on delivery. So if your customers are predominantly Ugandans, in order to maximize your orders, make sure you provide Cash On Delivery (COD) as the primary checkout option.

Related; Using PayPal In Uganda: Sending, Receiving, Withdraw and Limitations

7. Market your online shop/store

Even if you have the most beautiful website in the world, if people don’t know about it, you won’t make any sales. In order to make money, it is crucial that you get your store to the masses. You need to drive customers to your store by marketing it. Consider marketing your business using the following strategies:

Online strategies

  • Social media marketing
  • Influencer marketing
  • Search Engine marketing
  • Run special deals and offers
  • Content marketing through a blog section on your website
  • Email marketing
  • Pay Per Click (CPC) advertising
  • Affiliate marketing

Offline strategies

  • Grand opening
  • Industry specific trade shows
  • Advertise on mainstream e.g Radio, TV, newspapers and billboards
  • Sales literature e.g Flyers, business cards, brochures etc
  • Word of mouth

8. Test your store before launching it

Well, now that you have officially learned how to start an online store, it is now time to get your store online. Test and ensure that your website is working exactly as it should. Below is some of your before-launch checklist.

  • Is your website mobile responsive?
  • Does it have a logo?
  • Does it have any errors and bugs?
  • Does checkout process work correctly?
  • Is user registration optional when buying?
  • Do you have an “About” page?
  • Do you have a “Contact” page?
  • Do you have a refund policy?
  • Is store not empty?
  • Are all your products well categorized?

Once you have checked off all of the above, you can now launch your online store to the public and begin promoting it.

Winding up!

Now that you are you know the steps to start an online shop in Uganda, it is time for you to use the information to get started. Take advantage of the internet and use it to turn your passion into a lucrative online business venture you can be proud of. Make sure you invest in a high quality website by hiring the right web developer, choose the right web host, assemble the right team to work with and market your business professionally.

If you still find the above steps hard to follow, or a little bit confusing, or have something else you need to know about starting an online business in Uganda, please feel free to contact me here or WhatsApp me at +256797326164.

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