Thinking about opening an online store? Thinking about adding ecommerce to your sales and distribution platform?

But not sure where to start?

The following is from Matthew Guay, a Content Marketer at Zapier, the tool that lets you easily connect apps and automate repetitive tasks. (Zapier is also one of my eight powerful social media tools for savvy businesses.)

Here's Matthew:

eCommerce has come a long way in little over two decades. From the first broken laser printer selling on eBay to Amazon becoming the 8th largest retailer globally last year, it's hard to imagine the world without eCommerce.

So if your New Year's resolutions include starting your own business, it's only natural that an online business might be the first thing you'd consider. The web is the world's cheapest real estate, where everyone can get Main Street real estate.

But there are so many ways to sell products online, just figuring out where to start can be confusing.

Don't over-think it. Here are the best places to start a new online store this year. (And if you want more information, this article is based on Zapier's new free eBook, The Ultimate Guide to eCommerce Software.)

A Stand, a Shelf, or a Store?

First, though, do you really want your own store, or do you just want to sell stuff online? If the latter, you might not even have to open a store.

Instead, you can use the internet's version of a bazaar or flea market: a marketplace. Marketplaces let you list your products for sale somewhere customers are already searching for similar items.

eBay was one of the original internet startups, and it's still one of the best online bazaars. You can list just about anything for sale, either with an auction or as a standard buy-it-now product. But it's not the only one. From specialty marketplaces like Etsy to crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, there are a wide variety of places where you can list your products for sale.

Or, maybe you'd rather have your product just sitting on a shelf in an existing store, waiting for people to browse and buy it. That's what Amazon is best at: It's already the place most people look for products online, and you can put your stuff for sale there, too.

You can even ship your products to Amazon and let them handle order processing, shipping, and more, so you can focus on making great stuff and let Amazon worry about the store.

Either of those styles can work--and can even be a great way to get started selling stuff online. But for the most flexibility, and to sell your products somewhere that showcases your personality and branding, your best option is to start your own store.

And that doesn't have to be hard, either.

Choosing the Perfect eCommerce Real Estate

If you're sure you want a store, then you have to decide what type of store. In the real world, you could have a shop in a mall, your own stand-alone store building, or a store built into your factory's building perhaps with a museum and restaurant on the side.

You can't quite add a restaurant on to your store online, but you can build a store in a number of shapes and sizes. Say you're worried your store won't get enough visitors and want the pre-existing traffic a marketplace would bring--but you still want your own customized store.

Storenvy is the tool you should use to build your store. It's a marketplace, something like Etsy crossed with Amazon, but it also lets you build your own store complete with its own design and branding. And, it's free.

For a stand-alone store, there are a wide range of eCommerce platforms you could use, from the super simple to the powerful and complicated. Shopify strikes a nice balance between the two, and is the eCommerce platform that's likely best for most new online stores. It's easy to use, starts at $29/month, and includes all the features you could want in a store.

Plus, much like your phone, it comes with an App Store where you can add countless themes and tools to your store and make it work just like you want.

Need a simpler store? Gumroad is perhaps the simplest way to start a store. You just drag a picture of your product into the app, add a description and price, and boom: You've got a store.

Or want to build that impressive store and business in one? WooCommerce lets you add a store to your WordPress blog, so you can build a full-featured site alongside your store for the best way to market your products the way you want.

Getting Paid, From Anywhere

There's one other big hurdle: getting paid. In a real-world store, you'd accept cash, along with perhaps credit cards and checks.

Online, there are far more options. There's PayPal, the old payments standby that built Elon Musk's fortune and indirectly brought us Tesla and Space X. It works. Your customers could pay you via their bank, credit card, or PayPal account, and you can route your revenue back into your bank. But it's somewhat confusing, and you might rather just accept credit cards directly and not have to worry about transferring your money from yet another account.

For that, there are a wide range of online payment processing gateways, tools that can help you accept payments in a wide variety of ways. Amazon Payments may be the simplest. It has similar fees to other payment processing tools, and lets your customers pay using the card they've already added to their Amazon account. And, it'll deposit your revenue to your bank account automatically.

For more features, international credit card support, and your own custom payment interface, Stripe is one of the best choices. It's a popular payment gateway API that you can integrate directly into your store--one that works with Shopify, WooCommerce, and many other eCommerce platforms without any extra coding.

Want customers to pay you via bank transfers? Dwolla is perfect for that. Or, for more exotic international payments via public transit passes, mobile accounts, mini-mart cash payments, and more, Adyen works with hundreds of localized payment sources so anyone can shop at your store.

Starting a store--or any business--is daunting at best. It's hard work. With the proper tools and a bit of preparation, though, it's far from impossible.

Whether you need a shelf for your products or a full-blown store, want to get paid with bank transfers or through mobile carriers, in 2017 it's easier than ever to run the online business you want.

If you're Ready to start your first online store, download a copy of Zapier's Ultimate Guide to eCommerce Software for step-by-step tutorials and tools you need to make your new business venture a success.

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