Want to start an online store? Start here

A simple online shop can be online pretty quickly. If you want to make a success of your online shop, more is needed. There are all kinds of rules you need to comply with. Read what you need to think about when starting an online shop.

Here are some things you have to keep in mind to turn your online shop into a success:

Developments

At the beginning of 2022, there were more online stores (in Dutch) than physical non-food shops. This is due to a decrease in the number of 'brick-and-mortar' shops and an increase in the number of online shops. In addition, more and more entrepreneurs are starting an online shop alongside (in Dutch) their physical shop.

About a thousand online shop owners also quit every month. They have been mistaken about how much time running an online shop takes, do not earn enough or cannot cope with the big competition.

Before you start your online shop, do some research into how the market works. What products do you want to offer? Is there a demand for them? What does your target group look like? How many competitors do you have and how do they do it? You can list all these things in a business plan.

Popular products

Most e-retailers sell clothing and fashion accessories (in Dutch). There are also many online shops dealing in home and garden items and other non-food items.

Top 5 new online shops

 Activity No. of starters
1 General products and other non-food items7,311
2 Clothing and fashion accessories4,819
3 Home and garden items4,674
4 Food and personal care products1,959
5 Hobby products1,652

(Source: KVK Business Register – January through December 2022)

Types of online stores

There are different types of online stores, each with their own defining features:

Online shop

With your own stock, you are responsible for buying and selling your products yourself. You also take care of shipping your products and returns yourself.

Platform

Through an online department store like bol.com, Amazon and Coolblue, you get access to millions of buyers. You can have tasks like shipping and invoicing done by the platform, for a fee.

Dropshipping

Dropshipping is selling online without stock. When you receive an order, you place it with your supplier. The latter then sends the products directly to the customer. The advantages of dropshipping are that you don't have to buy and store items yourself.

Do you sell products via dropshipping to EU consumers or work with international suppliers? If so, pay attention to VAT rules and product liability.

Social commerce

With social commerce, you sell online but do not have an online store. Sales are made via social media. For example, Pinterest, Instagram Shopping (in Dutch) and Facebook Shops. The advantage of social commerce is that your customers can make their purchases directly through the Instagram or Facebook app.

Hobby or business?

Many e-retailers originally start their online store from home as a hobby or as so-called ‘side hustle’. But what if your hobby manages to grow into a business? If you meet the following 3 criteria, you are required to register your online shop with KVK:

  • You sell products and/or services in your online shop and make the decisions yourself.
  • Your online shop generates a profit or lets you at least recoup your costs.
  • You promote your shop and make regular sales.

To be a professional seller on online platforms such as Bol.com, Marktplaats, Amazon, AliExpress, eBay, etc., you usually need a KVK number.

How much does an online shop cost?

You can start an online shop without making any major investments. Still, you will need some budget, for example:

  • A subscription to an e-commerce platform
  • Registration of your domain name
  • Purchasing products
  • Marketing
  • Shipping costs

Laws and regulations for online sales

E-retailers have to comply with strict rules that protect you and your customers. The more clarity you create about the product and ordering process, the more likely people are to place an order. On the website of the Dutch Authority for Consumers and Markets, you will find all rules for online retailers (in Dutch), such as:

  • You are obliged to state your visiting address, e-mail address and telephone number on your site.
  • You must clearly state what you offer, what the price is and whether there are any additional costs.
  • Your customers need to know whether they will get what they order, how they can pay and what service you offer if they are not satisfied.
  • Your customers have a legal right to a cooling-off period. You need to explain that before they order anything.
  • You have to explain how the ordering process works.
  • You stay within the limits of what is allowed to entice customers to buy additional services or products.

These rules protect your customers as well as yourself.

Stricter rules for online sales

Since 2022, the rules for online sales have become stricter. The rules concern matters like reviews, discounts, and 'free' online services. And prepare for the renewed EU directive on General Product Safety (in Dutch), that takes effect in December 2024. 

Return policy 

Ordering online is simple. That is why online retailers get a lot of returns. In fact, Dutch consumers return the most of all European consumers. Returns cost online retailers a lot of money: on average, you spend €12.50 per return. And customer service and financial settlement take a lot of time. Fortunately, there are several ways to reduce these costs and prevent returns.

Keep in mind that there are rules about returns you need to follow. For instance, you must offer a return period of at least 14 days.

Sustainability

Rules on sustainability are on the rise and have an increasing impact on your business. For example, there are rules and laws on packaging, choosing business premises, or importing products. To get off to a good and green start, read this article (in Dutch). It will save you time, effort, and money in the long run. 

Photos and images

Good images are essential for an online shop. beeldmateriaal is onmisbaar voor een webshop. Suppliers and brands will often have ready-made product photos for you to use. Please note that you are not allowed to photos that do not belong to you, they are copyrighted.

Sales tips

Do you want to sell more with your online store? Subscribe to the (Dutch only) six-part email series

Purchasing products

You can purchase the products you sell in your online shop from a wholesaler, a supplier, or straight from your brand of choice. A wholesaler is a company that sells to businesses, which is why most wholesalers will require you to be registered with KVK. 

Research the company you are looking to source your products from: 

  • Are they reliable? 

Payment methods

Your customers want to pay in a way that suits them best. Good to know:

  • You are not allowed to require customers to pay in advance and therefore have to offer a payment method that allows them to pay later. 

  • You can also work with a payment service provider who will let you offer lots of different payment methods, but you will usually have to pay transaction fees. 

  • You want your customers to be able to pay securely. You need to protect your online shop against payment fraud with a secure payment system. 

Product liability 

The law stipulates that if a product causes damage, the producer is liable. This is called product liability. According to the law, you are a producer if you manufacture a product yourself, but also if you: 

  • modify a product before selling it 

  • sell products under your own brand name 

  • import products from outside the EU 

Say, you source phone chargers in China and sell them in the Netherlands. If one of the chargers malfunctions and damages your customer’s phone, you are legally liable for the costs. Read more about your responsibility in regard to product safety.

Determine your risks with the KVK Insurance check (in Dutch), and discuss which risks to take out insurance against with an insurance adviser. Also find out whether your products meet all the legal requirements. For example, is CE marking required for your product? 

Apply for an e-commerce trust mark 

More than half of all online shoppers prefer online shops that have a trust mark. An e-commerce trust mark proves your 'webshop' complies with all rules and regulations. And customers know that you have a safe payment environment and offer a fair complaints procedure.

You can apply for an e-commerce trust mark for your online shop to Thuiswinkel WaarborgWebshop KeurmerkWebwinkelKeur, and Qshops. These organisations also offer e-commerce advice and information. 

International customers 

Even relatively new online shops can receive international orders, so it is a good idea to put some thought into matters like international shipping and VAT rules for e-commerce before you go live. 

Shipping abroad is more expensive than domestic shipping and your products will take longer to arrive. It is also important to remember that returns from abroad are more expensive. 

If your online shop sells products to European customers, they will expect you to comply with their local laws and legislation. International customers will be more likely to trust e-commerce trust marks that are well-known in their country. On 'Your Europe‘, you will find information on e-commerce rules in the EU. 

Fraud

The rising popularity of e-commerce has not gone unnoticed to criminals, who try to scam and steal from e-retailers and their customers in all sorts of ways. Fake shopping sites (in Dutch), identity fraud, breaking into customer accounts, hacking, skimming, and more: you simply have to stay alert and take measures to prevent cybercrime and payment fraud.

General information for starters 

As a starting business, you may well encounter these topics: