Tag how much does it cost to start a business online

How to Open an E-Commerce: What You Need and Costs?


To open e-commerce, it is necessary to comply with some basic steps required by law that vary according to the type of site chosen for your business. Let’s see together how to do it best and how much it costs to start an online business.

What is e-commerce

E-commerce is a traditional online store where users buy directly from the owner of the site that sells their products. The entire sales process, therefore, involves only two parties: the owner of the site and the user who buys.

E-commerce differs from e-marketplace where, on the other hand, multiple vendors or external suppliers are put in contact with users. In fact, in the e-marketplace there are three parties: the owner of the site, external sellers and users.

The steps to open an e-commerce site

The first step to open an e-commerce is to create the website where the products or services will be sold. To do this, you can contact a developer or take advantage of the solutions offered by various dedicated platforms (e.g. Woo Commerce, Shopify, etc.). These platforms are easy to use and ready to use, but they have the disadvantage of often having a commission on sales. On the contrary, creating your own tailor-made site involves an initial expense but guarantees the freedom to customize it in every detail and avoid commissions.

Another important aspect is the type of e-commerce that is chosen to sell online. In particular, e-commerce can be a website or app that sells tangible products such as computers and smartphones or digital services on subscription (e.g. software as a service or SaaS). Furthermore, it is possible to create the online store with its own warehouse or without warehouse (drop hipping) and use an external supplier to ship the products directly to customers.

To sell online, the business owner must post a set of mandatory information and data on the site. This is a necessary fulfillment to guarantee transparency to its users and to avoid penalties. Specifically, just report the following data:

  • name and surname of the owner or company name
  • VAT number (necessarily on the home page)
  • Economic and Administrative Index number (REA)
  •  paid-up share capital and relevant data (only for companies)
  • data on licenses or authorizations necessary for the sale of particular products (optional)
  • certified e-mail PEC address (optional)

Generally, this information is indicated in the lower section of the site (footer) together with the privacy documents.

What it takes to create an online store

If you want to start a new business from scratch you need to open a commercial enterprise. In these cases, the company can be opened as a sole proprietorship or as a company (SRL, SRLS, SPA). With the sole proprietorship the shopkeeper cannot have partners but has reduced costs for opening and management. With the company, on the other hand, the costs are higher both in terms of expenses for the establishment and for taxes, however, the owner is not directly liable for the debts of the company and can involve other shareholders.

If the opening of e-commerce is just another sales channel, instead, it is possible to use an already started business. In this case, it is not necessary to open a new firm or company. In fact, it is sufficient to communicate the additional activity to the business register and modify the ATECO code of the activity with your accountant.

Is it possible to start the business without a VAT number?

It is possible to sell on the internet without opening a VAT number only if the sale is occasional. This occurs when the sale is made sporadically and not continuously. For example, when a private individual sells their used smartphone on an ad site.

When you want to open an online shop, however, the VAT number is mandatory. In these cases, in fact, a continuous commercial activity is carried out which requires some specific requirements. In particular, in addition to having to open the VAT number, it is mandatory to register with the business register, submit the certified report of the start of business (SCIA) and register with INPS for social security contributions.

The documents needed for the site

All online sellers must respect the privacy and rights of their users. In fact, an e-commerce must publish a series of mandatory information documents.

The information on privacy

To work at its best, the site often collects some personal data of users and saves cookies on their computer to track their choices. In these cases, it is necessary to publish on the site:

  • a Privacy Policy (or Privacy Policy): to specify how user data is processed and to ensure correct and transparent processing
  • a Cookie Policy: to inform users of the cookies that store their data and that are saved on their browser

The conditions of sale for customers

E-commerce companies are also required to publish general conditions of sale. It is a document that contains the terms and rules that apply to purchases and use of the platform by users. In particular, this document includes:

  • the characteristics of the goods and services for sale and the relative prices
  • the commercial guarantees applicable to physical and digital products
  • the methods of payment, shipping and delivery
  • the information on the right of withdrawal and its methods of exercise
  • any limitations of liability (e.g. protection of intellectual property, etc.)

The seller must ensure that the terms of sale are accepted by customers before making a purchase. Furthermore, it is necessary to send them an order confirmation after the purchase has been made.

The other requirements to be respected

In addition to the basic steps to open an e-commerce, additional requirements must be met. In particular, the owner must have all the moral requirements required to open a shop of any kind such as not having been definitively convicted of receiving stolen goods or money laundering. In addition, there are additional requirements depending on the type of product sold such as the HACCP certificate required for the sale of food products preserved or produced by the e-commerce owner.

How much does it cost to open an e-commerce?

An e-commerce has the advantage of having lower costs than a physical store. Generally, in fact, an online business does not have to bear the costs of renting a location and does not have to pay contributions and salaries for staff such as clerks and cashiers. Furthermore, if the activity is carried out in drop shipping there are not even the costs for logistics and for the rental of the warehouse where to store the goods.

Against this saving, online activity still involves some typical costs. Starting the shop, in fact, implies the costs for the development of the website, for the relative hosting contract and for the commercial management of the site. In particular, e-commerce often requires digital marketing and site optimization for search engines (SEO) with variable costs depending on the consultant to whom it is addressed.

Furthermore, to keep the business online, the costs vary if the legal form chosen is a sole proprietorship or a company. In fact, the costs for the sole proprietorship are lower and do not involve the fee of a notary (approximately € 200 for registration in the register of companies and maximum € 1,000 for SCIA). On the contrary, the costs of setting up an SRL are higher as those for the notary and taxes are added (about € 1,500 for an SRL and about € 400 for setting up a Simplified SRL).

The differences in costs are also present in the tax area for accounting management. In fact, the annual costs of the accountant change not only according to the tax regime but also to the type of business open. The sole proprietorship has lower costs starting from € 300 on a flat-rate basis, the company, on the other hand, has higher costs starting at least € 1,000 per year.