How to start a successful ecommerce business
‘If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.’ That quote is probably the reason why many people have decided not to follow up on product ideas and create an online business. When we think of entrepreneurs, the likes of Gates and Zuckerberg spring to mind, when in fact all people who undertake a new project are entrepreneurs.
There are a lot of regular people out there who had a great idea and are running their own ecommerce businesses, making money.
And it is getting easier to start one, with all sorts of online help to set up a strong business model. Ecommerce software is becoming more intuitive and setting up an e commerce store is simple.
Selling products online has grown massively in the last decade, and it seems that the majority of consumers are not afraid of online purchasing and are actually getting quite used to the convenience of using an online business.
It’s not completely free to start, a few hundred dollars will be needed as upfront costs to pay for a suitable e commerce platform, but it is significantly less than most people imagine.
24/7 shopping, huge choices, and easy online payments are all part of the experience.
Let’s take a look at the steps needed to start a successful ecommerce business, and some of the potential problems.
The beginning for ecommerce businesses
Maybe you want to look into being your own boss, have a hand in your own destiny. Starting a physical brick and mortar business is expensive, with overheads like rent and storage space before you even get around to selling products. But these costs almost vanish with an online ecommerce business.
A business idea forms in your head about which product line you want to check out. To see if it’s got good possibilities and is trending. It could be something physical, like clothing, or digital, such as artwork, blogs or ebooks.
Make a list of possible products and speak to your friends and contacts to find out their opinions about you starting your own ecommerce business.
Google Trends and Keyword Planner
The fastest way to check if the idea has potential is to go to Google Trends, a free service that shows what people are looking for, and how the searches change over time.
Then, switch to Google keyword planner, enter some seed keywords related to your idea, and see how many responses pop up. There is a superb article on ahrefs.com on how to use GKP.
Whatever it is, you need to do some competitor research, look at online stores offering the same or similar items to see how the stores are set up, what they look like and how easy it is to navigate and make a purchase.
All of these will help you to design a better service for your future customers, and potentially attract them away from your competitors as your business grows.
Taking that into consideration, it is important to focus on selling a single product or a very small selection in the beginning, appealing to a particular group of people, a niche market.
It is a better starting option than trying to smother the store with different product ranges. That can come later as the business settles and expands.
The target market
Understanding who your customers will be is a crucial step in being successful. There is no point trying to satisfy everyone, as each person has different tastes. It is far better to focus on a small group that may be interested in your product.
This is where Google can really help. Enter your precise product into a search engine and see what the top ranked pages are, who they are and how they sell. Are they paying for the top rank or are they using SEO (search engine optimization) skills?
From here, you can research your competitors, discover what makes them tick, and try to improve your service to the target market.
You can enter the complete url of a company into Google keyword planner to see what keywords they use in their articles to sell their products.
Check their websites on search engines to see if there is a comment section related to customer purchases and if there are any problems or issues.
One of the most overlooked portions of setting up an online business is branding from the start. Website colors, logo and typeface are the absolute minimum for website recognition and should be included in the business plan.
These elements must be consistently used on all parts of the business, including email and social media.
Finding a suitable ecommerce open source platform
It is important to do research and find out which online platform will be suitable for the product or service being sold.
An ecommerce platform basically does three things. It has a search feature to find products, a cart feature to reserve products, and a payment gateway to complete a sale and dispatch the goods.
There are plenty of these services to choose from, and they can help build a great looking website using templates, sometimes in as little as 30 minutes.
Free e commerce platforms
Shopware, Wix, Shopify, WordPress and Squarespace are all top rated businesses that have free trials and plans (limited services) and monthly subscriptions with more bells and whistles.
Some are product based, and others lean towards the creative entrepreneur. For example, Shopware and Shopify are great places to sell physical goods online, where WordPress and Squarespace are super for creative digital services.
Of course, having a catchy or memorable business name for the store is very important, something that catches the attention of the audience. Make sure the text on the website is optimized for search engines.
The five website builders above have free options with limited services, but they are excellent for a new online business. The best part is that any online business can expand easily by paying for extra services and storage when needed.
In the case of bricks and mortar stores, there is no chance to grow as quickly and efficiently as the online version.
A bricks and mortar store has to have visible products for consumers, part of the buying process. You wouldn’t walk into a shop that had nothing on display.
Take a clothing store, for example. Each garment has a variation of color and size to suit all. But if there is a size missing, it has to be replaced. That would be from the stock, perhaps a part of the shop that is not open to the public where other products are stored until they are needed.
With an online store, the owner can choose to go that route, with a warehouse of inventory to be sold, but it isn’t cost effective at the beginning of a new venture.
First of all, you need money upfront to purchase the products, and then a place to store them, which can be costly unless you are going to use your apartment or house.
You will also need some sort of database to store transaction and customer details, as well as merchandise inventory.
This is way too much for a small business to start selling online.
A great option is to act as a middleman between supplier and customer. No need to store large amounts of inventory, and all that is needed is an online shop and some contacts with suppliers.
One of the easiest ways to get into the ecommerce business is to try out a Dropshipping business, a popular choice for many new online stores.
Dropshipping for physical products
This is a way of selling physical products online without storing inventory. The customer orders something from your ecommerce website, this order is forwarded to the manufacturer or supplier, and the product is shipped directly from them to the customer. This way, a new business can focus on the customer and not worry about the supply.
The beauty of this method is that there is no financial threat to the online store as it is acting purely as a middleman.
If you can find a dropshipping partner with a solid reputation, you can negotiate a deal to promote their goods through your website.
Finding a good supplier is not easy, but there are some very helpful tips on repricer.com, such as going to trade shows and even ordering something from an established dropshipper to check the return address of the supplier.
Most suppliers will be Asian, the vast majority operating off AliExpress in China.
It’s a great way to start an online store, and the trend is growing year on year.
Drawbacks and cashflow
The drawbacks to being a dropshipper are low profit margins, a possibly slow shipping speed (it can be weeks if coming from the Far East), and no control over the quality of the product and its supply chain.
Additionally, there is a big chance that your ecommerce store will not be profitable for a while. You must pay attention to marketing your product, and that takes money, and time. Be prepared to go 6–24 months before making any profit
Trying to sell your product to the wrong niche group is also a cause for failure. Imagine trying to sell Italian shoes in Italy — the physical market is already strong and people will not accept an online option.
Another word of caution — just because an online store is acting as a middleman doesn’t remove the need for good customer service, in fact it amplifies it. A good dropshipper will be in constant communication with customers unless they are satisfied with the product.
Downloadable Digital products
These products contain information for entertainment or knowledge. If you have a particular skill, you can market an online course or audio book on your website.
WordPress and Squarespace are excellent choices for setting up a blog based website. When you gain subscribers and your audience grows, you can add your digital products to the blog for sale.
Also, there is a good opportunity to become an affiliate with other suppliers to promote their products on your blog.
Since the product or service is digital, there are no storage and delivery problems.
Trying to price digital products is always tricky. Should they be cheap?
How much would a customer pay for an online course in cooking, for example. Unless you are a well-known chef, it would be difficult to fix a price that would be attractive for the consumers. It all depends on how much knowledge you have on the subject, how much time you have spent making it, and the quality of the finished product.
The Legal aspects
The internet is world wide, and therefore you should be aware of any legal requirements if you sell products to other countries.Likewise, when you set up an online business, you should comply with your local regulations regarding the legal structure of your business.
Usually the first step would be to register your business as a sole owner/proprietor. There are many guides online to help with the necessary professional and trade licenses and permits needed, and as they vary from country to country, it would be difficult to name them all here. Google ‘Online business laws in your location’ to get all the help you need. It is also a must to check with your local tax authority to see if there will be any roadblocks in that area.
Overseas and import duty
Import duties might be added to a delivery overseas, and that needs to either be added to the original shipping costs or explained to the customer on the website before shipping.
If you are going to sell brand store articles online, be sure to check for legal consent from the owner of the brand.
If your research has been on point, there will likely be only a few competitors in the same ecommerce business as you, so how do you make your product stand out? Marketing campaigns are expensive. There is, however, free marketing available.
Social media channels are mostly free and probably the first step in a digital marketing strategy, but not all of them will have the right audience for your business.
Snapchat is aimed towards the younger generation, whereas Instagram is very popular with Millennials. Social media ads, such as Facebook, are quite expensive and not guaranteed to produce results. Recent surveys show that young people are moving away from Facebook and switching to Youtube.
Email marketing is a powerful tool for promoting your store, and there are a few free professional options, such as Hubspot and Sender. Sender’s free plan allows for up to 15,000 emails a month, with as many as 2,500 subscribers. That’s a lot of emails, and the software can help automate the process.
It is important to find out the demographics of these platforms, who uses them and what aspirations and lifestyles they might have.
It might be a good idea to think about influencer marketing, finding a compatible person with a small following who would be willing to promote your business in return for a mention in your own store . A lot of marketing strategies are built around influencers, but the top names usually charge a lot to promote a product.
One of the main reasons for a failure of an online store is a lack of good customer service and prompt replies to queries.With the huge choice of online shops, potential customers can be put off quickly and move to other online businesses that sell similar products.
A successful business will provide great customer service, which will let the customers know that any problems will be solved quickly and efficiently. Regular communications with customers about their orders will be highly appreciated, as well as using an order tracking system for longer delivery times.
Remember, repeat customers are way cheaper than marketing for new business. Look after them. Positive reactions create success stories.
So you have made some sales of your product or service, and increased your marketing budget to maybe include a paid advertisement, now what?
Apart from providing superb customer service, you should be thinking about new product ideas and adding a few more pieces to your e commerce store. You have to stay competitive to gain more organic traffic.
As an online retailer, you want your customers to stay with you as your business grows, and adding more products is the way to keep them. Try to stick to a consistent brand image. Carefully choose other goods that either compliment your original product or make a statement about your business, perhaps introducing your own brand.
If you are selling covers for mobile devices, for example, maybe add power banks to your inventory and let customers know by an email marketing campaign to boost sales.
To start an ecommerce business, there must be a massive amount of work to do beforehand, with research, comparisons of similar online businesses, target audience, business plan, the list goes on and on.But if you persevere and get to the starting block, it is then up to you to make a successful online business or not.
There are customers for every possible type of product you can imagine, and some that haven’t been invented yet! If you have thought of a great idea and you want to turn it into an Ecommerce business, do your homework, hold your breath and take the plunge.