In this day and age, times are changing. More people are looking to be their own bosses and be in charge of their own futures. The internet makes this goal more accessible than ever, and ecommerce is one exciting avenue for success.
Still, it can be tremendously difficult to know exactly how to start an ecommerce business that will actually do well enough to generate revenue. There is so much information and so many ecommerce terms to sift through, so creating a plan of action is necessary to prioritize your resources as you develop your own ecommerce business plan.
This guide offers a streamlined and honest approach to subjects like ecommerce marketing, and provides pointers for sourcing products, along with other tips that are essential for those who are looking to launch a successful store. We’ve covered these things in detail on our blog, but this post synthesizes all the things which you need to take your first steps in the world of ecommerce.
- How To Start A Successful Ecommerce Business
- Starting an Ecommerce Business
- Finding Ecommerce Products
- Researching Other Small Online Businesses
- Building Your Online Store
- Succeeding in Ecommerce: What’s Next?
- Want to Learn More?
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How To Start A Successful Ecommerce Business
When asked how to start an ecommerce business that will succeed, the following factors probably come to mind:
- Great website design
- Top-notch customer support
- A high-quality product image
- Unique selling proposition
You’re right. This thought process makes perfect sense. You have to provide excellent customer support to be successful. You also need an attractive and trustworthy website if you want people to buy from you.
However, keep in mind that it’s a combination of these things working together that makes an ecommerce business great. These factors are what makes an ecommerce store go from 1 to 10, not from 0 to 1
We see this a lot at Oberlo with first-time entrepreneurs – they can lose sight of the most important things and spend days making the perfect store only to close it after a month. What truly fuels your store is sales, and this should be at the heart of your ecommerce business plan.
Efforts to bring traffic to your store through ecommerce marketing will bring sales, and sales will bring you more traffic. Likewise, you need to be making sales first before you can provide great customer support to those shopping on your site and before you can decide on your brand’s unique voice.
If you can’t make sales, you’re finished before you’ve even really got started.
Starting an Ecommerce Business
While it’s great to embark on your new ecommerce business with lots of big ideas, we suggest putting aside your ambitions and focusing on the most practical steps of your ecommerce business plan first.
For starters, you really need a simple online medium to sell your products. A basic store template on a reputable platform like Shopify serves this purpose perfectly well.
We did a guide to starting your first ecommerce business to help you. It might take you more time than 30 minutes to get started, but be careful about the amount of time you put in during the beginning.
Remember the wise words of LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman who famously said, “if you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”
This certainly applies to ecommerce businesses as well. The key is to launch quickly and start thinking of ways to generate sales through ecommerce marketing. This will eventually breed opportunity to improve other things along the way.
And once you’ve started your ecommerce business, use this handy checklist to ensure you covered all the right steps:
Finding Ecommerce Products
If you’re totally new to the world of ecommerce you might be wondering just what exactly you should be selling. In fact, getting stuck on this is a big reason why people never take the plunge in starting their own ecommerce businesses. In actuality, you have to be strategic in identifying a set of products or a single item that’s trendy, or not so easy to find in stores or on popular ecommerce websites like Amazon. That’s why going the generic route and opting to sell books or jewelry will likely lead to a dead end. There are already lots of major players out there meeting those demands.
Instead, you’ll want to go with more specific items that appeal to a particular audience. We suggest starting by making a list of potential products you might like to sell in your store. Think about things that you, your friends, coworkers, or family would be interested in. Also explore social selling sites like Pinterest, Etsy, or even Instagram for more input on what to sell.
There really is inspiration everywhere once you start looking, and you can always verify whether your product ideas are any good by searching for them on Google trends. For more specific information about how to decide what to sell, check out this step-by-step guide.
At this point, you might also be wondering how exactly to source your products, and that’s where dropshipping might come in as a viable option for your ecommerce business plan..
Dropshipping is an increasingly popular business model among entrepreneurs because it has substantially lower upfront investment costs and is generally a lower risk alternative to more traditional ecommerce business models that require you to find suppliers and stock inventory yourself.
It works like this: you find suppliers of products you’d like to sell on an ecommerce marketplace like Oberlo, and then you import those items into your store. When a customer purchases one of those items, you then place the order with one of our exceptional suppliers, and they ship the item directly to the customer. This way you never have to handle merchandise and can swap out products to stay on top of current trends with greater ease.
Apps like Oberlo automate a lot of the process for you. This way you’ll have more time to focus on things that will help you to scale your business, like coming up with a great ecommerce marketing strategy. Feel free to watch this dropshipping tutorial if you want to familiarize yourself with every step involved in this business.
Researching Other Small Online Businesses
Research is integral to the success of your ecommerce store. Once you have chosen your products look at competitors and what they are doing. What are the barriers and the cost of entry? Do competitors invest heavily in ads or are they slow to become more digital? Knowing how much work and money that you need to invest in a startup can change your motivation to sell certain products. Research can lead you to identify better products to sell and give you a great understanding of how to start a successful small online business. It can also help you avoid dropshipping mistakes entrepreneurs often make with product selection.
Building Online Stores
Starting an ecommerce business from scratch is not an easy thing so researching what others have done in order to achieve success is a great start. Here are a few things to pay attention to when researching competitors to make sure you take everything you can into account when it comes to ecommerce business success.
- What is their business model
- Are they selling multiple items or just one product
- What social media channels do they utilize
- Who is their target market
- How do they push sales (e.g. paid social, PPC, SEO, email, etc)
- How engaged and loyal are their audience
Building Your Online Store
Once you have chosen your products and done your competitor research the next thing to do is build your store. Choosing ecommerce CMS tools like Shopify can make setting up your store easy. They have lots to templates to start with and an easy to integrate ecommerce platform that doesn’t need development support. Choose a theme that suits your target audience and prices that reflect the success you envision. Naming your ecommerce business something memorable will guarantee that people will remember your name. This goes for your logo also which can be as colorful or creative as you want it to be.
When your website is ready to start taking orders remember to try a test order yourself to make sure the process is smooth for the customer. Alleviate any additional steps needed to buy something online and only ask for information that is necessary for the check out process.
After you’ve launched your store, concentrate on ecommerce marketing 110%. Anything else can wait until you’re sure you can generate traffic and reach potential customers. The secret to ecommerce marketing is to find the right channel for your products, and then to perfect your marketing strategy until bringing in one new customer costs less than what you earn from a sale.
You want to aim for that infinite loop where you spend less than you earn each day.
Also, make sure you reinvest all of your profits into your ads. This isn’t the time to pocket all your earnings. Keep a close eye on the relationship between profits earned and money spent on ecommerce marketing by checking your advertising ROI twice a week at minimum. Ideally, do it daily.
Sell products that have high enough markups to cover your marketing expenses on a consistent basis. Since ecommerce marketing can cost a lot of money, make sure you price your products well. A $100 investment should bring you at least $101 dollars in sales so that you can reuse it on advertising again.
Only once you get to this point you can begin to optimize your store design, invest in creating a great brand, and look for ways to generate more money. You can’t optimize a store if you don’t have any customers to test different features on first. Thus, ecommerce marketing is really essential to standing out from your competitors and generating sales.
A great ecommerce business plan does require some investment. Putting money into your advertising tactics should ultimately convert to sales, which you need. Unless you have a bigger budget, you should exclude long-term ideas like SEO or email marketing for now.
With direct advertising through Facebook or Adwords, you can get more sales immediately. It’s best not only to learn how to run your first ecommerce marketing campaign on Facebook but also how to optimize them.
Alternatively, read how others are approaching Instagram marketing or the latest trends in advertising on Snapchat. You can also automate some aspects of the store building process with these Shopify tools. With this knowledge and inspiration, you can apply new strategies to your own ecommerce business.
When it comes to assessing the performance of your ecommerce marketing efforts, test your advertising campaigns instead of your product pages. This will keep you from getting bogged down trying to analyze and change all of the small details of your store. Just focus on advertising and marketing, not the ‘buy’ button on the product page.
While much of the advice about how to start an ecommerce business seems easier said than done, it certainly helps to have a clear idea of the first steps including launching a simple store and dedicating your energies to ecommerce marketing.
Succeeding in Ecommerce: What’s Next?
Once you’ve validated your store idea and secured a steady stream of sales, make sure that you keep up with optimizing your ecommerce marketing as you go. Here are a few additional ecommerce business tips that you may want to consider as you devise your ecommerce business plan.
Customer Service/Self-Help Content
Around 45% of US consumers will abandon an online transaction if their questions or concerns are not addressed quickly. Exceptional customer service is critical to your business’s long term success. Create self-service content and a detailed FAQs page, offer live chat support, incentivize product reviews, and build trust with your customers. All of this will give your store valuable social proof and create repeat customers, which are five times cheaper to acquire than new ones.
On average, 69% of your website visitors will leave your site without going through with a purchase. How much would your revenues increase if you were capturing those sales instead of losing them? Optimize your customer journey. Create limited-time offers. Launch a cart abandonment email campaign. You can even set up a retargeting campaign. Test out a bunch of different tactics and try to understand which one works best for your business.
Take note that 44% of online shoppers will tell their friends about a bad experience online. Once you’ve laid down the foundations for your ecommerce business, the next important step is to optimize your website. Improve your website speed. Create an intuitive navigation bar. Focus on creating great product pages. Display related items. Optimize your store search. Lastly, check how your store looks on mobile devices.
Best selling products tend to quickly fade away, that is why inventory is very important. Constantly look for new product ideas that could keep the traffic coming to your store. Do not rely on just a few products to drive all your sales. Rather, offer new arrivals to your existing customers and frequently test new product ideas based on Google trends.
I know there are people who have had success focusing most of their attention on a unique niche product or exceptional customer service. That said, up to 50% of Shopify stores never receive a single sale. Even though that may seem like a very low number of ecommerce businesses which actually get off the ground, if you compare it against success rates of businesses in general (10%), it’s a promising figure.
To summarize a few key takeaways from this guide as you develop your own ecommerce business plan, start lean and set all other things aside to focus on sales. Don’t worry about having the perfect product or the best looking web design for your store in the beginning. Jump in and learn by doing. Use the sales aspect of your ecommerce business as your lighthouse because it is the driving force behind any successful store. Once you begin turning a profit, invest the funds into an ecommerce marketing plan to continue growing your business. Only then should you start to hone in on other important details like optimizing your store.
Hopefully, this article has helped you to understand how to start an ecommerce business. You’ve got everything you need at your fingertips to make this the year your store takes off, and we at Oberlo are happy to help you every step of the way in meeting this goal.
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What’s your ecommerce business plan? Share your experiences or ask for advice in the comments below!