Like many aspiring business owners, you might’ve thought of starting an eCommerce business before. You aren’t alone, as millions of online salespeople have joined the ranks.
Over the last few years, retail has grown at a rate of 7.8%. Meanwhile, eCommerce has grown at rates up to 28.3%.
But the majority of those who start their online business fail. Only 20% of eCommerce businesses are likely to succeed.
So, if you want to beat the odds, there are some basics you need to know before you start selling. But first, we need to define what you are getting into.
What is eCommerce?
eCommerce combines the words “electronic” and “Commerce.” Its definition is any transactions done online through the internet.
Those on the other end of the transaction are your customers. The happiness of those customers is the difference between success and failure.
We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.
– Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon
However you type eCommerce (Google likes to call it “e-commerce”), the results are the same, you sell things to customers. In this case, salespeople will have an inherent advantage, but any role can start an eCommerce business.
But much like general sales, you need to start from the bottom. So before you start your new venture, read these tips.
6 things you need to know before you start an eCommerce business
1. Deciding your sales strategies (how and where you want to sell)
Because eCommerce includes 100% of online transactions, it includes many things. When someone tells you they’re in online sales, that says very little about what they do.
There are many different ways to sell products online. Each of those ways has various advantages and disadvantages. Finding the one that appeals to you will get you on the right track.
Different sales methods you can use in eCommerce (how you want to sell)
- Online arbitrage – When you buy products from one online retailer to resell them for a profit on another marketplace. This sales strategy lets you take advantage of price fluctuations between these locations.
- Retail arbitrage – When you buy products from a physical retailer to resell for a profit on an online marketplace. Much like the online arbitrage variant, your goal is to take advantage of price fluctuations between marketplaces.
- Dropshipping (sometimes called drop shipping) – When the seller takes orders without needing to manage the inventory. Instead, the seller forwards the orders to the handlers so they might ship the goods to the customer.
- Wholesale – When you buy goods in bulk from manufacturers at a discounted price with plans to resell them at a profit.
- Private label sales – When a manufacturer makes exclusive products for the seller so they might rebrand it under their name.
- Handmade products – When the seller makes the products with their own hands (not with a machine or through a process).
If any of these strategies appeal to you, you might consider them. Some are intended more for short-term profits (like retail or online arbitrage), which is ideal for learning the basics of eCommerce.
Selecting a platform is the other half of deciding how you want to sell. Like different sales strategies, the platform you choose will have its advantages and disadvantages.
Choosing an eCommerce platform (where you want to sell)
When selecting your platform, you generally have two options: starting on your own website or using an existing online marketplace.
Choosing a third-party online marketplace
Many new sellers start with an online marketplace, like Amazon or eBay, because they don’t need to start entirely from scratch. These websites get online traffic for you, meaning you don’t have to pay as much for advertising your products.
The problem with choosing online marketplaces is that you don’t control where the traffic goes. Because the marketplace owns this website traffic, they are in control of where that traffic goes, which could be a competitor’s product listing. You also have to follow strict rules, often limiting your ability to advertise or sell products.
Below are some of the more popular online marketplaces:
Building your eCommerce website
Alternatively, building your own store means you control 100% of the online traffic. This means that regardless of where your customer visits, they see your products, not your competitor’s products.
When starting from scratch, all the online traffic is up to you. Because you aren’t Amazon, you will need to work harder to get recognition and pay more for advertising. After all, the advertising you buy on social media and through Google is more expensive.
You’ll also need to pay extra for website design or integrating payment gateways. Thankfully, you can use these website builders to save yourself some money:
2. Product research (what you want to sell)
Deciding how and what you sell will dictate this next part: what you want to sell. You can also call this the product research process.
Ultimately, product research should fulfill three general areas:
- Finding trending products (those in demand)
- Meeting the needs of your customer base (filling in the gaps your competitors aren’t)
- Finding something you want to sell (Making sure it’s something you can be passionate about)
The third area of passion is where people often struggle. While money is a great motivator, it usually isn’t enough to encourage new sellers to push to that next level. To see yourself further, sell something you are passionate about.
Below, you’ll find tools and tips for finding trending products that meet your customers’ needs.
Tools to find trending products and meet customer needs
- Google Trends will tell you about the search volume of specific words and phrases over time. When searching for products, you can use this to determine how popular a product is on the Google search engine.
- Social Media sites like TikTok, Facebook, and YouTube provide you with information on what products people are talking about. Following influencers and trending topics across these platforms will keep you plugged into what potential customers want.
- Amazon Movers and Shakers are a specific version of the best sellers list that emphasizes sales moves within the last 24 hours. Using this data can help you find products with significant growth potential.
- The Facebook Ad Library provides information on recently launched and advertised products. This data (in combination with other sources) gives you an idea of a product you could emulate and improve upon.
- Amazon Product Reviews give you a good idea of what customers are most concerned about with their products. Look at the reviews of current products similar to what you’ve looked at and see what customers most often complain about.
Remember that not all trending products are going to make consistent sales. Pay attention to historical data (most easily found on Google Trends) to determine whether a product is more than just a fad.
Also, know that most products you research will never be entirely new. A good saying is, “you don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” and you have to improve it. So think about current products and how their manufacturers fail to meet customer needs, then think about how you can meet those needs by changing the product.
3. Understand how sales funnels work
A big part of selling products is understanding the basics of a sales funnel. A sales funnel is one aspect of a digital marketing campaign that follows a customer journey. The journey consists of customers going from understanding your product to becoming advocates for what you sell.
Sales funnels look different for each business, but they generally follow these four steps:
- Awareness is the where which a customer first becomes aware of your product
- Interest is when a customer puts extra effort into learning about your product (looking up reviews, reading your content, looking up competitors).
- Purchase is the stage when a customer decides to buy your product.
- Loyalty is when a customer continues to buy your product and shares it with their friends and family.
You’ll want to develop marketing strategies for each sales funnel stage. You don’t need expert knowledge; you need to know the basics. Below are some more common examples of these funnel steps in action.
- To make customers more aware of your product, you will likely decide to invest in advertising (like through Google Ads or Facebook Ads). You might also start referral plans, hire influencers, or take steps to make your brand unique.
- To help yourself during the interest stage, you need to be more informative and helpful than your competition. Having positive customer reviews or creating valuable content on YouTube or your business blog can help you immensely.
- You want an engaging product description to increase your odds during the purchase stage. Describe your product so that you translate features into customer-centric benefits.
- You’ll want to establish loyalty programming to increase your sales during the loyalty stage. Creating rewards for repeat customers and having a referral plan can help you.
4. Know how to write for your potential customer
Writing is an exceptional skill to develop in leveraging marketing channels and creating strategy. It helps you in everything for your online business, from writing product descriptions to creating engaging advertisements.
To know how to write for your potential customer, you need to know who they are and what they are looking for. The best way to start this is to create a buyer persona, a representation of your ideal customer.
To create a buyer persona, you must fill out some basic demographic information. This includes age, location, gender, and interests. But more importantly, you want to fill in the customer’s motivations, pain points, goals, and challenges.
By knowing your customer, you will be more effective at content marketing. Content marketing is creating content to convince your customer to take action (in this case, buy a product).
For example, if your product appeals to busy parents, you might create an advertisement that gives they a product that will save them time, take little to no energy, and help educate their children. If you look at the advertising of most young children’s toys, you’ll see this marketing concept in action.
5. Make it easy for you to talk to your prospective customer
Once you get them buying, you need to invest in marketing efforts to keep them around. So it would be best if you made it easy for people to contact your business.
As a business owner, there’s no way you can personally talk to everyone who buys your product forever. While this is easier when you sell fewer products, when you start making more sales, you won’t want to leave your customers hanging.
Your customers also need an easy way to get ahold of you. After all, if there’s any confusion about contacting you, they’ll do it with negative feedback.
To make it easy for customers to contact you, create a social media presence on Twitter and Facebook. Those are the two most common platforms for customer service. You can also invest in a live chat feature, which you can get with many eCommerce site builders.
You’ll also want to outsource your customer service. You can focus on other activities by hiring individuals to handle your live chat (or phone number if you want to go above and beyond).
By focusing on putting out small fires, you won’t be effective at growing your business revenue. This makes you less equipped to deal with these problems on a larger scale.
6. Automate your business to increase your sales potential
Beyond outsourcing, automating your business can help you focus elsewhere. In sales, automation has been shown to increase productivity by 14% and reduce overhead by 12%. Not only will it save you time, but it will also save you money because you won’t need to hire someone full-time.
There are many business automation tools built into the site builders we’ve mentioned throughout the article. Below are a few examples of areas you can automate:
- Inventory management: Square, BigCommerce, and Acumatica.
- Finances: Intuit QuickBooks, Oracle NetSuite, and Odoo.
- Project management: ClickUp, Smartsheet, and Zoho Projects.
- Email marketing: Constant Contact, Sendinblue, and GetResponse.
Building an automated business can help you scale faster and provide more customers with better solutions. In this way, you will better meet your goals and the needs of your customer base.
The entire eCommerce process is more than just online shopping. It is a complete process that includes research, customer understanding, and marketing. By following these steps, you’ll be in a better position for success.
Here’s a quick roundup of those things you need to know again:
- Knowing how and where to sell
- Knowing what to sell
- Understanding the sale funnel
- Understanding how to write for your customer
- Making it easy for customers to reach out to you
- Automating your business processes
This isn’t an all-inclusive list of eCommerce tips that you can follow. For more tips, check out our learning hub with topics related to marketing, boosting your online presence, and keyword research.