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ecommerce

How to Start an Ecommerce Business (Ultimate Guide for 2020)

By
Adam Enfroy

How to Start an Ecommerce Business (Ultimate Guide for 2020)


In 2018 alone, ecommerce sales around the world reached $653 billion. The likes of Amazon, eBay, BestBuy, and other large ecommerce companies have 69.6% of the total market share. However, there's still room for small businesses to get into ecommerce either as a side hustle or a full-time business. 


Don’t believe me? Just take a look:


Top ecommerce retailers by market share

Source


Starting and running a successful ecommerce store isn't as straightforward as it seems. You need to find the right product to sell and have an effective marketing plan to make sales. And there's more... 


You'll need to choose the right revenue model and figure out how you will provide fast and affordable order fulfillment. Besides, you'll need to keep an eye on your inventory and solve any problems that come up every day, such as defects on items or issues with your checkout process.


So how do you know where you need to start and move on from there while avoiding challenges that might knock you off the ecommerce space for good? 


Stick with me and let's find out.


1. Find the right product to sell


An ecommerce business has many moving parts. Each of them relies on the product you choose to sell and the market you will serve. 


And if you don't come up with a product that people want to buy, you can't plan anything else for your business.


Choosing the right product, however, isn't easy. You're spoilt for choices given the number of products available for you to sell. You also want to make sure that your target market will buy your products and you'll make a profit. 


No matter the type of ecommerce store you build, you're going to have two types of products: Niche products and commoditized products. 


Commoditized products are those things that people use every other day - Clothes, food, toys, and makeup, among others. You'll often find big brands such as Walmart and Amazon selling them. 


On the other hand, niche products serve a particular market segment, and people will do just fine without them. These products are mostly handmade, e.g., custom made bangles, pieces of art, and premium phone cases, among others. 


To come up with the best product ideas, you'll need to look inward to identify what kind of entrepreneur you are, because that's what should guide you to choose the type of product to sell. 


In his book, Choose: The Single Most Important Decision Before Starting Your Business, Ryan Levesque talks about four types of entrepreneurs:


Source


He goes on to explain that since you'll be the one running the business, you need to look at your strengths and talents to guide the business model you choose, the product you sell, and the market you want to enter. This way, you'll be hitting two birds with a single stone. 


Let's look at different ecommerce businesses with these types of entrepreneurs:


Mission-based: Warby Parker 

Source


Reading through their story, one thing is clear: they believe eyeglasses should be good looking and affordable. And they're on a mission to achieve that. 


Besides, they're also partnering with non-profit organizations to help other people who can't afford glasses by donating a pair of glasses to them every time they make a sale.


So, what social problems do you feel compelled to solve? What products can you sell to help solve this problem? 


Passion based: Kodiak Cakes

Source


When you're passionate about something, you always rally other people to join you and experience the joy of what you're passionate about and even urge them to spread the message to others. And that's how Kodiak Cakes, a family-owned business started. You can watch the full story here


Think of one thing that you're passionate about. It could be knitting. Photography. Or even fishing. 


Now, what outcome that is related to what you're passionate about would you love to share with the world? What product would help people achieve this outcome? 


For instance, if you love knitting, you can decide to sell knitting tools to help other people learn how to knit. You get the idea, right? 


Opportunity based: Bonobos

Source


Ever ordered some nice clothes online only to realize that they didn't fit when you tried them on? Worst feeling ever. 


And that's how Bonobos started. The founders couldn't find pants that fit them and saw an opportunity where the others, too, had a similar problem. 


And they fixed it - selling having pants with waistbands that naturally align with your waist. 


Have you solved a problem that you faced while using a product you bought, but you still know that other people are struggling with the same issues? 


What products can you sell to solve this problem?


Undecided


If you're getting started in ecommerce, there's always uncertainty that comes with starting something new, and there's a likelihood that none of the above entrepreneur types resonated with you. That's fine. 


If you feel stuck, that shouldn't stop you from moving ahead to know where you stand. So, here are six places you'll want to check out to help you get product ideas. If you're considering dropshipping Aliexpress products, download the Aliscraper chrome extension and import products to your store instantly, and filter by shipping origin.


Are you still stuck? Take a look at this list of sustainable products to sell, as they might give you the light bulb moment you've been waiting for. 


2. Validate your product idea


Having identified your product or a number of products you want to sell, the next step is to evaluate it and determine whether:


  1. There is a demand for your product, and the market isn't crowded
  2. You can have a consistent supply of the product at a reasonable price
  3. It will be profitable


It's a crucial step that most business owners skip and end up spending time and money on products no one wants to buy. Here are possible reasons why you might be tempted to do this:


  1. You might think that the first product idea you come up with is what the market wants and is willing to pay for it
  2. You might be too excited to get started, so you rush through the validation process
  3. You don't know how to validate a product idea, so you avoid it
  4. A combination of any of the above reasons 


And here are several ways to get this done:


Verify that there is a market for your product


This step helps you get into the shoes of your target market and think the way they do. Enter your product idea into the Google search bar and see the results you get. You might have the right idea, but if you use the wrong words on Google, people will never find it.


If, for instance, you want to find the best VPN provider, what you search for is what you should get. Take a look: 



If you don't see the results you are looking for, you have two options: 


Do away with the idea or play around with the words to get the results you want. 


Next, head over to Amazon.com and search if you'll find similar products listed. This works like the Google search test. If your idea doesn't come to give you the results you're looking for, you either need to tweak it or do away with it.


Determine your market size



Google trends results give you a clear picture of the number of people searching for a particular product over time. Besides, you can even compare two products to decide which is the most popular and start selling them. 


Take a look at best VPN provider searches over the past five years, to give you an idea of what I mean:



Remember, a sustainable business is possible only if you choose a niche that is consistently doing well.


Moral of the story? Google trends and search traffic don’t lie.

Competitive analysis


Are there other people selling the products you have in mind? If there's no competition, give that product a pass… at least for now. 


If you do have other players in the market, study how they are doing. And the first place is through checking their websites. 


How much are they selling these products? How do they deliver these products? How long have they been selling their products? Are they innovating and introducing new products? Have they expanded to the global market yet? What do their customers say about them? 


Go ahead and buy a product from them to get a feel of their check out process, their customer service, and product delivery. These first-hand experiences will help you know how to differentiate yourself from them.


As a side tip, you should probably skip common products that people can easily buy on Amazon or Ebay, according to Style Factory Productions. Don’t give them a chance to bury you in the sand.


Surveys with potential buyers


While studying your potential competitors helps you know what's going on in the market, reaching out to your potential buyers gives you an idea of what's going to happen in the future. 


For instance, someone who loves fishing equipment might be looking for new equipment with better features, and if you can supply that, you're going to win. 


Besides, your potential buyers might be looking to buy more products in addition to what they are already buying. If you want to sell men's shoes, for instance, your buyers might be looking for shoe cream, or suede to help them maintain their shoes. 


Armed with this information, you will open a store that has both men's shoes and sell what they need to maintain their shoes. 

Run Google ads  


These will give you an idea of how well your product will do and the profit margins you're likely to make with each sale. 


3. What business and revenue model will you choose? 


Having come up with a couple of product ideas, you've got a few more decisions to make, and then you will be out of the woods - ready to launch and start driving customers to your store. 


Who's your ideal buyer? Your customer will help define this so you might end up using one of these popular models:


a. B2B: Dealing with other business owners, e.g., selling task management software to other businesses, similar to a SaaS company like Monday.com as seen below.


Source

b. B2C: Dealing with consumers directly, e.g., selling physical products directly to consumers from Amazon or your choice of ecommerce platforms.


c. C2C: Think of eBay and Etsy where consumers sell products to each other  


What type of product will you be selling, is it a digital or physical product?


What's your revenue model? Here, you have a couple of options: dropshipping, white-labeling, manufacturing, subscription model, and private labeling. 


If you're just getting started with ecommerce, the best way to climb the steep learning curve is by reducing your risk while giving yourself room to learn as much as you can. 


And that makes dropshipping the best place to start. First of all, dropshipping is pretty straightforward…


Your customer places an order, you forward the order to your supplier then the supplier fulfills it for you.


The dropshipping model of ecommerce

Source


Now, you won't have huge profit margins at first, but the lessons you learn while running such a business will guarantee more success if you ever decide to go for any other model to run an ecommerce business. 


Besides, you don't need a warehouse to store your inventory and can work from your favorite holiday destination so long as you have a laptop and wifi.


Dropshipping has its cons too, and, as I see it, these are issues you can always get around.


With this model, you don't have control over the quality of the product your customer gets, the packaging might be crappy, or your supplier might take ages before delivering the product.  


But aren't these things you can work around by doing due diligence before deciding to work with a supplier? 


For instance, you might decide to create a checklist that you will use to vet your suppliers, making sure that you both agree on product quality, packaging, delivery timelines, and any other relevant issue. 


The only thing you have to compromise on for a while is your profit margins. And you won't have to make huge compromises. You'll still make more than a decent income from drop shipping just like Marc Chapon did- $178,492 in 90 days and Erin Rafferty did - $442,991 in just 6 months .That's $ 1,983.24 per day. Not too shabby, right?

Learn how to start and grow your own e-commerce store!
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4. Use compelling visuals for your products


67% of consumers rely on the image quality of a product to decide whether to buy it or not. 



Source


When consumers visit your product page, they want to experience and connect with the product. And this means bringing all the product details to life. 


And here's how you do it:


In addition to having product images on a white background, add zoom-ins to showcase its features such as texture and color.


 

Source


Take shots from different angles to clear any doubts that a visitor may have concerning the parts of the product which they can't see. 

Source


Describe products as well, providing context to go along with the image. Go into detail on the qualities of the product and what people can expect, like this mattress


Source


Post user-generated content - Add a twist to images of customers using your product by using photo collages to enhance your shopper's experience since they relate to someone who has what they need.  


If you're selling photography equipment, for instance, you might want to showcase different shots that your customers have taken using the equipment you sold to them. Take a look:

Portraits Grid Photo Collage Template

Source

Doing this tells other potential customers that what you're selling is good enough, and they're missing out if they don't buy. User-generated content influences 79% of consumers. They're more likely to buy because even if images don't look professional, they feel authentic.  


Besides, you need to make your visuals accessible to the consumer no matter the device they are using to access your site. Even with a high-quality image that they can't access, you're still going to struggle to make conversions.


Out of the total $653 billion spent on ecommerce in 2018 alone, 25% of all purchases were made from mobile devices. By 2021, purchases from mobile devices will be more than $3.5 trillion. 


With this in mind, you have to adopt a mobile-first approach, meeting the needs of consumers who visit and make purchases using their mobile devices.  


Optimize the content and your layout to provide a seamless experience by highlighting the relevant product features, so they don't have to zoom in and out to view the product they want to buy. 


Once you're done setting up your dropshipping website, test it using Google's mobile-friendly test to see whether your webpages are optimized for mobile. If not, fix this by hiring a developer to optimize your site.


You may even consider adding extra elements like interactive quizzes or a QR code generator to your web page to ensure customers have no trouble finding you on the map! 


5. Start a blog


Once consumers realize they need to solve a problem they have, 72% of them start their research on Google, looking for possible solutions. 


During this research, they aren't looking for the products you're selling. Instead, they want more information about their problems and possible solutions. 


And the best way to show up at the beginning of their journey is by having a blog with relevant content and high-quality images that help in answering the questions they are asking. For example, take a look at Adventure For Less, a travel blog: 


Source


Using high-quality images adds much more to their content than words alone can.


A blog helps you teach consumers about your products in a non-salesy way, keep them coming back to learn more. 


According to Hailey Lucas, this is the process:


  1. Hook the reader: immediately capture their attention with an engaging headline
  2. Meat: self-explanatory, this is the “meat” of the story you are writing, obviously this needs to keep up the engagement. 
  3. Reward: this is the most important part and the entire reason the reader stuck around until the end. Think, what’s in it for them? It’s time to pay up!


Then, their repeat visits allow you to convert them into subscribers, leads, and customers down the line.   


Besides, a combination of optimized product descriptions and compelling blog posts make it easier for you to rank on Google. This means that you'll be getting more organic traffic to your site hence reducing the amount of money you spend on ads.


I know what you're thinking; "Well, all that sounds great. But from the look of things, I don't think there's much to write about my product."


That's a valid concern. But then again, aren't people asking questions about it? These are the questions you should be answering. For instance, you might create an ultimate guide featuring a comparison between your product and another seller's product, just Medical Alert Buyers Guide have done, showing why their products are better than the competition.


Source


And once you have a solid pricing strategy in place, take the battle to your competitor's doorstep by creating a pricing page like this that shows why you're offering the best prices out there: 


Source


See, you're never going to run short of content ideas for your blog. And if your well runs dry, take a walk and visit a couple of online forums where your customers hang out. Note down the questions people are asking related to your product then answer them in the form of a blog post. 


For more tips on generating organic traffic to your site, I write more in my extensive guide on how to start a blog at AdamEnfroy.com.  


6. Start a podcast


Blogs and video content allow you to reach an audience that is willing to set aside time to consume what you produce. Podcasts, on the other hand, help you reach that audience segment that wants to consume content while doing other things in their day, e.g., while commuting, jogging, or at the gym. 


As you interview other people and appear as a guest on other people's shows, the shares you get from these partnerships give you more exposure, allowing you to reach bigger audiences. 


Your voice is unique, too, meaning that your listeners will connect with you and what you say, making it easier to build trust.


In fact, according to Edison Research, five out of 10 podcast listeners will buy from a brand advertised during the shows they are listening to.  



https://cdn.searchenginejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/screen-shot-2019-05-15-at-12.04.20-pm.png


Source


So, how do you get started with no audience and with barely any ideas on how to run a successful podcast?

  1. Start by identifying 3-5 podcasts whose listeners are most likely to buy your product. 
  2. Note down the popular shows in these podcasts and listen to them.
  3. Identify a similar topic that you can talk about or look for ways that you can expand any of the topics you've listened to.
  4. Reach out to the podcast host and request them to host you on their show. Not everyone will accept to host you, so keep looking for more podcasts and request to appear as a guest. 


Being a guest on other people's shows helps you build credibility as you build a passive audience that's willing to tune in and listen to you once you start hosting your shows. 


Use GarageBand to record your first show to promote your store with great content.


Source


Then sign up with a podcast hosting site like Buzzsprout to send your audio files to podcast directories like iTunes and Stitcher. 


7. Use relevant landing pages


Some of the most popular landing pages on your website will be your product pages. While these are designed for those who are ready to buy, they always end up attracting even those who aren't prepared to buy from you. 


Out of every four shoppers who visit your product landing pages, only one of them is ready to buy. The other three shoppers walk away since they can't find what they are looking for. 


Source


So that means that if you create and optimize your landing pages for your shoppers, depending on their buying stage, they can become a huge conversion catalyst for your store. 


Besides, research by Hubspot reveals that businesses with 10-15 landing pages increase their conversions by 55%.


So when designing landing pages on your site, think through to understand what the visitor wants, then give it to them. Create lead capture landing pages that help you convert your website visitors into email subscribers. 


In exchange for their contact information, make sure that you provide an irresistible offer that is aligned with the answers and solutions they are looking for. Take a look:


Source


To top it off, I highly recommend including customer testimonials or reviews on your landing page for some extra social proof, like Market Circle does below for their Daylite product offer:

Source


Believe me when I say some social proof goes along way, especially when it comes to users who are on the verge of converting right there on the landing page.



Remember to include only one offer, several call to action buttons, minimize distractions, and keep testing to improve your conversions from each landing page.


8. Nurture the leads you get


Ever visited an online store for the first time, saw an item you liked and bought it immediately? Chances are, you didn't. You put off that purchase until you were sure. Your shoppers are going to behave the same way.  


Once they sign up on your landing pages, continue interacting with them until they are ready to buy. It shows that you understand them and the problems that they want to solve. 


Secondly, before any purchase, we all have objections to buying a particular product. Overcoming these objections takes time, and that's where lead nurturing comes in.  


So once a visitor signs up for your email, use rightinbox to schedule a welcome email sequence that first off confirms their subscription, allows you to introduce yourself to them, affirm that they made the right choice by subscribing, and set expectations. 

Source


Having users confirm their subscription is crucial to ensuring you get real email addresses and quality metrics from your email provider. According to Omnisend, 1 out of 5 emails never even reach someone’s inbox. Be sure to reduce this by adding this step in, otherwise your metrics will be swayed if half of the subscribers on your list are fake emails.


Share content with them often depending on your email frequency, which includes how-to videos, guides, and even promotions that you're running in your store. Use Woven to send calendar scheduling links to larger clients like wholesale to lock down on big orders.:


Source


Remember to have a sequence of abandoned cart emails urging them to complete their purchase, so you aren’t part of the $18 billion lost due to abandoned carts annually. 

Source

Once someone buys, include them in your post-purchase email sequence. It allows you to thank them for their business, let them know what to expect in their delivery, and shipping details. 


Zappos' thank you message to customers post-order

Source


Final Thoughts


If you've ever wanted to start an ecommerce store and put it off because you weren't sure of how to do it, you've just finished reading a handy guide to help you get started. 


Let's do a quick recap of what we've covered.


You've learned how to choose your products and validate them. No more worrying about spending time and money on a product that people don't want to buy. 


You've learned how to get more people to visit your store through blogging, and if you were in a boring niche, I've given you a couple of ideas you need to get started. 


And, since driving traffic alone isn't going to pay the bills, we've talked about how to convert that traffic into subscribers and leads, nurture them and turn them into loyal customers. 


Armed with these ideas, you now need to take action. I'll be upfront with you-starting and running a successful ecommerce store isn't for the faint-hearted. In addition to what you've learned in this guide, you need lots of grit to succeed. But I know you already have that running through your veins.

Over to you… What are you waiting for?

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Adam Enfroy

Adam Enfroy writes about how to scale your blog like a startup to 250,000 monthly readers. He launched his blog in 2019 and started generating over $35,000/month in revenue within 9 months. He wants to teach new bloggers how to start a blog and do the same.

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