You know what the real land of opportunity is? Ecommerce.
I kick myself for not having the foresight to start an online store the second dial tones started humming on home computers, but the World Wide Web was just too new and overwhelming for me at the time (and I was only 7 years old).
The good news is that the ecommerce well is far from drying up, and there are still heaps of online potential up for grabs. If you’re just getting into the whole “selling stuff online” thing, you might be wondering how to get started.
Let’s run through some ideas for where to start, what to sell, and which strategies to get started with from social media to ECRM so you can start making money with your very own ecommerce endeavor.
Why You Should Start an Ecommerce Business
If you’re looking for some extra income or even a rad replacement for your full-time 9-to-5, starting an ecommerce business is one of the best opportunities to explore. In fact, there are more than 110,000 online stores raking in annual revenues beyond $1 million, and the average new ecommerce store makes roughly $39,000 during its first month of business.
Compared with a brick-and-mortar storefront, ecommerce stores require less upfront capital to get off the ground and inherently involve less risk than a retail location. Without the need for brick and mortar or hefty startup costs, ecommerce might be just the business you’re looking for.
Setting up an online store doesn’t require location permanency, operational costs for a building, limited selling hours, set working hours, in-house inventory, hiring staff, or any of the other typical barriers to getting in the traditional retail game.
While you can find great success selling online, there is one big caveat: People have to know your store exists. Unlike a tangible storefront, folks can’t walk by your sign on the street and wander in your doors. Instead, you have to put together an online presence that’ll appeal to search engines and shoppers alike.
So while ecommerce can reap huge benefits, success is truly found when the right mix of products, people, and ecommerce marketing is found.
Ecommerce Business Ideas for Newbies
Some folks have it made in the shade when it comes to figuring out what to sell online. If they’ve been a long-time producer of hand-crafted bags and purses, selling those online is an obvious move. The same goes for people who’ve been making online tutorials and courses, or those who’ve been making money in their own brick-and-mortar shop.
But if you haven’t been crafting away or running your own four-walled business, deciding what to sell online is a tough first hurdle to clear.
Types of Ecommerce Store Models
There are several types of ecommerce business models, and there are pros and cons to consider with each. Before starting any online store, we recommend doing a little bit of legwork first. Research trending products or, conversely, search for a niche that isn’t being met as you’ll have a guaranteed and devoted audience.
Once you’ve decided what to sell, here are a few models for how you can sell it:
Make and Sell Your Own Products
This model is for the particularly skilled and driven sellers. Creating and selling your own products is arguably the most time- and labor-intensive business model on this list. No matter what you’re making, from leather bags to online music courses to clay pottery to handmade jewelry, your biggest limitation will always be “you can only sell as much as you can make.”
However, these items can usually be sold for premium prices, unlike many mass-manufactured goods. High-dollar price tags on these goods reflect the cost of materials, time to make the product, inventory storage, studio space, and, of course, profit.
If you choose this model, you also can have entire ownership over the entire brand and customer experience. You control the product, the quality of the product, and how it’s sold to customers. No other model provides the seller with 100% control like this one.
Strey Designs is an example of a store knocking it out of the park when it comes to total brand ownership of a beautiful product.
Manufacture and Sell Your Own Products with a Supplier
If you have a great idea for a product but don’t have the means to manufacture it on your own, this is a great ecommerce option for you. Popular stores include enamel pin sellers like Pinlord. This shop works closely with suppliers by overseeing the entire process from design to production.
Working with suppliers to manufacture original products still enables online stores to have complete control over the brand. Similar to making your own goods or wholesaling, this route often requires sellers to store inventory.
Another risk you take with this model is seeing a product not sell and having to either steeply discount (and potentially lose money) or have stagnant stock hanging around your warehouse. If you do your product research, though, this situation is often avoidable.
Wholesale: Buy and Sell Someone Else’s Products
Wholesaling (or warehousing) works much like the traditional retail model you’ve (probably) been consuming your whole life. If you’re a wholesale shop, you’d purchase someone else’s products at a reduced price, then sell those goods for a profit on your own ecommerce site.
This model takes the weight off your shoulders when it comes to producing and manufacturing your own products, and lots of wholesalers see great success. Sellers like Forage Modern Workshop or Rabbit Heart have curated goods from multiple vendors and crafters, then sell them through their site.
While this model does require curating, negotiating wholesale prices, purchasing, and storing the inventory (often done in a warehouse for larger shops), it gives you control over your entire customer experience. You can control which products you want to sell and how you sell them without worrying about any uncontrollable factors.
Dropship: Sell Someone Else’s Products
Dropshipping puts your ecommerce store in the middle of the purchase, between the customer and the supplier. This is often perceived to be the quickest way to get a shop up and running because it doesn’t require sellers to make, purchase, or store inventory—all of that is taken care of by whichever company is making the products you want to sell.
If you’re dropshipping sunglasses, for example, you don’t actually ever have to see any of your inventory. You simply pass the order and customer details onto the manufacturer when someone places an order. When you finetune your automated strategies, a dropshipping business could be a steady stream of passive income.
While dropshipping might seem easy-peasy, it can be tricky. A lot of factors are out of your control while dropshipping, such as product quality, speed of shipping, and overall customer experience. If the manufacturer bungles any part of the journey after the sale has been made, you might not see many second purchases.
Additionally, since the manufacturer is the one collecting most of the revenue here, you have to be careful with your marketing spend. If your multichannel strategies don’t hit the mark, you could face quickly losing your slim profit margins.
One shop doing it right, though, is BlueCrate. This store sells a wide variety of trendy and kitschy (but totally unneccesary) goods from desktop punching bags to mop socks. The entire online store has an overarching theme across products: things you didn’t know you needed.
Building a Successful Ecommerce Store (and Where to Start)
When it comes to putting together an online store destined for success, it’s not easy to point to a starting place. You want to start off strong, which means planning—and lots of it.
Without a plan, you risk wasting two of your most valuable resources; time and money. To avoid squandering either, let’s hop into details you should plan for when starting your ecommerce store.
Have a product and a plan. As mentioned earlier, it’s important to choose what you’re going to sell and how you’re going to sell it. If you aren’t making and selling your own product, it’s important to build a relationship with your manufacturer so you aren’t met with any surprises after you’ve built your ecommerce site or put money into marketing.
Pick an ecommerce platform. There are a lot of options out there, but you’ve probably heard of the four major players for building your ecommerce website: BigCommerce, WooCommerce, Shopify, and Magento. Explore your options and consider pricing and the amount of time it takes to start selling.
If this is your first ecommerce rodeo, consider picking a platform that’s user-friendly and won’t require you to hire a developer to get up and running. Also, keep in mind that your store is a reflection of your brand. Make sure you’re able to customize it how you need to best display your products and company.
Prioritize your marketing strategies. Don’t spread yourself too thin when it comes to marketing your ecommerce store. There are many channels you could chose to adopt such as social media, direct mail, email, SMS, radio, print, and more—but what do you choose first when getting started? Our advice is to start with one or two channels, then grow into additional channels as your business gains traction.
Marketing Strategies for Online Stores
Selling more products means getting them in front of more people online. Without exposure or acquisition, your site could sit stagnant for a while. In order to get your acquisition and repeat purchase rates rolling, here are some ecommerce marketing must-haves.
Ecommerce Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
In order for people to find and buy from your store, search engines need to know what your site is actually selling. A major piece to the acquisition puzzle is search engine optimization. SEO means optimizing your ecommerce site around keywords and phrases that you want to rank for in search engines so that people can find you when they search for what you’re selling.
For example, if you’re selling fanny packs, you’re going to want to mention “fanny pack” and any related keywords across your website. This means creating relevant titles and descriptions for your products, and even creating supporting content through blog posts or videos. By doing this, search engines will know what your website is all about and show it to people when they search for “fanny packs.”
Where your site ranks is determined by algorithms that are different between search engines and are continuously evolving with the internet. Ideally, your site would rank on the very first page of search engine results for your desired keywords since most people don’t click beyond page 1.
If you’re brand new to SEO, I recommend this comprehensive guide to SEO for ecommerce. It will help you understand how to decide which keywords you should optimize for as well as often forgotten yet integral parts to the SEO puzzle, such as meta descriptions or alt text.
Ecommerce Customer Relationship Management (ECRM)
A big, fat 91% of consumers are more likely to shop with brands that recognize, remember, and provide relevant offers to them. However, most brands still rely on batch-and-blast marketing that isn’t personalized to the individual customer.
(Show of hands: How many of us have been shown a Facebook ad for an item we already purchased weeks ago? I can’t see your hands, but I’m assuming they’re up.)
Drip Ecommerce CRM helps any ecommerce store stand out in the crowded industry by empowering them to create better, more personalized customer experiences. When connected to your store, and Drip ECRM can track and store pretty much everything your customers are doing.
And when you can see what pages they’re visiting, how many times they’re looking at an item, what they’re buying (or abandoning), and more, you have the power to create the most relevant marketing possible. Which is especially important when you consider that half of shoppers are even willing to pay more for products and services from brands that provide relevant content.
You can recognize when someone has abandoned a cart, then offer them a perfectly timed discount code to lure them back. Or when you can see someone has looked at the same baseball hat six times, sending them a beautiful email with images of your hats and retargeting them on Facebook could be just what they need to cross the finish line.
With priceless and deep customer data stored in one place, you can send customers relevant marketing based on their real-life behaviors with one tool. Customers will notice the top-notch experience your store delivers, and they’ll come back to you instead of competitors just to get some more.
Multichannel Marketing Campaigns
While email marketing has one of the best ROIs around (for every dollar invested in email marketing, the average return is $32), don’t forget about the entire world of ecommerce marketing channels available to you.
Consistent posting on your blog is a great way to get more traffic from organic search, but the power of social media, influencer marketing, display ads, direct mail, SMS marketing, and more should be considered.
When shoppers are delivered a multichannel campaign for a product they were just looking at or a discount for their shopping cart, they’ll take notice of and appreciate an engaging and personalized relationship with your store.
To make multichannel marketing a seamless strategy from customer behavior to marketing action, consider Drip ECRM’s automated workflows. Connect any of your marketing channels to your ecommerce store in one workflow, then automatically trigger marketing messages at the right moment for every unique shopper.
The Future of Ecommerce
If you’re in the ecommerce industry, you’re well-aware of its unending growth. More than 10% of retail sales in the U.S. are made online, and total sales are expected to reach nearly $740 billion by 2023. I could go on with the stats available to back up this claim, but every single one points to this: Ecommerce has been steadily growing, and there’s no limit to how far it will go.
With the endless possibilities for what you can sell, how you can sell it, and marketing strategies you can adopt to get your products in front of the right audience, starting an ecommerce business right now seems like the right opportunity for anyone looking to get into the industry.
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