First things first – yes, e-commerce is still a very thriving business and no, Amazon has not ruined it for you. If you’re passionate about starting an e-commerce business, there are plenty of ways to carve a space for yourself and build a profitable business. Space is however very crowded indeed and the competition is certainly daunting. That’s what makes it so exciting.
As with everything, there are some mistakes you can avoid making if you learn from the folks who learned it the hard way. Besides focusing on giving your customers the best products and calculating the profits you make along the way, many less glamorous but very crucial aspects demand your attention. Market research is not just for the corporate bigwigs and mathematics is not just for high school. e-commerce is more than buying a product and selling it online a notch higher. You need a long term strategy. You may need to hire help, even though you currently feel you can do this all alone. You may fall into the trap of trying to sell a little bit of everything and becoming too generic in the process when you really should be creating a unique brand for yourself. These are just a few small examples of the mistakes to avoid when starting your e-commerce business.
So if you are serious about building a sustainable e-commerce business, here are a few mistakes you can easily avoid by just being aware of them.
1. Skipping the Market Research
Sure, the popular e-commerce platforms make opening your online store a cakewalk. You can create your store and start selling in a few hours. But to really make yours a long term business and not just an experimental side hustle, you need to do your homework. Spend a week or two doing some serious market research, without getting emotional about your product. Is there a scalable market for your product? There are products that are in popular demand but don’t have much revenue potential. Are you sure you’re not a part of that category? How big is your target audience? What’s the business going to look like a few years from now? Study the current trends. What products sell well online?
And just because a product sells, maybe the market is already saturated with it, so is there space for you to make enough money on it? There are a number of such questions you should seek to answer before you dive into the business.
2. Going General and Not Finding a Niche
E-commerce is fiercely competitive right now, and you need something markedly exclusive to make your presence felt, a unique value proposition you may call it. So whatever was the product idea that sent you into an I-can-sell-this-online mode, you need to objectively think about how saleable that product is. What can you sell, that people can’t buy on Amazon?
So find a niche, and dedicate your store to that. That will give you a much stronger footing in the market than trying to sell a little bit of everything. Be that guy who sells t-shirts with the funniest one-liners, or the store with the best handmade terracotta earrings. The point is that your store needs to have a unique identity, and become the one place people will come every time they need a funny t-shirt or a pair of lovely earrings made of the earth!
Find a gap in the market. We’re almost at the end of this decade and you’d be hard-pressed to find a revolutionary new product idea that no one has sold before. So instead of that, study the current market and look for gaps that a lot of people would like filled. Find a way to do things differently. Do something that albeit small, can be a significant source of revenue if done well, for that’s the one thing that’s been missing.
Of course, you can scale up with time, and begin to sell more products once your brand takes off. But even when you do that, it is always beneficial to stay authentic to a theme and preserve your store’s unique identity. At any time, refrain from becoming just another online store, selling a little bit of everything.
3. Failing to Do the Math
Sure you are a creative person with a knack for spotting the finest items, a curator of exquisite memorabilia or even a creator of handmade gifts, but once you decide to turn that passion of yours into a business, math inevitably becomes a part of your life. From cost-benefit analysis to profit-loss statements, you’ve got to do it all.
Begin with deciding on the right price for your products. From shipping to storage to even packaging, everything costs money and all of it should be carefully weighed before deciding your selling price or you might end up losing money without even knowing it. So be sure to factor in all costs, think of how much profit you can make on it, and then also think about how much people would be willing to pay for that merchandise. Too high and people might not buy, that’s another tipping point. Yep, you guessed it; it will be a pretty challenging equation to solve. But after a few conscious experiments, you’ll get it.
4. Trying To Be a One-Man Army
There is just so much to do, that you won’t be able to do it all by yourself. In the beginning, you may decide to handle it all yourself but as soon as even the first few orders start coming in, you are going to need help. Hire a team of competent people and get them to do the jobs that they do best. Somebody to handle the packaging and shipping, someone for bookkeeping and yes definitely someone for customer support.
You need to really put in the best foot forward right from the start when it comes to customer service, on all channels, including the phone, email, and social media. Make sure you have someone who your customers can talk to every time they have a query.
5. Not Doing Marketing
Many creative people, when starting out, don’t feel like marketing will ever be a part of their process. But in a highly competitive, nearly saturated market overflowing with buyers and sellers, it is difficult to get people’s attention. And if you are going to really make money, you need to get people’s attention. For that, you are going to need marketing, right from building a mailing list and sending out emails, to doing SEO, digital marketing and social media management. To make sure it is your site that comes up when customers Google a product, you need to nail the search engine optimization (SEO). Here is a good place to start learning about SEO specifically for e-commerce. Promoting your site on social media is another critical aspect. Social media is the place where the chunk of your potential buyers hangs out. 60% of respondents in an Instagram survey said that they discovered a new product on Instagram. Indeed, marketing your business in the right places plays a pivotal role in your success.
So either set-aside time for marketing if you want to handle it yourself or better still, hire an expert. Whatever you do, you must have a marketing plan, so invest in one.
Starting your e-commerce business is a big step, and the finer nuances can be overwhelming. While your primary focus should be on selling quality products, marketing like a pro and nailing the customer service, there is a ton of other groundwork that can be repetitive and tedious but crucial nonetheless. Things like bookkeeping, social media, managing shipments, and a dozen other chores take up precious time and energy on a daily basis. Managing them effectively is critical to keeping your business running smoothly. Here are X entrepreneurial hacks to help you ace the mundane business chores, save time and uplift your productivity.