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How to Start an eCommerce Business

December 6, 2023
3 min read

eCommerce has taken our lives by storm. With over $4.2tr in sales globally, the sector is expected to account for 21.8% of total retail sales by 2024. As large brick-and-mortar retailers collapse and are then bought by e-commerce giants, we can clearly see a shift from the traditional sales model to an online one. But how can you take advantage of this rising market? Opening a business is not an easy thing to do, but it can be incredibly rewarding. With many companies today built to help you streamline your business and minimise your technical or administrative tasks — for example, fulfilment centres like Bezos — setting up an e-commerce business is more simple than it used to be. So, here is how to get started.

1. Choose the products you want to sell

Forget about everything else for a second. What you sell will define your business. It’s at the core of what you do. That’s why it’s so important to take some time to pick the right niche or products that you plan to trade. Unless you have a magnificent invention ready to go, this can be the hardest part of setting up your e-commerce business. In order to make the right choice, you need to find a balance between a commodity that people want and that isn’t widely available to buy at retail giants like Amazon.

Take jewellery for example. Demand definitely exists, but certain marketplaces, like Etsy, have millions of options available at one click. Of course, e-commerce businesses don’t only sell on their website. Many shops utilise multi-channel sales, which allows you to sell through your web store as well as other platforms such as Amazon and Etsy. So, now you know what you want to sell: jewellery. Great. What now? Well, it is time to do more digging into this industry and define a niche. To do this, you’ll need to research your market and competition.

2. Research the market and your competition

Once you have an idea of what your shop is going to sell, you’ll need to understand your market. The key word here is research, research, and a little bit more — you guessed it — research. First ask yourself the most pivotal question: who is it for? By understanding the person you are selling to with rigorous, unrivalled detail, you will know whether you have a winning product before it even comes into tangible existence. By being familiar with your target customer’s worldviews, considerations, tastes and wants, tailoring a product that fulfills this criteria becomes far, far easier.

Once you have a product in mind, find your competitors and learn what they do. Try to understand the ins-and-outs of their offering, for example, their business model, the products they’re selling, where they’re sourcing them, the channels they’re utilising, their target audience and their marketing strategy. This can teach you a lot about how you should go about selling, and can inform the next steps in opening your store.

However, it’s not just about learning how your competition does things, it’s also about differentiating yourself from them. How are you going to find your USP (unique selling point) without knowing what other businesses in your niche are doing and what you have that they don’t? It’s essential to be focused. Having thousands of listings on your site with no rhyme or reason can sound like it’s going to increase your sales, but more often than not, it will do the opposite. 

3. Set up an online store

In order to sell your products, you need to set up an online store. You can choose to start by creating a shop in an existing marketplace, or start your own website. Working within a marketplace can be very rewarding, as you will have access to this website’s regular customers. Opening a shop like this takes very little time, minimal design skills, and no coding abilities, so it’s a perfect place to start. However, you’ll have to pay a certain percentage to the platform. If you go with this method, you should consider which marketplace is the most suitable for your products. Crafting products may work well on Etsy, whereas furniture would find a better home at Wayfair, for instance.

Building your own website is a great way to establish a brand, as it allows you to tell your story in a much deeper way and have more control. If you don’t already have a website, many web-building apps let you create a website using beautiful templates that don’t require much design or coding knowledge. Still, potential customers might not find you as easily at the beginning, and the onus of marketing yourself is going to fall directly on you until you gain some loyal clients.

It’s clear to see that both alternatives have their pros and cons, so taking a multi-channel approach, where you sell both on your own site and on other platforms, is the best of both worlds. Even if you start with one option, you may want to expand and use others in future, so it’s important to keep this in mind when you pick your supply-chain partners. At Bezos, for example, we’re capable of fulfilling orders from every big marketplace, as well as e-commerce platforms like Shopify, WooCommerce, Magento, Squarespace and many others.

4. Market your business

Everything is set, and you’re ready to sell. But how exactly do you get people to your site? The most basic element of this little conundrum is that, well, people are not going to buy from you if they don’t know you exist. That’s why marketing your business is one of the most important parts of running a successful e-commerce shop. Firstly, you want to optimise your listings and your website so that potential customers can find you on Google and your chosen marketplaces. This way, when someone searches for a product similar to what you sell, you can be sure they’ll find you.

Engaging in social media is important, too, as the vast majority of your buyers will spend a significant amount of time scrolling through these platforms. Nearly 4 billion people around the world are active on social media, and it should be a priority for any marketing plan. This includes maintaining active social accounts, with a focus on the most popular ones for your target audience. If you’re selling hip clothes to teenagers and 20-somethings, you should probably put some effort into your TikTok and Instagram pages rather than Facebook, whereas a business that offers expensive fixtures to homeowners might not benefit much from a robust TikTok strategy. If you’ve got extra cash in your budget, consider investing in some paid ads as well, as they can really boost your visibility.

Frequently asked questions

You’ve got your new e-commerce business basics sorted, but there are some questions you may have that are still left unanswered. Don’t worry, we’ve replied to a couple of queries many new business owners have.

How much does it cost to set up an e-commerce business?

As is true with most things, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to e-commerce. Set up costs in the UK can vary from very cheap (£500-£1,000) for a basic shop, to over £15,000. The most important thing is that you assess your financial capability, and then balance it with your requirements. For example, in terms of the website: if your shop is quite simple, there’s absolutely no need for you to build an intricate website with functionality you will never use and that will set you back a fortune. However, if you sell highly personalised or adjustable products, it may be worth the cost to provide a better user experience for your customers.

What are the common pitfalls for new ecommerce business owners?

90% of all e-commerce start-ups fail within the first 120 days, so it’s important to understand what successful businesses do to avoid this. These mistakes can largely be divided into three categories: customer service, data collection, and poor logistics. Whether a brick-and-mortar or e-commerce business, customer service is vital for the workings of any retailer. However, online companies have to place even more emphasis on this, as they are faceless and can be dismissed as a scam. It depends on the platform where a message was sent, but overall, it is recommended that businesses reply within an hour. It’s not just the speed, though. You want your service to be personalised, welcoming and friendly.

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