Ultimate Guide to a Successful and Profitable E-Commerce Business
For the past decade or so, many people worldwide find purchasing goods and services from an e-commerce business a common practice. Some choose to buy online due to convenience, while others realize that online products have a more competitive price than brick-and-mortar stores.
Whatever the reason is, the number of digital buyers has increased. Research shows that this number will rise from 1.66 billion in 2016 to over 2.14 billion people worldwide in 2021.
These online platforms allow several payment methods, including credit/debit cards and digital wallets, allowing more people to take advantage of their services. In this digital age, buyers can purchase online using almost any device with an Internet connection.
In the United States alone, nearly 84 percent of the population purchased goods online in 2019. Researchers expect this number to go up in the following years. All these values show that there is immense potential in the online e-commerce industry.
There are several ways to make money online, such as affiliate marketing or blogging . However, the e-commerce market is growing exponentially, expecting to reach sales of over 735 billion dollars in 2023. So, if you are thinking of creating a business of your own, now is the best time to do so.
In this guide, I will discuss what you need to know about this popular business venture. This guide will include steps to start an e-commerce website, my recommended e-commerce platforms, and some possible challenges you may have to face. If you are ready, let us discover the real deal on the e-commerce business.
What Is E-Commerce?
At its core, this business model revolves around the buying or selling of products or services online or over the Internet. It uses several technologies like electronic funds transfer, Internet marketing, supply chain management, electronic data interchange, and inventory management systems.
Typical e-commerce transactions include the purchase of digital music, online books, learning courses, gadgets, clothing, and even groceries. Nowadays, you can purchase almost everything online. If you have not visited any e-commerce platforms lately, I will go over some of the latest trends in the industry later on in this guide.
There are four primary classes in this business: B2B, B2C, C2B, and C2C. Let me go over these concepts a little more.
- B2B (business-to-business) –
As the name implies, this model refers to companies doing business with each other. The most common illustration is manufacturers selling to retailers or distributors.In this setup, the supply chain's role is crucial.
- B2C (business-to-consumer) –Most people immediately think of this category when they hear the word e-commerce. Also known as direct-to-consumer, this model refers to businesses directly selling their products to customers without distributors or intermediaries.
In this setup, the company focuses on good relations with the customers to encourage strong brand loyalty. Examples of B2C platforms are Amazon, Everlane, and AWAY. Aside from the primary online platform, these businesses may open a limited number of retail stores.
- C2B (consumer-to-business) –This model is probably the least-known category of e-commerce. In this setup, the consumers or individuals create value for businesses, who now become the recipients. This relationship is the reversal of the traditional B2C model.
Consumers now become the driving force of the transaction, though this model is still relatively new. The first and most popular C2B platform is Upwork and of course Fiverr.
- C2C (consumer-to-consumer) –In this setup, customers interact with one another for transactions, which entirely subvert the traditional model of businesses providing goods and services. With access to the Internet worldwide, more individuals have ventured into this specific business model.
A third party website acts as an intermediary and usually charges a fixed fee or a commission for every sale. The most popular C2C platforms are eBay, Craigslist, and Etsy.
You can also categorize e-commerce according to the types of goods sold, although this classification is not specific. The three primary groups are:
- Physical products like furniture, gadgets, and appliances
- Digital assets such as e-books, music, images, and software
- services like graphic design
What Is an E-Commerce Website?
When e-commerce started in the 1970s, people made their transactions through e-mails and encrypted phone calls. Now, you can make all transactions on a single website.
Now, e-commerce websites are virtual platforms that enable businesses and consumers to transact goods and services over the Internet. In this digital age, you can do almost everything online.
Now that you have a better grasp of the e-commerce industry let us find out how you can penetrate it.
How To Start Your E-Commerce Business?
If you have gotten this far, I applaud you for the thought of taking charge of your future. With these changing times, you no longer have to remain a cog in the corporate wheel. The Internet opens a world of new and exciting possibilities, and the e-commerce business is one of them.
However, starting a new venture has never been an easy task. Even with access to numerous online resources, it is challenging to go through all this information and pick out what you need.
This guide offers a detailed step-by-step process to kick start your business. Like with all things, it may be challenging to begin, but having a concrete plan will make your goals more feasible. Here are the actions for you to follow:
Choose a product
Set up your online business
Launch your business
Throughout this guide, you will find specific tips to make these steps happen. If you are starting your e-commerce business from scratch or need help increasing your e-commerce sales, you are in the right place.
Aside from all these physical preparations, you must also ready yourself mentally. You have probably heard people say that winners are ordinary people with extraordinary determination.
A determined attitude, proper work ethics, and motivation are all crucial factors. With all those things in mind, let us learn more of these steps in detail.
Choose a product
People get into the e-commerce industry because they have brilliant ideas, but the first step is one of the most challenging: selecting a product to sell online. Here is how you can pick a product.
If you ask someone else for advice, they will probably tell you to sit down and have a brainstorming session. Though the brainstorming concept is not wrong, the guidance does not tell you what you need to do precisely.
The key to this step is asking yourself the question: what do people need that they are willing to pay money for it? Think about a specific and relevant need of others, and do not focus on yourself.
You also do not have to limit yourself to a chair. Whatever gets your artistic juices going, do it. When I need to think about something critical, I find that the best ideas come while I shower. So, find an activity that stimulates the creative part of your mind.
Finding a product
There are numerous tools you can use for product research, including the web app Jungle Scout. Here are some criteria to help your search for the ideal product.
- Retail price – When searching for a product, already have a retail price range in mind. If it helps, don’t limit yourself to a single product
price, since optimally you should have up-sell products to increase your AOV. Shooting too high may limit your potential audience, while shooting too low may not cover all your margins like manufacturing, shipping, and advertising costs.
- Decent sales volume – Look at the other products in your intended niche. If the estimated monthly sales range from 250 to 400 units, that indicator is a positive sign that the product may sell well.
- Low seasonality – Find a marketable product the whole year round, which means avoiding Christmas decorations, summer products, or holiday costumes. No matter how original they may seem, you will have a challenge selling them on the off-season.
- No matter how original they may seem, you will have a challenge selling them on the off-season.
- Less than 200 reviews for the top sellers – Look at the top sellers in your intended niche. If they have less than 200 or less than 100 comments, that specific market has high potential. Avoid joining a product category dominated by established competitors unless you have unlimited budget. The chances are high that customers will flock toward these recognized sellers than going to a novice in the market.
- Small and Lightweight – Additional fees for shipping and storage severely decrease your profit margin in the long run. So the smaller and lighter your products are, the lower these costs are as well.
- Simple to manufacture – If you decide to create a product of your own instead of outsourcing, steer clear of complex materials. They will only lead to possible manufacturing challenges, which can disrupt your whole operation.
Once you have a list of ideas, it is time to narrow them down. Validating suggestions takes time and effort, so immediately get rid of ones that meet these three conditions:
- Have high shipping costs – If you are only starting, these fees will significantly hurt your e-commerce store. Save the larger and heavier products once you have established your brand and generated sales to cover these expenses.
- Have potential legal implications – Steer clear of products that will require you to have some form of legal background. For example, dietary supplements will have medical claims that could land you in hot water.
- Have no relation to your interests or passions – You do not have to love the product, but having that personal connection will make a convincing pitch to potential buyers. Having zero interest in the item will also make it more challenging to sell or advertise.
Evaluating your idea
Once you have a product in mind, it is time to find out if they will sell. The best way to do so is to ask potential customers. Avoid reaching out to random people or family and friends as you want relevant and objective feedback.
I recommend searching for people who might have an interest in the product. You can ask friends and family to reach out to their networks or utilize social media to obtain that potential audience.
Obtaining your product
You can choose from two routes: private label and buy from a manufacturer/supplier or create your own. Each method has its benefits, disadvantages, and corresponding costs.
If you choose to private label, you can decide whether to wholesale or dropship. Depending on your product, creating your own is generally more expensive due to the purchase of equipment, materials, and other overhead expenses. However, if production is within your capacity, then go for it.
Set up your online business
This step of the e-commerce business process is possibly the most exciting, but it does require you to squeeze your brain of all creativity it can offer. You have only thought about your e-commerce store, and this part makes it a reality.
Finding your brand
Shaping your company’s persona is necessary when starting your online retail store. You want the public to see and think about your brand in association with a positive attribute.
People know Apple puts out sleek and innovative products. The party game Cards Against Humanity is irreverent but edgy, while Hallmark gives off a feeling of sincerity.
I could list a few more brands and their associated personality, but my point remains the same: this unique persona will make you and your brand stand out.
Choosing a name and logo
These two are essential elements of your brand. Feel free to be creative, although you should remember that your name does not have to be perfect or too convoluted. Instead, ensure that your label appeals to your target audience and fits your brand persona.
For example, if you plan to sell Himalayan salt lamps, which have a warm and energetic brand persona, you would not call it “De-press.” Although there might be some ingenuity to it, the two do not match.
As for the logo, you do not have to be a graphic design whiz to construct a fantastic website. You can reach out to talented designers worldwide through platforms like 99designs, Upwork, and Fiverr.
Setting up your front end
You can learn more through my new course Digital Mastery Business Blueprint. I have shared my best practices that will help you start up your e-commerce business the right way. This part includes creating a funnel in the front end and online store front to be used for the back end.
For the funnel I highly recommend ClickFunnels and for the store front there are several platforms that can help you build an online shop for a fee. The whole process gets technical, but these websites are usually fully-automated and user-friendly, allowing you to focus on your products instead.
I will go over ten of the best e-commerce platforms later on in this guide.
This section includes manufacturing, packaging, and shipping your e-commerce product. Have you ever heard of the term logistical nightmare?
Most people would probably become overwhelmed with this step, especially since they are not large corporations with endless resources. However, even ordinary people can take care of manufacturing and shipping logistics with proper resources.
Manufacture your product
Creating a product from scratch is tricky business, but you do not even have to go that far most of the time. Start by looking for local manufacturers who already have the necessary equipment and expertise.
If you work with someone locally, you have more involvement in the development process and can easily communicate with them for requests or revisions. Search for these manufacturers online e.g. Thomasnet.com or ask for a referral from like-minded people in your network.
Once you have identified potential suppliers, research their track record. You can also ask them to explain their pricing and processes in further detail. When you decide to place much larger orders and want a more affordable price, you can look for global manufacturers e.g. Alibaba, using the same method.
Shipping your product
Regardless of the product you offer, it is best to assume you will have to ship internationally eventually. Your retail store is on the Internet and can attract audiences worldwide.
With e-commerce, you have two options for delivering the product to the consumers:
- Shipping from your business location
- Using a third-party logistics company
If you are starting, the first option is best, as third-party companies usually require a minimum number of orders to work with them. Though this method is more expensive, you have full control of the packaging and shipping process, which will help you build your brand even more.
Well-known international shipping providers include DHL, FedEx, and UPS. You may also choose to take advantage of your home country’s postal services, like the United States Postal Service, Australia Post, or Royal Mail.
When your business becomes more prominent, and you can fulfill a minimum number of orders, you can contract with a logistics company to have lower shipping costs. Popular third-party logistics companies include ShipBob and Shipstation.
Building a buzz
Your launch will not be very successful if you do not invest in some pre-launch marketing. You should aim to build excitement around your launch, so by the time you start to accept orders; consumers will hopefully rush in to buy your product. Here is something I wrote for 9 killer marketing strategies to launch your next online business, you can check it our right here.
Here are some three strategies you should include in your plan:
- E-mail marketing – Building an e-mail list is one of the best marketing tools for e-commerce as it gives you a way to reach your audience regularly.
- Social media – With the unprecedented popularity of social media, do not underestimate its reach and power. Post a teaser photo or host a live event near your launch date to generate curiosity about your product.
- Influencers and affiliates – These people have tons of followers who can be your potential consumers. Influencers usually have a high flat fee, but some accept a free product or an affiliate commission in exchange for shares or mentions.
For the most effective marketing systems, you can check my new updated step by step Digital Mastery Business Blueprint. If you want to grow and scale your business right of the get go, this blueprint is a must have.
Your store launching does not mean your work has finished. Instead, you have a new goal: driving target traffic to your e-commerce platform. You used some marketing strategies before your launch, and now is the time to evaluate their effectiveness.
If your existing online campaign does not generate results, it may be time to experiment with other strategies to put the word out. It is unlikely that your product will become an overnight sensation, so do not lose hope if it takes some time for your first sale.
In the same way, do not be afraid to try out different marketing strategies to promote your product. However, make sure that you have tools to help you analyze data from your marketing effort; otherwise, they will all be for naught.
How To Make Money With E-Commerce?
You have probably heard of several people who made it big in the e-commerce business. It is highly likely that their stories inspired you to pursue this online venture, which means that e-commerce can be a lucrative career. Here are some success descriptions to encourage you to start in this industry.
- Jeff Bezos started an online bookstore in 1994. By slowly increasing its product base, the website became the Amazon you know today.
- Diamond Candles struggled during its launch, but its uniqueness led to its popularity on social media. The company used customer-generated content and exquisite imagery to lift its brand and obtain thousands of Facebook fans.
- Gretta Van Riel only had 24 dollars in the bank when she decided to create an online herbal tea shop. The company has sold over 11 million cups in five years, and the young entrepreneur has branched out her business to different niches.
Though not all stories pan out this way, the takeaway here is e-commerce’s immense potential. If you put enough time and effort into hustling for your business, it is possible to achieve great heights. Here are some tips to ensure your business makes money:
- Excellent profit margins – Knowing the kind of products to sell will significantly determine your business’ revenue. The profit margin should include not only labor and raw materials, but also other expenses like rent or taxes and of course marketing expenses.
- Efficient product sourcing – Choose a trustworthy supplier who will not leave you hanging throughout the fulfillment process. Though good ones are hard to find, picking them will minimize problems with orders.
- Impeccable marketing – Your strategy will determine the future of your e-commerce store. Your store has to be in the public eye and remain relevant. I recommend using multiple advertising channels to reach your targeted audience. You can learn more through my new updated course Digital Mastery Business Blueprint.
- Straightforward design – This part should not be a problem with the rise of e-commerce platforms. However, it is worth noting that customers hate websites that add unnecessary information or additional costs at the end of the ordering process. If you can, make that available information upfront.
- Nourished customer relationships – A wise man once said that you have to work as hard to keep a customer as you do to find a new one. Marketing strategies usually target fresh consumers, but satisfied existing customers tend to buy more and even spread it.
When it comes to business, you must be aware of the industry trends, especially with services happening on the Internet. So if you are all set to begin your e-commerce venture, here are some trends that will define online shopping in the future.
The rise of chatbots
Multiple payment options
Regardless of where you reside, customers expect that your platform has several payment options, including their local payment provider. Financing options like Apple Pay and PayPal are also on the rise due to the ease of checkout.
With advancements in technology, merchants now reduce ambiguity through augmented reality. AR enables customers to visualize the products, usually pieces of clothing or furniture. One of the consumers’ complaints is the inability to try on or test an item, and AR helps eliminate that through visualization.
The use of video
About 62 percent of customers watch video reviews before buying a product, and a whopping 84 percent of consumers became converted sales after watching. These numbers show that more people prefer and expect online stores to contain videos to increase their understanding.
Best E-Commerce Platforms
Now that you have grasped the basics of the e-commerce industry, it is time to select a platform to display your selected products. You can either create your own from scratch or choose an established platform for your online store. Remember the store front should be used mainly for cross-selling, remarketing, etc. in the back end.
However, following the latter route ensures you can focus more on building your brand by eliminating many of the technical details. Here are ten of the most popular e-commerce platforms that may suit your needs.
Many consider this platform the best all-around e-commerce web builder, primarily because of its ease of use. This Canadian-based company started in 2004 and is perfect for those who have no technical skills in building an online store.
The platform integrates with other social channels like Facebook and Pinterest, making it one of the best one-stop shops. Developers continuously improve the platform’s features, including tipping, express themes, curbside pickup, and local delivery.
One downside is the enforcement of transaction fees unless you use its payment system. It offers excellent value for your money, and the 14-day trial will let you experience its features without entering any payment details.
This Texas-based company started in 2009 and is now one of the most popular e-commerce platforms worldwide. Compared to other websites, it has numerous built-in features at no additional cost.
The platform hosts several well-known brands, like Toyota and Ben & Jerry’s. It lets you sell different kinds of products without purchasing a third-party, which is perfect for those small businesses that dabble in various niches.
It also integrates with other social media channels and has fantastic SEO tools. I recommend this platform for those who plan to scale their businesses. However, beginners may find some of the terminology too complicated.
This Florida-based company started in 1997 with the sole intention of developing e-commerce software for businesses. Like BigCommerce, it has a lot of built-in sales tools, which will help save costs.
The platform focuses on its inventory features and formidable back-end tools, though some may have challenges using the interface. However, 3dcart has one of the cheapest prices, so I recommend this for those with a small budget.
This e-commerce plugin launched in 2011 and targets explicitly merchants who want to build a retail store in WordPress. Woocommerce is open source technology, which gives you the ability to customize the layout and design fully.
You can integrate the software with other solutions like Facebook, Zapier, MailChimp, Sage, and more. However, although the plugin itself has no cost, you should factor in hosting, development, and maintenance expenses.
I recommend this platform for those who prefer to utilize WordPress and have the knowledge and proficiency in handling self-hosted updates and maintenance.
This e-commerce platform started in 1999 and boasted of comprehensive tracking features to monitor your store’s performance. However, Volusion does not offer much in the way of layout.
If you love data but do not care much about design, this website builder will suit you. It has numerous sales features like order processing and inventory tracking, although it is quite challenging to use.
This e-commerce solution that started in 2007 has open-source software. You can do a lot with the setup, integration, and modules if you have the technical expertise.
Prestashop has several built-in tools like e-mail marketing, gift wrapping, and affiliate programs, and the platform accepts a wide range of payment gateways, including PayPal and Amazon Pay. However, PrestaShop requires developer skills and has pricey customer support.
This web hosting service started in 2006, and it became part of the giant financial company, Square, in 2018. Weebly is easy to use, perfect for beginners and offers budget-friendly starter prices for small businesses.
Additional features include an automatic tax calculator and a mobile application. However, it does not allow merchants to sell across multiple channels and has limited creative freedom on the checkout page.
This American company started in 2003, providing software for web building and hosting. Since then, the business has expanded to cater to e-commerce players, with excellent analytical tools and high-quality features.
The platform boasts the best design options among all other e-commerce store builders, which is perfect for those who want a highly customized look. However, Squarespace does not yet have an app store and is not that beginner-friendly.
This e-commerce platform is open source, and Adobe recently acquired it in 2018. Because of this, I recommend Magento for those who have the skill in the programming language.
The platform offers exceptional SEO features, but the technicalities make it challenging for beginners to utilize it fully. If you have the skill, funding, desire for a customized design, Magento is an excellent option.
This software company started in 2006 and has since established itself as an authority in web development services. The platform has an impressive selection of templates to choose from, and its intuitive drag-and-drop interface makes it perfect for beginners.
If you do not have the time or talent to create a personalized website, Wix's Artificial Design Intelligence can quickly create one. Its multilingual element will also create multiple versions of your page in different languages.
Wixalso has rich e-commerce sales features like multi-channel selling and abandoned cart recovery. I recommend this platform if you want a lot of creative freedom and access to over 250 apps to increase your store’s functionality.
The Challenges With E-Commerce
The e-commerce business has a lot of potential, although the industry also has its challenges. No business model is perfect, but you can anticipate these problems and plan. Here are some of the most common challenges e-commerce players encounter and the best way to overcome them.
Returns and Refunds
Customers return products for various reasons, including damage or dissatisfaction. When this event happens, it becomes a loss for the business, especially those who deliver items at no cost. Plus, it can also affect the brand’s reputation.Your e-commerce platform should clearly outline the rules on handling returns. If you have logistics partners and vendors, ensure that your platform has a seamless interaction with them.
This industry has many players, so customers do not feel any obligations to a specific company. An aggravating factor is the lack of quality customer service.
Consumers expect a consistent and smooth experience on online channels. So, businesses that cannot live up to that expectation may fail to retain customers.Integrate customer service experience solutions in your platform to ensure you can monitor all interactions. This detail improves customer retention and can even transform one-time consumers to advocates.
Number of Competitors
Nowadays, no matter which niche you choose in the e-commerce industry, it is highly likely you will have competition. The challenge is setting your brand apart from the other businesses. Your goal is not to blend in, but rather, to stand out.You can utilize tools to help you conduct thorough competitor analysis and find out their products and prices. You can also offer services like exceptional customer support to help set your business apart.
Best Marketing Methods and Tools To Increase Sales and Customer Lifetime Value
Improve your e-mail campaigns
Upon potential customers visiting your website, it is essential to capture their e-mail addresses to have a regular way to reach them. However, do not limit yourself to a welcome message. Instead, list occasions where subscribers will appreciate getting one.These scenarios may include exclusive promo codes and gifts, newsletters for discount offers and product tips, and a way to solicit feedback. You can even send thank-you notes for your high-value customers. Some e-mail marketing tools you can use are AWeber, ConvertKit, ActiveCampaign, GetResponse, MailChimp and Drip.
Reduce abandoned carts
You lose money when customers leave their cart full of items during the checkout process. This phenomenon happens more often than you think, with nearly 70 percent of shoppers doing so.
Their reasons may include additional costs, complicated processes, website errors, and unsatisfactory returns policy. It is too challenging to address all their concerns, so instead, you can direct your efforts to remind them of the cart’s contents.
Online platforms utilize personalized e-mail recovery campaigns to reduce abandoned carts. Tools you can use are Jilt, Klaviyo, and Rejoiner, and nowadays SMS seem to result in extremely high abandoned cart recovery rates.
Engage online visitors
Outside of e-mail, you can directly engage visitors or potential customers through a live chat feature. Most people think of this facility as a customer support option, but live chat can do much more.
I hope this guide helped you understand the essential information you need to start a successful e-commerce business. Do not forget to give your business time to kick off the ground entirely. However, trust me when I say the results are all worth your effort.