The world of eCommerce is flourishing right now. With businesses seeing influxes in online sales between 10-30% since the beginning of COVID-19, there’s opportunities to be had in starting an eCommerce business now.
That could involve starting from scratch or transferring your existing brick-and-mortar operation into the online sphere to attract your target market.
For many businesses, moving into the eCommerce industry is more of a requirement than a recommendation right now. With physical limitations and restrictions from the health crises, online shopping is one of the only ways for consumers to continue supporting local businesses safely.
But how exactly do you go about starting an eCommerce business, a business that sells products or services direct-to-consumer online? And with so many online retailers, how will your eCommerce business cut through the noise and gain traction?
If you’re wondering how to start an eCommerce business, you’ve come to the right place.
- Quick Note: Existing business owners who’ve decided to venture into the online shopping world can skip down to step #4, but new entrepreneurs should start at the beginning, as this guide takes you through the five primary stages from inception to fruition—and beyond.
#1 Development: Finding The Right Niche
The world wide web has just about every product and service you could imagine—clothing, subscriptions, art, entertainment, education, the list goes on. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t space for your eCommerce website.
You just have to find a niche: an untapped market.
Before you can build a website or talk about eCommerce marketing strategies, you need to decide what it is you’ll be focusing on. The idea itself might be the hardest part. Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you get your creative wheels spinning:
- Don’t be afraid of a little competition – Competition means that there’s an actual market for what you’re offering. If you’re the only business of your kind, that might be because there’s no consumer interest for it. Some competition—especially successful competition—means there’s a buyer base to tap into as a business owner.
- Find what makes you special – The key is setting your business apart in a meaningful way: we sell the same thing as [insert popular company] but ours is better because of [insert compelling niche selling point]. Maybe your products are ethically and locally sourced or made of recycled materials or have a distinct feature that the other versions lack. Your niche will be something you can offer that other sites and distributors can’t, but you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
- Start small – eCommerce retail giants weren’t built in a day, and yours probably won’t be either. That’s okay! If you have a big idea, focus in on one aspect of it that you can reasonably handle with limited resources and personnel. Think one product from the entire clothing line you’ve envisioned, or a few quality designs that you can expand on as your eCommerce site becomes both notable and profitable.
Think long and hard before committing. A good idea will soar with the right branding, eCommerce marketing, and development, but it can be tough to sell something that doesn’t speak to a target market.
#2 Branding: Name, Logo, Identity
When it comes to eCommerce, the who is just as important as the what. Who are you selling to? And more importantly, who are you as a business?
These days, many businesses are more than just platforms and products—they’re personalities. They have character. They’re flirty, fun, sophisticated, exciting, adventurous, traditional, and so on. What is your business’s persona? And how do you communicate that?
It all starts with a business name—just like in real life.
Your brand name should emulate the energy and aesthetic of your business itself, but it should also cater to your intended audience. Think about what emotion the name will arouse:
- Short, catchy, and pun-derived names might work well for a children’s store
- Elegant and unattainable sensibilities might work for a high-class men’s jewelry company
- Fun and flirty names might work for a lingerie company aimed at college-aged students, while sophisticated and sultry might be better for mature women
The name should give your customers a good sense of exactly what they’re getting themselves into when they click your listing among all the others on a search engine’s results page. Everything on your website, including the name, should work together to form a cohesive identity:
- Mission statement
- Company values
- Aesthetic layout
- Product photos
Consistent branding, plus a memorable name and logo, can help your business stand out, turn your site visitors into repeat customers, and transform your fledgling eCommerce venture into a growing success.
Just make sure you register your name and business with the proper governing board and check that it isn’t already trademarked. You wouldn’t want all that creative energy and time spent to go to waste.
#3 Planning: Develop an In-Depth Business Strategy
If the name and logo are fun personality traits, then your business plan is the brains behind the operation. A solid strategic outline that is directly linked to your branded identity, target audience, and specific products or offerings. Spending time to create one will carry you through some of the harder parts of starting up any business, eCommerce or otherwise.
Of course, things will change as you begin operations in real time, but your business plan should address the following (and more):
- Financial projections – Your break even-point, including a monetary value and a timeline
- Budget – How you’ll allocate funds between different departments, including sales, marketing, and operations
- Hiring – If, and when, you intend to bring new people onto the team, particularly as your business grows
- Goals – Both long-term and short-term goals—monthly sales targets, a one-year growth goal, and more
Having a succinct, viable business outline will also help in conversations with potential investors. You’ll be able to show them exactly where their money is going, why, and how it’ll return profits.
#4 Creation: The Online Store Itself
It’s time to put all those ideas into practice with a website for your eCommerce store. There are a lot of components that go into creating any website—especially an online store—that you’ll need to think about as you brainstorm, develop, and eventually launch your business’s site:
- Designing & coding – If you aren’t a business tycoon and an experienced full-stack coder (which is understandable), then you can outsource the website creation to a web developer or use an existing website creation platform. There are tons to choose from with easy-to-use features and completely customizable pages. Think Squarespace or Wix.
- Online shopping software – It can be incredibly helpful to have shopping cart software that is compatible with your website design and functionality. You’ll want a simple secure payment system for your customers to use, with all the necessary features—otherwise, you can forgo this step entirely and sell through existing marketplaces like Etsy, Ebay, and Amazon.
- Email marketing – When you launch your website, you can double down on website visitor value by having them sign up for email updates when they purchase a product. That way, you can notify customers about product deals and special promotions—turning one-timers into repeat customers.
- Analytics tracking – Analytics tracking is one of the best eCommerce tools you can use. If you set up tracking and analytics for ad engagement, website traffic, and conversions, you can improve your marketing strategy and focus your time and energy on where your business needs it most. Google Analytics will provide this service for free, and they even have easy-to-follow tutorials online.
- Local SEO – Search engine optimization (SEO) is all about making your eCommerce store appear when someone searches a topic related to your business in a search engine (Google, Duckduckgo, Bing). Hence the term “search engine” optimization. While a typical SEO strategy entails competing against the massive marketing budgets of big-box chains, local SEO subverts that strategy and targets locals in your area. When someone searches for restaurants or retailers “near me,” local SEO takes into account the user’s location. Local restaurants or retailers (or any other small local business) can take advantage of local SEO, by claiming their Google My Business page and embedding Google Maps into their website, among other things. That way, they garner more search results and clicks without having to compete against their larger chain competitors.
Pro-tip: You can create a Coming Soon page before your official launch. While you’re busy setting all this up, you can create buzz around your exciting new business and build a potential customer base before you even go live.
#5 Marketing: Meet Your Customers Where They Are
There are practically unlimited streams for marketing, especially in the age of the internet. It’s best to focus on a few high-quality potential marketing strategies that are also cost-efficient. And what better way to market an online business than online platforms?
Broad Marketing with Social Media
To target a global economy, social media is the one-size-fits-all marketing channel. Though it could take time and energy investments to set things in motion, by regularly posting and engaging with followers, you can broadcast your message to the masses with social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and more.
Local Marketing with Nextdoor
If you want to avoid wasting time and energy trying to draw customers to you and your business, you can focus your efforts on local marketing channels to reach those closest in proximity to your business: locals. Nextdoor is a great example of premier marketing within your neighborhood.
By creating a free Nextdoor Business Page, you can bring your eCommerce store to the local level—targeting potential customers who want to support local businesses. Connecting with real people will help build your business’s reach.
Even before your official website launch, you can use Nextdoor to:
- Advertise with Local Deals – For example, the first 100 customers to sign up for your mailing list gets 20% off their next purchase.
- Make connections – It’s hard to forge personal relationships with customers from an entirely virtual store—Nextdoor makes it easy to connect with existing or potential customers.
- Update existing customers – For brick-and-mortar businesses that have transferred online during the pandemic, you’ll need a simple, effective communication stream to let local customers know about changes in store hours, new policies, and of course, your brand new eCommerce shopping platform. Small businesses can post into the newsfeed and reach all Nextdoor neighbors that live within two miles.
Putting your new business in front of people who already love to shop local can be a great first marketing step.
Build Your Presence While You Build Your Business
Starting an eCommerce business is unique because all of your interactions and transactions happen exclusively in the online sphere. This is great for reaching a wide audience and vast array of customers.
On top of a stellar product idea, compelling branding, an in-depth business plan, and a beautiful yet functional online store, growing your community and support system is more important than ever.
Your online business may become a huge success, but it doesn’t have to lose that local neighborhood feel—the spirit of connection goes a lot further than physical proximity. It extends online, with Nextdoor.
Search Engine Land. COVID-Consumer: Pessimistic, but spending more online. https://searchengineland.com/covid-consumers-pessimistic-but-spending-more-online-331519
Shopify. Ecommerce Business Blueprint: How to Build, Launch, and Grow a Profitable Online Store. https://www.shopify.com/blog/ecommerce-business-blueprint
Ecommerce CEO. How To Start an Ecommerce Business From Scratch. https://www.ecommerceceo.com/start-ecommerce-business/
Claim your free Business Page to get started on Nextdoor. For resources on how to use Nextdoor to stay connected with your local customers, pertinent news affecting businesses, and more, follow us at @nextdoorbusiness on Facebook.