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How to Start an eCommerce Business: 5 Tips to Run Successfully

Date modified: November 17, 2023
The digital landscape is booming, especially when it comes to how consumers prefer to shop. If you're looking to start an e-commerce business, we'll help you get it off the ground so you can hit the ground running.
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Venturing into the digital marketplace has never been more enticing, and the numbers speak volumes. In 2022, the global e-commerce market surpassed $5.5 trillion, making the prospect of starting an e-commerce business more attractive than ever.

Moreover, e-commerce sales are projected to account for 20.8% of retail sales worldwide, with the U.S. e-commerce market alone reaching a revenue of about $925 billion in 2023.

Mini shopping cart full of boxes on top of laptop keyboardThe online market offers a wide range of opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs, such as lower startup costs and access to a global customer base. However, launching a successful e-commerce business requires more than just a good idea. It demands a well-thought-out strategy and financial planning.

In this blog, we will look at how to start an e-commerce business, offering practical insights to ensure your business is ready to thrive in the competitive digital arena.

How to Start an eCommerce Business?

Starting an e-commerce business is a journey that begins with laying a solid foundation based on research and planning. Before you dive into registering your e-commerce business, here are some steps to start an e-commerce business:

Research E-commerce Business Models

This initial research step is much more than an overview of the market; it’s about diving deep to understand the dynamics that will govern your business. In the realm of e-commerce, the business model you choose will significantly impact how you operate, from marketing to sales to customer engagement. Two primary e-commerce business models dominate the digital marketplace: business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C). Let’s take a closer look at each of these.

B2B E-commerce

The B2B e-commerce model involves transactions between businesses. It’s where one business sells products or services to another company. It typically involves higher order values and larger quantities, with longer sales cycles; that’s where integrating ERP for B2B eCommerce can be of big help. The benefits of this model include recurring bulk orders and the potential for establishing long-term business relationships.

The benefits of this model include recurring bulk orders and the potential for establishing long-term business relationships. Challenges may involve higher customer acquisition costs and the need for specialized knowledge in the industry. Businesses must be mindful of regulatory practices such as compliance with industry standards, contractual agreements, and B2B payment terms. An example of the B2B model in action is Alibaba, which allows businesses to purchase bulk inventory across various industries.

B2C E-commerce

On the other hand, the B2C e-commerce model involves businesses selling products or services directly to consumers. Businesses with this model benefit from a broader customer base and the ability to adapt to market trends quickly. However, companies may face challenges like intense competition and the pressure to engage customers constantly.

Consumer holding credit card and shopping onlineLegal and financial considerations include consumer protection laws, return policies, and handling sales tax for different regions. Amazon exemplifies the B2C model by providing a wide range of products directly to consumers, enhancing the shopping experience with services like Prime membership and rapid delivery.

Start Your Niche Research

If you've already got a product or service in mind, the next move is to refine your concept by researching your specific market segment. This targeted approach allows you to stand out from competitors and cater more directly to your potential customers’ unique needs and preferences.

Here’s how you can conduct research in your chosen industry:

  • Market Analysis: Use platforms like Statista, Google Trends, and IBISWorld to gather data on market size, growth trends, customer demographics, and competition within your niche.
  • Consumer Insights: Tools like Google Analytics and social media insights can provide valuable information about who your potential customers are and what they are looking for. Focus on demographic information such as age, gender, income levels, and geographic location. Track their browsing and purchase history, product preferences, and engagement with digital content.
  • Competitor Analysis: Study competitors using tools like SEMrush, Ahrefs, or Alexa to understand their traffic, ranking keywords, backlink strategies, and online presence. This will help you understand where they may be underserving the market or where there’s room for differentiation, which can help you capture a segment of the market that’s seeking additional options.
  • Customer Feedback: Engage with potential customers through surveys on platforms like Reddit and Quora to gain direct insights into their needs and preferences. This feedback helps refine your product offerings and marketing approach better to match customer expectations and demand in your specific niche.
  • Regulatory Considerations: Check government resources like the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) or Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for guidelines on industry regulations and compliance standards.
  • Financial Benchmarks: Investigate financial information using sources like Hoovers or the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for public company filings to understand the financial health and benchmarks in your niche.
  • Industry Reports and Publications: Look for specialized industry reports from consulting firms such as McKinsey & Company or Deloitte, which often contain a wealth of insights on emerging trends and regulatory changes. Staying on top of these changes can help you anticipate consumer demand and craft products or services that meet those evolving needs.

Authenticate Your Targeted Market and Products

To ensure that your business starts on the right foot, confirm that there is a demand for your product or service and that it meets the needs of your target audience. Here’s a structured approach to doing so:

  • Create Customer Personas: Create detailed customer personas to understand your target audience better. Analyze engagement on social media to understand the interests, behaviors, and demographics of your target audience. With this information, you can craft detailed profiles of your ideal customers, which will guide product development, marketing strategies, and customer service approaches.
  • Test Your Product: Utilize platforms like Kickstarter or Indiegogo to test your product or service ideas. In addition to offering free trials and sending test products, you can offer exclusive pre-orders in exchange for reviews and feedback.
  • Define Your Unique Selling Point: Look for gaps in competitors’ offerings, unaddressed customer complaints, or features that are highly praised. Your unique selling point can be based on what your product does differently and the customer experience you offer. Clearly defining this USP helps position your brand in the market and attract customers looking for that specific benefit or feature.
  • Gather Feedback: Conduct surveys or use social media polls to gather feedback on your product and service ideas from potential customers. Ask specific questions that relate to the customer’s needs and your value proposition, like “How would you rate the price of the product to its quality?” or “Does our service effectively solve your problem?” Offer incentives like monetary compensation to encourage participation.
  • Define Your Pricing Strategy: Finally, analyze competitor pricing, evaluate your costs, and establish a pricing strategy that offers value while ensuring profitability. Understand your cost structure to determine the minimum price for sustainability. Calculate profit margins to ensure that your pricing covers costs and desired profit. Continuously monitor and adjust your pricing based on market trends, ensuring your strategy remains competitive and aligned with customer expectations.

Create Your Brand

The journey to start an e-commerce business isn’t complete without creating an identity that resonates with your audience and stands out in the crowded e-commerce landscape.

Graphic with branding elements drawn outHere are some e-commerce branding strategies to help your business stand out:

  • Craft a Memorable Business Name: Your business name sets the tone for your brand and your identity. Brainstorm names that reflect your brand’s offering and value proposition and avoid complex or ambiguous ones. You can check on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) online to see if the name is available to use.
  • Design a Captivating Logo: A logo is more than just a visual identifier; it’s the face of your brand. Ensure your logo is unique and resonates with your brand identity. Successful logos stand the test of time through simplicity, distinctiveness, and relevance to the brand.
  • Choose the Right Domain Name: You should know the importance of domain names before choosing the right one! Your domain name is the digital address where customers find you. While it doesn’t have to match your business name precisely, consistency can enhance brand recognition. Domain registration typically incurs a cost, often ranging from $10 to $20 annually, though premium or highly desirable domain names can be more costly.
  • Get a Business License: Obtain a business operation license from your local government, which allows you to operate within their jurisdiction. If you plan on selling physical products, you’ll also likely need a seller’s permit to collect and remit sales tax, which you can get from your state’s Department of Revenue or its equivalent.
  • Register Your Business: Start by choosing a catchy business name and registering your company online. Decide whether you will operate as a sole proprietorship, limited liability company (LLC), corporation, or partnership, and apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS.

Secure Financing

While e-commerce businesses tend to have lower startup costs, many entrepreneurs will still need external financing to turn their idea into a product or service. Luckily, there are several funding options available for new e-commerce businesses catering to different needs.

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Here’s a breakdown of the main types of business financing – a key part of setting up an e-commerce business:

  • Business Line of Credit: This option offers flexible options to manage cash flow or purchase inventory. You can draw funds up to a certain limit and pay interest only on the amount borrowed. This is a form of revolving credit, which replenishes as you repay it, similar to a credit card.
  • Short-Term Loan: Short-term loans offer faster funding for immediate needs with a quick repayment structure. The funds can be used to handle short-term cash gaps or seize timely business opportunities. They usually come with short repayment terms, less than a year, but with much higher interest rates.
  • Installment Loan: These loans give you access to a lump sum of capital upfront with predictable monthly payments. Installment loans can be used for large investments, such as launching new product lines or acquiring larger warehouse space. They come with fixed interest rates over a longer term, typically reducing the monthly payment amount.
  • Equipment Financing: Equipment financing allows you to purchase necessary equipment without a significant upfront investment. You can acquire computers and other tools needed for your e-commerce operations. The equipment itself often serves as collateral, which may lower the risk and interest rates.
  • Startup Loans: Tailored for new businesses to cover initial costs, startup loans can fund market research, product development, initial inventory, and marketing campaigns. Some loans are designed to support businesses with no established revenue or credit history and may come at higher interest rates.

Set Up Your Online Store

After purchasing the domain, the next step in how to start an e-commerce store is to select a platform that aligns with your business needs. Popular platforms include Shopify, WooCommerce, and BigCommerce, which come with user-friendly interfaces, customization options, and robust built-in features to ease your setup process. These platforms have monthly costs ranging from $29 for the Basic plan to $299 for the Advanced plan.

Next is the design of your online store. A professional and user-friendly design can boost your site’s conversion rates. Ensure your site is easy to navigate, aesthetically pleasing, and mobile-responsive. Incorporate reliable payment gateways for credit card processing, PayPal, and Apple Pay. This not only enhances the user experience but also facilitates seamless transactions.

Develop a Marketing Strategy

Starting an e-commerce business doesn’t end with developing a high-quality product or service – you must market your unique offerings to potential customers. Developing a marketing strategy helps you build brand awareness, engage with customers, and drive sales. Here are some marketing channels you can utilize to craft a solid advertising strategy:

  • Social Media Marketing: Engage with your audience through consistent posts, stories, and advertisements. Utilize features like Instagram Shopping to allow users to purchase directly from your posts.
  • Email Marketing: Set up email marketing and automated responses using tools like Mailchimp to enhance customer engagement. Email marketing continues to offer a high return on investment, with every $1 spent generating $36 in return. Email campaigns like monthly newsletter updates and seasonal discounts are particularly effective at driving conversions.
  • SEO and Paid Search: Organic search, powered by SEO, is the process of optimizing your website to rank higher in search engine results for increased visibility and traffic. Organic search drives 53.3% of web traffic, making SEO indispensable. On the other hand, paid search like Google Ads can provide immediate visibility and traffic. This tool allows you to display ads at the top of search engine results, directly targeting potential customers and complementing your organic reach.
  • Retargeting/Remarketing: Retargeting campaigns involve strategically placing your ads in front of users who have visited your site but left without making a purchase. This is achieved by using cookies to track users and then serving your ads on other websites they visit, thus keeping your brand top-of-mind.
  • Affiliate Marketing: Affiliate marketing involves partnering with individuals or other companies to promote your products on their platforms in exchange for a commission on sales. This is done by establishing an affiliate program, setting competitive commission rates, and recruiting affiliates with engaged audiences. Provide them with the marketing content they need to promote your products and use your platform to track their performance and optimize the campaign for better results.

Implement Customer Service Excellence

Exceptional customer service is a cornerstone of a successful e-commerce business. Nearly all consumers say that positive customer service influences whether they remain loyal to a brand. Now, you might be wondering: how do I elevate my customer service game?

Consumer using live chat on cellphoneToday, customer service is more than mere problem-solving; it’s about orchestrating a seamless experience from the moment customers visit your website. Start by ensuring that your online store provides easy access to customer support, whether through live chat, email, or a helpline. Responsive and helpful customer service not only resolves issues promptly but also cultivates trust and encourages repeat business.

Monitor and Analyze Performance

Last but not least, delving into your e-commerce business’s performance is a ticket to sustained growth. By understanding metrics like traffic and conversion rate, you gain insights into where your business excels and where it can improve. Kickstart this by setting key performance indicators (KPIs), including:

  • Traffic: High traffic indicates brand reach and interest and is measured via tools like Google Analytics. Traffic metrics can inform SEO and content strategies to develop content that aligns with your audience’s preferences and drives sales.
  • Conversion Rate: This shows the percentage of visitors who make a purchase and demonstrates the effectiveness of your site and sales funnel. Businesses can track this KPI through e-commerce platforms or analytics tools and use them to refine user experience by analyzing where and why drops occur in the sales funnel.
  • Average Order Value (AOV): This indicates the average amount spent each time a customer places an order. AOV helps determine pricing and promotional strategies, such as incorporating upselling or cross-selling tactics.
  • Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC): This is the cost associated with attracting a new customer. Businesses can calculate this KPI by dividing total marketing costs by the number of new customers. CAC helps evaluate the effectiveness of marketing campaigns and your return on investment. If your CAC is high, it can signal the need for new advertising strategies that attract more customers at a lower cost.
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS): This metric assesses customer loyalty and satisfaction. It is measured by surveying your customers on their likelihood to recommend your brand. A high NPS indicates that customers are likely to recommend your store to others.

How Much Does It Cost to Start an eCommerce Business?

Starting an e-commerce business is an exciting venture, yet it comes with its share of financial considerations, including setup costs, operational expenses, and marketing investments. The costs can be broken down as follows:

  • Domain Name: The initial step involves securing a domain name and hosting service for your online storefront. A simple domain name typically costs between $10 and $30 annually, but some domains may cost up to $300.
  • Legal and Administrative Fees: The cost for business registration can range from $50 to a few hundred dollars. Additional fees may apply for specialized licenses and permits required for industries that are highly regulated.
  • Website Development and Design: Opting for DIY platforms like Shopify or WordPress can be a cost-effective way to develop your website yourself using pre-made tools. If you require a more customized design, you may need to hire a professional website designer and developer.
  • Inventory: If you’re venturing into dropshipping, your upfront costs might be on the lower side – between $100 and $500. However, if you plan on stocking inventory, the costs of goods,  storage, warehouse leasing, and insurance can reach up to several thousand, depending on your business’s size. On the flip side, a third-party logistics provider can ease this process by handling storage, packing, and shipping operations on your behalf. For small businesses, monthly fees for third-party logistics providers can range from $500 to $2,000.
  • Marketing and Advertising: Small to medium-sized e-commerce businesses spend roughly $1,000 to $10,000 monthly on marketing.
  • Customer Service and Returns: Customer service fees include paying salaries for support staff. Additionally, investing in equipment like computers and customer management software is another area to consider.

If covering all these costs upfront is a challenge, a business loan could be a practical way to get the funding you need.

5 Tips to Run an eCommerce Business Online

“The secret of business is to know something that nobody else knows,” said Aristotle Onassis, a renowned business magnate. In the sprawling digital marketplace, carving a niche requires more than just a good idea.

E-commerce business owner packaging ordersThe real journey begins when you step into the realm of actual business operations, facing real-time challenges and striving to create a distinctive identity in the bustling digital marketplace.

Here are five tips to guide your operations to success:

Attract Customers

Attracting customers is a continuous effort that should adapt to changing market dynamics. Here are some strategies to keep attracting new customers as you run your e-commerce business:

  • Local SEO: This includes optimizing your site for local keywords, setting up a Google My Business account, and targeting local audiences with your content and ads. This strategy ensures that if someone searches for a product or service in your niche within your targeted locality, your online store will show up in the results, increasing the likelihood of attracting local customers.
  • Content Customization: Tailor your content to address the evolving interests of your audience. Create dynamic content that adjusts to insights gathered from analytics – such as personalized product recommendations and targeted email campaigns. A recent report shows that 72% of consumers say they only engage with marketing messages that are customized to their specific interests.
  • Programmatic Advertising: This technique uses sophisticated algorithms to buy digital ad space in real-time based on specific criteria, such as user behavior, demographics, and browsing history. Based on your parameters, the system automatically places ads where your potential customers are most likely to see them.
  • User-Generated Content (UGC): Encourage customers to share their experiences with your products on social media, which can act as social proof. This refers to any content – text, videos, images, and reviews – and helps enhance your brand’s trustworthiness, drawing in more customers. For instance, GoPro has built a highly engaging community where members share videos of their adventures using GoPro cameras.

Increase Customer Retention

Running a successful e-commerce business doesn’t end with attracting customers – it’s also about keeping them for sustained growth. Studies have shown that boosting customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%.

To retain customers in e-commerce, personalize your communications by using customer data to tailor your messages, offers, and recommendations. Implement loyalty programs that incentivize repeat business, offering rewards for continued patronage, which can enhance customer loyalty.

Regular engagement posts on social media can help maintain a connection with your customer base, creating a sense of community. Actively seek and act on customer feedback to demonstrate that you value their input and are committed to continuous improvement.

Optimize Operational Efficiency

Efficiency is the lifeblood of any successful e-commerce business. When operations run smoothly, costs decrease, customer satisfaction increases, and profits soar. Here are some areas you can optimize:

  • Automation: Implement tools like customer relationship management (CRM) and order processing software to automate repetitive tasks. This improves accuracy and saves time, measurable by reduced processing times and lower labor costs.
  • Customer Service: Utilize platforms like Zendesk to manage customer inquiries efficiently, aiming for faster response times and higher resolution rates.
  • Inventory Management: Use systems like TradeGecko to track stock levels, leading to better inventory turnover rates and lower holding costs.
  • Shipping: Optimize shipping by negotiating favorable rates with carriers. Offer multiple shipping options to customers and provide shipment tracking. After all, fast and reliable shipping can improve the user experience of 72% of the customers.

Manage Finances Wisely

A firm grip on finances pivots an e-commerce business from surviving to thriving. Begin with sculpting a clear-cut budget that will act as your financial blueprint, factoring in inventory acquisition, marketing campaigns, and website costs. Have a keen eye on expenses, as unchecked spending can quickly spiral out of control. For instance, monitor the return on investment (ROI) of paid advertising to ensure it’s driving sufficient traffic.

Accounting software on laptopAdditionally, utilize robust accounting software like QuickBooks or Xero. These platforms provide a real-time snapshot of your financial health by tracking revenue, expenses, profits, and trends in financial data. Beyond just tracking, they help in invoice management, tax preparation, and payroll processing, tailoring to the e-commerce spectrum.

Finally, addressing legal compliance is a decisive step in fortifying your e-commerce venture. Abiding by customer protection laws and data privacy regulations is a cornerstone for building customer trust. For instance, ensure your website has a comprehensive policy compliant with the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which requires companies to disclose their data protection practices.

Engage legal counsel to navigate through the specific laws governing e-commerce, such as the Consumer Protection Act or the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) for payment processing. Their guidance will ensure your business operations are compliant, wrapping up your venture with a robust safeguard, ready to step into the bustling digital market.

Bottom Line

The e-commerce horizon is vast and ripe with promise. Every facet, from carving your brand’s identity to sailing through legal waters, paves the path to thriving in the online marketplace. With a savvy strategy, your e-commerce venture isn’t just about surviving but flourishing. Ready to dive into the digital realm? Your entrepreneurial journey awaits!

Ethan James   Lead Writer
Ethan James is an experienced Financial Writer at Lendza with over a decade of experience.