How to start an E-commerce business

E-commerce is the term used to describe the selling and purchasing of online goods. E-commerce can take place on a variety of marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay, as well as standalone shops that businesses create through a website. E-commerce can be easy and cheap to set up, but it can also be costly or challenging to achieve the results you set out. Understanding the nuances of e-commerce and preparing everything you need before you get started can help guide you on making the right choices and avoiding wasted time or expenditure.

What are the benefits of starting an e-commerce business?

E-commerce is popular for a reason; the industry is projected to reach 6.54 trillion USD by 2022, and more and more people are looking towards e-commerce to take a slice of the pie. Before you consider e-commerce, you should understand what the benefits are and weigh up the investment of time or money against the return:


  1. Supplementary income - An e-commerce business can be a fantastic way to boost your income on top of your current salary. If you’re working full or part-time, spending the time on e-commerce to get it up and running can help to boost your income without the need for too much ongoing management.
  2. Low investment - Depending on the product you chose to sell, you may not need much investment to get things up and running. You should start with a small number of goods and test their popularity before committing. Once you’re up and running, the business should start paying for itself, meaning no further investment would be needed.
  3. No need for a physical store - E-commerce stores do not need a physical presence. You’ll need somewhere to store your goods, but this can be anywhere until you grow to a size where you need an official solution. This can help to cut the cost down on starting up in comparison to a brick and mortar location.
  4. It can be highly rewarding - researching, sourcing a product and selling it online can be highly rewarding for an individual. It’s great to see how you develop and market a product online to make sales, and when the sales come in, you can take full responsibility for the success.
  5. Make money while you sleep - one of the biggest attractions for e-commerce is the idea that online store owners can passively make income. While this is effectively true, you’ll need to invest a lot of time into creating a store that earns you money without much updating aside from reordering stock and posting orders.


E-commerce checklist

Before starting with e-commerce, make sure that you’ve prepared the points in the following checklist as you’ll likely need them to launch your store effectively.


  1. Your product, or group of products that make up your stores offering.
  2. Wholesale product manufacturers who will ship to your location
  3. Research on your industry niche to understand price points, where alternatives to your products are being sold and who your competitors are.
  4. Product descriptions and all information that is relevant to your potential customers.
  5. A cash forecast to understand what sales you need to reach to cover your costs and start making a profit.
  6. Platform(s) to sell on, such as Amazon, eBay or your own website,
  7. A shipping process ready for when you get your orders. Do you have a printer, labels and packaging organised?
  8. A strategy to get your store seen. Consider online advertising, search engine optimisation (SEO), social media, offline advertising and marketplaces to bring customers to your store.
  9. Branding, logos and imagery for your site and products.
  10. Online stock management software for SKU and inventory tracking.
  11. A business name and URL if you’ll be creating your own website. Check if this name is also free on social media to avoid issues down the line.
  12. An address for your customers to return any goods to if there is a fault/ issue with the product.


Depending on what platform you’ll be selling on, you may also need to prepare additional resources or factor in the relevant fees to your cash forecast. As an e-commerce store, there’s no reason why you can’t utilise all of the following platforms to reach more users, just be aware that it’s simpler and cheaper to start with one, gauge the interest, and then make a decision on whether to expand into other marketplaces or your own website.

Amazon

With 86% of Brits using Amazon, the benefits of selling on this platform are clear to see. Amazon attracts high numbers of traffic looking for a multitude of different things, and by selling on the platform, you can tap into the high number of customers visiting their site. You will, however, be in constant competition with other sellers, and it can be difficult to have a voice amongst the noise of established sellers that have highly competitive pricing or marketing strategies. Consider the following alongside our generic checklist if you’re going to sell on Amazon:


  • Fulfilment by Amazon (FBA) - FBA means that you send your products to Amazon for them to store. When an order comes in, Amazon will handle the packaging, delivery and any returns of the product. You’ll pay additional storage and fulfilment fees if opting for this.
  • Categorisation of goods - Amazon products are grouped into categories that helps to show customers relevant products when searching. You should look into how your goods would be categorised and the competitiveness of each category before committing to a product.
  • Regular price monitoring - Prices will regularly fluctuate on Amazon, particularly in competitive categories, meaning you may need to check that your pricing is correct regularly. 
  • Paid advertisement within Amazon - Amazon offers advertisements directly within their platform, such as featured items. It may be worthwhile to explore these options to get infront of customers.
  • Amazon specific keyword research - Amazon has its own way of handling searches and ranking products based on what the user is looking for. You’ll need to conduct Amazon-specific keyword research for your products.
  • Reviews - Product reviews are important regardless of where you’re selling, but in an environment such as Amazon where customers can easily compare their options, they can help you to stand out. Ensure you’re requesting that customers leave reviews after placing an order.

eBay

eBay, similarly to Amazon, offers a platform with high amounts of traffic for sellers to tap into and get their products seen. You may find eBay houses many more used goods in comparison to Amazon, meaning you’ll be competing with second-hand sellers. eBay is still a fantastic place to trial your product without having to spend on building your own website, but bear the following in mind if you’re considering this platform:


  • Paypal account to accept payments.
  • Be aware of common scams, such as customers attempting to pay you outside of the platform.
  • Product categorisation for your goods.
  • You’ll need to create a personalised store page, similar to a website page.
  • eBay-specific keyword research is needed to make sure you’re listing your products correctly.
  • Compare your prices with other sellers and decide whether you can compete.
  • eBay advertisements can be a great way to push your product listings in front of people searching in relevant categories.


How to build your own e-commerce website

If you’re not interested in competing on marketplaces, or you’d prefer the creative freedom to build a brand on your own website, then there are many solutions to make this easy and practical.

Each provider is unique and offers different features, integrations and customisation options, so we recommend that you research into the one that suits you best. Here are some of the leading players in the market:


  1. Shopify
  2. Bigcommerce
  3. 3dcart
  4. WooCommerce


Building your own website differs from marketplaces as they do a lot of the work for you. This can be great for saving time and getting up and running, but it also restricts your creative freedom and means you’re always within the eyeshot of another competitor. However, it does mean that there are some additional things to consider:


  • URL for your website.
  • User experience and website design.
  • Third-party integrations to support your processes.
  • SEO (you’re responsible for driving traffic, rather than relying on the huge amounts of users that visit marketplaces).
  • Paid advertisement outside of your store to attract users.


It will take more time and resources to build your own e-commerce website, meaning that it’s not always a feasible option when starting out. Running your own website gives you the freedom to create an online experience for your customers, personalise your branding and take full control of what you offer. The downside to this is that you’ll need to attract users yourself, either through SEO, paid advertisement, organic social posting or other techniques such as email.

How UK Postbox can help you prepare for e-commerce

We offer various e-retail services that have been developed to support businesses of this kind in a variety of ways. Our virtual addresses and online mail management solution gives you a private address to use for your business, read and manage relevant mail, and you can opt for one of our additional services such as the following:

  1. Returns address service - a physical address in the EU for any of your goods to be sent back to.
  2. Business address - if you’re registering your e-commerce business as a limited company, our business addresses are suitable to use with Companies House.
  3. Correspondence address - great if you want to protect your private address from customers and online users.
  4. Fulfilment & dropshipping - we can hold your stock for you, and when an order is processed, we’ll fulfil the postage and send your item(s) to your customer.
  5. SKU management - track your inventory, monitor demand and use our advanced stock management app to manage your SKU.

If you’re considering taking the step into e-commerce, we wish you luck and hope this guide has helped you prepare for your new business venture. If you’re interested to learn more about our relevant services get in touch with one of our e-retail specialists.

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Allan Chester
January 21, 2020
Explainers
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