According to a 2020 analysis from etailinsights, at least 2.1 million online retailers currently operate in the United States. The vast majority of these are not vertically integrated corporations like Amazon and Walmart but small-scale “virtual goods” retailers, many of which are run by single individuals.
In other words, launching an online shop does not mean competing directly with Amazon. Thousands of successful shops operate profitably for their proprietors without ever attaining the status of “e-commerce giant.” With hard work and a little luck, this is a viable business model that can turn into a sustainable, even prosperous enterprise.
Here’s how to start and grow your online retail business.
Choose a Platform That Fits Your Business
The first step: choosing an e-commerce platform that does what your business needs and can accommodate its growth. To start, this can be a simple shop attached to your business website rather than a self-contained online store that may take more time and development resources to get live.
Add a Value-Enhancing Content Portal to Your Shop or Business Website
Next, invest in content marketing — a reliable and inexpensive way for new, lean online shops to attract customers. Set up a blog or content portal on your website that features informative, value-adding resources for your readers, like this online auto parts shop’s guide to hybrid vehicles or this camping gear retailer’s RV buying guide. Over time, this portal should generate organic traffic (SEO) for your shop and position you (and your shop) as a trusted resource for buyers.
Offer Early-Bird Deals and Discounts (And Deals for Email Subscribers)
As you work to build your inventory, hook in future customers with early-bird deals, like waitlist-only discounts and special sales for email list subscribers. These will reduce your revenue in the short term, but the long-term goodwill will more than pay for itself.
Invest in High-Quality Item Photos
If you’re using original photos in product listings, invest in a high-quality digital camera. Phone camera photos might look fine in small sizes, but they’ll reveal themselves when buyers try to zoom in on product details or blow up the photo. And grainy blow-ups make your shop look unprofessional. That’s not what you want when you’re trying to stand out from other sellers.
Write Catchy But Concise Item Descriptions
Your content portal is the place for long-winded discussions of, well, whatever it is you want to discuss. Your product listings...are not. They’re where you hook in buyers with detailed information about items’ features, capabilities, and specifications. You’re not trying to win any awards for your prose here. There’s not yet a Nobel literature prize for product listings, unfortunately.
Build Review Functionality Into Your Shop (Or Share Customer Reviews Elsewhere Onsite)
Social validation is an increasingly dominant factor in buying decisions, especially for millennial and Gen Z buyers (basically, anyone under 40). If your online shop targets younger audiences, it needs to demonstrate that its products are high-quality and (even more important) highly desirable. Built-in customer reviews are key to making this happen, as are other channels, like social media influencer campaigns.
Invest in a Great User Experience
Outfit your online shop with elements that enhance the shopper experience. These include but shouldn’t be limited to:
- Live chat that allows customers to seek hands-on help on demand
- Advanced cart features that allow customers to save items for later
- Abandoned cart protections, like email alerts reminding customers they still have to buy
- Membership rewards or perks programs that deliver instant discounts or other benefits
This is your chance to be creative! Look at what similar online shops are doing, then find ways to set your own shop apart. Find ways to find connection with your clients, as this will make it much more likely for them to return to your shop again.
Explore Other Sales Channels
You’re now at the “rinse and repeat” stage of your online shop’s development. Where you go from here is up to you. Your next move might be a seller account on Amazon or eBay, a direct sales model through social media, or even a physical storefront of your own. And your online shop’s success will make it all possible.
Here’s to Doing What You Love Every Day
Let’s be clear about one thing: Running an online shop is a lot of work. If you really want to go through with it, prepare to be on the clock at all times until you’ve scaled to the point that you can distribute responsibility and step back from day-to-day management.
That’s years off, if ever. In the meantime, your online shop will be your baby.
Maybe that’s what you want. Hopefully that’s what you want. People don’t get into this business for the money, at least not at first. They do it because they love creating and selling. They love delighting customers and building new markets.
Sound familiar? Then you’re choosing the right path. Now, it’s up to you to put the lessons you’ve learned here into action and make your online shop as successful as can be.