The first ecommerce stores began to spring up on the Internet between 1994 and 1995. Around this time, the first payment processors were created, and security standards were set and verified by new services like Verisign. Soon after, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos sold and shipped his first book out of his garage, and the company grew quickly into the massive ecommerce hub that it is today.
Amazon didn’t just start as a company that sold “everything from A to Z,” however. Bezos began his store with a simple goal in mind: to sell books. He’d realized that books were relatively light and easy to ship. Also, book publishers made it incredibly easy to list their products online by providing data (like titles, authors, and ISBNs) on CDs to stores. Finally, Bezos focused on the customer experience above all else with Amazon, allowing users to write and publish reviews of the books they received and read, which in turn led to more sales.
Although Amazon is now a major ecommerce store that sells almost every product in the world, when Bezos started it, he stuck to one niche (books). In 1995, it may not have been unheard of to start ecommerce websites that sold “whatever looked good” or “cool stuff,” and those sites may have found a lot of success. However, twenty years later, ecommerce is so saturated that successful businesses need to define a niche to stand out.
It’s likely that you already have some ideas for your ecommerce store, and the products you want to sell. But to compete and to give yourself a chance at standing out, you need to make sure that you’ve defined a niche, created a strategy, and set realistic goals.
For example, let’s say you want to sell supplies for babies:
- “I want to sell baby products.” This isn’t specific at all, and the competition is very high. How are you going to compete with Amazon? How about Babies R Us? Other large online retailers?
- “I want to sell cloth diapers, and a couple other baby items.” This is better, but there’s no strategy to speak of. Cloth diapers may be a niche market, but how will you set yourself apart from other retailers?
- “I want to sell only cloth diapers made in the US, and provide affordable bundles of diapers and other changing supplies at a discount.” This is much better—just add in some goals and you’re good to go!
This isn’t to say that all businesses that start with a broad product offering will be unsuccessful. For example, women’s fashion brand Modcloth sells dresses and shoes, like hundreds of other retailers. However, their clever product names, copywriting, and hassle-free return process are what set them apart. They invested a ton of time and care in the differentiation of their business from similar companies. So if you’re willing to go above and beyond to set yourself apart, you can be a little more broad. However, it’s still best to start small and grow from there. That way you aren’t setting yourself up for failure, and getting stuck with thousands of unsold products that you were convinced your amazing copywriting would help sell.
Once your niche has been defined, you should spend a little time setting realistic, achievable goals for your ecommerce store. Again, it’s best to start small. Don’t go into this expecting to make thousands of dollars a month. For your first few months, try to set goals that involve traffic and conversions—metrics you are confident you can reach—rather than earnings. For example:
- Reach an average of 200 visitors per day by March 1st
- Ship 50 orders in 50 days
- Sell 10 or more bundles
- Grow Facebook fan count to 500 by Christmas
You should evaluate and set new goals regularly. They will keep you on track and guide your efforts, and give you something to focus on other than the monetary aspect. While making money is important, you don’t want to get so caught up in the desire for cash that you forget to provide quality customer service, or engage on social media to acquire new leads.
Think very hard about what you want to achieve, and the kind of impact you want to make, before starting your ecommerce store. Consider explaining your business plan to someone, and listen closely to their feedback. If the only thing you can come up with is “I want to sell neat products and make money,” you should definitely reconsider. But if you find yourself explaining your concept with passion, or start to feel like there’s a mission behind what you’re doing, you’re definitely on the right track.
Once you have your strategy defined and some beginning goals created, it’s time to start the process of creating your ecommerce store. There are a wide variety of services and companies you can utilize for this step, and in order to help you make the best decision possible, we’ll spend a little time discussing the benefits of each option.
Read on to learn all about ecommerce platforms, and how to pick the best solution for your new online store.