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Mastering E-commerce: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Profitable Online Ventures

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E-commerce is set to register a 385 % growth this year and the growth isn’t stopping any time soon if anything it is growing exponentially, with global e-commerce sales exceeding 4.2 trillion dollars in 2020, covid-19 made it so that people had no other choice but to shop online so the adherence to online shopping has increased by the billions. So how as a beginner do you take hold of such massive opportunities?

The internet has democratized business, anyone with an internet connection can now make something of themselves even acquire a fortune if you will. So if you are ready to make the jump, you will enjoy this breakdown. You will learn everything you need to start, launch a successful online brand and make money online. So let’s get started!

1. WHAT IS ECOMMERCE?

So let’s first begin by defining E-commerce, e-commerce also known as electronic commerce or internet commerce, refers to the buying and selling of goods or services using the internet, and the transfer of money and data to execute these transactions. (Source:Shopify.com)

It encompasses transactional operations that are made to meet customers’ needs by developing a suitable offer through product design, marketing, online payment, shipping services, and an elaborated customer support system. The e-commerce transactions are made electronically via an online store and/or social store (e.g. Facebook, Instagram) and/or a virtual marketplace (e.g. Amazon, Etsy, eBay, etc).

2. TRENDS AND ONLINE USER BEHAVIOUR

When it comes to building and scaling a profitable e-commerce business, it is crucial to understand the trends and online consumer behaviors to plan ahead and design a business strategy that is based on facts and statistics that help your business be more competitive. You cannot go on a hunch, you have to analyze each metrics vis-a-vis your business goals and clear success metrics.

So here are some of the important trends and statistics that you should before you start your e-commerce business:

  • The e-commerce conversion rate remains low at 2.72 % (Statista.com) due to fierce online competition.
  • While choosing what product or service to sell you should consider how saturated the market is and if there is space for further expansion. Statistics show that some categories of tech products, fashion, beauty & self-care goods, second-hand items, and books are top categories selling online. Another prominent trend in this area is the rising of subscription box e-commerce.
  • 65% of retail transactions (Statista.com) are now made through mobile devices so it is very important that your online store is mobile responsive and the checkout process is seamless. This trend can’t be ignored that’s why almost all e-commerce businesses should develop mobile-friendly sites or mobile apps to satisfy potential customers.
  • It is very crucial to have a strong customer support system in place and to ensure that there is a person in charge of answering customers’ queries within a swift timeframe, People choose online shopping for its flexibility 24/7 customer service, 80% of people (Hubspot.com) quit a business due to poor customer service.
  • Value proposition and brand storytelling are also inspirational and people buy more into experiences and stories than products. This is very appealing to millennials.
  • Having a seamless checkout process and secure electronic mode of payment increases trust and conversion by stipulating all the costs before checkout and having multiple payment options.
  • 53% of cart abandonment (Baymard Institute) are due to extra costs, stipulating all the costs before check out, preferably in the product description copy/page. The other reason is faulty discount codes and the third is delays in shipping.
  • Make the return process as simple as possible to avoid disputes and damages to your business reputation. 92% of shoppers would rebuy from an online store if the return process is simple, 79% of online shoppers expect free return shipping.
  • Building social proof through customer reviews which will increase your credibility and will convert newcomers into loyal customers
  • Print on demand and Dropshipping are becoming the model of choice for many e-commerce startups due to low start-up costs.
  • An overwhelming majority of 86% of women turn to social networks before making a purchase. (Alist Daily, 2016)
  • Lead conversion rates from social media are 13% higher than the average lead conversion rate across all channels. (Hubspot, 2016)
  • New generations of young consumers are entering the market, their shopping requirements, fears, and desires are significantly different from those that older shoppers have. They are more familiar with tech innovations and have more trust in online shopping. But they are less patient and have higher expectations regarding the service quality and they are activist’s consumers which means that they expect brands to be ethical and sustainable.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) helps to complete tasks by computer instead of human involvement. It can not only improve customer service but even forecast future customers’ needs. AI tools include personalization, machine learning, and data mining. And such a tool like a chatbot has already become an essential feature of the majority of online stores.
  • To grow your e-commerce business as an online merchant, you need to make yourself available across all of the channels that your shoppers use. The importance of selling through different channels like social media and marketplaces (multi-channel e-commerce) is growing.

3. HOW TO MAKE MONEY ONLINE

Your business model choice will depend on the type of product that you want to sell. There are various ways of selling on the internet, which is highly due to the demand and the kind of trust and relationship that individuals and businesses establish with their online audience. Here are some of the most commonly used ways of making money online:

  • Manufacturing: this model is great for people who want to establish their brands, however depending on your order quantity you might want to make sure that you have validated your product and you are convinced that I will sell since manufacturing your product will require a lot of financial investment upfront. Given the current climate of activist consumers, you have to make sure that your manufacturer is sustainable and ethical to avoid future backlash and loss of your reputation. You can choose either to private label and white label. 

Private labeling is when your product is created by a manufacturer but is sold under your brand’s name. You get to control the look and feel of your product catalog, it is ideal if you don’t have the capital to build a product from scratch but still want a unique feel for your products.

White labeling is when a product is created by one manufacturer and sold to various retailers under their brand names. They are generic products that you can sell to wider customer segments. This business model is the most profitable long-term since the cost of production is low and you have great quality and price control over your products/services. The main drawback might be the product lead time and overall supply chain especially if you are importing your products from abroad. 

While choosing a manufacturer please ensure that they have the proper certifications (e.g. such as SA8000, which ensures humane working conditions, Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP Certification and ISO certification to ensure compliance).

Alibaba connects you with manufacturers from China, you can vet manufacturers upfront to get the best products at a fair price.

For USA manufacturers, following directories:

  • Maker’s Row
  • MFG
  • National Association of Manufacturers member list

A thorough Google search will always help you find manufacturers in your respective countries if you don’t want to outsource production to China or the USA.

  • Makers/designers: making your products is a good way to establish yourself and showcase your craftmanship and be recognized for your artistry. Whether it is jewelry, fashion, beauty products, shoes. Creating your products allows you to position yourself as a designer in your industry and control your brand image.

They are a lot of costs attached to this business model: the cost of raw materials, the storage of inventory, labor, your store, and marketing. This business model requires a lot of capital upfront but allows you to control the quality of your production, however you can always start small and scale as needed. Etsy and are great places to start and check the market.

  • Wholesale: you purchase in bulk already made products. It is a very simple and simple option if you want to sell already established products. You get to request a wide array of products that have a proven record of sales. The main inconvenience here is like the manufacturing model is that you are at the mercy of the manufacturers and you need a sizable inventory to get started. The profit margin is quite good and you can use market rates to set your prices but you will have to infer your point of differentiation to stand out from the competition.
  • Dropshipping: this is a popular business model, you essentially don’t hold any stock, your manufacturer makes the products and ships them to your customers and you pay them once you received payment. This is very attractive to people who don’t want to invest a lot of money and outsource most of your business tasks. It is very convenient and easy to manage, however, the profit margins are low, the competition is fierce and you are essentially relying on another company to deliver your products. I would personally advise you to choose this business model if you want to build a sustainable and scalable brand. But it is worth mentioning and checking out if you want to learn your industry at an entry-level. Check these directories:
  • Oberlo
  • AliExpress
  • Indiamart
  • SaleHoo
  • Sourcify

 

  • Print on demand: similar to dropshipping, with this model, you sell already made products with a clear distinction that they feature your designs. A contracted companythen applies your designs to their merchandise.

It is great for creatives who want to sell their merchandise such as t-shirts, notebooks/books, bags, etc without the hefty investments that you would normally incur if you have these items manufactured or sourced. It is automated through their website and the product is made pretty quickly. However, your profits margins are pretty slim depending on your overall marketing strategy. The following print-on-demand sites are free to start with and require you to pay only for the cost of the product and shipping after someone has placed an order:

  • Printful
  • Printify
  • Teelaunch
  • Lulu Xpress
  • Customcat 

 

  • Digital products: these are usually downloadable products offered by individuals or companies that are used on a computer or mobile devices such as ebooks, templates, courses, apps, software, and so on. It is a digital asset or media that can be sold online in a form of a downloadable ebook, audio file, video file, courses, templates, applications (software, plug-ins), etc.

It is created once with the option of customization but no inventory stocking. The cost of production highly depends on the nature of your product. For example, creating a course would require more resources than let’s say an ebook. The great thing about selling a digital product is that once it is created there is little else to do except sell it online, it registers the highest profits when sold strategically but with the higher risk of being plagiarized and being met with fierce competition. 

Here are some platforms you can use to sell your digital products:

  • Coaching- Kajabi, Kartra, Podia, Samcart, Clickfunnel
  • Selling courses- Teachable, Thinkific, Samcart, Memberspace
  • Selling downloadables- Shopify, Squarespace, Payhip, Gumroad, Etsy, etc

 

  • Subscription: in this instance, people sign-up for products or services that they automatically pay for regularly usually on a monthly or a yearly basis until the offer expires or they decide to cancel. This model requires you to build trust and a strong relationship with your customers.

You have to position yourself as an expert and provide them with value. This is a great way to make passive income and it spreads across various industries: coaching, streaming services, memberships, and so on.The subscription e-commerce market is projected to reach $473 billion by 2025. 

Here are some platforms you can use to sell your membership services: Kajabi, Kartra, Podia, Samcart, Clickfunnel.

  • Selling services: With services, you essentially use your skills to make money through 1-1 consultations, coaching, consulting, and the like. You can package it or customize it based on your customer’s needs.

This is ideal for designers, coaches, or any online entrepreneurs who want to turn their talents/skills into profits. You need to find a profitable niche and build an online presence and authority for people to find and hire you. Great places to start would be social media platforms such as Youtube, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

You have to make it easy for clients to contact you by setting up automation systems or hiring a virtual assistant to vet your prospects and turn them into leads.

Website builders include: Showit, Webflow, Squarespace, WordPress,  and wix.

4. WHERE TO SELL YOUR OFFER

Depending on your business needs you might decide to either build your online store or list on a virtual marketplace or list on a social store or all of the above.

  1. Setting up your own online store: if you decide on to own online store route you will have to decide if you are going to choose either a:
  • SAAS: stand for Software as a Service, in the like of Shopify, Wix, Squarespace. These are easy to design and can have you running in less than a day granted that you have all the content for your store (pictures, copy, and so on). I would highly recommend this option for a beginner on a budget, there are plenty of tutorials on these SAAS online.
  • CMS: Content Management systems such as WordPress, Magneto, offer you a lot of customization, you will have to buy a domain name, choose a hosting company, and a lot of applications to integrate into your store. If you require a more refined and customized look then hire a website designer to help you with this.

2. Selling on virtual marketplaces: the great thing about selling on marketplaces such as Amazon, Etsy, eBay, and the like is that you can capitalize on their existing customer base if you use the right keywords and learn the market to be competitive.

3. Selling on social stores: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest also offer you the option to sell your products on their platforms. You can start by building an audience and gaining their trust over time.

Now over to you, what are your plans for your ecommerce business? Let me know in the comment section below…

Creatively Yours!

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