Simply put, an eCommerce store, or an electronic commerce store, is a business selling its products online. However, it isn’t as plain as the definition implies.
The business model, operations, and activities involved in running an e-commerce store are far more interesting and nuanced than what a simple explanation of the term would make you believe. And all of these technical details are what we’ll be exploring in-depth here.
Also, before we move forward, let’s clear up one general misconception. The term eCommerce does not only encompass online shopping, but also internet banking, payment gateways, and online auctions, etc.
Therefore, it is more appropriate to refer to the eCommerce store as an online store conducting business transactions.
That being said, eCommerce is not a novel idea at all. In fact, it has been around since as early as 1994 when Phil Brandenberger made the first-ever online transaction for $12.48.
The use of encryption technology to safely make a purchase over the internet opened doors for eCommerce. It wasn’t long before major eCommerce players such as Alibaba and Amazon gained popularity and started shaping the online retail industry in the mid-1990s.
From 2014 to 2020, the number of online shoppers increased from 1.32 billion to 2.05 billion.
With the boom in the eCommerce sector which, as per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, saw an increase of 80% in employment in the U.S. from 1997 to 2016, there is no better time to set foot into this ever-growing industry.
But before you are able to do that, you need to understand the different eCommerce business models and types of websites.
Types of eCommerce Business Models
The attractive aspect of eCommerce store business models is that they aren’t as restrictive or ‘black-and-white’ as the traditional business models. There are multiple options to choose from as per your preferences.
While there are several major and other minor models, the four most widely recognized business models in e-Commerce are B2B, B2C, C2B, and C2C.
The B2B model details the business transactions between two businesses.
For instance, Alibaba engages in B2B sales as its services are geared towards other businesses. There are sellers using its services to run their own businesses.
B2B models involve a manufacturer conducting business with a wholesaler, or a wholesaler conducting business with a retailer.
The B2C model refers to a commerce transaction between a business and an end consumer.
For example, Amazon is a B2C business along with being B2B. Its core eCommerce business is focused primarily on its consumers.
In eCommerce, B2C describes online transactions taking place between a retailer and its customers.
The C2B model explains commerce transactions between a consumer and a business.
This is a very profitable business model because it allows the consumers to benefit from the flexibility and reduced prices while businesses profit by the customized rates of the consumers.
Examples of C2B models can include bloggers or photographers selling their services or products (such as stock images) to businesses. Shutterstock, for instance, is a renowned provider of stock photography.
The C2C model is the latest eCommerce model and involves consumers selling to consumers.
An example of C2C sales can be a consumer buying an item online and then reselling it to another consumer.
Craigslist and eBay are examples of giant C2C business platforms. Consumers on these websites advertise their products which are bought by other consumers.
Types of eCommerce Stores
Although other types of websites catering to different niches exist, the following are the primary types of eCommerce websites currently.
Service-based eCommerce websites connect their users to potential clients or service providers. Websites such as Upwork or Fiverr offer platforms to their users to find work or services online.
Just like clients can now find skilled workers to complete their tasks with just a click, freelancers are able to work competitive jobs from homes, making such websites more popular.
Physical Goods Based
eCommerce websites catering to the sales of physical goods usually has brick and mortar stores for the storage of their inventory. They then host their websites online and conduct the transactions there.
Some examples include clothing lines, shoe manufacturers, and home decor businesses advertising and selling their products online.
This is a very intelligent idea for growing your business without expanding it physically.
While dropshipping businesses also essentially sell physical goods, they do so in a different manner than physical goods based websites since they do not hold any inventory in brick and mortar stores.
A dropshipping business would find a supplier whose goods it wants to sell, wait until a customer orders a product, and then ask the seller to fulfill that order.
Digital Products Based
Digital products based websites are for companies whose entire business is based on the internet. These companies sell products such as software, music, or video games which only require a download by the customer.
A recent boom in digital products based websites has seen small businesses such as graphic designers or illustrators creating and selling customized, digital wedding and party invitations.
Crowdfunding based websites aim to collect sufficient money from customers in advance in order to generate enough capital to bring the product to the market.
Starting an eCommerceStore
Now that you are aware of the different eCommerce models available and the type of eCommerce store you want, we can head on to the steps of starting an eCommerce website.
These steps will help you build, launch, and grow your online store from scratch.
1.Choose your product
The first step is to decide what product or service you want to sell.
While there are rigorous steps you can take to decide your niche and product, if you are willing to sell just about anything, you should either go for products you are passionate about or those which are trending.
Make sure you consult professionals or experts to evaluate how well your product is likely to sell. You can also use valuable checklists to evaluate the viability of your product idea.
Once you have decided your product, consider different options for obtaining it. Are you going to manufacture it from scratch, will some parts be manufactured and others obtained from retailers, or are you going to get finished products from other businesses?
2. Researching the market
As in any business, in eCommerce too, research of the market and competitors and an analysis of the demand for the product is essential. You can conduct a SWOT Analysis or competitive analysis to understand this qualitatively.
Once you are sure who and what you are up against, write a detailed business plan which will cover your ideas, thoughts, and strategies.
3. Set up your business
Decide an attention-grabbing and self-explanatory but professional name for your brand. Make sure that the name you choose for your business is available as a domain name for online hosting.
Create a suitable logo that is stylish and clearly conveys the concept of your business.
4. Build your business
The next step, which is extremely vital in eCommerce, is to understand Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
Understanding the main details of SEO will help you design and structure your website and content in a way that they can easily be found on major search engines. Remember that no matter how engaging your eCommerce site is, if it doesn’t show up high in the results of major search engines, chances are low that you will get regular, worthwhile traffic.
With the knowledge of SEO obtained, design a website that has high-converting product pages, and comes with very interesting product descriptions. Choose a highly professional yet customized-to-your-business color scheme and style.
Next up, decide what sales channel you want to get new customers from. There is no ‘best’ sales channel and which combination of sales channels will work for your business depends on your products and target audience.
Before the launch of your website, carefully evaluate and finalize your shipping strategies. Consider different suppliers, modes of shipping, and return or refund policies.
But how would you know how well your website is performing once you launch it?
For that, you need to define key performance indicators before launching your business. This way you will be able to track your performance against those established measures regularly.
Once the website is up and running, your main goal is to attract customers by designing the right eCommerce marketing plan.
You can try marketing through emails, social media, paid advertisements, or other promotional activities. You can, and actually should for best performance, combine multiple of these marketing strategies to reach your target most effectively.
Don’t forget to closely monitor the analytics and insights of your website to understand how well your business is performing.
These are the main, unavoidable steps required to brand and launch an eCommerce website, but definitely not all.
All successful eCommerce sites which have their own touch and identity integrate various unique ideas and go above and beyond to garner attention. Your business, similarly, will have to somewhat deviate from the fixed plan of building a business site and bring in novelty and creativity to stand out among your competitors.
Tips to Optimize your eCommerce store
Now you have a business selling products or services and a website designed to do just that.
Is that all? No – you’ve still got a long way before customers would start flocking towards your business.
So how do you attract customers and make your eCommerce business successful? Here are a few tips to optimize your store.
- Design a customer-oriented website
When designing an eCommerce website, make sure your focus is on the customer. This means setting a theme, tone, and display of products in a way that will not only tempt the customers but make them trust your business.
One very crucial tip to remember here is that the audience of your website shouldn’t be too broad. Understandably, businesses want to target as large a customer base as possible, but keeping your focus on one or two specific groups of the audience will allow you to develop a more loyal customer base.
- Test run your website multiple times
Before launching your website, make sure you get it tested a few times. This can even mean your friends simply navigating through different sections of the website to ensure that each part of it runs smoothly and offers a comfortable user experience.
In fact, this step should be repeated intermittently even when your site is up and running successfully.
- SEO and PPC are the keys
They say that to make money, you have to spend money. The saying couldn’t be truer because to ensure you are getting customers regularly, you should invest in SEO and PPC (pay-per-click) as they’ll drive traffic to your website.
Also, you do not need to spend a handsome amount of money just to get some customers. SEO and PPC optimization can be done on a small budget.
- Develop a mobile-friendly website
With how everyone has a smartphone in their pocket these days, businesses want to have mobile applications to further their business. Or at the very least, ensure that their websites are compatible with mobile devices.
With a mobile-friendly website, your business will have double the chances of exposure. And who wouldn’t want that?
- Ensure a smooth checkout process
You’d be surprised to know how many potential customers simply give up on buying a product because of how frustrating and long the process of checking out is.
To give your customers a seamless experience when checking out, eliminate the need for account creation, decrease the number of screens required for checkout, set the cheapest shipping option as default, save billing and shipping information, and provide multiple payment options.
Virtually anyone can start their eCommerce store but that’s exactly the difficult part. With so many online businesses, you really have to make your mark in order to get a steady flow of customers.
For a successful online business, you will need consistent hard work which will only be possible if you have chosen your niche, product, and business model carefully.