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Five Tips on How to Launch Your eCommerce Brand

One of the most impactful lessons we learned from 2020 was that so many of our everyday activities can now be done online, from shopping to going to college to sitting in on meetings, more easily than a lot of us even realized (and in pajama bottoms, no less).

Take online shopping (or ecommerce — the electronic buying and selling of goods): In 2019, online shoppers spent $598 billion with US merchants. The following year, with all of us stuck at home, that number zoomed up to $861 billion. Analysts estimate that the number of digital buyers worldwide will reach 2.1 billion by 2021, up from 1.66 billion in 2016.

As you can probably imagine, corporate behemoths dominate this space. (According to some estimates, Amazon accounts for 44% of all ecommerce sales.) To survive in today’s market, small and medium-sized entrepreneurs need to siphon off some of the proceeds their larger competitors are raking in, shaping their digital marketing strategy to offer online shopping and mobile payment options to customers. So if you’re not already in this game, here are five tips on how to launch your own ecommerce brand.

Figure Out Who You’re Selling To

“Who is my target audience online?” That’s the first question you need to ask in creating an ecommerce presence. Theoretically, your product options are endless. You could be trafficking in candles, rain barrels, hazmat suits, second-hand Aston Martins, bulk lumber — and you might have a supply of these items already stored away in your family warehouse. But your business nonetheless starts with figuring out who wants all that stuff. So identify your user personas and hone in on what they’re looking for within your service or product category.

Once you’ve sketched out the demographics of your audience and the demand for what you’re selling, decide on a revenue model that you can control. Do you have local or global reach? Are you selling a service or a product? Are you piggybacking off other platforms’ services and products? Answering these questions should nudge you into running a hard-nosed calculus of how much all this will cost. Project your revenue against your expenses so that you can clarify your profit margins and anticipate your breakeven point with some accuracy. Because the last thing you want when starting a business is to be served with a tab of pricey surprises.

Write a Business Plan

You’ve figured out who you’re selling to. You may have even sourced a supplier. Now you need to engage in competitive analysis. A word to the wise: You do want some competition. A market space with no competition can indicate there’s no market. At the same time, be wary of jamming your way into a crowded sector, or buying a slew of products in an attempt to topple the Amazons of the world. Especially if you’re starting out, you probably don’t want to position yourself as everything to everybody.

Instead, focus on a niche that you’re passionate about and that performs well on social media. Let’s say you want to sell plants online. Research other plant nurseries. Look at their prices. Audit their websites. Take note of their shipping timelines. Get a sense of how their marketing strategy works. All of those insights will help you address one of the capstone questions every business must answer: What do you offer that separates you from your competitors?

Exert pressure on your answer until you make it as granular as possible. Then write up a business plan that consolidates your ideas and clarifies how you’ll reach new customers. And while you’re at it, make allies among your competition. Working with other business owners in your space to cross-promote products, or becoming an affiliate of a larger company, can help bring in much-needed dollars as you grow.

Choose a Name

Next, choose a name for your business, one that’s preferably pithy, leaps melodiously off the tongue, and that no one has already claimed as a domain name. A year ago, there were (oh, give or take) 366.8 million domain names registered online, so be sure your business name transfers to a domain name that no one else has called dibs on. If you’re “Plants-a-Million,” you do not want to settle for a URL of Plantz-a-Million, because a disconnect of even a single character may send your prospective customers spiraling into tizzies of frustration.

With that said, if Plants-a-Million.com is taken, you can always use plenty of other extensions — .net, .biz, .me, .co — because people rarely type in full web addresses anymore. They click on an ad or a link, or they dive through a warren of Google’s rabbit-holes, and somehow emerge having ordered half a million bromeliads off your ecommerce site.

Brand Your Brand

After you claim a domain name, hire a brand agency to build a website for you, create a logo and a consistent design, and develop a digital marketing strategy that will drive traffic to your site. Don’t settle for anything less than blogs integrated with keyphrases, metadata built into the backend of the CMS, omnichannel research that identifies where your customers shop and marketing funnels that lure them away from the competition and into your online store. (And give us a shout if you want it done right.)

Prepare for Launch

By this juncture, you’re prepared for perhaps the most vital step of all: Opening up your online store. Especially for entrepreneurs launching their first ecommerce brand, we recommend selling through bona fide ecommerce platforms like Woocommerce, Magento, or Shopify — one-stop-shop interfaces that come with software such as a storefront, a payment processor, a shipping partner, a back office, and a marketing HQ. Those platforms are just three of hundreds of options out there, so research the distinguishing features of a number of them to make sure the platform you’re signing up for is compatible with your business needs.

Throwing open the doors to your online storefront can be exciting — and it’s most likely going to continue to become the preferred bazaar of the future. Budget at least 18–24 months to launch an ecommerce brand and get it into the black, because the adage about spending money to make money applies here. If you come up with a plan and execute it with patience, though, you’re well on your way to branding your baby and converting browsers into buyers.

Let the ecommerce commence.

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