How to Start an E-commerce Business

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At one time, if you wanted to open a retail store, you had to invest significant money into a building lease, products, shelving and checkout counters. But the internet has made it easy to open a shop without all that overhead, although you will need to put money into e-commerce site hosting fees and product manufacturing. Before your shop can open for business, you’ll also need a plan to store and distribute your products, as well as invest in marketing to make sure customers know you’re out there.

What is an E-commerce Business?

E-commerce simply refers to the act of selling items through a website. Amazon is an e-commerce business, as are Zappos and Wayfair. But physical stores like Walmart and Macy’s can also have e-commerce sites, giving customers additional ways to buy the items they sell. You’ll often see offline stores referred to as “brick-and-mortar businesses,” which sets them apart from Internet-based businesses. Amazon is one of only a few companies that started out online and later opened physical stores. You can open an e-commerce store without a physical location, but many experts advise brick-and-mortar store owners to at least have an informational website for their businesses.

How to Start Your E-commerce Business

Before you can go into business, you’ll need to first identify what you plan to sell and how you will get the products manufactured. If you’re making your own crafts to sell, a shop on a site like Etsy or eBay may suffice. However, if you’re planning to either resale existing products or have items specially manufactured, you’ll need a plan to order and stock that inventory. Once you have your items, you can begin the process of building a store. Amazon lets members set up a seller’s account and even use its own Fulfillment by Amazon service to get items to buyers. If you’d prefer a dedicated site, a website builder can save you money on hiring a developer. For a dedicated website, consider a DIY builder like Shopify, Squarespace or the WooCommerce WordPress plugin.

How to Promote Your E-commerce Business

Don’t assume that if you build it, customers will come. You’ll need to work to get the word out about your new store. Start with social media, but this will likely only reach your existing followers. To expand beyond your core audience, you’ll probably need to invest in marketing efforts like pay-per-click advertising and networking. Look for industry conferences and local events to help you make connections that will get the word out about the work you’re doing. Attending these events also gives you photo-ready social media promotion opportunities.

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About the Author

Stephanie Faris is a novelist and business writer whose work has appeared on numerous small business blogs, including Zappos, GoDaddy, 99Designs, and the Intuit Small Business Blog. She worked for the State of Tennessee for 19 years, the latter six of which were spent as a supervisor. She has written about business for entrepreneurs and marketing firms since 2011.