eCommerce Quick Guide

Here we’re going to discuss how to get an eCommerce business up and running for less than $1000, in under a month, not including the cost of the product to be resold. This is an in-depth process that varies drastically depending on what you want to sell, your business model, your target audience and your location. However, there are universal considerations that will allow you to focus your time and energy while moving your idea forward.

eCommerce branding, product development, website creation and SEO/SEM marketing are paid services available through Fulfillment Support Services. For a fairly priced package tailored to your specific business needs, please use our contact form to connect.

Open a Business

First thing to do is consider a potential business name, then select a related website URL. The name should accurately describe the product you sell, the service you provide or the type of customer you want to connect to. There are businesses that purchase URLs and hope to resell them later for around $5000 USD, so be sure to search your desired URL as soon as possible. If it is not already taken, when you search for it in a web browser, you will get an error message stating ‘website not found’.

Try to keep the URL short. It can be an abbreviation of your business name or part of the name, but it should make sense. Seemingly random letters or numbers can be confusing and lose traffic. Beware URLs ending in .biz or .shop, as customers may feel they’re less safe to buy from. If you get stuck, use an online thesaurus to find words that mean the same thing you are trying to say in your URL. 

With your URL selected, refine your business name. Make sure both the name and URL make sense together and appear connected. Search your state’s trade name database to make sure it isn’t already taken. Search the name using quotation marks (“name”) and see if another business isn’t already using it. If a business is using it, it may still be okay to use it as long as you are in a separate industry, and using the name will not impact their search results or overall profit margin. Search federal trademarks to make sure it isn’t claimed.

If none of those searches yield results, you can take the next steps. DO NOT use a name that is taken, already associated with another brand, or otherwise not entirely available. Consult an attorney if you aren’t 100% sure or 100% able to verify the name is not in use. A mistake at this point can cost you the name, business and brand down the road, use caution.

Now, you will need to acquire an Employee Identification Number from the federal government. This is the social security number of your business and it will be tied to your social security number. You will need to decide what structure is best for your business. For basic eCommerce, an LLC may be a good fit but it is entirely up to the business owner and how they want to handle their internal governance. To get an EIN, click here.

Next, visit your State’s Department of Revenue and Secretary of State. You will need to register with a State to do business there, and you may need to pay city specific taxes as well. You will need to link your business to a physical address and that address will be published publicly. Depending on what you want to sell, you may need an endorsement, which is essentially a license to sell a product. Be sure to save all your login information in a safe place - government websites are not always optimized and you do not want to get locked out of your accounts.

Market Research

Take a moment to think about your target audience. You’re trying to define them so you know where to go to find them. Ask yourself, what do they like? What are their hobbies? How do they spend their time? Who do they spend their time with? What other brands do they like? How would they find your brand? Are they luxury buyers? Environmentally minded buyers? Economically minded buyers? What places, people and activities would they avoid? Take time to think this through, as it will make your advertising dollars more impactful.

With the above information, develop your set of keywords. Keywords are words and phrases that people type into the search bar to find products and brands like yours. You can visit the ‘google trends’ website to compare keywords, find related keywords you may not have thought of, and find more effective versions of your keywords. You will add keywords to your website, your product descriptions and your marketing efforts to ensure your brand is visible to those who want to find it. 

Now, reflect on your competition. You did some of this research when you were looking up your potential business name and URL, and here we’re going to expand that effort. Type in your keywords and see what other brands come up. Explore their websites with an eye on structure, content and design elements. What do they offer their customers? Are they formal, informal or presenting another specific aesthetic? What products are they selling and for how much? Where are they physically and online? Think about if you will be directly competing with them or if you will be offering slightly different services or goods. Think about their price points - can you compete with their margins? You’re not trying to copy parts of their process or their model entirely, you’re looking to see how they fit into the market and the space that's remaining that you can fill up.

Create a Brand

This is a pain point in the business model creation process and can drastically range in cost. For the purposes of this quick guide, we’re going to bootstrap this segment. 

With your market research in mind, you want to choose a logo that accurately reflects the product you sell, the service you provide or the type of customer you want to connect to. Visit a vector art webstore and enter some of your keywords. Spend time on this task and attempt to cultivate one or two options, maybe even a series that go together. If an image stands out to you, you can purchase the rights to use it as a logo for about $40 USD. Remember, you can always upgrade and change the logo later, once you’ve had time to refine your brand. At these early stages, simple is better.

Next, go out into the world and explore with your phone camera. Your goal is to take as many pictures as you can to add to your b-roll. This b-roll will be used to populate your website, social media posts and marketing materials. Be sure to avoid capturing other logos, storefronts or other copyrighted images and people. 
You’re also going to want to write a tagline for your brand and business. This should be a single sentence that captures what you offer your customers. Consider revisiting the thesaurus to get the exact right wording.

Select and Buy Your Product

With that creative work done, it's time to move into the logistics of your supply chain. Think about where you want to source your product from. Avoid attempting to resell products being sold on amazon already. Your margins will be razor thin and you will be selling an already saturated product. Instead google your product name plus the word wholesale. There are a lot of manufacturers that do not sell on amazon as they can’t make the rate of return necessary to be sustainable. 

Consider focusing on what you know. The more prior knowledge you have about an item, the easier it will be to sell. Think about trends in purchase behavior or internet memes or popular content. Explore hobbyist forums to see what they like to buy and how they like to buy it. Be sure to read reviews on potential products to ensure you’re aware of the quality.

You want to have a backstock of your items to handle changes in purchase behavior, but not so much that if you find a product isn’t selling you’re not stuck with bulk quantities. Explore different vendors and make a wish list. Sit on the wish list for a few days, adding and removing items as you think through their relevance.

Select a Primary Online Sales Platform

While you think about your products, you can get your website up and running. There are a vast number of online webstore hosting platforms, including SquareSpace, GoDaddy and Shopify. For those who are less versed in coding and looking to start up for a low cost, we recommend Shopify. There are numerous premade templates you can easily adjust to match your brand, the user interface is manageable and the customer service support is genuinely helpful. You can get your URL added for about $20 USD, a template for around $250 USD (less if you visit themeforest by clicking here) and annual web hosting for $350 USD.

You will register your URL through this service, so even if you’re not ready to build your website this second, be sure to create an account and buy your domain while it is still available. Also, be sure to set up your payments for ‘auto renew’, as there are people who set algorithms to buy expiring domains in the hopes of ransoming them back to the original owners. 

Your orders will be processed through this platform unless you set up another way to process payments. Shopify’s payment processing fees are almost exactly the same as those of a bank, and they offer encryption services that protect your customers' bank details. 

Once you’re ready to work on populating your web store with your products, you’ll start by taking product photos. A white backdrop and a circular selfie light is absolutely worth the cost, as it will help you create photos that are professional and crisp. You should have multiple photos, including a full image that can zoom, images from multiple angles, and an action shot. You’ll also need the weight of the item to calculate shipping, filter names to help people find what they're looking for, and descriptions. Consider adding non product pages to drive traffic, landing pages for advertisements, and a compelling homepage that features your best selling items.

Be sure to visit google, youtube and shopify’s help center often to find ways to execute your vision. It may take some time to complete this part of the website, and web developers get paid well for a reason. Be patient with yourself and take breaks if you get stuck. 

Keep in mind that your email list will drive a significant portion of your future sales. Do not skip out on creating a place where people can leave their email to hear from you in the future.

Select Secondary Sales Platforms

You can sell on other websites, including Walmart and Amazon. This process can be complex, and you want to make sure you can meet demand, make enough margin and are competitive in these highly competitive markets. Be sure that the person you buy from allows you to sell their product on third party sites, as some don’t and will cancel their contracts with you should you attempt to sell this way.

You may also want to become a vendor to a local storefront, sponsor events, host booths at festivals or otherwise engage your community. To make the most of these options, consider creating a landing page on your website and developing a postcard that you can hand out to drive traffic.

Develop an Online Marketing Strategy

Now, consider your search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM). To get started, you’ll want to create a couple google accounts, specifically a google analytics account, a google search console account and a google adwords account. They’re free to make and have paid services. Analytics will allow you to add tracking code to your website to allow you to see how much of your traffic is coming from where. Search console will allow you to claim your website and better establish how you show up in search results. Adwords will allow you to pay to be shown to people using certain keywords. 

Next create your social media accounts. While you may be tempted to make as many as possible, keep in mind that social media manager is a full time job. Pick one or two platforms, preferably platforms you already use and are skilled with, and build your brand there. Facebook, instagram, twitter and many other platforms have scheduling tools you can use to schedule out your future posts. Be sure to use these features to your advantage so you can condense your publishing time and spend casual check-ins engaging in the comments and moderating.

Advertising is incredibly specific to your branding focus, product design and industry etiquette. When getting started, revisit your market research and consider what your competitors are doing and if it is working for them. We recommend google adwords for SEM (this has a 7X return on investment over facebook ads, and even more over twitter ads), and don’t discount the power of local television or radio ads, sponsorships, festival booths, trade shows, giveaways, or raffles.
Remember, your keywords should be used throughout your website, in your product descriptions, in your ad copy and on your social media. This will allow you to remain consistently branded across different platforms.

Additionally, be advised that the key to a happy customer is reasonable expectations about a service or product. When promoting your business, your products or your ability to meet demand - do not overpromise! Customers will feel slighted and will advise others against working with you if you fail to accomplish what you’ve agreed to.

Establish a Carrier Relationship

We’ll now consider how you’ll move your products from your workspace to your customer. Typically smaller eCommerce storefronts will use United States Postal Service (USPS) United Parcel Service(UPS) or Federal Express(FedEx). They handle smaller volumes, offer pickup options, provide drop off locations, and are reasonably priced. The more packages you move through a carrier, the better your rates will be.

Take a moment to call the service provider and ensure that they can deliver to all the regions you need them to, can move your specific products safely and without damage, and offer reasonable timeframes. It can be worth the time and energy to find a shipping broker who can help you with your business needs and who has established relationships with carriers already.

Find Shipping Software and Hardware

There are a multitude of shipping software services and hardware options out there. Their primary function is to take the order information and create a packing slip and label, as well as pay a carrier the cost of shipping. Most charge a fee for this service. Shippo, Endicia, Shipstation and Dymo are examples. 

PirateShip is free, asking you to create an account and add a payment option that pulls money from your account to pay for each package’s shipping fee. It will allow you to print thermal labels or paper labels. The only drawback is that it can only offer shipping services through USPS.

You can log in to a carrier’s website (UPS, FedEx) and input your delivery information, package size and weight, and special service requests directly. You then pay by card, and a PDF is given to you to print, either by thermal label or by printer. You affix the label and then drop the item off for delivery at the nearest drop off location.

PirateShip doesn't charge fees and works with USPS. Through an account and payment method, you pay for each package’s shipping fee. You get a PDF to print via thermal labels or paper labels.

Rollo is around $350 USD for thermal label printing hardware. While you may be tempted to print from a printer you already have, it is guaranteed that the cost of ink and paper will quickly outpace the cost of a thermal printer. A thermal printer is absolutely worth the cost in savings alone.

Incidental items you may also need include a tape measure, a scale, packing tape, and handling indication stickers. The accuracy of your weight and size calculations are critical, as the package will be weighed and measured by the carrier and they will charge significant fees for packages claiming to be lighter or smaller than they really are.

As you grow and increase revenue, paid options will become more cost effective. Be sure to pay attention to your shipping costs and consider your options when it is time to grow.

Define Your Unboxing Experience

This is a step that is often overlooked, as once the purchase is made and the money secured, the transaction feels over. Keep in mind, returning customers are easier to retain than a new customer is to find, and repeat orders will make up a significant percentage of your business. 

In order to encourage repetitive purchases, especially if you’re considering a subscription model, you’ll want to package your product in a way that is enjoyable to open. Imagine your packaging as default gift wrapping, where the customer is buying a gift for themselves. If they know they’ll have a positive experience opening your packaging, they are more likely to buy your items for themselves or their loved ones in the future.

Return to your market research and think about your customer preferences again. Are they environmentally minded? Luxury focused? Worried about wasteful spending? Is there a simple way to incorporate stickers, tissue paper, crinkle paper, small value add items, or other retail packaging to make the experience of unboxing more fun at a minimal cost? Get creative here. Your goal is to avoid empty box space and sanitized plastic wrapping while incorporating more of your brand and business personality.

Source Your Packaging

When your product is in transit, it will be pushed, shoved, kicked, and sometimes even stepped on. Your packaging must work to protect your product at all costs. It is the barrier between your business and negative reviews, carrier claims and the headache and losses associated with returned orders.
Be sure to seek out outer boxes that are as close to the size of your product as possible, and find void fill that works to prevent internal movement. Be sure to consider the added weight of your packaging, as you will be paying for its cost in transit. 

If your product is particularly breakable or made of glass, consider customized void fill or recycled paper material shaped to fit your item. Though there is a start up cost to this, it is worth the price in returns alone. Safe packaging will be a primary cost of doing business.

We’re going to send you to to explore a vast catalog of options to get you on the right track.

Set Up Your Workstation

You’re ready to start picking and packing, and so next up is defining your workspace and workflow. This space should be central to where your product is, have access to a three-prong power outlet, and have access to the internet. You’ll want your boxes, void fill and packing supplies close to hand. 

The principle of ergodynamics should be at the front of your mind here. Minimizing the need to bend, reach, pivot, turn, walk great distances or otherwise strain your body is critical to preventing injury and reducing the physical toll of order fulfillment. Get a table that is a good match for your height with at least a 5ft X 4ft work surface. Get a fatigue mat to stand on, get a small heater and a small fan, and be sure to take rest breaks often. Stay hydrated.

Keep your workspace clear and clean. Get a large size garbage can, as the packing process can generate significant amounts of waste. Be sure not to place debris or other items near your feet to prevent trips and falls. Tape down all loose cords and rugs, and be sure that there is adequate lighting to reduce eye strain. 

Get Your Packages On Their Way

You can drive your packages to a carrier drop off location or schedule a pickup depending on your location and volume of orders. The industry standard is to get your packages out the same day as they’re placed, which isn’t always possible for small businesses. Be sure to set reasonable expectations with your customers about how long it takes to put an order together and get it shipped. 

Your customer will expect to be given a tracking number, which every carrier should provide you. 

Fulfillment Support Services is here to help you with every step of this process. If you get stuck or need a little assistance, please don’t hesitate to reach out by clicking here!