The complete blueprint to starting an online retail business in 8 easy steps

With global ecommerce sales exceeding $3 trillion in 2019, including some $106 billion in the UK alone, the online retail industry is booming.

Furthermore, with growth expected to continue to explode over the next 5 years, particularly in the mobile commerce field, there’s no better time to take the leap and start an online retail business.

Accounting for around 19.2% of all UK retail sales in October 2019, ecommerce and online shopping is becoming an increasingly popular alternative to high street or town centre shopping. Simple online store builders, as well as the influx of software solutions for automating everything from order fulfillment to bookkeeping means that starting an online retail business is no longer an unreachable dream for the average person.

However, building a profitable and successful online retail business is still no easy task. It requires a significant amount of time, work and effort, as well as an investment of cash, commitment and hard work. While success is never guaranteed, finding a starting point is the first step. Thankfully, this comprehensive blueprint will point you in the right direction by outlining the simple process of launching an online retail or ecommerce business today.

1) Create a Business Plan

Whether you want to start a retail business or open a barber shop, the first and most important step is to create a business plan. An often overlooked step, creating a business plan will give you a greater chance of success as you’ll be able to write down and calculate the exact steps you need to take to achieve success with your retail store.

Your business plan should include details of your market size, competition and marketing budget, as well as a clear action plan for penetrating the market and establishing yourself as a trusted and reputable brand. It should also include information on what you plan on selling and where, for example selling pet supplies on eBay or kids clothing on Amazon.

2) Find a Trade Supplier

Once you’ve created a business plan, it’s time to start putting that plan into action by finding a supplier to source your inventory from. The type of supplier you seek will depend on your business model, future plans and selling platform, as well as whether or not you want to be a general retailer, specialist retailer or own brand retailer.

For example, if you plan to sell a mixed variety of products across multiple channels, finding a general wholesaler would be the best option. Alternatively, if you want to establish yourself as a specificalist retailer or seller of your own brand name products, partnering with a manufacturer is the better solution.

On the other hand, if you have limited cash flow and prefer not to risk vital capital by purchasing inventory upfront, harnessing the dropshipping model could be the route to take. Doing so will allow you to source directly from a dropshipping supplier, without holding any physical inventory or personally shipping out products.

From using a wholesale directory to sourcing from China manufacturers through B2B marketplaces, there are several ways to find a supplier that suits your needs. One of the most basic but still very effective techniques is to use Google, searching for specific keywords such as ‘hair accessories wholesalers’ or ‘womens jewelry manufacturers’ etc.

3) Establish a Brand Name

Now that you have a business plan and a supplier to source the goods from, it’s time to come up with a brand name for your retail business. Never underestimate the power of a catchy, relevant and well-thought-out brand name. A few tips to consider when coming up with a brand name include:

  • Make sure the domain name (website address) is available to register
  • Do a trademark or Google search to determine whether or not the name is already taken
  • Refrain from copying other similar retailers to avoid future conflicts of interest
  • Try to keep it short, catchy and relevant to the type of products you’ll be selling

4) Register a Domain

You have a catchy and unique brand name, it’s time to register the domain. Essentially the web address of where your customers will find your store, a domain name is required for setting up your own ecommerce website. Whether you plan to sell through your own store initially or not, capturing the domain name at an early stage is highly recommended.

If you’re too late in registering the domain before someone else does, it will be extremely difficult to retrieve it at a later date without either paying a huge price to purchase it from the current owner or through lengthy legal battles. To avoid such scenarios, it’s always best to purchase the domain for the generally low ($10 or less) price now.

5) Build a Website

If you’re planning to sell exclusively through eBay, Amazon or another 3rd party marketplace such as Etsy, then you may skip this step. However, whether it’s now or at a later date, building your own ecommerce website is highly recommended as it’s the single best way to establish a real brand which you fully control, own and can solely rely on.

While selling on a marketplace like eBay is a great way to generate quick sales, it’s important to understand that eBay has full control over your business and is subject to change its policies at any given time. Building your own website, while also selling on eBay or Amazon means you won’t be solely reliant on one particular platform. Therefore, you won’t be adversely affected or put out of business if the one particular platform makes sudden changes.

Thanks to simple online store builders such as Shopify, WooCommerce and BigCommerce, creating an online store is very straight-forward and extremely low-cost these days. If you have some basic PC know-how and some spare time on your hands, it won’t take long to build a professional, attractive and efficient online retail store.

6) Write Essential Policies

Creating a postage, returns and refund policy, as well as a cookies and privacy policy if selling through your own website is essential. Transparency with your potential customers is the key to building trust and maximising sales. Make sure you include as many relevant details as possible such as how long delivery takes, which couriers you use and how long the customer has to return the item, as well as information on who pays the return postage costs and how long it takes for returns to be issued. These essential details could be the deciding factor for many of your customers.

7) Create Product Listings

Now that you have a business plan, a brand name and a reputable supplier to purchase stock from, it’s time to start creating listings on your selling channel of choice. One of the most effective ways to stand out from the crowd on any selling platform is by creating eye-catching titles and clear, well-structured product descriptions. It’s also important to use clear and precise product photos, while outlining your unique selling points such as your quick delivery or extended returns policy. Really take the time to put together great descriptions which compliment your products and highlight any key features or differentiating factors.

When selling on a platform like eBay, you may want to consider using a marketplace listing software which will allow you to streamline the process of creating new listings, as well as automatically sync listings, including price and description changes, across multiple selling channels. While not mandatory, using or creating a professional eBay listing template is also recommended, as it will allow for better branding and flexibility.

8) Start Marketing & Advertising

Leads, profits and sales are the lifeblood of any business. Regardless of whether you’re selling on eBay or your own website, marketing and advertising your products is a must. From Facebook Ads to Google Ads, eBay promoted listings and Amazon pay-per-click, you should invest in paid advertising methods which are most suited to your type of business.

For example, eBay’s promoted listings will allow you to fast-track your way to the top of the search results while only paying a small extra fee on sales, whereas Amazon’s PPC system means bidding to get more exposure and listings views. If you’re selling through a website, Facebook or Google Ads is the most appropriate route to take.

One of the best places for learning how to effectively market and advertise an online retail business is on YouTube, it’s packed full of hundreds of comprehensive videos on Facebook, Google and Amazon advertising, as well as countless tutorials on free advertising techniques. Here’s a few suggestions to point you in the right direction:

Final Takeaway

The online retail industry will continue to grow over the next 5 years, with mobile commerce predicted to gain significant attraction over the next year alone. Putting the wheels in motion to start your own retail business would be a smart move, regardless of your level of experience or available income to invest.

Whether it’s harnessing dropshipping or selling limited quantities of stock through eBay, there is a business plan to suit newbies from all walks of life. The key to success is to start small, break into the marketplace and continue to invest your profits while growing the business at a steady and consistent rate.

From creating a business plan to finding a supplier and establishing a brand name, you should now have a clear path to starting your own online retail business. Work hard, keep investing and never stop learning, it won’t be long until you’re rightfully the head of your own globally renowned retail brand.

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