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How to Start an Ecommerce Business In the Coronavirus Economy

The current pandemic situation has provided both unique challenges and unique advantages for prospective business founders. Business owners around the world have had to adapt their business models to take into account a variety of changes—or risk becoming irrelevant. 

People starting new businesses with ecommerce are in good company, [especially since you can now get a free online store front to get going with.] In fact, Americans are starting businesses faster than any other time in ten years, according to The Wall Street Journal. Just as millions of people are struggling without work, businesses are being started at an unprecedented rate—an interesting economic conundrum that bodes well for entrepreneurs. 

A few trends have proved significant in the last year:

    1. The rise of ecommerce in the face of the fall in brick and mortar. More consumers are looking to online storefronts before shopping in person. Additionally, more discretionary spending has moved online, while staples and necessities are purchased in person. 
    2. More time spent at home with no in-person work or socialization for a large number of people. While some people in jobs deemed essential have continued to work in person throughout the pandemic, most knowledge workers have moved to doing their jobs from home. As a result, many people have more free time, giving them the opportunity to explore new products from online stores. 
  • Traditional businesses being forced to undergo a digital transformation to maintain relevance. At the same time as new online businesses are sprouting up everywhere, existing businesses (especially those with brick and mortar storefronts already) are moving digital at light speed. 

The combination of these factors means that now is a great time for ecommerce, whether it’s an entirely new business or a new division of an existing company. In fact, building an ecommerce business today is practically a necessity. Physical stores are in limbo as COVID-related restrictions force them to be closed or severely limited, with no end date in sight. 

Taking advantage of this unique situation forces you and your business to stand out from the crowd. In this article, we’ll look at starting an ecommerce business in the unique economic and social situation we’re in right now. 

Focus on the Customer, Then the Product

Many people who are new to online business assume that, given the right products, customers will start showing up and purchasing things on their own. While this is somewhat true for brick and mortar stores, where the storefront itself provides some form of advertisement, online stores without the right advertising will be left behind. 

When entrepreneurs look to start a business to pitch to investors, they often have to build a business plan. This plan illustrates why their particular business is poised for success in the competitive marketplace. 

If you’re not pitching your idea in front of a panel of potential investors, writing a formal business plan is unnecessary. However, many of the ideas and processes that you might use to create such a document are still worth thinking about. 

The most important pre-launch step is market research. When figuring out who your customers are and how they might find your ecommerce business, take a look at these areas: 

  • Existing competition. When you see other businesses offering similar products or services, ask yourself how your business does it better. Will you have a different customer base? Can your company produce the same quality product for a lower price? Why will customers who are already satisfied with your competitors even consider switching to your business?
  • Social media. With today’s social media environment, it’s easy to find a community for any interest or subculture. In addition to being one of the first groups to provide feedback on initial iterations of your business, social media communities can help you to identify problems that your business can solve. 
  • Search engines and advertisements. While dedicated fans of a particular hobby or interest might congregate on social media sites, more casual customers will likely arrive at your ecommerce website through search engine results or ads you place. What comes up when you search for relevant keywords? If you have established competitors, what keywords are used to arrive on their websites?

If you’re not quite sure which customer base to target with which products, consider looking for product ideas that are topical and relevant to the coronavirus pandemic itself. 

Figure Out Inventory

In recent years, dropshipping—sending products directly from suppliers to customers without handling inventory yourself—has become increasingly common. While this solution is inexpensive, especially for smaller businesses with fewer resources, it can result in delays and worse customer experiences, especially with larger parcels. 

The biggest issue with dropshipping, however, is its lack of uniqueness. In a dropshipping model, business owners usually choose existing products made inexpensively in places like China with robust manufacturing facilities. While there may be some level of customization at high volumes, dropshipping entrepreneurs don’t usually sell a truly unique product. 

Another trend in ecommerce is subscription boxes. These boxes, which comprise multiple separate products, can either be custom or at least curated by the business owner. In many industries where customers go through products at a rapid rate or desire variety, subscriptions can be a great way to ensure uniqueness. 

Subscription boxes have become even more popular during COVID, as people look forward to the fun surprises they’re sure to unwrap in a subscription box while stuck at home. 

Businesses that manufacture their own products are more difficult to start up, but are sure to please customers with unique products that simply cannot be purchased elsewhere. This option might be particularly well-received in artisanal goods markets and other areas where uniqueness and specialized products are popular. 

Whichever option you choose for your business, be sure to tie your decision back to your customers, not just the easiest option for you. Your choice of your inventory and shipping strategy is a crucial element in your business. 

Marketing Strategies

Just like how buying and selling goods has largely moved online during the pandemic, advertising and marketing has also moved online. Social media companies report more time spent on websites instead of apps, reversing a years-long trend of more mobile usage. 

With consumers spending less time on the road—as a result of a lower average commute length—billboards and outdoor signage are giving way to other forms of advertising that can be consumed from the comfort of your home. Companies like Mandoe Media offer the latest technology in digital signage solutions. One advantage of this shift is more data to analyze customer behavior. Companies can accurately target their advertisements this way, improving return on investment. 

Examples 

As you continue to do more research into starting your own ecommerce business during the coronavirus pandemic, look to existing businesses that make good examples. These existing companies have either started or pivoted significantly during the pandemic, providing useful insights on the process. 

  • Fitness studios and gyms around the world, including New Delhi boxing and kickboxing club Boxfit, moved to streaming workouts as soon as the stay-at-home orders came into effect. These monumental changes didn’t just allow existing fitness companies to stay afloat. New subscribers and customers from other areas and markets were suddenly able to choose from a much wider range of fitness options, and streaming fitness providers started incorporating live streaming and interactivity into their workouts. 
  • Businesses delivering meals to hospital workers and building ventilators have started to combine solutions to real-world social impact problems with money-making. These businesses attract interest and investment from a diverse range of people, given their direct usefulness to solving real problems. Starting this type of business gives you more purpose and an immediate customer base, unlike many other opportunities. 
  • Stitch & Story, an online crafts business offering instruction and materials on knitting and crocheting, has boomed during the pandemic. This innovative business model has translated well into a world in which people work and relax in the same small area. The effect is amplified by people looking to get away from constant screen time through arts and crafts. 

Takeaways 

Even during these strange times, many people have taken it upon themselves to start a new business. For most types of businesses, an online model—taking advantage of ecommerce technology—is the right call. Online businesses have an unprecedented market in today’s economy, with more customers willing to buy all sorts of products online. 

As you start looking to build your ecommerce business during the coronavirus pandemic, a constant focus on the customer and their needs proves vital. In particular, you should seek to understand your competition, your potential customers’ experiences with similar products, and ways to how to sell food online

On top of those concerns, ecommerce businesses need to choose a revenue and shipping strategy that works for them. Dropshipping is cheap, but comes with some disadvantages that make it a poor choice for many kinds of businesses. On the other hand, manufacturing-based models are more expensive and require holding stock, but allow for faster shipping and customization. 

In general, the COVID situation has affected nearly every part of the business world, from small businesses to huge multinational corporations. New startups can take advantage of modern ecommerce technology to build a lasting business, even during some of the most challenging times in a generation. 

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