25 Aug 2021

Ecommerce: The good, the bad and the getting started

Digital Growth Programme consultant Rob Gregory talks about the good reasons to get into ecommerce and a few things to be wary of. He’ll also provide some tips for getting started in ways that set you up for success.

Rob Gregory

So here we are, it’s happened. Ecommerce now dominates much of our purchasing habits - funny how a pandemic that stopped so much happening can accelerate certain things forward.

Ecommerce is the (not so) new thing and its dominance is not going to wane anytime soon. Is now the time for you to explore starting your own online business, or maybe a division of your existing business? A well-executed ecommerce business can be a revenue-generating enterprise with plenty of rewards with the potential to scale quickly. It’s not right for everybody though so hold your horses before jumping straight in.

The Good

Illustration of man coding on laptop

Selling online compared to a traditional bricks and mortar business has plenty of benefits. Lower startup costs, lower running costs, a wider customer base and the automation and efficiency benefits that come with doing this digitally. Add to that the ability to work from anywhere, so as long as you have a laptop and an internet connection, and it all sounds rather enticing.

All these things are true but you still need to have the right products to sell, great marketing and a way to fulfil those orders. Thankfully it's easier than ever to source products with tools like Alibaba and Oberlo from Shopify. You might make your own products and that’s great too.

Delivery partners are many and the service they offer is now efficient and cost-effective. You can even start with using your local post office – start small then scale.

There are a plethora of marketing tools and analytics platforms that can help you to understand your customers and serve their needs better. If you set everything up correctly you can see in real-time how your ecommerce store is performing – try doing that offline!

The Bad

I don’t want to be negative but I think it’s important to look at the risks vs rewards before you take any business decision.

Illustration of man coding on laptop

If you spend any time on social media in particular YouTube and Instagram you’ll no doubt have seen posts of young “entrepreneurs” who are making millions each year selling online. They post pictures of Lamborghinis and villas with swimming pools by way of proving that their “system” works. It's not for me to say if these are realistic or just a veneer. Go on then I'll say it, they are unrealistic.

Most people's experience of running an ecommerce business is rather less glamorous and just like any business, it can be hard work. In fact, at the start it can be very hard work to get your store built, populated with products and the marketing in place to drive traffic to your site. All perfectly doable with the right planning but do expect to put in plenty of effort.

Ecommerce is also highly competitive, so you need to watch your margins. Revenue is one thing but you need to be sure that there's enough left over for a lambo, or ford focus at least. Marketing and paid advertising all come at a cost that eats heavily into your profit if you don’t get it right.

Getting Started

So, you have looked at the good and the bad parts of ecommerce and you’ve decided to go for it. You’ve nailed your product offer, business model and have a solid marketing plan in place. How do you get started?

lady at table on a laptop

Lucky for you it's 2021 which means getting started with ecommerce is easier than it's ever been. There are many ways to get started from using a platform like Shopify to hiring an agency to build you a WooCommerce store.

My advice is to do your research before you get started. WooCommerce and Shopify are the two obvious choices for an SME but there are others out there so speak to a trusted expert for some advice.

Taking payments via your store is clearly an important part of your setup and for that, I’d recommend looking at Stripe payments which integrates with all the major platforms.

Finally, start small - you don’t need to have your full product catalogue online to make a start. Build your site with one category or a sub-set of your range and start marketing and advertising asap. Measure your results and then grow your store from there.

Want to learn more about setting up an Ecommerce Business?

The team and I will be delivering a number of ecommerce specific workshops over the next few weeks (details below) but also take advantage of the numerous expert workshops that cover things like SEO, advertising and social media which will all support you in reaching your ecommerce goals.

To book your place on any of the sessions click on the relevant links.

To see the latest schedule of all our events, visit our events page

 The Digital Growth Programme is managed by East Midlands Chamber (Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire). It is a programme part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, the Chamber and Leicestershire County Council designed to help SMEs located in Leicester and Leicestershire embrace new digital technology to improve productivity to aid growth.