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Build an Ecommerce Business: Tips From an Ecommerce Founder

By Joshua Kraus

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Many entrepreneurs mistake the “e” in “ecommerce” for “easy,” and frankly, it’s hard to blame them.

The rise of platforms like Shopify and Volusion have made setting up an online shop a breeze, and with drop shipping services like Scalable Press and Doba, you never even have to be in the same room as the product you’re selling.

But don’t be fooled: Running a successful ecommerce business is hard work, and just because you came up with a good idea for a product does not mean it’s going to sell itself.

This is a fact Matthew Kris knows all too well. Kris started Michigan Brew Supply, an online brew supply company, in 2012, and by 2014, the business was doing well enough for Kris to open up a brick and mortar location. During those initial two years, Kris learned much about what it takes to achieve success in the world of ecommerce. Here are some of his tips.

1. Your Product Doesn’t Have To Be New To Be Successful

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“In today’s world, you can be successful with any product or service that either fulfills a new need or provides a competitive advantage to what is already in the market,” Kris says. “Don’t let an existing product or competitor scare you. If you can make or do it better, you can be successful.”

Michigan Brew Supply certainly wasn’t the first brew supply company on the market, but it achieved success not by being one of the first, but by being one of the best. The company prioritizes customer service and quality manufacturing. It’s the result of a comprehensive business plan and consistent due diligence. Kris wasn’t trying to reinvent the wheel; he just refined it.

2. Business Is Business

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“Business owners must not treat an ecommerce businesses different from a traditional business,” Kris says.
“You must plan on building a real business around [the idea], as an idea alone will never make a successful business.

Treating an ecommerce business with the same rigor as one would treat a traditional business means thinking long term and setting realistic goals. It means sitting down and writing a thorough business plan that covers every aspect of the business, from cash-flow to marketing. It means forcing yourself to ask the tough questions – questions like:

  • Am I prepared to run without any profit for a year? For two years? For three years?

  • Am I willing to put as much time into this business as it will take?

  • Am I truly passionate about the products or services I’m offering?

  • Do I possess the skills, knowledge, and resources to start, run, and grow this business? Will I require outside assistance?

3. Pricing Lower Isn’t A Long-Term Solution

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“Since we were entering a market with a few established brands, we initially priced ourselves to match,” Kris says. “We debated often on whether or not we should price ourselves lower, but more often than not, that doesn’t work in the long term. If your products are top quality, people will pay.”

If you enter the ecommerce game, you should expect competition. Kris’s competitors were other brew supply companies, but even if he’d invented an entirely new product, someone else would have eventually come along with a competing one. Furthermore, when your business is entirely online, location isn’t as much of a competitive advantage as it used to be.

In the face of this competition, an ecommerce entrepreneur might be tempted to price low in order to gain the upper hand. This would be a mistake.

Here are a few reasons why pricing low doesn’t always work:

  • Low prices reinforce the expectation of low quality.

  • If you price your products low right out of the gate, you make it extremely difficult to raise them in the future.

  • As unique selling points go, pricing low is easy for competitors to replicate. That’s why you should distinguish yourself from the rest of the herd by founding your business on something like quality, design, or brand image. These elements are harder for others to match.

4. Don’t Underestimate Email Newsletters

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“Our email newsletter has become the most important tool,” Kris says. “There is no better way to reach your highly targeted audience.”

If you’re not using email to market your ecommerce business, you’re probably losing sales. Here’s why:

  • Email marketing accounts for 5 to 10 percent of all ecommerce transactions.

  • For ever dollar a company invests in email marketing, it is reasonable to expect $43 back in sales.

  • As of 2013, email orders had an average value of $100.48, whereas orders from social channels had an average of $93.43.

Conclusion

While your product or service may not fall into the brew supply category, Kris’s advice can be applied to just about any ecommerce business. Take your virtual company just as seriously as you would a traditional one, and don’t drop your prices to gain a competitive advantage. Give email marketing its proper due, and remember, while a novel product idea might be easier to market, a new take on an old idea can achieve just as much success.

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