In business, as in war, you’ve got to have a general guiding your army of resources to win the battle, get your piece of land and preserve what you’ve earned. Many times, as an e-commerce entrepreneur, you are both the army and the general.
Because you’re doing it all, you might be skimping on the time needed to develop a comprehensive strategy. Sometimes you just have to launch, see what happens and learn from the experience. But thinking through the key moves in your e-store positioning, customer experience, marketing and operations can be a huge advantage. In fact, a solid long-term strategy is often what separates successful e-commerce sites from the ones that come and go.
While tactics and technology may change, the ways in which you plan and execute can remain constant. Last year, I went on a search for evergreen strategies to grow an e-commerce business that work for small, middle and big online stores in US and abroad. I spoke to over 55 experts, e-commerce practitioners and entrepreneurs who grew their businesses from scratch. As a result of that research, I wrote a book pulling together 18 strategies that you can apply in e-commerce warfare to win dollars, pounds and possibly bitcoins.
For this post, I will dive into one of those key strategies: mapping your profit drivers when you model your e-commerce business.
The key profit drivers in e-commerce are: price, product assortment, the product itself (especially if unique or self- produced) and customer experience (from shopping on site, tablet or mobile to the delivery). The more control you have over these four areas of your business, the faster your trip to profitable e-commerce will be.
Take back control of the price
Having control over the price you charge can make a big difference in your profitability. Unless you’re ready to compete with Amazon or have enough funds to last decades, competing for the lowest price in e-commerce is a terrible idea. Thus, premium pricing or special discount rates negotiated with your suppliers are easier ways to make profit happen. (Note that free shipping is now often expected in the US and abroad, so you have to be able to account for this aspect through the price you set as well.)
For example, Scentiments.com and Perfume.com, much smaller sites with 30,000 to 75,000 unique visitors, have been in business since early 2000. Because they’ve negotiated prices with suppliers and built solid vendor relationships over the years, they’ve been able to stay in business despite a so-so user experience.
Target the product selection
Product assortment or product selection, especially if unique or very deep and targeted, can be the single reason why you have a viable chance to serve your market. In other words, going super niche helps greatly on the way to profit. For example, EnvironmentalLights.com, a B2C e-commerce site that learned firsthand to differentiate itself successfully in the LED market. Grooming its product assortment, identifying top sellers, and dropping non-sellers are key activities for the entire company: sales, product management, and marketing.
The Jumia.com team had to make tough choices to ensure its country-specific sites appealed to the varied tastes of the African population. Luxola.com merely exists because you cannot buy the same skin care products anywhere in Southeast Asia, as most of them are sourced from premium US and European brands.
Personalize the product
If you happen to manufacture your own product and no one else has it, then you own your margins and do not have to compete with other sites selling your brand. Plus, selling your brand direct is lucrative. Many web-only retailers gravitate to developing their own lines eventually.
For example, take ModCloth, a vintage-style clothing site that sells items bought from select designers. In 2018, ModCloth launched its own line for plus-size customers. Other sites like BetaBrand and Bonobos have also been successful at developing their own line of custom products. The more personalized your products and services are in terms of how they are offered or produced, the less you’ll have to compete for the buys. In fact, you’ll be ahead of the standard shops in conversion by at least a factor of 10, if not more.
How can you ensure from start that your e-store is designed for profit?
- Charge premium price ($100-300 range as observed, depending on product)
- Explore all possibilities within your business model (subscriptions, customizable bundles, curated/serviced packages, or tiered consumption offers)
- Focus on easy or cost-effective fulfillment logistics
- Differentiate from the start from the competitors in how you service, sell, or offer the experience of your site and products
- Make a splash in how you show up in the market (partners, virality in the product consumption, and delight in the experience)
- If possible, tap into your products’ uniqueness