In 2018, worldwide e-commerce sales topped £2 trillion. To visualize how huge that number is, think about this: if you spent £1 per second around the clock, it would take you 625,376 years to spend that much. Even if you spent £1 million per hour, it would take you 822 years.

Head spinning yet? And just in case you thought this exorbitant online spending is a trend, Shopify’s global research team expects e-commerce sales to reach near £5 trillion by 2021.


Tips for e-commerce


That’s a ton of money. Actually, it’s over 52 million tons of money in £1 coins. And you want a piece of the pie. Who wouldn’t? But getting into the e-commerce game isn’t quite as simple as throwing up a website and waiting for the sales to roll in. To claim your own small fortune, you’ll need to be proactive in your business strategy, sales tactics, marketing and product development.

Follow these tips and you’ll be carving a piece out of that £2 billion pie in no time.

1 – Decide on a product

So, you’re going to start selling products online. First things first: you need to decide what to sell, and you need to be strategic about it. Choose something specific, but not too specific. You and your mates might love the cat meme you made, but it might not appeal to the mass market. On the flip side, if you say “I’m going to sell all kinds of books,” you’ll end up competing with e-commerce supergiants like Amazon, and nobody wants that.

Instead, ask yourself a few questions:

  • What has already been successful? Do some market research to find out what types of products sell. Browse Amazon Best Sellers, other e-commerce sites or trend tracking sites like Trendhunter. Once you’ve discovered what’s hot, think about how you can add your own twist or reach a different niche market, which leads to…
  • Who is my market? The answer shouldn’t be ‘everyone’. While it might seem counterintuitive to narrow the number of people in your customer pool, it’s actually how you can drive some serious sales. Take fitness/nutrition programs like Crossfit or the Paleo Diet, or online games like Team Fortress or League of Legends, which all have dedicated communities who love their ‘niches’. While these customer pools are smaller, they’re full of people who will be more engaged and passionate about your products.
  • Who is my competition? Research your niche to see if it’s already saturated with similar products. Look at other online stores and see if your products offer something new or different. If not, you might need to head back to the drawing board.
  • What do I love? If you’re making something just for the money, your heart won’t be in it, and people can tell. Plus, you want to enjoy your work, don’t you? So sell something that you would buy for yourself. It’ll make the whole process more fun.


Take, for example, custom and designer apparel, which boasts a huge online market. Apparel has broad appeal but is easy to customize for niche markets. Plus, options like direct to garment printing make it incredibly easy to produce and deliver your products.

2 – Decide on a revenue model

There are two main options here. For someone with relatively low startup funding, drop shipping is a fantastic way to go. Drop shipping lets you handle the creative work but takes production logistics off your hands. It’s a lost cost, low-risk option that makes it easy to get started because you don’t need to store inventory or spend any money on expensive manufacturing equipment (Shopify has a great guide on it).  

Sounds great, right? It is, for the most part, but there are a couple of downsides. Drop shipping platforms often charge monthly fees or royalties on your products. Plus, you have slightly less control over your product since you aren’t physically handling it.

If you have more capital, you can consider warehouse shipping instead, where you rent or buy warehouse space to store and ship your products. Although, this option carries considerably more overhead and upfront costs. It allows you ownership over your products, but it also means you risk getting stuck with a product that doesn’t sell.

For our money, drop shipping is the better route. It gets your business up and running quickly, and it’s easily scalable so you can keep the cash rolling in as demand for your products increases.

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3 – Plan out your marketing

You can spend all day deciding on products and revenue models, but sales are what makes the whole thing go. Your custom Harry Potter bath towels might look incredible, but nobody can buy them unless they know about them. To get your great idea flying off the shelves, you need to get it in front of people.

Marketing starts with a business name. It should be unique, but not so experimental that no one can figure out what you sell. And it should be memorable, but not commonplace. It’s a tall order but you can do it. Sit down with a pad of paper and brainstorm all the names you can think of. Frustratedly toss crumpled up paper balls toward the bin as exasperated writers do on TV. And when you’ve finally got your name, take a moment to celebrate, maybe have a drink, and then it’s time to get back to work.

A logo and definitive brand should come next. This is how people will recognize and remember your business. There are plenty of freelance designers out there who can whip up a quality logo on a budget. Also consider colours, fonts and language that you’ll use in your web copy, social media, emails and other customer-facing communications. Consistency is key here.

It would be great if all you had to do was sit back and customers would come knocking. But here’s the truth: if you want customers to purchase your product, you need to tell them about it! Consider how you will reach your customer base. Email campaigns? Social media presence? A blog? Videos and viral content? Think back to your target market. What would best engage them?

4 – Build your site

After all that planning, it’s finally time to start making money. Let’s take a look at some platforms that can help you launch your business into the stratosphere.

  • E-commerce specific sites: Platforms like Shopify, BigCommerce, and Volusion are sites purely dedicated to e-commerce businesses. Platforms like these offer beautiful site templates alongside product management tools and analytics tracking. Most have flexible web design options (no technical expertise needed!), customer support and connections to social media. Each of these has a few tiers of membership options that typically start around £20/month and go up to £200/month. TechRadar has a nice roundup on several big e-commerce players.
  • Website builders: Wix, WordPress and Squarespace are primarily website builders (and good ones, at that) but all three offer e-commerce features too (like WooCommerce for WordPress). Because these platforms cater to all kinds of websites, they have more options for add-ons and plugins that aren’t specifically e-commerce related, giving you more functionality, if that’s what you want. Although, in recent years, the e-commerce specific sites listed above have added a lot of features to give you a beautiful, versatile website to complement your products.
  • Marketplaces: Giants like Amazon and Etsy are also options, and while these platforms will put your products in front of the largest audience, they take away your customization and customer interaction, which are both crucial in developing the brand and community around your products.

In the spirit of professionalism, you’ll want to purchase your own domain name. Website builders like WordPress, Wix and Squarespace offer hosting, but a good option is Bluehost, which offers web hosting for as low as £2.25/month.

The world of e-commerce is wide open. There are still untapped markets and unsold products just waiting for you. Follow these tips and you’ll have a leg up on the competition from the moment you open your store.

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Communications Specialist and writing instructor at Oregon State University. Has a master degree in creative writing, editing and publishing.

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