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I launched my online enterprise in the middle of 2013 – a vaping superstore called Electric Tobacconist that now has two sites, catering to the United States and the United Kingdom and wider European markets. In less than five years, we have grown from a small e-commerce business to one that generates over $30 million annually. So how did we do it?
First, I learned. I'm an avid reader, and I devoured every book I could get my hands on about retail legends, online and in the real world. I wanted to know how Amazon's Jeff Bezos did it, and I read everything I could find about him. I was so engrossed in his story of how he built a simple site that sold books to what has now become a monster online retailer, selling practically everything under the sun.
I also read books about Sam Walton, the founder of American grocery chain Walmart, which is currently the world's largest company by revenue. I wanted to know how these guys did it, and I also read lots of business and how-to e-commerce books. So the first thing I learned about succeeding in e-commerce is to read, read, read!
At first site
Something else I learned on my journey into successful e-commerce was to focus on your website more than the products you are selling. The products are already created and ready for sale; what you need to do, as a budding e-commerce titan, is provide an awesome online window into the world of what it is you specialize in as a digital retailer. If your site looks bad, few people will trust you and want to buy from you.
Next, I delved deep into the fundamentals of e-commerce and learned everything I could about conversion rate optimization to search engine optimization. These are two metrics that are essential to ensuring people find you online and become your customers. Ignore these at your peril.
As for stock for your online store, my advice is don't buy too much of it. The beauty of having an online store is you don't have to fill shelves with expensive products. Online, your customers can't see how much stock you have, and there's no need to advertise it. Plus, you can use Google Analytics to tell how much stock you are going to need. This makes online retailing a lean, mean selling machine.
Steering the e-ship
I also realized at the outset that I needed to have a goal in mind. There's no point in starting a business if you don't know where you want to take it. Otherwise, you're directionless without any real ideas for growth.
Work out where you want to get to and then make every decision according to that goal. I wanted to be a market leader in online vaping in the U.K. and U.S. This is still my goal and we're getting there. So every decision I make is based around the question "Does that work at the scale I want to get to?"
E-commerce is an exciting arena, letting you sell to your neighbor or someone right across the globe. Not surprisingly, customers love the convenience, the generally lower prices online businesses offer and bonuses like free shipping. Plus, with global e-commerce sales last year worth $2.3 trillion and forecast to leap to $4.88 trillion by 2021, the online trading future looks electric.