The 5 Early Stage Research Tips to Start Your e-Commerce Business

March 15, 2021
Authored by:
Samantha Lloyd

Ecommerce is growing rapidly, and many entrepreneurs are wondering how to get into space. Recently, there has been an increase in entrepreneurs launching small businesses and eCommerce shops during the pandemic. Shopify alone has experienced a 72% increase in profit in 2020 from April through December, while shares of Wix doubled that same year. It's not just the entrepreneurial side that's growing exponentially either. Ecommerce sales are up nearly 33% year-over-year, reaching 14% of all United States retail spending in 2020. If you're looking to start an eCommerce business or shop, we will explore how to start this entrepreneurial endeavour.

When you're first thinking about launching an eCommerce shop, you should undertake a lot of research to set yourself up for success. Researching in advance of launch allows you to receive some unbiased data to base your decision-making on. While you can ask family and friends their opinion, especially if they are your target market, you're not necessarily going to receive unbiased advice or opinions. It's important to get an array of data in the research stage so you can make the most informed decisions possible for your business. Only 10% of eCommerce stores succeed past the initial 120 days - and surprisingly, this number is far lower than brick-and-mortar businesses. Let's explore the initial research stages of starting an eCommerce business and why it's important to start a successful online shop.

The research stage of starting your eCommerce business

Before launching your own business, you know that you need to explore the type of business you'd like to run and if it's viable. Starting an eCommerce business means thinking about the type of products you'd like to offer customers, which means discovering what and who will be elemental to your store's success.

Keyword research for your eCommerce business

The first step in any successful search engine optimization (SEO) strategy is to perform your keyword research; however, keyword research isn't only beneficial for SEO. Keyword research can tell you if the products you're trying to sell are actually being searched for, as well as the popularity in search by location and date filters. Assuming the search engine your target market will use is Google, you can freely use Google's Keyword Planner to find keywords and see their popularity.

Keyword research will provide quick insights into your idea - if you're trying to sell fancy hats and no one is Googling to buy or find fancy hats in the past year, then you may learn that your product isn't popular. You may also discover that people outside of your country are looking to buy fancy hats, so can you restructure your plans to be an international eCommerce business? Or, best yet, you may discover fancy hat searches are indeed prevalent everywhere, and you've landed on a great idea for your eCommerce shop.

If your business is starting a new category or product, it may not be easy to judge the keyword popularity by searching for the product directly - so get creative! Look into the keyword data for the problem you're providing a solution to to see if people are actively trying to find your type of solution. There is always a way to verify consumer interest with keyword research. It helps you understand how to structure website content and your SEO strategy to learn how customers are trying to find your store, solution, or products.

Competitor research for your eCommerce business

The next step in the research process is to explore companies and businesses doing something similar to what you have in mind for your eCommerce businesses. You can look to businesses that are eCommerce, brick-and-mortar, or sell through third-party services.

Reach out to businesses similar to yours or those that provide complementary services. Nearly every company has competitors, and I believe that there is room for everyone to succeed, especially when partnering together. If your eCommerce store sells fancy hats, maybe complementary services could be a hat box business and a hat decorating business. You can partner up with these companies, offer discounts to their customers, or receive affiliate fees for referrals - to name a few opportunities. This could, in turn, create great partnership opportunities for you, where you can buy hat boxes at a lower rate or get custom hat decorations that are exclusive to your business. Maybe there is a hat shop in your city that focuses on casual hats while you focus on fancy and occasion hats - that's a great opportunity to cross-promote and reach one anothers' audiences.

Finally, explore how your competitors are reaching customers and what they're doing online. Look into what content they write, their social media strategy, and how customers respond to them. If customers leave reviews, look for the most consistently mentioned positive traits and negative traits throughout the reviews. If your product offerings are similar, this can help you understand what customers are really looking for in your product. A great online marketing strategy is key to an eCommerce business's success, and following what successful companies do in your industry is important.

Target market research for your eCommerce business

Let's say that your research indicates that fancy hats are a great business to go into - now it's time to find out who your target market is, as in who is going actually to buy your fancy hats. You will want to talk to potential customers whenever possible. If you know who is in your target market, you can do this through personal outreach and cold emailing. If you're really unsure where to begin, try something as simple as launching a survey on social media and collecting responses - apply some hashtags that similar companies in your space do to see if your survey can reach some potential target audience members.

From speaking with potential customers, you will learn what they need, how to address their problems with your products, where they live online so you can target content and ads, the price point they're willing to spend and much more. It's important to understand who your target market is so that when you launch, you know who and how to get your eCommerce store in front of them.

Product research for your eCommerce business

Once you've discovered that your product idea is good to create a store around, you now have to figure out how to sell that product and its costs. Whether you're hand-making fancy hats or you're a hat marketplace reselling popular brands, or you're offering a vintage hat consignment style shop, all products have costs. You need to factor in the cost of materials or products, warehousing cost if needed, the cost of shipping, and the cost of operating your eCommerce site. All of this will factor into the price you will sell your product to ensure you profit. Your product price must be competitive and in line with what your target market is willing to pay as well as the value your brand provides.

Having multiple SKUs is exciting, but it can also be a logistical challenge in the early days. If you're unsure if your product will resonate with your target market, consider starting with a couple of SKUs to test the market. You don't need to create one of every kind of fancy hat to sell immediately - you can make a select few based on what your research tells you is the most popular option and see how the market responds from there.

Location research for your eCommerce business

With the push from many consumers to shop local and invest in higher quality goods, it does well to understand the area you're in and if your local customers are interested in your offerings. Are there brick-and-mortar shops in your area that offer what you do? Does your target market search for your products "near me" or similar map searches? These are things you can discover through the previously mentioned keyword, competitor, or target market research. Though you're an eCommerce shop, it may be a lot less expensive to ship domestically or find a local delivery company to handle short-distance or last-mile delivery. If local shipping provides more margin versus international shipping, it's great to understand if you have a local market opportunity to cater to and focus on.

Start your e-commerce business research.

I applaud all entrepreneurs - it's not easy to start something and push it hard towards success (however you define success). A side hustle provides you with the opportunity to support yourself financially and perhaps a professional network to leverage. A full-time leap into entrepreneurship means you have the time to fully execute an idea with an understanding that there is a limited financial runway to achieve success. To give yourself the best footing when starting your eCommerce business, research is so important. Understand if people are searching for what you want to offer, who your target market is if local shopping is something you can capitalize on, and who else is in your industry and field that you can work alongside and learn from.

As someone who has been an entrepreneur a few times over, I always push for a calculated risk. Part of that calculation is researching in advance of your decision to start. Then - launch your eCommerce site and get going!

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Samantha Lloyd

Samantha Lloyd

Samantha Lloyd is the co-founder and CEO of Metaranx. Metaranx is the local shopping platform making it easy for you to find and shop local stores with Shopify sites in Toronto. She is a digital marketer with specific expertise in SEO. Samantha aims to help local shops in her city, and around the world, to succeed online!

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