Is Now The Right Time To Start An Ecommerce Business?

Our busy warehouse

At Cloud Fulfilment we’re in a fortunate position. We have masses of data from our sister company, Parcel Monkey, to help us see what’s happening in the economy. We can see that our business customers are sending larger and larger volumes of shipments and we can also see a very steady increase in the number of new eCommerce start-ups signing up to use Parcel Monkey’s ultra-low delivery prices. You could say that our customers are a bell-weather of the health of the UK economy.

The CBI recently increased its forecast for the British economy – from 1% to 1.2%, mortgage lending is up 29% and the number unemployed has been coming down since early 2012. What’s more, the Bank of England says that they don’t expect interest rates to increase until unemployment has gone down to 7%. There’s no denying it, the past six years have been tough, for some, brutal, but as an entrepreneur, or at least, an executive of an ecommerce business, it is incumbent on you to make sure you make as much from any boost in consumer spending as possible.

The world was a much different place during the last boom. World leaders have been toppled, whole nations have been torn apart and, in its own way, the internet economy has also changed beyond all recognition. Not only has freedom swept across northern Africa, but it has also slowly, but surely, marched across the internet. Online entrepreneurs now have access to affordable SAAS offerings that were previously only affordable by large, enterprise players. Companies that offer services over the internet face a great deal more competition.

Fulfilment by Amazon used to dominate the market. Truth be told, they probably do for those online retailers that wish to spend more to work with a large name. Of course, we have our own large name, in the form of Arvato Bertelsmann, but that’s not the point of this post. Today the costs of running online businesses have been competed down to almost nothing. You can now operate in global markets for just pennies a day. All you have to do sell what people want to buy at the right price and offer excellent customer service.

Those are the three corners of the online success triangle. They may seem easy to achieve, but the reality of it is that they can be ridiculously difficult to obtain. The key, to winning a competitive ecommerce battles is to focus on what you’re good at. Strive to source at the best price, be excellent at online marketing and outsource as much of your non-core competencies to experts.

If you’re starting a new ecommerce venture you’ll be focused intently on finding the right stock, working out your prices, making sure your branding is spot-on, getting your website live and working out your marketing strategy.

The fulfilment part, for most business owners is the unglamorous part. Marketing and purchasing is so much more fun. Getting your products to your customers – less so. Selecting which delivery company you choose can be a headache. Each will have their own tariffs, and depending on the nature of your products some couriers or the Royal Mail may be more effective with one type of product than another. How you actually build that into your eCommerce systems can be baffling.

You shouldn’t use this confusion and frustration as an excuse not to start-up online. Every problem has a solution. Using an outsourced pick, pack and ship service takes that headache away from you. Many companies such as ours offer an API solution which allows your ecommerce system to connect with a warehouse where orders made on your website will be picked, packed and shipped to your customer – without you lifting a finger (apart from getting your stock into the warehouse in the first place).

We’ve got consumer confidence improving, we’ve got the technology to serve those companies becoming cheaper so what’s holding you back?

But there’s a glaring problem. What do you sell? Many of you will have a passion. You’ll have markets that excite you. Others just want a way out from their current job and don’t know what they could monetise. Here are some tips:

  • Have a look at Trend Watching for some top-level ideas of how consumers and markets are changing. They do have some very interesting insights that may spark an idea.
  • Trend Hunter keeps on top of new and interesting products. Although you might not be first to the market with a product listed, you might be the first in the UK. A good place to start would be the lifestyle section.
  • If you do have a broad interest, you could refine it by looking at particular niches by using the Google Trends data. Here you can look at a topic such as ‘solar’ and see what the most popular related searches are or look at what is currently most popular. And if you wanted more detailed information you could use the Google Keyword Suggestion tool which will give you a thumbnail sketch of demand for particular search terms.
  • Hang around shopping centres. It may sound a touch creepy but look at which stores are the busiest and what people are buying. Listen to what they’re saying about the products and what they don’t like.
  • Look over Kickstarter. Many of the companies listed are US-focused, but you may be able to help any company that excites you to launch quickly and easily in the UK with an exclusive deal. You could also try Indiegogo.
  • Look at Amazon. Find a product category that interests you and have a look at their top-sellers. If you feel you can compete on price then consider exploring that market even further.
  • eBay is such a massive market place. Services such as Terapeak let you see what is selling on eBay and for how much. You can see how many listings there are for a particular product, what the average shipping price is and how demand/supply has changed over time. If you have a product idea see what sort of competition you have and what potential margins you can enjoy.If you don’t currently have any product ideas you could use their ‘Hot Research’ service which shows what is currently selling well. At the time of writing its TLR Cameras, clothing vouchers, kite surfing harnesses, body boards, FM transmitters, signal boosters, rear shock absorbers and pull trolleys.
  • If you have the budget then Hitwise is fantastic in obtaining consumer keyword data. It’s expensive but can help you refine your potential business ideas and then give you the ammunition to expand. If you have less budget then SEMRush has some similar data. It’ll show you your competitors’ keywords and how they perform over time.
  • You could use Google Alerts for your topics of choice and get alerts whenever the topic receives blog or news comments.
  • Friends and family also can be vital when it comes to spotting business ideas. If you’ve got children then see what they’re talking about, and if they obsess about anything, and you’ve not missed the opportunity then there could be something to consider.
  • And finally, establish which magazines are selling the most and that will give you an idea of what people are generally interested in. If there are topics of interest then buy the magazines and do some research.