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Advice for starting eCommerce brands. Learn from my personal mistakes.

Starting an eCommerce store in 2023 can be overwhelming. There are a lot of competitors, brands spreading content everywhere, and people buying online are used to getting great experiences. In this article, I will share my advice for all the brave heroes to enter the world of eCommerce.

Adopt the right mindset

This is a factor you should take seriously. Only the right mindset will help you succeed in eCommerce land. I can write a whole article about mindset, but if you want to know more about it, I highly suggest you read the book "Master your Mindset" by Michael Pilarczyk. It's a practical book about insight, meaning, and awareness. He teaches you to understand your way of thinking and change it effectively to improve the quality of your life. For me, this is my go-to book whenever I feel stuck.

A quote from Michael: "Your mind is like the fertile ground on which you would like to make colorful flowers bloom, but troubles and negative thoughts spread like weeds."

Find a way to market yourself and your business.

The biggest challenge you will face is to get people to your website. The market is well-filled these days, so you must distinguish yourself.

One way to do this is to have a truly unique product that can not be found anywhere else. This immediately takes you two steps forward and gives you a good chance to succeed as you solve a problem that no one has done before.

If your product is not unique, the best way to distinguish yourself is with different communication. Take Black Rifle Coffee, for example. Their communication is pretty bizarre and extreme! They don't talk about flavors, suppliers, or methods. They just show themselves shooting guns and hunting animals. Something I personally find terrible. But apparently, it works and attracts a very specific and loyal audience.

Another way is to communicate great customer support, quick delivery, and a top-notch shopping experience. In short, make people feel great after interacting with your brand. A great example is the Dutch eCommerce website Coolblue. They present themselves as the most customer-friendly company in the Netherlands. And you actually feel that promise on every small detail in the customer journey. For example, their slogan says: "Anything for a smile," so even their delivery truck has a smiley on the front, simply genius.

Coolblue delivery truck

Play the long game

Building an eCommerce empire is all about playing the long game. You have to do the right things for a more extended period before you will see results. If you listen to most success stories, they all have something in common. They are sowing years before they can reap.

  • Years of hustling
  • Fear of failure
  • Working long hours
  • Making mistakes
  • Testing, validating, improving, repeat.
  • Keeping faith (mindset)

It will be a challenging ride, but definitely, one worth taking.

Do the boring work

If you consistently do "the boring work, you will create a valuable system. Let's be honest with ourselves. In many cases, we know what to do to get to the desired destination, but we often need to do the work to get there. I once read a quote from a Dutch marine guy: "You want to be it, but you don't want to become it." I am still determining if this is translated correctly, but I hope you will understand my point.

Another example I like to use is fitness. Many people would like to have a better body and feel fitter. And they know what to do, right? Just train 4/5 times a week and eat healthily. It sounds simple, but you must do this long enough to see any results. This is the same for building an eCommerce brand.

Validate your idea before going all in

This advice is from my own experience. Back in 2017 I started my first eCommerce website. I worked for an entire year on the brand, the webshop, the products, and everything you need to create a serious online store. But I made one big mistake. I did not validate my idea before going all in.

I put so much money into the brand and the stock. I even remember spending around €1000 on special cabinets to store my products.

In short, if I had spent my entire investment validating what worked, I would have had way more chances to succeed.

Make sure you make healthy margins

Running an eCommerce store is costly. You have many small expenses that can go up quickly. Think about packaging, shipping, storage, and, last but not least online advertising. To make sure you stay profitable, you need healthy margins to succeed.

Two friends and I had the fantastic idea of selling DIY bakery-quality boxes online. I'll spare you the whole story, but it got pretty serious. We went to Belgium for a brainstorming weekend, organized tasting days to see if people would be interested in the concept, and ate a lot of cake to create the perfect products. Everything went pretty smoothly, and we ended up with a big investor who was pretty excited. Unfortunately, the idea collapsed because the margins were too low to make a healthy profit.

eCommerce startup idea
eCommerce startup idea
eCommerce startup idea
eCommerce startup idea
eCommerce startup idea

Under promise, overdeliver

An excellent way to separate yourself from the rest is to surprise your customer positively when they do not expect it. The outcome is that they feel special and appreciated. When people feel this way, there is a big chance they will talk about you positively to their friends and family. Those people are bloody priceless as they become your brand ambassadors. Nothing beats the power of real-life social proof.

I would say this is my advice for now. I will keep updating this article along the way and share my lessons with you. Would you like to stay up to date? Please subscribe to our newsletter below.

Roar Schouten
Roar Schouten

Founder World of Ethics, and on a mission to accelerate the plant-based industry