Ecommerce is sitting in this interesting cultural intersection between FOMO and an all-or-nothing mentality. We see stories on Shark’s Tank, Dragon’s Den, and god forbid YouTube Dropshipping Courses, of people who quit their 9-5 jobs, take huge bets and achieve huge payouts. As the barriers to ecommerce continue to disappear, it can be tempting to follow suit and go all-in with the first business idea you have, but it’s a fallacy to think that entrepreneurs are high-flying risk-takers. Contrary to popular belief, the most successful entrepreneurs do not want to go anywhere near launching a new business or new product line before they’ve tested the demand in the market. You know you’ve achieved product-market fit when you’re satisfying existing demand – not when you’re creating demand. Contrary to our “swing for the fences” culture, ecommerce entrepreneurs need to follow a defined process so that they can build, test and measure the viability of their business ideas.
First things first – figure out what your million dollar idea is.
The idea of dropshipping is now, unfortunately, synonymous with hordes of online hustlers who sell low-quality goods from AliExpress directly to the end customers, without holding inventory themselves. Although it now has a bad reputation, dropshipping is still a powerful low-cost strategy to identify and fulfil demand before you have any supply chain of your own. That being said, it often only works if the product you have in mind is already offered by a supplier who also happens to offer dropshipping. If you’re looking to iterate on an existing product, or invent a new product category entirely, dropshipping is no longer an option. That, however, doesn’t mean you need to shell out your life’s savings to a contract manufacturer to test your business idea. Instead, you can use existing tools and talent to digitally mock-up your product before ever approaching a manufacturer. If you’re looking to do simple mock-up on existing products like apparel or household goods, you can use websites like PlaceIt or YellowImages. If you’re looking to design something a bit more complex and aren’t a designer yourself, you can hire freelance designers from communities like Dribbble, Fiverr, or OnlineJobs. Remember: your goal is just to test demand. You’re a detective trying to figure out if this is a business worth pursuing, and so you want your customers’ opinions on the most accurate possible mock-up of your end-product
If you’re looking to build an ecommerce store with no technical experience, Shopify is the clear first choice. There’s a ton of documentation on how to go about doing this, but we’d recommend buying a premium theme and building from there. One protip to note: since you’re just testing demand right now and don’t actually have any products to ship out to customers who are interested, go into your Payment Settings and check off “Manually Capture Payment Information”. This way you won’t actually charge customers who “buy”.
Use the mock-ups from your designers and the other tools provided to build an Instagram feed. We’d recommend 9-12 images to achieve the minimum level of social proof to look like you’ve got your act together.
There’s only one true way a customer shows interest – their wallet! Now that your site and socials are ready, you’re ready for the main event: you’re going to use Google and Facebook Ads to drive traffic to your offer, and test who’s willing to actually purchase. We’d recommend keeping ads live for a week and testing £500 per channel to get decently statistically significant results.
Once you’ve collected a week of data, you’ve essentially been given a verdict on your idea from your chosen market of customers. There are hundreds of tactical data points you could look at from Cost-Per-Click to Average Order Values – but at this stage in your business, there’s only one that matters: Cost Per Acquisition. You need to understand whether or not you can acquire your customers through your chosen channel for less money than it requires to create and ship your product. Ideally, you also have a plan for selling more than one product in the long-run, at which point you would also compare your Cost Per Acquisition to your customers’ Lifetime Value. Based on the story that the data is telling you, you either need to: shut down the business, find a manufacturer for your product, or iterate a major component of your experiment (product, ad strategy, website), and try again.
To paraphrase an old proverb, “If you’re skipping the fundamentals, you should pause and consider what makes you so special”. Whether you’re starting your first business, or launching a new product line for your fifth business, testing the markets’ demand for your idea is an essential part of running a profitable ecommerce business.