Launching a new eCommerce business can be expensive. To begin with, you will need to invest time and money in finding a wholesale supplier. Your business will also need capital to develop your website, hold this inventory, market your business, offering customer support and handle shipping.
A lot of this expense is incurred even before you see your first dollar from customers. Not surprisingly then, less than ten percent of online stores survive beyond a few years.
But it is quite plausible to reduce your capital cost and successfully run an eCommerce business with minimal budget. Here are a few strategies on how you can go about this.
Third party platform and plugins
If you are a programmer, you may be tempted to build an eCommerce platform from the ground up to suit your specific needs. This may consume a lot of time and resources. Third party eCommerce platforms like Shopify, Magento,Volusion and BigCommerce do a good job in helping you set up an online store in minutes. Also, most of these tools are subscription-based and so you do not spend more than a couple of dozens of dollars each month in running your store.
Although you may also look at free alternatives like WordPress to lower your capital costs further, it is worth pointing out that these paid platforms come with incredible infrastructure that includes third party apps and plugins that you can install with one click. Shopify, for instance, has apps to help you design your products, print your designs, label your shipping, contact the supplier and so on. This can make your life incredibly easy. Free alternatives do not have a similar ecosystem as yet.
The biggest expense when it comes to eCommerce is product procurement and stocking. There is intense competition among online stores and this has brought profit margins down quite significantly. As a result, eCommerce business owners often prefer to procure large volumes of stock at wholesale prices which contributes to higher capital expenditure. But any saving achieved through wholesale purchases are depleted because of your need to stock your inventory in warehouses.
You can bypass this expense by opting to dropship your products. Dropshipping essentially works like this – eCommerce store owners partner with suppliers who offer to ship products on your behalf (complete with your labels and branding). This way, any time your store makes a sale, you pass on the order details to your supplier who takes care of packaging and shipping.
Dropshipping can however come with its own set of risks. Suppliers may fail to ship the order that you have been paid for. Alternately, they may fail to ensure quality or shipping SLAs that can hit your brand hard. You can however avoid this with eCommerce platforms like Shopify that have their in-house dropshipping tools like Oberlo that store owners can use to connect with verified dropshipping suppliers. This protects your business from losing money to fraudulent suppliers.
ECommerce stores that dropship and are built on third party platforms have very little expense to take care of. Consequently, all of your capital can be deployed solely on marketing activities. However, not all marketing activities are effective for a startup business. Online stores typically rely on search engine marketing to target customers. This can however be an expensive strategy. For one, search engines take several months, if not years, to rank your site on the first page of the search results. Advertising solutions like Adwords can be expensive and not really meaningful for a business with low margins.
Social media has emerged to be one of the most effective channels for eCommerce marketing. Customers engagement is extremely high on platforms like Instagram and studies show that more than 70 percent of American businesses are present on Instagram today. There are two ways to deploy high ROI marketing campaigns with minimal budget.
The first strategy is barter marketing – this is done by identifying complementary Instagram accounts that you cross-promote on. For instance, if you sell travel bags in your store, you could partner with travel bloggers with similar audience count on Instagram to cross-promote your accounts. A sustained barter strategy could help you gain thousands of followers within a few months who may be nurtured to convert into paying customers.
Another strategy that can work on social media is UGC (user generated content). You may launch contests that invite targeted customers to share or tag you on their posts in exchange for a chance to win a prize. Such contests work very well on platforms like Facebook and can help you reach thousands of new users for just a fraction of the cost you spend on advertising.
Just the beginning
The strategies listed here are just some of the dozens of different strategies you could use to launch a successful eCommerce store with minimal capital. ECommerce is a long term play and it is important to manage your costs effectively in order to ensure that you do not burn out all your cash before you start making money with your business.