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Different stages of an ecommerce business

Here we discuss what are the different stages of an ecommerce business and what it takes to handle each.

Last Modified: 21st Mar, 2022

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

To be successful in any ecommerce business one should invest time and effort to understand the stages that an online business goes through before becoming successful. Even though every business and every story is different, we can still find some similarities and learn from them. It's possible that you are already aware of most of the points discussed below, but it will act as a good reminder to give importance to certain aspects of business that we usually ignore in the hustle of starting up.

1. The Idea Stage

The idea stage is the easiest to enter but hardest to leave. When someone gets an idea about any e-commerce business it can be around a problem that needs to be solved or the opportunity that a product or service provides due to the uncatered target audience. It starts with the possibilities and then comes the how part where things start getting doubtful. Some people just skip this part and jump straight into thick of things, but it is highly recommended to do a thorough research and then take a plunge. Things that one can research at this stage are:

  • market size and target audience profile
  • product development process
  • pricing 
  • positioning and branding
  • challenges that others faced in the same field
  • source of investment and cash flow planning
  • stage wise timelines

Once the research is done a team is needed to execute the vision and the source of funding to sustain the team in case team is working full time on the project.

2. Brand Identity

Once you have decided to take the plunge, the very first thought you get is what name do we give to the brand. And in most cases finalizing a name (or a domain name) takes a long long time. Founders often find themselves stuck in analysis paralysis state and cannot finalise. It is understandable that your brand name, your brand persona is very important and it will stay with you forever once decided, but one has to start somewhere. Putting a deadline is helpful because this is a very vague task with no finite scope. Once you are done with this stage you should have following:

  • brand name
  • brand logo ( square, horizontal, circle)
  • brand colors
  • brand personality based on your target audience
  • brand communication tone
  • photography style
  • punchline

You should have atleast the first three ready by this stage because from now on you will need them at every now and then.

3. Building the product/service

This is when the real action begins. Start of this stage is also one of the most exciting times because there is no evaluation aspect on efforts that are being put in and also because this phase involves the area of core expertise of the team. But it soon becomes a challenging one as the team starts facing real life problems when plan is no longer just on paper. It is very important to keep the brand positioning and marketing punchlines in front while approaching product development because it will ensure that the final output does not fall short of the promises that the business is going to make to its customers. And this also why the Idea stage research is very important and should not be skipped.

Product development or service development should have a robust testing and evaluation plan to keep a check. It is very easy to end up with sub standard product if benchmarks are not set.

4. Testing waters

When a prototype is ready it has to be tested on real customers. In this stage one should have a proper feedback collection and analysis framework to make the best use of the valueable feedback the very first customers provide. This can also lead to drastic changes in product/services and hence it is advised to develop little and test with real customers. And repeat the steps 3 and 4 till the first cut is largely acceptable andd liked by the customers.

5. Organisation Setup

Many  people do not even consider organisation as a step and later realise how the paperwork and setup process threw away the timelines and plan off track by weeks. Under this step I am talking about the company incorporation, local tax registration (as per requirements), getting hold of a CA to manage filings and book keeping etc. Initially you won't need a full time CA but you will still need to identify the person who is going to take care of the compliances. You may also consider getting a trademark or file a patent if you think that's needed. The point is that this is really a phase and these stuff usually take unpredictable amount of time and it should be accounted for in plan to avoid unnecessary trouble at launch.

5. Preparing Content and Product Images

When you plan to start an online store you will have to spend a looooot of time writing product descriptions, their benefits and feature set and taking really attractive images. Getting a professional help can be really useful here when writing and photography do not overlap with your core skill set. And again this is one of the most important step and almost as important as building a  great product, because first time customers will make a decision to buy your product by just looking at your product images and reading product description. So make sure you give proper time and resources to complete this step successfully.

6. Setup Online Store

If you have completed the steps 1 to 5 described above, then setting up an online store will be a cake walk for you. There are many e-commerce platform where you can simple create an account, add products with description and images, provide your company details and you have your online store ready. Opmiz is one such platform.

In case you want to code you way to setting up the store then it is recommended that you should have 10 years of  coding experience and have a team of 4 developers. Best of luck with that.

7. Social Media Marketing

Once you have your online store setup you can create accounts on various social media like Instagram, Facebook etc and link them with your online store urls. There you can post regularly about the problem you are trying to solve with your product/service. This can generate leads and customers can come to your online store to explore and purchase your product and service. It may sound easy, but it takes consistency and relevant posting habits to really take advantage of the social media audience. Social media also lets you engage with your traget audience by answering their questions and sharing insightful content that is useful for them.

As you engage with people on social media, the social platform tracks accounts which maybe more interested in your brand. You can then run ads to target more people and attract to your store and let them know about your brand's presence.

8. Tracking And Analysis

There are three main sources from where you can get very useful insights.

  • Traffic and user behaviour data, and e-commerce funnel data from website tracking tools like Google Analytics
  • Search engine visibility and top ranking pages from Google search console
  • Social media posts insights and social media ad reports

You can use these insights to optimise different aspects of how you attract and convert your customers. But before you do that you will need to learn a little about these tools and reports. For example you will need to understand how to use Google Analytics and setup funnel tracking. Businesses can make the best you of this stage to setup a process and habits to regularly monitor and analyse the reports and insights and pick top 3 action items that can help them:

  • attract relevant prospective customers
  • engage better
  • convert better

The approach desribed above is very technical and can require lots of time when you sit down to tackle it for the first time, but it will get easier with time when you start doing it regularly. Once a week is a perfect interval for this purpose once you are past the initial tracking setup activity.

9. Scale

Once you start seeing that there is less and less burning issues and all the processes and system tend to stablise based on your tracking and analytics, it's time for the big push. At this stage you have confiedence in your system that you will be able to handle a big surge in orders and keep your customers happy. In this phase businesses do everything to attract more and more customers by paid advertising and also unpaid growth hacking techniques.

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With product improvement, marketing, and tracking and analysis being ongoing activities, there can be many more stages that we can talk about and the journey of a brand never really stops.

Hope this article hlped you in recall of things you already knew deep down under. Please share your views on twitter by tagging us @opmiz_com.

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