Starting a Retail Business Online

If you want to start a retail business, but you don’t have the budget for a storefront, online retail is a very viable option. Steep start-up costs for a brick and mortar business don’t always make financial sense, and that shouldn’t extinguish your entrepreneurial spirit. An online retail business can be started with the tiniest of budgets, and here’s how you can get started.

Types of online stores

There are several different online options to consider. First is the online boutique, which sells specialized, niche items for a specific demographic. Boutiques tend to do well in the online retail space because of the narrow market they serve. Instead of trying to compete with major online retailers, boutiques offer select products like jewelry, lingerie, wedding gowns, or baby gear.

There’s also the Etsy shop, and it’s affordable to begin selling on Etsy. You only pay small fees when listing an item and after an item sells, and you don’t have to make handcrafted items. While many shoppers head to Etsy to find one-of-a-kind creations, it’s also a popular marketplace for unique vintage finds. You can take your crafting hobby full-time as an Etsy seller, and if you enjoy frequenting thrift stores and flea markets, you can also flip your vintage finds for profit.

If you want a larger audience, there’s Amazon FBA (short for “Fulfillment by Amazon”). It’s a program which allows retailers to sell their items on Amazon without worrying about housing inventory, packing, shipping, or customer service concerns. You just need to focus on finding inventory, listing items for sale, and sending them into Amazon. Once you hand off your inventory to the e-commerce giant, they take care of the rest. Keep in mind that Amazon also takes a slice of your profits.

Getting the goods

Regardless of what platform you’re using, you need to acquire your goods at an affordable cost before selling them for retail. Buying from wholesalers is one way to go. The key difference between wholesale and retail buying are the quantities (and prices) of the products you purchase.

Wholesale buyers purchase a large quantity of products from a supplier at a reduced cost with the intention of selling them in a retail setting, whether that’s a brick-and-mortar store or an online shop. Wholesale prices are always a good deal lower than retail price, because wholesalers often get their products directly from a manufacturer or distributor. If you think of a retailer as the middleman between a manufacturer and the customer, wholesale buying cuts out that middleman and the added costs that come with it. Without these extra costs, a wholesaler is free to offer their products at a lower price while still enjoying a profit.

Another source of inexpensive merchandise is liquidation auctions. Once you’ve identified a liquidator that you want to do business with, you apply and get approved and then you’re ready to shop. Make sure you pay attention to the product’s condition, quantities, packages, time left for the bid, bid price, and whether the merchandise is refurbished. If you enter the maximum bid, you won’t have to monitor the auction — you will typically receive an email if someone outbids you. Once you’ve won the auction, your form of payment is processed and your merchandise is shipped to your delivery address.

Open for business

Your online store needs to have great merchandise photos. No worries, you don’t need an expensive camera to get it done either. Most smartphones are perfectly capable of taking professional looking photos. Here are some other tips:

  • Shoot in the daylight, away from the light source.
  • Shoot a thumbnail, close-up, reverse side (if needed), and a scale photo.
  • Use plain backgrounds.
  • Avoid filters, photo editing, and flash.

Depending on how you plan on handling your fulfillment, you can have your merchandise shipped directly to your fulfillment center or have them sent directly to you. With a fulfillment center like Amazon, once you hand off your merchandise to them, they handle shipping when your orders come in.

If you are handling your fulfillment and shipping yourself, then you are responsible for processing orders, picking orders from inventory, shipping, and providing your customers with tracking information. But it’s still a much smaller hassle than running a brick and mortar shop.