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So you're thinking of starting an eCommerce business or looking for new ideas for your existing one.
You know that it's a growing industry – more people are coming online every day, more people are getting comfortable with the idea of buying things online, and it's easier than ever to both buy and sell things online.
So how do you get into it?
What can we learn from the existing eCommerce successes around the world?
1. Tap into a narrow niche – understand your potential customers' needs inside out
One of the most interesting things about Beardbrand is that the founder, Eric Bandholz, didn't exactly set out to start a business. He was a regular over at /r/beards and other beardsmen communities. It was only after an interview with The New York Times that he decided to leverage all the goodwill he had built and launched a store.
To this day, Beardbrand is a lot more about the community and lifestyle than the products it sells.
Generally speaking, it's very hard to just walk up to some new niche that you've never heard of and then start making products that they love.
You'll need to understand the niche very well – better than the average person in that niche does – before you can produce an offering that delights them.
Lesson: Develop a deep understanding of the people who have the problem your business is going to solve and build relationships with them.
2. Lean on your technical expertise – aim to make a best-in-class product
If you look at the stories of eCommerce founders, there's almost always somebody in the founding team with a high level of technical expertise.
This is not a coincidence. If you want to make a product that cuts through the noise, you're going to want to be able to effectively communicate how your product is better – and that often means building better features or a better 'total package' than your competition.
When we interviewed Ztylus to get to know their business, we were struck by how their 4-in-1 lens attachment was a technical achievement that hadn't previously been replicated.
This would not have been possible without the finesse of the technical co-founder, Tim Hsu.
Opena Case, Mellow, and Ministry of Supply all have similar stories – as do lots of products on Kickstarter.
Lesson: Build a better product, and you'll have a much easier time building a successful eCommerce business around it.
3. Experiment with new business models – subscription boxes, direct-to-consumer models
Now here's an example that directly contradicts the previous one.
Dollar Shave Club entered the public consciousness as a quirky viral video. The video from 2012 continues to get lots of views, crossing 24 million hits at the time of writing.
They don't actually make their own razors, and they don't have to. What they do is provide decent razors at a reasonable cost, with fun packaging.
Bargain hunters may sneer and point out that you can buy razors straight from the supplier, but that doesn't matter to Dollar Shave Club – all they need is to provide a convenient service that their customers are happy to pay for.
And it's certainly paid off – Dollar Shave Club was acquired by Unilever in 2016 for a cool $1 billion dollars.
Lesson: Your product is more than just your product – it's the whole package. You don't need to innovate every part of it – just a segment of it that matters to your target customer.
4. Build a brand by telling a great story
The toy industry is a massive one, full of giant established brands like Lego, Disney, Hasbro, and Mattel.
So how did Goldieblox manage to cut through all of that?
It begins with a great story.
Founder Debbie Sterling didn't specifically set out to sell toys. She was an engineer by training and was frustrated with the gender disparity she found in engineering.
She developed a vision of a world where girls found engineering more accessible and came up with Goldieblox as a way of making a difference.
Lesson: It's tough to compete on price – so compete with a better story. Make something that your customers buy not because it's cheap, but because it matters to them.
Read next: 11 ways to improve your eCommerce store's customer experience