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Making your fortune in e-commerce

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My view of how long is “a long time” has changed over the years, but it would still be fair to say that I’m a veteran in the online trading world. After all, I commenced planning my start-up e-commerce software company in 1995, and launched it in 1996.

This pre-dates Google and is contemporary with Simon Murdoch, who sold his online bookstore to Amazon and then took the job of VP Europe, seeing them through their first few years of spectacular growth. 

You might think that there were loads of opportunities back then and many fewer today, but that would be too simplistic. It’s true that, like the Wild West, there were quick fortunes to be made in the early days, but in every area of business there are always openings, and ecommerce is no exception. The only difference between retailing online and other business areas is that it’s still growing at a rapid clip, so it’s the best place to be.

But given that the dinosaurs are now roving the e-commerce plain and trying to eat everything in sight, what chance is there for a smaller business? The answer is plenty, and there are many ways you can compete successfully.

How the small guy can win

One opportunity lies with new products. What’s hot in the US? What’s cool in South Korea? What product makes complete sense, but hasn’t taken off yet? A recent example of the latter category was electric cigarettes. There are always new trends, ideas and products, which means new openings.

Another opportunity to compete is in the area of personalisation and service. However good Next or Marks & Spencer are, their employees cannot possibly be as passionate about their jobs as a small business owner. Hand written order acknowledgments, thank you emails from the owner, and lots more initiatives like this will help you to stand out. The sky is the limit when it comes to new ideas for better service.

Finally, imagine a narrow crack in a rock face. The lumbering dinosaurs can’t get in, but you can; specialist niches are a great place to start competing. The opportunity isn’t large enough for the big boys to be interested, but there are still rich pickings for the smaller players.

Yes, there is still a chance to make a fortune in ecommerce; it just takes careful thought and diligent application.

Chris Barling is co-founder and chairman of e-commerce software and EPOS systems specialist, SellerDeck.

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