Practical Ecommerce

Six Success Factors for Small Ecommerce Businesses

Many small ecommerce businesses are one-to-five person shops whose income is derived solely from their websites. As the ecommerce world evolves and becomes more sophisticated, however, success for these smaller merchants has become more challenging.

Through the past year, certainly a harrowing one economically, we have seen quite a few smaller site owners thrive. We have also seen a significant number succumb to the current economic conditions. Here are six factors we see for those who are achieving success.

Product Line

A niche product line is a very good thing. If what you are selling is available on Amazon, then you should ask yourself what you can offer as a value-add, such as service, information, guarantees, or possibly even some entertainment. Successful ecommerce niches can include pet supplies, hobbies, industry-specific tools/supplies, and specialized business-to-business markets. If your product line naturally generates repeat orders or if you can creatively build your business to encourage repeat orders, you will be doing yourself a big favor.


If your business is small, then you want to use your size to your advantage. You are going to have a tough time going head-to-head against the big players in the industry. Instead, develop your personalized message and emphasize the human touch that you provide. Build relationships with your customers after your initial product sale with follow-up emails, requests for reviews, and email marketing with specials. The successful owner is pulling out all the stops. Sell yourself with your photo and your story on your website. People want to do business with someone they can trust. If you are a sincere, helpful, and trustworthy person, don’t be shy about sharing that with the world, or at least with your customers.


You can build a successful web business, even if you don’t possess a wealth of technical knowledge. Be realistic about where your skills and abilities are. Don’t get bogged down in the technical minutiae of running a web server. Go with an ecommerce platform that provides the tools and resources you need to be successful. Unless you have some computer expertise, going the bare bones route is probably not going to serve your business for very long. Make sure your site is built on top of a solid content management system that allows you to focus on your marketing and customer service and not the mechanics of having a website.

Website Presentation

Your website is at the center of your success. You will want to put a priority on nurturing and improving your site over time. The simplest step you can take is to update your home page regularly so the information is accurate and timely. The site owners we see who are successful are pretty obsessive about their sites. The most successful sites are not necessarily the most beautiful. But they have well-developed category and product presentation. The home page is always displaying a timely message.

Relationship Building

Over the past year, the social aspect of the web has flourished. As a small business owner, you need to pick your spots carefully and develop a social media plan. If you have time to devote to a blog, Facebook, or Twitter, that is fabulous. It will benefit you to explore all available channels. But if your time is limited, focus on taking small steps to develop your website as a social hub. Build strong bonds with your customers by asking for their feedback, giving them incentives to refer others, and genuinely listening to what they say.

The successful site owner responds to customers immediately, has the ability to communicate via online formats, and is a phenomenal resource for customers. If you have a knack for writing then take advantage of that at every turn, whether it is via a blog or some featured relevant articles on your site. Always be asking yourself how you can connect and build trust with your customers.

Use of New Technology

You don’t need to be a tech “whiz” to make your business work. But you do need to embrace technology. In a rapidly changed online world, it is hard to flourish by standing still. Whether it is your site’s search engine optimization, comparison shopping feeds, or on-site merchandising features, you want to identify ways to keep moving forward. Many elements like social bookmarking widgets are free and easy to add to your website.

Video is a prime example where we have seen some small business owners do great things. With an inexpensive setup, you can be posting your own videos to YouTube and develop a whole new channel of potential customers. Be willing to try new technologies and see if you can align yourself with vendors who responsibly role out new functionality.


The successful small ecommerce business owner is competing on her own terms. With a focused product line, a commitment to connect closely with customers, and intelligent use of available technologies. You can stay ahead of the curve and build a strong, sustainable e-business.

Michael Stearns

Michael Stearns

Bio   •   RSS Feed


Sign up for our email newsletter

  1. shopster ecommerce October 6, 2009 Reply


    This article is great advice for the small retailer! We have over 12,000 online retailers on the Shopster platform gearing up for selling online this Christmas, and while Shopster takes care of all their e-Commerce needs, each business needs to stay focused on content and marketing, as well as selecting the right product offerings (which they can change easily and frequently with Shopster) to make the most sales through the holidays.

    We will be passing this article along to our customers as continued inspiration, keep the great advice coming.

    Shopster. .

  2. Michael Stearns October 7, 2009 Reply

    Thanks for the comment, Shopster.

    Do you see that your customer base tends to do a good job with their own marketing and content?

  3. shopster ecommerce October 9, 2009 Reply

    Certainly, our most successful customers are those that set aside time and budget to dedicate to marketing their online businesses, but it’s always hard for those getting started.

    Shopster is continually looking for ways to support their retailers. Some of the resources that we offer our retailers include
    1. Shopster Partner offers (i.e. we offer Google adwords credits to get our customers started)
    2. Suggested trusted resources – listing recommended further resources where they can learn about marketing their business
    3. Lots of other info to help them market their business at

  4. Atul Jain July 18, 2013 Reply

    In my opinion, there are many other important things to consider before starting an e-commerce business.

    The first and foremost is to understand your product and analyze whether is it feasible enough to sell your product online and make some profits or not. There are many ways to do the same.

    One should also consider other important parameters like the target audience, target geography, market dynamics, competition and create a complete business plan around the same.

    I have written in detail on the topic "Things to Know Before Starting an e-Commerce Business" and you could request a free preview for the same at

    Hope this helps.


    Atul Jain