This is a guest post from Victoria Greene, ecommerce marketing expert and freelance writer with advice about starting an ecommerce business from scratch with Shopify.
Dropshipping is an ideal solution for budding entrepreneurs who want to start a new business with very little upfront investment.
Sure, it’s not without its flaws – and I speak from personal experience. But compared to manufacturing your own products or buying in bulk from a wholesaler, dropshipping offers an on-demand system that lets you control your inventory with ease, so you can focus your energy on maintenance and marketing.
How to Start Dropshipping
If you’re new to the dropshipping scene, you won’t find a simpler platform than Shopify. Sure, there are other options available, but Shopify is perfect for beginners. I myself run a number of stores using Shopify and find that as an all-in-one ecommerce solution, it has a lot of things going for it – not least that you can be (more or less) up and running within a day.
1. Don’t Bypass Product Research
There are all sorts of ways to research products online. But before you even go near a computer, I recommend sending half an hour brainstorming ~10 niches that you’re personally interested in. You’ll find it easier to motivate yourself further down the line if you care about the products you’re selling – and understand the needs and wants of your customers.
Next, head over to Google’s trusty Keyword Planner tool to discover what people are searching for in relation to these niche keywords online. Take note of keyword volume and competition. Keep in mind that your best chance of success lies in catering to niche markets over broader terms. eBay and Amazon already have generalists covered.
Speaking of eBay and Amazon, you’ll want to look here next to discover which products are selling well. If people aren’t already buying similar items from Amazon, then chances are the demand for them isn’t very high. Finally, delve into how your potential customers are engaging with popular brands in your niche on social media. Are there any overriding trends? And more importantly, are there any gaps in the market?
2. Finding Products to Sell with Oberlo
Assuming you’ve settled on a niche to move ahead with, now is the time to find the right supplier. I’m going to talk about Oberlo in particular, since it’s one of the easiest ways for beginners to import products from AliExpress suppliers directly into your Shopify store. Having done so, once orders start coming in, they will then be shipped directly to your customers with little to no intervention from you whatsoever.
When you’re starting out, having somewhere between 15-20 products is a good baseline. What I’ve found to be the case after working on a number of stores is that products in the range of $10-50 sell best. Of course, it all depends on the products you’ve chosen to sell – you’re obviously not going to sell a brand new washing machine online for less than $50.
Trending products are a great option, and if you manage to source them before they hit the commercial masses, you’ll have a better chance of establishing yourself online. Take a look at Google Trends to get an idea of what’s up and coming. Likewise, targeting a specific niche with promising search stats will ensure you have less competition and improved ability to rank your store for niche-relevant long tail keywords.
3. Print on Demand? Use Printful or Printify
Print on demand is a great way to offer unique products while still reaping all of the benefits of dropshipping. All you need are some halfway decent design skills – or failing that, some bright ideas you can hand over to a professional designer to work with.
When it comes to print on demand, there are two Shopify integrations that are highly favoured above the rest: Printful and Printify.
Editor’s Note: We currently use Printify for the Hobo with a Laptop Merch Store.
The two are fairly similar, though there are some subtle distinctions between them. These are as follows:
- In-house printing
- Ships worldwide
- Offers DTG, screen printing, sublimation and embroidery
- Has an average lead time of 3 days
- Integrates with most CMSs, including Shopify
- Outsources printing
- Serves the US and the UK
- Offers DTG and sublimation
- Has an average lead time of 1-3 days
- Integrates with Shopify, WooCommerce and Etsy
Printful certainly seems to be Shopify’s favourite, and it has a wider range of printing options, but one advantage of Printify is its competitive shipping prices.
Printful also has a shorter average lead time and suppliers based in the UK as well as the US – preferable if you’re aiming for a British market.
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4. Keep your Finances Separate
A frequent blunder that entrepreneurs make when starting their first online business is mixing their personal and business finances. This not only makes accounting more cumbersome, it can also land you in trouble with the IRS if you’re ever audited. The takeaway message: keep your business and personal finances separate by opening new accounts.
This should include a business checking account for day-to-day finances, as well as a separate PayPal account for accepting payments through your store, and a separate credit card to use for expenses and inventory, etc.
5. Don’t Invest a Heap of Money Upfront
Sure, it’s absolutely possible to grow a dropshipping business by investing a significant sum of money at the outset. But I would recommend that you think again. Having attempted both bootstrapping and outsourcing in the past, the greatest successes have always been a result of pitching in and building up the business oneself. When you offload significant portions of work to external developers and marketers, your early profits will quickly disappear.
The whole point of the dropshipping model is that you don’t have to invest a large sum on inventory all at once. A modest buffer of around $1000 should be all you need to get your business off the ground, accounting for costs such as web hosting, premium apps, ordering product samples, etc.
Which brings us to our next point.
6. Always Order Samples to Check Quality
If you take one thing away from this article, may it be the sovereign importance of ordering product samples. Only by experiencing a product in real life can you be sure that it meets your quality standards and will live up to customers’ expectations of your brand.
Though it can be costly to order samples of every product you plan to sell, remember that it’s little in comparison to recouping the losses of multiple returned orders. Plus, once you have your samples, you have real-life products you can then use for product photos – beyond what’s offered by the supplier.
Before you order anything, get in touch with each supplier to discuss exactly what you’re looking for. It should go without saying (but still bears repeating) that you should look to order samples from more than one supplier to compare products side-by-side. Be sure to order your samples in each of their variations too, such as colour and style. Don’t leave anything to chance.
Depending on the nature of the product, conduct tests to make sure it lives up to what the manufacturer claims it can do. If it’s a print on demand product, make sure the print quality is good and that colors show up true to the original design. When printed, colors often appear less saturated and vibrant compared to what you see on screen.
Also, take note of how the products are packaged and shipped, and consider whether due care and diligence has been taken. Remember that your customers perceive the order as arriving directly from you – therefore shoddy presentation reflects poorly not on your supplier, but on your brand.
Hopefully, this article has provided you with some helpful tips and insight into setting up your first dropshipping store. Got questions about starting an ecommerce business from scratch? Let us know in the comments.
Did you enjoy this article? You can read more of Victoria’s work at Victoria Ecommerce.