3 Business Lessons From e-Commerce Pioneers

The rise of e-commerce can be traced to a 1994 New York Times story that described in detail how a shopper made history by purchasing a “Compact audio disk” on the internet. This marked the first online retail transaction where data encryption software helped ensure privacy. Back then, the world needed a lot of explaining and information on how exactly online commerce worked. It wasn’t until Amazon showed up in 1994 that the world began to increasingly shift to a world of e-commerce and digital transaction. Google and eBay soon followed.

Today, e-commerce isn’t just reserved for technological giants. As more entrepreneurs and solopreneurs enter the e-commerce marketplace, we’re seeing advancements in online retail and how it’s shaping our everyday lives. Rising business leaders can gather inspiration of their own by seeing what these three e-commerce pioneers are doing to win big.

Carve out your niche online

Sufi Khan Sulaiman, now Vice President e-Commerce & Digital of FLIR Systems, took his fascination with computers and self-taught coding schools to launch a career an e-Commerce manager of Lorex Technology. Although the company already had a B2B presence selling products like home security systems, Sulaiman wanted to carve out a niche online and started selling products not sold through traditional brick-and-mortar stores.

With the help of Sulaiman, Lorex grew their presence organically by targeting a human audience instead of search engines, and used online content to earn 50 percent margins on their first million in sales. Like many talented entrepreneurs, Sulaiman then funneled the money back into their budget to use toward advertising and rapidly grow the brand.

Fill your own need in the market

What do you do when you can’t get the products you want? You start your own e-commerce company and scale it to fill a need in the market.

Homeshopping.pk founder and CEO, Shayaan Tahir, was frustrated when he saved up for an iPod and his purchase was blocked by Amazon because he lives in Pakistan. Tahir ultimately had a cousin in the U.S. send him a few music players and quickly sold the others via classified ads. Tahir realized he could create his own Amazon-inspired site for Pakistan’s 200 million people who struggle to get their e-commerce orders fulfilled. Although the market share is dwarfed in comparison to Amazon and eBay, Homeshopping.pk made a big splash in a small market and processes over 500 transactions per day and employs over 65 people.

Grow a cult following

Turning a relatively unnoticed market (like women’s leggings) into a fashion statement that garnered a cult following doesn’t have to require a big advertising budget. In fact, it can be done for $0. Black Milk Clothing founder James Lillis teamed up with advertising expert Cameron Parker to turn Black Milk Clothing into a multi-million dollar company with a $0 marketing and advertising budget. Instead, they focused on building a community through the power of blogging and social media to draw attention to their unique designs and styles.

Launching an e-commerce business doesn’t have to be an insurmountable task with millions in advertising and product selection at your disposal. Start with the assets you have to find your place in the market. Carving out a niche, filling a need and focusing on building a thriving community can turn your own venture from a single transaction from your kitchen table to a multi-million dollar idea.