One day, some 28 years ago, a young hedge fund VP had a dream. (He wanted to know how to start a business like Amazon!)
Seeing the potential of the phenomena that was the world wide web, Jeff Bezos had the idea to start the biggest online bookshop in the world.
With a $300k investment from his parents he set about building Amazon from his garage and delivering books himself in his car.
Within a year the garage had been swapped for a two bed house and by 1997, two years post launch the company went public.
As more businesses followed suit and opened their own online stores, Jeff saw the need to diversify and started to branch out into CD’s, videos, electronics, toys and games, partnering with a variety of major retailers.
The rest they say is history and in late 2021, Jeff finally stepped down as CEO of Amazon.com to work more closely on his mission to commercialise space travel.
Lucky for us, Jeff blazed a trail that means it’s now possible for anyone to start an ecommerce business like Amazon, literally from your kitchen table or a beach in Fiji!
If you’re looking forward to discovering how to start a business like Amazon, read on!
Table of Contents
The keyword here is ‘like’.
If your goal is to build a huge unicorn style business, then like Jeff, you’ll need to shoot where the puck is going and start a business in a new technology like web3.0 for example.
However, if you’d simply love to build your own super successful marketplace ecommerce empire in a niche you love, then let’s get started!
Jeff chose books because of the sheer amount of products he could sell within one niche. At the time there were over 3 million different books in print across the world. It was (and still is), a huge market.
From his early successes he was able to springboard into broader niches.
Even 28 years ago when the fact he was launching an online store was almost unheard of, he still started with one niche and diversified only as and when he’d achieved a level of success.
Even if you have huge dreams of being a multi niche site like Amazon, I still urge you to start with one niche.
However, with the sheer amount of online business competition these days and the hundreds of thousands of products available, your best bet for long term success is to narrow in on a specific niche with the scope for huge growth within that niche.
For example, if you’re a pet lover, you might start with a line of dog toys or accessories and over time grow into a huge dog or pet e commerce marketplace like chewy.com.
Some other niches to consider might include;
- Health & Wellness
- Eco friendly products
- Men’s Grooming
- Home improvement
The list is endless, so pick something you’re interested in, there’s a passionate audience around and that includes some great brands you’d love to work with.
Although your goal is to grow as an ecommerce website like amazon and therefore have a multitude of products and brands for sale on your e commerce website, your best option is to start selling your own products.
This allows you to start testing the market, grow your sales and your audience and create an e commerce store brands are going to want to sell on.
There are a number of options available to get started, including dropshipping, print on demand or private label.
Each one comes with it’s own set of pros and cons which I’ll touch on briefly here;
Probably the fastest and easiest way to get off the starting blocks.
The pros are – it’s fast, easy to populate your store with products and you can start to test which products resonate with your audience with no risk.
The cons are – you have no control over the quality of products, shipping can take weeks if the product is coming from China and shipping fees can get expensive if you try to expedite the process.
Probably my favourite route to getting an e commerce business off the ground with little or no investment.
Simply link a print on demand company with your Shopify e commerce website, create some designs for free in canva.com and showcase the print on demand products with your logo’s and designs on your e commerce store.
The pros are – it’s easy to set up, the designs are your own and unique to your brand and you can test which products your audience loves.
The cons are – the cost of the products and shipping makes profit margins very tight. If you want to run ads or any paid marketing campaigns you’ll struggle with print on demand unless you’re selling bulk. You’re also limited to the products available from the pod supplier.
This route requires some up front investment as you will need to order a minimum amount of stock to make it worthwhile.
Use an e commerce platform like Junglescout to source products and suppliers from around the globe. Get your logo’s and product designs printed onto the products and place an order to be shipped to you or your PPL warehouse of choice.
The pros are – the products are manufactured for you and branded with your e commerce business brand. This means they are unique to you and your brand.
The cons are – unless you’re shipping directly to and selling on Amazon, this is an expensive and logistically complicated route to getting your ecommerce business off the ground.
When Jeff started amazon he had to build his own ecommerce software from scratch.
These days, using pre built and designed software, you can have your store up and running inside of a day!
There are a multitude of ecommerce store builders on the market, but my software of choice is Shopify.
Simply sign up for their 14 day free trial, select a free Shopify theme and create your online store.
Don’t overthink this.
You can improve as you grow.
For now design a simple logo on canva.com. Add some relevant images & company descriptions / visions to your theme, add your products, add your payment platforms, link to facebook and instagram and start selling!
Over time, you’ll add terms & condition, a reviews app, a list building app, upsells and more bells and whistles.
But the main thing is to add your products and start selling as quickly as possible.
There is nothing more motivating than seeing some sales coming in off the bat.
The most critical element in your quest of how to build a business like Amazon is going to be the size of your audience.
You’ll struggle to attract great brands to sell on your site unless you can demonstrate you have an audience for them to sell to.
From day one of your launch, be sure to set up relevant social media accounts to showcase your products and as soon as you can start to build your email list.
One of the fastest routes to both build your audience and increase your sales at the same time is influencer marketing.
Find both macro & micro influencers in your niche with engaged audiences to trial and showcase your products or to collaborate with.
Make a list of influencers you’d love to work with and start direct messaging! There’s not much more to it than that, you simply need to hustle to get your products in front of the right people.
You can look to work with influencer agencies, but they’re going to cost, and at the start of your business you may not have the investment necessary. However, that might be a strategy to employ at a later stage along with social media ads on facebook, Instagram and Pinterest perhaps.
As your audience grows you can use your influencer contacts to help you begin to approach potential brands and vendors to sell on your site.
Who does the influencer know already? Who have they worked with in the past they can make an intro too?
You can also start to research brands currently selling in other marketplaces in your niche and reach out to them directly to see if they’d be interested in selling on your ecommerce website.
There’s nothing to stop you from reaching out to brands you love who are currently selling on social media or who have their own ecommerce business, but may be interested in reaching a wider audience.
One of my favourite sayings from the old movie Spinal Tap, is ‘money talks, bullshit walks’, so be sure to prove your audience and sales numbers to attract brands to your ecommerce website.
- Why would they want to sell on your ecommerce store?
- What can you bring to the table that they don’t have right now?
- How can you help them reach a wider audience?
- How can you help them increase their sales and their brand?
Once again Jeff and his team would have had to build this out code line by code line, however, these days super clever tech people have done it for you.
This is the critical step that turns your standard ecommerce website into a business like Amazon.
Set your commissions/vendor payment settings and allow other brands and sellers to upload their products and start selling on your store!
28 years ago the tech would have been the biggest challenge. These days the tech is the easy part!
Jeff Bezos is famous for being customer centric. (so much so he’s got some very bad press for how he treated his staff, but that’s another post).
“The most important single thing is to focus obsessively on the customer. Our goal is to be earth’s most customer-centric company.” – Jeff Bezos
That truly is the secret to his success.
- Fast and free shipping
- Diversity of products
- Price of products
- Amazon Prime subscription service
All with the customer needs at the forefront of every new innovation or improvement.
Yes you’re in the business of selling pet products (as per my example above). But your business isn’t the pet food or dog toys or puppy coats.
Your business is in ensuring the customer gets everything they need, in the most convenient way, for the best price.
Your business is in making the customers’ life better, easier, happier, or whatever transformational effects your products and service will have.
To attract great brands to work with you and sell on your ecommerce store, you’ll need a large audience of paying customers.
Focus on growing your ecommerce brand on social media, use influencer marketing to get in front of larger audiences and start building your email list from the getgo.
A great way to regulate sales and build a recurring monthly income is to create a monthly subscription program.
This might include a monthly package of products, special benefits like discount codes or free shipping or access to premium brands.
If I sign up as a seller with the Amazon FBA program, I get instant access to amazon’s prime customers, meaning my products get tagged with the prime ticket and next day free shopping, thereby making it very attractive for me to sell under that program.
Use a subscription model as a way to both increase monthly revenues and attract brands to sell with you.
When you first start out you’ll be tempted to work with any brand that throws a product at you. Don’t!
Attract bigger and better brands by starting as you mean to go on.
The higher quality brands and products you sell, the higher quality brands you’ll attract.
Make it impossible for you to make snap decisions by creating a checklist each brand or seller has to adhere to before you’ll allow them to sell on your platform.
Be strict! You’re working towards the long term here.
Put your customers front and centre of every decision you make.
Ask yourself at every stage of the game;
Will what I’m about to do benefit the customer?
How to Start a Business Like Amazon – Summary
Building a business like Amazon is no mean feat.
It’s going to take passion, hustle, moving out of your comfort zone and being in action taker mode 24/7.
However, with the technology available to us today, it’s a doable business venture for anyone who wants it.
Do please read my huge step by step detailed guide on starting an ecommerce business from scratch in another module in my blog, including how to set up your shopify store, build out your themes, add products etc.
In the meantime, good luck!
I wish you all the success in the world.