50+ Hard Lessons You’ll Learn When Running an Online Shop

Think about your online store.

Now think about a world in which you never started that store. Would you have ended up in a completely different place in your life? Can you even imagine it at all?

If you’ve found success in the world of ecommerce, chances are you can’t fathom the idea of not working on whatever it is you’re selling.

However, in terms of people who are playing around with an idea or just starting to launch a shop online, they may have some qualms about the whole endeavor.

Sure, a fresh new entrepreneur is going to be naive at the beginning, but they are also going to be going through some stress.

Where does this stress come from?

The fact that they can’t ever prepare for the unexpected.

What if you don’t sell any products or you can’t handle the orders during the holidays? What if people bash you in reviews?

There’s no telling what types of hardships you’ll endure, but one thing’s for sure: Lessons will be learned.

Since this uncertainty lingers, we wanted to take a moment to put some of you newcomers at ease. No, you won’t be able to avoid the hardships by reading this article, but the hard lessons you’ll learn when running an online shop will at least give you the ammunition you need to prepare for future problems.

Therefore, without further ado…we give you the 50 hard lessons you’ll encounter when running an online shop.

1. Your Competitors Are Most Likely a Step or Two Ahead of You

Face it. Competitors are constantly thinking about ways to undermine you, and you’re better off accepting that they know more than you. This way, you’ll be ready for the attacks and prepared for striking back.

2. Your Customers are Also Thinking Way Ahead of You

Customers often think of new ways to improve your products. After all, they are the ones using them. Therefore, it’s wise to continuously reach out to them to understand their needs.

3. Customers Expect Little Short of Perfection

When a customer gets a package late, they expect an explanation. When they get below average customer service, some of them will tear you apart online. Get ready for backlash, and develop a plan for handling it without causing more problems.

4. You Must Get Educated on Running an Ecommerce Shop

Your competitors are learning about the industry, so why aren’t you? Follow blogs, get email newsletters and go to events that allow you to network and learn about what to expect in the future.

5. This Process Will Be More Difficult and Expensive Than Anticipated

It’s not that expensive to setup an ecommerce website, but if you start scaling up (as most companies are hoping to do,) the expenses will start piling on. Go into this venture knowing that you’re going to have some tough times, and you’ll have to take out the checkbook.

6. The Amount of Time You Spend on Your Business Will Increase as Time Goes By

Pushing work off on other people is rarely going to happen when selling online. Chances are, you’ll be doing different tasks a year from now, but you should never think that you’ll slowly sit back and watch others do all the work.

7. You Won’t Be Spending Much Time on the Beach

This ties into the previous lesson learned, but it more so touches on the famous books you’ll read about only working a few hours per day or sitting on the beach while you rake in money. Most of these books are pure fantasy.

8. If You’re Moving to Ecommerce from a Physical Store, Your Operations Will Change Drastically

Since customers are going to expect different things, you may have to change around your point of sale. You’ll also need people to fulfill orders, handle online customer service and more.

9. Customers are Often More Informed Than You

With reviews, ratings, blogs, comparisons and all sorts of tools online, chances are your customers have tons of information before they buy a product from you. How do you stack up in the comparisons?

10. Don’t Wait for Your Customer Lines to Get too Long to Build Your Support Team

You’ll lose plenty of customers this way. Consider building a small customer support team before you expect a big traffic surge to start.

11. Uniqueness Helps You Fight the Big Dogs

Not all of the big competitors are that unique. Therefore, it’s essential to standout with gifts, superior customer service, faster shipping, personalized service and more.

12. Data is Always Better Than Advice from People

It’s easy to take advice from your cousin, or even one of your employees for that matter, but data is always going to tell you the truth.

13. A Simple Website is a Great Way to Boost Sales

Slow, cluttered websites can be smelled by customers from miles away. You may not be seeing boosts in sales because of it, so it’s prudent to test how simple your site is on occasion.

14. Hiring the Right People is Essential

Are most of the people on your staff smarter than you? If not, you’re not hiring properly.

15. Putting People in the Right Positions is Crucial

Did you assign someone as a customer support rep who should be managing your social media?

16. Rewarding Your Workers Builds Promise

Imagine how much faster your warehouse employees would work if they received occasional bonuses or rewards. In return, you get faster shipping.

17. Constant Product Recommendations Are a Must-have

Amazon brings in tons of money with recommendations popping up at all times.

18. Your Payment Processor and Gateway Could Be Cutting Into Your Profit

Compare alternative options on a yearly basis.

19. A Credible Fulfillment Service Has Tons of Benefits

Wouldn’t it be easier to have a company that picks, packages and sends out your items? Not to mention, these fulfillment services also store some of your inventory.

20. A One Click Checkout May be Worthwhile

Amazon has had great success with this.

21. Retail Best Practices Still Apply to Your Online Store

Customers still expect great customer service while talking to you online or on the phone. You’ll also need to handle inventory in a similar fashion, along with product displays. Customers want to feel and touch their products as well, so it’s essential to give them all the media they need to feel like they’re in a real store.

22. A Well-Developed Social Strategy Gives You a Leg Up on Competitors

You have tons of social media outlets to choose from. Many companies try to get on all of them, which isn’t a bad idea, but you must have a plan for managing these and pumping out quality content.

23. You Leave Lots of Money on the Table When Not Selling on Other Outlets

From eBay to Etsy and Amazon, some potential customers only buy from those places. These are great spots to find new customers, and they serve as places for expanding your opportunities for increased profits.

24. Many People Don’t Buy Because the Risk is Too High

If someone doesn’t feel like their information is private, they won’t buy from you. The same goes for if they don’t feel like they can return a product in a reasonable time. Show folks that they take on little risk when shopping through your store.

25. Customer Frustration is Minimized With Constantly Visible Shopping Carts

Consumers often get frustrated when they have to backtrack to see what is currently in their shopping cart.

26. Checkout Pages Should Be as Few as Possible

If one checkout page is an option, go for it. Fit as much information on that page as you can.

27. You Must Have a Strategy and Stay Focused to Avoid Distractions

Few successful ecommerce companies have grown to successful mega-stores without having a plan.

28. Spending Money on Useful Technology is Rarely a Bad Idea

Software helps you manage shipping, keep track of finances, test which buttons are working on your site and keep in contact with customers. They may seem like costly expenses at first, but they’ll make up for it.

29. Not Giving Out Free Shipping Strengthens Your Competitors

Figure out a way to give out free shipping. Most companies are somehow doing this. It’s wise to consider creating a sales benchmark for free shipping if you can’t swing it for all orders. For example, all orders of $50 or more get free shipping.

30. If You Wait Too Long, It Becomes More Costly and Tedious

This generally applies to all decisions. Waiting too long to launch your store is typically going to cost you in the long run. Waiting too long to A/B test is also going to cut into your margins.

31. Your Payment Options Must Be Plentiful

Some customers pay with PayPal, while others use obscure credit cards. Make sure the options are all there.

32. If You Want Your Customer to Do Something, The Words Should Standout

Are you trying to push people to a certain new product on your website? Make it so that the buttons or links are clear and not surrounded by a bunch of other junk.

33. Keep Finding What Works, and Tweaking it to Make it Better

This is what the biggest and best companies in the world do.

34. Starting an Email List Late Loses You Tons of Money

Even if your website isn’t fully functional, you can start bringing in potential customers who are interested in what you’re trying to sell.

35. Analytics are the Key to Personalization

Is one customer more interested in shoes while another is looking for t-shirts? In that case, you shouldn’t be sending shoe emails to the one that has only bought t-shirts. Personalization is all in the analytics.

36. If Your Site is in the Process of Doing Something, Let People Know

Sometimes people think that a site is broken or not working if you don’t tell them.

37. Target Marketing and Analytics Will Eventually Pay For Themselves

Every successful ecommerce professional will tell you this, so don’t skimp on targeting or analytics.

38. Straying too Far From Your Niche Often Hurts Your Margins

A gardening store that starts selling computer equipment may find that customers get turned off or confused.

39. One Poor Shopping Experience Could Lose a Customer For Life

People are loyal, but once you tick them off with a crumby experience, they may never come back.

40. Relying on Big Shopping Days Can Spell Doom for Your Company

The entire year is your best shopping time. Put as much effort into March as you do with the holidays.

41. Poor Performing Products May Not Be Getting the Right Amount of Exposure

Before cutting a product from your inventory, consider posting some ads and banners on your site to see if it does well. It also may just need to be packaged with another, better selling, product.

42. Time Sensitive Deals are Gold Mines if Used Properly

Customers tend to freak out when they see that timer counting down. Take advantage of that urgency.

43. A Website Without a Mobile Focus Will Eventually Die

Google is pretty clear about your rankings dropping if you don’t have mobile responsiveness. In addition, customers are starting to buy lots of stuff through tablets and phones.

44. Clear Instructions are Required for Online Customers

It may seem tedious, but you must tell people how to checkout, how to contact you, how to use the product and more.

45. The Next Step Must be Super Apparent for Customers

Testing is usually the best way to see if all of your checkout steps are clear.

46. One Step is Always Better Than Two

It could be the difference between 30% of your customers buying or leaving your site forever.

47. Your Shipping Supplies Have A Lot to do With Branding

Think about how Amazon does its shipping supplies. You can recognize a box from Amazon from down the block. They have branding on the tape, on the shipping label and on the box.

48. If There’s One Area to Avoid Skimping on Investments, It’s Customer Service

Your customer-facing employees and tools should never be neglected when your budget meetings come around.

49. Don’t Forget About Your Local Customers

Maybe you can offer fast shipping to those in the area. Maybe you can hold events to get people excited about new products.

50. An Online Store Will Be the Funnest Experience You’ve Ever Had

Good luck!


Wow! That’s quite the list. You may be wondering whether or not starting an online shop is such a good idea after reading it. However, I want to assure you that having a list like this is only going to strengthen your resolve and push you into a mindset that allows you to adapt when the problems start to arise. Yes, roadblocks are sure to knock you down, but when you prepare for the worst, you will be able to fight through with fewer repercussions.

Feel free to drop a line in the comments section if you have any questions about the hard lessons you’ll learn when running an online shop. If you’re more experienced and would like to add to the list, let us know about the lessons you’ve learned.

Feature image curtesy of Michelle Vandy

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