How to Set Up Your E-Commerce Business in 5 Easy Steps

Joshua Tham
5 min readMar 13, 2017


Budding entrepreneurs and startups are commonplace in the business world today. We see them all the time — Uber, Grab and AirBnb were once, and still are in fact, startups looking to make it big with revolutionary ideas and life-changing solutions to the simplest problems.

But technology is making it possible for everyone, not just the tech-savvy elite, to join this growing movement. At the heart of the startup revolution is e-commerce. The fast-growing platform has long posed an existential threat to the world of traditional shopfront retail, and it’s about time we learnt to take full advantage of its power.

The total sales volume from e-commerce has risen exponentially in the last decade, and is tipped off to overtake that of traditional retail by 2020

1. Identify the Market

Setting up a business starts with finding a product or service to sell. Identifying the right market can be difficult, but it’s also the most important step.

Seek out markets that are weak — perhaps the businesses already in this market have overpriced, poor quality products. Weaknesses like this give you an opportunity to bring value to consumers.

Demand for a good or service is equally important to sustaining your business in the long run. Google provides a fairly comprehensive service which identifies trends in search volume which can help you gauge (although not always accurately) the demand for your product.

2. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

All major search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo rank pages and listings based on what they each consider to be most relevant to users. Their methods are complex, and nearly impossible for even the most knowledgeable of SEO experts to decipher.

But if you play your cards right, there is always a way to game the system. SEO is a surprisingly easy concept to grasp. Moz has a fairly comprehensive (yet easily digestable) guide on how to go about it, and there’s a whole host of different tools available on the internet to help you along the way. Google themselves have developed a number of services to help users learn and master SEO techniques.

Taking on the task of optimizing your e-commerce site for search engines may appear daunting at first, but the truth is, much of it is just a matter or reading, experimenting and learning.

3. Market Your Products

Of course, there’s no point in SEO if you can’t market your products well. If you want your brand to become a household name, you need to convince people it’s something worth getting.

Think about Apple and how they use words like “lighter”, “faster”, “bold”, “magical”… etc. Getting the copy right is the most pivotal aspect of e-commerce. Very often, it is the product description that makes or breaks the sale, much as having a good salesperson would in traditional retail.

4. Enticing Photographs of Your Products

Product photography is the single most important aspect of e-commerce. It’s the first (and very often the only) impression of the product your customer has before deciding whether to purchase it.

Notice that in most shopfronts, flagship products are placed prominently in the center of the store and are well lit. The same fundamental principles of marketing apply to e-commerce. Customers expect to be able to view a product as they would in a physical store.

In the past, I would’ve recommended my clients to invest slightly over a thousand into renting a professional studio and hiring a photographer. This is because making products look good requires an understanding on how light bounces off different surfaces. However, I am currently using a product I believe to a true difference-maker for small e-commerce startup owners everywhere.

WhiteBox™ is a smart product photography lightbox that is essentially an entire professional studio built into a portable box. The lighting is built-in in the form of 25 LEDs, and the entire setup has been completely calibrated beforehand so that it works out of the box. WhiteBox™ professes that their lightbox “sets up in 10 seconds” and produces product photos that have “high detail & accurate colours”, “minimal glare” and “minimal shadows”. For a fraction of the cost, I have taken mesmerizing photos that I never thought I’d be able to produce myself (all with an iPhone)!

Size, however, is one major downside to the WhiteBox™. The largest size is 43cm, which means that it’ll not work for products larger than about 38cm. I’m guessing that the size constraint is due to its intended portability. However, it would be great if the geeks over at WhiteBox™ can figure out another way to fold it so that it opens up into at least a 60cm cuboid

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This is just one of many innovations that’s changing the way business works and making it possible for small fries like us to take on the giants of the corporate world.

5. Take Risks

E-commerce is not for the risk averse. Just like any form of business, it is impossible to grow big without taking your fair share of risks. Pitch to investors, sponsor large events, aggressively market your products. The world of e-commerce is wide open right now, and it’s all for your taking.

What differentiates you, a successful business owner, from the guy next door is that you’re willing to take big risks, accept bigger losses and eventually, it’s bound to pay off.