How you can keep up with your competition.

Being a retail entrepreneur, whether you choose e-commerce or brick and mortar, is not a passive business. Especially since the internet makes it so easy for potential customers to shop and compare.

To stay ahead of your competition you must continually study, research, and learn about your market, your chosen product categories, the market trends, and your competition. It is not an easy task.

Every major retailer like Walmart, Target, or Amazon, among all the others, have hundreds of employees whose job is to monitor their assigned product categories for new products, market trends,pricing, promotions, and competition so they can stay competitive. These employees go by many different names depending on the company. They could be called buyers, merchandisers, category managers, product managers, etc.

I suggest you limit your product offerings to a few categories to make it easier for you to keep up with what is going on with your industry. Just about every product category has a trade association. These trade associations sponsor trade fairs or shows to allow their members to exhibit their merchandise and give potential customers the opportunity to view many companies all in one place. The trade associations also produce newsletters to keep their members up to date. It is a great idea to subscribe to them for the latest industry news. Also, make regular shopping trips to major retailers to review what they are offering in your chosen product category. It’s ok to take advantage of their expertise.

Often, the first piece of advice given to new retailers is to sell products you already have knowledge about. Having an interest or prior knowledge about a product category makes your learning curve so much easier.

How do customers choose whether to purchase an item from you instead of from Alibaba when the price is cheaper?

Why should someone buy from your website instead of direct from a trading company on Alibaba? Let me count the ways.

  1. Convenience- Companies on Alibaba sell mostly in larger quantities. On your website, possible you sell one piece at a time.
  2. Shoppers experience- Ability to combine an order and buy multiple items at the same time. Your website may also be easier to shop from.
  3. Location- Your company may be located in the same time zone or at least similar time zones so customer service may actually be conducted in real time or at least more convenient times for you as a customer.
  4. Trust and professional image= The quality and professionalism of your website will make a big difference in the level of trust a customer places with you. They can see by your address and contact details where you are located and how to contact you in the case of a problem. If your website is done correctly your potential customer should see that you are an “expert” in the products you are selling. FAQ, installation or usage tips and tricks, customer testimonials, etc.
  5. Shipping methods- You may be able to offer more speed based delivery service options than a Chinese supplier.
  6. Delivery Times- Shipping from China can take 4 to 6 weeks or more depending on the product, inventory levels, and shipping method used. You may be able to offer next day delivery or other quicker methods.
  7. Payment methods available- Customers may be more comfortable using credit cards with your company, rather than sending secure data to an unknown company in a foreign country.
  8. Customer service- Have a question or a problem? With a local company website you can pick up the phone or even send a text and expect fairly rapid solutions to your problem. Or, get up in the middle of the night to call an Alibaba supplier who may or may not be able to communicate easily in English. They all will tell you, “Yes I speak English”, but the level of understanding may be difficult.
  9. Return policy- Did you ever try to return something to a Chinese supplier? Getting return authorization may be difficult, cost to ship back high, and don’t even think about trying to get a refund for any customs duties you may have paid.

Remember, when you talk about buying from Alibaba you are not really buying from Alibaba at all. You are buying from a third party vendor using Alibaba to list and market their items.

Keep in mind that price is not always the only consideration shoppers use to justify a purchase. If the price is the only consideration you are worried about, and it doesn’t matter about the speed of delivery, possible returns, trust or scam potential, and little details like those, then go ahead and buy based on the lowest price available.

Buyer beware!

What are the downsides of drop shipping?

Drop shipping is an easy way to get involved with e-commerce. No need to have a warehouse, no need to carry inventory, no need to package and ship orders. How much easier can it get?

Despite all of the pluses, drop shipping does have a big downside.

Here are some of the downsides:

  1. Price- you pay for the convenience of having someone else handle inventory and service, and often you pay a heavy premium for that convenience. Suppliers add a markup to the cost of packing materials, they will add a markup to shipping costs, and often they will markup their labor costs. After all, nothing is free.
  2. Information- Your drop ship supplier must keep you informed about inventory levels and any price changes. If you are selling on Amazon, eBay, or other similar sales platforms and you cancel too many orders because of a back order situation from your supplier, your service ranking will be affected and if your metrics drop too low your selling account may be suspended or even cancelled.
  3. Convenience- The number one reason to use drop shipping is also its biggest downside. Drop shipping makes it easy for just about anyone to enter the market. This easy entry results in massive competition since sellers don’t need any investment to start a business.This massive competition often results in sellers competing on price only. Profits suffer for everyone
  4. Control- When you drop ship you give up control of all of your order handling.  How do you ensure your orders will be shipped quickly?  How do you ensure good quality? How will your supplier handle problems or returns when they occur?  You have to find trustworthy suppliers.  That is a difficult thing to do.  Some suppliers will be excellent, some just good, and some totally terrible.  You have to hope you have made the correct choice.
  5. Your effort and involvement- Again, drop shipping is a good way to get started but it is not as easy as a lot of the companies trying to sell you tutorials or drop shipping services would like you to believe.It is not passive income.  It is not a low effort way to do business.  You have to pay attention and actually put a lot of effort into the business to succeed. You have to process orders.  You have to provide customer service and answer questions. You have to communicate with your customers about shipping, tracking numbers, possible service issues and more.  You also have to keep aware of your competition and monitor prices, monitor new items, and make sure nothing is happening to disrupt your market.

How Do You Convince A Customer To Buy From You Instead Of Your Competition?

To convince a customer to buy from you instead of from someone else, you offer them something of value that your competition does not offer. This is one of the hardest tasks many business owners face. How do you convince someone to buy from you instead of any of your competitors?

  • Offer better, quicker order processing and shipping service.
  • Offer better technical support and sales training for your products.
  • Offer quantity pricing incentives for a higher volume of sales.
  • In a worst case scenario, offer a lower price than your competition if you can afford it. If you can only compete on price, you will probably not be very successful since your competition can also cut prices to keep their current customers from moving to you.

How can you prevent liability when selling online?

You really can’t prevent liability, you can only lessen your exposure. If someone or something is injured or damaged using your products. People, especially in the USA can sue anyone for anything. Often cases are dismissed or “Thrown Out” by the court as frivolous, but you may still have to pay legal fees to defend yourself. While not being able to prevent liability, there are ways to lessen your exposure.

  • The best that you can do to avoid or at least reduce liability is to select your suppliers carefully. Make sure they are manufacturing quality products and are using proper quality testing. Verify that they comply with all necessary safety regulations in your country. Examples of risky products would be anything electrical (think battery packs and battery chargers on Hoverboards for a recent example), anything that replaces an OEM part on a vehicle,, (think brake parts, tires, wheels, brake lights, headlights, etc.,) batteries on rechargeable products, (think about Samsung phones), food, medicines, and nutritional supplements, cosmetics, children’s clothing, and the list can go on and on. Make sure your supplier can provide copies of this compliance to regulations just in case you need them.
  • In addition to carefully checking quality, see if your suppliers carry product liability insurance and ask that you be covered on their policies for your protection. You will need to consult with an attorney or insurance agent that specialises in Product Liability since it is a very complicated area, especially if you import products.
  • Look into carrying your own product liability insurance, especially if you are selling something that may fall into a “ high risk” category.
  • Handle all customer complaints promptly and to the customer’s satisfaction. Sometimes just the simple act of acknowledging the problem and correcting it is sometimes enough to avoid legal action or additional problems. Some customers simply like to know you care about their issues and are willing to work with them to correct a problem.

As I mentioned earlier, Product Liability is a complicated issue and you must consult with a qualified attorney or insurance agent to get the best, most accurate advice. Proper advice may save you from a lot of financial problems for both your business and you personally in the future.

How do I find a Mentor?

t will be very difficult for you to find mentors or role models. You can’t just approach someone and ask for their free mentorship. Learning and experience has its price. It may be the cost of tuition for an education, or it may be your hard work and dedication in advancing by on the job training. After all, why should someone successful volunteer help you without knowing anything about your dedication and skills.

Usually, mentors will find you! They find you by noticing your actions, passions, intelligence, responsibility, and dedications to any task or project you may attempt to participate in. They find you when they notice you are serious about learning or becoming better in your tasks.

Get an education and impress others with your intelligence and willingness to learn.

Get a job and impress upon others that you are serious about learning the job at hand and gaining necessary life experience to succeed.

What are the best export products to China from Europe?

There is never anything easily called “Best” product to export from China to Europe or anywhere else in the world for that matter. It will all depend on your goal or reason for importing the product.

What is your goal?

  1. Is your goal to sell a high volume, i.e. Large quantities, of products at high profit? If so, the best product is something you or your company have uniquely developed and are currently marketing or building a brand without too much competition yet.
  2. Is your goal to sell a “Best”product simply a high sales volume product? If that is the goal simply do your market research and pick a product off of a platform like Alibaba. These types of products offer high sales volume but razor thin profit margins due to the amount of competitors importing the exact same products and trying to sell based on price alone.
  3. Is your goal to sell a product with a high profit margin, a decent sales volume and build your own successful niche? If that is the case start with products or categories that you are most familiar with. What are the problems customers in that niche face? What products are available to “Fix” those problems? What is your direct competition selling?

If you can’t decide which direction you need to establish your company, then you need to do more in-depth market research.

When you can answer these types of questions about your reasons for importing and selling, then you can start building your sales plans. Once you have decided what is the best product for you, then you face the task of figuring out how can you convince your potential customers to buy from you instead of the hundreds of other sellers of similar products?

Years ago I worked for a mid-sized company selling an extremely large range of products in a very specific niche market. The company had been started by a young man who knew pretty much everything about his market, his potential customers, his competition, and how to best market his niche to reach his target market. He learned everything based on experience. When I worked for him the company had been in business over 40 years so he was no longer a young man but was in my estimation a wise mentor. We had a large merchandising staff and attended all major trade shows looking for new products and new opportunities. He had hired a buyer with over 30 years experience in buying and merchandising but little direct experience in our niche and after the new buyer’s first trade show, the boss was asking the new guy about what he had found and experienced at the show.

The new buyer started out reviewing the show in a pretty standard fashion, Company ABC sells x types of products and these are his best sellers. Company XYZ sells y types of products and these are his best sellers. He then proceeded in the same fashion for a few more companies before the boss stopped him. He said,”We already know what those companies best sellers are”. “All we have to do is look in any of the hundreds of stores run by our competitors to see what are the most popular items”. “If you take a look at our business and examine our best sellers you would see that our “Best” sellers are the items nobody else sells on a regular basis.” “Our target customer comes to us to find those unique products, buys them at a high profit margin, and hopefully fills up the rest of his cart with all those other “popular” items while he is shopping in our store”.

And these lessons are sometimes the hardest ones to teach to someone who is just starting out in the world of retail, whether it is an e-commerce store or a brick and mortar store.

US marketers: Would you outsource marketing tasks to someone outside of the US?

Proper marketing and advertising is the lifeblood of any business. Done right, it helps you grow. Done wrong it will kill your business fast.

If you are talking about common marketing tasks that are not specific to your product or market, you may be able to use outsourced foreign marketing for repetitive tasks.

If you are talking about industry specific or business specific marketing tasks you hire the best “Experts” in your field you can afford. Marketing is charged with delivering your message to your targeted market. If you want it done right make sure you have someone that has an understanding of what specifically you and your company needs to do. Make sure you can communicate effectively with your chosen marketer and that they will be available when you need then, should a problem come up. If you don’t care if your message reaches your audience, hire the cheapest people you can find. If you want your business to grow and succeed you hire the best.

Remember, good marketing isn’t just about posting a few message on social media or searching keywords and SEO.  It is about delivering your message.

It’s your company, your money, and your business reputation on the line.

When can you expect to see an AHA moment after you launch an e-commerce store?

You will probably experience that AHA moment as an e-commerce entrepreneur when you realise that there is more to retail selling than just copy and pasting a few dozen ads for products from your favourite supplier onto a template to build the website. You will see that you need to produce some unique ad content and photography to show all the potential customers that you are actually different than the hundreds of other sellers offering exactly the same product, with the same ad copy and photo, at a similar price as everyone else.

You will see that you actually need a marketing plan to economically reach your target market.

You will see that you need to establish some level of trust using your website design, and copy to let customers know that you are a professional. You are the expert in your chosen product area and that you will provide them with great product, great service, and great follow up help if they should need.

Start with a great product.

Add great product content telling the customer what you are selling, what problems or solutions it offers them, what features and benefits the product has, and why they need to buy it from you.

Figure out how to reach your target market to deliver that great sales message you have developed. You don’t always have to pay for marketing, but you do have to have a plan. If you just wait for organic search engine growth, your beard may be long and grey before the organic traffic kicks in so utilise social media, blogs, forums, PPC ads if necessary to get the word out.

What are your responsibilities regarding shipping and delivery when you drop ship?

The clock will start ticking for the carrier calculated shipping when the tracking number is entered in the system. It is all up to you, the seller, to have a negotiated agreement with your supplier about how long they will take to process your order and ship product. You then inform your customers with a statement in your ad copy like, “Usually ships next business day” , or “Usually ships in three business days”. You then also let the customer know how long the average transit time is based on the shipping carrier you use. Of course, this all goes out the window if you use an international drop shipper, but you are still ultimately responsible for everything you say in your ad or sell on your website.

You are the seller of the products you advertise. There is never a situation where you don’t have control of your shipping if you have done your job of picking your suppliers wisely. That is your responsibility and your job. It is a simple matter to understand. If you don’t have control of your shipping, you have not done your job right. You communicate with your supplier, you should have a reasonable expectation that your supplier will keep you informed about inventory levels and pricing.

You, as the seller, are responsible for shipping delays if your supplier runs out of inventory. You must tell the customer the expected backorder shipping date, and if that date changes, update the customer ASAP.

Here is a paragraph from the FTC Federal Trade Commission website, called the 30-day rule.

“The Rule requires that when you advertise merchandise, you must have a reasonable basis for stating or implying that you can ship within a certain time. If you make no shipment statement, you must have a reasonable basis for believing that you can ship within 30 days. That is why direct marketers sometimes call this the “30-day Rule.”

If, after taking the customer’s order, you learn that you cannot ship within the time you stated or within 30 days, you must seek the customer’s consent to the delayed shipment. If you cannot obtain the customer’s consent to the delay — either because it is not a situation in which you are permitted to treat the customer’s silence as consent and the customer has not expressly consented to the delay, or because the customer has expressly refused to consent — you must, without being asked, promptly refund all the money the customer paid you for the unshipped merchandise.”

Full address to the FTC website is

Business Guide to the FTC’s Mail, Internet, or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule

If you are selling on Amazon or eBay or similar platforms, shipping delays and backorders translate to customer dissatisfaction and complaints. These translate to poor reviews and complaints which could get you banned as a seller. Once you get banned, it is really difficult to get reinstated.