How to Quickly Start a Successful Drop Shipping Company in Time for BFCMNovember 7, 2017 - Milen Vasilev
Unlike other eStores, a drop shipping eCommerce store does not carry an inventory and is only responsible for the front end of the operation. That means building a site and getting people to buy from it, using mostly digital marketing channels like social media, blog, and paid ads.
This unique distribution model makes drop shipping quick to put together. In some cases, you can get up and running in under a week! Just in time for the upcoming Black Friday/Cyber Monday (BFCM) sales event.
With drop shipping, you do not buy products in bulk but rather as your customers order them, they are shipped directly by your supplier or fulfillment provider. The most difficult part is finding the right supplier who has a reliable fulfillment network and offers the type of products you are interested in selling.
The model has been exceedingly popular with millennials because it requires little initial capital and can be jump-started in such a short time… especially if you use sales events like BFCM to gain some quick traction.
All you need is a supplier, a website, and some digital marketing skills.
Let’s take a look at the finer details and timeline of starting a successful drop shipping company and how to get it on the road in time for BFCM, November 24-27.
Step 1: Find a Product Niche
Estimated time: 12 hours
Invest time in research to find a product niche that is not oversaturated and that you are passionate about. Don’t go with the first idea that comes to your mind.
List at least ten possible niches and find out if they are popular but not over-explored.
Use Google Keyword Planner to find search volumes for each niche, and find at least ten companies that are selling in it and examine how are they performing. Go on Amazon, eBay, Etsy and find who is selling similar products. Visit their social media pages and see how people are responding to them.
Turn the internet upside down until you find a product that can work for you.
Think of subcultures and emerging trends that you yourself like or have heard about through the grapevine. Something like yoga, veganism, hiking, or juicing can be a great jumping off point to examine products that would be perfect for your drop shipping store. Whatever you decide on, make it something you are passionate about so you stay motivated while in the trenches of eCommerce.
Aim for products that are easy and inexpensive to ship and that are popular with buyers with disposable income.
Step 2: Find a Supplier
Estimated time: 18-24 hours over the course of a week
Use online directories to find suppliers and fulfillment centers that offer products in the niche you have selected. You can also search directly on Google, but supplier sites tend to be hard to find. It will take you longer and you will have to vet them thoroughly yourself, which can be a lengthy process.
Worldwide Brands lists thousands of wholesalers and millions of products that you can get access to for a $299 lifetime membership. This is one of the oldest directories that vets the suppliers it lists, so it can save you a lot of time in finding a legitimate partner.
SaleHoo boasts over 8,000 suppliers and a yearly fee of only $67. It caters to a lot of Amazon and eBay sellers.
Doba offers 165 suppliers, 1.5 million products, and charges $60 per month. Daba is essentially a platform that allows you to place orders with suppliers. It also integrates with eBay, automating the listing of your items.
Wholesale Central is a free directory that lists more than 1,400 suppliers and nearly a million products. And while it does vet its suppliers, they pay to be listed, so it is best if you invest some time in checking their legitimacy yourself.
One of the biggest choices you will have to make is between domestic and foreign suppliers. Consider things like communication, quality, and order fulfillment times. The size of the supplier also matters. With large foreign suppliers, you will have very little control over the process, while smaller domestic drop shippers can be more flexible.
Make a Short List
Make a short list, and start contacting suppliers. Directly open an account through the directory or their own site if that option is available. You will need to get a Tax ID or a Seller License, which you can get online in most US states.
If you want to get up and running for BFCM, a domestic supplier might be a good option to start with because they tend to respond faster to request and offer shorter fulfillment times.
A lot of the foreign suppliers are located in China. They often offer better margins but at the price of very little flexibility. Alibaba has grown to be one of the leading directories for finding and communicating with Asian suppliers.
Communication is key, so ask as many questions as possible to evaluate your drop shipper. Test lead times and flexibility by requesting samples, product photos, and info about their fulfillment centers’ management systems. The more data you gather, the more likely you are to land on a good supplier.
If you want to get this done within a week, use one of the directories that have already vetted suppliers, which will significantly shorten your search.
Suppliers can be slow to respond to questions and requests, so while you are choosing a fulfillment parent, you can also multitask by building your store.
Step 3: Choose a Platform to Build Your Store
Estimated time: 3 hours
There are many platforms out there that can help you build your store, but for a quick start if you have no developer experience, use Shopify. It’s powerful, super easy to use, and supports both drop shipping and a constellation of apps that help your store convert more customers.
Shopify is easy to set up, intuitive, and relatively inexpensive for the convenience it offers. It also offers a 14-day free trial and plenty of free store themes to choose from. Customize your theme as much as you see fit, but do not over-stress on little tweaks and designs. Fix your colors, images, fonts, and menus, but then focus on your products.
BFCM is just around the corner, and you will have plenty of time to fine-tune your store once the sales event is over. Once the store is up and running, then you can test and make small tweaks that will boost your conversion (preferably in January). For now, we are focusing on getting your store up and running quickly for Black Friday. So once you get an account with a supplier, start listing your products.
Step 4: List Your Products
Estimated time: Depends widely on the number of products, but to start, we would say 10-15 hours.
Focus on Quality, Targeted Items
Don’t get bogged down by wanting to add every single product to your listing before you go live. You can and should keep adding products after you launch your store. Try also to keep your store focused so your customers do not get distracted. It is better to focus on a few quality items with larger margins than a bulk supply of low-quality products with very small margins.
Source: Advertising Commissions
By the time you have set up your store, you should have heard back from at least a few suppliers with products they have available. You can then proceed with choosing the ones that best fit your niche. It is important to stick to your niche and not to try to sell everything under the sun.
See what suppliers have to offer, and select products you think will be most popular with the market you are targeting. If there are not enough products from your niche that are available through the supplier you have picked, consider switching to one of the other niches from your short list.
Keep in mind that uploading images, writing titles and descriptions, and optimizing metadata are some of the most time-consuming tasks (another reason to keep a narrow product line). You can always add more products to your store later as it gains traction. You don’t want to get lost in the minutia and miss your window for launching the store altogether. The goal right now is to give your store a jumpstart on the Black Friday train.
Build Your Product Pages
Once you have closed the deal with your supplier, most of your time will be spent building product pages and promoting them. Product pages are critical, so make sure they are professional looking, with quality product images on white backgrounds that are optimized for both desktop and mobile.
Ideally, your supplier will provide you with initial product photos that you will just have to upload to your store.
Make your product pages unique and engaging with quality photos, clear product titles, and unique descriptions. Make sure it is easy to navigate, your Buy Button stands out, and your shipping information is easy to find.
Set up the rest of your site, including your Return Policy page, FAQ, & About us, and you will be ready to launch.
Step 5: Plan Your Marketing
Estimated time: 8-12 hours. Keep in mind that the more time you invest in fine-tuning your marketing, the better results you will get.
At the same time as you’re vetting suppliers,
- set up your social media channels,
- create paid ads templates, and
- research apps that will increase your conversion.
The typical ways to bring customers to your eCommerce store are PPC ads, social media posts and ads, blog posts, and email marketing. While blogs are a long-term solution and email requires you to have existing customers, the quickest way to start is with paid ads.
Set up your social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter to start. You can run a highly targeted ad campaign within Facebook that can generate sales on your first day. Google ads via AdWords are also an option, but for a new store, Facebook ads can be more customizable and help you gain traction faster. You can even automate them using Shopify’s virtual assistant, Kit.
Test your ads in the days leading up to BFCM by setting daily budgets and running a few variations to see which ones are performing best. Depending on your budget and sales, you can set a daily budget for ads at $10 or $100 or more.
To improve your conversion rate and to make the best of your ad clicks, install apps in your Shopify store that nurture visitors to buy. Use Black Friday countdown timers and reminders to engage consumers and create a sense of urgency. Employ pop-ups for special offers and return customer discounts.
Quick List of Useful Shopify Apps
Hurrify – A countdown timer to alert your customers of the coming BFCM sale.
JustUno – Pop-ups to advertise deep Black Friday discounts.
24/7 – An automated chatbot to help answer common questions.
Sales Pop – Real-time notifications about recently sold products to boost social appeal.
Happy Customer – A free promotion bar across the top of your store to keep customers engaged.
Free Shipping Bar – A promotion bar that lets your customers know you are offering free shipping.
Discounted Upsells – Offers discounts to related products to boost your cart size.
Better Coupon Box – Highly customizable email capture pop-ups.
PushOwl – Reminds your customers about sales or abandoned carts with push notifications.
Source: Matix Clothing
Step 6: Test and Promote
Estimated time: 6-12 hours per week. You can invest even more time depending on your goals and your desired level of involvement.
You did it! You have your products listed, your store ready, and your ads running.
From this point on, it’s time to do everything you can to optimize your store. Test what different ads and apps you can before BFCM kicks off. See what works, and repeat the cycle. Collect emails, and send your existing customers discounts, free shipping coupons and other incentives for the BFCM sale.
You can use Black Friday to jumpstart your store, get an influx of customers, and retain them by offering them a great experience. Respond to issues and handle returns and exchanges so your customers stay delighted. Offer loyalty programs and incentive-driven referral programs to further build your consumer base and take your store to the next level.
But remember, if you can’t get into testing before BFCM or before Christmas, that’s perfectly ok. The most important thing is to get your store set up now, and once January comes around, as we wrote above, you will have plenty of time to test and tweak.
Starting a drop shipping operation is surprisingly easy. And you can use BFCM to supercharge it and get a good base of loyal customers early on.
What is difficult is consistency and keeping those customers engaged and delighted so they return and tell their friends about your store. Only when you do that last bit well will you set up your store for long-term success.
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