This article was contributed by ​WorldFirst​. Adapted from ​Setting up shop: 5 online seller smarts.

The Asia-Pacific e-commerce market is valued at over US$770B, and the e-commerce market in Southeast Asia alone is expected to exceed over $200B in the next decade (Source: ​EDB Singapore​). If there’s anything that we can take away from the growth of Lazada, Shoppee, Tokopedia, and the likes of major e-commerce companies in Southeast Asia, it’s that there is a huge opportunity lying ahead of us – consumers are embracing the lifestyle of shopping online.

Alibaba is a quintessential shopping platform where many small businesses in China took to e-commerce and offered their products to customers around the region. It has been so successful that even ​teenagers in rural parts of China can start their own online businesses​.

Likewise, the Southeast Asian market is expected to blossom and there’s no better time to start your own e-commerce business to ride on to this trend. Here are 5 simple steps you can take to be your own boss.

1. Come up with a plan

You might have an idea of some category of products to sell. That’s a good start.

Next, start by researching how you can go about selling and reaching out to potential customers. There are off-the-shelf packages, e-commerce tools, shipping and payment gateways, competitors who have had successes.

There are also plenty of online reports like WorldFirst’s​ ​Voice of Online Sellers​ where you can pick up valuable insights compiled by experienced sellers and platforms. These are all valuable learning materials.

After that, come up with a business plan. This helps you to define your 5W1H:

  • Who are you selling to
  • What problems are you solving for them

  • When do they do their shopping

  • Where (which platforms) do they shop on

  • Why do they prefer to shop online

  • How can you reach out to these customers

Having a plan gives you a broad overview of what you want to accomplish and how you can get there. Try writing these down on a​ Business Canvas Model​; it will help keep you on track when running the business.

2. Choose the right platform

Before you choose a platform to sell your product on, consider your set-up budget, your technical ability to do coding, and how much time you have to go to market.

For less technical founders, e-commerce tools such as Wix and SquareSpace allows you to build basic mobile-optimise websites for you to start selling. If you need something more to help manage your invoices and delivery, then there’s Shopify, Magento, and other platforms that are designed for e-commerce.

Many local sellers also jump onto platforms like Qoo10, Lazada, and Shoppee to become sellers. The upsides of using these platforms are that they already have an established audience and they can even provide logistic solutions for you.

However, they’ll also charge a commission on your sales, and you’ll be competing with many other sellers in the same space for the same pool of customers. It’s a good place to start, but if you plan to expand your business into a global empire, you have to know how to acquire new customers on your own.

Set up an e-commerce business

3. Bring in the audience

One of the biggest challenges besides the administrative aspects of the business is to find new customers.

Picture this: If you want to sell diapers physically, do you sell blindly to anyone on the streets or do you go to a specific place like a mummy fair? Likewise, when we are selling via e-commerce, we have to target the right audience in the right places.

This means that you have to get your SEO (search engine optimisation) right so that customers can find you via Google. If you plan to engage in SEM (search engine marketing), you need to refine your target audience so that your dollars spent on SEM is effective.

You might even want to tap into social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram so as to reach out to potential customers, assuming that they are regular users of social media. The key is to ​be where your audiences are​.

4. Keep customers happy

Once you have established some sales, congratulations, you have your first customers!

But hang on, work does not stop there. You want to have repeat customers as much as you should be looking out for new customers. This is where you build your database and start connecting with customers regularly.

It could be a one-way channel like emails and newsletter to share with them the latest products that you’re carrying or about an upcoming promotion. This is effective to keep customers engaged and get your current subscribers to spend more on your products.

If you have the capacity, you could even engage in two-way channels like social media. With two-way communication, customers can give instant feedback, which may be valuable insights that tell you what they like most about your products and what else they want, which means more opportunities for sales. However, it will also require more effort to manage as you might receive complaints and hate messages publicly, which will turn potential customers away.

The bottom line is: Keep your customers happy and they’ll keep coming back to you.

5. Manage payments and money transfers

When running an e-commerce business, your products are often manufactured overseas. You might have to pay overseas suppliers in their local currency. If you're scaling your online business globally, you would probably receive your income in multiple foreign currencies. Money transfer is an essential process in your global e-commerce business.

When making payments and transferring money overseas, many people will use their banks as a default option. After all, it’s a simple and relatively quick SWIFT transaction, which is integrated across all banks. 

What they have not considered are the costly foreign exchange rates and service fees incurred from making a bank transfer. While that fee is negligible if you’re transferring a moderate amount say once a year, these costs can eat into your profits especially if you’re making regular monthly payments to your suppliers.

Instead, an alternative is to use international money transfer specialists, such as WorldFirst, with competitive exchange rates and transparent spreads (between 0.1% to 0.5% depending on currencies and your annual transfer volume). With better rates, it means that you get to keep more of your profits.

With the World Account (different from a personal account), you can pay and receive money from online locally-based currency accounts in up to 10 currencies – GBP, USD, EUR, CAD, AUD, NZD. JPY, SGD, HKD, and CNH. You can be sure to transfer your money without incurring unnecessary costs.

Set up an ecommerce shop

There are many other factors that make Southeast Asia a prime opportunity for e-commerce. These include the developed technology and infrastructure, the prevalence of mobile devices and the Internet, and the wide variety of products across countries in close proximity.

If you have an idea or a product that will resonate with the audiences in this region, why not tap on the e-commerce wave and follow these steps to start your own e-commerce business.

From now till 12 Dec 2019, make a transfer of $2,000 or more on your WorldFirst personal account and you'll stand a chance to win $5,000 worth of travel vouchers in a ​lucky draw​! Also, you'll get $20 off when you make your first transfer using the promo code GOBEAR20 (valid till 31 Dec 2019).

WorldFirst is an international transfer service that was established in 2004. Since then, they've facilitated over £70 Billion in transfers for over 400,000 customers and 150,000 businesses globally.
Zhi Han

Zhi Han

He specialises in writing on investing and finance topics and is a long-time supporter of cryptocurrencies.