4 Signs You Shouldn’t Start an Online Store

4 Signs You Shouldn’t Start an Online Store

I recently received the following email from a reader who wanted to learn how to start an online store:

Hi Andrew – I have just spent $5,500 with [X training program] online, and feel like I got ripped off. I have not found my NICHE. I have information overload with their tutorials and weekly discussions.

I am 60 years old. Love fashion and beauty. Am a grandmother. Am single and living alone. Financially needy. Capable, but not particularly internet savvy. Have read your advice through Google on drop shipping and my question is: HOW DO I FIND A NICHE? Please help!  – Alice (name changed)

I get a surprising number of emails like this, and they are heartbreaking to read. Why? Because someone in a tight place financially (a 60-year-old single woman, no less) is out a large sum of money that almost certainly wasn’t a good investment. Because apart from the financial loss, this woman is now frustrated and upset. And because it underlies the pervasive mentality that with the right “system,” anyone can strike it rich online.

This isn’t a hit piece against online training programs or information products. When purchased by the right people – and when they contain quality information – educational products can be a great investment.

Starting out, I spent $800 per month (yep, not a typo!) for a short period to be part of an online SEO and marketing training community. And the roughly $4,000 I spent overall was a good investment, as it helped me generate tens of thousands of dollars in free traffic. The key difference between my situation and Alice’s was that I was in a position to fully apply my training, both from a timeframe and skills perspective.

What I do want to address head-on is when it’s not a wise decision for you to open an online store.  Below are four telltale signs that you probably shouldn’t start an online store. I don’t write these to discourage you, but rather to provide a realistic perspective that you won’t find on the sales pages of over-hyped training programs.   This is especially true today in 2018 as the eCommerce landscape has become more competitive while courses offering “easy Amazon riches” have become popular.

The only thing worse than postponing your business plans is wasting months – or even years – of time and money because no one was honest with you about what was really required to succeed.

You Need to Make Money Fast

If you need to make money quickly, starting an eCommerce business is a really bad idea. Opening an online store is an involved process that takes months to research and launch, and usually years to build into a significant and sustainable income. If you need extra cash to pay this month’s rent or just don’t have enough to make ends meet, your best bet is to increase your income through a traditional job for the short term.

This doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to being employed for the rest of your life, but it’s what you’ll realistically need to do to meet pending obligations. Anyone who tells you that you can start quickly making significant money with little work online – especially with a pre-built “system” – is selling you a pipe dream. Like all legitimate businesses, eCommerce stores take time to grow.

Additionally, you’ll need to make decisions in the best long-term interest of your business, which are usually opposed to short-term financial needs. If you’re using every cent of profits to pay bills, you can’t afford to re-invest in your business.

You Need a Guarantee

I repeatedly hear in emails:

“How can I be sure that this will work? I can’t afford to waste time on an idea/niche that isn’t successful.”

In the world of entrepreneurship, there are no guarantees despite what that slick-looking training program would have you believe. The only place to get a guaranteed return for your time is – you guessed it! – with a traditional job.

Being an entrepreneur means taking action without that guarantee of success. You do it strategically and with a well-thought-out and researched plan, but at the end of the day you move forward despite your doubts. With every business I’ve ever started, I’ve had doubts and reservations as to whether it would be successful or not. And while some ended up doing nicely, others didn’t fare as well. But I’d never know if I didn’t overcome my fears and take the plunge.

Educate yourself, research, agonize, and then make a decision despite your reservations. It’s the only option you have. And if you can’t afford for something not to work (i.e., if you’re “betting the farm” on a venture’s success), then you definitely shouldn’t be starting it.

You’re Not Willing/Able to Take a Step Back

Starting an online business requires a sacrifice of some kind, usually in the form of time or cash. You need to have one of these two currencies! If you’re not able to invest either, you won’t be able to build a viable business.

Every business success story has a tandem tale of investment, sacrifice or temporary setback. For me, it was working like crazy and saving for two years like a miser so I could afford to quit my job and ramp up my business. For previous guest-poster Kamal, it involved giving up his weekends to get his store online. Even Bill Gates had to drop out of Harvard to take a shot at starting Microsoft – something that, at the time, must have looked like a major step back.

Moving forward always requires taking a temporary and sometimes painful step back – it’s the only way to make real progress.

You’re Not Web Savvy

It has become significantly easier to start a business online today, even compared to just a few years ago. Services like Shopify, Magento, and BigCommerce have made it possible to get a store online without programming experience and with little tech knowledge (check out our Shopify vs Magento guide here). But if you’d describe yourself as “not web savvy” (like Alice), you’re likely going to struggle.

Being “web savvy” is simply the price of admission for trying to get a viable business online. If you have a hard time setting up an email account, doing online banking or using Facebook, you’re going to become incredibly frustrated trying to get a store online, even with all the easy-to-use tools available. As simple as these tools have become, they do require a basic level of online competency, as will most other resources you’ll need to build/market/operate your store.

Don’t Get Discouraged

Here’s the good news: Even if you’re not currently in a strong position to start you business, it’s always possible to get there. That might require prioritizing your finances to become more financially secure by leveraging an existing job or getting up to speed with basic web technologies. The circumstances above are not set in stone or hard-wired character attributes. All of them can be changed with time and effort.

And if you’re a bit older like Alice and outside the traditional 20-something stereotype for online entrepreneurs, please don’t get discouraged or interpret this post to mean that you can’t be successful!

I spoke with an eCommerce friend and coach last week who told me of a 70-something couple he works with who had recently launched a beautiful store. And I’ve personally received numerous emails from folks 60+ who are pursuing eCommerce from a position of strength and competency.

The bottom line? Make sure you’re starting an online business in the right position – and with the right expectations – and you’ll be much more likely to succeed.

An Alternative – Getting Paid to Learn?

If you’re just starting out, one less risky alternative is to get an internship or entry-level job to build your eCommerce skills.

It’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely a less risky way to get some experience learn from people and companies that are making it work in the real world.

If that sounds interesting, you might want to check out the current internships and entry-level eCommerce positions posted on our job board.

The One Training I Can Recommend

Like I mentioned at the beginning, there are a lot of over-priced courses and eCommerce conferences out there that over promise and under deliver. But if you’re serious about learning how to start an online store (and don’t fall into any of the traps mentioned above) there’s one training series I can fully endorse.

My good friend Steve Chou has been successfully running his own eCommerce business for years and runs the best course I know of on how to do the same.  This is someone I know personally, consider a friend and have been impressed by the quality of his work and content.

His training is stuffed with hundreds of quality videos and step-by-step tutorials.  But my favorite part?  He makes himself personally available to his students to answer questions during regular “virtual” office hours.

You can learn more about how his training can help you build your own successful store right here. 

Disclosure:  The links above are affiliate links, which means I’ll get a commission if you buy Steve’s course. I use to offer my own training but Steve’s was so much better than mine I decided to just partner up with him!  

Photos by Swanksalot, Velo_City & Frederik De Buck

Andrew Youderian
Post by Andrew Youderian
Andrew is the founder of eCommerceFuel and has been building eCommerce businesses ever since gleefully leaving the corporate world in 2008.  Join him and 1,000+ vetted 7- and 8-figure store owners inside the eCommerceFuel Community.

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134 Comment

Ramon EspinosaJune 2, 2013

Hi Andrew, I think this was a great comment. I’m 57 and instead of discouraging me, I feel you are encouraging me to set up my online business. You are telling us the real thing about business in general. So, thank you very very much.


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RobertJune 13, 2013

Very useful….almost got scam,thank’s a lot

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JenniJuly 1, 2013

Thanks for the points you’ve mentioned here. I’m just getting my feet wet on an online store business, together with my husband and I know I gotta do a lot of hard work on this, since I am the one working part-time and he’s got a full time job. Hopefully, everything will turned out well through time.

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Andrew YouderianJuly 2, 2013

Good luck Jenni!

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ThamJuly 5, 2013

Great and realistic advice from Andrew. What Alice faced is also true for many aspiring entrepreneurs- being bombarded on a daily basis with loads of information. I think the most important decision is to find the niche product that you are going to deliver to solve your customers’ problems. But again, there is no guarantee that it will be successful. Do the 80% research and decide base whether to move based on that. Indecision is the worse decsion that an entrepreneur can ever make.

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Andrew YouderianJuly 9, 2013

Absolutely. It’s better to do something, fail and learn than to do nothing at all.

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laurenJuly 15, 2013

This was an interesting article and I found it very helpful. Thanks!

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Andrew YouderianJuly 23, 2013

Thanks Lauren!

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Maria Cecilia O. NayveJuly 29, 2013

Hi, Andrew,
Thanks. Your inputs would be very helpful as I start to get into an online business. Most often, those person that discourage you are those persons who are afraid to fail. I believe that you would not know the meaning of success if you did not experience failures. That’s it.

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Andrew YouderianAugust 16, 2013

Hope the blog is helpful and best of luck!

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NickyAugust 9, 2013

I’ve recently decided to get involve in ecommerce. I have a target niche in mind and my career as a nurse auditor allows me sufficient time to dedicate in my business. However, as a beginner, I am unsure of where to start. Please advise!

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Hatim LaxmidharAugust 21, 2013

Dear Nicky,

You may need to start with registration of your business as per your country rule.
Though there are countries that allow home based business without any registration.
Once you are done with this. All you need to do is:
1) Decide where you want to sell. Marketplace like eBay or want to start your own website.
2) Open a bank account
3) Get the photographs clicked by professional photographer.
4) Decide on packaging.
5) Talk to shipping service provider.

Hatim Laxmidhar
The Way It Works

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SusanAugust 19, 2013

Interesting and smart. I myself, at 59 am a retail ops manager for a large company. Being a previous small business owner for many years, I am interested in the proposition of an e-commerce based business. My big question: the inventory – with suppliers needing substantial minimum orders and such, where do you keep it?

Eclectic home decor and gifts are my niche.

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Andrew YouderianAugust 27, 2013

Hi Susan! You either need to stock it yourself or hire a 3rd party fulfillment company to do it for you.

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Hatim LaxmidharSeptember 13, 2013

Hello Susan,

If you dont want to buy the products yourself, you may think of Drop Shipping.
Read more on drop shipping:


Hatim Laxmidhar
The Way It Works

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PhilOctober 6, 2013

Yup, makes sense to learn this in your spare time, then when you’re making enough income to replace your full time job income, then you are ready to jump ship into the drop shipping world.

Then the world is your oyster when you armed with your laptop.

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W. KorduOctober 9, 2013

This article permeates the fog of thoughts that encumber a hesitant starter. It is truly insightful. Thanks.

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Relevance of Online Shopping these DaysOctober 16, 2013

[…] as there are many nuances to bear in mind. One of the most important ones is reliability of the store to deal with. Here, you should use reputation of a particular online store as your major criterion […]

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KeithOctober 24, 2013

Thank you for such a great article, it took me a long time to build up courage to even attempt giving e-commerce a try!

Right now I’ve settled with using OpenCart, luckily the support staff have been very helpful and guided me along the way. Shopify and BigCommerce gave a very compelling pitch with their features but with the monthly fees and transaction fee’s I didn’t think it was viable for someone like me.

Keep up the good writing!

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terryNovember 8, 2013

You should check out DTS-NET.COM and they offer so many online store options with the web hosting service that will not break the bank

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another alice... sort ofDecember 6, 2013

well not as old as alice but well out of my 20s and 30s, so i’m up there. disabled since 1995 (almost 20 years) with rheumatoid arthritis and now lupus and all that comes with it, married, and don’t have enough work credits in certain years to qualify for disability. so other than age and financially needy, alice and I are slightly different. I am computer savvy and spend all day on the computer. in the process of starting an online store and found your insight and advice very helpful and wanted to let you know that. in addition to my circumstances, I feel an online store would be less expensive than brick and mortar, and would eventually lead me to financial independence. I am in the process of looking for a regular job I can physically do but at my age and my health, it’s been a cut throat world out there for me. nonetheless, I haven’t given up. thanks again and many blessings to you.

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DonDecember 24, 2013

You know Andrew this can seem discouraging knowing which route to go even if you’re a person that has some affiliation with websites, internet and such. My precious wife picked up a nice little business opportunity while I was down on my luck and unable to provide for the family. The niche is definitely there and I believe even though there is robust competition we have a better product in a lot of ways.

I have been researching tediously to configure a plan to make this take off. It is evident the last owners concentrated mostly on the corporate customers we have and SEO was not their forte. It’s our saving grace that there are some great clients established, but the web presence is lacking if not dead.

I’ve looked into some of the storefronts and have come to the conclusion to use the two you promoted in your article. My train of thought is to move the existing site we have to HostGator from GoDaddy for security and other obvious reasons and then start an SEO campaign on that website.

My next thought is to start two storefronts, to get a different feel out there and incorporate a better search rank name into the mix, something that complements the original site but has a better optimization foot print. My choices for the store fronts are the ones you’ve mentioned.

My question is, where am I at after the creation of the stores, am I sitting in the same position I already have where know I need to spend extra cost to optimize and set them up for some real traffic? Or if I pick the right package with the store provider do they provide a certain level of optimization and other tools applied that drive traffic to your site and move you up in the page rankings? It’s hard to read between the lines on most sites.

My concern is to not end up with what I already have. At this time you cannot even find our website http://www.simplesafety.com/ except for exact phrase. Which I believe is sad because it is a great name.

Back to the storefronts, I am hoping that they provide the SEO, some analytics and the normal support one applies to bringing a site to a noticeable realm. I ask you this even though, I know all the lingo and can read on this stuff all day long but have never had to apply the situation.

I also have been introduced to and reviewed the companies that do the whole package for you like for the $5,600.00. Which sounds great, but do they drop you or I mean there’s a set up and running good package, but then it’s ongoing $$ support to keep the SEO and stuff going? I know Copy is King so I am prepared to make new content for the sites and that commitment on my part. But it sounds as though you’re really looking at a full time service?

My other adventure is I will be starting a deal with a third party affiliate the first of the year that will buy our product and then resale it on their sites which is EBay, Amazon along with a couple of other sites. This is why I am looking at starting two of our own stores not affiliated with those sites to spread out at the same time in the market.

They say I should sale on the same sites also? I believe with the store fronts mentioned they set you up for EBay and Amazon? I don’t see it that way. What do you think Andrew about competing with the same product in the same store fronts?

My other research is to also set up a fulfillment house and go that direction?

It is also my thought that since I have a WordPress site already built I could easily use the same material for building quality storefronts with quickness. Is that true? Migrating a copy over to another front?

Another thought is for the 5,600.00 I can build these storefronts and setup all that I have mentioned and accomplish this with some monthly payments leftover. Sound feasible Andrew?

The only other thought is a quality program to manage every transaction to the shopping cart I already use. I have done no research in this area yet. Any suggestions would help.

I guess some of my main concerns are, if I start a store front with Shopify and BigCommerce are they optimized? What is expected of me down the road to be successful? I can see it paying the monthly bill for the site but really am opting for more. I hope there are no hidden surprises?

I will also start a blog site for the safety industry to drive traffic our way and maybe get some click counts coming in.

I am willing to get this going and apply the profit to make it better. My concern is will this kickoff right with this plan that I have mentioned. Seems it would be good idea to get a part time web developer to give me a hand?

Thanks Andrew

I appreciate your time and the Post.
Sincerely Don

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BrittanyJanuary 21, 2014

I have to say that this article for very helpful. I am 26 years old and although my time may not be running out quickly, I feel sometimes that it is. I currently reside in St. Louis and I have been really contemplating on opening a shoe store. I have received some great feedback from others who have run similar stores. I was advised to try to start online before opening a store-front to build clientele and increase my revenue. I have been researching info on starting an online business and Missouri tax laws, etc. I was really thinking about giving up because of information overload. That was until I ran into this article. I have to say it is sooo refreshing to hear someone tell you what you’re getting yourself into. I still don’t really know where to start but reading this article I believe I need to build funds to proceed with any of the two. I really want to say THANK YOU for this. I will take this information and use it wisely.

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TashaFebruary 20, 2014

Great article and great comments as well. Tons of valuable information!!
As an entrepreneur I know how bumpy the road can be and the sacrifices it takes. I completely agree Andrew about the finances. It’s important to not only be able invest back into your business but not be in a position of severe struggle. If you are in a position to pay your bills and invest, its easier to love what you do. You can invest your time and energy into it without that extra stress. It can affect your mindset and the way you come across to others as well. It’s important to come from a position of strength not desperation. Love that part Andrew a lot of people fail to mention it.

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LauraFebruary 24, 2014

I would like to say that I would love to start my own online store, and I have a name for it and everything. I am a stay at home mom kind of. I have been through collage. I am very good with a computer. I just need some help setting up a website. I have all kinds of things to sell I would like have like an online yard sale or a like a resale shop. Not only do I have things from my 3 kids I have a ton of stuff from my brothers kids and friends kids, I also make handmade jewelry. So is there anyone that could help me?

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JavierApril 25, 2014

Hi! I´ve a serious question. I´m from Spain and I´m getting started a online store. The niche that I´ve thought there is much more demand in EEUU, UK, France or Australia than in Spain. After of measuring the competition, for example in EEUU and UK there are fairly online retailers .so I am not make sure to sell in those countries because I don´t think that American customers will be confident to buy in my online store which is located in Spain. I really want to work with American dropshippers to sell there. My question follow below:

Should I only focus my online shop on the European market?

Thanks in advance. I am hopeful that you can help me.

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going over the seo basicsMay 6, 2014

going over the seo basics

4 Signs You Shouldn’t Start an Online Store | eCommerceFuel

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ladaeMay 15, 2014

If anyone is still considering creating their own online store http://www.shopify.com/?ref=ladeakh is always a good way to start. They have everything to help you get started!

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TerriMay 25, 2014

When I saw the title of your piece I thought, ‘oh crap, do I really want to see this? What if it all applies to me?’ And it did, but the ‘yeses’ and ‘noes’ were in the right place! I started the process for an on-line brownie bakery 4 years ago and got interrupted by work. Website, domain & most infrastructure is done. I’ve had a B&B w/restaurant for 16 years & was/am the pastry chef, accountant, maintenance, social media contact/maintainer (?) and pretty much everything else. Fortunately, the project is ready to be dusted off, the details finished, and I’m ready to get this baby up and going, hopefully by the fall. I don’t have a ton of $, but I do have a ton of energy and determination. And lots of contacts. I’m 62. Keep your eyes open for Bo’s Bodacious Brownie Bakery. 🙂

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thumbjam.comJune 1, 2014


4 Signs You Shouldn’t Start an Online Store | eCommerceFuel

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Run a New Online Store | Henson's College LifeJuly 14, 2014

[…] you plan to run a new online store? If you do, do you already have much online business knowledge and skill? If you don’t, it is […]

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sunnyJuly 16, 2014

i want to start online and brick and mortar store in niche of accessories. How do i go for researching about the niche.

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Advantages of Running an Online Store | Hung PropertiJuly 19, 2014

[…] products fast. The more buyers they drive the bigger profit they get. Well, are you interested in running an online store? If you are, but you still doubt, you should run this online business. Realize that by running this […]

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tony pereraAugust 10, 2014

I totally agree with this article
I think i wanna tell my story as a on line store owner (Sorry for my english)

I’m italian and successful on line store owner,I sell close to 300 euros merchandise a day but these months (july to september) not the greatest months for online business.

Anyway i’m now 27 and i never used a computer until i’m 21 y old ,not learned from anywhere or not even paid for a e-books….. I just started it with no knowledge and i searched google for all the small tasks, believe me there are lot of videos & articles that teach you pretty much every thing.

It took me 2 months to setup and go on line, and for next 3 months i did not sold a single merchandise and even after that i did not saw lot of visiters or sales, but i never gave up and just uploaded lot of products every week (honestly some time i had a feeling this is really stupid and time wasting thing)

1 year and 2 months later my website started having alot of traffic and lot of sales. 80% products i’m shiping with cash on delivery, so customers don’t have to worry about any thing.

I did all this while doing my day job ,i still doing it ….

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Michelle LiApril 22, 2016

Many thanks for having sharing with us on your successful story!

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ClaudePAugust 18, 2014

I always get into debate with colleague which are not tech savvy about how to market and all they need to create to have a “successful” ecommerce website. Startup often have good idea or product, but no marketing and no underlying knowledge of how computer and internet works.

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JamesAugust 19, 2014

Although you make good points – being tech savvy isn’t required anymore. With ecommerce software like “Speeda” or “Big Commerce”, it’s really easy to get going now. Furthermore, you can get traffic through social media too, “friends of friends” are easy to convert.

I would argue now is the best time.

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LaurenSeptember 3, 2014

Loved this, what a great perspective. In the process of researching for my new business, and the only thing I am struggling with is giving my time up- I worked for 2 years with no weekends, and right now I am trying to enjoy some family time before I dive head first into my venture. I am getting so excited/nervous. Ultimately though I believe if you are doing something you love and are willing to put the necessary work into something (research, time, etc) you can make it successful.

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