Ever since online retail became mainstream, ecommerce has served as the default option for anyone interested in starting their own business, whether as their primary source of revenue or simply a side hustle to give them something to do and possibly make some extra money.
Due to the low cost of entry (and its sheer convenience), it’s been tried by a massive number of entrepreneurial types over the years. Most of those efforts have failed and been taken offline, but plenty have endured, with some just scraping by due to a lack of effort and others proving successful enough to scale up and eventually become recognizable brands.
The point is that there are many viable ecommerce businesses out there today. Some are still in operation, while others (such as dropshipping stores) are mothballed but ready to be put back into service at any time. What’s more, digital-only operations make convenient assets, which is why there are various marketplaces dedicated to the trading of ecommerce stores.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic kicked into high gear in 2020 and saw countries everywhere implement lockdown measures to flatten the curve, so many industries have suffered immensely. Aside from those offering essential goods, brick-and-mortar stores have essentially been required to shut down, along with any businesses that rely heavily on footfall. But ecommerce is thriving.
People stuck at home and unable to visit their preferred stores must now buy online, and supply chains can remain in operation, so there’s still a lot of money in online retail (particularly for those selling certain products) — and it’s tempting those who’ve lost their jobs or simply struggled to figure out what to do with their free time. For anyone with an ecommerce business they no longer want or need to run, it could be the perfect time to cash in on demand. But how can you get the best price for your ecommerce store?
In this piece, I’m going to run through some key tips for marketing an ecommerce business, setting out how you can get more eyes on your store and present it in a way that maximizes its perceived value. Here we go:
Detail anything that makes it unique
Online businesses, particularly those that operate exclusively online, can blur together to some extent. It’s an inevitable consequence of everyone having access to the same tools and trying to work to the same standards, but it can cause problems when you’re trying to convince people to buy yours specifically. That’s why you need to focus on what makes it unique.
Perhaps it can offer industry-leading prices through a carefully-negotiated relationship with a vital supplier that no other seller can rival, and you can pass that relationship to the buyer. Maybe it has a memorable brand that you’ve cultivated over many years — not a household name, realistically, but something that most prospective customers will have heard before.
It might have a phenomenal aesthetic that makes it stand out from the crowd. Design work can always be redone, but if you’ve already hit upon a winning formula then it can allow a buyer to start taking advantage immediately. And then there’s the possibility that you have an impressive search presence, ranking highly for prominent actionable terms. Having a store that comes with that kind of organic traffic gives you a lot of leverage.
When you assemble your Sales Memorandum (which should be a matter of some urgency), then all relevant information should go in there. Make the strongest case you can so people will have good reason to rate your store over any others that are broadly similar.
Make the most of all included assets
You shouldn’t stop at considering what’s unique about your business, because you should fully account for everything it brings to the table — especially since you can’t know what a given prospective buyer might find important.
Take social media campaigns, for instance. You might think of them as secondary and expect buyers to start their own, but why not pass them along as creative assets? Remove your payment details, change the login details, but save the ads and configuration settings: those campaigns can then bump up the value of your store.
And if you acquired any physical assets to help you out while you ran the store, you could throw those in. I’m not talking about your main business laptop or anything like that, because that’s something you’ll use all the time. I’m talking about things like product samples or prototypes (useful for ideation and getting in the mindset of a customer) or hardware accessories you picked up specifically for store management (if you bought several monitors and a laptop docking station so you could get a full at-a-glance view of your metrics — and you don’t otherwise need them — then you might as well list them with the business).
Provide unbiased performance metrics
Digital analytics are tricky things to deal with, because there are so many metrics that can be tracked and so many ways to display them. A common issue with sellers is that they’ll try to make their sales histories look better than they actually are by being very selective with the periods they display and the data points they use.
For instance, someone could take the one successful sales period from an otherwise-weak year and try to pass it off as representative of regular performance. Alternatively, they could choose the perfect time during the year to ramp up their marketing, make some good sales, then suspend all operations (purportedly due to "not having enough time to work on the store") and assert that the positive trend would have continued otherwise.
You don’t want to be caught trying anything like this because it will ruin your reputation as a seller, but it’s far easier just to avoid it entirely. If your store is actually worth selling (and it should be), then the legitimate unbiased performance metrics should be enough, and providing a full range of data — even if it’s only mediocre — will do more to pull people in than presenting an astonishing and highly-suspicious chart of cherry-picked junk metrics.
Use comparable listings for inspiration
Market listings aren’t placed in bubbles: they must sit alongside one another, jockeying for position, and they’ll inevitably be compared. While you’re marketing your ecommerce business for sale, other sellers will no doubt be marketing theirs, and you need to pay close attention to what they’re doing: where they’re marketing, how they’re presenting, and what they’re charging.
You might have every reason to charge a certain amount, but if others are offering comparable stores for significantly less then you won’t stand much of a chance of making a sale. If you have a cobbled-together listing that’s barely coherent, you’ll look terrible relative to other sellers who do the due diligence to create comprehensive listings.
On the other hand, if you look at what other sellers are doing and resolve to outperform them, you can greatly improve your chances. Make your listing more appealing than any other, with a competitive price, better presentation standards, and more tempting terms. With the other stores on offer left looking bad by comparison, the perceived value of yours will go up.
The bottom line:
Selling an ecommerce company can be tricky because you don’t have as much to present as you do with a brick-and-mortar store, but it’s far from impossible. People like dealing in largely-digital assets, particularly not that the COVID-19 pandemic has left so many stuck at home and eager for projects that they can work on remotely.
By following these tips, you can optimize your store listing and give yourself the best possible chance of making a swift and highly-profitable sale. After that, you can put the money into another project, or just spend it. The choice is yours.