Myths in Ecommerce

I frequently get asked why I wrote the Ecom Hell book, and my answer is that I want new entrants to ecommerce to have a clear idea of what they are taking on. I am really concerned about the many reasons why entrepreneurs get into ecommerce mostly because few of them have had occasion to understand the daily grind of ecommerce businesses. My goal with the book is to help expose the day in and day out life of an ecommerce entrepreneur, so that aspiring and novice entrepreneurs don’t have some of the false notions associated with ecommerce.

 Here’s a pick of some of my favorite ecommerce myths:

Myth 1 – Set it and forget it: This assumption bothers me the most of all the myth because it is probably the most misleading. It sets up the false idea that the entrepreneur hardly has to do any work. The old saying ‘you reap what you sow” is very much alive in the world of ecommerce. It applies not just in personal relationship but also in business. There is no short cut to hard work although you can shoot for working smart, and that should always be the goal. Nothing happens on auto-pilot, you may have heard of all these other success stories about others starting their online business and it’s like they won the ecommerce business lottery. It’s rare that these had a ‘set it and forget it” business model. It is more likely they invested a ton of money and that they poured their every being into working countless hours and functioning on very little sleep.

Myth 2 – Build it and they will come: Some entrepreneurs go through the process of building their website, and then they expect customers to just show up and throw their hard-earned money at them. It doesn’t happen this way in an offline business and it sure doesn’t happen this way online either. The truth is that you have to be willing to market your business. If you don’t have deep pockets to market your business, you’re very much in the same boat as many online businesses and therefore you need to find creative ways to attract potential customers to your website.

 Myth 3 – All you need is good content: The general wisdom is that if you write good content, other websites will link to you. Well, writing good content will help others link to you, promote your website/content. However, you still have to market it, you still need to do best SEO practices, your site still needs to optimize for search engines and yes, you still have to link build. It may not be the traditional way that it’s been done in the past, and prior strategies of requesting people to link to you or buying advertising is harder but not impossible. Your content should be good for customers to want to shop with you, to share your content with their friends and help spread the word for you.

 Myth 4 – Cheaper to operate: When my husband used to tell people that I run an ecommerce business, he often has people respond by asking whether I work from home. He chuckles and remarks that she operates a 20,000 sqft warehouse! You can definitely start your business out of your garage, and many have and moved on to bigger facilities from humble beginnings but running an ecommerce business is not just whether or not you have to pay rent. It is about building a functional and professional website, it’s about having the right merchandise to sell and sometimes, if not most of the time, you have to have some inventory. You have to market your business as mentioned in myth 3; and keep in mind that  there are also the components of any brick and mortar business like having an accounting department or doing accounting work, customer services, buying and shipping the goods to your customer. If you have a pure drop ship play, you have to also work harder as your drop shipper must be shipping for others; therefore, the space is pretty competitive and you may have to compete strictly on price which means you’ll likely have lower margins.

Myth 5 – You don’t have to deal with customers: This is completely untrue.  The only difference is that customers are not looking you in the eye and yelling at you when there is a problem, they are either yelling at you on the phone or through email (in all caps or using swear words!) or worst posting on social media what a bad experience they are having with your business. Customers are customers, they may not always be right… but they can’t be  wrong – because when you make them wrong – your business suffers.

There has never been an easier time to start an ecommerce business than now, but there hasn’t been a harder time to operate and compete in ecommerce than today.  As I reflect on when I first started, there were not as many platforms available and the backend systems and tools available today are so much better in terms of efficiency, effectiveness and cost. It was harder back then to start, there was no social media and but it was cheaper to advertise for PPC.

I tell people that if after they read my book and they feel that it’s not the life for them, they shouldn’t see it as having failed. Those who have read the book have the benefit of being ahead of the game, because they’ve discovered the reality about ecommerce and learned about what it really takes to run and grow a successful business. Which means that they have saved themselves countless hours of grief, hardship and maybe even financial ruin. I feel that if I help people reach this point of clarity the book has done its job.

The other day, a couple asked me about getting into ecommerce. They were new to the industry and they really wanted to know what they should prepare for in their new venture. Of course, I said that they should read my book. I happened to have my “proof physical sample” of my book with me and I shared it with them. The wife asked “Do I really need to read your book?” and then I turned to her husband and asked him, “How hard to you want me to talk her out of the business idea?” He laughs and asks me to do my best.  I haven’t gotten the chance to follow up with them, I am be curious to see if they had a chance to read the book and what they saw as insights from the book.

Even though I did write the book from a start-up vantage point, I believe that the book can be helpful to those already running an ecommerce business. Whether you’re doing well or not so well, there will be shared experiences that will allow you to draw meaningful insights. At least that is what I hope that it can do to help my fellow entrepreneurs.

Please share how you started your business, when you started it and how you’re doing? What have you learned along the way that may help others?

Written by: Shirley Tan

To get a copy of the  book: .

5 Responses to Myths in Ecommerce

  • Emilio says:

    Great article Shirley!

    You would be amazed to hear how many individuals actually believe that they can build a website or rather have a website build for them and they’ll just sit back and hope people would find them, the classic “set it and forget it!”

    I do not own an e-Commerce business, however I am very much involved in SEO, I too get many of these great points you established asked. Or more in the lines of “why do I need to do that, when I can just build my website and people will eventually come to my site”. Unfortunately some business owners especially those involved in e-Commerce do not really understand the true value of any online marketing efforts.

    It is a shame that many small business owners would highly believe this and when they don’t see any results from their “nice looking website” because they did not take the time to market it in some way, they turn and blame the developer or whom ever built them their website. When they finally realize they need to make that effort, in some cases it may be too late. I believe this is way many small business owners get discouraged and close shop, this is just my opinion.

    Great article though. It is always nice to come across content that reminds one of the potential struggles one can encounter. This article for me is more like a reminder of saying.. “don’t worry, you will encounter these situations all the time!”

    Thanks for this wonderful reminder, well at least that is how I view it. 🙂


  • Henk Vos says:

    Hi Shirley, I enjoyed reading your book and thought there were many good points in it. Was disappointed to find that the link in the kindle book ( a 404 on your site.

    • admin says:

      Hi Henk:

      Sorry, we took it out because we didn’t think people were accessing it but we turned it back on and it should work now. Thank you for letting us now that its helpful to leave it available for Amazon Kindle readers.


  • Henk Vos says:

    Thanks Shirley, very useful. And I totally agree with Emilio. I may just buy your book for every new Ecommerce client I get. Unfortunately too many of them have the build it and they will come and that’s just not the case.

  • ray says:

    Hi, I have been running a ecomm for 15 years, and I could not agree more with your points. In fact, it is getting harder and harder to run in this very competitive and overcrowded space. I am am going to start reading your book today!


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