5 Ecommerce Success Secrets from the Biggest Online Retailers


Last Updated on November 26, 2021

Everyone and their mother seems to be plunging headlong into the world of online selling. Green entrepreneurs, fresh out of college, are eyeing the online market for quick income, and seasoned brick-and-mortar businesses are planning to set up an online store, afraid of getting left behind. Venture capitalists are ready to bankroll anyone with innovative online selling ideas. Tech-savvy students compete with grizzled store keepers for a chunk of the sweet, sweet online pie.

There are tons of articles on ecommerce conversion, design, development, and more, strewn across the Internet. And, they are pretty helpful to ecommerce startups as well as established online businesses. But, at times, entangled in itsy-bitsy issues, you lose the sight of the forest for the trees. It’s all well and good to tinker with your website and high-five yourself when a tweak helps boost traffic or sales.

But, in order to make it big, you need to take a look at the bigger picture. You need a vision for the future, and your online store need to harness the winds of change for faster growth. So, just how do you make it big? Let’s take a peek in the life and growth of the most successful ecommerce websites to find answers.

1. Pierre Omidyar & John Donahoe, eBay

The world’s foremost customer-to-customer website, eBay is still going strong. Founded in 1995 (named AuctionWeb back then), eBay’s IPO made Pierre Omidyar a billionaire. Not a bad return for three years of smart, hard work, eh? Kevin Pursglove, eBay spokesperson a decade back, shed some light on the eBay in an interview:

“He had been fascinated by how you can bring together fragmented audiences.”

Technical ability plus the power to pursue a novel idea to its logical conclusion can either lead you to a dead end and a bitter lesson, or it can help you make it big. Find a new idea, blaze a new trail – walking on well-trodden pathways rarely lead to big successes.

Using this technical prowess and imagination, Pierre Omidyar was able to build a big business, but it was losing its edge in recent years. John Donahoe turned it around. Here’s what he said:

“But just as you can disrupt, you can be disrupted. And EBay, when I got there, was beginning to be disrupted itself…. So one of the key bets we made very early on was on mobile.”

It was one of the first few online stores to optimize its experience for mobile, and that helped eBay grow. Not only do you need a great idea and the ability to bring it to life, but you also need to make big/quick decisions when the market changes. You need innovation, and you need flexibility.

2. Jeff Bezos, Amazon


If there’s one person in this world who deserves to be crowned as the king of ecommerce, it’s Jeff Bezos of Amazon. I remember the first time I visited Amazon’s website in 1998 – it was a jungle of links and a cluster of all kinds of products. Over the years, Amazon has invested a lot of time and effort in making online shopping easier and faster. The ‘1-Click’ is just one of Amazon’s amazing ideas. This company has helped ecommerce mature, and there are many lessons you can learn from Jeff Bezos, but I think these words capture the soul of his approach:

“If you double the number of experiments you do per year you’re going to double your inventiveness.”

The online world is dynamic. A new technology (mobile, for example) can change how people shop. You need to be aware of all the changes, and you need to experiment with different ideas and approaches to find what works. Also, every customer is unique. By gathering data about a specific customer and experimenting with personalization you can offer better experience to users. No matter how big or small your online operations are, thinking and experimenting are essential for growth.

3. Nick Swinmurn, Zappos


Do you dream of making a million dollars from your online store? What about a billion? Nick Swinmurn founded Zappos in 1999; in 2008, it was generating sales of over a billion dollars. What made Zappos so successful? This is what Nick said in an interview:

It was the fact that 5 percent of a $40 billion shoe business was already being done through mail order. That was my big statistic. People were already buying shoes without trying them on…. We spent a bunch of money sponsoring the San Francisco Giants and the other local sports teams just so we could call brands and say, “In the third inning of the Giants game, you’ll see a big Zappos ad behind homeplate.”

If you want to make it really big, finding a growing market and moving in early helps. And, you need to back your hunches with hard facts, get the cash to propel your dreams, and advertise aggressively to postilion your brand at the center of the market. Sure, it all starts with an insight. But, to make it big, you need to think big and persuade others to share your vision.

4. Mike Duke, Wal-Mart


Brick-and-mortar businesses are facing tough competition from the emergence of ecommerce stores. And, there are the usual stories of physical businesses harnessing the winds of ecommerce to expand their businesses. But, most store owners are satisfied with a simple online website cataloguing their goods.

The story of the world biggest retailer, Wal-Mart, offers cues to every store owner who wants to add an online component to his or her business. CEO Mike Duke ushered in Wal-Mart’s ecommerce revolution. Prior to his arrival, the company’s online presence was unambitious. But, he acquired several tech companies and built WalmartLabs from ground up, in order to take Wal-Mart to the top. He has retired, but in a recent interview, he stressed the fact that Wal-Mart will continue to invest in technology. 

“We are clearly going to be investing in technology. No doubt about it. Now whether its acquisitions or our own capabilities.”

The world of technology changes every month, every week and every day. As an online store owner, your success depends on how well you understand relevant technology, how well you collect & analyze customer data, and how well you react to it. Hiring the right developers and consults, or building the right tech team, is vital to online success.

5. Jack Ma, Alibaba


While China is changing its economic policies and making it easier for entrepreneurs to succeed, it is not the best place for startups. However, a number of Internet-based companies have flourished in China. Alibaba is one of the most notable exceptions. Founded by Jack Ma in 1999, the Alibaba Group handled 1.1 trillion in sales in 2012. This is more than the transactions on Amazon and eBay combined. But the company has seen a lot of ups and down. In a recent interview, he talks about the story of Alibaba.

“We expanded too fast, and then in the dot-com bubble, we had to have layoffs. By 2002, we had only enough cash to survive for 18 months… The lessons I learned from the dark days at Alibaba are that you’ve got to make your team have value, innovation, and vision. Also, if you don’t give up, you still have a chance.”

Remember, things may get off to a bumpy start, and you may hit a lot of roadblocks on the way, but you need to stick to your guns and not lose sight of your goals. Don’t give up!

We hope that the ideas and stories from the top ecommerce companies will help you create a better online stores! Are you running a new ecommerce store? Have you already created a profitable online store? Please share you stories of success and struggle in the comments!

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