I’ve Started a Crazy E-Commerce Experiment

Purpose of experiment: to test whether it’s still possible to launch an e-commerce store and make some good income online.

This is the roadmap for the site:

  1. Stage 1: Link to other peoples’ products (e.g. an affiliate store).
  2. Stage 2: Add value to the products I am featuring. For example, write detailed, keyword rich content about them so that they’re easier to find in search engines. Offer product reviews, and maybe do a better job of suggesting related products that the vendor manages.
  3. Stage 3: Link to products that I sell on my own store, and I either dispatch the products myself or use a drop shipper.
  4. Stage 4: Start a brand and sell my own branded products, either selling OEM products or getting them designed and manufactured.

I’m currently at Stages 1 and 2.

The niche I have chosen is clothing. I did reasonably well in this niche back in 2010 when I wrote a few HubPages about niche clothing items. I also had a rudimentary affiliate store but it got side-lined as another few of my sites really took off.

I find clothing is quite a good niche because:

  • It’s a huge niche full of micro-niches
  • There are loads of long tail keywords (e.g. black size 12 party dresses, running socks for men).

But not everything is good, as there are some drawbacks including:

  • It’s still a competitive niche. Here in the UK countless High Street clothes retailers have gone bust in the last few years.
  • I’m not sure if it’s possible to make much money online either. A lot of sites I remember from a few years ago don’t seem to be around these days. Maybe they weren’t profitable and closed down?
  • The profit margins on clothing are fairly small, given that each item normally has to be handmade, then hand inspected. This is a business that has already outsourced production all it can, and has squeezed costs to the absolute minimum.
  • Clothing sees quite high rates of returns, which will obviously affect margins and can attract bad reviews (especially if you don’t have a good handle on sizing). This is something to bear in mind if you want to clone my idea!

I have decided to initially only showcase AliExpress products on the site. I chose this affiliate scheme to partner up with because they have millions of products to choose, and affiliate commission is higher than Amazon. I do have an Amazon affiliate account, but to be honest I think there are too many people trying to make money from Amazon, I want to be a bit different.

The type of store I want to build out is like this cats one or this anime one (both of these sites claim to make a lot of money).

Wrangling the AliExpress API

I wanted a way to quickly add products to my store without having to add them all manually.

To do this I ripped out the AliExpress API code from the Niche Laboratory and re-purposed it as a product  export/import tool.

I’m some way off full automation, but I do have a job that automatically imports most of the details from AliExpress (product image, price, url etc.). That leaves me to decide what to call it, as I don’t like the spammy URL’s that proliferate AliExpress product listings. I also write a product description, as so many AliExpress listings seem to have one of these. I think it’s because most of the sellers on there are Chinese and their English skills are limited. Hmm, I see another business opportunity here!

Anyway, it should be good news for me because despite the advances in automatic image recognition Google and other Search Engines still rank content primarily based on keyword-rich text.

I’m generally pleased with the AliExpress API. However it’s a lot more basic than the Amazon equivalent. For example you can’t get multiple product images and you don’t have access to product reviews either. I believe the author of the WordPress AliExpress plugin AliDropShip has experienced the same issues as I have.

Another annoying feature with the AliExpress API is that you can only get product details for items that are in stock. I wanted to add a few killer products to my store, only to find they were out of stock and thus invisible to the API. This seems to happen a lot with AliExpress products, especially popular ones.

Anyway, that’s a little bit of info about my new shiny object. I’ll post some updates once I get some info about whether this site is looking like it will be a success.

If you have any questions or comments about starting niche shopping stores then post them below. Good luck!

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