From moonlighting to striking pay dirt: the rise of online retail experiments

It looks like eCommerce platforms like eBay and BigCommerce are getting a new lease of life - they are now the new testing ground for the next generation of retail innovation.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when the transition happened, but it looks like eCommerce platforms are getting a new lease of life, making things more interesting than ever for our retail sector. 

When sites like eBay were founded almost two decades ago, their primary purpose was to help users sell, rather than bin, old items. Now, while many still use them to sell used goods and to set up hobby retail stores, budding online entrepreneurs have also found another use for them:. Ecommerce sites are the new testing ground for the next generation of retail innovation.

Given that all of the technology is handled by the platform, all you really need to start a business is an idea, a product line and a business model. In fact, according to Eddie Machaalani the co-founder of e-commerce startup Bigcommerce, it now “costs less than a monthly phone bill” to run an online store. 

Retail experiments

It’s difficult to measure exactly how many people are engaging in this kind of retail experimentation, but Machaalani says the trend is on rise. He even goes as far as to say that it is part of an internet-triggered cultural shift that’s taking place across Australia.

“In this 80’s and 90’s the dream was to own your own home... now the great Australian dream is to run your own business,” Machaalani says.

A recent study from Bigcommerce attempted to put some kind of figure on the trend. It measured the amount of people that work as “moonlight retailers” - sellers that operate their online store at night.

Most of these online retail experiments don’t come bundled with a guaranteed income, and like with most startups, the founder often has to hold down a full time job while working on their creation in order to maintain their standard of living.

Around 20 per cent of the 1788 respondents surveyed said they were moonlighters. That’s a significant figure, given that running a store on an eCommerce platform requires a higher level of commitment than simply putting something up for sale on eBay.

Selling under the radar

So, if a significant number of Australians are taking part in this activity, why isn’t it more publicised?

Well, for starters, not everybody succeeds. And those that do are often better known for the store and brand they’ve created rather than the fact that they started out as a “retail moonlighter”.

Take CatchOfTheDay Group for instance. Many people know about the site but not many know that its founders Gabby and Hezi Liebovich spent many sleepless nights throwing around ideas and experimenting with their product before they hit the big time.

Gabby Leibovich told Technology Spectator that he still spends many a night with his brother tossing around new ideas for the site.

“Most of our new online stores started as a shopping event on our main site CatchOfTheDay, we then worked on them after hours to fine -tune them,” he said.

While the Leibovichs may be an exception to the rule, most moonlighters find that as their idea gains traction and they start to turn a profit, they can spend less time working on their business at night. Once the night-time gig becomes a full time job many budding entrepreneurs face a difficult choice. 

However, just getting to that point isn’t an easy task and having a good idea isn’t always enough. The key factor to being successful as an online retailer is “execution” and here’s how the Leibovichs see it.

“At the end of the day, to be a leader in online retail you need to invest heavily in ensuring you have in place best in breed technology platforms to support a secure and hassle free shopping experience; you need to be able to scale all aspects of your operations to accommodate changes in demand; have strong supply networks and relationships as well as efficient back end operations to fast track delivery.”

“Above all,” Gabby Leibovich adds, “you need to be focused on building a sustainable business that delivers profitable growth, not revenue burn.”

No quick-rich schemes here

Machaalani agrees with Leibovichs on turning a profit, but adds the this may take time, persistence and adaptability.

“It’s not a get rich quick scheme,” he says.

Interestingly, the trend could actually be the saviour of bricks and mortar stores.

According to Machaalani, many new retailers are starting to test new business models on eCommerce platforms in a bid create a market before they open a bricks and mortar store. It’s a curious reversal of the prevalent trend: where traditional retailers are still making a painful   transition from physical stores to eCommerce.

But before you run away cheering the virtues of running your own business, spare a thought for the hardy souls manning their online stores at the dead of the night. As the moonlighting trend gathers more steam, Australia could well end up as one sleep-deprived nation. 

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