Failed First eCommerce Store (Circa 2003)

[BACKSTORY: Immediately after graduating from college in 2003, I gave eCommerce / drop shipping a shot without even knowing what eCommerce and/or drop shipping was. This is a flashback to the past…]

So it was the Fall of 2002…

I was in college, had one elective course remaining before I could finally call my time in University a success (aka graduate).

The decision now was what course should I take?  Most choose ‘Basket Weaving 101’ or ‘German Polka History 203’ or some other easy nonsense course which they knew they could skip half the classes and breeze through the final.

So what did this genius do?  Yep, I chose Website Coding (basically HTML).  HTML is the code that makes up a website (I wont bore you with the details).

I chose this class (over the easy ones) because I wanted to be able to build a website for a business idea I had.  Realistically, I was a broke college student and couldn’t afford to pay someone to do it for me.

My Business Idea

I had a friend who worked for a company selling Greek Fraternities and Sororities related custom clothing, paddles, merchandise etc…

Their company was making a killing selling trendy items to college students in the Greek system.  Back then, they directed their customers to their website (couldn’t fulfill via the web yet) where they could showcase their products and then took orders over the phone.

Trying to capitalize on the already proven (quazi-eCommerce) business model, I self taught myself HTML (with the help of the college course) and built a very primitive website of my own.

Contacting Suppliers

Much like the fundamentals taught in Anton’s course, I contacted the same supplier that my friend was using and was easily approved.  Back then (selling online was in its infancy), it took little more then a human pulse for the suppliers to approve you.  Today, I suggest at least building a demo site for good measure.

At the time, I was ‘shooting from the hip’ and winging every move.  I had no idea what to do going forward.  I has suppliers but no idea how to get customers to my website.

worst website

My Site Was Worse Then This…

Getting Traffic To My Website

So I picked a niche, had suppliers that would fulfill my orders and build a hideous looking (but functional) website to showcase my products. But, how would I bring people to my site?

Like any good email spammer would, I trolled the fraternity and sorority websites looking for email addresses of all the members in each house (from over 100 different Universities and Colleges).

In 2002/2003, students would have their email addresses posted on their Greek house webpage.  Today, that’s a big ‘no-no’ because who wants to receive spam email from people like me trying to sell them stuff.

I collected 1000’s of email addresses and started opening dozens of bogus Yahoo Email accounts (at the time, Yahoo would only let you sent about 50 emails a day, then suspend your account to prevent spam…hahaha).  Nowadays, you need a phone number to verify your account before you can open a email account.

Let The Email Spam Begin

I started sending 100’s if not 1000’s of emails simply directing people to my website.  I would send out batches of emails from one account until Yahoo would suspend my account and then go to the next.

All in all, it was EXTREMELY time consuming but effective.

After about a month or two of doing this, I received a trickle of phone calls (that’s how the orders were place). Google Product Listing Ads weren’t around yet or at least I wasn’t aware of their existence.

I would say out of all the orders I received (a lot less then I’d like to admit), I surely received more emails from pissed of college students mad I was spamming their inbox. Sorry…my bad!

Well...maybe not that bad.

Well…maybe not that bad.

The Epic Failure It Was

While I did receive some orders, I admit I could have found a more kosher (and productive) way of marketing.  I only fulfilled a handful of orders and was, at best, breaking even after my time and expenses were taken into account.

I was only ‘open for business’ from January to March of 2003.

Come April of that same year, my savings (from the prior years lawn care earnings) was running drier then a creek in the dessert.

At that time, ‘in it for the long haul’ wasn’t exactly in my vocabulary.  I needed some cash and decided to close shop. Back to running my lawn care business it was…

What I Learned (A Few Takeaways)

In my opinion, there are no failures in life, just learning opportunities! (keep telling yourself that Mike 🙂

  • eCommerce in 2003 was the Wild Wild West. There were no drop shipping courses to learn from.
  • Drawling traffic to a website, back then at least, was centered more around relationships created from face-to-face meetups or phone calls.
  • WordPress, not around back then, has made creating a website without messing with coding (HTML)…a hell of a lot easier.
  • The creation of eCommerce platforms, like Shopify, where you can ‘drag and drop’ is a godsend.
  • DON’T SPAM YOUR CUSTOMERS!  I did it out of necessity back then but now your just asking for for trouble if you do it.
  • 2003 was a lot different then 2016. Today we have Goolge PLAs, Bing Ads, text ads and much much more drawl traffic that I wish I had back then.

The Future of eCommerce In 2016

While selling products online has matured a lot since I started (and failed) more then a dozen years ago, the field is still wide open for selling online.  The barrier to entry is smaller then ever and a intuitive entrepreneur can create his or her own eCommerce empire for as little as $300 and the downside to doing so is almost non-existent. So what are you waiting for?

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