Top 20 Ecommerce Business Ideas for 2020

💥every great business starts with an idea
February 20, 2020 ● By Brian Thomas
Let's talk real business ideas. Not those unicorn, epic, nobody thought of before ideas. Actual ideas that are solving real world problems and produce revenue.

This is where real, sustainable business come from.

I run an agency full-time, square nine studios, focusing in the e-commerce space. Specifically Shopify/ReCharge, ChargeBee and custom development.

These ideas stem from problems my clients face or are spin-offs of problems we've solved for them.

I break down each idea into a backstory, deep dive (analysis), validation and monetization strategy. Additionally I provide you with the steps I would take to launch.

Drop me a line here if you end up starting one of these ideas!

20. Couples Date Night Box

Backstory: Date night and couple experiences are becoming more popular. There are few subscription style games out there as well as Date Night in a Box. Most of these cater to the $30-$40 recurring space. There's definitely room for a premium box that is not recurring.

The Idea: Premium Couples Date Box.


Business Analysis:

Similar to the man crate, you would build a premium experience ($100+) for couples to enjoy for a date night. You should focus into a niche like TV trivia. This will help narrow your content as well as your audience for advertisement. Additionally, this lends itself for partnering with specific TV brands to cobrand boxes, similar to loot crate.

Validation: Date Night in a Box exists in the $30-$40 space.

date night in box


Monetization: A straight ecommerce play, watch your margins!

Steps to Launch: With this one, I would come up with an initial concept, build a really slick landing page and presell the box. If you're able to get enough orders to make the unit economics work, build and ship the box. If not enough people buy based on your concept and landing page, you can refund everyone that died and try another niche or move onto another idea.

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19. Homemade Greeting Cards

Backstory: The greeting card market is dominated by hallmark. Similar to how other "big business" markets can get disrupted by smaller players, this market is ripe for someone to offer a cheaper and more unique solution.

The Idea: Homemade greeting cards.

Deep Dive: Similar to how creatives sell on etsy, you would build a platform for designers to create and upload their greeting cards. Every time one is printed, they get a small portion of the fee. You can run contests similar to woot where users vote on the best card and that gets offered at a discount.

Validation: There are already some people selling greeting cards on etsy.

Monetization: You would make whatever profit is left over after shipping, cost of goods and designer fees.

18. Ecommerce Review Plugin

Backstory: There are so many review sites out there. Trust Pilot seems to be the most popular with ecomm sites but it lacks specific categories such as ship time and value.

The Idea: Ecommerce based review site and plugin.

Deep Dive: You would build a review site platform similar to trust pilot but cater specifically to ecommerce sites.

Validation: Clutch, https://clutch.co/, is a perfect example of coming after existing review sites and niching down. Clutch is exclusively for B2B companies like marketing agencies and dev shops.

Monetization: Similar to proof, fomo, shopify embed, etc... you could have a freemium version that sponsors your review site when an ecommerce company lists their reviews and star ratings on their site.

Steps to Launch: I would start by reviewing different ecommerce companies and getting traffic to your site. Then pitch the idea to those companies and offer to link their review ratings on each article. Those companies would probably be willing to switch or start a review platform given some free traffic.

17. Startup Explainer Videos

Backstory: I recently came across an old article by Rob Walling where he explains how he made 4 explainer videos for $11. The process that he used was super creative, and the video turned out great. To truly understand what I mean, I recommend you check out the article and the video that he made. How I Created 4 Startup Explainer Videos for $11 | Rob Walling: Building, Launching and Growing Startups

I know plenty of people out there who would pay for a similar  video to be built for their product.

The Idea: Explainer Videos for Startups

Deep Dive: You would make a bunch of cutout props, and utilize them in creating quick explainer videos for startups.

Validation: Rob Walling did it. He outlines his reasons behind why he needed these videos in the article mentioned above.

Monetization: You could charge clients for one-off video, or make them on a recurring basis. Personally, I like the idea of selling this to startups. Pitch this as additional content for customer support and sales teams to utilize when explaining use cases and how-to’s for their product.

Steps to Launch: Sell first! I recommend trying to sell this to startups through cold email. Maybe use an explainer video that you made to sell your videos.

16. Simple Socks

Backstory: Every few months, I throw away a few pairs of socks and then buy a few new ones. Right now, I have about 8 socks that I can’t find a match for in my drawer right now.

The Idea:  SimpleSocks: Subscription Service for Socks

Deep Dive: Keep this all of simple. There’s so many funky socks out there. Be different and just have plain white or black socks.

Validation: Simple, black and white socks will make it apparent that it’s a basic service. People like that, and services like brandless.com show this.

Monetization: This is a physical consumer product, so watch your margins, and don’t forget about shipping costs.  Another route to go (outside of subscriptions), is retail. You may be able to partner with the retail stores to offer the socks in their store.

Steps to Launch: I’d start by launching a Shopify store, and selling this as a subscription service via ReCharge.

15. Episodic Selling

Backstory: While attending SubSummit and talking with merchants, I was amazed to find quite a few sell a progressive experience to customers. Most are educational that walk students through a learning process. Additionally there are games and experiences like Hunt a Killer :)

The Idea: An ecommerce platform for selling episodic products.

Deep Dive: You would build an ecommerce platform similar to cratejoy but it would track the customers shipment progression and allow merchants the ability to build out paths and sequences of products.

Validation: I've worked with Hunt a Killer for over a year and this would solve a lot of our tech/fulfillment issues. This project is a large undertaking, you could get a few companies to commit before you build it.

Monetization: Similar to other SaaS platforms, you would bill customers based on their volume.

14. Automated Thank You Notes

Backstory: One of my friends and his wife recently had a baby shower, they received lots of gifts and are now sifting through all the presents to send thank you notes.

The Idea: An automated thank you card service.

Deep Dive: You would hook into different registry sites such as Amazon and Target as well as a hand writing notes service such as https://www.handwrytten.com/. You would build a simple website so people could automatically send a generic thank you or manually approve all notes and append a personal message as well.

Validation: This is automating an existing boring and long process.

Monetization: You would charge per note sent. You could allow users to prepay a set or experiment with a monthly unlimited.

13. Plant Based Shipping Containers

Backstory: There are more and more food based shipping companies popping up. Most of them use plastic containers to store and ship the food. These containers are often thrown out or only reused a few times.

The Idea: Plant based containers for food products.

Deep Dive: You would have to team with someone who could help develop a food safe plant based container option. The key here is to develop relationships with existing food delivery companies and try to find a common container size across multiple brands. Starting with that one size will help you scale and become profitable earlier in the company.

Validation: People are becoming more conscious about the sustainability of items they purchase.

Monetization: A typical ecommerce play, watch your margins!

12. Custom Printed Blinds

Backstory: Those crazy printed dog socks are everywhere. That got me thinking about something in the home that is relatively plain and can use some pop... blinds!

The Idea: Custom printed blinds.

Business Analysis: You would build a platform for users to upload a design, preview and order their design on blinds. You would have to walk through the process with your first customers before you can fully automate this.

Some customers may want a repeated pattern, others may want their image really huge. You could have fun with the brand and print a bunch of wild designs and try to get it to viral on social media.

Validation: Those dog socks are everywhere, people are loving personalization.

Monetization: You can charge a premium for this type of product and upsell different ink types and color options.

11. Travel Box

Backstory: This past weekend I traveled to San Diego for work. It's been a few months since I've travel and I've forgotten a key items that I normally purchase every trip such as dramamine and a recent copy of Inc or another recent magazine for the flight.

The Idea: A website where you can pick select items to get auto shipped to you a few days before your flight.

Business Analysis: You would build a simple "wish list" for someone to have sent to them before any flight. You would tap into their gmail and/or calendar to determine when their next trip is scheduled. Based on their location and shipping times, you would ship the box out so they would receive it a few days before their flight.

You could include items such as medicine, snacks and reading materials.

Validation: I made a bunch of expensive impulse purchases at the airport because I didn't plan ahead of time and purchase items that I normally take.

Monetization: Airport items are already overpriced, you would be able to have a higher margin on items to guarantee their delivery before the flight.

10. Physical Product Shipment Test

Backstory: Physical product companies have QA for their product but how about once it arrives in the customer's hands from transit?

The Idea: A testing service that will auto return packages as well as auto order purchases.

Business Analysis: There are two angles here, you could provide an option to auto return the product to the customer. You could offer this for free/cheap to get customers in the door. The value in this is how the product arrives after it's been in transit for days.

The other angle is to place monthly orders for random products from a customer's store and grade the shipment arrival with pictures and notes. You would have to coordinate reimbursement/returns as well.

Validation: Internal QA already exists.

Monetization: For the monthly service you would charge a fee and the auto return could be a small amount to customers not subscribed to the monthly service.

9. Organic Dog Food Subscription

Backstory: Subscription services are all the rage now, from broad topics like loot crate, to more specific niches like bark box and hunt a killer. A friend of mine mentioned feeding his dog only raw/organic dog food and it brought this unique combination to mind.

The Idea: A subscription box service for raw dog food.

Business Analysis: To start, you could just buy from a local store and sell at cost to prove to model.

At scale, you would have to source from multiple dog food providers since the food is raw, inventory will be an issue. You will constantly have to gauge demand with inventory.

The Farmers Dog already exists but the signup process is quite cumbersome and this space is ripe for competition. You could also pivot and target cat owners. The market and order size would be smaller but there's less competition.

Validation: As mentioned, The Farmers Dog exists and there are a few others in this space. Partnering with different vendors can help differentiate your brand.

Monetization: You would charge a monthly subscription that would be 50-70% above your cost of goods landed.

8. Restaurant Cookbook

Backstory: Recently I've traveled a lot and I've been eating out at restaurants more than usual. When I'm in different places I like trying different types of food, not typical chains. This leads to some pretty interesting menu items and are often very tasty. I got to thinking, wouldn't it be great to create these recipes at home?

The Idea: A cook book that generates recipes based on the restaurants you visit.

Deep Dive: This app would tap into credit cards and analyze every restaurant a user has visited. To form the cookbook, the application would use recipes based off which types of cuisine's are visited the most and which items are common across those restaurants.

The app would suggest meals to make or partner with a food delivery service to sell ready to cook ingredients for the same meal. Users could also rate each recipe and the application would suggest new recipes based off that feedback.

Validation: After a quick search there doesn't appear to be anything like this out there. It's a unique variation on recipes and food delivery.

Monetization: As mentioned above, you could partner with meal delivery services. Another option to monetize would be to sell a printed cookbook of recipes for your users.

7. PaperVids

Backstory: I've always been fascinated with flipbooks. As a child, I remember flipping a Disney scene of Mickey. Fast forward a few years... I decided to turn that passion into reality.

If you want to preserve a photo, you get it printed. How do you preserve a video? Have it printed as a flipbook.

The Idea: A website where you can upload a 8-30 second video and convert it into a flipbook.


Business Analysis
: This is more of a long story but bear with me :)

Turning a video into a set a frames is the easy part but cutting each one perfectly is another story. I used ffmpeg to convert a video into a set of frames. I then set out to find a way to consistently cut paper frames into the same size. I started with 4x6 photos but that proved to be very expensive. I then found business cards cutters (slitter), I purchased this Martin Yale unit. It proved to not cut accurately.

I sold the martin Yale and then purchased another, MBM BC 12up. Slightly more expensive... this was a huge investment on a random idea (I did find one used on ebay for $2300). This allowed me to turn 5 printed pages of 8.5x11" into a 60 frame flipbook.

I purchase the PaperVids domain from someone for $500. I developed a simple php website to upload the video and queue it for background processing.

Image



I built backend software to print the frames in the correct order to come out perfectly when fed into the MBM business card slitter. I built a custom jig to bind the flipbook, I was set. I also purchased a fairly expensive personal photo printer.


All in, I was around $3200. This was more than just a hobby at this point. I showed off the flipbook to friends, mentors and anyone that would listen. Everyone was impressed and was interested in buying one of their own. One common statement from everyone was "patent this."

I now know more about patents than I ever thought possible.

I did a bunch of research and found someone has a patent on a very similar method I used to create my own flipbook, here. Mine was slightly different but not knowing if it was different enough, I proceeded to hire a patent lawyer.

$2000 later, my patent lawyer recommended I contact the patent owner and "chat." He said my method was different enough but proving it in court would cost $40k+ so chatting with the patent owner seemed like a good choice.

After a bit of digging, I contacted the patent owner and explained my idea. He was in the video booth space (similar to photo booths for weddings) and had no interest in online video to flipbooks. He did have a patent and rather than fight it out in court I was willing to give a very small percentage of flipbook sales to validate this idea.

A week later when the contract arrived, he wanted 7% of my entire business. Far from the "small percentage" of flipbooks we mentioned on the phone. I didn't even have a business and he wanted 7% of everything, even if I sold shoelaces. We were unable to reach a reasonable agreement. I was young too, nearly 10 years ago. I gave up :(

Validation: https://www.flipclips.com/ and http://www.myflipps.com/ both exist currently.

Monetization: This is actually the hardest part. Buying everything in bulk, I estimated I would be $1.22 per book all in minus shipping. Shipping is around $2.05. The labor involved in printing, cutting and binding adds up quick. To make a decent margin, charging $7+ for a single book is a hard sell. The target market would be weddings or events where the flipbooks are ordered in bulk.

6. Wedding Place Card Software

Backstory: My friend's sister got married a few years ago and she had to manually print and cut all of the place cards.

The idea: Wedding place card software.

Business Analysis: At her wedding, with 180 guests, you can imagine this took a long time. It would be great if there was a software where you could import your guest list, assign them tables, and then print out place cards using whatever design you like.

Validation: Shortly after my sisters wedding, I found https://www.placecard.me. This is a really good solution, but that doesn't mean it should be the only solution.

Monetization: You would charge a set amount per card printed, you could have discounts for larger orders.

5. Better Vending Machines

Backstory: Vending machines have been around since the 1880s. Modern vending machines have not changed much, offering products like coke, pepsi, diet, energy and sports drinks. Now that there are tons of new beverage options, I'm surprised to find there are limited options in vending machines.

The Idea: A modern vending machine with better options, rewards and digital ad space.

Business Analysis: You could improve vending machines in three main ways:

1. Better, healthier options like cold brew, energy teas and flavored sparkling water.
2. Reward points, entice users to come back and buy more. You would pair with a bluetooth payment option to make purchasing easy.
3. Subsidize the cost with digital ads. This would be a great way for new beverage companies to advertise.

Validation: I'd love to see a machine that offered healthy energy drinks like zest tea.

Monetization: You would make money inline with the standard vending machine model in addition to selling ad space on the front of the machine.

4. Fun Colored Tents

Backstory: Festivals are all about expression. Firefly, burning man, Coachella, etc have all attracted large amounts of people that camp out multiple days. Festival goers dress up in crazy outfits and carry around outrageous signs to find their friends but they still sleep in the same boring, single colored tents.

The Idea: Multi colored and patterned tents.

Deep Dive: An e-commerce store that sells unique colors for tents including patterns and artistic designs. You could even allow users to upload their original artwork to be printed on tents. This could possibly branch into a woot shirt ( https://shirt.woot.com/ ) type of community where users upload their own artwork, the community votes and the winning designs are sold (the artist receives a small cut).

Validation: Patterns are appearing everywhere. Yoga pants quickly jumped from solid colors to crazy designs from stores like Lululemon and Athleta. Tents are another space filled with solid colors ripe to be changed.

Monetization: As a physical product, it's all about margins. You would have to run numbers on how much it would cost to print custom designs on the fabric and see if there's a market for it. You could probably attend a festival and presell a bunch of them before you invest any money.

3. Office Hunt

Backstory: I make changes and buy stuff for my office space, desk, or computer area about once a year. When I do, I search this subreddit for inspiration on how I want my office to look.: https://www.reddit.com/r/battlestations. I always love looking at this stuff, but often have no clue where to get any of the cool office accessories that are posted in the pictures.

The idea: A collection of inspirational workplaces and offices.

Business Analysis: All offices can be tagged so that the products can be purchased on Amazon.

Validation: There is over 580,000 subscribers to that r/battlestations subreddit alone. I also checked out YouTube and found multiple users that just built cool office setups and then provided affiliate links in the descriptions. Some of their videos have millions of views.

Monetization: Amazon Affilliate Links.
It's kind of a mix between officesnapshots.com and Houzz.com.

2. Sustainable Tissue Paper

Backstory: There's a trend going on across all markets where manufacturers are swapping out raw materials for more environmentally friendly and sustainable raw goods.

The Idea: Sustainable tissue paper.

Business Analysis: You would source and market tissue paper from sustainable raw materials. This is the main differentiator across all the competitors. Bamboo is a popular raw material to start investigating.

Another factor I would explore is bright colors. Either on the box or tissue itself. This helps with branding and customer's excitement to share on social media.

Checkout this $90 box of tissue paper


Validation: Colgate just purchased Hello toothpaste: https://njbiz.com/hello-toothpaste-acquired-colgate/. The bigger players are noticing this trend and buying up smaller companies.

Monetization: This is another ecommerce play, watch your margins. I like this one in particular because people use tissue paper on a regular cadence, you could have a subscription portion to stabilize revenue.

Steps to Launch: I would jump on shopify and ReCharge (for subscription billing) to get this out the door quickly. If you don't have a good audience to try this on, think about partnering with an influencer in the space to jump start the business.

Try to be cheeky with your marketing, this is a bland space that can get spiced up with some fun word play.

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1. Ecommerce Audit as a Service

Backstory: My full time job is consulting for ecommerce companies. Most of these companies are under 50M/yr and all of them are suffering from the same problems: cash flow, user acquisition and scaling. At the root of these issues is the fact that they don't truly understand their numbers: revenue, customer acquisition cost (CAC), margins and lifetime value (LTV). My first engagement with every client involves some sort of audit, I find myself doing the same thing over and over again.

The Idea: Ecommerce audit as a service.

Business Analysis: You would build a simple app that would tap into a customers shopify and processor (stripe or braintree) account. Using their sales data and specific company data (margins and customer acquisition cost) you would compute their time to break even or profitability. Using this information you can create informed decisions on where there are issues within the company.

This business idea can be used twofold, lead generation and monetization. If you're running an agency dealing with ecommerce clients, you'll probably want to have a lead generation mechanism that can scale. By charging a small fee for this service, you can put paid advertisement behind this and be out a ton of money to gather new clients.

Validation: Currently I manually do this with all my clients. Additionally, almost everyone I meet at smaller ecommerce conferences doesn't know their numbers.

Monetization: You could use this as a tool to help land new clients or you could white label this and license it to other ecommerce agencies to help them land new clients.

Steps to Launch: I would manually create a report that you send to clients and then move slowly into automation as it provides more value and saves you time.

February 20, 2020 ● social image provided by icons8

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