There are tons of ways to start a new online business and one business model that is attractive to many people is selling physical products through an e-commerce site.
E-commerce businesses can be run from anywhere and have the potential to scale to 7-figure businesses or more.
However, running an e-commerce store can have many drawbacks, including providing customer service, building trust with potential buyers, keeping track of orders and managing inventory. The cost of warehousing and purchasing inventory alone can cost thousands of dollars.
So how can an aspiring business owner get into e-commerce without assuming the risk of purchasing inventory and avoiding the hassle of managing customer service?
Becoming an affiliate for another established e-commerce business, like Amazon, is one way.
Canopy.co is one of the most well known Amazon affiliates. They currently have a team of at least 6 people and have been featured on Tech Crunch, Mashable, Huffington Post and more.
So how did Canopy create a successful affiliate e-commerce business? Here are some insights on how Canopy became a success and how you can create your own successful e-commerce affiliate store.
How to Build a Business Like Canopy: Design and UX
Creating a successful affiliate site involves more than just throwing up a WordPress site and linking out to products. A lot of thought went into the design and functionality of Canopy.
Solving a problem
The designers of Canopy realized that some shoppers wanted a better experience than Amazon's automated shopping recommendations. They also realized that Pinterest users experienced frustration when clicking on links that led to websites that weren't trustworthy or didn't have the product available for purchase.
Canopy solved that problem by providing a layout similar to Pinterest, but only including Amazon products. Amazon is one of the most trusted shopping destinations on the web so Canopy users know that if they find a product that they like, they can click on it and purchase the item from Amazon.
The products are also curated by real people so that shoppers can find more products that are interesting to them. In comparison, Amazon's automated curation is limited and only shows products that other people looked at or bought.
How Canopy Keeps Users Coming Back
Asides from featuring exciting new items regularly, Canopy also added some features to keep users coming back to the site.
Members can sign up easily by connecting through Twitter or Facebook or signing up with email. Their email list keeps users informed about new products and is customized for each user based on other items they searched for.
Members can save products that they find on Amazon to Canopy using their Chrome extension of mobile app.
Canopy has community features, like the ability to follow other Canopy users. So if your friends join Canopy as well, then the experience can become social.
How to Build a Business Like Canopy: Marketing
One of the biggest challenges with marketing is figuring out what tactics to focus on. As technology continues to grow, people have more and more options for marketing their business.
To succeed with marketing, it's often a good idea to focus on just one or two channels that will give you the most exposure and ROI. If your marketing succeeds, then you will automatically get exposure through other channels, like social media.
I did a quick backlink analysis of the canopy.co website and here are a couple of tactics they used to grow their business.
One of the main focuses of Canopy's early marketing efforts was PR, i.e., getting featured on high traffic news sites. You can even see a list of some of the places they've been featured on their About page.
Sending out press releases to relevant news channels for coverage is one of the best ways to get exposure when you launch. Canopy's launch got featured on Tech Crunch and Huffington Post, for example.
Journalists use PR Newswire to browse for new stories so you can submit your press release there if you have the budget.
But you should also find and pitch people that are covering similar stories directly. Locate the correct editor by searching each news site for similar stories and send a personalized email to each editor letting them know about your startup.
Journalists are always looking for new stories and want to be the first to report on anything interesting, so don't hesitate to let them know about your business if it is newsworthy.
Canopy also marketed to online communities. For example, they submitted their site to Product Hunt (a site that features new and interesting startups) where members commented and upvoted it.
Communities don't have to be targeted towards potential customers, but the members of that community should be potentially interested in your business or your website. Communities can spread general awareness of your business and can be good for branding.
Besides attracting people to your site, you should also think about how to get people coming back.
Canopy uses email marketing to keep in touch with users that sign up on their site. Their emails let users know about interesting new items each week, so if a user sees something interesting, they can click on it to visit the Canopy site.
Things to Keep in Mind When Designing Your Own Affiliate Site
One of the most important things to think about when designing your affiliate site is how to differentiate yourself from other affiliate sites out there. Creating a successful affiliate site involves more than simply creating a website and linking to products.
Canopy succeeded by combining Pinterest's successful user design, which attracts shoppers that like to browse through product images, with the trusted shopping experience provided by Amazon.
You probably won't be as successful if you just copied everything that Canopy did, but some ideas might be worth borrowing. So how can you use these lessons for your own affiliate site?
Here are a few ideas:
1) Pick a niche – If you pick a narrower niche, you'll be able to market to a more targeted audience. For example, you could create an affiliate site focused on vegan products and then you could promote your site on other vegan focused sites.
2) Keep users coming back – Word of mouth is one of the best marketing tactics to spread awareness of your business. To keep your site on people's minds, you need to keep users coming back to your site regularly.
In addition to Canopy’s marketing strategies, think about other ways to keep users visiting your site regularly. Perhaps you can reward users for submitting interesting products, give away products to active users or reward users for referring others.
3) Focus on a different marketing channel – Canopy succeeded by focusing on PR outreach, but there are other marketing channels that you could focus on instead. Influencer outreach and content marketing are a couple of other channels that might be worth considering for this type of business.
How to Build a Business Like Canopy: Final Thoughts
You don't have to replicate Canopy's strategy to succeed at affiliate marketing, but you may want to consider using some of their tactics. Analyze how other e-commerce businesses created their success and create your own strategy for success.
Figure how to differentiate your business and create a user experience that people will talk about. Combine a great concept with a strong marketing plan and success will inevitably follow.