Digital nomad business ideas: Ecommerce

To be a digital nomad and work from anywhere you’ll need either some kind of business you can run online, or an online job.

I’ve covered jobs for digital nomads in another article, so in this guide I’ll focus on one of the most common online business ideas for digital nomads: Ecommerce.

Starting a new online shop takes an investment of money, time and effort at the early stages.

However, in the long run, you can set up your online shop in such a way that you won’t have to work too many hours on it and still earn income while you travel. Read on to see how it can be done.

Why ecommerce is a great business idea for digital nomads

I’ve seen many aspiring digital nomads asking what they should study or what field they should go into that will allow them to travel.

Ecommerce is one of those high-potential fields that digital nomads should look into, mainly because it’s growing fast these days.

With more and more people getting used to shopping online, it is expected to continue growing in the coming years.

This is the kind of business that can support your digital nomad lifestyle and make it sustainable.

As a digital nomad, you can run your shop from anywhere, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have to sit in front of your laptop all day long.

You can outsource many of your ecommerce-related tasks, leaving you plenty of time to enjoy your travels, while your shop generates income for you.

Steps to creating your own online shop

Here’s an overview of the main steps you need to take to establish an ecommerce business. Use it as your starting point. I included links to useful resources, courses and services that will help you along the way.

1. Choose your ecommerce business model

There are several common models in the world of ecommerce. Learn about each so you can pick your route.

Making your own products

This route gives you the greatest amount of control over your shop and over your profit margins.

That’s a huge advantage that will help you scale your business.

It is also the hardest route, but remember that there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Learn from the experience of others.

There is a learning curve to starting an online shop which can be steep for beginners. The course How to start a profitable online store in 12 weeks or less covers all the basics for those with little or no experience in the world of ecommerce. It will save you time, frustration and money. 

Dropshipping

In the dropshipping model, you don’t have to manufacture any products yourself. You set up an online storefront and promote items made by a third party. Once an item is sold, that third party will ship it to the customer.

Why dropshipping is a good idea for digital nomads

This is an immensely popular model, because it has a huge advantage: You don’t have to make, store or ship any physical items yourself.

That’s what makes it an ideal model for nomads who move around a lot.

With no direct handling of the product, you can focus all your effort on marketing and selling, plus customer service.

In fact, you don’t even have to do any of those tasks yourself. If you outsource as many tasks as possible, that will bring you very close to the coveted “passive income” digital nomad lifestyle, and will free up your time to enjoy your travels more.

Are there any disadvantages to dropshipping?

The main disadvantage of the dropshipping model is that profit margins are sometimes quite low.

Another issue that dropshippers may face is having to put their trust in a third party that may fail to fulfil an order. This reflects badly on the dropshipper’s business and can cost them their reputation.

Print on demand

Print on demand sites will print whatever designs or pictures you create onto t-shirts, wall art, accessories and many other products.

As a beginner, you can start out on sites such as Society6 and Teepublic that are both popular and beginner-friendly.

With this model you will not own the shop, but it’s a good way to go into the ecommerce world with no risk and no monetary investment.

You’ll have to do the marketing yourself, though you will also benefit from the high Google rankings of the popular print on demand sites. That may bring you organic traffic with minimal effort on your part.

If you want to learn more about print on demand, leave a comment below and I’ll write another post with a full guide. 

2. Decide on a product to sell

Business ideas for digital nomads

This is probably the most difficult step and the most crucial one.

You want to come up with a product idea that people want and need to buy.

You’ll soon find that those niches are highly saturated and that a good amount of research is needed in order to select the right product.

There are many other considerations that should go into the selection process, such as:

  • Cost and ease of manufacturing
  • Size and weight that affect shipping costs
  • Current trends and seasonality
  • Competitor analysis.

Validating your idea

Before you start selling anything you want to make sure there’s demand for it. There are different ways to validate your product ideas, such as:

  • Running surveys
  • Checking best seller lists on Amazon or sold items on eBay
  • Doing keyword research using professional tools like SEMrush.

Product research is something you can learn how to do), or you can find a professional to do the work for you. Either way, dedicate the time and resources needed to get this right, as this will determine the success of your business.

Manufacturing and shipping

Many online sellers choose to source products from China.

There are advantages to searching for local manufacturers and suppliers, so you may want to try that first.

You’ll also have to decide on the best ways to package and ship your products.

3. Pick a platform for your online shop

Here are some of the most popular platforms for online shops:

  • Your own site (for example, a WordPress site using WooCommerce)
  • Shopify
  • BigCommerce
  • Amazon
  • Ebay
  • Etsy

It’s a good idea to have your own website if you want full control over your business. You can have it built for you or learn to build it yourself.

If you’re after a ready-made solution, consider Ebay, Amazon and Shopify, which are some of the most popular platforms, especially  for dropshipping businesses.

Each platform has its own rules and features to learn before you join. Start by reading their guidelines and gathering more details from articles, videos and podcasts, where more experiences users hare their tips. There’s plenty of information online. Do make sure that whatever information you consume is still up to date, to avoid any mistakes.

If you find yourself overwhelmed and if you feel that it hinders your progress, an effective shortcut would be a course on Amazon and Shopify to quickly learn just what you need to know. 

Alternatively, if you find all the above a bit too much and just want to get a taste of what it’s like to sell online, then Teepublic could be a great place to start. It’s a user-friendly print on demand site where you can open a storefront quickly and sell designs on a range of products. It’s a good way to get your feet wet before you move on to more demanding platforms.

4. Branding and marketing your online shop

Ecommerce guide for digital nomads

Before you start marketing your shop, decide on a name, a logo and all other elements of your branding. You can hire a graphic designer with a specialty in branding on sites like 99 designs or Fiverr.

Plan your launch carefully to attract attention from your target audience. You’ll need a marketing plan for the launch and for the initial stages of running your business.

Digital marketing includes a wide array of tools you can use, including:

  • Landing pages and email newsletters – Platforms such as GetResponse,  Aweber, Landpages or Keap will allow you to convert more with ready-made tools and templates.
  • Paid ads on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube etc.
  • Instagram marketing – for many types of products, this is currently one of the best ways to get exposure to buyers.

These are all basic tools that are readily available. You can learn how to use some of these yourself (for example, Instagram marketing), but in general it’s a good idea to seek advice from a digital marketing consultant for two main reasons:

(a) To avoid making mistakes; and

(b) Because you may find yourself procrastinating and never launching your shop, as there’s way too much to learn about marketing…

A professional can create a marketing plan for you and also perform some or all of the tasks involved, leaving you time to work on other aspects of your business.

In future, when you grow and scale your online store, you’ll want to use more advanced marketing techniques. If you find that you like marketing, you can learn how to use those advanced techniques yourself. Otherwise, hire consultants to help you scale.

5. Customer service

If you’ve ever shopped online, you’ll know that good customer service is crucial. From a business owner’s perspective, it includes, for example:

  • Replying to emails quickly
  • Providing easy returns and refunds
  • Creating a FAQ page on your site

You’ll develop a more comprehensive customer service policy with time and experience.

When you’re ready to scale your ecommerce business, you may not have the time and energy to focus on customer service.

However, this can make or break your business, so take customer service seriously. 

Many businesses outsource their customer support tasks, and if you find you need to do that too, start by defining the exact tasks you’re ready to outsource and then find the right professional to assist you.


I hope this overview gave you some ideas and insights. Feel free to ask questions in the comments below.

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