My thoughts (and tips?) after growing an AliExpress/Oberlo dropshipping store from $0 – $1,000,000 in less than 6 months (long-ass post)
Hopefully the title of my post isn't too sensational.
Anyway, I have a bit of time to kill (currently waiting for my designers to finish up some stuff for me for my new store's launch), so I thought I'd post here just to give you guys some insight into the dropshipping world from my perspective.
Keep in mind, I'm still considered somewhat of a noobie since $1-million really isn't that much (my net profit was around 25%), so yeah. I'm not gonna act like I'm some omniscient business mogul… but… I do have some real and "in-the-trenches" insights that will hopefully help some of you on your journey, regardless of if you're in the dropshipping space or not.
To start off, the BIG question:
Is dropshipping (AliExpress/Oberlo) worth it?
Yes and no.
I say no because there really isn't much room for growth. As much as I'd love to tell you guys shipping times don't matter… well, they really do. And dropshipping from China just takes way too long. Obviously, you can find suppliers who have warehouses in the US, but most don't, and most of the time you'll be dealing with 2 – 4 weeks shipping time.
There's also people who'll tell you, "If you give them a good enough deal, then they'll wait!". Yeah, they will, but they most likely won't ever buy from you again.
And that's the biggest drawback in all of this. You rarely get any repeat sales… and that's sorta where all the money is.
Advertising gets more expensive over time. As you hit more of your target market, you start getting in front of less qualified prospects and you end up having to spend more to convert. This is just how it is in any industry (I was a marketing consultant before I jumped into eCommerce).
And because advertising gets more expensive, eventually, your ads won't really be profitable upfront anymore. And this is perfectly fine for most businesses since once they do get a customer (even at a loss), they can make it up in the back end. But you can't really do that with a dropshipping business (using this AliExpress model) for the most part.
There are exceptions, of course, but let's be real, most dropshipping businesses of this nature don't get much repeat buyers.
Because of this, you have to rely on constantly finding a new product to push and try to get into new markets over and over again. It's always an uphill battle and you won't ever really have an asset (aka customer base) you can cultivate to maximize your profit potential.
Besides that, there's also the issue with quality control, extreme amounts of competition, unreliable suppliers, and just a whole host of issues that you'll constantly run into.
It's just a lot of headaches and not really fulfilling.
HOWEVER, despite all this, dropshipping is still worth it. Why? Because it's a great learning experience. I've learned so much over these past few months that I now have an almost arrogant-like confidence for any venture I start.
Once you get a taste of blood (like making $7k in profit a day at times), then there's just no more doubt in your mind, and you'll be able to make money much easier (since there's no barrier of doubt stopping you).
On top of this, dropshipping is a great way to learn which markets are HOT. I ran a general store and tested a buncha different markets and finally settled on one that brought in really good money for me. I'm now expanding to a full-on business in this market that no longer relies on Chinese dropshipping. And I wouldn't have even thought to target this market if it weren't for me testing with my dropshipping business.
So, in short, although Chinese dropshipping is horrible in the long run, it's definitely worth pursuing with the intent to LEARN and find hot markets to start real businesses in.
What's the most important thing that contributed to your semi-success?
I get messages from people time to time asking me for general tips and how to succeed in dropshipping, but I have a tip that I think will honestly help anyone regardless of what industry they're in, what fulfillment method they use, or what product they sell.
Here's my MILLION DOLLAR secret: Test.
Even though I've made decent money these past few months, if you were to come to me and ask me if product A would do better than product B, I honestly wouldn't be able to tell you. If you asked me if interest A would work better than interest B for the product you want to test on Facebook, I honestly wouldn't be able to tell you. If you asked me which price point would work better for your product, I honestly wouldn't be able to tell you.
I'm not a psychic and I don't have magical powers of foresight.
What I do have, though, is a mind that's capable of analyzing data. And, fortunately for me (and you), that's really all you need to be able to succeed in business.
If you can analyze data, if you can tell which number is bigger or smaller than another number, if you can do simple math like multiplication/division/addition/subtraction, then you can succeed.
Because at the end of the day, all you really gotta do is test your ideas, concepts, products, copy, ads, etc… analyze the data… then go back and make the necessary corrections (kill or scale).
My strategy for finding winning products, markets, ads, or whatever, is by running a shit ton of ads (at a low price), then seeing which ones get the best results. That's it.
I run probably anywhere from 20 – 100 ads to test a new product. And from there, I get about like 2 – 5 ads that do well. Sometimes they do REALLY well. And in rare occasions, I get a few that make me a killing.
It's weird because the idea of testing is so simple. Everyone already knows what it is. They've heard about it from gurus or they just subconsciously know that testing is the logical thing to do. But people forget. They get too caught up in the day-to-day activities of their business and forget to set aside time to set up methodical tests. But trust me, testing is the most important thing I've ever done, and it's the reason I've achieved this amount of semi-success.
Testing is like my magic bullet. I know I'm going to succeed because I know how important testing is. When you think about it, life in general kinda runs on feedback loops. And that's really what testing is. Similar to how as a kid you made little corrections so you wouldn't fall off a bike, you gotta make those corrections within your business and keep doing what works (and scale it), and stop doing what doesn't work.
Okay, since you made the point that testing is important, what's the next most important thing?
Actually, I wouldn't say this is secondary in importance to testing, but there's something that's AS important as testing… and that is:
Branding (or, in other words, a unique selling proposition).
Branding is so crucial in today's business world that if you don't have some sort of branding, some sort of consistency throughout your business, then you won't make it (in the long run).
Branding isn't just about getting a logo made and slapping it everywhere. It's about taking a unique stance (whether it's combining 2 old elements together to make it new, stripping an element from something to make it simpler, improving upon something, or just coming up with a new thing altogether), and then putting that at the forefront of everything you do.
It's hard to explain the importance of branding to the uninitiated or the people who've just gotten their feet wet in eCommece and business in general, but branding needs to encompass everything you do. From the theme / types of products you sell, to your customer service, and even to the look and feel of your website.
And I'm not saying you need to run a buncha ads on branding like what the mega corporations do. But just have some sort of message that you stand behind that you emphasize in everything you do (your advertising, your follow up emails, your communications, your website copy, etc.)
It'll make you stand out from the competition and give your customers a compelling reason to buy from you.
This is probably one of the biggest mistakes I see when people ask me to critique their stores. They have a random eCommerce site with just a buncha random products thrown up on it (usually watches lol), but there's like… no message there. There's no compelling reason to buy from them (since most of the time it's a generic product you can find for cheaper and better quality elsewhere).
But branding also needs to customer-centric. It needs to be a message that resonates with the customer and gives them a benefit, gives them identity, gives them a sort of feeling of belonging… or just whatever. It's gotta be focused around the CUSTOMER. A branding message that says "I started this store because I'm a college student who wants money to travel the world" isn't strong enough. A branding message that says "We can offer our watches at a cheaper price because we cut out the middleman and go direct to the manufacturer" is not a compelling message.
It needs to be something with more oomph. The best way to learn how to come up with a good brand and brand message is by… well… looking at other businesses that have a strong Unique Selling Proposition (USP) / brand message. Warby Parker. Apple. Toms. Supreme. Dominoes. Mcdonalds. Avis (their old slogan). Dollar Shave Club. Purple. There's so many businesses out there with powerful messages that you can use to learn and then create your own USP (obviously, you can't copy these because they're unique, but you can study and deconstruct to learn WHY they're so compelling and powerful).
That's all, folks
I apologize if this long-winded post was all over the place. It's late here and I drank like 8 cups of earl grey within the past hour or so.
I kinda started this post off thinking I would get deep into some of my strategies and tactics, but for the most part it seems like I just gave out general tips that you've probably read or heard elsewhere a million times. But at least I can somewhat confirm that it's legit and actually works, so there's that.
Anyway, think I've spent too much time writing this so I'm probably gonna log off now and watch some YouTube or something.
Feel free to hit me with any questions (if you have any) regarding your business and I'll see if I can give you any specialized tips. (But, like I mentioned earlier, I probably won't know the answer to your question… so you should test it hehe.)
Thanks for bearing with me and reading through all of this!
If you skipped to the bottom, then… here's a TLDR for you:
• Dropshipping (using the AliExpress/Oberlo model) is great for learning and finding hot markets to start real businesses in, but there isn't much longevity.
• My MILLION DOLLAR secret: Test everything. Scale what works, kill what doesn't.
• Your branding / unique selling proposition will make or break your business. Find a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) / branding message that resonates with your customers but also makes you stand out from the competition.
Summary: This is all basic shit you've read before but I felt like typing something so I made this post… so yeah.
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