The idea seems so obvious once it occurs to you: Why don’t I make a comfortable passive income selling things online? Why, I could even do that kind of work from the comfort of my own home!
After all, starting an online store today has become simpler than ever. You don’t need to build a website or an online shopping cart yourself — a cloud-based company such as BigCommerce can handle that for you. Marketing? Try Google AdWords. Selling? Through Amazon and eBay, I can reach hundreds of millions of customers with a click.
OK, I’ve got all the computer stuff covered. But what about the stuff stuff? Don’t worry! A plug-and-play third-party logistics provider such as ShipWire will store your inventory in its own warehouses, connect with the least expensive parcel carriers and send your customers’ packages on their way. Don’t have anything to sell? Not a problem! Just decide what you want to sell, connect with a drop shipper who takes on all the inventory risk and costs for you and start stumping for clicks!
Of course, you’ll still have to spread some of your own money around to get started, won’t you? Maybe not: As Reuters first reported, eBay-owned PayPal (which would be happy to process payments for your new business) is ramping up its plans to move into small business financing. A U.K. pilot program for lending money to eBay sellers has ended and bigger rollout plans are in the works, while testing will soon be coming to the U.S. And the best part, according to the company: In the U.K. pilot program, instead of having to make regular monthly payments no matter how well (or badly) your business was doing, repayments consisted of PayPal taking a cut of any sale.
And PayPal isn’t alone. Amazon already offers financing to its third-party sellers. And Atlanta-based startup Kabbage just closed $75 million in debt financing to offer cash advances ranging from $500 to $50,000 to fledgling e-commerce entrepreneurs.
If I sound a little snarky about all this, that’s because getting started in e-commerce requires the same degree of eye-rolling skepticism demanded by any promise of friction-free riches. Just Google “start an online store” if you doubt me. You’re immediately pulled down into a cesspool of content-farm swill deploying rhetoric worthy of the multi-level marketing pitches you find tacked to telephone poles. If it’s this easy to gin up a moneymaking online store, then everybody will be doing it. And I’m sure economists have a formula that tells us just how inversely proportional “everybody doing it” is to the value added by (and money made by) each additional sucker who joins the mob.
That said, the opportunity presented by the sheer number of services available to a retail business purely through the browser is seductive. If you have a product that people really want, or have some cool, original ideas about how to sell cool, original products that other people are making, the escape velocity required to turn that idea into a genuine business is lower than ever. Forget software as a service. Welcome to the age of stuff as a service.