Ecommerce Survey 2017: The Trials & Tribulations of a Booming Industry [Data]

shopify blog reader survey

Earlier this year, we embarked on a mission to improve our ecommerce blog. We sent out a 23-question reader survey to better understand who reads our blog, what they’re struggling with the most, and how we can help.

We received 1,988 responses from some of our most active blog subscribers.

Of course, we’re hard at work putting all of that data to good use, but we thought we’d share some of the highlights with you, the reader.

How old are you?

At the beginning of the survey, we asked some basic demographic questions, like gender and age. 45% of all survey respondents are over the age of 45:

How old are you?

More survey respondents are over the age of 65 than under the age of 25, proving that ecommerce is for anyone, at any age. (Check out Life Lessons from 9 Entrepreneurs Over 50.)

What’s really interesting is that survey respondents under 45 prefer to learn through blog posts while survey respondents over 45 prefer to learn through video. One might easily assume the opposite given the young demographics of Snapchat, Instagram, and other video-heavy platforms.

What industry are you in?

What are the most popular ecommerce industries to sell in? Over 1,500 people told us what industry they’re selling in to help us answer that very question. Fashion and apparel came out on top:

What industry are you in?

If you’re in the fashion industry, too, you might be interested in some of these resources:

How would you rate your abilities?

We also wanted to explore our readers’ weaknesses and struggles so that we could craft content to help them through. So, we asked them to rate their abilities on a five-point scale.

Marketing-related abilities are consistently rated the lowest, meaning respondents struggle with them the most.

Respondents have the best handle on coming up with ideas for what to sell, rating that their top ability:

Coming up with ideas for what to sell

An impressive 26% gave themselves a five-star rating. More on this later, but I’m guessing those folks have read our How to Find a Product to Sell Online guide.

Getting traffic to your store and then converting that traffic into paying customers are the two biggest struggles:

Getting traffic to your store
Converting visitors to your site into buyers

23% of respondents gave themselves a one-star rating for traffic generation and 28% gave themselves a one-star rating for conversion optimization.

Ecommerce logistics like managing inventory and finances are the second biggest strength among survey respondents:

Managing inventory, finances and other logistics

If you’re one of the 28% of respondents who gave themselves a two-star rating or less, take some time to review our free business tools. You’ll find a terms and conditions generator, business loan calculator, profit margin calculator, and other tools to help you master the logistics.

Customer retention, one of the three ecommerce growth multipliers, is also a major struggle for respondents:

Retaining customers and encouraging repeat purchases

20% of respondents gave themselves a one-star rating, meaning it’s customer in, customer out. Multi-buyers are the key to generating more revenue for less money because you score another sale without a high acquisition cost (usually, the price of an email or two).

Consider reading How to Measure and Improve Retention Marketing Metrics or 7 Customer Retention Tactics to Get Current Ecommerce Customers to Purchase More, if you’re interested in improving your retention know-how.

The age-old struggles of time management and stress management continue to plague ecommerce entrepreneurs. Only 14% of respondents gave themselves a five-star rating:

Time management, stress management and entrepreneurship

As you unlock more growth and hit bigger sales goals, managing your time and stress gets harder and harder. Prioritizing mental health and self care becomes a must-have mindset for success.

Everyone runs a unique store and everyone has unique challenges, but understanding these struggles will help us craft content that solves problems our blog readers are actually experiencing.

What almost prevented you from making your first sale?

Everyone remembers their first sale. So, we asked an open-ended question to respondents who are currently running profitable ecommerce stores: What almost prevented you from making your first sale?

The results were pretty interesting:

  • “Life kept getting in the way of me setting up the store.”
  • “Failure on FB Ads and almost having no reserve to fall back upon.”
  • “I was kind of scared to launch, didn't know if my website was lame or not.”
  • “Well, it's been a while, but I remember having no clue how to ship anything.”
  • “I had to spend four months convincing myself that my artwork and products were good enough.”
  • “Getting my shipping figured out nearly made me throw in the towel.”

So, we took all of these open-ended answers and turned them into something quantifiable by assigning them to a bucket:

What almost prevented you from making your first sale?

It’s no surprise that marketing topped the list, especially when you consider all of the different factors that go into such a general bucket:

  • Getting traffic
  • Converting customers
  • Running and optimizing Facebook ads
  • SEO
  • Social media
  • Retention get the idea.

What’s interesting is that fear, the second most common sales obstacle, is only behind marketing by about 6%. A fear of looking “lame”, a fear of failure, a fear of imperfection. Fear came up over and over again.

Shipping issues are also quite common at 8.7%. Though, many said that was because they had not yet heard of dropshipping, which eliminates many of the shipping issues mentioned.

Resources to help you make your first sale:

What almost prevented you from launching your store?

Let’s back it up a bit for a second. What about people who aren’t even thinking about their first sale yet? We asked respondents what almost prevented them from taking their store public.

Here’s what some of them had to say:

  • “Still saving money for enough inventory and marketing.”
  • “Changed my mind about the product I was thinking of selling. (It was a lot of research and not sure about what the industry looks like.)”
  • “Sheer laziness from unfounded fear.”
  • “Couldn't figure out the right product to sell.”
  • “Time poor, fear of failure.”
  • “Not being sure about the product... the marketing efforts seem a bit overwhelming, too.”
  • “Don’t know really. Bit scared to take the next step without getting myself in debt. I don’t have all that much to invest.”

Again, we turned these open-ended answers and turned them into something quantifiable by assigning them to a bucket:

What almost prevented you from launching your store?

Product ideation and development is far and away the biggest struggle for entrepreneurs still building their stores. That breaks down to things like:

  • Working with manufacturers
  • Delays from contractors
  • Choosing a product
  • Choosing an industry
  • Choosing a niche
  • Researching the market

...and a lot more.

For many respondents, their store was a part-time gig or side hustle, making time and money scarce resources. Others were nervous because it was their first ecommerce store, so they lacked both knowledge and experience.

Resources to help you launch your store:

What almost prevented you from gaining traction?

Next we have those who launched their store, but really struggled to gain traction. We wanted to know what they struggled with most so that we could help not only them, but future readers who were sure to run into similar obstacles.

Here are some of their biggest challenges, in their own words:

  • “Generating enough interest before running out of money for ads.”
  • “Marketing. A lack of focus and direction.”
  • “Had a high CTR, but low conversion. The cost began to outweigh profits too much for profitability.”
  • “Finding a good market fit.”
  • “Lack of budget and hot products to sell.”
  • “Conversions - never optimised for them.”
  • “Driving traffic to the store without paying for it with ads.”

Once again, we turned these open-ended answers and turned them into something quantifiable by assigning them to a bucket:

What almost prevented you from gaining traction?
A lack of traffic trumps all of the other factors. Many were able to get traffic flowing to their site, but it was irrelevant and low quality traffic that just wouldn’t convert. Struggling to find relevant, high quality traffic acquisition strategies is the dominant theme here.

Others had the right traffic coming in, but their site was a leaky bucket. They were sending qualified traffic to an unoptimized site that was, quite literally, leaking money.

That’s why it’s important to use UX best practices to improve your site before running paid ads or other traffic acquisition strategies.

Others struggled with everything from SEO and content marketing to Facebook ads and Google Shopping.

Resources to help you gain traction:


We’re currently using all of this survey data (and more) to improve the content and user experience of the Shopify blog.

But hey, sharing is caring, right?

It can be reassuring to see you’re not the only one struggling with product development or traffic acquisition, for example. And you now have a ton of resources to sort through that you might not have known about otherwise.

Now, take what you need from these survey results and related resources, and keep on sellin’!

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