Ecommerce has exploded in popularity over the past decade, with more and more entrepreneurs launching online stores. The ecommerce industry is diverse, encompassing everything from multinational corporations to solo entrepreneurs selling handmade goods. While the potential rewards of ecommerce are high, building a successful online business is far from simple.
The ecommerce landscape is competitive, fast-paced, and requires constant innovation. Aspiring entrepreneurs can learn a great deal from studying existing online businesses. This article highlights 10 real-world, ecommerce business examples across various industries and business models.
What is an ecommerce business?
An ecommerce business is a company that sells products or services online, allowing customers to purchase items on the web. Also known as an online store or digital storefront, an ecommerce business enables transactions to occur over the Internet using tools like shopping carts, payment gateways, and order management systems.
Ecommerce businesses tend to have lower overhead costs than brick-and-mortar retail, and because they do not have as many geographical limits, they can expand their reach to potential customers outside their regions and worldwide. Ecommerce businesses may own the end-to-end online shopping experience from product listings to checkout on their branded websites, or have stores on online marketplaces like Amazon and Etsy.
Types of ecommerce businesses
You can categorize ecommerce businesses based on who they sell to and how they reach customers. Understanding these key ecommerce business models provides insights into how different online stores operate:
- Business to consumer (B2C). B2C ecommerce businesses sell products to customers through online channels. B2C businesses may sell their own products,or source products from other brands or manufacturers.
- Direct to consumer (DTC). DTC ecommerce businesses are a subset of B2C businesses that sell their own products directly to customers from their website, bypassing third-party sellers. These ecommerce businesses typically have more control over their branding and customer experience.
- Business to business (B2B). B2B ecommerce businesses sell products or services to other businesses, not directly to consumers.
- Consumer to business (C2B). In the C2B model, consumers create value for businesses. The consumers produce goods, services, or experiences that organizations purchase.
- Consumer to consumer (C2C). C2C ecommerce enables consumers to sell products or services directly to other consumers, with platforms facilitating the transactions. Examples include auction sites and classifieds.
10 successful ecommerce business examples
Ecommerce has revolutionized online shopping, enabling companies to sell products to consumers across the globe, a contrast from the brick-and-mortar store model. By leveraging ecommerce platforms and an ecommerce business model, companies can build successful online stores and branded ecommerce companies. Here are 10 case studies of successful ecommerce businesses:
Founded in 2014 by Tim Brown and Joey Zwillinger, Allbirds sells sustainable footwear made from natural materials like Merino wool and eucalyptus fiber. Allbirds employs a direct-to-consumer model, focusing on sustainable materials and online-first retailing through its ecommerce store (though it has physical stores as well). The brand uses social media platforms to advertise to its consumer base, occasionally dabbling in traditional advertising, like billboards.
Founded by Steve and Kim Sorensen, BlenderBottle launched in 2000 and makes shaker bottles, gym bags, and other fitness accessories targeted at workout buffs. One of the company’s best-known products is its leak-proof blender ball bottles. BlenderBottle employs a successful hybrid model, selling products directly through its ecommerce site, as well as on online platforms and at physical department stores.
In 2000, Sara Blakely founded Spanx from her apartment. The company initially sold slimming, shaping, and supportive undergarments for women. Spanx has since expanded its collection to include activewear, workwear, and loungewear, diversifying beyond its original product line. Blakely’s early marketing efforts targeted department store sales representatives to get her products placed in stores. However, Spanx quickly embraced ecommerce, directly reaching consumers online with its size-inclusive range.
4. Princess Polly
Founded by Eirin Bryett and Wez Bryett, Princess Polly is an Australian online retailer that launched in 2010 and has since expanded to the US. Princess Polly has become a fashion industry vanguard, offering the latest fashion, targeting Gen Z consumers. The company sells trendy women’s apparel, shoes, and accessories and relies heavily on influencer marketing and social media for brand awareness.
Founded by Mackenzie Yeates, Benjamin Sehl, and Rami Helali in 2015, Kotn sells sustainable premium cotton basics including apparel and home décor fabrics. With its focus on quality, sustainability, and working with the communities it sources from, Kotn has become a celebrated B Corporation (a certification given to for-profit companies that have a strong positive social or environmental impact) that sells quality products both through its online and physical stores.
Launched in 2014, Leesa sells direct-to-consumer mattresses and bedding essentials online. Cofounded by David Wolfe and Jamie Diamonstein, Leesa is a mattress-in-a-box industry pioneer that challenges the conventional mattress showroom business model with an online sales strategy.
Though the company only sells its products online, potential customers can try the mattresses at West Elm and Pottery Barn stores in select locations. The company also allows customers to test out mattresses for 100 days with free returns.
Founded in 2012 by Ben Francis in the UK, Gymshark sells high-performance athletic apparel targeted toward exercise enthusiasts. Gymshark disrupted the fitness apparel industry by building a solid brand ambassador community and social media influencer base online, encroaching on traditional athletic wear stores with its social media-savvy approach.
The company leveraged ecommerce to scale up rapidly, growing from a screen-printing operation in a garage to a leading fitness apparel brand. Though the brand does have one physical store in London, it sells products in 180 countries through its websites.
Fable, founded in 2019 by Joe Parenteau, Tina Luu, and Max Tims, is a Canadian ecommerce company specializing in ethically crafted dinnerware. Fable differentiates itself in the homeware space with a direct-to-consumer approach, offering ethically produced products directly to customers, circumventing traditional home goods stores. Emphasizing sustainability and community involvement, Fable commits to eco-friendly practices and regularly collaborates with artists on collections.
Started in 2014 by Rich and Vicki Fulop, Brooklinen sells home linens and loungewear to customers online. The husband-and-wife duo behind the brand upended the luxury bedding market by selling high-quality linens at accessible prices directly to consumers through its online platform. However, the brand is expanding its B2B operations to meet the increasing demand for large wholesale orders.
Founded in 2015 by Noura Sakkijha, Mejuri sells fine jewelry directly to customers online. With its DTC model and affordable prices, Mejuri aims to democratize luxury and challenge the high markup of conventional jewelry stores. As part of its growth strategy, the brand relies heavily on social media marketing and brand partnerships with influencers.
Ecommerce business examples FAQ
How do you start an ecommerce business?
What is the most profitable form of ecommerce business?
There are many kinds of profitable ecommerce businesses. You can sell directly to consumers (DTC), to other businesses (B2B), or lean into a consumer-to-consumer (C2C) model. The success of an ecommerce business depends on various factors like finding a niche product or service, honing in on a target audience, and attaining operational efficiency.
What are the different revenue models for ecommerce?
Ecommerce businesses generate revenue through various models, including B2C with sales directly to consumers, DTC for brand-centric sales to consumers, B2B providing products for other companies, C2B where consumers offer value to businesses, and C2C where customers transact amongst themselves.