Getting To Grips With Online Retail As A Side-Hustle

In a 2023 report from Newswire, 85% of Canadians admit concern that inflation is outpacing their income, with 28% to 35% reporting a side hustle to supplement their income. With “how to start an e-commerce business” coming in at the top of Google searches this year among prospective side hustlers, here is a guide on where to begin. 


Before doing anything, an online retail business needs security. Unsecured WiFi is responsible for 72% of business data breaches. And with most freelance work taking place remotely, it pays to have protection from the outset. 

Sensitive information, like bank details and warehouse addresses, can be protected from theft by downloading a service like ExpressVPN for Canada. Keeping a VPN running on your devices in the background effectively replaces your IP address with one of its servers, hiding vulnerable data and rendering it impossible to track activity back to the user. 

VPNs can also be used to research the markets of other countries. By connecting to a local server abroad, sellers can see the prices that other online stores show to people in that country. This serves as a useful tool for those wishing to sell their goods to markets outside of Canada

Online Platforms

Choosing the right e-commerce platform for your brand may seem daunting. The options are seemingly limitless, on one end has the advantage of a huge consumer base, while Etsy might be ideal for selling handmade and artisan goods. 

Considering the initial costs of setting up shop on these platforms are so small compared to the costs of going it alone, using any platform to kickstart a new business is a low-risk first step on your retail journey. 

They also offer plenty of opportunities to learn about the market, incorporating in-site tools for customizable targeting, with some offering a subscription for free while you work on making your first sale. Shopify offers a trial period, allowing new businesses to create an online store and scope their market before they charge a monthly fee. 

Consider a Free Shipping Day

Most online retailers starting out often struggle to match the free shipping offered by larger companies. Yet it can’t be avoided that customers are overwhelmingly more likely to purchase goods when there is no surcharge for delivery. 

A minimum order amount to qualify for free shipping can help, as well as increase the AOV of purchases on the site. Going one step further and advertising a free shipping day one day of the month can garner enough sales to pay for the costs of delivery now covered by the seller, while also harnessing customer loyalty. 

Customer Support

Often overlooked, to the detriment of many burgeoning online start-ups, is the process after which the item has been sold. This can be the hardest part of retail, where a lofty number of online returns can halt any potential for customer loyalty and refocus a new retailer’s time away from growing their business. 

32% of Canadians drop their purchase at the checkout cart if they find there is no returns policy. And with Canada Post reporting that 82% of shoppers actively buy from online stores that offer a hassle-free returns policy, it’s worth getting this right from the outset. 

To lift the burden of returns while the business is finding its feet, services like ReturnBear can be hired to do all of the groundwork that customer support requires, to ensure new online retailers can stay on track.


Beginning an online retail business can supplement an income to compete with the rising cost of living. Keeping data safe online, selling via e-commerce platforms, offering free shipping where possible, and reliable customer support can go a long way to achieving a sustainable and successful side hustle in online retail.

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