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How to Value an eCommerce Business

A Guide on eCommerce Valuation

Before we get into the technical side, it is important to understand why eCommerce has become so popular and mainstream, which has driven a lot of the buyer and investor demand to buy these businesses, regardless of their size.

It’s no secret that eCommerce has become woven deeply into the fabric of our everyday lives. If you haven’t tripped over a pile of Amazon boxes at some point over the past holiday season, you’re likely in the minority. So, how have we ended up here?

Introduction: The Current State of eCommerce

After nearly 20 years of delivering roughly the same eCommerce experience, the industry is finally beginning to make some big strides. What’s exciting is that these strides are not just focused on the online shopping experience but the merging of offline with online to create some truly unique and brand-driven experiences for consumers. Even more exciting, the democratization of eCommerce means that this is no longer limited to large companies.

In the next few years, we’re going to begin seeing some of the biggest advancements in eCommerce with the addition of augmented reality and virtual reality. To say the future of the eCommerce industry is bright would be an understatement.” – Richard Lazazzera, Founder – A Better Lemonade Stand

Amazon tends to get most of the attention when we speak about eCommerce. This is largely understandable. How many other corporations could capture the attention and resources of the 238 cities across the USA that vied for Amazon’s HQ2 complex? Then, Amazon created headlines when protests and political turmoil led it to abandon its plans for a campus in New York City projected to provide 25,000 jobs.

While Amazon and the world’s richest man, founder Jeff Bezos, have been in the news lately for reasons other than Amazon’s e-commerce dominance, the numbers behind that preeminence are remarkable. Amazon’s global sales in 2021 were $468.78 billion. That is $64.34 billion more sales than in 2020, a 15.91% increase. Statista reported in February 2022, was the leading online marketplace in the United States. During the measured period, the sprawling platform accounted for nearly 57 % of desktop traffic in the marketplace subcategory. ranked second, making up 13.94 % off visits.

Third Party eCommerce Sellers

While one might look at these numbers and assume that eCommerce retailers not named Amazon must be struggling, nothing could be further from the truth. Most of these sales come from the roughly 2 million active third-party sellers. A little-known fact is that third-party eCommerce sellers actually sell more products on Amazon, through its Marketplace platform, than Amazon itself. In 2021, sales for independent businesses selling on Amazon grew over 50% compared to 2019.

So, while Amazon Marketplace and Fulfilled by Amazon merchants are thriving, what about those e-commerce businesses operating independently of the Amazon ecosystem?

Amazon Competitors

Total US retail eCommerce sales in 2021 totaled $871 billion and have been growing at an average of 16% annually since 2011, with 2020 growth increasing by 32%. While over 60% of eCommerce sales are made by just five retailers–Amazon, eBay, Walmart, Apple, and The Home Depot– that still leaves a large portion of the eCommerce market up for grabs by independent eCommerce retailers.

Average revenue or net earnings numbers for independent eCommerce stores using platforms like Shopify, Magento, WooCommerce or running custom-hosted solutions can be difficult to come by. However, figures from Shopify indicate the strength and scale of the independent eCommerce sector.

Online shopping on Thanksgiving grew 21.5% in 2020, with spending reaching $5.1 billion in both 2020 and 2021. 47% of these sales were via mobile.

Determining your eCommerce Business Valuation

Finding the value of your eCommerce business can be done in a couple of different ways, each requiring just a few steps. You’ll need metrics including your cash flow, operating expenses, and net and gross revenues throughout the valuation process.

Determination of Earnings: The first step in arriving at an accurate valuation of an eCommerce business is to determine earnings or “net revenue.” For companies with an estimated value of $10 million or less, the Seller’s Discretionary Earnings method is used almost exclusively.

SDE Method of Valuation:

SDE = Revenue - Cost of Goods Sold - Operating Expense + Owner Compensation

SDE is a relatively simple formula. Cost of goods sold, and operating expenses are subtracted from gross revenue. Then, assuming that the business is owner-operated, any salary taken by the owner is added back into earnings. This is considered a discretionary expense that a new owner could elect to reduce or not to pay.

Adding owner compensation back into revenue helps uncover the true earnings power of the business. Examples of additional expenses that may also be added back might include personal travel or any other discretionary personal expenditures that have been passed through the business for tax purposes.

For businesses with an estimated value above $10 million, the Earnings Before Interest, Taxation, Depreciation, and Amortization formula is almost always used to calculate earnings.

EBITDA Method of Valuation:

​EBITDA = (Revenue - Expenses) + Depreciation + Amortization

eCommerce websites with an estimated value of $10 million or more tend to have more complex ownership structures with multiple stakeholders. With EBITDA, any compensation paid to an owner is considered a legitimate operating expense and is not added back. EBITDA is used to gauge the performance of a business in terms of profitability before certain uncontrollable or non-operational expenses. EBITDA is the industry standard for valuing and comparing the valuations of different companies for businesses valued at over $10 million.

Revenue and Growth Based Valuation:

For the vast majority of eCommerce businesses, either SDE or EBITDA will prove sufficient for determining earnings. However, for some fast-growing, typically well-capitalized companies that are investing heavily in technology and future growth, neither benchmark will be effective. In this instance, it is possible to forecast future earnings based on revenue and growth, even if expenses currently exceed income.

Earnings forecasts based on revenue are inherently more volatile than those using SDE or EBITDA as they are based solely on growth. For this reason, they are only used when neither SDE or EBITDA is effective. In some instances, a blended approach may be taken, and SDE or EBITDA may be combined with forecasts based on revenue.

Finding your eCommerce Valuation Multiple

Once a determination of earnings has been made using one of the above methods, it is time to find the earnings multiple. This is the most complex part of the valuation process. At FE International, we use a proprietary method that considers thousands of different data points and has been honed over hundreds of transactions. The goal is to determine an earnings multiple that most accurately predicts the maximum price at which a business will be successfully sold.

​Valuation of Business = Earnings X Earnings Multiple

Depending on the fundamentals of the eCommerce business, most companies will garner an earnings multiple of between 3.5x to 6.0x. So, an eCommerce business with $4 million in annual earnings and a 5x earnings multiple achieves a valuation of $20 million.

Here are just some of the valuation drivers we examine when arriving at the earnings multiple:


1. ​How old is the financial history of the business?

2. How has the gross and net income been trending for the last 1-3 years? For the last few months?

3. Can a new owner replicate the cost structure? Can they realize any savings?

4. Are there any anomalies in the financial history of the business? If so, are they explained?

5. Is the market demand evergreen?

6. Can all of the revenue streams be transferred to a new owner?

7. How influential is the owner to the earnings power of the business (i.e. Owner-specific earning relationships)?

8. How stable is the earnings power (e.g. Will the products vary in cost/RRR/Margin)?

9. Is the owner an influence in the earning powers (e.g. Owner-specific earning relationship?


  1. How much of the Owner's time is required to run the business?

  2. What are the Owner's responsibilities? Are they high technical requirements?

  3. What technical knowledge is required to run or manage the business?

  4. Are there employees/ contractors in the business? How are they managed?

  5. To what extent is there a key-man risk within the business?


  1. What is the product mix like? How concentrated are revenue across the products?

  2. What are customer reviews like?

  3. (FBA) What is the Best Seller's Rank across the product spectrum?

  4. (FBA) How secure are the Amazon rankings?

  5. (FBA) Is the Amazon Seller Account in good standing?


  1. How has traffic been trending for the last year? The last few months?

  2. What is the industry trend (Google Trends)? Does the traffic to the business' site follows Google search trends?

  3. How secure are the search rankings? What is the mix of short and long tail?

  4. What percentage of traffic comes from search? (i.e. What percentage is potentially at risk from search engine algorithm changes?)

  5. Has the site been affected by any Google algorithm changes or manual penalties?

  6. Where does the referral traffic comes from? Is it sustainable?


  1. How competitive is the niche?

  2. What are the barriers to entry?

  3. Is the niche growing?

  4. What are the recent trends and developments in the niche? What expansion options are available?


  1. What are the customer acquisition channels?

  2. How much do customers cost to acquire?

  3. What is the customer lifetime value?

  4. What type of customers does the business service?


  1. Are there physical assets or specific regional responsibilities with the business?

  2. Does it infringe on any trademarks?

  3. Does the business offer any unique advantages?

  4. Is the intellectual property protected?

Depending on a measure of the above valuation drivers, an eCommerce business should fall between 4.0x and 6.0x multiple of SDE, EBITDA or Revenue:






> 3 Years

< 10 Hrs/ Week




< 1.5 Years

> 20 Hrs/ Week




Most valuation drivers fall into three broad categories: transferability, scalability, and sustainability. Here we take an in-depth look at the most critical drivers for valuing an eCommerce business.

Age of the Business: One of the first things a potential buyer will look at is the age of the business. As a general rule, buyers will not consider an e-commerce business that has been operating for less than a year. Many buyers will want to see a minimum of three years of operation, while an eCommerce business that has shown steady growth for five years or more will tend to fetch a premium multiple.

Financial: It should go without saying that the financial health of any e-commerce business will be one of the critical factors in determining its value. No two e-commerce businesses are exactly alike, but the following will be prerequisites to preparing a company for valuation and potential sale.

Thorough and Verifiable Financial Records: Maintaining solid and verifiable financial records is one of the most crucial steps owners can take not only to increase the value of their business but to operate it effectively. Fortunately, thanks to accounting software such as QuickBooks and Xero, much of the traditional grind of bookkeeping has been eliminated.

Both QuickBooks and Xero sync effortlessly with company bank accounts, credit cards, and payment processors: virtually eliminating data entry. We strongly recommend to all our clients that they begin using QuickBooks or similar from the earliest stage of their e-commerce business. This will reduce the need to backtrack when preparing the business for sale, while simplifying tax preparation for a tax professional. They will put business financial reporting capabilities at a business owner’s fingertips.

Concentration of Revenue: Once revenue has been verified (typically through the use of bank and payment processor statements paired with an up-to-date account file from QuickBooks as mentioned above), it is essential with an eCommerce valuation to break down revenue in several ways, the crucial ones being:

  • Breakdown of revenue by customer

  • Breakdown of revenue by product

  • Breakdown of revenue by supplier

By analyzing each of these, it is possible to spot potential strengths and weakness in each revenue stream. For example, if 15% or more of revenue derives from a single customer, the business could be put at considerable risk if that customer were to leave. Certainly, any customer that is responsible for such a significant share of revenue must be paid close attention to.

Similarly, focusing attention on what percentage of revenue is derived by sales of each product may identify areas of opportunity and risk. If a large proportion of income comes from one product, how susceptible is the business to a competitor coming along and selling it for a lower price? Is it a trendy item that may have a limited shelf-life?

Lastly, if the business is largely dependent on one supplier, what kind of arrangement does the company have with that vendor? Is it reliant on a relationship with existing ownership or a handshake deal? Is there a written agreement or contract to supply, perhaps even exclusively, that is transferable to new ownership?

Generally speaking, having sales spread across a large number of customers, products, and suppliers can help insulate an eCommerce company from a sudden drop in demand for individual products, the loss of a significant customer, or the dissolution of a supplier relationship.

Seasonality: More so than most other online business models, eCommerce companies may find themselves highly prone to seasonality. Depending on the niche and the type of products the eCommerce store sells - say, for example, a golf specialty store that does the majority of its business in the summer months - sales may fluctuate significantly based on the season. The longer the company has been in business, the easier it is to spot trends in seasonality and plan for them.

In addition to seasonality, many eCommerce businesses heavily depend on sales “holidays” like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, as well as the holiday shopping season in general.

It can be advisable for eCommerce merchants to consider adding merchandise that is less seasonal in nature in an attempt to smooth out the peaks and valleys associated with a highly seasonal product.

Chargebacks, Returns and Refunds: Customer returns, refunds and chargebacks are a fact of life for virtually all eCommerce businesses. They can also be a highly expensive one. In 2021 approximately $218 billion of online purchases were returned, for an average of 20.8% of sales, up from 18.1% in 2020. This is in line with Shopify, which found that on average, a stores see an average return rate of 8-10%, while eCommerce merchants experience an average of 20%.

Shopify also found that 80% of consumers now expect free returns. That coupled with the finding that 71% of customers who find that restocking fees prevent them from making a purchase, means that eCommerce merchants are under considerable pressure to make the return and refund process as cheap and painless as possible for consumers.

While this is excellent news for consumers, the cost of offering free returns can quickly eat into an eCommerce merchant’s margins. Potential eCommerce business buyers will likely examine the rate of refunds, returns, and chargebacks closely. If they are substantially higher than the average for the vertical, there may be a number of operational reasons for this. Better product descriptions, faster shipping with tracking info provided, and improved customer service can all lead to lower return rates.

If chargeback numbers are overly high, this may mean that insufficient fraud prevention measures such as billing address verification for credit card purchases are in place.

Overall, returns, refunds, and chargebacks are an area where many eCommerce businesses have room for improvement. Taking steps to reduce them can benefit the bottom line as well as customer satisfaction.

Site Traffic Metrics: Most, if not all, eCommerce businesses are highly reliant on search engine optimization (SEO) for organic traffic, or paid ads to boost website traffic and obtain new customers. Much like we advise our clients to utilize QuickBooks from the outset of their business, we also recommend using Google Analytics for tracking web traffic metrics.

Use of Google Analytics to maintain historical data on where the site’s web traffic derives from should be considered a bare minimum requirement for virtually any online business.

There are four critical elements to consider when evaluating the traffic of an eCommerce business:

(A) Trends

Using Google Analytics to track daily, monthly and yearly traffic trends should be considered a prerequisite for any successful eCommerce business. Somewhat predictably, slow and steady growth across all sources of traffic is preferable, but sharp increases and decreases in traffic are also worth making close note of. Did these spikes correspond with any action on the part of the owner? Did any surge in traffic result in increased revenue? If so, can it be replicated? It is also essential to check whether the site has suffered any Google penalties, which anyone can do with Website Penalty Indicator.

(B) Concentration

Once a picture of high-level traffic trends emerges, it’s time to dig deeper. Many eCommerce businesses derive their traffic from a wide array of sources, while others may get most of their traffic from a relatively small number of keywords. We recommend using SEMrush to potential buyers seeking a better understanding of where their all-important traffic is coming from. Three characteristics to look out for that should increase a site’s value are:

  • A substantial number of high-ranking keywords. Ideally, these will appear on page one of Google search results.

  • An even distribution of traffic split across the keyword spectrum.

  • Consistently ranking high historically for keywords that drive the most traffic.

(C) Backlinks

These are another crucial driver of Google rankings and organic traffic. The quality of an eCommerce site’s backlink profile can speak volumes about how effective the owner has been with their content marketing efforts.

  • Ahrefs is an outstanding tool for delving into the backlink profile of any site. It is a good practice to analyze at least the top 20 backlinks to an eCommerce site. If these have a low “domain rating,” it indicates a weak backlink profile. This potentially makes the Google ranking less defensible in the future. As well as using the domain rating, it can prove helpful to visit the linking domains and gauge whether they look like legitimate sources of quality content.

  • Another critical factor to consider when evaluating the traffic of an eCommerce site is how much traffic is driven by referrals. For example, as part of an affiliate program. If this drives a significant amount of traffic, it is worth examining how secure these sources of referrals are likely to be in the future.

(D) Quality

Once the broader trends in traffic have been analyzed, it is advisable to examine the “quality” of the traffic. Traffic quality can be measured in a variety of ways and is in many ways dependent on the profile of the target customer. Some of the key metrics include:

  • Number of pages per session

  • Average session duration

  • Bounce rate

  • Conversion rate (Conversion can mean making a sale or enticing a visitor to perform a desired action such as signing up for a newsletter)

Operations: Prospective buyers will pay keen attention to the operations of any eCommerce business they are considering for acquisition. Operations is often an area where a new owner can take quick action to cut costs, increase efficiency and productivity, and boost margins.

eCommerce business owners should also be continually looking for ways to improve their operations, even if they’re not currently considering an exit. Not only can this present an opportunity to increase the value of their business, but it will often make it more profitable. Knowing what aspects of operations are of particular interest to buyers can point eCommerce business owners in the right direction of areas they should objectively evaluate and improve if possible.

Level of Owner Involvement: Most purchasers of eCommerce companies are not seeking a full-time job. Businesses that require 20 hours or less of an owner’s time each week will tend to fetch a higher multiple. Businesses that require less than 10 hours of owner involvement will typically receive a premium multiple.

Making changes to Owner Involvement: Many eCommerce business owners, especially bootstrapped single founders, are used to wearing many hats and working long hours. While this is understandable and even admirable in the early stages of building the business, a high level of owner involvement can actually have a negative impact on the business’s value.

While some founders may find it difficult to give up control of any aspects of their business, taking a thorough inventory of tasks and processes is highly advisable. Often there will be processes that can be automated or outsourced. Freelance marketplaces such as Upwork and Toptal make it easy to find experienced and talented freelancers. If bringing someone in-house seems like a better fit, AngelList is a terrific resource for finding employees that want to work at a startup.

Automating and outsourcing business processes wherever possible will not only increase the value of an eCommerce business, it can also dramatically improve the owner’s work/life balance. It also makes the company easier to scale after all, there’s only so much even the most driven entrepreneur can accomplish on their own.

Customer Service: For many eCommerce businesses, customer service can be one of the most labor-intensive cost centers. Efforts should be made to streamline the customer service process as much as possible. Here are eight steps eCommerce owners can take to improve their customer service process:

  • Have Thorough Product Descriptions: Ensuring that there is adequate documentation available on the website for all products being sold can cut down on the number of customer service inquiries and reduce costly returns.

  • Offer Live Chat: Studies have found that 73% of consumers find live chat to be the most satisfying way of communicating with a business. Additionally, 44% of online consumers say that having questions answered by a live person while in the middle of an online purchase is one of the most important features a website can offer. Robust customer communication suites like Intercom and ZenDesk offer extensive live chat functionality. Adding live chat can have a positive effect on the bottom line. The addition of live chat software typically causes an 8% to 20% increase in conversion rate.

  • Use Chatbots: Intercom and Drift offer powerful chatbot functionality that can answer simple customer queries and ensure that customers are directed to the correct person or department.

  • Post Extensive FAQs: Most eCommerce businesses will find that they receive the same queries from customers again and again. Be proactive about regularly updating FAQs. Most customers would much rather find the answers they’re looking for themselves without having to contact customer service.

  • Create a Knowledge Base: Similar to FAQ’s, a knowledge base can be deployed internally, so that customer service reps have the knowledge to deal with customer queries or they can be a customer-facing self-service resource. Zendesk offers extensive knowledge base functionality.

  • Use Help Desk Ticketing Software: In the early stages of an eCommerce business, many owner-operators rely primarily on email to keep track of customer service correspondence. As the business grows, and there are repeat customer transactions, this can quickly become unwieldy. Help desk ticketing software, such as that offered by Zendesk and HelpScout, tracks customer service queries, from initial contact through to resolution. They also help improve customer service by keeping track of all of a customer’s interactions with the company over time.

  • Offer Customer Service Over Social Media: Most eCommerce businesses today will have a presence on social media. This additional visibility comes with a responsibility to actively monitor social media channels for customer service issues. Disgruntled customers may show no hesitation in airing their grievances openly on a company Facebook page or Twitter feed. Also, consumers are increasingly likely to expect customer service through Facebook Messenger or other direct messaging channels. Try to view such communications as an opportunity to offer exceptional service and connect more deeply with the customer.

  • Make the Billing and Payment History Available: As a general rule, the more “self-serve” options eCommerce merchants offer their customers, the happier they will be. As with extensive FAQs and the Knowledge Base, customers should have easy access to all their past invoices, payment methods, and billing and shipping addresses. Giving customers the ability to update these items online, or to see tracking information for recently shipped orders, for example, can significantly cut down on the number of customer service queries the business has to field.

Streamlined Logistics and Fulfilment: One of the areas where there is often substantial room for improvement for eCommerce businesses is in the realm of logistics and fulfilment. Order fulfilment is the lifeblood of any eCommerce business. Studies have shown that 38% of consumers that have a negative delivery experience with an eCommerce merchant said they are likely to never shop with that retailer ever again. Thanks to the success of programs like Amazon Prime, consumers now expect to receive their orders faster than ever before.

While many eCommerce merchants, particularly in the early stages of the business, will elect to handle their own shipping and fulfilment, as they begin to scale, many will outsource logistics and fulfilment to a third party.

Logistics and Fulfilment Solutions: Many merchants turn to Amazon and their Multi-Channel Fulfilment (MCF) program. MCF is available either as a standalone service or as part of the popular Fulfilment By Amazon (FBA) program. With MCF, merchants ship their product to Amazon’s warehouses, and Amazon takes care of picking, packing, and shipping as well as handling any returns. Amazon charges a per-unit price for this storage and fulfilment service.

Amazon is by no means the only choice for eCommerce merchants seeking to improve their logistics and fulfilment practices. FedEx Fulfilment, Shipwire, Fulfillify, and VelocityShip are other innovative solutions that promise to save shippers substantial time and money. And there are many more.

Streamlining and making the shipping and order-fulfilment processes more cost-effective will add value to an eCommerce business and help keep customers happy.

Inventory Management: With drop-shipping eCommerce businesses or those that outsource warehousing and fulfilment, the burden of inventory management is significantly reduced. For merchants that handle their own warehousing and fulfilment, having a robust inventory management solution in place is essential to the smooth operation of the business.

eCommerce businesses that are using QuickBooks as we recommended earlier to manage their finances can also use it to manage inventory. QuickBooks integrates with Shopify, Big Commerce, and a variety of other popular eCommerce platforms.

For those eCommerce merchants whose inventory management needs exceed QuickBooks’ basic functionality, there are a number of QuickBooks apps, such as Stitch Labs and Unleashed, that extend that functionality making for much more robust inventory management.

There are, of course, many dedicated inventory management tools, such as Zoho Inventory or Oracle NetSuite, but if QuickBooks is already in place, there’s much to be said for having financial reporting and inventory management “all under one roof.”

Formalize Supplier Relationships: As much as possible, relationships with key suppliers should be formalized and easily transferable to a new owner. Steps should be taken to ensure price certainty wherever possible. Too often, supplier relationships consist of little more than goodwill and a handshake.

For eCommerce merchants that are dependent on unique or branded product that cannot easily be replaced in the market, the loss of a key supplier can be devastating. For those merchants with a high degree of concentration of suppliers, as discussed above, it is even more vital that there be a supplier contract in place.

Technology: Technology is at the core of any online business. Even eCommerce stores built on popular platforms like Shopify, Magento, WooCommerce, Big Commerce, etc. are likely to have custom templates and plugins. For those eCommerce stores built on custom software, the complexity of the technology involved is likely to be much greater.

In order to secure the highest earnings multiple for their eCommerce business, there are crucial steps owners can take to make the business more attractive to potential buyers.

Reduce the Technical Burden: eCommerce businesses are often highly attractive to non-technical buyers, who make up a significant proportion of the market. A recent survey of our buyer network revealed that a substantial majority of buyers classified themselves as non-technical.

eCommerce stores built on custom software in contrast to those utilizing established platforms like Shopify, Magento, WooCommerce, and BigCommerce are likely to bear a higher technical barrier to entry. One reason for this is that there is a competitive and easily accessible market for developers for popular eCommerce platforms like Shopify. Finding developers to work on proprietary software can be considerably more difficult and costlier.

If an eCommerce store is built using proprietary software, having a trusted developer, either in-house or a reliable freelancer under contract, will go a long way towards assuaging any concerns a non-technical founder may have about the technical requirements of running the business.

Employ Coding Best Practices: If the eCommerce business is built on custom software, it’s essential that contemporary coding best practices are followed. The code should also be thoroughly annotated. The goal is to make it as easy as possible for a new developer to be brought in to make the inevitable changes and upgrades that any online business requires.

Even if the eCommerce business is built on one of the major platforms like Shopify, Magento, WooCommerce, etc. there may be a high level of customization, whether of the front-end template or custom plug-ins. Here, the goal is the same. Coding best practices should be followed, and the code should be thoroughly annotated.

Legal and Escrow Considerations

It is crucial that eCommerce business owners who are considering selling their business retain legal counsel early in the process. If a reputable eCommerce business broker is being used to advise on the sale, they will be able to advise on any legal steps that need to be taken. Certainly, non-disclosure agreements will need to be put in place before any proprietary information is divulged. And if a sale of the business is agreed upon, an attorney will be helpful for finalizing the terms and the deal.

In these matters, it is wise to use an attorney that has extensive experience in dealing with the unique intricacies of online businesses. A seasoned M&A advisor will be able to facilitate this.

There are additional legal steps that should be taken well in advance of a sale.

(A) Secure Intellectual Property

For most eCommerce businesses, branding is a vital component of their marketing strategy. It helps distinguish them from competitors in the eyes of the public. Any trademarks, copyrights, and in the unlikely event it’s applicable­ patents, must be registered and defended. Other branded assets such as domain names should be registered long-term.

Proper intellectual property registration, carried out by an appropriate legal professional, will not only help defend it but should facilitate a transfer of ownership to a new owner.

Additionally, if there have been any trademark or copyright actions against the eCommerce business in the past, it is important to disclose them and provide proof of resolution.

(B) Work-for-Hire Agreements

If an eCommerce business relies heavily on graphics or written materials—for example, content for a blog or graphics for a t-shirt—it is a best practice to have “work-for-hire” agreements in place, making it explicit that the company owns the copyright for the content. Contrary to popular belief, copyrightable material created by an employee in the course of their work or by a commissioned freelancer does not automatically transfer to the business.

Not only is it best to resolve any ownership of content well in advance of any issue, but astute buyers may also ask to see proof of ownership of copyrightable material before agreeing to purchase a site.

(C) Non Compete

Putting a non-compete agreement into place between the buyer and the seller of an eCommerce business is a common practice. A non-compete is designed to protect the buyer from the seller starting a new business that competes too closely with the one being sold. A good advisor will seek to strike a balance between shielding the buyer from undue competition and not being overly restrictive of the seller’s ability to pursue starting a non-competing business in the future.

Sellers need to pay close attention to the exact wording of the “Restricted Business” definition, which specifies the activities restricted post-sale. A non-compete should be highly specific to the company being sold so as not to unduly restrict the seller’s ability to start and operate a business going forward.

(D) Assets to Transfer

It is crucial to be specific about all assets to be transferred as part of the sale. Larger eCommerce sites typically have substantial amounts of content and other assets to be transferred. Such assets should be thoroughly detailed in the Asset Purchase Agreement (APA).

Here is a list of assets typically transferred at the time of sale:

  • Domain(s)

  • Website source code, content, and related files

  • Graphics, images, logos, etc.

  • Social media accounts

  • Customer database (email lists, etc.)

  • Payment processor(s)

(E) Transition Assistance

In most instances, a seller is expected to offer support to the buyer for a fixed period of time following the sale of the business. The sale contract should indicate the term of post-sale support, expected response times, and the number of hours per week/month that the seller must be available to offer assistance.

Additionally, it usually makes sense to build in an agreement to introduce the seller to relevant partners of the business such as suppliers, freelancers, logistics and fulfilment providers, etc. As a general rule of thumb, sellers should expect to spend at least one month working the same number of hours in post-sale support as they did operating the business. In the case of larger acquisitions, the support period may be longer.

(F) Escrow

Once the APA is complete, it is time to arrange escrow for the transaction. A reputable M&A advisor will usually direct both buyer and seller to a third-party service like to ensure both parties are protected throughout the transfer of funds and ownership. is an independent service that has processed over $3.5 billion in transactions for more than one million customers. collects, holds, and releases the funds online once the transaction terms agreed upon by the seller and buyer are met. The process typically follows these steps:

  • The buyer and seller agree on escrow transaction terms.

  • The buyer transfers the funds securely into escrow. The funds are secured by, but not released to the seller.

  • The seller transfers assets to the buyer.

  • The buyer acknowledges the receipt of assets and commences the inspection period. The duration of the inspection period is mutually agreed upon in advance by the buyer and seller.

  • The buyer uses the inspection period to confirm the correct representation of assets.

  • Upon the buyer’s confirmation of satisfaction with the assets, releases the funds to the seller. (and other similar services) provides substantial protections for both the buyer and seller. The seller ensures that the assets have been thoroughly reviewed by the buyer during the inspection period before the funds are released. All assets must be approved within the agreed inspection period. Either party can file a grievance through Escrow’s arbitration service if something goes wrong. typically charges a fee of approximately 0.9% on transactions over $25,000 or more. This cost is usually split between buyer and seller. For deals of $1 million or more, it is commonplace for an attorney to handle the escrow process. At that deal level, an attorney will generally be more cost-effective than and will better comprehend the nuances of a larger transaction.

Our Conclusion and Final Thoughts

eCommerce is well on its way to becoming a trillion-dollar business in the United States alone, and globally, eCommerce retail sales is expected to reach $8.1 trillion by 2026. With the vast expansion in eCommerce both globally and in the US, there is a robust market of qualified buyers actively seeking to acquire successful eCommerce businesses.

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