When it comes to ecommerce, your education never truly ends. We've created a list of 25 of the best books on ecommerce, written by some of the most successful people in the industry. We also break the rules and include one blog (and no, it's not our blog).
Books For Ecommerce Beginners
If you're new to the world of ecommerce, the titles below are the best place to start. They'll walk you through the steps necessary to start your own business, without getting too in-depth or technical. The main thing that prevents most people from starting their own businesses is having no idea where to start - these books will give you a solid starting point and help you focus on what actually matters for a new business.
The Startup Owner’s Manual
Steve Blank's book The Startup Owner's Manual is probably the best book available for someone entirely new to the world of ecommerce. The title says it all - Blank provides an excellent framework for those who are wanting to begin their own startup. By following the Customer Development and Business Model frameworks, even a complete beginner can be confident that they've put together a solid plan for their startup. Not only that, but this book inspired the Lean Startup movement (see below), and thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs have used his teachings to begin successful businesses. If you've got an idea for a business but have no idea how to start building it, read this.
The Lean Startup
The Lean Startup has been read by pretty much everyone in the ecommerce/startup world. Focusing on the principles of validating your product BEFORE you invest a lot of time or money into it, it helps you answer the single most important question when starting a new business - is my product something that people can and will use? The Lean Startup walks readers through the process of making sure that your product is viable, collecting feedback, and doing small-scale testing before you sink your time and money into it. An excellent follow-up to The Startup Owner's Manual, this book will save you a ton of time, money, and heartbreak.
The 4 Hour Work Week
Of all of the books on this list, this is the one you're most likely to have already heard of. The legendary 4-hour Work Week is responsible for an entire generation of ecommerce-focused entrepreneurs. This book focuses on automation and making sure that your effort is as impactful as possible. While it contains some great principles (such as automating everything that you can), it paints a rosy picture of the ecommerce/entrepreneurial lifestyle and tends to convince people that they can get a lot of reward for very little work. If you're just starting out, that's simply not true - those approaching an ecommerce store with the goal of putting as little work into it as possible aren't likely to see much success. That being said, the principles in this book are still sound, and it helps ecommerce beginners manage their time and effort much more efficiently.
Unfortunately, skipping straight to the branding stage is where most online merchants go wrong - for my first few stores, I made this exact same mistake. But not you - now that you've read some of the books in the Beginner section, have built a solid business plan and validated your products, and know who you're selling to, it's time to start working on your branding. (If you haven't done any of this yet, scroll back up to the Beginners section and get reading!)
Lead With A Story
When thinking about your store branding, this is the place to start. It's likely that there's already competition for your product or business, so you'll need to give customers a reason to shop at your small, unknown store instead of your larger (and more boring) competitors. This is a lot easier than most people think - the internet is a market disruptor's paradise, and the right story can steal customers away from your larger, more boring competitors.
By thinking about why you're selling what you're selling, what you offer that your competitors don't, and telling a story that resonates with your audience, you'll build a loyal customer base in no time. By harnessing the universally-relatable power of the story, you'll be able to stick in your customers' hearts and minds long after they've forgotten the boring stuff.
Don’t Make Me Think
It's a universal law of marketing that the more effort a customer has to put into a purchase, the less likely they are to actually buy anything. This book focuses on building simple, clean designs that your customers intuitively understand, as well as on providing the customer with what information they need, when they need it - and nothing more. Backed up with tons of examples of design and user-experience mistakes (some of which you might not even know you're making), this book focuses on making it as easy as possible for the customer to convert - which will do wonders for your sales. If you're in the process of designing your website, this is definitely a book you should have at hand.
Ecommerce Marketing Books
Marketing is where the rubber meets the road. All of your work on store planning and branding will go to waste if you're not able to convince anyone to visit your site. These books will help you build a marketing plan that actually works, so you can stop dreaming and start selling.
The Ultimate Marketing Plan
Dan Kennedy's The Ultimate Marketing Plan falls a little bit short of its title - but only by a little. This book will walk you through the steps necessary to build a marketing plan for your new ecommerce site, and is probably the best resource available for those new to the game. It's a great summary of the 'big pieces' of marketing - finding an audience that wants to listen to you, telling your story in a way that your audience relates to, and getting your products in front of as many potential customers as possible for as little money as possible. Few marketing books summarize this broad topic as succinctly and simply as this one, so be sure to pick up a copy. Be sure to get the 3rd edition or later, since this version is the first to include a chapter specifically dedicated to selling online.
Email Marketing Rules
One of the most profitable marketing strategies is also one of the ones most commonly overlooked by new merchants. Unlike paid ads, social ads, and pretty much every other kind of ads, email marketing costs very little and, when done properly, can result in a huge quantity of sales. While it's a little bit more difficult to ramp up, the long-term rewards are definitely worth it. Email Marketing Rules covers everything you need to know about setting up and running a successful email marketing campaign. Each edition adds a ton of new info, so make sure to get the most recently-published version.
One of the only books on this list to hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, Originality focuses on the benefits of originality, drawing examples and research from across many disciplines, business lines, and niches. As much of a branding book as a marketing book, it focuses on how to foster originality, build a unique voice for your business, and avoid the ever-present danger of 'this is how it's always bee done' thinking. If your business is built around originality, you'll want to give this one a read.
The Mobile Native's Guide to Marketing
Let's face it - mobile's not going anywhere, and it fundamentally changes the way your users interact with your website. Over 50% of web traffic is now via mobile devices, and even Google has replaced their desktop-centric ranking engine with the Mobile-First Index. Rather than try (and fail) to fight this trend, it's much easier to get on board as early as possible. Rather than be afraid of mobile-first design, embrace the opportunities it brings. Many sites have been slow to adopt mobile-first marketing principles, leaving the field wide open for early adopters. Even in 2019, it's not too late to find tons of competitors with poorly-optimized mobile sites - and wherever a competitor is doing poorly, it's a great opportunity for you to step up and do it better. Embracing some simple principles regarding message length, presentation, and navigability will help you give a leg up over competitors who are slower to adapt.
I've avoided "How gigantic brands did marketing well" books up to this point because they're very rarely applicable to brands without multi-million dollar marketing budgets. Shoe Dog is an exception. While it focuses on Nike, a massive brand, author Phil Knight provides tons of insights on how to envision and implement a clear brand message no matter what size your business is. If you've ever found yourself wondering why marketers have a hard time shutting up about Nike, this is why - they've done an exemplary job of building their brand message and reinforcing it across all platforms. Shoe Dog will give you an inside look at Nike's case study and teach the reader how to actually put their knowledge into practice.
Ecommerce Analytics Books & Guides
In a nutshell, ecommerce analytics are how you keep an eye on your site's performance. The good news is that they're nowhere near as difficult or intimidating as they may sound - for most ecommerce merchants, all you'll need to do to understand your analytics is to look at some graphs and understand what they're telling you. These books on ecommerce analytics will walk you through the basics of setting up analytics tracking and monitoring your site's performance.
Alistair Croll and Benjamin Yoskovitz' Lean Analytics walk you through the basics of ecommerce analytics in a very easy-to-understand way, using the same principles as those discussed in Lean Ecommerce. This book is excellent for analytics beginners, covering the basic reports and metrics every merchant needs to know about. If you're a new merchant that just wants to understand how your store is doing, this book's got you covered.
Web Analytics 2.0
Web Analytics 2.0 is an excellent follow-up to Lean Analytics, focusing less on reporting and more on understanding what your reports are telling you. If you're the type that likes to know everything about what's happening on your website, this book walks you through the strategies you'll need to understand exactly what your data is telling you and how to act on it. This book will not only help you identify and fix problems before they become disasters, but will also help you maximize on your current performance by identifying what's working well. The author, Avinash Kaushik is a Google data analyst, so he's definitely an expert when it comes to understanding Google Analytics.
Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics
Google Analytics is a must-have analytics tool for any ecommerce merchant (or website owner in general), so you might as well learn to use it. Brian Clifton walks you through everything you'll ever need to know about Google Analytics in a very orderly, step-by-step fashion. Even if you're a beginner, you'll be able to start with the first few chapters and learn to follow along as you go. Or, if you're already comfortable with the basics of GA, this book will teach you tricks you didn't even know existed. This book stays on my desk at all times, and my copy is covered with highlighter marks, dog-ears, and coffee stains - truly indispensable.
If you've already got your site up and running but want to learn how to make it better, these books on ecommerce optimization will cover everything from A/B testing to SEO to conversion rate optimization. If you really want to take your site to the next level, these books will teach you the strategies you need.
You Should Test That
Silmilar to Convert, this book is focused primarily on conversion rate optimization (CRO), this book discusses how to test different versions of pages against one another to see which drives more sales. This might sound fairly simple, but to do it correctly requires some careful planning and special tools. If you've got traffic to your store but aren't driving as many conversions as you'd like, this book is the best place to start. After all, without a methodology the best you can do is guess.
Convert seeks to answer the question every ecommerce merchant is asking - how do I get customers to buy my product? By taking an in-depth look at the different elements that influence shoppers' purchase decisions and explaining how to build a website that creates a compelling shopping experience, this book will help you crack the code and make the sale. Best of all, this book is beginner-friendly, and touches on everything from site design to product page layout to your checkout process. If you only read one book on how to drive conversions on your ecommerce site, it should be this one.
You Should Test That
Silmilar to the book above, You Should Test That is focused primarily on conversion rate optimization (CRO). Unlike Convert, this book digs deep into how to test different versions of pages against one another to see which drives more sales. This might sound fairly simple, but to do it correctly requires some careful planning and special tools. If you've got traffic to your store but aren't driving as many conversions as you'd like, this book is the best place to start. After all, without a solid methodology you're just guessing.
The Ahrefs Blog
OK, so this one's technically not a book, but we're including it anyway. Ahref's blog gets an honorable mention for being the best resource for SEO knowledge on the web - not a claim we make lightly. Written by a pack of rabid SEO fanatics, this blog consistently covers SEO tactics simply and accurately. Other books and sites do a great job of summarizing SEO information, but few make that information as actionable and applicable as Ahrefs. If you're looking to actually make a difference in your sites' organic rankings, this is the place to learn how to do it.
The Best Ecommerce Books of 2019
This concludes the wrap-up of our best ecommerce books of 2019. If you're looking to learn how to run a successful ecommerce business, the books (and blog) on this list are a great place to start. If you prefer reading your content on screens instead of paper, we recommend Volusion's super in-depth ecommerce guides, covering everything you need to know 0on how to start and run a successful ecommerce business. Even better, the information contained within is constantly being updated and expanded so that you'll always be on the cutting edge. Also, unlike the books above, our guides are completely free!