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The Surprising Reason That Most Ecommerce Businesses Fail

While it's common knowledge that most small businesses cease operations within the initial five years, a recent study revealed that 82% of these failures stem from inadequate cash flow management or a lack of comprehensive understanding of cash flow dynamics.

Maintaining a healthy cash flow is paramount with the dynamic nature of e-commerce, where money circulates swiftly. Business owners must implement robust financial planning strategies to keep their operations viable.

The good news is that effective management of key financial elements, such as Payment Terms, Accounts Receivable, and diligent review of cash flow statements can mitigate the risk of negative cash flow. Regular evaluation of business expenses, balance sheets and the judicious use of credit cards and well-considered business loans can boost cash reserves.

Additionally, cash flow forecasting is also a vital tool. It enables e-commerce businesses to anticipate financial challenges and respond proactively, ensuring informed investment decisions for sustained business longevity. 

The success of an e-commerce business hinges on efficient management of cash inflows and outflows, fostering overall financial stability.

What is Cash Flow?

Cash flow, a crucial facet of an e-commerce business, represents the available funds to cover current expenses, ensuring smooth operations. The cash flow formula for e-commerce is typically stated as follows:

Cash flow = revenue – ( fees + payroll + rent + inventory purchasing marketing + taxes + insurance + utilities + equipment + interest)

This figure can fluctuate weekly or even daily due to the myriad of regular and customer payments flowing in and out of the business.

A positive cash flow indicates a healthy cash position, where the business receives more money than it spends.

However, e-commerce businesses need help with unique cash flow issues, such as the potential for poor inventory management. E-commerce businesses must balance their inventory purchases wisely to avoid tying up too much cash.

Business owners can optimize their cash flow management by considering various payment methods and options.

This could involve offering various checkout options to customers, encouraging timely customer payments, and ultimately enhancing the business's overall financial health.

For an e-commerce business, cash flow management is a juggling act that involves carefully assessing various financial aspects. For instance:

Inventory Costs and Levels Play a Significant Role in Cash Flow.

If all your money is tied up in a bank deposit, the availability of immediate cash to invest in inventory to meet demand spikes becomes challenging. You might have money but need more cash on hand.

Timely Payments to Suppliers Are Another Concern.

Waiting to get paid for a large wholesale order could yield a good profit, but you may still need help paying suppliers for the materials today.

Investment Decisions Also Impact Your E-Commerce Cash Flow.

If you exhaust all available cash to purchase a new machine, your cash runway (the period your business can survive on existing cash) decreases. You'll need to wait for future sales revenue to cover other expenses.

A stable positive cash flow enables the strategic allocation of resources. For instance, extra cash could be channeled into marketing strategies to boost customer retention and increase customer lifetime value, ensuring future sales without hurting your ability to pay other dues.

Lastly, even profitable businesses can face cash flow issues. If all profit is invested in expansion without securing overhead, you could run cash flow negative.

The good news is that you can manage and forecast cash flow, navigate these scenarios, and ensure financial stability with the right tools and approach.

Profitability vs. Cash flow

Cash flow and profit margin are crucial yet distinct financial indicators for a business. Cash flow provides a snapshot of the financial liquidity available to a business at any given moment, while profit margin reveals the net earnings after accounting for all business expenses.

What is Profitability

Profitability, a long-term concept, assesses if your e-commerce venture is generating a surplus from its operations. You can engage expert accountants to help navigate complex accounting matters.

Interestingly, an e-commerce business owner may encounter negative cash flow, despite reporting profitability. Large capital expenditures like buying equipment or the timing of payroll can contribute to these temporary fluctuations.

This highlights the importance of cash flow forecasts and projections, offering valuable insights into a business's financial health at any point in time.

Venture Capital (VC)-backed businesses offer a compelling example of this dynamic. They might not exhibit profitability in the initial phases, but that doesn't signify poor cash flow management.

Their operations, encompassing core business activities like payroll, materials, taxes, etc., can sustain for years on VC funding without realizing any capital gain. The catch arises when a business experiences cash shortages due to excessive spending on non-essential elements, such as opulent offices.

Conversely, business models like NGOs can maintain stable cash flows without generating profits. Effective cash flow management tips and meticulous monetary management keep these entities operational.

Forecasting Cash flow

Maintaining a healthy cash flow is the lifeblood of any business and requires meticulous planning. It's crucial to anticipate incoming revenue and outgoing expenses to avoid cash flow shortages. Advanced tools, like Connex, offer precision and accuracy in flow forecasting.

Remember, even the most well-calculated forecasts can deviate from actual outcomes. This tool provides valuable insight into your financial management strategy, allowing you to determine what and when you can afford expenses, set realistic revenue targets (ideally sufficient to cover costs), and plan growth investments for your business.

Additionally, Financial planning coaches can offer additional support, helping you strategize when to invest in business expansion and how to showcase your financial stability to investors. Now, let's consider the factors you should consider when forecasting cash flow.


When forecasting cash flow, it's pivotal to predict sales as accurately as possible, avoiding overestimation or underestimation. Consider monthly averages, seasonal variations, special shopping events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday (BFCM), and planned marketing campaigns.

While it's essential to plan for growth, realism is key: consider the marketing investments required to acquire new customers, then project the subsequent revenue over the following months.

Additionally, utilizing your Average Order Value (AOV) can assist in forecasting new business.


To effectively manage your cash flow, begin by delineating your scheduled payments. These often have fixed due dates and typically include payroll, rent, advertising costs (such as Google AdWords and Facebook Ads), subscriptions for any SaaS platforms, e-commerce platform fees, etc.

The predictability of these expenses facilitates their projection for future months, thus ensuring their inclusion in your cash flow plan.

Next, assess variable costs like utilities, inventory purchases, and other marketing expenditures by scrutinizing past bills and invoices. Remember to incorporate a buffer for unforeseen emergencies, as these can strain your cash flow.

As you collate this information, your cash flow plan starts to materialize. You'll gain clarity on when cash is needed most, providing an overarching view of your financial landscape.

This detailed overview will enable you to promptly identify potential loopholes, helping you preemptively strategize solutions and maintain a healthy financial state.

Ways To Keep E-commerce Cash Flow Positive

Maintaining a positive cash flow in an e-commerce business is both an art and a science, requiring strategic planning and management. Here are a few robust strategies to enhance cash flow management.

Intelligent Inventory Management

Overstocking slow-moving items can tie up capital, negatively impacting cash flow. Analyze monthly requirements to distribute orders for such products, minimizing overstocking or considering discontinuing them.

Prioritize products with repeat orders to ensure you meet customer demand. Examine patterns to identify products that are frequently purchased together with best-selling items. This insight enables you to maintain a necessary stock of these related items.

Campaign Planning

Comprehensive campaign planning can assist in predicting the required inventory and associated costs. By planning your marketing efforts, you can ensure you have adequate funds to procure necessary stock, preventing potential cash flow issues.

Accelerating Inventory Turnover

Initiating marketing campaigns featuring a product as soon as it's stocked can help to quicken inventory turnover. By rapidly selling and reinvesting the capital into new stock, you can generate revenue more swiftly, thereby improving your cash flow.

These methods emphasize the strategic application of data and planning in cash flow management, helping e-commerce businesses to remain financially healthy.

Improve CLV and Repeat Order Rate

Maintaining a healthy cash flow is often easier for businesses that foster high customer lifetime value and encourage repeat orders.

Businesses with high customer retention tend to enjoy a more stable cash flow. Therefore, focus on strategies that nurture customer loyalty and encourage repeat purchases. Key strategies include:

Monitoring Repeat Order Patterns

Analyze when repeat orders occur, whether a month after the initial purchase or at a different interval. This analysis lets you predict when revenue will arrive, aiding in effective cash flow planning.

Planning for Seasonal Marketing Expenditures

At certain times, like during the holiday season, you may need to allocate more funds for marketing. Your cash flow strategy should cater to these periods, ensuring you have the necessary resources to stay competitive.

Encouraging Regular Engagement and Purchases

Keep customers engaged and promote regular orders even if your business model doesn't accommodate subscriptions. This can be achieved through targeted marketing strategies, personalized offers, or loyalty programs.

Increase AOV

Increasing the average order value (AOV) can be a smart strategy to boost your e-commerce cash flow, especially if you have a relatively steady stream of orders each month. Larger orders can generate more revenue without significantly raising your operational costs.

Furthermore, understanding your AOV can help you estimate the additional orders needed to cover a sudden cash shortage.

For example, should an unexpected expense arise, such as repairing a warehouse roof, you could run a targeted campaign to your loyal customer base to garner additional orders.

Broadly, enhancing your AOV offers a simple and effective strategy to improve cash flow. This method increases your cash position without altering your operational structure simply by encouraging larger purchases.

A practical tactic to increase AOV could be to offer complimentary gifts (preferably slow-moving items) with orders exceeding a certain value.

This initiative helps clear stagnant inventory and generates extra revenue from larger orders, which can be invested in new, more popular inventory. By such strategic maneuvers, you can enhance your cash flow while delivering more value to your customers.

Move to Market Channels with Better and Immediate ROI

Evaluating and optimizing your marketing expenditure can significantly impact your cash flow. If a substantial chunk of your cash is consumed by ads that fail to deliver the anticipated results, it may be time for reevaluation.

It's hardly sustainable to be investing hundreds of dollars monthly on a marketing avenue that needs to generate more sales to offset the cost. Therefore, keeping an eye on the conversions, customer lifetime value (CLV), and loyalty derived from various marketing channels is crucial.

Take influencer marketing as an instance; it could yield more effective results. A single post can trigger a surge in orders, boosting your cash inflow.

The payment model for influencers can also be more cash flow-friendly; typically, you could offer them a revenue share over time, requiring smaller, more manageable payments, or negotiate a fixed price to be paid at a suitable time.

This approach could lead to more efficient use of your marketing budget, helping to ensure a healthier cash flow for your e-commerce business.

Track Your Cash Flow with Connex

Successful e-commerce operations hinge significantly on effective cash flow management, considering unique challenges such as inventory control and variable expenses.

Positive cash flow is attainable through intelligent inventory management, customer engagement, increasing average order value, and transitioning to more lucrative marketing channels.

The Connex Inventory Planner particularly aids in managing inventory costs, guiding businesses on optimal investment times and amounts, and preventing overstocking and capital lockup.

By integrating data points like customer retention and Average Order Value (AOV), Connex provides a holistic view of a business's financial health, enabling e-commerce businesses to effectively control their inventory, plan their finances, and confidently navigate their future.

Start a free trial today, and our team will contact you for a free onboarding!

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