The female entrepreneurs making their mark in e-commerce

Anna Thompson
Anna Thompson
Discover content team
4 min read
facebook sharing button
twitter sharing button
linkedin sharing button
Smart Share Buttons Icon Share
woman in hijab writing

We’re celebrating International Women’s Day1 by exploring how e-commerce creates more opportunities for women to excel. Read on for the true meaning of girl power in business.

According to research by Nielsen, women will own 75% of global discretionary spend by 20282. But what about their role in the business side of the transactions? 

It’s no secret that workplace discrimination holds women back from top-level positions in business. But change is happening, with the e-commerce sector in particular affording women more opportunities. For every Jeff Bezos, there is also a woman out there with a whole lot of ambition and passion, leveraging the flexibility that running an online business affords.

Amazon says 32% of its sellers are women4, whilst Shopify boasts a more impressive statistic of 53%5. Meanwhile, female sellers on Amazon turn a profit sooner: 26% became profitable after just 3 months, versus 18% of men6.

Let’s meet some of the female entrepreneurs breaking down the glass ceiling.

Humble beginnings, big ambitions

American Sara Blakely founded Spanx7 for her own need for shapewear that could be worn discreetly under tight clothing. She used US$5,000 of her own savings to get the business off the ground, and today it is valued at over US$1.2 billion. Her advice for budding entrepreneurs? “Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know. That can be your greatest strength and ensure that you do things differently from everyone else.”8

Across the pond, Britons Sophie Cornish and Holly Tucker founded online marketplace Not On The High Street9 back in 2006 from their kitchen table on a shoestring budget. Today it has more than 200,000 products from independent sellers. The pair can celebrate their success now, but it hasn’t always been that way. "Women tend to be their own worst critics," Sophie said. "I wish I could say to my younger self, 'Stop beating yourself up. Trust yourself.'”10

Elsewhere, Nomvuyo Treffers launched Swimma11 in 2016, which specializes in silicon swim caps to accommodate all hair styles: dreadlocks, braids, afros, long hair, and weaves. Treffers’ thinking shifted quickly from being a small business serving a local market, to a global company with clients all over the world. She attributes the quick success to a number of things, but first and foremost was the immediate demand from international customers.

woman smiling in laptop screen

A brighter future

E-commerce is empowering women in developing countries with a route out of poverty. In Southeast Asia, sales on e-commerce platforms are expected to triple between 2020 and 2025, whilst Africa’s e-commerce market value is expected to quadruple between 2020 and 203012.

“E-commerce platforms have a major role to play in […] mitigating the disproportionately negative impacts of the pandemic on female entrepreneurs,” said Stephanie von Friedeburg, senior vice president of operations at the International Finance Corporation13.

“Watershed moments to transform women’s economic status globally are few and far between, but COVID-19 and the post-pandemic recovery offer one of these rare and critical junctures. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity for development and an equitable future for all.”

hand packing parcels

We’ve dedicated a whole article to the female entrepreneurs tapping into Africa’s e-commerce boom, like Mary Jone Ngalio from Zanzibar, who was so passionate about the health benefits of seaweed that she began farming it to sell to customers around the world. And Hamamat, who despite growing up in a small village in Ghana, was able to utilize the power of viral marketing to share her homemade shea butter with the world. You can watch their inspiring stories, here.

The opportunity

So, what are the first steps to setting up as a female e-commerce entrepreneur? You’ll find the answer on Discover. Check out our dedicated guides to starting a business, including the secrets of the spare-time startups and the 7 business growth strategies you should know. We just need you to bring the girl power! Happy selling!

1 - International Women’s Day

2 - Nielsen, March 2020 

3 - PR Newswire, September 2022

4 - Jungle Scout, January 2021

5 - Shopify, March 2022

6 - Jungle Scout

7 - Spanx

8 - Sara Blakely, SBBC, accessed February 2023

9 - Not On The High Street

10 - Sophie Cornish, BBC News, October 2018

11 - Swimma

12 - Council on Foreign Relations, June 2021

13 - Stephanie von Friedeburg, Council on Foreign Relations, June 2021