How to sell online: build a website or sell through large marketplaces?

When we approach online selling we often have these questions we need an answer to:

  • What can we sell online?

  • How do we sell it?

  • How much can we sell it for?

  • How can we open an online shop?

  • Are we better off selling on Amazon and eBay or having our own web presence?

Learning how and what to sell online is not easy, you need to know where to sell it, what is the right price, which platform you need to use, how to drive traffic to your website, how to reduce cart abandonment and how to convert it into sales.


Starting an online shop from scratch is a big challenge. It can take a lot of time and it requires a huge set of skills and a long commitment. Thanks to the new technologies it's possible to automate and simplify some operations, it's no longer necessary to start a business loan, sell your car, recruit workers and hope that the ROI will be positive soon.


Online selling eliminates many of the offline shop costs so your budget can be used to grow your online shop. Many of the typical expenses of a mortar and brick shop are no longer there, such as for example the cost of renting a place.


This doesn't mean that selling online is easy, that's why there are many digital marketing freelancers and agencies helping you throughout the process. What it means is that today technologies are so advanced that opening an online shop is easier than 10 years ago.



How can technology help you sell online?


Internet helps to reach millions of consumers. Your shop is open 24/7. Even if the technology doesn't tell you which product to sell, how to sell it and when to sell it, it still facilitates the online selling process and allows to show your products on your online shop.


There are so many marketplaces available to you on which to start selling your products or courses. Marketplaces like Amazon, eBay or Etsy have millions of visitors and you can speed up your product sales within a period of a few days.


Even if these places represent a great option, I personally recommend you build your own web presence and your website (more on this below).



Why should you open your online shop?


Why would a customer buy your products if your Amazon or eBay shop is similar to your competitors? That's mainly the reason you need your own website, to become different than your competitors.


Even if selling on Facebook, Amazon or eBay is really easy, depending 100% on them can be a big mistake. Let me show you an example, the Amazon algorithm is changing on a regular basis so your shop will some days show on top positions, while other days it doesn't.


It's very likely that your followers will share your Facebook shop, but also Facebook can change their algorithms and you suddenly can't reach a high number of visitors anymore.

There are many errors to avoid when managing an e-commerce shop.



How to sell online: which e-commerce platform to choose?


These solutions to start your online store are not particularly expensive, considering that hiring a web developer can cost from £2,000 to £25,000 to build an online shop.


The following solutions have a monthly subscription that goes from £25 to £200/month, depending on your needs, from a basic online shop to more sophisticated and professional platforms.


You can start with a basic shop and then when your requirements change your shop grows, you can easily upgrade to more expensive solutions. This strategy allows you to manage risks and sustain expenses. Also, if you notice this basic is not for you, you can simply cancel the subscription and delete your account.



How to build a brand to have success with online selling


Creating your own online shop is the best way to build your brand and gain customers' trust. It is also the best method to build a sustainable and long-term business.


The way you engineer your online shop, how you display your products and how you sell them can help with generating high trust and loyalty from your customers. It's much more difficult that your customers will stick with you or trust you if look very similar to everyone else.



Online platforms for building your shop online


Here are some solutions that allow you to open your e-commerce shop easily and quickly without having to know any line of code.


Wix e-Commerce


One of the most simple solutions to start selling online. I have used Wix myself to open our home-cooking business together with my wife. We passionate about good, home-made food and we decided to start cooking and selling our delicious recipes in the local area of Portsmouth, where we live.


Wix offers a wide variety of designs and most of all, a guided step-by-step tutorial to help you build your shop from scratch, including design, structure, products, payments and how to start a blog.


Subscriptions vary from £4 to £36 per month. It's way cheaper than BigCommerce or Shopify but the tools you can use are also less advanced.



Shopify


Shopify is one of the best tools to start your e-commerce shop. Instead of focussing on the technicalities, it allows you to display your products and start selling.

I have already mentioned above that a professional web designer can help you design your shop but Shopify offers more than 200 designs to choose from, to put your shop in a position to gain the trust of your customers.


All the designs are mobile-ready in order to take advantage of mobile trends. Shopify allows you to sell an unlimited number of products without having to be or to hire a programmer. Another great service is that it's available on the App Store for building additional functionalities of your online shop. These functions might not be necessary at the beginning but as your shop grows, they'll become useful.



Weebly eCommerce


Like Wix, Weebly is one of the easiest tools to use for starting an online store. Tools and dashboards are very intuitive and easy to use, however, its offer is as complete as Shopify.


It's a good solution for starting an online shop with some basic and advanced functionalities.


Weebly is very cheap and it starts at $7 per month. If you want to build a small e-commerce shop, Weebly is definitely your best option.




Selling on marketplaces


Here are two guides on how to sell on eBay and Amazon, if you decide to go down that road. You won't have to build a website from scratch and save lots of time and money by choosing to display your products on very large marketplaces with millions of customers.



How to sell online on eBay


Your competitors are ready to offer a lower price to generate more clients and steal them from you. Even if the price war doesn't benefit anyone, some competitors still use it as a marketing tactic.


It's not easy to differentiate your products online on eBay when everybody else sells the same thing, so in the eyes of your consumers, you are similar to many other shops and the only reason why they would shop from you is that you have lower prices.

It's hard to accept this reality, but the earlier you accept it, the better it is, you'll avoid wasting time and resources.


My advice is to create a strong brand which in time can help you sell more. A strong brand inspires trust and it becomes extremely easy to sell your brand, even if the price is higher.


That said, let's see the steps needed to open an eBay store.


Step 1: when to open an eBay store


As we said, eBay is one of the biggest e-commerce portals in the world, it sells millions of items every day but there are some vital considerations you need to make to become successful.


First of all, you need to find a product to sell online and start considering what your target audience’s needs are. In other words, you need to find a product for which there are high demand and small supply, which means people are ready to spend their money on buying it.


The consumer's needs can be of different types (food & drink, entertainment, clothes, technology) and your solution should be simple yet efficient, preferably something people need to solve a problem.


Think about the following areas for a new product opportunity:

  • Something that solves people’s pain points, for example, The Pet Superstore is a company that solved a pain point. After talking to other dog owners at their local park, the founders, Kay and Frank Woodhouse, noticed pet owners were continually frustrated that the pricey dog toys they were buying lacked the durability needed to withstand the wear and tear of a playful pet. Hearing about this frustration inspired them to create a line of ultra-durable dog toys.

  • A product that shows a strong trend. For example, Matcha Tea at the moment is a very trendy product, still relatively new to the market and with high demand for this new product. If we look at Google Trends for matcha tea, in the last 5 years the search online for Matcha has been increasing, with high peaks in December and January.



  • Consider your professional experience. Did you work in a particular industry and you know the ins and outs? Have you got a skill that few people have? Turning your expertise into your own online business is a smart way to enter the market with a leg up that isn't easy for others to duplicate or copy.


Once you have found a product to sell, you need to find a supplier that can provide the product for you, which is already packaged and ready to ship, to minimise the amount of work you need to do for preparation. The right supplier will allow you to propose lower prices to customers while keeping relatively high quality.


You can also create your own products and promote them on eBay, testing the platform is the best way to start your own online shop. This is one of the best methods for selling something unique and that is very difficult to copy because it’s your own product, created by yourself. This also means you can charge a premium price for a unique product, basically impossible to find anywhere else.


In summary, if you want to sell on eBay, keep these factors into consideration:


  • Understand what you can sell and discover whether there is a market for it;

  • Study your competitors

  • Find a cheap supplier

  • Consider products that you can make to charge a premium price for uniqueness;


Remember, eBay was originally created in the 90s to serve a growing market of collectors, those people who had a hobby and wanted to buy and sell their own products to their peers. This type of audience is still very much in demand for collections products eBay, which is also the main differentiator from Amazon.



Step 2: Which subscription to choose


This depends on your plans. My advice is to start small and then grow with eBay. This step shows you all the subscriptions available.


Once established what product to sell, it’s time to think about which subscription to choose to open an eBay store. Opening an account with eBay is very easy and there is a reason for this: they want to increase the number of sign-ups.


To sell is therefore necessary to pay a commission and this means you need to know which commission to pay, how much and, most of all, how to keep a positive balance between profit and costs.


Pricing depends on the number of items you want to sell (or you able to sell). Another important thing to know is that eBay owns PayPal, the online payment company, and it’s therefore strongly advised to open a PayPal account to receive sales payments.


You can choose to open four types of accounts:

  • Pay as you sell account. With this account, you only pay a fee for each product sold.

  • Basic: 250 fixed-price listings per month for a £25/month fee, including 50 auction-style listings.

  • Featured: 1,500 fixed-price listings per month for a £69/month fee, including 300 auction-style listings.

  • Anchor: Unlimited fixed price listings for a £399/month fee, including 500 auction-style listings.

Every single account, except for the Pay as you sell account, includes also advertising, promotions, hubs, storefront shop, customer service and much more.


So basically, with the pay as you sell account, you can sell without opening a shop, but in this case, eBay charges you more for selling each item individually (30p versus 10p or 5p with a paid for account). I would advise opening this pay as you sell account if you want to just test the eBay potential, as you can always upgrade on a professional account later on.


The Featured and Anchor plans are created for large enterprises and established companies with a very large inventory of products, that wants to expand their sales globally (13 countries) and take advantage of the millions of users that visit eBay daily.


Note: eBay tariffs are often changing and updating to reflect the sellers’ needs, so I would strongly advise to regularly check their fees here.



About eBay concierge


Anchor account holders can use the Concierge customer support. Concierge is a free, enhanced level of service to selected customers to make selling easier. You get:

  • Direct access to a dedicated team of experts with minimal wait times and a choice of contact options.

  • Support from top team members empowered to take responsibility for issues and concerns.

  • Tailored support on selling issues.

  • eBay fee calculator

Since there are other fees to take into account that are too complex to explain, eBay created a fee calculator. Click here to access the calculator.


You can plug in numbers pertaining to a product and see in advance what fees you would potentially accrue including your:

  • insertion fees

  • final value fees

  • total seller fees


Step 3: How to open an eBay business seller account


Opening a business seller account is not the same as selling as an individual. Let’s see in this step how to open a store.


3.1 Register an account


Before you do anything else, to sell an item with eBay you need to open a new account (if you don’t have already one).


Click the button top left on ebay.com:




If you are serious about making a business out of this, then choose the Register as Business Account:




Once you have completed your registration, you need to decide what to sell on eBay.

If you already have a brick and mortar store then you will probably want to sell those items online otherwise I would recommend focusing on selling one type of item, refer to Step 1 of this guide for some guidance on what to sell on eBay.


And of course, you can always check out the “Trending on eBay!” page to see what is hot right now:




3.2 Qualify to open a store


As we mentioned above, everyone can open a business account and not everyone can start selling on eBay.


While there isn’t a specific set of rules to make you a successful business seller, I recommend you to follow these steps:

  • Gain 3-6 months selling experience to find out about buying and selling processes and to receive positive feedbacks

  • Make sure you generate enough monthly sales for when you will start paying the monthly eBay fees, probably reaching $500/$1,000 per month worth in sales would be a good start;

  • eBay recommends business sellers to have at least 25 items for sale, so make sure you can handle that many;

  • Make sure your payment method is inserted so eBay can charge you their fees without any issue;



3.3 Choose a store name


Next, choose a name for your store – this name will ultimately become your store’s URL so make sure to choose wisely and think about how real people will be able to find you or more accurately your product on a search engine.



3.4 Accept terms and conditions


Once you have chosen your subscription type and your store name you simply have to agree to eBay’s terms and conditions and officially subscribe.



Conclusions: how to sell online


There are lots of ways to sell online, either with your own website or through Amazon and eBay marketplaces that give you access to a large number of consumers.


However, it's good to have a clear understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of doing so both as these large websites can change their algorithm on a daily basis.

One of the best ways of selling online is to build your own presence, talk constantly to your consumers and increase conversion rates, while building a great brand.


Today, it's easier than ever to build an e-commerce shop with Wix, Weebly, Shopify and BigCommerce that don't require any technical coding skill and are cheap enough to make you have a good start.

© 2020 by Luca Tagliaferro. All rights reserved.