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How to start selling online

Not sure where to start selling your products online? Follow our guide to help you find the best ecommerce platform for your business.

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The trend for shopping online has risen significantly in the last few years, with the value of UK online retail sales estimated at £99 billion in 2020 alone – a trend that’s expected to continue rising as more consumers start shopping this way. Selling online is easier than you think, especially if your virtual storefront is designed with your customers in mind. 

There are many ways to start selling online, depending on the number and type of products you want to sell. Selling your products through an online marketplace is a great way to test your idea without taking on too much risk. However, if you want full control over your sales, have outgrown the marketplace, or want a larger cut of the profits, it makes sense to start a store of your own.

Follow our guide to help you find the best ecommerce platform for your business:

Your business model

How do you source and sell your products? 

  • If you sell physical products
    • Whether you make, sell and dispatch your own products, source your products from a manufacturer or wholesaler or run a dropshipping business, you’ll need to consider a solution that will integrate with your inventory management system. 
  •  If you sell virtual products, like online courses, then this isn’t a problem – giving you more flexibility in the type of ecommerce platform you can use.

What volume of products are you selling?

  • Fewer than 20 per month
    • If the product value is moderate, you could consider an online marketplace like eBay, Amazon or Etsy.
    • If the product value is high, transaction and handling fees may make online marketplaces prohibitively expensive, and it is worth looking into building your own store.
    • A third party tool could be more cost-effective. As well as transaction fees, third party tools often have a monthly cost associated with them, which covers things like the maintenance and hosting of your store. For example, Shopify charges an additional fee of between 0.5% and 2% depending on the plan you’re on. Squarespace also charges up to 3%, depending on the plan you choose.
  • Over 20 per month
    • As product volume rises, even small transaction costs become expensive. To drive these down, it’s worth considering the savings you could make by running your own online store.
    • Typically, integrated tools like WooCommerce and Magento are open source, so they are free to use. However, this doesn’t take into account the costs of the supporting elements you’ll need, like hosting, a domain name, or any paid plugins and themes you might want to use. 

How much would you like to be able to customise your store?

  • I only need to change basic things like colours and copy
    • A third party solution like Shopify or Squarespace will give you limited flexibility over the design of your store through their templates, but you won’t be able to change the features of your store too much. 
    • These managed solutions provide all you need to get started with a basic storefront, without requiring too much technical know how.
  • I need complete control over the layout and design
    • Integrating an ecommerce plugin such as WooCommerce into your WordPress website, or using a platform like Magento, will give you much more control and ownership over your store than a third party solution. 
    • You’ll need to be technically competent or have a developer help you get set up. 

To summarise

To test your online shop idea, or if you expect to sell a low volume of products initially, try an online marketplace like Amazon, eBay or Etsy before investing in a full ecommerce platform. 

Once you’re ready to create a dedicated store, you can choose a managed third party platform like Shopify or Squarespace. You can use their tools to design, build and maintain your store within their ecosystem, for a monthly cost (plus transaction fees).

If you expect a large volume of sales, would like to keep transaction costs down, and would like more control over how your store works, you should consider an integrated platform like WooCommerce or Magento which gives you complete ownership over your store. While the ecommerce platforms here are often open source (and therefore free to use), you’ll have to factor in the costs of hosting and maintaining your website. Plus, they are designed to be used by those who have some technical expertise. 

More help

Ready to start selling online? Our websites & performance team can help you get your store built in a way that suits your business model and level of technical expertise, from set up to ongoing support and maintenance. Through our search engine visibility and social media engagement services, we can also help you promote your store and products to your ideal customers. 

For more help with selling your products online, email me at [email protected].

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