How to sell online: An introduction to e-commerce for aspiring shop owners
Deciding which path to take when selling your products online is key to the running of your business, and it not a decision to be taken lightly. Setting up your online shop takes time, but more importantly, it takes even more time to migrate your store further on down the road if you decide to take a different route.
There are a number of factors to consider when setting up a shop, with different implementations varying in complexity to create, and functionality you are left to play with. To help you on your way, we run down some of the most common methods that would-be entrepreneurs use when setting up an online store, and the pros and cons associated with each.
1. Online Marketplace
Difficulty Rating Easy
Examples: Ebay, Amazon, Etsy, Not On The High Street
What is this?
Online marketplaces are well established websites that allow you to post your products online, paying a fee to the site when you sell items. There are plenty of options that we have all heard of, each with their own strengths. Selling your stuff online using any of these sites is relatively easy and you won't have to worry about things like getting traffic to your site, hosting, and keeping it up to date. Using one of these sites is the way to go if you don't have tech skills or the time needed to setup a more custom solution. Picking which site to sell on will primarily hinge on what kind of products you are selling. Ebay and Amazon are the best way to shift goods fast, and have the largest potential client base. We all know that you can sell just about anything on Amazon and Ebay, with Ebay geared towards unbranded, low cost goods and consumables, whilst Amazon typically sells products with a a slightly higher value. Etsy and Not On The High Street are great options if you are selling customised, or more niche products. These sites have a more discerning audience, who are looking for something more specific and are willing to pay a higher price for it. We recommend Etsy for selling your Doodle Bag's online as the setup is very easy, there's not as many T&C's for sellers as Not on the High Street, and generally has a friendlier crowd where you can establish a loyal fanbase.
How to Setup?
Whether it's Amazon, Etsy or Ebay, each will guide you through the setup, telling you what to do every step of the way. Etsy wins the award for easiest to setup with it's user friendly interface and transparent T&C's, with Ebay a close second, although some parts of the desktop UI look like they haven't been updated since the late 90's and you may have to go round the houses to find what you're looking for sometimes.
All of these options require little to no specialist skills, leaving your main responsibility to be writing about and photographing your products in a pleasing way.
Very easy to setup and manage. These platforms are all very well established and any questions you may have are most likely to have already been answered in the past. Mobile apps are available to help you manage your shop on the go. In addition, the traffic is already there, reducing your marketing outlay significantly.
Fees! At the end of the day, your beholden to the big man, paying whatever fees they decide. This should be a legitimate consideration when doing your cost analysis, so be prepared to fork over between 5-15% of your earnings. Also, if you're trying to build a brand that people recognise, you might struggle to get your name out there.
2. Using an all in one website builder
Difficulty Rating Easy/Medium
Examples: Wix, Shopify, Squarespace
What is this?
The aim of an all in one website builder is to allow you to have a shop that appears completely custom, but without the complexities that come with making a site from scratch. Platforms such as Wix, Shopify and Squarespace exist to bridge this gap. Visually websites have improved a lot over recent years, with most startups having great looking websites that simply wouldn't have been possible 10 years ago.
How to Setup?
All of these platforms are fairly easy to setup, with most having pre made templates to which you can drag and drop your own content into. Documentation and online help is usually excellent. It can be quite time consuming and a bit of design nouse helps, but you should be able to put together a decent looking site within a couple of hours.
Making websites in this way is the quickest channel to having your own site on it's own domain. It takes away a lot of the headaches of web development for a reasonable monthly cost. Hosting, taking payments and technical issues are all taken care of.
These platforms all have a monthly payment, but pricing is usually fair. What you end up with can be a bit cookie cutter, so consider if you're ok following the trend, or whether you want to break the mould.
3. Build Your Own Website
Difficulty Rating Medium/Hard
Examples:WordPress, Magento, Joomla
What is this?
Platforms such as WordPress and Magento are for building your own web store to your specification, using the plugins and templates of your choosing to get the job done. WordPress is the most popular site building platform because it is open source and has hundreds of thousands of plugins and templates that can help you build your site. It is also great for scaling, and can handle just about anything you can throw at it. It covers all bases in the medium to expert skill levels and can take custom code to modify and create whatever you like. We use WordPress in combination with a heavily modified Woocommerce plugin to create Doodle Bag!
Magento is in a similar vain to WordPress but is completely e-commerce driven. It is very customisable and will scale as you develop. It's not as intuitive as WordPress and is more developer focused so be sure to check it out in action to see if it's for you.
How to Setup?
First you will need to buy hosting and a domain. For newcomers this really isn't as difficult as it sounds. Just check the various hosting options available and think of a great .com name to get started. You will then need to upload WordPress into your domain (think of it like installing an app). After that you will need to decide what theme you are going to use for your site, and what e-commerce plugin you will use. There are some very well developed themes available that allow for such a high level of customisation, your site will end up looking completely unique. E-commerce plugins provide all the functionality of your online shop. Woocommerce is by far the most popular and gives you most of the tools you need right off that bat. Extensions to the plugin can be costly, but in most cases worth it in the long run. Full guides are available for creating a WordPress Woocommerce site, so check them out before diving in.
The sky really is the limit with WordPress, with everything being modifiable to make an online shop that is completely unique. Once setup, your running costs are likely to be super low, with hosting being likely being your only monthly outgoing. Payment merchants like Stripe and Paypal will charge you a % of each transaction, but this is significantly lower that using one of the larger platforms like Amazon or Ebay. Once your site is complete you are left with something that will grow with your company, can be taken on by a professional web developer and can be chopped and changed on the fly to keep up with the needs of your business. If you have big plans for the future of your business, it can be worth the extra initial labour.
Due to the individual nature of your site, you may occasionally find yourself in a sticky situation that you need to code yourself out of. Support for themes and plugins is there, but problems can arise when using a combination of these. It's also quite time consuming, with some design skills preferable as you will be in charge for the look of your site.
So you've created your own beautiful website using WordPress or Joomla? So what! It's nothing without people visiting it. You will need to learn about SEO (search engine optimisation) and how to shape your website to it gets visitors. Adwords may also be in order if you are in a particularly competitive sector. You will need to think about how exactly you aim to market your shop, whether it's targeting keywords, social media campaigns, paid campaigns or any other way you can think of to get people to your site. Be prepared for it to be time consuming, but hard work will yield rewards and eventually a business that will sustain itself and be profitable.
4. Code Your Own Website
Difficulty Rating Hard
What is this?
Be prepared to enter the matrix. If you want to hit the bigtime, your going to need a completely custom solution. Everything will be coded from scratch, building the world that is your website using lines and lines of code.
How to Setup?
First you will need to build the structure of your site using HTML and CSS. If you don't have an in depth knowledge of these programming languages and design software, retreat and find a simpler solution. HTML and CSS work by using tags, followed by the customisation in a specific order. Each element of the page will need to specify it's size, location etc from top to bottom. Running your script will show you what you have created, which is usually followed by debugging session to iron out any problems. Once you have a structure in place, a CMS (content management system) will be needed so the site can be updated when needed. Each field that you want to be modified will need to be on the CMS, so users can add products and make changes to the shop without diving into lines of code.
The end result will be the most beautiful website, made exactly how you imagined it. It will put you are the forefront of web design and will aid you massively in building your brand. Develop the CMS to include only what you need, which allows employees to run it at 100% efficiency. Change anything you like and stay ahead of the game all the time.
Labour costs. You will need skilled coders to create and maintain the site. A web team will need to be in place permanently to aid in its constant development. This solution is for businesses with a high turnover that can afford to build the very best.