How & Where to Start Selling Products Online?
In the modern age we now live in it is extremely rare for shops and stores we visit physically to not also have a presence online. So many people buy online now, myself included. In fact most of my Christmas shopping is done only online and has been for a number of years. From the numbers I am not alone. 41% of people going online are buying something there and that number rises each year.
There is no doubt if you get it right online, it could make a huge difference in your success. Internet shopping can reach so many more potential customers, nationwide and globally. However if you are not internet or pc savvy it can be a scary world. You know you are missing out on sales but might not know just how to sell products online.
Here I have all the information you could need on the topic. Not only will I offer advice on how and where to start selling products online, I will give recommendations and reviews on the different options and suggest ways to get yourself organized. You will finally be able to join the modern world!
Whether you already have a physical store, or have product you want to sell just online, have some experience online, or none at all, the information here is clear and just what you need.
Comprehensive Guide on How to Sell Products Online
I will outline for you;
- What to get organized and to think about before you get started
- The difference between hosted and self-hosted ecommerce options
- Deciding what to sell and sourcing it
- Where is best to sell your product online
- Pricing of using an ecommerce platform
- Using online marketplaces to sell such as Ebay and Etsy
- Other options like online classified sites
How are You Going to Source Your Products?
If you know or have an idea of what you are selling you then need to think about where you are going to get your product from. Are you selling something you are making yourself, are you buying from a manufacturer or wholesaler or are you getting it from a dropshipper.
- Making it yourself – If you are making clothing, jewelry, gifts or whatever else it might be, you still need to think about sourcing the materials you need. You also need to think about how much time these things take to make when you price them.
It is easy to create your own brand this way and you have more freedom over your prices but it is hard to scale up the business. You on your own can only make so many things. That means if you do want to scale up at some point you will need to hire someone else to make items too.
- Buying from a manufacturer or wholesaler – This means you buy products for less, then mark them up, possibly adding some branding to them. Your costs are in the products you buy, but since you have to buy in bulk it is also in storing the stock, upkeep of stock and shipping.
This way is easy to scale up your business if you want to though. You do need to make sure you use a reliable manufacturer and that the product is a quality you find acceptable.
- Buying from a dropshipper – This is a common option used by sellers of items online. Basically you can sell products you do not actually physically have. You find a dropshipper you trust. You list products they have stocked on your website and when an order comes in it goes to them. They ship the product straight to the buyer.
Understanding Your Market and Planning
Assuming you already have a product or service in mind you need to make sure you know who your market is, and who you are competing with. This means doing a lot of research, gathering data and building a strategy for marketing.
Having a plan is essential to your success. There is no point in setting up your e-store before you know these things. As much fun as it is to think about things like a brilliant business name or a catchy theme, there is more to your store’s success than just those things.
While that might seem like a lot of work and effort, it is worth it to see your store succeed. Think about your long term success. Believe in your ability to get done what needs to be done. So what do you need to think about and ask yourself before you start selling online?
- If you have not already decided, what services or products are you selling?
- How can you make those goods are services more attractive to consumers than other similar online stores, or physical ones?
- What are the practical implications of selling what you are selling? For example if they are very large what are the shipping implications, if they have a limited lifespan how are they packaged?
- How and where are you sourcing your products from, at what costs and what is your profit margin?
- What is the competition like for what you are offering? Are there a lot of other people offering the same product or service and if yes how are you going to stand out from them?
- Is the market ready or wanting what you are selling?
- Who are your customers, who are you targeting with your marketing? Look at things like age, where they live, income, job, ethnicity, education, hobbies, values and lifestyle for example.
Online Business Laws
Before you actually start you also need to be aware there are legal implications you need to follow. Think about the following 9 business online laws;
- Having the right permits and licenses – There are several online legal resources you can look to for advice but you will at the least need a business license to run even an online store. There may be other permits required so check that out so you do not get shut down.
- Inventory – if you are selling goods you are going to need somewhere to hold your inventory. Where will that be? In some cases there are regulations and zoning codes that prevent it being in your home.
- Pay the right taxes – business taxes are different around the world and even from one region of a country to another. But there will be taxes to pay and those will be both on where the ‘headquarters’ of the business is and where you are selling.
- Business insurance – Again for this matter you need to seek out an expert. Make sure the agent knows all about it so they can get you the right kind thinking about things like professional liability, commercial liability and product liability.
- Restrictions on shipping – Certain products have their own rules on shipping, things like vegetables and fresh produce, scents, alcohol, tobacco and cigarettes. Check the carriers carefully as some will not take these things at all and some need additional money and forms filled in.
- Property rights – Make sure you have the required patent, copyright or trademark and that you do not infringe on other people’s.
- Age laws – make sure you are adhering to the law that protects children and their information under the age of 13.
- Payment options – Look for what the most common payment processing options are, how do customers want to be able to pay. There are fees associated to each type and some have product limitations too. You also need to make sure there are things like fraud detection and prevention.
- Protection against data theft – Using eCommerce platforms means you may already have PCI compliance covered. This is what offers protection against the theft of data. Check though to be sure, it is a requirement.
Online Sales Options
There are a few different options when it comes to selling online. Which way you choose depends on your IT ability, what you are selling, whether it is a full or time gig and how much work you want it to be. You also should know that you do not have to limit yourself to one, sell across them all if you want to. Options include;
- Ecommerce platforms either hosted or self-hosted that allow you to create a website or online store to sell from.
- Online marketplaces like Amazon, Etsy or Ebay for example.
- Classified Ads – sites like Craigslist or Kijiji
- Using social media – places like Facebook
Choosing the Right Ecommerce Platform
Knowing where to sell your product online is important. If you decide to use a website rather than a marketplace online like Amazon you need to choose an ecommerce platform.
Getting the right platform for your services or product is essential to your success. Just as you would do some serious leg work when deciding a physical location for a store, you need to some for your online one too. While there are a large number of options they basically divide into two types;
- Fully hosted – the ecommerce platform has everything you need to run an online store including things like software for a shopping cart. You do not need to be skilled in IT or coding. You pay a fee and it is all done for you. You just set up things like a theme or look, categories, shipping, payment and your inventory. There is a support team available when you need one too and anyone can use them, they are very user friendly.
- Self-hosted – this is only an option if you are good with coding. They are more difficult to use but you can customize and make changes as much as you want.
The difference between the two can be described as the difference between renting a house or buying one. A rental or hosted platform has certain things done for you, it is easy to move if you want to, but you cannot make changes to its look and the landlord can make changes you might not like. Owning your own home, self-hosting means you can control all the details, any extensions and no-one can make you move or change it. But you have the hassle of fixing things when it is needed, and the cost of that too.
Ecommerce Platforms to Help Sell Online
There are several options when it comes to finding a hosting platform to start selling products online. Hosted platforms includes names like Shopify, BigCommerce or BlueHost. Self-hosted platforms include ones such as Magento or WooCommerce.
Here I recommend using BlueHost as most people want something affordable and easy to use with a good reputation. However before I take a closer look at what I like about that platform I have put together a quick checklist to help guide you through the decision.
- Is the platform easy to use?
- Is it reliable even when there are large traffic spikes?
- Does that platform suit the type of things you are selling?
- Is there any support, how good is it and how in depth is it and what if any is the cost?
- What are the shipping options I can offer with that platform?
- Are there transaction fees or any limits to how many things I can sell?
- Can I use it to sell to various places like eBay or Amazon or Facebook?
- How is the inventory managed and is that easy to do?
- What are the payment options for customers?
- Is there any SEO support given?
- Are there security options for customers and will they cost more?
- Is there are a search option for the customer?
- Do you like the themes offered and is there some customization possible?
- Can third party apps be integrated with the platform?
- Is it mobile friendly?
- What kind of tiered pricing is offered?
- Will the site be able to grow as your business grows?
- Is it easy to navigate as a customer?
How to Sell Products Online Using BlueHost
BlueHost has several plans to suit different needs and these are priced accordingly. While I am going to concentrate for you on their Shared Hosting, they also have Cloud Hosting, Dedicated Server Hosting and VPS hosting. On BlueHost the pricing for these is;
- Starter Plan = $6.95 a month with the special intro offer or $9.99 usually
- Performance Plan = $8.95 a month with the special intro offer or $13.99 This is the plan BlueHost recommends.
- Business Pro Plan = $15.95 a month with the special intro offer or $25.99 a month usually.
- Standard Plan = $79.99 a month with the special intro offer or $119.99 usually.
- Enhanced Plan = $99.99 a month with the special intro offer or $159.99 usually. This is the plan BlueHost recommends.
- Premium Plan = $119.99 a month with the special intro offer or $209.99 usually.
- Standard Plan = $19.99 a month with the special intro offer or $29.99 a month usually.
- Enhanced Plan = $29.99 a month with the special intro offer or $59.99 a month usually. This is the plan BlueHost recommends.
- Ultimate Plan = $59.99 a month with the special intro offer or $119.99 a month usually.
Shared Hosting Plans
The reason I am focusing on the Shared Hosting option is it is the more popular option amongst sellers online, and it is the most affordable too.
- Basic Plan = $3.95 a month with the special intro offer or $7.99 a month usually.
- Plus Plan = $5.95 a month with the special intro offer or $10.99 a month usually.
- Choice Plus = $5.95 a month with the special intro offer or $14.99 a month usually. This is the plan BlueHost recommends.
- PRO Plan = $13.95 a month with the special intro offer or $23.99 a month usually.
So let’s take a look at those plans and what users will get with each one.
|Basic||Plus||Choice Plus||Pro Plan|
|Email storage||100 MB||Unlimited||Unlimited||Unlimited|
|Site backup||–||–||CodeGuard Basic||CodeGuard Basic|
Basic Plan: As you can see the Basic plan offered, which is the cheapest, does come with more limits than the other options. Storage is less, only 1 website allowed, a limited amount of domains and email accounts and no backup to the site or any other extras. I suggest this one if you only need one website and are just starting out, you can always upgrade.
Plus Plan: A little more expensive than the Basic package but with that you get some options that are likely to interest you especially if selling online is a full time prospect. There are no limits in websites, storage, or domains and you get some marketing offers. Still no site backup though or domain privacy. If you are running several websites and using WordPress start here.
Choice Plus: This option is the recommended plan and I can see why. You get the same fewer limits as in the Plus Plan but then also get domain privacy, spam experts and site back up. Currently at the time I wrote this article the new sign up price is the same for this as for the Plus Plan too. If you are running several websites, using a CMS site and you are looking for improved span prevention and security I would suggest this plan.
Pro Plan: This is the top option they have for the Shared Hosting Plans with BlueHost. You get everything with Choice Plus but then also get a dedicated IP, other choice plus features and high performance rather than standard. If you are running a website for ecommerce I would suggest this one with its dedicated IP, spam prevention and extra security.
BlueHost at Its Best
This is an excellent option for hosting your website to sell products online. Its rates are very competitive and it offers a great service. Whatever your particular requirements are, it can meet them with its different plans. It is secure too and is a popular option amongst professional sellers online. It seems to have great customer support too for when you have a question either by telephone or with a live chat option.
With what it has to offer at such great rates, it is understandable why over two million people choose to host their websites with it. Their affiliate program is a great thing to take advantage of too. You can earn money from them if you recommend them to friends, and they then become BlueHost users.
They have been around for over 15 years now and are in the top 20 website hosts. It is very user friendly and most people will find it easy to use even with no previous web experience. Take a look, read the small print and see if you like what you find out.
Online Marketplaces to Start Selling Online
As well as the option of how to sell products online using a website and hosting platform, you can also think about using online marketplaces either instead of, or alongside that. This method of selling is best suited to people that have products to sell but are not looking to start a business or develop their own brand.
Options for marketplace sales include;
But there are also more specific options that target certain products such as;
- Cult Beauty for skincare items
- ASOS Marketplace for fashion items
- Handpicked Collection for gifts and unique items
Advantages to using such marketplaces online are;
- You can sell at a low cost.
- You do not need a lot of knowledge, all you need to do is create an account and list your product/products. Then accept payment and ship when you sell something.
- You do not need a lot of tech support.
- It is effective especially when selling a small number of things.
- You can add a catalogue of items you are selling quickly.
- An already huge customer
- Things like the search data base, payment options and such are taken care of.
- The good reputation of the site also falls to you.
Disadvantages to using a marketplace to sell online include;
- There are a huge number of sellers, on Amazon for example there over 2 million.
- How to make yourself different and more attractive from the other sellers.
- Search algorithms change on those sites, so when one day your product might show up in certain searches, another day it might not.
- Even when you price your items low, there is always someone else coming along pricing lower.
- Branding is not easy and customers tend to trust brands.
- Not all reviews are genuine.
- Check for transaction fees – eBay for example will take 10% of your sales.
Selling Products Online on Amazon
Even when products are posted as being from third party sellers, an Amazon user feels like when they are shopping on Amazon they are getting Amazon quality and brand. You get a much higher level of trust than would be usual with a new shop or website. It can in fact take a number of years to develop and build.
The fees to sell on Amazon are much what you find with other marketplaces online. There is a listing fee you pay per month and then another fee when a product is sold. The latter is one that can vary. Amazon is especially popular for sellers of DVDs, electronics, books and such.
Amazon also offer, for a small price, the option for them to store your products and then deliver them for you too. This makes it especially appealing to new online sellers. But there is a lot of competition there including some other big brand names.
Selling Products Online on Etsy
Etsy was a marketplace for people looking for crafted or vintage items. But it has recently branched out to offer digital products too like website themes and custom designing. As handcrafted objects tend to be more expensive and customers on Etsy know that, you can make a good profit there if the customer base they have want what you are selling.
Something a lot of sellers like about Etsy is that they can personalize more there than other places like Amazon or eBay. You do not need a lot of technical ability to become a seller either. But as well as the usual listing and selling fees charged by online marketplaces, Etsy has PayPal fees too. It is a huge customer base but they are focused more on arts and crafty type things, or unique gifts.
Selling Products Online on eBay
The great thing as both a seller and buyer about eBay is that you can really find almost anything on it! Clothes, electronics, toys and antiques most categories are on here, or have been, or will be. This is good in terms of having a large customer base, but harder to stand out from all the other things being sold.
You can sell worldwide but there are base selling fees as well as 10% taken from sales made. The bidding auction nature of eBay also means the buyer does not always pay straight away and that can mean they end up not buying at all, and you have to re-list the item. Your time can be wasted more on this type of marketplace and there is little chance of building a brand.
Sell Online Using Social Media
Other options to using marketplaces to sell online include places like social media. The world’s largest social media platform is Facebook of course. It has a staggering active user number close to two billion. To sell on Facebook you have to create a Business Page and put in a buy button.
If you sell only there it can be time consuming because you have to organize all the orders and such. But you can link your ecommerce platform store to the Facebook page to solve that. How to be successful on Facebook?
- Get people’s attention. As well as posting your product also entertain them with jokes, riddles, competitions.
- Promos that offer discounts for online customers who like your page are a good way to get more sales and more visitors.
- Use great pictures that are excellent quality.
- Post often but not too often. The good figure that does not seem to annoy people but bring in custom is twice a day.
- See when the best times to post are. Different sales will get different post responses depending on when they happen.
Other Ways to Sell Products Online
There are other marketplaces online apart from the big names to look out for. Some are specific to certain countries and some are more niche based. Niche based online marketplaces are often more expensive to sell on and they often have a selection process for you to pass before you are approved to sell. The customer base is targeted though, so you already know they are looking for what you are selling.
Another online option are classified ad sites which tend to be especially used by people with larger or more expensive things to sell. You deal with your customer face to face for a sale completion.
Here is a list of other hosted storefronts, shopping carts, marketplaces, auction sites and classified ad sites that are popular today;
- BigCommerce – Create your own shop on the web and also sell on eBay and Facebook.
- GoEmerchant – Shopping cart and delivery system for selling digital software and goods.
- Payvment – Shopping cart system for Facebook.
- Shopify – hosted service.
- Miva Merchant – hosting service.
- Volusion – All in one solution for how to sell products online.
- E-Junkie – Shopping cart and delivery system for selling digital products.
- ProStores – Platform that also integrates with eBay.
- TabJuice – Platform that can be used with Facebook.
- Mercantec E-Coomerce Express – Entry level shopping cart and storefront and can be used on your own web page as well as eBay.
- Bonanza – Products are listed and sold for a fixed price. Also offers buyers the choice to make an offer.
- Atomic Mall – Also fixed price as well as make an offer sales.
- Etsy – Various web shops for crafty things and interesting supplies.
- Ebay – With 94 million users by far the largest online marketplace. Auction or buy now format and you can manage a storefront hosted by eBay.
- Craigslist – Classified ads can be found globally. Ads do not cost anything to place usually but some cities charge a fee for certain services or products.
- Facebook Marketplace – Sell within your own network of friends.
- OLX – Classified site found globally and ads are free to place. However you can pay to have your ad be placed at the top of the search results.
- Backpage – North American so covering USA, Mexico and Canada.
- Hoobly – Locals placed to national usage. Free to place but again there is a premium option where you can pay to have yours appear in a premium position.
- Kijiji (Canada) known elsewhere as eBay Classifieds – can be found globally.
- Oodle – When placed on Oodle it is then posted to other online listing sites.
Finding Customers: Marketing
When you have reached this stage you have really gotten a lot done in the process of selling online for profit. You should have worked out your market already, but once you know what you are selling and how you are going to sell it, you then need to get the customers.
This is a difficult time, some sellers may even give up when they do not get the high sales they were expecting or hoping for. The key is to get the word out about your product or service, to pull traffic to you, persuade them to buy, persuade them to come back and to analyze your success to then repeat it.
1) Social media – this is a large place to find potential customers. Places like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest are all examples. Find ways to post links to your site, offer promotions and information in an interesting way to draw their attention. Use trends, for example the hashtag trend at the moment I write this is a powerful one if done well. Find a tool that lets you manage posts on the different social media platforms like Hootsuite.
2) Using SEO and Blogging – SEO is about getting a better ranking when someone uses a search engine to look for something. If you manage to get your site on the first couple of pages you are going to get a lot more customers. You need to ensure your descriptions and blog posts you make have the right key words that people are using. There are places you can get SEO support from and Google Analytics is a good way to analyze the data. Then you can use that information to make improvements.
Blogging specifically if done well can not just improve the SEO but also help create and sell the brand. Blogs that draw attention can then being traffic to your selling site. Regular posts are needed, and they should be kept up to date. Blog posts might include updating products, brands and how to tutorials.
3) Marketing using email – This is a great way to stay connected to your customers but you need to balance it. If you do it right you will make them feel valued, special and drawn to spend more with you. Do them wrong, or send too many and they may just delete you from their browser history.
Just make sure your store can capture emails of customers you visit and who buy. Then you can send promotions on sales, offer limited deals or showcase a new product. Emails should be to the point not wordy. They should also not have too many pictures that are distracting. It is something new stores will want to build towards.
4) Use promotions to attract more buyers – I love a good deal. I am sure you are the same when you are shopping, whether in a physical store or online. When you have your store done consider running promotions and offering deals as a way to generate more interest. You should have them on your own website but can also put them up on sites like Facebook or Amazon.
5) Advice on your descriptions and images on your site – Getting these right is essential if you want to bring in customers and keep them coming back. Poor spelling or poorly written descriptions can drive people away. Bad quality images can do the same. No matter how awesome your product is, you need to get these two things correct.
- Use the same dimensions for all your images – Paint or something similar is a good tool
- Always do the pictures in high quality
- If there are a lot of angles to see be sure to take several shots so the customers can see them
- Each different product should have its own picture, and each different color should get a picture too
- Use pictures in context
- Written descriptions should have key words in them that customers will search for
- Use your own words not just a copy of the description the manufacturer uses
- As well as describing the product offer a benefit of having it
- Try not to use common and robotic sounding phrases like ‘must have’
- Think about the kinds of words your specific customers would like to read
- Once you have settled on a style of writing stick with it
- Use positive customer reviews
- Do not lie to your customers
- If you have a story to tell that you think others would enjoy and will help your sales, then tell it
Summary: How to Sell Products Online
I have given you quite a lot to think about here, but starting your own online business, whether big or small is serious and deserves all the information I have for you. There are a lot of choices to be made and a lot of homework and planning to undertake before you even start to set up your online presence.
Make sure you are thinking about your goals and preferences. It will require time and effort, how much depends on which avenue you take to sell online. Make sure you know;
- What it is you want to have happen – what profits are you hoping for, how much do you want to sell, is this a full or part time thing?
- Work out the costs, there are some almost at every stage.
- Who are your competition and what are you doing to stand out from them?
- What do your customers want from an online store?
- How are you going to market?
- What hosting, marketplace or online selling opportunity are you going to use, or are you wanting to use a combination?
- Research what keywords you need to use.
- Look at other successful stores and see what they have gotten right and what they have not!
- How are you going to handle the stock and the shipping?
Lay down a strong foundation and your new online business has a lot more chance of success. Creating an ecommerce website using a hosting platform like BlueHost is easier than ever. The tools you need are all there, just take yourself through the easy to follow steps.
With the internet and online sales such a huge thing today long gone are the days where to sell a product you need to have an actual store. It is not as complicated as you might think, anyone of almost any age or computer skills can do it. So get started today on creating for yourself a better tomorrow.
Glossary terms to explain some of the eCommerce lingo!
Listed in alphabetical order here are some common terms you might come across in my article or others on the subject of how and where to start selling products online.
- AVS (Address Verification Service): Credit card process undertaken to check that the customer’s billing address on the one on their credit card statement are both the same.
- Affiliate Marketing: Sellers and publishers work together to promote the products you are selling. This is to increase customers coming to the website. The publishers get money per sale or per visitor.
- Average Order Value: This is worked out by dividing the total sales revenue by the total number of orders. It gives the average amount each customer spends.
- Average time on site: What the average amount of time a visitor on the website stays for.
- Bounce rate: Bouncing is when people come to the website but do not click on anything. The bounce rate is the percent of people that do that.
- Cart abandonment rate: The ratio of carts that are abandoned by visitors before completing an order.
- Conversion: Turning a visitor to your store to a customer that pays for an order.
- CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization): The process of you the online seller making improvements to the website on things like content, layout, design, sponsored ads and landing pages.
- Drop-shipping: Instead of the online seller having their own stock kept in a warehouse, they have a partner with the stock. When an order comes through the seller sends it to the stock partner with a shipping address, and they deliver it to the customer.
- Ecommerce or electronic commerce: Exchanging items or services online using a platform or network.
- Email marketing: Where sellers promote their services and products by sending emails to a targeted list of both customers and potential customers.
- Gateway or Payment Gateway: The communication between an ecommerce service provider and the merchant’s account provider to process and authorize online credit card payments.
- Inventory: The products the seller has in stock to sell.
- Landing page: The single web page that appears when someone clicks on a link and lands on that page, which then prompts them to do something like sign up for emails.
- Listing fee: The fee some auction sites online charge to sellers so they can sell their services or products.
- Margins or Profit margins: The difference between how much a product cost the seller and then how much they then sold it for.
- PCI Compliant: Online sellers need to be PCI Compliant if they want to take payments from major brands of credit cards such as Visa or Mastercard.
- POS or Point of Sale: This is a software online seller use that allows them to process payment, accept sales, add more products, send receipts to customers and manage their inventory.
- Responsive as in responsive website: Websites that can adapt and change function and size depending on what device the customer is using to browse the website is called responsive. These sites are more likely to get repeat customers.
- SEO or Search Engine Optimization: A process that allows search engines to see your website and what it is selling, and provide that to the searcher is applicable.
- Social commerce: Selling online on social media options rather than using hosting sites.
- Web analytics: The collection of data, reading and analyzing it, from the website to look at the behavior of visitors and customers and make improvements to the website when needed.