If you are thinking about starting your own online business, naturally, you want to know about the best platform to sell online. With technology and online marketplaces continuing to grow at a rapid pace, it can be difficult to tell whether you should build your own store or use an online marketplace.
This guide will help you answer all your burning questions on how to select the best method for selling your products and services online.
What is the Best Platform to Sell Online?
As mentioned above, there are two major ways you can sell your product and services online. Either by building your own eCommerce store or by using an online marketplace. Let’s take a brief look at both these options.
Building an Ecommerce Store
The biggest upside of creating an eCommerce store is that it is 100 percent yours. This means you do not have to deal with the inconvenience of paying huge sales or referral fees.
However, there are a lot of elements that you will need to manage and juggle all by yourself. This includes creating a name for yourself in the eCommerce space and generating quality traffic, which can take some time.
You will also need to build up your website from scratch. This can be pretty tricky if you are not code-savvy and you may have to hire a developer to do the job for you.
If done right though, your online store can be extremely profitable and worth the effort.
Selling Through an Online Marketplace
Online marketplaces offer products and services from many different sellers and can help you reach thousands of customers. One of the best parts of selling through an online marketplace is that you can create your eCommerce store within minutes.
Online marketplaces all have systems in place that make it easy to navigate sales, order fulfillment, and marketing processes. In fact, they also have various marketing programs that you can use to boost your online storefront.
The downside is that you will have to pay a transaction fee for every product you sell. Some online marketplaces also charge you a monthly fee for using their platform.
Still, they are a great option for people who aren’t too tech-savvy, who want to launch their store quickly and gain access to a larger audience.
If you don’t have an audience or experience in driving traffic you might want to consider starting with a marketplace first.
Best Platform to Sell Online: Understanding Your Options
Now, let’s delve into more details on each of the eCommerce options you have available to you.
Building Your Own Store
As you can see, building your own website is a great option if you aren’t afraid of coding and want more control. Here are some of the best platforms you can use to build your own online store.
There are over 1 million merchants in 175 countries who use Shopify. Collectively, they have made over $155 billion in revenue, which is evidence of how big this eCommerce store builder really is.
Shopify has one of the most extensive range of features, extensions, and a big app store. It is easily one of the very best all-around eCommerce platforms in the world. A bonus is that it’s also one of the easiest platforms to use.
Shopify is a great platform for a business that wants to scale quickly and easily.
Pros of Shopify
- Ease of Use: What draws people to Shopify is its uncomplicated nature. Online entrepreneurs do not need to purchase hosting or a domain name separately; Shopify provides all of this. All you need is to create an account and start building your own store.
- No Tech Experience Required: With Shopify, you do not need to worry about the various technicalities of setting up an eCommerce store, including SSL certificates, taxes, shipping options, and payment gateways. Shopify already has this all set up.
- Supports All Sorts of Goods: You can sell physical or digital goods on Shopify. Whether you want to open up a clothing store or sell eBooks, Shopify can manage it.
- 14-Day Free Trial: One of the best features of Shopify is its 14-day free trial for new users. During this time, you can explore all the benefits of the wide range of tools and features without paying a cent.
- Variety of Apps: The Shopify App Store allows you to download a wide variety of apps to add more options and features to your store. Many of these are paid apps but there are a few free integrations as well.
- Templates: Shopify offers a lot of free themes/templates to build your eCommerce store. However, if you want to ensure your site has a more unique look, you can also buy a premium template from Shopify’s theme store.
- Customer Support: Shopify offers a lot of help and support. Besides live chat, email, phone, and Twitter, you can also access a knowledge base of documentation and video tutorials as well as participate in the lively support forum.
- Inventory Management: Shopify offers an array of inventory management options, including a bulk importer with order tracker and an inventory editor. This makes managing inventory a piece of cake.
- Low Pricing: Shopify’s Basic Plan costs just $29 a month. This gives you access to the majority of tools and features. What’s more, if you pay for a whole year, it will cost just $26.10 a month, which is quite the bargain.
- Payment and Shipping Options: Shopify makes it easy for merchants to accept a variety of payment methods, including credit card, debit card, and in-person payments. Shipping functionality integrates directly with providers like USPS to streamline your shipping process.
- Integrations: Shopify is compatible with nearly everything and readily integrates with your Facebook store or Pinterest to create buyable pins.
Cons of Shopify
- Payment Transactions: Shopify has a built-in payment gateway called Shopify Payments, which is powered by Stripe. However, if you are more comfortable with using PayPal or other third-party payment gateways, you will need to pay an extra 2% transaction fee.
- Monthly Cost: Although the Basic Plan costs just $29, if you are paying for additional apps, the total cost can build up quite quickly.
- No WordPress Integration: Shopify does not allow you to integrate with WordPress very easily.
You don’t really need any technical expertise to start your own Shopify store. To prove this in the video below i build a store from scratch in around 10 minutes.
New to Shopify? This detailed guide will tell you everything you need to know.
BigCommerce is an incredibly powerful SaaS platform. Not only does it offer improved security features, extensions, and better performance, it also takes away the hassle of scaling your business as it grows.
Pros of BigCommerce
- Extremely Scalable: With BigCommerce, you can be as small as you want or as big as you dream. It provides highly scalable solutions thanks to its built-in features like enterprise-grade security. In the eCommerce builder space, BigCommerce is probably the most scalable platform.
- WordPress Integration: BigCommerce is a fully hosted eCommerce platform that is compatible with WordPress and offers seamless integration. Its powerful WordPress integration plugin makes embedding products a breeze. It also automatically creates the sign in, account, cart, and other essential pages for your store.
- Free-Trial: BigCommerce offers the biggest free trials in the industry. During the 15-day free trial, you can use all the main features to see if the platform meets your needs. You can also request a demo.
- SEO Tools: One of the biggest advantages of BigCommerce is that it offers merchants amazing SEO tools that can help them gain organic and relevant traffic as well as rank better in search engine results.
- No Transaction Charges: Unlike some other eCommerce builders, BigCommerce does not ask you to pay transaction fees. It offers a wide selection of the industry’s top and most secure payment gateways and you will only have to pay the gateway provider.
- Sell Across Multiple Channels: BigCommerce gives you the freedom to sell on channels such as Amazon, Facebook, and Instagram. Here’s a great comparison of two popular integrations.
- Less Maintenance: BigCommerce requires very little maintenance. Keeping your eCommerce engine and your content separate makes it much easier to run your WordPress site.
- BigCommerce Mobile App: The eCommerce platform now has its own mobile app, which gives you the ability to access all your stores using a single login, performance metrics, and customer details.
Cons of BigCommerce
- Limited Integration: Although BigCommerce easily integrates with the top third-party tools and apps, it is not compatible with less popular apps. However, the platform is still growing and the apps that are currently available provide good solutions to customers.
- Confusing Editing Interface: Some customers say that BigCommerce has an overly complicated editing interface and it is not very user-friendly.
- Complex Jargon: BigCommerce instructions and documentation is known to include complex terminology. For new online store entrepreneurs, this can make it difficult to understand.
WooCommerce is one of the top-rated eCommerce platforms in the world and is available as a WordPress plugin. Its popularity is such that 68,000 of the world’s top websites use this platform to power their eCommerce store.
WooCommerce offers a huge depository of add-ons and themes that have a passionate developer community behind them.
Pros of WooCommerce
- Hundreds of Extensions: Woocommerce provides hundreds of extensions that can be used to add functionality to your online store. The huge selection of add-ons makes it easy to improve the performance of your store. Moreover, it offers a lot of free extensions that you can use without paying a cent.
- Templates: WooCommerce also boasts a large gallery of customizable templates to keep your site’s design unique and professional, ensuring it attracts a lot of traffic.
- Sell Affiliate Products: With WooCommerce, you also have the option of adding external or affiliate products to your site. Affiliate marketers can create sites that house a variety of products, thereby giving customers a better experience and more options.
- Complete Inventory Management: You don’t need to go to the hassle of managing your inventory if you use WooCommerce. It comes equipped with tools that can manage your inventory for you. You can even assign it to a store manager.
- Payment and Shipping Options: WooCommerce offers built-in support for the most secure payment gateways. However, if you want other payment options, WooCommerce has dozens of payment gateways available as extensions. It will even calculate your taxes and shipping for you.
Cons of WooCommerce
- No Hosting: WooCommerce is a free eCommerce extension but it does not have built-in hosting. Instead, you will need to go to purchase your hosting and domain name separately.
- Theme Support: WooCommerce works with a massive amount of WordPress themes but not all themes, especially free ones, look good and can be customized. You will need a WooCommerce-ready theme to get the most benefits without too much hassle.
- Overwhelming Options: Because the platform offers so many customization options, it can be pretty overwhelming and intimidating for new users. However, more features aren’t exactly a bad thing and you will get used to it after a bit of learning curve.
- Too Many Add-Ons: Since the WooCommerce marketplace offers a huge plethora of extensions, it may not be very easy to find the right one. Additionally, not all the add-ons are free, which means costs can start to add up.
- No live chat: Although WooCommerce offers an extensive knowledge base and has an online community and email support, it does not have a live chat feature, which can be a bit irksome, especially for new users.
If you want to use this option, you’ll want to be familiar with WordPress. If you aren’t so tech savvy, you could consider using Shopify – I’ve created a useful comparison article here.
Using an Online Marketplace
If selling through an online marketplace sounds more like your thing, here are the top three platforms that new users should consider:
Etsy is an extremely popular site that does not sell general products but niche handmade goods, collectibles, and art. Today, Etsy has over 2.5 million sellers and 39.4 million buyers worldwide.
Pros of Etsy
- Unique Niche: Etsy specializes in handmade, antique, and boutique goods that are not readily available on other platforms. If you’re an online seller who creates specialty goods or sources unique items, Etsy is the platform best for you.
- Easy Seller Fee: Etsy has a very simple fee structure, which is why so many new online store owners prefer it. Etsy charges a $0.20 listing fee. Every time an item is sold, there is a 5% transaction fee and a 3% + 0.25% processing fee is charged by Etsy Payments.
- Listing Time: Etsy users can place their items in their store for four months or until they get sold, whichever happens first. Compared to eBay, which only gives a listing time of 30 days for a price, the difference is enormous. This means you have a lot of time to sell before you need to renew a listing.
- Markets to a Large Customer Base: Etsy has over 39 million active buyers and marketers estimate that their revenue and customer base will only grow in the coming years. People who use the Etsy platform are already looking for unique products, which gives you access to a very specific audience. You can get a lot of organic traffic from Etsy’s homepage, which can also supplement your marketing efforts.
- Offers Built-In Analytics: Etsy analytics gives you access to many metrics that offer insights into traffic and buyer behavior.
Cons of Etsy
- Saturated Market: Etsy has over 2.5 million sellers and each year, the number keeps growing. The top sellers offer goods like jewelry, clothing, home décor, crafts, toys, and games. So unless new sellers come up with extremely unique offerings, they will be competing with thousands of similar products.
- Etsy Fees: Although Etsy’s fee structure is simple, these charges can add up and bring up the cost of operating your store quite significantly. Additionally, Etsy Payments, which allows credit card payments, charges a sizable fee. Even if you choose to change your payment gateway, payments will still be processed through Etsy, which means you will have to pay the higher fee.
In my opinion Etsy is a brilliant marketplace with lots of existing traffic, however it won’t suit everyone. Before you jump into it make sure your products have demand on the Etsy platform. Etsy customers typically tend to like artsy / craft items, if you are still unsure read the guide below.
Wondering whether Etsy or Shopify is a better choice for you? This guide will help.
What was once a simple bookstore has now expanded and become the world’s most visited website, making its founder the world’s richest man. Over 206 million people are Amazon customers, which equals exceptional exposure for your online store.
This is the platform we used when we first started selling online all those years ago. Without Jeff Bezoz and Amazon we’d could of still been working our old 9 – 5 jobs.
Pros of Amazon
- Sell Virtually Anything: Amazon is the best marketplace for people who are interested in moving large quantities of products. Amazon allows its users to sell almost anything and the sheer diversity of its offering is what makes it such a powerful magnet for customers. If you price your products right, you can have an extremely lucrative business.
- Start Selling Fast: You can create your Amazon store very quickly and manage everything from seller central.
- Larger Audience: Of course, the sheer size of Amazon’s target audience is a huge bonus for online sellers. Despite there being so many sellers, you can generate a decent amount of revenue because of the traffic.
- Ad Options: Amazon provides marketing opportunities to sellers and has numerous ad options, including Sponsored Products, Sponsored Brands, Sponsored Display, video and custom ads, and the Amazon Demand-Side Platform.
- Fulfillment by Amazon: A notable perk of Amazon is its Fulfillment by Amazon feature, which allows you to pay to store your products in their fulfillment centers. When a customer places an order, Amazon picks the product from its shelves and delivers the item. FBA products are also eligible for free shipping in certain cases.
- Protection Against Copycats: Amazon Brand Registry can offer you protection from scammers who sell knockoff products.
Cons of Amazon
- Bigger Competition: To make sure your products are visible, you will need to adopt strategies such as SEO to bring a bigger portion of Amazon’s customer base to your store.
- Pricing Adjustments: To remain competitive, you will constantly need to adjust your pricing while not harming your profit margin. If your competition is selling the same product at a lower price, you will ultimately lose out.
- Additional Fees: Amazon requires you to pay a monthly fee to use its platform. Plus, you also need to pay an additional selling fee to Amazon, which further reduces your margin.
If you are a regular reader you’ll know that our core business started on Amazon. The video below explains exactly how we got started and by using this method you could get started too.
Globally, there are over 25 million sellers on eBay with 7 million in the United States alone. Like Amazon, eBay is a gigantic platform. However, the level of trust associated with it is lower. There is no denying the power of eBay when it comes to online marketplaces though.
Pros of eBay
- Start Selling Fast: eBay is one of the best options if you want to start selling fast. The platform allows sellers to quickly set up shop and gain traction quickly.
- Access to a Large Audience: There are over 167 million users on eBay, which means you have access to a huge market that is already prepared to buy your products.
- eBay Ad Options: Like all major marketplaces, eBay allows you to meet your targets with the help of ads. Ads can help you build brand awareness, purchase valuable placement on the eBay homepage, get high-impact, above-the-fold ads, and improve your reach across premium partner sites.
Cons of eBay
- Seller Fees: Since you are using the platform to gain a profit, you will have to subscribe to a monthly plan. They will also charge you a non-refundable fee to list an item and an insertion fee to add the same item in another category. You also have to pay a final value, which is a percentage of the price of every transaction and the shipping fee. Make sure you check your budget and price your products accordingly if you want to remain profitable.
- Intense Competition: The price of selling through eBay is encountering a huge amount of competition. This means you will need to put in a lot of extra effort, including using paid ads to gain traction for your brand.
- Managing Your Store: Amazon provides a lot of features that can help you seamlessly manage your eStore, including shipping and return features. However, the same is not true for eBay and sellers have to do the heavy-lifting themselves by listing products, picking stock, shipping products, and more.
We’ve had limited experience on eBay, sold a few thousand units but it didn’t really suit our business model. It’s a great marketplace there’s no doubt about it, but you’ll need the right products and the right set up to make the most of it.
As you can see, all of the above platforms offer a lot of benefits, but each comes with a cost. Determining whether you want to build your own eCommerce store or sell through an online marketplace depends on how willing you are to create your site from scratch, how much effort you want to put into generating traffic, and how much budget you have, among other factors.
It also depends on which mode of online selling best suits your brand. For example, luxury sellers prefer to build their own online store rather than pay for a space in an online marketplace. However, today, more and more high-end brands are also selling through online marketplaces.
Although the decision may seem daunting at first, with a bit of research, you will be able to quickly decide on the best platform to sell online.
Good luck and let me know if you have any questions!