Skip to main content

You’ve been making a clever product and everyone says you should sell it online. Or you’ve discovered that your brick-and-mortar business could grow by offering certain products online. Now, you’re ready to jump into the world of Ecommerce, but where do you even begin? Read on to learn about the three most common methods of selling online and how to choose what’s right for you.

How to sell online successfully

Before we unpack the three methods, let’s discuss some elements that are essential no matter how you sell online.

Any Ecommerce system requires copy, aka words. You have to explain what your product is, how it works, and—most importantly—what value it brings to the buyer’s life. These are the details that will fill your product listings. You’ll want to include facts, such as dimensions, size, or color, as well as more aspirational points about how the customer would use the product and how it will improve their life. If this type of writing sounds intimidating or time consuming, you may want to hire a copywriter.

You know what they say: a picture is worth a 1,000 words. And nowhere is that truer that in the online shopping world. That means you’ll need to take great photos of your items. Drop/A Wall has some great tips on taking product photos with your iPhone. You’ll also need to determine how you want to price your products.

Above all, you must be ready and willing to deliver an excellent product that meets all of your promises. You cannot have a successful online store if you’re not able to provide what you say you will. You gotta deliver the goods.

Ecommerce essentials: copy, photos, product by Kettle Fire Creative. Etsy, Amazon, Poshmark

Selling through a marketplace

The internet is full of seller platforms that advertise easy online sales. From Etsy to Craigslist, these all-in-one options simplify the selling process—maybe to a fault. You don’t need a web developer with these options, but you will need to learn the ins and outs of your particular platform.

Many online marketplaces are restricted to certain products. Etsy sells handmade and vintage goods. Poshmark sells used fashion and home goods. Others, such as Amazon and Ebay, have broader categories.

Don’t be deceived into thinking a marketplace will take the full burden of marketing off your shoulders. We’d compare selling on these platforms to having your goods on a shelf in a big store or renting a booth at a crowded flea market. Yes, shoppers will come to the “market” on their own, but it’s your job to make sure they find you and want to buy from you.

Who should consider selling on a marketplace?

  • Businesses with products that fit the requirements
  • Hobby businesses/side ventures
  • Sellers with a low initial budget

Initial cost: varies by platform

  • Etsy — 20¢ per listing + 6.5% of each sale
  • Poshmark — free listings + 20% of each sale over $15
  • Craigslist — no listing cost or fees, except for dealer listings and certain categories
  • Amazon — 99¢ per item sold or $40 per month + 8–20% of each sale

Pros of selling on a marketplace

These platforms do draw in buyers and you can start selling with little money upfront. They take care of website-related costs like hosting and maintenance and selling-related fees like sales tax. Many boast easy-to-use interfaces, shipping discounts, and a short start-up timeline. You don’t need any web development skills, just the patience to learn the rules and tools of the platform.

Cons of selling on a marketplace

A marketplace shop is NOT a website. You have very little ability to customize the look of your shop beyond adding a logo and header image. Your domain will be long and generic (e.g. Marketplace.com/shop/shop-name). There may be a short about section, but you can’t add a blog, gallery, events page, contact page, etc. as you can on a true website.

As a trade-off for their all-in-one setup, marketplaces offer little freedom or control. You must play by the platform’s rules regarding what you sell, what you say, who you sell to, etc. Depending on what you’re selling and who is in your target audience, that may be a deal breaker. Be aware, marketplaces make their money off transaction fees—taking a cut of  each sale.

Each marketplace has an algorithm to determine which of its millions of products gets front-page ranking. Pleasing these algorithms is a never-ending game of trial and error. Popular markets become saturated and getting found can be difficult. Most offer on-site advertising for an additional fee. The niche markets only work for certain products and the open-category markets are vast and intimidating.

Ask yourself

  • What’s my budget? What can I spend upfront and each month?
  • Does my product fit a popular marketplace? If I qualify, would shoppers look for products like mine there?
  • Do I have time to invest in building and maintaining my shop? In learning and pleasing an algorithm?

Examples of marketplace shops

Ecommerce marketplace pros and cons by Kettle Fire Creative

Selling with a website builder

“Website builders” are platforms that offer pre-packaged online stores. The builder handles the hosting and gives you a generic domain. You fill your new site with your listings using a drag-and-drop interface. The result is an independent online shop with checkout abilities.

Website builders can manage Ecommerce for physical and digital goods (with platforms like Shopify or Square) or even content and online courses (platforms like Thinkific, Teachable, or Podia). Unlike marketplaces, shoppers aren’t going to visit your pre-packaged site unless you drive them there through marketing, such as paid ads, SEO, or word of mouth.

Selling online through a website builder is similar to leasing a mall cart. You have to pay “rent” every month. And you have a limited box to work with.

Who should consider a website-builder shop?

  • Businesses whose products don’t fit on a popular marketplace
  • Those who want more control/freedom over the shop appearance
  • Sellers who don’t have the initial budget for a custom website

Initial cost: varies by platform

  • Shopify — $29–39 per month for Basic level
  • Square — free starter plan; $29 per month for Plus level
  • Thinkific — $36 per month for Basic level

Pros of a pre-packaged online store

A website builder provides a simplified web development process. Typically, you drag and drop elements to create your listings and products page. Your monthly fee includes web hosting and a generic domain (e.g. YourName.myshopfiy.com). You can sell a wider variety of products than may fit the niche of a specific marketplace. You can customize colors, fonts, and header images.

Cons of a pre-packaged online store

Basic plans won’t include custom domains or the more attractive “themes.” There is some customization available, but you’re still working within a box. Despite being advertised as easy to use, there will be a learning curve if you choose to build your shop yourself. Like any DIY project, the advertised results are not typical.

A shop created by this kind of platform is still not a full-fledged website. You cannot add other web features like blogs, events, contact page, etc. The fancier and more custom you want your site to appear, the more you’ll have to pay per month. The startup cost may be lower than a custom site, but you’re locked into an ongoing monthly fee that will likely increase over time. And if you discontinue, you lose your whole shop.

Ask yourself

  • Do I have the ongoing budget for this platform?
  • Do I have the time and energy to learn how to build with this platform?
  • How will I lead customers to my site?
  • Later, will I wish I had more control/customization?

Examples of pre-packaged shops

Ecommerce website builder pros and cons by Kettle Fire Creative. Shopify, Square

Selling on a WordPress Ecommerce website

Ecommerce features can be added to a WordPress website to create your own, truly independent online shop. This is a full-blown website that can have as many pages and features (or as few) as you want. You can have a shop and a blog and an interactive map and…and…and…

With a WordPress site, the burden and control of SEO is in your hands. Shoppers won’t find your shop because they’re visiting a known marketplace, but you have many more tools at your disposal than with a pre-packaged builder site.

To continue our analogy, this is the equivalent of having your own freestanding store. It can be as customized and brand-aligned as you want, but you’ll need to hire some people to handle the initial construction and ongoing maintenance.

Who should consider selling with a WordPress site?

  • Established businesses with an existing website or online presence
  • Those who want to sell a small number of items to supplement their main services
  • Sellers who value full control of sales process, full customization

Initial cost: varies by scale of shop

  • New website — $5,000+ for web design and development + annual hosting, domain
  • Existing website — $1,000+ to add shop functionality (less for single product)

Pros of selling on a WordPress site

This is your own website, so you have control over the full sales process. You are in charge of how shoppers find you, which takes work, but isn’t the same as guessing at an algorithm. You have full customizability. The site can 100% reflect your brand.

If you’re only looking to sell a couple supplementary products, you can have your web developer add a light-weight shop function to your existing site. By contrast, you can build a massive shopping enterprise that interlinks with your articles, how-to guides, videos, and other web content.

Because you aren’t utilizing a marketplace, no one is taking a cut of your sales. Because you aren’t pre-packaged website builder, you likely shouldn’t have monthly fees holding your shop hostage. While marketplaces and platforms like Shopify have guidelines about the kinds of products that can be sold and the messaging you can use, this is less likely to be an issue with a stand-alone WordPress website.

Cons of selling on a WordPress site

The biggest hurdle is the upfront cost. You will need to pay a web developer to implement the shop for you. From there, you may be able to manage your listings yourself or you might prefer to continue to hire out the task. Like any website, you’ll need to pay for web hosting and a domain as well. Modern websites require ongoing maintenance, which should be performed by your developer.

Ask yourself

  • Is a website in my budget? Can I add this on to my existing website?
  • Which is more stressful: hiring a developer or trying to do this myself?
  • How will I lead customers to my site?

Examples of WordPress Ecommerce

WordPress Ecommerce pros and cons by Kettle Fire Creative

Choosing the right Ecommerce option

Selecting the best Ecommerce outlet is a function of a few key elements:

  • Your products
  • Your target audience
  • Your budget
  • Your willingness to learn, setup, and manage a new system

Combine these factors with the information we’ve provided to determine how you should sell online.

Selling Online: Comparing Ecommerce Options infographic by Kettle Fire Creative. Online marketplace, Etsy, Amazon, Poshmark. Website builder, Shopify, Square. WordPress Ecommerce.
How Do I Sell Online? An Intro to Ecommerce by Kettle Fire Creative

Still have questions about how to sell online? Ask us in the comments!

One Comment

Leave a Reply


The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.