Learning how to sell online can be daunting. You have to figure out what products to sell and where to source them.
But knowing how to sell online successfully has also never been more lucrative.
Online sales in the US will top $500bn in 2019. You’re here because you fancy a slice of that pie right?
Well I’ve got good news for you: in this guide, I’ll show you how to:
- Work out a strategy for selling online
- Sell through your own store, a marketplace like Amazon and social media
- Find products to sell online
- Attract customers and turn browsers into buyers
I’ll also run through a checklist of what you need to start selling online.
So if you want to know how to sell online, you’ve come to the right place. If you’re worried it will be too technical, take too long or cost too much, don’t worry: we’ll walk you through it step by step.
The best thing is thanks to store builders (more on this later), selling online has never been easier.
Gone are the days where you’d need a storefront lease, a warehouse and staff to build a business. There are lots of different ways to sell online, but our top tip is to use online store builders. It’s cheaper than you may think. From just $17 a month, you can sell your products online through a store you control. If you’re in a hurry, our top three recommended ecommerce platforms to sell online are:
We’ll show you how to sell online and point out extra resources that will help. After reading, you’ll be ready to take the first step on your ecommerce journey! This guide is about how to sell online. For information on how to build an online store, or a comparison of our top ecommerce platforms, head over to our chart and guides.
Working out how to sell online can feel overwhelming (we know from firsthand experience). We’re here to help you sort through the most popular choices and find the best way to sell online for you.
Top Three Ways to Sell Online
- Ecommerce store builders like Shopify and BigCommerce
- Marketplaces like Amazon, Etsy and eBay
- Social media sites like Facebook
But here’s the thing to remember: you don’t have to choose between them. You can sell online across different channels, without hiring an army of staff, giving up on sleep OR growing another pair of arms.
In a nutshell, ecommerce store builders provide apps that allow you to integrate your online selling with Amazon, Facebook – the works! Linking your online store to your social media or a marketplace can be done at the click of a button.
This means your products are synced with, for example, your Facebook page. So when a customer visits your Facebook page, they’ll see the products listed on your online store. Update a product on your online store, and the product also gets updated on your Facebook page. You can sell online on multiple channels, but manage your business from one place – magic!
It’s why a good store builder is like a smartphone. With your smartphone you can manage your life from one place. In the same way, ecommerce store builders are a one-stop-shop for selling online.
Let’s dig into how to sell online in a bit more detail.
Selling On Your Own Ecommerce Store
Running your own store is the best way to sell online because you’re in complete control. You decide the look and feel of your store and how your products are presented.
You’re not vulnerable to external factors, such as algorithm updates, and you don’t have to compete in a crowded market.
If you want to change something, you can. You don’t have to wait for Amazon or Facebook.
An algorithm update means a platform like Facebook has changed how it decides which pages and content to favor (we’ll explain later why this is a challenge for anyone selling online).
Online store builders let you showcase your products and process sales in a faster and easier way than ever before.
You can automate a lot of mundane processes, giving you more time to focus on other parts of your business.
Plus, your ecommerce store can literally be “open” 24 hours a day.
Our top three platforms for fresh ecommerce entrepreneurs like you are:
- Shopify – read our Shopify Review
- Wix – read our Wix eCommerce Review
- BigCommerce – read our BigCommerce Review
Don’t just take our word for it. Over 600,000 people, for example, sell online through businesses powered by Shopify.
One thing to keep in mind is these platforms are designed to help you sell. The templates (pre-designed themes that you use to fill your store with content and colors) are created with selling in mind.
We’ve ranked our top three based on hours of research and hands-on trial-and-error. The comparison chart below shows how they compare in the areas that matter most. Whichever platform you choose, you’ll be able to run a successful store and sell products online for a set monthly fee – no matter how technically-skilled you are!
To start selling on your own ecommerce store, the first step is to create an account.
Each of the rated platforms offer a free trial period, so you can test it out before spending any of your hard-earned dollars. You can sign up using the buttons in the table below.
Having your own store when selling online gives you credibility. Internet shoppers are a cynical bunch and the more reasons you can give them to trust you, the more likely they are to buy from you.
Having your own shop online makes you look professional.
Think about this for a moment.
Would you be more likely to buy a pair of sneakers from a seller with just an Amazon account? Or one with their own branded website, integrated with social media and marketplaces?
Next, we’ll look at selling on some of the biggest marketplaces in the world.
Before we move on, though, there are two big reasons why ecommerce platforms are the best way to sell online: abandoned cart recovery and mobile responsiveness.
Abandoned Cart Recovery
Abandoned cart allows you to email customers who have reached the checkout page but given up on their order. Maybe they left the kettle on. Maybe the internet crashed.
Either way, you can remind them of their order and give them the chance to complete it without filling all the details out again.
This can have a HUGE effect on your bottom line.
Think of online selling as similar to fishing. Abandoned cart recovery is like having a special net that scoops up loads of the fish that have managed to wriggle out of your first trawl!
At the moment Wix does not have an abandoned cart recovery feature, but it’s working on it!
39% of US internet users have placed an online order on their mobile within the past month, research shows.
Just let that sink in.
If you want to know how to sell online successfully, your store must work as well on mobile as a desktop or laptop.
That’s where ecommerce platforms come in: your store is automatically designed to work well on mobile. So it doesn’t matter how big your customer’s screen is, browsing and buying your products will be very smooth.
Ecommerce platforms are the best way to sell online. They’re an ecommerce Swiss army knife, giving you the tools to sell across different channels from a branded store you control. This article deals with how to sell online. For information on a specific platform, including how to sell on Shopify, BigCommerce and Wix, read our comparison chart and platform reviews.
Selling on Marketplaces: Amazon, Etsy and eBay
Selling on a marketplace like Amazon, Etsy or eBay is extremely popular. It’s estimated that Amazon alone now has well over two million sellers!
And it’s not hard to see why…
The barrier to entry for selling on an online marketplace is very low. In simple terms, all you need to do is:
- Create an account
- List a product for sale with a description, price and image
- Set up a fulfilment method (how your product will be delivered)
- Accept payment from a customer
- Prepare the item to be shipped
It really is that straightforward.
Marketplaces such as Amazon and Etsy expose you to a massive number of potential customers and enable you to start selling very quickly.
The tricky thing is, how do you stand out from the crowd?
Why should a shopper buy from you if your storefront looks almost identical to your competition? To become successful, you need your own online store to stand apart.
While selling directly on Amazon or eBay is a lot easier nowadays, relying solely on them can be a huge mistake.
For instance, the Amazon search algorithm is always changing so your products might show up one day, and might not the next.
There are always new competitors popping up and undercutting your price to win customers.
While we all understand that a price war is good for nobody (it’s a race to the bottom and everybody profits less), there’s always somebody willing to cut their price to win the customer from you.
After all, it’s not easy to “brand” yourself in marketplaces such as Facebook, Amazon or eBay. So to a lot of shoppers, you’re just another merchant with the same product. And they’re going to look for the product that’s the cheapest and has decent reviews… and let’s face it, reviews can be faked.
Creating a brand for yourself can help you build a valuable asset.
A good brand gives trust to shoppers. At the core, trust is hugely important when it comes to learning how to sell online successfully.
You wouldn’t buy things online if you didn’t trust the brand, right?
That said, marketplaces can be effective if you want to only sell a small number of products. This is because you can get online and start selling with no support, minimal upfront costs and no background knowledge.
Marketplaces do charge transaction fees, so check before you sign up. These can be heftier than you think. eBay, for example, will take 10% of any sale you make – more than any of our recommended ecommerce platforms!
Here’s the lowdown on selling through Amazon, Etsy and eBay.
Selling On Amazon
By selling on Amazon, you’re essentially borrowing its reputation, even though you’re a third-party seller.
The marketplace is hugely popular with people selling electronics, books and DVDs. But even though you’re in a market, you’ll still be competing with some of the world’s biggest retailers – almost everyone from Walmart to Costco will have a presence on Amazon.
You can offer delivery options that are convenient for your customers at a competitive price. Pay a bit extra, and Amazon will store and deliver your goods for you. This makes it a very attractive one-stop-ecommerce-shop for online sellers who are just starting out.
Fees vary depending on what you’re selling and in what quantities, so check Amazon’s fees before you start out.
Selling On Etsy
Etsy is a marketplace used predominantly by people selling arts and crafts. It’s like a niche Amazon, allowing vendors to sell products next to like-minded entrepreneurs. As a result, the customer-base is more focused.
Customers tend to have more cash to splash and the more personal feel means Etsy is a good place to build up a brand.
Etsy’s fees are a bit softer than Amazon’s, but the listing and final sales fees can still eat into your profits if you’re not careful.
Selling On eBay
Here’s the thing to bear in mind: eBay is like an old-school marketplace – it’s a bidding world.
This means that buyers aren’t obliged to pay you the cash instantly, which can waste your time and make it difficult to fulfill your short-term business strategy.
There’s no focus to eBay. You can pretty much sell anything you like. This makes it very accessible, but means it can be next to impossible to build a brand and stand out from the crowd.
Fees are surprisingly high, so if you do decide to sell on eBay make sure you’ve factored that in when crunching the numbers.
The problem of selling exclusively through Facebook is that you have to manually manage orders, which can be very time-consuming.
On the other hand, if you sell through an ecommerce platform linked to your Facebook page, you can manage all your product updates and inventory from one place. Shopify’s integration with Facebook, for example, is terrific!
See for yourself by hitting the button below to start selling on Shopify!
Once you’ve decided how to sell online, it’s time to think about your business strategy. You don’t have to be Warren Buffett, but it pays do a bit of preparation.
We know from firsthand-experience how tricky it can be to get an online business off the ground.
It can feel a long, long journey from a great idea to your first sale.
Don’t panic – we’re here to help you on that journey and one of the first steps is to work out a business strategy. In this section, we’ll run through some of the key questions to ask before you start selling online.
This isn’t a definitive list (as you start selling, you’ll learn more about how your market works), but it’s a good starting point. It’ll also help you pick the best ecommerce platform by making you think about what your online store needs.
Grab paper and a pen and get ready to start sketching out your online ecommerce strategy. A workable business strategy doesn’t have to be full of complex graphs or forecasts only a Harvard math graduate would understand.
- What do you hope to achieve? Think about how much money you hope to make and how many products you hope to sell in the first six months. Do your research and benchmark against ecommerce success stories in your industry. Not having even rough financial targets would be like driving down the highway blindfolded – you’ll get very lost and find yourself in trouble pretty quickly!
- What margin are you looking to make? Anyone can blindly start selling online, but you’re here to learn how to sell online right? In that case you need to work out your margin. Let’s keep it simple. Find out how much it costs you to produce / buy and then deliver your product and minus this from how much you want to charge customers. Bingo, you’ve got a margin. If you’re not sure what to charge, do some research and find out what sellers are charging for items similar to your product. Which leads us on to…
- Who are your competitors? When it comes to selling online, standing on the shoulders of giants helps you see further. There’s no shame in learning from the best. Run a search in Amazon, Google and Facebook for the products you want to sell and see who appears near the top. Chances are these are the sellers who’ve got it figured out. Look at their product descriptions, images and page layout and make a list of things they’re doing well. Signing up to newsletters is a great way of staying on top of how rivals are pricing and promoting products (and picking up a few tips on email marketing yourself). Think about how you can do it better – after all, you’re looking to stand out from the crowd right?
- How are people spending their money online? The better you know your customers, the better you can match their needs. And the better you match their needs, the more dollars you’ll make. A huge part of this is letting customers pay how they want to (we’ve got more on payment later).
- How will customers find you and your products? A surprising number of ecommerce entrepreneurs forget to think about this when learning how to sell online. You can attract customers by blogging about your products or sending out email campaigns. We’ll go into more detail on these techniques later but start thinking about which method suits your business best.
Answering these questions is a crucial step in learning how to sell online successfully. It will give you a concrete idea of what you hope to achieve, and how you can get there. Now it’s time to talk about arguably the most important thing: your products
“Don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customers”. We love this quote from dot com business supremo Seth Godin – it sums up how if you want to sell online, your products are critical. Your online store may look top-of-the-range, but if no one wants to buy what you’re selling, you’re not going to do well.
Think about it: a restaurant can have fancy tables and classy waiters, but if the food tastes bad are people going to eat there? Similarly, even if your online store is polished and your customer service is excellent, you’ll struggle to grow if your products are poor.
Here’s the good news: we’re about to show how you can make sure there is a demand for your products…and that you’re giving them the best chance to fly off the virtual shelves.
We’ve broken it down to three key questions:
- How do you know what products to sell online?
- How do you source products to sell online?
- How do you present products so they sell?
Your products don’t have to be physical. With online store builders like Shopify you can easily sell digital products such as ebooks.
The questions below will help you make a savvy decision for your online business.
How do you know what products to sell online?
All ecommerce entrepreneurs dream of predicting the ‘next big thing’. Imagine knowing in advance what the best-selling or trending products of 2018 will be.
If there was a simple way to do this, we’d all be millionaires!
What you can do is work out the demand for your products. This is all about maximizing your chances of success.
So how do you do this?
Let me show you a few techniques.
- Use Google Trends – a great tool for working out which products are rising in popularity and which ones are not. Results are based on the popularity of your chosen search term in Google over time. Let’s say you want to sell clothes online, but aren’t sure whether to sell floral shirts, Hawaiian shorts or retro sweatshirts. You can enter all three and see which one is growing in popularity. Set the country to where you expect your customers to live (we’ve chosen the United States) and off you go! Make sure you look for any spikes. For example, if shoes are especially popular in December, you might want to increase your marketing in that month.
- Conduct keyword research. Once you’ve got a product idea, enter it into Google’s Keyword Analysis tool. You’ll see data on how many people search for that product each month (popularity) and how competitive the keywords are (how many other businesses are selling the product). As a general rule, avoid selling any product with fewer than 300 monthly searches. What’s the point in advertising a product there’s no demand for? You want to sell online to make money, right?
- Read online forums – forums and review sites give you a direct insight into the problems facing customers. It’s like sitting in a room with millions of customers and asking them what they think of certain products. Pick out any complaints customers have and use them to fashion your product choice and business strategy.
- Learn from big stores – large online sellers collect a vast amount of data every single day. They know better than anyone what’s hot and what’s not. Check the product pages of the biggest names in your sector to see what’s selling at the moment. Are there any trends you can piggyback on? Also use Amazon, Etsy and eBay’s own sales data by frequently checking the ‘Best Sellers’ page of the industry you’re working in. eBay even has a trending page. Adverts in newspapers and magazines are also a good way of checking what products big stores are backing in any given month.
- Sell what you love – If you have a passion (like makeup or art, for example), that should affect your choice of what to sell. Writing product descriptions, running marketing campaigns and selling your product is much easier if you believe in it yourself. This doesn’t mean you should try to sell products related to a hobby regardless of whether there is a market for them or not. Do the research first. But if it turns out there’s an appetite for a product related to your passion, well, that’s the sweet spot!
There are also practical issues you need to take into account.
Let me explain.
Products that are an awkward size, fragile or perishable (like food) are generally more expensive to stock and to ship. When deciding what to sell online, take this into account as it can have a big impact on your bottom line.
How do you source products to sell online?
Generally, the three most popular ways to source products to sell online are:
- Purchasing from a wholesaler / manufacturer – you buy the products you want from a wholesaler or a manufacturer, before adding your branding and marking them up. Costs include buying the product (typically in bulk, especially if from a manufacturer), storing it in a warehouse, upkeep and shipping. Very easy to scale up if you choose a reliable and highly-rated supplier.
- Making the product yourself – if you’re someone who creates your own products, this route will be attractive. It’s commonly used by people selling art, jewellery, and crafts. The main costs are materials and the time you need to invest to make the product. Great for developing a personalized brand, and gives you great freedom to control stock and pricing, but can be very difficult to scale up without hiring staff.
- Sourcing the product from a dropshipper – an increasingly popular way to sell products online. Enables sellers like you to fulfil orders to customers without ever stocking or handling the product yourself. Here’s how it works on a basic level: you list products available from a dropshipper you’ve built a relationship with; a customer places an order on your store and pays you; the order is passed onto the dropship supplier, who delivers the product straight to the customer. See our in-depth dropshipping guide to find out how to do it.
How do you present products so they sell?
Once you’ve decided what products to sell and worked out how to source them, it’s time to sell them. After all, even if the food in a restaurant is delicious, you’re less likely to buy it if the menu is poorly written and the pictures on the billboard outside look revolting, right?
So when you decide to sell products online, how do you display them so they actually sell? The two principal parts of how to sell online successfully are:
- Product images
- Product descriptions
How To Add Product Images
Your products may be great, but how can you sell online successfully if your images don’t do them justice?
The cool thing is that you don’t need to be a professional photographer to give your store great images.
Just follow these general rules:
- Always use high-quality images – if it looks blurry, you will lose customers.
- Use the same image dimensions every time. You can use a tool like Paint to resize the width and height of images.
- Provide as many views as possible – the more you can give customers a 360-degree view of your product, the more comfortable they will feel buying it.
- Make sure each product variant (for example, a tee-shirt in a different color) has its own image
- Give your customers context by showing images of your product in use whenever possible.
We cover our golden rules in more detail in our guide on how to design a product page.
Ecommerce platforms are a great option if you want to know how to sell online because they give such great flexibility with how you want to display products. Using Shopify’s editor, for example, you can crop, enhance, resize or add text to a product image.
Check out how stylish these bags look on Shopify-powered Ethnotek’s website:
Online store builders also help you add alt text to your images – a huge plus for SEO. These are little bits of text that tell Google what your image is about and help your product page rank in results pages. Think of alt tags as the labels on an item of clothing in a shop. They tell you everything you need to know about the dress or shirt: the color, the size, the fabric – all so you’re completely clear what you’re buying!
How to Start an Online Store – Our complete step-by-step guide on setting up your online store
How to Start an Online Clothing Store – A closer look at the things to consider when selling clothes online
How To Write Product Descriptions
We’re not too keen on the label product descriptions. The words you add to your store should do far more than just describe the product.
In fact, they’re one of your most effective ways to attract customers.
The biggest reason for this is SEO. Search Engine Optimization should be one of your top considerations when crafting a winning product description. SEO is the technique of increasing traffic to your store through organic search results (the list that appears when you type something into Google). To rank for search terms related to your products, your descriptions need to include keywords – popular words your customers are looking up.
Let’s say you’re selling floral Hawaiian shirts. Your description might say: “Funky floral Hawaiian shirts available. We’ve got cheap vintage shirts available in a range of sizes and colors”.
The words in the bold are examples of keywords. When writing a description, make a list of keywords related to your product and make sure you incorporate at least three or four.
Here are some key do’s and don’ts when writing product descriptions:
- Don’t copy and paste the manufacturer’s description. It looks amateurish and Google may punish you for duplicate content by knocking your site down its rankings.
- Do highlight the benefits of the product, as well as the features, to your customer. For instance, don’t just describe your pink Hawaiian shirt (feature), explain how it’s going to help your customer look cool at party (benefit).
- Don’t use cliches such as “game-changer” or “must-have” – the more original and less robotic you can be, the more your customers will reward you.
- Do write for your customers. Speak in their language and think about what motivates them to buy. With the right words, you can sell ice to the Eskimos.
- Don’t vary your style from product to product. This will create confusion for your customers and make your store look clunky.
- Do add social proof. There’s no better stamp of approval than from customers who have bought your product and are happy with it. This is simple to do. For example, with online store builders you can add reviews and any media coverage to your product page.
- Don’t lie. This may sound obvious, but many people who want to know how to sell online make the mistake of mis-selling their products.
- Do tell your story. If your business has a compelling backstory, don’t be afraid to tell it.
To finish this section, let’s have a peek at an example of a quality product description on a Wix store:
This is the point where we give you a checklist of the key things you need to sell online, from payment to shipping. Once you’ve got it sorted, you’ll be ready to start attracting customers.
Here’s the idea: you run through this list and ask yourself, have I sorted this out?
If the answer’s yes, then you know how to sell online and you’re ready to make money.
On the other hand, if you haven’t addressed one of these areas, it’s very important you do so. Put a tick next to each item you’ve sorted.
- Shipping and fulfillment – you need to have set up a delivery method for your products.
- Payment – you need to add a payment option to your store.
- Customer service – make sure shoppers have at least one way of getting in touch with you.
- Licenses and taxes – check and double check that you have the right small business licenses to sell online.
- Security – make sure your store or page has the right security so your customers’ data is protected.
If you want more information about any of the things in our checklist, head to our FAQs.
Now you’ve run through our checklist, it’s time to attract customers. This is the jazzy bit of learning how to sell online.
We’ll introduce you to some of the most effective methods to market your store. These are customer-winning tricks we’ve tried ourselves that you can start using right now. They’re easy wins that won’t cost you a cent. We won’t go into online ads in this guide because if you’re new to how to sell online, there are other methods you should try first.
Don’t feel you have to try all of these techniques. Experiment and see which one works best for you.
A useful exercise is to imagine you are your target customer and ask yourself: where would I look for the products I want?
Would I go on social media? Search Google?
The more bases you can cover, the more chance you have of making a sale!
One of the biggest weapons in your marketing arsenal is social media.
You have access to billions of potential customers at your fingertips. Play around with posting links to products, advertising promotions and sharing information about your brand on a range of different sites.
To start with, we recommend trying: Facebook; Instagram and Pinterest. Latch on to relevant trends by including hashtags in your posts.
These tools are also a great way to connect with customers.
The cost to entry is very low on social media sites. One tool we like that helps you manage posts across several different platforms is Hootsuite.
How To Sell Online: Social Media
All your store’s content, from product descriptions to blog posts should help your site rank higher in Google.
Ranking high for your relevant search terms in engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing is like having a flagship outlet on every high street in America! You’ve got the best chance of customers finding you and your products.
Make sure the content on your online store relates directly to your product. You want to attract the right online footfall so that visitors are more likely to make a purchase.
Store builders like Wix eCommerce provide excellent SEO support. They also make it easy to integrate Google Analytics, which shows you a whole load of data about your customers – from location to age. Information you can use to improve your store.
Blogging is a great way to boost your store’s SEO and sell your brand at the same time.
Let’s say you run a store selling retro sports kit. You write a fun blog post on “the 80s sportswear still around today”. It gets picked up on social media and people searching for “80s sportswear” start to find it on Google.
A few of those readers click out from the blog post to some of your products. Boom – you’re in business!
Regularly posting about your industry also positions you as a thought-leader – someone people look to for advice.
If you’ve gone down the online store builder route, adding a blog page is easy and can be done in your platform’s editor.
Have a go at these types of blog post to get started:
- Brand updates – sharing behind-the-scenes company news really humanizes your brand and helps customers connect with
- Product updates – if you’ve got a stylish new product, shout about it! Take advantage of a blog’s length to go into detail about why your product is great.
- Tutorials – show how your product works by posting a how-to guide. Our example sportswear brand might post: “how to find the perfect running shoes for you”.
We love email marketing.
It’s a really personal connection with your customers. If done well, it can feel you’re having a fireside chat with an individual shopper.
Make sure your store, social media or marketplace page has an email capture box so you can gather email addresses from visitors to your store.
You should also be collecting the email of each customer who makes a purchase. This gives you a great opportunity to gently retarget them with new offers or products you think they might like.
Top tip: if your email is promoting a sale or limited-time deal, keep it brief. Too many words or pictures can distract from your core message. Keep subject lines short (under 50 characters) – any longer and they may be truncated!
One thing worth mentioning: email campaigns do take a bit of time to manage and run properly. They work best for stores that are up and running. If you’re just starting out selling online, building up your audience with blogging, SEO and social media first is a good idea!
Running promotions and deals is a great way to whip up interest in your products.
You can run promotions on Amazon and Facebook, but in our experience it’s most effective on your own online store.
Here’s a great example of a promotion from a store run on Wix:
When learning how to sell online, it can be difficult to know where to start. In this guide we’ve introduced you to some of the most popular and effective ways to sell your products online.
You can sell on a marketplace such as Amazon, a social media platform like Facebook or an online store you’ve created and you control.
The thing to remember is thanks to ecommerce platforms, you don’t have to choose.
You can sell across multiple channels but manage your business from one place.
Don’t rely solely on setting up product pages on marketplaces because Facebook and Amazon are constantly changing. You just never know what’s going to happen to your product listings tomorrow.
The best way to build a stronger business is for you to build your own ecommerce website. This can help you brand your business better, and you can design a great looking store instead of having a cookie-cutter looking page on Amazon.
Building your own professional looking ecommerce website nowadays is a lot easier than before. Ecommerce platforms help you to set up your own storefront without you having to know how to code.
They also give you access to powerful marketing tools to help sell your products. Just to recap, our top three are:
They’re free to try so you can start testing them out to see which one you enjoy working with most.
Good luck and happy selling!
How do you sort out shipping when selling online?
A big part of how to sell online is delivering products. In ecommerce this is known as fulfilment.
Whether you sell on Amazon, Facebook or Shopify, you need to set up a delivery method. Different delivery methods cost different amounts, so set your commercial goals and be ready to compromise. For example, free shipping is a great benefit for your customers, but will cost you more to deliver.
Here’s how shipping works after you’ve made an online sale: you package the sold product based on size and weight, confirm the destination, confirm the courier and the cost and send off the package.
Generally, you will need to choose from five shipping options:
- Rate by order price – customers can get reduced shipping if they spend a certain amount.
- Store or local pick-up – if you run a bricks-and-mortar store, customers can come in and pick their order in person.
- Real-time quotes – prices are worked out based on the order’s size, weight and destination.
- Flat-rate – the shipping is the same price, no matter what the product.
- Free shipping – customers don’t pay to have orders delivered.
When choosing a shipping method, ask:
- Are my products different sizes and different weights?
- Am I shipping my products nationally or internationally?
- What shipping options will my customers expect?
The number of options actually available to you will depend on how you sell online. Store builders like Shopify give you a wider range of delivery options than selling on Facebook.
Some items, such as alcohol and cigarettes, fresh food, nail polish and deodorant come with shipping restrictions. Check with your carrier and read the fine print when setting up shipping.
Step 8 of our guide on how to build an online store goes into more detail.
What payment options can I choose from?
When selling online, you’ll have a number of payment options to choose from.
These include: PayPal, credit and debit cards, Amazon Pay, Apple Pay and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.
As with shipping, the number of payment options at your disposal will vary depending on how you’re selling online. Ecommerce store builders, for example Shopify, Wix and Bigcommerce, will typically give you the greatest variety.
How do you choose a payment option?
Learning how to sell online involves choosing the right payment method.
To make the right decision, you need to do your research.
Make sure you know how your customers want to shop. For example, Statista found that in America 55% of customers preferred to use a credit card in 2017, followed by 25% who liked to use PayPal. So if you don’t offer PayPal you’re alienating a lot of customers!
When picking a payment processor, look at:
- Fees – how much the payment gateway will take as a percentage of each sale, but also setup and cancellation costs.
- Limitations – make sure your preferred payment method accepts your products.
- Ease-of-use – place a demo order using your chosen payment gateway to make sure the process is smooth.
- Countries covered – make sure the payment gateway you’ve chosen covers the country your customers are in.
What do I do about customer service?
Customer service is an area people learning how to sell online undervalue.
Online shoppers expect good service as the norm nowadays. Make sure you:
- Include contact information so customers can get in touch
- Offer a LiveChat service
- Are ready to respond to email inquiries and phone calls
Top tip: write out a clear shipping and returns policy and add it to your store. It will save you a lot of headaches. Your customers will be clear what to expect and you’ll save time answering routine inquiries. Time you can then spend growing your brand and making sales!
Do I need a license to sell online?
To sell online you must apply for a business license. It’s how the government keeps track of tax revenue.
Selling online without the right license can land you with a hefty fine, so make sure you’ve got your paperwork in order.
The point at which you need to apply for a license will vary by area. Check what license you need by visiting the US Small Business Administration (SBA) website.
The SBA can also give you information on what business taxes you need to be aware of. Tax laws aren’t just to do with where you’re operating from, but where your customers are and what you’re selling them.
Check regulations around holding stock. Unless you’re dropshipping, you will need to store them at your house or a warehouse, for example. Depending on what you stock and how much, various regulations could apply.
Make sure you’re compliant.
What security do I need when I sell online?
When learning how to sell online, it’s vital you have the right security to protect against data theft.
Being PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) compliant means your customers’ card details are protected when they order from you.
One of the big benefits of a hosted ecommerce platform is they should take care of this for you. Check your chosen selling method includes PCI compliance.
The official PCI compliance guide has some handy information.
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