In the early days of the Internet, selling online pretty much meant setting up a website, uploading products, and letting people know the online store was open for business. For a lot of decoration companies, that's still the way that e-commerce works. There are advantages to having an individual website, total control of product listings and images, the ability to showcase products in a way that works best for the target market, and no rules for what may or may not be done except those set by the owner of the site. There are also, however, drawbacks.
A good e-commerce website is generally not cheap. Setting up the infrastructure of the site may be more difficult than what would be required for a site that simply provides information. There is also the problem of getting the site noticed to gain any kind of measurable market share. Marketing budgets for small businesses may not be large, and the smallest part of that budget may be allocated to e-commerce. So, while having a personal website to sell products is an attractive option, it may not be an option for all small businesses.
For those businesses which, for one reason or another, don't prefer to have an e-commerce website connected with the business, but still wish to sell online, the next question becomes what other options are available. Fortunately, as the Internet and the interest in e-commerce have grown, many avenues for selling which don't involve maintaining an individual website have developed. If a business is considering alternative options for selling, or has an e-commerce website and is simply looking for additional market penetration, there are a few other site options to consider.
Founded in 2005, Etsy has arguably become the gold standard for crafters and artists who sell online. It started strictly as a site where people who created handmade goods could sell their work, and specialized in individual and one of a kind pieces. Over the years, the standards of the site have changed, and there is now some criticism among small businesses and individual artists that the site has expanded to let in mass produced work. Still, Etsy is one of the best known marketplaces for artistic work, and has a large share of the market.
Users do pay listing fees and a percentage of each sale made through the platform goes to the site, so that is something to take into account when calculating costs and pricing merchandise on the site.
For most people, eBay is the place to go when looking for something inexpensive or the place to sell when cleaning out their closet. It is true that eBay started out as an auction site and is still probably best known as the place to buy collectibles or sell unwanted goods that you think are worth some money. For those who create decorated items, however, eBay can also be a decent marketplace. The site has several guides dedicated to selling crafts on the site and offers help and direction for those who want to sell handmade or decorated items.
Amazon and Amazon Handmade
Amazon used to be the place where customers went to purchase books, games, or movies, but it offers so much more than those products. Through partner sellers and fulfillment services, customers can find almost any product on Amazon. The Amazon sites definitely have name recognition and extreme penetration into many markets.
The site does charge a monthly subscription fee and referral and closing fees, so those will need to be considered when determining if selling there is a viable option.
Amazon Handmade is a relatively recent addition to the Amazon brand, and is targeted at those sellers who make individual, one of a kind goods. It is billed, by some, as an alternative to Etsy. There may be advantages to selling on this platform, but make sure to read all user agreements and terms of service carefully. Some sellers have already pointed out that the sellers' agreements give an extensive list of rights to Amazon, including the right to use any pictures that are posted on the site.
For businesses that have a Facebook page, setting up a Facebook store may be a good option. People who like a Facebook page have already expressed interest in the subject of the page which, in this case, would be the business that owns the page. It only makes sense to sell directly to these engaged followers. A Facebook store is generally set up with some sort of third party software, such as Shopify, Storefront Social, or Shoptab.net. Using the third party software, a store allows customers to shop right on the page instead of guiding them to another website.
For those that blog, Wordpress is probably a familiar name. This site offers a business the ability to create a blog without the bother of building a site independently. The Wordpress software also accommodates a variety of plug-ins that can allow businesses that wish to sell their products on their blog to do so. Plug-ins like WP e-commerce and WooCommerce can be added to an established blog and used to create a shopping experience for customers.
This site is another place where people who create things can sell their creations. It bills itself as the place with a simple set up where independent decorators, designers, and craftspeople can sell their work.
The site does charge a monthly fee, but the fee is quite reasonable. Unlike other sites, Big Cartel does not take a percentage of each sale. It does, however, have a limit of 300 products.
This platform bills itself as the place where makers sell. There are no fees to set up on the site, but a commission is charged on every sale made through the site. Commission rates are based on the retail prices of the products sold. To qualify as a maker, businesses must be USA based, and have a proven ability to produce customized, made-to-order products.
If you're looking for a smaller, niche-oriented online marketplace, consider these additional options.
Selling through a third party site may be a good option for many companies, but it should be noted that it also has some drawbacks. The largest may be that the site on which the products are listed is owned by someone else, and the owner sets the rules. If a choice to sell on a third party site is made, be sure that all rules and regulations are read before any products are uploaded or any fees are paid. Some sites may have rules in place that allow the unrestricted use of uploaded photos or artwork, or there may be fees that are not clearly spelled out. Taking the time to understand the rules and requirements of a particular platform can save a lot of lost time, work, and revenue.
Also consider that selling on a third party site may not help advance the particular brand of an individual company. If a customer buys a product from a company on Etsy, Amazon, or Zazzle, the name of the platform on which the purchase was made and not the company who made the item purchased would most likely be mentioned should the purchaser be asked where they obtained the item. The companies that operate these sites are interested in promoting their brand, not the brands of the companies that sell on the site. If the intent is to use a third party site to build revenue and then move to an individual site at a later date, extra effort may be needed to impress customers enough to make the transition to an individually run site.
Finally, please keep in mind this article is intended only as an overview, and cannot possibly cover every aspect of selling through a third party or all the disadvantages and advantages of selling through a particular platform. Before choosing any platform or electing to sell through an individual website using e-commerce software, make sure the appropriate research has been conducted. Be aware of all the possible benefits and potential pitfalls of the option you choose. Also keep in mind that any option will require maintenance and an allocation of time and resources to maintain. No option, however much some platforms might claim otherwise, is going to be completely trouble and effort free. Doing the necessary research will ensure that the maximum results for the effort expended are achieved.