How to Set Up an Online Store
The world has changed, and the opportunity for creating your own business is easier than ever. There are a number of options for retail owners who want to open up shop, and they are no longer limited to a brick-and-mortar store with overhead expenses, high marketing costs and staffing needs. With several storefront options available, you can take control of your inventory and create a business from the comfort of your own home, even without computer experience or a retail background. By taking advantage of the surge in internet shopping and the ease with which it can be done, you can achieve your own goals for selling a product and generating an income at the same time.
Your website will be the face of your company. Your clients won’t have the ability to see your winning personality or work with your friendly sales team, so the site should work in your favor. There are several options for a storefront, and each one has positives and negatives to their overall usage.
An online marketplace is a website where many different individual suppliers can sell their goods. On the plus side, listing your goods on these sites makes your products searchable on a very large, widely used marketplace. The downside is that you are competing against many other sellers, and sometimes your goods can get lost in the fold. Also, there are typically certain fees associated with selling on a marketplace, as well as various requirements for setting up shop.
This online auction giant is probably the most well-known marketplace in the U.S. While eBay charges listing and final-sale fees, its 19 million-plus user base makes these fees worth it. On top of that, its simplicity makes setting up shop—including a personalized storefront, payment and shipping—relatively easy. One of its few flaws, however, is the fact that the number of sellers can be overwhelming for shoppers, and this can cause your shop to get lost in the shuffle; on top of that, eBay doesn’t allow the sale of digital, downloadable products (such as software or eBooks).
Another online giant, Amazon is one of the largest e-commerce platforms in the world. Amazon reportedly garners 85 million unique views per month, and sellers reportedly see a 50% increase in sales when they join the Amazon Marketplace. Individual sales cost $0.99 plus fees, and its professional service allows shops to make an unlimited amount of sales for $39.99 per month plus other selling fees. Like eBay, it’s easy to get lost among the other sellers on Amazon, and brand recognition is tough since most users shop for specific products, rather than brands or stores.
Etsy is a smaller e-commerce platform that showcases handmade goods, vintage items and craft supplies. With over 30 million buyers and businesses, Etsy allows unique brands a chance to showcase hard-to-find items to the world. It charges $0.20 to list an item and a 3.5% fee on the sale price. It’s really simple to list products, and it features built-in social media widgets that allow users to promote your products and let you engage with customers. Like the others on this list, though, its popularity can make recognition tough among its many other storefronts.
Perhaps not as well-known as the others on this list, Bonanza has quickly gained a reputation as a marketplace that is easy to use and caters to its buyers. Billed as “the best eBay alternative,” Bonanza allows sellers to post listings for free with a 3% selling fee. You don’t need an account to sell on the site, and it allows you to easily import listings from eBay, Etsy and Amazon. Bonanza also automatically distributes your post to both Bing and Google, and it offers a customizable chat feature for every shop. Bonanza’s main caveat is that its user base is relatively small compared to the other giants featured above, so it may take a bit more time and promotional efforts on your end to see your sales take off.
Overstock is an international e-commerce marketplace that boasts over 250 million visitors per year. Among its many offerings, O.co (as it’s commonly referred to) features copy-editing and photography services as well as dedicated account managers and targeted marketing campaigns. Overstock was mainly a place for established retailers to unload bulk inventory, but they now feature a “Main Street Revolution” marketplace that allows small businesses and minority-owned companies to sell U.S. products in the same way as their major marketplace. Prices are not listed, and companies are required to contact an Overstock representative for a quote, but because of their many services, expect the price to be more expensive than others on this list.
Whereas e-commerce marketplaces are sites that feature multiple listings from a large number of sellers, the following e-commerce platform providers host customizable, standalone storefronts that are separate from other sellers’ listings. They allow for branded and unique online shops specific only to your company. But while this is better from both a branding and aesthetic perspective, a personal store often comes at a higher price that its marketplace alternatives.
An online retail template site with hundreds of storefront options, Shopify allows sellers to create a fully personalized and elegant storefront. When compared to marketplaces, it runs a bit on the expensive side, with storefronts ranging from $29 to $179 per month plus fees, but it also offers 24/7 support, a free card reader and a $49 option for an iPad POS system. It allows you to use your own domain name, and this, along with the personalized options of all their features, can be a welcomed benefit to your brand recognition.
Another service that offers storefront hosting and hundreds of web templates, Volusion is a less-expensive alternative to Shopify. With prices ranging from $15 to $135 per month, the site also offers free templates in addition to paid premium ones. Their basic “Mini” service offers, among other features, a Facebook store, social media tools and 24/7 customer support. Their “Premium” service adds eBay and Amazon integration, a CRM and unlimited listings. One of the few pitfalls of Volusion is the relatively small bandwidths of their lower-priced packages, which can get a little expensive if you exceed the bandwidth limits.
Bigcommerce is a well-known host of online storefronts that boasts robust marketing options for its sellers. Its packages include hundreds of marketing features for no extra costs, including search engine optimization, integration with MailChimp, mobile optimization, Facebook stores and more. Bigcommerce offers a 15-day free trial, and pricing ranges from $34.95 to $199.95 per month. The site also has an enterprise service; pricing for this package starts at $999 per month, and specific quotes are available through a representative. The site’s few negatives include a lack of 24/7 customer support and themes that may appear outdated or may not be as elegant as its competitors.
More than simply an e-commerce platform, Squarespace features templates for entire sites, with e-commerce being just one of its many options. If you’re just starting out, Squarespace is a great resource that lets you build your site(s) and integrate them with an e-commerce storefront. Its sites come with search engine optimization, social media integration, analytics and 24/7 customer support. Squarespace offers a 14-day free trial, and pricing starts as low as $8 per month and tops off at $24 per month. One of its main disadvantages when compared with other options is its lack of open-source coding, which limits its customization.
Similar to Squarespace, Weebly is a drag-and-drop website builder that allows for an integrated e-commerce storefront. E-commerce integration with a shopping cart and secure checkout is set up automatically when you create a store, and it offers a mobile shop, flexible shipping options, inventory tracking and multiple payment types (i.e. Stripe, PayPal and Authorize.net). You can create a hosted site for free, and “Starter” packages that include your own domain run at $4 per month. Fully integrated e-commerce options can be purchased as part of their “Business” offering, which starts at $25 per month. While its low price and ease of use is definitely a benefit, its relatively few template options and simplicity limit the potential of its sites when compared to competitors.
Your Own Site
If the aforementioned options aren’t for you, consider opening an online store where you are in control of the user experience from start to finish. The downside of using one of the pre-made e-commerce storefronts listed above is that you wind up paying fees to the site and have relatively little control over the store’s appearance and functionality. By creating an online store from scratch, you have the chance to set things up exactly to your preferences and obtain feedback from customers to create a top-notch user experience.
It’s not as easy as the other options, but it’s also not as hard as you might think. You will need a web domain, web hosting, a dedicated IP address, SSL certificate, a shopping cart system and a payment gateway. There are various web-hosting companies offering these items in package deals, so you can simply buy the package from them and start your online retail business. This option gives you the most freedom over your store, but it can also be more time-consuming and expensive in the beginning, as you may need to hire and supervise coders, designers, writers and others as they build your site from scratch.
An online store can be a smart way to work from home and generate income for your future. Whether you decide to sell a product or services, choose a method within your price range that you’d feel comfortable managing.
It may sound like a great idea to design your own site, but if you haven’t done it before, you may get frustrated early on and give up on your business idea. There is no need to “throw in the towel” when you can use an already established system to sell your products and do it fast. Consider starting off by integrating one of the e-commerce solutions into your website, so you are up and running in a matter of hours or days instead of weeks or months. If you want to switch your storefront to something more customized, you can work on it on your own while you are still generating revenue from the template sites.
With a business degree and 10+ years of commercial writing experience, Melinda Young enjoys sharing her knowledge in a clear and concise way. Her firm belief that writing should be informative yet inspirational guides her style and the projects she chooses, from business-based articles to the latest real estate trends around the country.