When starting out in online selling, the easiest and quickest way to start is by signing up to one of the many online marketplaces. Why? They already attract a huge audiences (most in the millions) so it’s like setting up a shop in a very very busy shopping mall. Of course, the downside of that is you’re fighting for attention over many many other shops BUT it’s costs effective and gives you time to find out what works and what doesn’t work before you outlay additional costs connected to setting up on your own.
We started our online selling journey back in 2011 - things were definitely different 10 years ago. Social media was nowhere near the level it’s at now and marketplaces rules have changed since the beginning but I’m going to give a short break down of the experiences we had on each platform to help you weigh up which may be the best starting place for you.
- eBay (August 2011 - April 2019)
eBay was our first selling outlet - in the beginning, we designed and made wall art and decals. At the time, we were one of the only major producers in the UK (since then it’s become a very saturated market!) and eBay was a great outlet - you can set up your own eBay store and customise, it allows customers to follow your store and has a Newsletter option allowing you to send instant notifications to customers about new products and promotions. Personally, I found the Seller protection on eBay pretty good. As long as you do everything right your end - send on time, send items as described etc, they have your back. You will always get “chancers” but I found generally, eBay was good and would recommend as a first online shop due to the listing ease and vast customer base.
- Amazon (Sept 2011 - April 2020)
I had a love/ hate relationship with Amazon as a marketplace. I think it’s tailored more towards sellers who can ship stock items to the Prime Warehouses. This doesn’t work very well with handmade/ personalised items. Since this is the only avenue I have experience with - that reflects my experience.
There’s no denying Amazon is a huge marketplace with great exposure. We made a great livelihood from Amazon for many years but there were also a lot of tough and often unfair rules that are very restrictive.
With the explosion of Prime delivery, customers found it difficult to differentiate between Prime delivery (next day) and standard third party shipping time - for handmade items, next day delivery was almost always impossible and last year, we decided Amazon was going in a different direction than what worked well for us. If you have ready to ship products - it’s a good market. Personally I would save yourself the extra fees and ship directly yourself if you can, or if time or space don’t allow, their warehouses offer a great outlet to small businesses.
- Etsy (January 2020 - Present Day)
I was late to the game when it came to Etsy but I have to say, for the handmade or personalised market, it’s unbeatable. UK readers are probably aware of Not on the High Street (an online marketplace specialising in personalised goods) - we were thrilled to be invited to be a partner on the site back in 2016. Sadly we found the commission they took just too high in comparison to other marketplaces and so made our shop inactive a couple of years ago. Etsy was the perfect balance between fair fees and a great fit for our brand.
I have found the customers on Etsy to be lovely, friendly and supportive - they understand handmade items are made with love and sometimes a little time and are appreciative of the extra special items they are buying.
Etsy as a marketplace are equally fair to customers and sellers and provide great support if needed. The site is easy to use and is improving all the time - it’s definitely my pick of a marketplace!
When to branch out on your own..
When you start a new business, the first thing you want is a website right? Not necessarily, if you are newly starting out at selling (I’m not talking about selling services - these will always need websites straight away!) but if you’re selling items, websites can be an overhead you don’t need in the early days until you’ve established your brand, have built a customer base or have done some good SEO research. Once you’ve started to achieve any of those things, it might be time to set up shop! There are lots of website building sites that can make it much easier to design your site and upload your designs (you don’t need to be an I.T genius!) and once you start to get a steady flow of organic sales through your own website, you’re well on your way to becoming the online shop you’ve probably always imagined.
What experiences have you had with online marketplaces? Share below!