Embracing ecommerce can mean a mountain of paperwork and logistical nightmares, or it can be as easy as opening a shop on a platform like Etsy. Which selling online option is right for you?
Scaling up can take many forms – while one business might be looking to expand its product offering, another may be looking for finance to open a new branch or double the workforce.
For some businesses, successful scaling up means increasing the brand’s awareness nationwide – and even around the globe. It sounds intimidating at first, but the challenges involved vary greatly depending on what type of business you run.
For example, if you sell a product, you will be tasked with overcoming shipping and logistics hurdles. Is the product perishable? Can it be stored overseas in a warehouse or will you ship each individual order?
There are many things to consider and you need to carefully chart the product’s progression from the moment you send it to the moment it arrives with the customer.
With this in mind, let’s start at the beginning – how will your customers find, order and pay for the product?
Selling online: Online shops
Starting your own website and online shop from scratch is certainly the most labour-intensive option. Not only do you have to attract all your own leads and sales, you also have to fulfil the order yourself.
Company Address, a virtual offices and mail handling services provider, has an online shop on its own WordPress website, but uses Woocommerce to power it.
According to Sylvia Schwartz, this solution has been effective and has been able to scale with the business as it grew.
“The advice we’d give to any business starting out in ecommerce is to do your research. Simply populating a website with a list of products isn’t going to cut it in today’s digitally driven, search-dominated world,” she said.
Selling online: Online marketplaces
The main distinction between a personalied online shop and a marketplace is that a shop sits on a company’s website. The shop would only sell that company’s products, whereas a marketplace, hosted by the likes of Amazon, Etsy, Asos, etc, is a platform for lots of businesses to sell from.
The benefits of a marketplace are that a brand becomes much easier to find. Consider a typical consumer looking for an item, they’re more likely to go to one of these centralised online shops to view their options, and compare prices, than scout out individual small businesses online.
In addition, a customer may be more willing to purchase an item this way, as they have the reassurances of a large brand name and payment portals – if a product ordered on Amazon is defective, they can report it and be sure of a resolution. If they order off a small standalone website, how can they put their mind at rest?
Furthermore, some of these marketplaces will also cover the logistics side of things for you. The marketplace can store your products, pick and dispatch them as necessary as part of a fulfilment process.
If all of this sounds too good to be true, there is a catch. Naturally, these services come at a cost, which can eat in to business profitability.
Another thing to watch out for is that the reviews and complaints department will be out of your control if you host a shop on another platform – so make sure your product is ready and your customer service is tip top before launching.
Selling online: Can you do a bit of both?
It is possible to put products on as many websites and marketplaces as preffered – but this approach requires either incredible organisation or an investment in software to automate processes.
Businesses need to manage stock data, purchases and refunds, offers and fulfilment, and each marketplace will offer different levels of support.
Although it might be tempting to set up on a marketplace and have done with it, it often it makes sense to have a website as well as a marketplace shop. This is a good way to get brand recognition.
If you buy something off Amazon, you’re more likely to remember that the purchase came from Amazon than the specific online shop within Amazon Marketplace, and growing businesses need to make a name, not just sales.
“Keep watching that competition and don’t neglect the importance of brand. We’ve put a lot of effort into developing our blog, which houses a plethora of useful content for our target audience of entrepreneurs and small businesses; even though someone reading a blog post might not immediately make a purchase, they do have our brand in mind when it does come time to convert, and we believe that’s played an important part in our growth, too,” advised Schwartz.
Deciding what the right option, or combination of options, comes down to understanding how customers discover a brand online.
If lots of traffic is obtained by a business website, it might be possible only host an online shop and make a good profit out of it. However, if help is needed with discoverability, a marketplace may be the best way to go.
Yes, the marketplaces may take a cut, and it always hurts when you have to pay out of your hard-earned money for services like this. But if the sale wouldn’t have been secured otherwise, perhaps it’s a good trade-off.
Weigh up your options, decide which marketplace suits a product best, and maintain a consistent brand voice across all platforms.
This article is part of a wider campaign called the Scale-up Hub, a section of Real Business that provides essential advice and inspiration on taking your business to the next level. It’s produced in association with webexpenses and webonboarding, a fast-growing global organisation that provides cloud-based software services that automate expenses management and streamline the employee onboarding process.
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