A BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO SELLING ONLINE
Today’s world is becoming more and more digital. Buying and selling products has extended from a merely physical transaction, and now selling goods online has become a chief way to reach more people and expand your business like never before.
But if it’s your first venture into this realm, things can get very overwhelming very quickly.
This guide will give an overview of some of the different channels and options that are open to you, whether you’re a small business preparing to venture into the digital world for the first time, or a seasoned e-commerce veteran looking to expand into fresh territory.
One of the first things you have to think about is whether or not you want to go with a hosted or self-hosted e-commerce platform, or if you want to sell your goods through a marketplace like Amazon or eBay.
A hosted/self-hosted platform would allow you to build your own site and show customers your product alone.
While the focus on your product alone and minimal immediate attention to the competition is great, that kind of solution won’t necessarily appeal to or reach as broad of an audience as Amazon or eBay.
HOSTED OR SELF-HOSTED: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
Using a hosted platform means… well, that someone else is hosting you: you’re subject to their rules and wishes more so than your own. But they cover a lot of expenses that you’d otherwise have to cover yourself, and are typically more straightforward and easier to use.
A self-hosted platform, however, gives you a lot more freedom to do what you want, how you want it.
But without experience with coding, that typically ends up being more costly and difficult to understand.
In short, hosted is easier and less of a hassle, but limited in areas, whereas self-hosted grants way more freedom, but requires more knowledge and know-how to use.
We’ll go more in depth and look at a few of the top hosted and self-hosted e-commerce platforms and see the pros and cons of each to help you make the best choice for your business!
1. ) SHOPIFY
One of the most popular hosting platforms, Shopify is a Canadian e-commerce platform that makes setting up a website a relatively simple task, with a wide variety of features and designs available.
POINTS TO CONSIDER:
- Shopify comes with tons of themes and designs to determine the look of your website, a sizeable amount of which are mobile responsive (meaning they react and adjust to whatever device your viewing from, be it a phone, tablet, or desktop computer). This makes for a smoother, more enjoyable buyer experience and makes purchasing from your site very convenient.
- A basic Shopify package is just $29, which allows you get your site up and running with unlimited support. The only catch here though is that some of the necessary features you’ll need for your store will be charged as add-ons to that initial cost.’
- Shopify also offers great support to its customers through many different means, including phone, email, live chat, and forums. In addition, they have other resources to help even the most inexperienced learn the ins and outs of e-commerce more quickly, such as their e-commerce University.
- Shopify also has sites strongly optimized for SEO, which brings in more customers. Optimization for quick page speed and great snippets are just a few of the features it offers in this area.
- Shopify also offers great security, as all transactions are processed with 256-bit SSL encryption and, not to mention, are level-1 PCI compliant.
- Shopify also has an offline version with a point-of-sale credit card reader, allowing you make sales on the go, as well as manage your business almost anywhere.
- While Shopify has a lot of strengths, one of its downsides is that if you decide to switch platforms, it doesn’t extend the option of downloading everything to another system, meaning you could lose all of your hard work.
2. ) BigCommerce
Bigcommerce is an online shopping platform that started out as a self-hosted platform, but has evolved into a popular hosted platform, typically used for medium-to-small sized businesses.
POINTS TO CONSIDER:
- Like Shopify, Bigcommerce has a large selection of website designs and formats available for free, some of which are also mobile responsive. However, the amount of mobile responsive sites is only 2 out of the 16 free, which is less than what Shopify offers.
- While Bigcommerce’s basic plan starts at $29.95 a month, it’s free version offers a lot more features than even something like Shopify does. In addition, a lot of add-ons that are necessary that you end up having to pay for with other platforms come free with Bigcommerce, like built-in shipping dates, 24-hour support, and some email marketing tools.
- Bigcommerce, like Shopify, also has some strong game in the SEO department, with good page speed, integration with Google Shopping, and access to third-party apps like Mailchimp to help with marketing channels you may need to access.
- Bigcommerce is also level-1 PCI compliant, in addition to having the option of sharing an SSL certificate or having your own.
- Bigcommerce does charge a transaction fee of 1.5%, although this can be dropped if you upgrade to a higher plan.
WooCommerce is a fairly new self-hosted platform. With relatively easy integration with WordPress, WooCommerce has become a very popular platform, claiming to run about 30% of all e-commerce sites.
POINTS TO CONSIDER:
- WooCommerce is more cost effective, considering it can be installed as a free plugin for WordPress and support is free.
- It takes up less server space than other apps.
- The setup isn’t much more complicated than anything else you’d find in WordPress.
- It’s free to download and comes with a good amount of attractive themes right off the bat.
- WooCommerce has a ton of tools and options to extend your channel with email marketing and coupon codes.
- It is somewhat lacking in features, which is why it’s suited for smaller businesses.
- You are tied to WordPress if you decide you want to use it.
As far as self-hosted platforms go, Magento is the current leader. The fact that it was acquired by eBay in 2011 says a lot for its popularity and success.
POINTS TO CONSIDER:
- A user friendly admin panel let’s you get your shop up and running faster, even if you don’t necessarily have an extensive knowledge of coding.
- It’s scalability allows room for your business to grow.
- Issues you’ll have in complex systems aren’t an issue in Magento, especially with an ever-growing panel of developers. However, what issues that do arise can be rather expensive to get the necessary support with, given the complexity of the platform.
- Offers strong SEO promotions to draw more traffic.
- While it does offer some shared-hosting options, if you scale up in the future, you would probably need to buy your own dedicated server, and while that can be a costly investment, Magento can run slow if you can’t afford that option.
3. ) osCommerce
osCommerce’s big plus is a great (free!) support network of talented developers and experienced users.
POINTS TO CONSIDER:
- It’s simplicity and detailed catalogue management makes it a great choice for those selling ‘one offs’.
- Its large support network and forums offer great assistance anytime you need it. The system is prone to bugs though, making that support network even more valuable.
- It has over 7,000 plugins, allowing for growth far outside its basic starting features. However, it does not allow for much growth for your business, and forcing such may result in technical problems.
- It’s light and takes up less server space.
Hosted and self-hosted platforms aren’t the only way you can sell your goods online.
Online Marketplaces (such as Amazon and eBay) can also be great options to expand your reach and get your product more exposure.
Click here to read our article on Online Marketplaces and see which option might be best for you!
Whether you choose to use a hosted platform, a self-hosted platform, or to sell your goods through an Online Marketplace, the decision comes down to what would really be best for your product, your customers, and what would allow you to build your business to wherever you see fit.
Gapstow specializes in e-commerce consulting, helping you make that decision and figure out what direction and options are best suited for the wants and needs of both you and your e-commerce business.
Click here to see how we can help you navigate the world of e-commerce!