Imagine that a brick-and-mortar business owner wants to start selling products online. After a cursory online search, he or she might come across confusing and intimidating terms like domain registration, web hosting, and search engine optimization. The business owner might then start adding up the cost and time commitment required to get started and decide that they’re not comfortable getting started with selling their products online.
Unfortunately, this is a common scenario that leads to many small business owners abandoning their hopes of selling online. The reality is that there are many different ways to sell products and services online – and not all of them require a website.
Do You Need a Website?
A website might seem like a prerequisite for an online store, but modern ecommerce has transcended websites. Many merchants rely exclusively on external marketplaces, such as Amazon.com or eBay, while new technologies have made it easier than ever to sell through social media networks, such as Facebook and Twitter. The decision of whether to use a website depends largely on the types of products and services that you’re selling and your goals.
You should ask yourself several questions:
- What fees are involved? If the fees and commissions are low enough and the volume is high enough, marketplaces can be much more profitable than investing the time and capital into setting up your own ecommerce website.
- Are you operating in a high-volume business? If you sell factory equipment that nobody searches for, marketplaces probably aren’t the best idea. But, if you’re selling basketballs, marketplaces are a great way to reach customers.
- How much time do you have? Marketplaces take a lot less time and commitment than setting up an ecommerce store, but the tradeoff is that they are often less flexible when it comes to adding new functionality and almost always take a cut of the profit.
You should also consider the long-term goals of the business. A website makes the most sense when you’re looking to build a long-term brand and customer experience, while marketplaces are a great option if you’re looking to maximize revenue and reach new customers. Many merchants start off selling through marketplaces and then transition into building their own ecommerce websites over time as their business goals evolve.
How to Sell Without a Website
There are many different places where you can sell your products or services online, but marketplaces and social media are the most common.
eBay may have been the original online marketplace, but Amazon.com has become the most popular option for small business owners looking to sell products online. By using Amazon FBO, your products reach Amazon’s huge customer base, they’re eligible for free two-day shipping, and they even handles things like customer service and returns. This makes it a great first step for many small businesses with branded products.
The most popular marketplaces to consider are:
- eBay – eBay is the original online marketplace that still connects millions of buyers and sellers around the world. As of 2016, the company generated gross merchandise volume of approximately $22.3 billion, making it a large business.
- Etsy – Etsy is a global marketplace for unique and creative goods that seeks to Keep Commerce Human. As of 2016, the company had annual gross merchandise sales of about $2.48 billion with 31.7 million active buyers and 1.9 million active sellers.
- Alibaba – Alibaba is a Chinese ecommerce juggernaut that makes Amazon look small with hundreds of billions of dollars in gross merchandise volume per year. While it’s not an obvious choice for many small businesses, it can be a great international channel.
- Jet – Jet is an online shopping platform dedicated to optimizing the economics of ecommerce for branded product sellers. Since its launch in 2015, the company has already amassed a large and dedicated user base.
Nearly half of consumers buy more goods from their favorite brands after seeing them on social media, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers study, which makes it a natural place to sell products. Many merchants are familiar with the concept of purchasing pay-per-click (PPC) ads on social media networks or simply promoting their products with the hopes of generating click-throughs to their website, but there’s a much more direct way to sell on social media.Social media is a natural place to sell products and services – and Foxy lets you do it directly. Click To Tweet
Modern shopping carts, like Foxy, let you create and embed Buy Now or Add to Cart buttons directly on social media pages. When a visitor clicks the link, they are taken to the cart or a checkout page where they can complete an order. This takes a step out of the conversion funnel and could dramatically improve conversion rates versus sending the user to a product page or top-level domain where they have to navigate to make a purchase.
The most popular social media networks are:
- Facebook – Facebook is a great option for all kinds of products and has several built-in marketplaces where you can also try selling products.
- Twitter – Twitter works best for high-volume marketing since messages tend to be short and frequent in nature. Try using it when distributing short-term coupon codes or deals.
- Pinterest – Pinterest is great for listing individual products with compelling images and its ad network is relatively new, which means it’s generally cheaper than Facebook.
- LinkedIn – LinkedIn is best for business-to-business sales or consulting services, as well as for donations and recurring subscription products targeting professionals.
Best Distribution Channels
There are many different ways to sell your products and services online, but as we’ve mentioned above, the best distribution channels depend on the nature of these products and services and your business goals over the long-term.
Here’s a matrix showing the best options based on margins and volume:
|High Margin||Low Margin|
You may also want to consider things like:
- Discoverability – If you’re selling something that people are already searching for, then you would probably have a lot of success selling products on Amazon, eBay, Etsy, or other marketplaces. Obscure products don’t perform as well on these platforms since there is less search traffic hitting those pages and you can probably rank better for these searches by building a custom ecommerce website.
- Product Types – eBay and Etsy don’t support selling subscription-based products very well, which could make a custom ecommerce platform a better idea. Certain services, like donations, are also best done on a custom ecommerce website, while physical products may be more amenable to a marketplace like Amazon.
- Price and Fees – Higher priced items are generally best sold through a custom ecommerce website since the fees tend to be higher.
In the end, you should carefully examine the cost and benefits associated with selling on marketplaces or taking a do-it-yourself approach. The good news is that Foxy can be an excellent in-between option by providing a simpler shopping cart that integrates with an existing CMS – like WordPress, Squarespace, or Webflow – while also enabling you to sell directly on social media and other channels without having to setup an ecommerce website.
The Bottom Line
Most business owners assume that they need their own website to sell online, but in reality, many successful businesses use marketplaces or agnostic shopping carts like Foxy. Using these tools, they can access traffic that’s already being generated from other sources and drive revenue without worrying about the costs and complexities of managing an ecommerce application along with shipping and other logistics.