Nonetheless, the benefits of selling online can far outweigh the challenges: cross-border selling, access to new customers, greater flexibility and scalability — the opportunities are endless.
But where should you start?
In this article, we’ll be covering the what, where and how of selling online so that you can be on your way to building your own online business.
Essential Components of an Online Store
Of course, if your goal is to increase sales and make money, you can’t simply throw a product online and hope your business takes off — you’ll need to lay some groundwork first.
Yes, creating a good product is central to a successful business, but there are several other components to running an online store that shouldn’t be overlooked. Here we’ll dive into the most important ones to help get off to a good start.
First impressions count, and choosing the right brand name has the ability to make or break your business.
No matter how great your product is, a forgettable brand name runs the risk of getting buried among the pack. But a catchy, intriguing brand name has the potential to capture your audience and attract them to your website.
In many ways, a brand name tells the story of your business. It conveys what your business stands for, what your values are and what you can offer your customers. And as a result, customers will often associate your brand name with your product and how it makes them feel.
Even trademarked brand names like Kleenex, Chapstick and Band-Aid are often used today to describe any brand in a given product category — which goes to show just how strongly we associate brand names with the product they represent.
Here are five simple steps to coming up with a memorable brand name:
- Put pen to paper and brainstorm with key stakeholders to create a list of possible names.
- Keep it simple, using clear, descriptive words and aiming for positive connotations.
- Stand out from the crowd, and make sure the name doesn’t sound similar to those of your competitors.
- Stay away from trendy buzz words, and instead choose a name that is classic and timeless.
- Choose a name that will look and sound good in logos, slogans and your domain name.
From landing page to shopping cart, your brand identity should be recognizable and consistent across every step of the buyer journey. Similar to your company name, the visual elements of your site will be strongly tied to how customers perceive your brand. Before even seeing your products, prospective customers will likely see your web design first, so it’s crucial that it conveys the impression you’re aiming for.
According to Top Design Firms, when asked what visual elements they value on an ecommerce website, 40% of customers said images, 39% said color and 21% said video. If that’s the case, then your business should prioritize taking high-quality product photography and choosing a color palette first, and then consider elements such as videos, typography, animation, etc.
Unfortunately, for an entrepreneur with limited design experience, creating an online store may be a big undertaking. In fact, 60% of designers say they spend 11 to 40 hours crafting a website before it’s ready to launch for their clients.
The good news is some ecommerce platforms offer user-friendly website themes and templates that allow merchants to customize their storefront without the hassle of going it alone. BigCommerce, for example, offers an abundance of free and paid design themes, categorized by industry and type of product collection, so that merchants can build a beautiful store both easily and quickly.
Even before your store’s launch, you can get a headstart by marketing your brand to begin attracting a steady flow of customers.
One of the best marketing tactics is to take an omnichannel approach, leveraging multiple sales channels to create a consistent brand experience across all touchpoints. Utilizing channels such as email newsletters, paid advertising and SEO capabilities, you’ll be able to get your name out there before customers even see your product.
Social media, for instance, should be a no-brainer when it comes to marketing your brand. Create a Facebook Business Page or Instagram profile that highlights new product listings or customers who use your products, and include links that lead back to your online store.
Not only is social media marketing a great opportunity to engage with your customers, but many social platforms even offer the ability to sell products straight from your profile. In a later section, we’ll go more in depth about how to sell on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and several other social channels.
Shipping and fulfillment.
Unless your business solely sells digital products, you’ll need to have a plan in place for how to calculate shipping costs and get products to your customers on time.
If your company is based in the U.S., compare pricing from the USPS, UPS and FedEx, as well as any other options near where you’re headquartered. Decide on which shipping carrier works best with your budget and service, and calculate the appropriate shipping rates to charge your customers.
While it’s ideal to offer free shipping, keep in mind that you’ll have to absorb the cost and potentially build the shipping cost into your product pricing. Another option is to use real-time rates provided by the shipping company so that you don’t under- or over-charge the customer.
What Type of Products You Can Sell Online
But while each of the above components is essential to a successful online strategy, they are worthless without a great product to support them.
Before you begin to brainstorm the design and experience of an online store, or even your company’s name, you’ll need to decide what products to sell. This decision is a strategy within itself, as what you sell will impact every other business decision you make.
Regardless of which industry you are in, there are two types of products you can sell: commoditized products and niche products. Let’s take a look at how they’re different and which is a better fit for your business.
Commoditized products are essential, high demand or popular goods or services that can be physical or digital products. These are products that everybody needs and what make up the majority of online sales. Think of anything you buy at Walmart or Amazon that has a big brand behind it — food, toothpaste, golf clubs, clothes, kids toys, etc.
Niche products, on the other hand, are goods or services that serve specific customers and product categories.
In many instances, these are unique, one-of-a-kind or handmade products, making them some of the most popular items bought online. Niche products are often made in small batch runs or on demand. Think of a unique beaded necklace, a collectible antique, handmade frozen yogurt, or a leather iPad case.
However, store owners can also sell a combination of commoditized products and niche products to increase their profit margin. Offering only commoditized items, especially if they are popular products sold on major online marketplaces like Amazon, will make it extremely difficult to become successful.
Larger online sellers and marketplaces can buy items in large quantities, which makes for more profitable products — but chances are your startup won’t be able to compete right off the bat.
Instead, offer commoditized and niche products to your customers while delivering an on-brand experience to set up your online shop for success.
How to Choose What to Sell On Your Ecommerce Website
We’re all looking to become the next big company — similar to some of the most popular D2C brands today. But the truth is, in today’s saturated product market, it’s difficult to generate product ideas.
Lucky for you, we’ve compiled a product brainstorm checklist to help you unlock your entrepreneurial spirit and drive.
Find a problem that needs to be solved.
“If we tried to think of a good idea, we wouldn’t have been able to think of a good idea. You just have to find a solution for a problem in your own life.” — Brian Chesky, co-founder of Airbnb
When you’re brainstorming ideas for a product or service, it’s essential you reflect on problems in your own life.
For Kyle Kirkpatrick, an Olympic gymnastics coach, it was wanting to listen to music while training athletes. The caveat? Being able to use headphones that would stay in place, regardless of whether he was running or jumping on the trampoline performing flips.
Spoiler alert: Kirkpatrick successfully took what used to be a small annoyance and transformed it into a brilliant business idea — the invention of Decibullz.
The reason behind his success? Pinpointing a problem and conveniently solving it.
Your product or service doesn’t necessarily need to be a huge, complicated endeavor — it can be quite simple, yet exceptionally effective.
Product opportunities can also exist in a few other areas:
- Improved product features.
- A new market unrealized by your competitors.
- Unique product positioning and marketing.
Beauty and skincare brand Bliss took a trending product, improved its features while tapping into an unrealized market opportunity, and introduced it to the market with unique positioning.
Bliss, founded in 1996, began its business as a modern spa in NYC. They sought out to revolutionize skincare by introducing ingenious products to the market and cultivating a sense of community with their customers.
Fast forward to 2022, with the help of new technologies and global ingredients, Bliss continues to introduce new PETA-certified, cruelty-free, clean beauty and skincare products that work for every budget.
“We want everyone to put their best face forward.”
Tip: Reflect on your own life and outline what experiences put a hitch in your giddyup.
Identify products people are passionate about.
“Passionate” might be a buzzword, but it carries a lot of value.
Starting your own business is not the glitz and glam that’s shown in the movies. The reality looks a lot more like long hours, likely some rocky terrain and the occasional, if not frequent, sacrifice.
Being passionate about what you do will not only help carry you through hard times, but it will also aid in crafting a brand message that speaks to people in a way that is meaningful, authentic and engaging.
Let’s be real — without passion, what’s the driver behind your online business?
By emotionally investing in your product, you can better deliver its value and mission into the market. Plus, an emotional story will help you stand out to competitors.
Find products with branding potential.
You’ve identified a potential product that solves consumers’ problems and comes from a place of passion. So, what’s next? Creating a resounding brand message can make a splash in the competitive ecommerce space.
Crafting a recognizable and memorable brand means you’ll need to put in the time to research and truly understand your target audience. Your brand should speak to your potential customers in a way that both resonates and compels them to come back.
In other words, you want to build loyalty based on audience identity.
Here are some great questions to start with:
- How does your target audience like to be addressed?
- How will you position your product?
- How will you design your own website to communicate your brand and appeal to your potential buyers through layout, color scheme and calls to action?
When it comes to crafting a brand and experience that resonates, Jeff and Spencer Jan of Solo Stove are experts.
Solo Stove has found success from focusing on the benefit their product brings to the market: the opportunity for consumers to make memories with their loved ones. By centralizing on this theme, the company was able to exponentially grow an organic following of loyal customers. Solo Stove has been able to leverage its community of loyal customers to improve their brand, product and online experience with authentic product reviews, community engagement and honest feedback.
“Solo Stove is focused on helping people reconnect to what matters most, and BigCommerce has helped us take that to the next level.”
– JOHN MERRIS, CEO AT SOLO STOVE
Leveraging your product to create community and purpose is a crucial component to growing your own online store. Without a product and brand your customers can relate to, you’re essentially running your business on an empty tank.
Hop on trends early.
Take advantage of an emerging market and carve out a spot for your brand.
To be successful in doing so, it’s pivotal that you stay up-to-date on recent, trending products and services –– and then launch an ecommerce site to capitalize on them before they hit peak popularity.
As a small business owner, hopping on trends early can give your business a huge upside. You’ll have the opportunity to own SEO (search engine optimization) keywords and establish yourself as a leader within the market you serve early on.
Start thinking of products or services that have been trending up in recent years.
Find products that fulfill guilty pleasures.
It always comes back to what we’re passionate about. Another proven successful product is one that caters to customers’ passions or even their vices.
Shoppers often spend more on their guilty pleasures, developing deep loyalty to brands that understand their obsessions.
Serve niche segments.
Niche segments often spell out success for ecommerce businesses.
The reason for niche segments comes down to resonating with a highly-engaged, and highly-converting, audience. Serving a niche segment is a great business proposition, because you create a product that solves an issue for a very passionate audience segment.
Serving a passionate niche audience will help build brand awareness, online traffic and, ultimately, returning and new customers.
Let’s take a look at LARQ.
LARQ is a water bottle unlike anything else on the market.
What started as a simple vision of bridging the gap between innovative technology and better access to pristine drinking water resulted in the world’s first self-cleaning water bottle.
The product serves as an easier, healthier and more sustainable choice thanks to UV-C LED technology that eradicates up to 99.99% of germs, bacteria and protozoa, eliminating harmful and odor-causing sources. And if that wasn’t already great, it also comes in a chic and sleek modern design in various colors.
The brand continues to cater to its niche segment by supporting other environmental causes. For example, LARQ is a proud member of 1% For The Planet, which means 1% of all of their sales goes to protecting the future of our planet.
Here are 10 ideas for niche products to sell online in 2022:
- On-the-go, health-conscious foods.
- Craft beverages (mocktails included).
- Subscription boxes.
- CBD products.
- Men’s engagement rings and wedding bands.
- Journal notebooks and personal planners.
- Pet food.
- Cruelty-free beauty products.
- Camera and photo accessories (e.g. drones and tripods).
Spot business opportunities everywhere.
Part of being an entrepreneur is always pushing your imagination.
As you do your part as a world citizen, pay attention to how society behaves. Are there norms to be broken? Is there an opportunity to improve the lives of your neighbors? What products gain quick customer acquisition? What industries are gaining traction?
Keeping up to date with what’s going on in the world will help you identify new online business opportunities.
In addition, sit down and evaluate your strengths and interests.
Are you a naturally gifted marketer? Does the idea of fundraising make you cringe?
Gather the resources, both human and technical, to bring your online business to life. Having an organized approach to a product and business launch will only bode well in the future.
How to Start Selling Online
You’ve got a product and now you’re ready to go to market — online.
Before you begin setting up an online store, be sure to have these steps completed.
1. Conduct market research.
The beauty of ecommerce is that anyone anywhere can join in on the action. Whether you’re a small business owner or part of a large enterprise, there are endless opportunities to go digital with your business and get a piece of the pie.
However, with this low barrier of entry also comes a saturated market — and a great way to stand out is to find your niche.
Before brainstorming your product, think about which markets are already competitive and which markets have the potential for growth. Consider what markets where you already have a presence or a passion, and go from there. Utilize tools like Google Trends or Google Ads Keyword Planner to see what products and services are trending and how big the market is for your niche.
Then, once you know your target market, it’s time to determine what value you can offer in your market. Are customers willing to buy your product or service? How much are they willing to pay?
This is the time to dig deep into market research by studying your competitors, surveying your audience and gauging the right price point for your product or service.
2. Choose what products to sell.
After you’ve honed your research and landed on a market, it’s time to build your product.
This is one of the most — if not the most — crucial step in the process, as every other aspect of your business revolves around what you’re selling.
Just as it’s important to choose a niche market, it’s also a good idea to narrow down to a niche product. This can help reduce the competition and give you more opportunity for growth.
For example, a sportswear brand would likely face harsh competition from bigger, more established brands. However, by niching down to a specific type of product or sport, such as swimwear or running shoes, you may find it easier to position yourself in the market and invest more time and energy into your product.
3. Identify your target audience.
You may have a stellar product, but it’ll do you no good if you’re selling it to the wrong people. In fact, $37 billion is wasted in ad spend each year from ads that fail to engage the target audience.
But by having a comprehensive understanding of your target audience, you’ll be able to make more informed decisions about marketing and advertising, leading to more customers and more money.
Follow these steps to help identify your customer base and segment your audiences:
- Survey potential customers. How old are they? Where do they live? What is their annual income?
- Identify industry trends. Look for similar products on the market to see how other companies are marketing themselves, and identify what makes you stand out.
- Analyze competitors. How are your biggest competitors selling online? What are they doing that works and doesn’t work?
- Build buyer personas. Gather data and conduct surveys to give you a more comprehensive picture of your ideal buyer. This will help you hone in on specific customer segments of your target market.
4. Conduct ecommerce platform research.
Before building your online store, you’ll want to do some research on what kind of ecommerce platform you’d like to sell on, whether it be your own online store, Amazon, eBay, Facebook or any other online marketplace.
Luckily, there is a plethora of SaaS ecommerce platforms on the market that allow merchants to sell products online for a set monthly fee, regardless of how technically skilled you are. Or, if you have the coding experience, you can go the open-source route and build your online store from scratch.
5. Create product content.
Unless you’re a well-established business, chances are you won’t have a photographer, copywriter or social media manager on hand, especially if your business is just taking off. As a small business owner, you’re likely wearing many of these hats yourself. If so, here are a couple things to keep in mind.
- Images: Make sure all imagery and product photography is high-quality and aligns with your brand image. Utilize professional product photos if your supplier offers them, or go the DIY route and shoot your own product photos — a smartphone and good lighting can go a long way.
- Product descriptions: Keep your product descriptions brief, yet thorough and creative. Choose engaging, descriptive language and don’t be afraid to have some fun with it! Plus, try offering free or discounted products to help encourage customer reviews and testimonials.
6. Build your online store.
Now that you have your product, target market and content, you’re ready to start building your online store.
Don’t worry if you don’t have the technical expertise to build a website from scratch — many ecommerce platforms allow you to create a beautiful online store without writing a single line of code.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the number of ecommerce platforms to choose from, just remember that there is no one-size-fits-all ecommerce website builder. Every platform has its own benefits and drawbacks, and the best thing you can do is choose the solution that best suits your needs.
7. Promote and market your store.
Finally, you’ll need to create a strategy to market to your potential customers and start driving traffic to your store. The best way to promote your brand is by taking an omnichannel approach and marketing across a variety of offline and online sales channels. Here are just a few to consider:
- Social media.
- Google advertising.
- Influencer marketing.
- Facebook Pages and Groups.
- Discounts and promotions.
- Email marketing.
- Content marketing.
Where Can You Sell Online?
The smartest businesses view themselves similarly to a stock portfolio and find that diversification is key to success. This will give you multiple revenue streams to supplement your ecommerce website.
On top of that, modern consumers are often agnostic to their final purchase destination. This means that many customers have no preference on whether they shop on Amazon or your ecommerce store — their only preference is convenience.
Simply put — if you aren’t selling across channels, you could lose the sale to a competitor who has better diversified.
Here’s all the information you need to know to expand your revenue portfolio and grow your sales exponentially.
Selling on Facebook.
With nearly 3.45 billion monthly active users, Facebook holds huge potential for leveraging new audiences and scaling globally. Not only is it a space for friends and family to connect online, but in recent years, the platform has also become a hub for ecommerce brands.
With Facebook Marketplace, customers can engage with your brand and even buy directly from your Facebook Business Page. The platform is mobile-friendly and free, and Facebook Shops are also fully customizable, allowing you to import an existing product catalog or create a new one on the platform.
After your customers discover your page, Facebook helps promote your business by featuring products based on the shopper’s unique preferences and search history, thus giving them a personalized customer experience.
Once the customer is ready to buy your product, they can complete the purchase either within the Facebook platform, or they may be linked back to the checkout page on your ecommerce site. And, if needed, you can communicate with the customer via Facebook Messenger to answer any questions and offer support.
Selling on Tiktok.
A newer player to the social commerce game, TikTok has become far more than just a short-form video-sharing app. Now with product links, advertising and LIVE shopping capabilities, TikTok is an ecommerce platform worth considering.
According to eMarketer, many of TikTok’s social commerce capabilities thus far have focused on product ads which appear as native videos on users’ For You feeds. Below each advertisement, users can tap the “Shop Now” button, which links them directly to the merchant’s ecommerce site to complete their purchase.
And as of recently, brands also have the option to build a shoppable storefront on TikTok through the Shopping tab. TikTok users can now add the Shopping tab to their business profiles, where they can sync their static product catalog and allow customers to make purchases straight from the app.
And now, BigCommerce’s partnership with TikTok allows merchants to connect their online store with their TikTok profile, allowing you to engage with shoppers and share your products with more users.
Selling on Instagram.
With 70% of shoppers looking to Instagram for product discovery and 1 billion active users, it’s safe to say that this is one of the most thriving social platforms on the market.
Known for its eye-catching photos, stories and videos, Instagram is the perfect space for sharing high-gloss brand imagery. With photo, video and user-generated content opportunities, Instagram serves as a great social media platform to drive traffic and conversions.
All you need to set up Instagram Shopping is a Facebook business profile, which links your Facebook Shop to Instagram. Then, you can upload a product catalog and begin creating product tags for each item. This will allow you to create shoppable posts and streamline purchases directly from the platform.
Selling on Etsy.
A popular marketplace for artists and creatives, Etsy is the ideal place to sell handcrafted, custom-made and vintage products. Although a relatively niche marketplace, Etsy also caters to merchants who sell digital products such as digital downloads and website themes.
Luckily for those without any background knowledge or technical experience, creating an Etsy store is quick and easy, and building a storefront only requires a bit of customization.
However, do keep in mind that Etsy charges transaction fees for each sale, so it may be a good idea to have your own online store in addition. Plus, Etsy also charges PayPal fees which may subtract money from your overall profit. Make sure to read up on Etsy’s terms and conditions before deciding to sell solely from this platform.
Selling on eBay.
Although eBay is best known for auctions, as a merchant, you can also build your own eBay storefront and sell a variety of products at fixed prices.
And luckily, eBay is a hub for products of all kinds — clothing, home decor, vintage collectibles, artwork. If it’s a product worth selling, you can post it on eBay. But while the marketplace does offer a space for all kinds of businesses, this might make it a bit more difficult to find your niche and stand out from the crowd.
However, selling on eBay is a great opportunity to reach a global audience, and the platform offers an intuitive, user-friendly interface where merchants can list products and build out their store in just a few clicks.
However, be aware that aside from charging a monthly fee, eBay also charges listing fees and a “Final Value Fee.”
Selling on Walmart.
In 2021, Walmart Marketplace surpassed 100,000 sellers, which is nearly double the number registered in 2020 — which goes to show that Walmart has huge potential for online retailers looking to sell online.
As the world’s largest omnichannel retailer, Walmart lets merchants build their product catalog, manage inventory and set prices, as well as fulfill orders and get paid efficiently — with no setup or monthly fees.
With big-name retailers like Toms, Dell and Eddie Bauer leveraging Walmart’s online presence, the marketplace is suitable for both large and small businesses alike, offering ecommerce tools such as Sponsored Products, a Brand Portal and Enhanced Returns to help merchants run their businesses successfully.
And as a BigCommerce merchant, you have the opportunity to connect your store to Walmart Marketplace and start driving more sales instantly. Connect your BigCommerce catalog today so you can share your products with 120 million unique Walmart.com visitors every month.
Selling on Amazon.
Considering 49% of consumers start their product search on the platform, it’s no surprise that Amazon has become a household name.
As the third largest online marketplace in the world, Amazon offers retailers the opportunity to sell their products to a massive audience and expand their global reach.
Additionally, Amazon offers FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon), which allows merchants to ship their products in bulk to Amazon’s global fulfillment centers and get them in customers’ hands quickly.
However, keep in mind that Amazon does charge a fee for each product sold, and these fees are even higher for merchants who choose the FBA option. Plus, with so many retailers taking advantage of Amazon’s massive customer base, it can be tricky to get the visibility you want.
Luckily, BigCommerce can help you tap into Amazon’s huge selling potential by letting you to list your products on Amazon straight from your BigCommerce control panel, using centralized inventory and order processing and fulfillment.
Selling on Pinterest.
Compared to other social platforms, where the influence of the user or brand may hold more weight, Pinterest allows merchants to focus more on putting out great products and less on building their personal reputation. In fact, 77% of weekly Pinners have discovered a new product or brand on Pinterest.
Originally, Pinterest launched as a platform to help people find inspiration for all aspects of their lives, from home decor to fitness to fashion. But back in 2015, Pinterest began offering shoppable pins to an exclusive set of brands, allowing them to add a “Buy” button to their pins, but this feature became more widely available to other brands not long after. Using Pinterest for Business, merchants can create Product Pins, which display updated pricing and stock information and allows shoppers to save products directly to their personal boards. Or, if they’re ready to make a purchase, the shopper can tap on the Product Pin which redirects the shopper to the product page on the brand’s website.