How to Sell Stuff Online: The 7 Best Places to Start Your Online Store

By Matthew Guay

You are reading: Chapter 3 of 8

The internet is the world's largest mall, where everyone can hawk their wares—and perhaps become the next Jeff Bezos.

Maybe you want to sell your handmade goods around the world, or test the market for your groundbreaking new product. Or maybe you have a real-world store that you want to expand to the digital realm.

No matter what you create, you'll need a place to sell it—and the internet is rich with real estate for your storefront.

Opening an online store is easy—you don't need to hand-code a dedicated digital shop to get your business off the ground. (You wouldn't shell out to put a flagship store on New York's 5th Avenue, right?)

The hard part is picking a platform. Here are the many ways that you can start your own online business and bring whatever you create to the masses.


How to Sell Stuff Online with:


When The Entire Internet is a Store

original Amazon.com
The original Amazon.com homepage, already with over a million titles for sale

After the World Wide Web launched in 1991, only three years passed before people started selling stuff online. The Internet Shopping Network, an online computer equipment store, and NetMarkets, online marketplace both launched in the summer of 1994, with the latter believed to be the first to process secure online payments.

A year later, both eBay and Amazon were founded, the former as an online auction site and the latter as the world's largest bookstore. Someone purchased a broken laser printer on eBay—much to founder Pierre Omidyar's surprise—and the world of eCommerce as we know it was born.

And yet, online shopping at that time was primitive. Amazon and eBay are online giants today, some of the most visited—and most valuable—properties online. When they launched, though, they looked more basic than your average post on Medium. What they lacked in looks they made up for in potential—the opportunity tap into a global economy from your living room.


Fast forward to today, and most of us shop online regularly. If anything, we have to find an excuse to go to a "real" store.

Starting an online store isn't nearly as big of a deal today, and the odds of your new online bookstore turning into the next Amazon are minuscule. And yet, the internet's still one of the best places to start a store, with a market of over $300 billion in the US alone.

Amazon and eBay had to hand-code their first eCommerce sites, figure out how to accept payments securely online, and decide how an online checkout experience should work. Today, all you need to sell things online is an internet connection and a half hour or so to get your store started.

The Ingredients for a Successful Store

Shopping at a market

Products. People. Payments.

It's really that simple: every store needs products to sell, people to buy them, and a way to get paid for those products. It doesn't require a fancy website or millions in funding. All you need is:

  • A way to list products where people can see and learn more about them. Remember: people can't pick up your product boxes and read them in an online store, so the more detail you can provide for each item—such as multiple photos and product specs—the better.
  • A way to gather information from and talk to customers. You'll obviously need to be able to process the customers' orders, know which product they want, along with their address so you can ship it to them. And you'll likely need to talk to them about your products and provide customer support, too.
  • A payment system. Perhaps you'll use an online payment processor to accept credit cards. Or, you could use a lower-tech option: checks, payment-on-delivery, or even bank or mobile transfers depending on your local infrastructure.

None of that requires a dedicated eCommerce site. In fact, many of the tools and sites you already use each day include everything you need to start a store.

The Simplest Ways to Start an Online Store

With such basic requirements, almost any site could be a store. If you already have a following on Facebook, a popular YouTube channel, or a WordPress blog with thousands of visitors, you could start a store right from that community.

You'll still need a tool to help you list your products for sale and process payments. Here are the best options, ranging from online marketplaces that handle the entire sales process to building your own store by hand right inside your Facebook page.

Online Marketplaces

eBay
eBay is still one of the easiest ways to sell stuff online

Imagine getting guaranteed, primo shelf space for your product at a major retailer. They'd handle everything, and you'd just focus on the merchandise.

That's what online marketplaces offer. You create an account, and list your products in a store that already has millions of visitors. When those people search for "widget", they just might find—and buy—your widget.

That's what eBay, Etsy, AliExpress (a retail site from Alibaba—which is a wholesale site from China that lets factory directly sale their products in bulk), and other stores are designed around. They don't directly sell products on their own—instead, they maintain an online market where everyone can list their wares. Amazon does something similar: they sell their own products, but also let you list your own products for sale.

Here's how they work:

  1. You create an account, and often also create a companion payment account (typically PayPal).
  2. Then, fill out the site's forms to list your existing products for sale, following that marketplace's guidelines for adding your product description, images, price, and more.
  3. If you want, you can market your products, telling friends and followers about your new store. Or you could just sit back and wait, and let people discover your items through the site's search.
  4. Once someone buys something, you'll get a notification to package and ship your product to the customer.

That's all. You won't have that many options to make your store stand out, but hey: you've got a huge audience, and won't have to worry much about your store.

Where to Sell:

  • Amazon for listing name-brand products, books, and other items that have a bar code. It's a great place to sell used books, generic products you've imported, or perhaps a new product that fits a category people would search for. Amazon also offers fulfillment services, where they can ship your products and handle customer service as well.
  • Ebay for selling any random thing. You can auction your used iPhone or kid's outgrown clothes, or sell your new products with a fixed price. Unbranded items fit here a bit better than Amazon, and you can even find buyers for broken electronics (people are always seeking parts). Again, make sure it's something people are looking for.
  • Etsy for handcrafted products and art supplies. If you know how to make cute, eye-catching products—or want to sell the products others need to make them—this is your marketplace. Even if your product is a brand new idea that no one would search for, it might get discovered by Etsy's engaged community.
  • Bonanza or Storenvy for your own store inside a larger store. You'll have more flexibility in terms of branding, and people can still discover your shop from a site-wide search. Learn more on Zapier's Storenvy review .
  • Alibaba for selling wholesale products directly from a factory. If you make the best widgets in the world and want to directly sale them to stores, list them here and buyers just might discover them. Or, you can sell them directly on AliExpress (if your business is in China) or on their recently acquired site Lazada.
  • App Stores and Specialized Markets for selling digital products. Typically you'll find a market designed for the types of products you're selling—the Kindle store for eBooks, a WordPress market for website themes, Bandcamp for music, Steam for games—and list your products there.

What It'll Cost: Fees vary widely between marketplaces. For example:

  • eBay lets you list 50 items for free per month, and then charges 10% of the total sale plus standard PayPal fees of 2.9% + 30¢ per transaction.
  • Etsy charges 20¢ per listing, 3.5% per sale, along with PayPal fees for payments.
  • Amazon charges a 8-25% referral fee, depending on the category, along with a $1.35/purchase closing fee.

Campaign Funding or Preorder Stores

Kickstarter
Kickstarter has built a brand around discovering new products

Perhaps you're making a brand new thing no one's ever heard of before. You need to both share the word about your product and raise funds to actually manufacture it in bulk.Traditional funding can be hard to acquire, and you likely don't want to take out a loan to build something you're not even certain there's a market for.

Crowdfunding is the next best option. It lets people pre-order your product so you get the initial revenue to start the manufacturing process.

The best part is that crowdfunding sites tend to have large audiences who are already looking for exciting new products that they can't find elsewhere. Once your product is added to a category, people who check that category regularly will pick up on it. With any luck, your listing will get featured on the crowdfunding site's landing page or or in their newsletter—something that's far less likely to happen on a traditional online marketplace.

Here's how crowdfunding works:

  1. Start out with a product idea, not a finished product. Describe your idea, take photos of your prototypes or drafts, and make a video to sell viewers on the idea.
  2. Figure out what to offer when people "back" your campaign—the term typically used for pre-ordering in a crowdfunded project. You might offer your widget at a discounted price for early backers, or a limited edition version if they pledge a certain amount.
  3. Then, create a crowdfunding account and post your campaign, with a funding goal for how much you'll need to raise to actually produce your product. Make sure to include enough info to make the project viable so it'll be accepted.
  4. Once the campaign is live, you typically have a month for people to back it. You'll need to promote it as much as possible during this time, and add "stretch goals"—extra features, colors, or other special things if you exceed your funding mark.
  5. If you hit your funding goal, the campaign will end and your backers will be charged. You'll then have the money you need to make the product, and you can ship it to your customers as soon as you're finished. You'll update backers on your progress through the crowdfunding site in the meantime.

Crowdfunding is a bit more complicated than just listing your products on a site like eBay, and likely isn't the best way to sell items you've already produced. But it can be a great way to jumpstart your ideas. It's how the Pebble, Oculus Rift, Glif, and more got started.

Where to Sell:

  • Kickstarter for an engaged audience looking for new products. Kickstarter has strict rules around getting your campaign launched, but its rabid community of early adopters might be what your product needs to succeed. If you don't hit your funding goals, though, you don't receive any funds from the campaign and have to start over from zero.
  • Indiegogo for more flexible crowdfunding goals. If you're not quite sure how much money your product needs to get off the ground, you can make a flexible campaign on Indiegogo that won't be killed if you don't meet your funding goal—instead, you'll get the funds that were raised and ship the product to those customers.

What It'll Cost: Both Kickstarter and Indiegogo charge 5% of your total funding amount, along with an additional payment processing fee of around 3-5%.

Social Network Stores

Facebook store
One of the many stores on Facebook, with new product listings

If you're looking for a crowd, start your store on a social network. They may not be designed for selling stuff, but they provide a built-in audience, along with tools for sharing pictures and text.

In many places, especially South East Asia, a Facebook Page—or even an Instagram "store" or chat app account—is the default way to start selling stuff online.

You might not even need a store. Instead, you need a Facebook Page or other social media account, with photos of your products along with the sizes, colors, price, and other info in each image's description. When people want to purchase products, they can contact you in Facebook Messenger, or send an email to the address on your profile.

Facebook Page store link
You can add a link to your store website in Facebook

All of that works in a normal social media profile, with no special tools needed. If you're selling locally, you could deliver your products and get paid in cash. Depending on your local banking options, you could have customers transfer money to your bank account to purchase products—a common option in Asia.

You could also share a PayPal link with potential customers for them to send you money for the products. Or, you could just use Facebook for your marketing, and send potential customers to your real store website to make the purchase—just add the link to your store as the default button in the top-right of your page.

Store in Facebook Page
Facebook now includes a full store tool for Facebook Pages

If you want to get more advanced, both Facebook and Twitter now offer built-in store tools to list products. On Twitter, just share a link built with a compatible service like Gumroad or Shopify, and your followers will see a preview of your product along with a Buy Now button. Facebook Pages now include a Shop section as well. Just click the Add Shop Section link on the left sidebar in your Page, then add your business address and email address, and optionally integrate with PayPal or Stripe. Then you can add products—which are basically fancy versions of pictures and descriptions, this time with a button to message you about the product. It's a slightly quicker way to close a sale from your page.


The hard work of selling products is still yours, though. Social networks give you a built-in marketing boost thanks to their existing audience, who might help you grow your business by sharing your product.

But for the most part, you'll need to build your own audience to make social network sales work. If you already have a wide follower base, selling products to that existing audience might be easy. Or, you can start from scratch, building your audience one person at a time with beautiful photos, witty posts, or silly videos. Real-world events—like a table at a farmer's market—can help people notice your brand, follow you on social networks, and eventually make a purchase.

Ads are another great option—and they're more affordable for small businesses on social networks than anywhere else. You can set a small Facebook Ads budget, target people who are following related brands or interests, and hopefully get them to follow your page. Then, over time, you can try to keep their interest with new posts and eventually get them to make a purchase.

Ready to sell stuff on your favorite social network? Here are the basic steps:

  1. Make a standard profile for your company, with your logo as the account icon and perhaps a preview of your products as the banner.
  2. Start promoting your social media profile. The most important step to selling on social networks is getting a following. Share your store with your friends, post content others are likely to share, and perhaps get some ads to attract new followers.
  3. Then, post your products over time. If you're just sharing them like anything else on a social network, the new products will show up alongside the rest of your posts.
  4. Figure out how to accept payments, and be creative. There may be a better local alternative to PayPal in your area, so figure out what your customers prefer.
  5. Check your private messages often—that's how potential customers will get in touch and buy your products.

The best part about selling on social networks is that it's cheap. You can make a Facebook Page or Twitter profile and list your products for free right from your phone. You don't need a separate website, and might not even need a payments tool or a full computer. You'll even keep your communications with customers right inside the chat apps you already use to talk with friends. The downside is, it's harder for customers to sort through all of your products, and can get overwhelming trying to manage all of your orders inside Messenger.

Where to Sell:

  • Facebook Pages for a social network, site for your store, and private messaging all in one. With the new Facebook Shop section on your Page, you can sell products and accept payments all inside Facebook. Learn more on Zapier's Facebook Pages review .
  • Twitter makes it easy to get a wide reach with its open network, and its Buy Now buttons can help you get quick sales.
  • Instamojo and Meesho let you sell products directly inside chat app WhatsApp, something that can be an easy way sell additional products to customers who have already come to your store.
  • Shopify and BigCommerce—along with many other online store builder apps—integrate with both Facebook and Twitter, adding a store section to your Facebook Page and turning your Shopify product listings into Twitter Buy Now buttons. You'll need to build a full store in their apps first, though. Learn more on Zapier's Shopify and BigCommerce reviews.

What It'll Cost: Nothing—at least if you sell directly on a social network. You might need to pay for ads to get your products discovered, along with a 2.9% + $0.30 fee per sale if you charge through PayPal or Stripe. A Shopify store would start at $29/month as well.


Taking Your Store to The Next Level

If you like having the more integrated feel of a real Facebook Store, then you might be ready for a more advanced eCommerce platform. One that's designed just for selling stuff online, that includes exactly the features you want.

It'd take a bit more work to run that store—you'd have both the promotion tasks a social store brings and the more strict listing requirements a marketplace asks for—but you'd have more control over the sales process and how your products are displayed.

Form-Based Stores

Order form in Typeform
Orders need a form—so you could build your whole store in a form (Typeform pictured)

Form builder apps are some of the most flexible tools—they can power anything from your contact form to a prototype of your next app. And, yes, they're a great way to start a simple store.

All you need to sell stuff is your customer's name, info about the product they want, and their payment and shipping info. A form's standard text fields are a simple way to gather most of that. Most form builders—such as Typeform and Wufoo—let you integrate with payment processors like Stripe and PayPal to accept payments inside your form.

You'll have to do the hard work of sharing your product page and convincing people to pay via a form, but it's an incredibly simple way to sell your new shirt design or eBook. Here's what you'd need to do.

  1. Open your favorite form builder, and connect it to a payment processor service such as PayPal or Stripe. Note: You might need a premium or paid account for the form builder to do this.
  2. Make a new form, including text and image fields to describe your product, radio buttons to let people choose which item or color they want, and text input fields for their contact info. Many form builders, such as Typeform, offer templates for these kinds of forms.
  3. If you want to sell multiple products or let people get more than one copy of your product—or want to charge variable shipping rates—add logic fields or math fields to calculate the total.
  4. Add a payment field to the end of your form, using your form app's built-in payment support.
  5. Be sure to customize the default confirmation email on your form—or make one with form integrations—to thank your customer for their order and assure them it'll be shipped soon. Or, to sell digital downloads, use integrations to email the file to them directly.

One of the best parts of using a form to sell products is that you can customize the checkout process far more than you could in any other standard eCommerce app. That can let you be creative—but be sure to include fields for all the data you need, and make sure your form feels trustworthy with clear pricing info and official payment fields so your customers won't leave the form before paying. Be sure to check some example payment forms (perhaps with these guides from Typeform or Wufoo).

Where to Sell:

  • Cognito Forms for payment forms without a monthly subscription—just pay 1% of your sales, along with your PayPal or Stripe payment processing fee. Learn more on Zapier's Cognito Forms review .
  • Typeform for flexible forms that feel more like apps, by only showing one question at a time and then completing the experience with Stripe payments. Learn more on Zapier's Typeform review .
  • Wufoo, Formstack, or 123ContactForm for flexible, traditional forms that let you accept payments with a wide range of services, including PayPal, Stripe, Braintree, Authorize.net, Chargify, and Dwolla.
  • And more: There are dozens of form apps, most of which offer payment processing with their paid plans. Here's a roundup of the best form apps for more options.

What It'll Cost: Most form apps only include payments on their higher priced plans; you'll need a $29.95/month Wufoo plan, $35/month Typeform plan, or a $39/month plan on 123ContactForm or Formstack to accept payments—along with the per-transaction payment processing fee from the payments service you choose.

Cognito Forms makes it cheaper to start out by only charging 1% of sales—but if you sell a lot, their $24/month plan with no per-sale fee might work out cheaper.

Single-Product Stores

Gumroad product page
Single product stores are the quickest way to sell individual products (Gumroad pictured)

Want something even simpler than a form—perhaps the simplest way to sell stuff online? A single-product store builder is the app for you.

Tools like Gumroad and Plasso aren't just for selling single items—you could use them to sell as many products as you want. But they are focused on presenting only one item at a time. You'll make a listing page for each product, with its own pricing, description, and media. Then, share that page, and your customers can buy that one item in a few clicks.

In just about the time it'd take you to share a file on Dropbox, you could be selling that file. All you'd need to do is:

  1. Make an account with the single-product tool you want to use—and connect it to a payment processor with some services. What's the simplest option? Go for something that manages payments itself.
  2. Make your product listing, with a photo, price, and description of what you're selling.
  3. Share your product page with your followers to start getting sales.

You can use payment pages like these for all types of purposes. They're especially great for selling digital products such as eBooks and website themes, but you can also use them to sell anything you'd list on Etsy or even to make your own pre-order system for upcoming products. They can even run your subscription service or give you a way to add a store to your existing website without much work.

They're not that flexible and you can't make them look like you want—but you'll be hard-pressed to find anything else that offers this kind of simplicity.

Where to Sell:

  • Gumroad to start selling products in seconds, and let customers re-download digital products from their dashboard anytime. Learn more on Zapier's Gumroad review .
  • Plasso for a simple, Stripe-powered online store that supports preorders, invoices, and USB card readers for in-person sales.
  • Chec to create individual product listings, share them directly or embed them in your site, and then build a full custom checkout system later if you'd like.
  • Sellify to sell digital products and have them listed in Sellify's store for a cross between a single-product store and a marketplace.
  • SendOwl for product pages in your multiple languages, along with credit card, PayPal, and BitCoin payments.
  • E-junkie for one of the original tools to sell digital products online quickly, with integrated affiliate tools to get others to promote your products.

What It'll Cost: Most single-product stores are priced like payment services, as a percentage of your selling price.

  • Chec comes in cheapest, at 2% per transaction plus payment processing fees.
  • Gumroad's charges 5% per transaction plus 25¢ per sale.
  • Plasso charges 4% per transaction plus Stripe's fees
  • Sellify charges 5% plus PayPal fees.
  • E-junkie and SendOwl use monthly plans, starting at $5 and $9/month, respectively.

Hosted Online Stores

Shopify dashboard
Hosted stores tend to be focused on tools to help you manage orders (Shopify pictured)

If you need more customization for your online store than eBay and Etsy offer, odds are you'll end up with a hosted eCommerce app like Shopify or Big Cartel. They're the real deal—a full custom online store for your business.

Tools like these are designed to handle every detail about your own store, one that looks exactly the way you want. Your store will have its own site, complete with product listings and a shopping cart for customers to buy multiple products. When you login to your store's account, you'll see a list of orders you need to ship, and can dig into stats to see how many people visited your store and how much money you've made this month.

And, since they're hosted, you won't have to do any work to maintain the site, install updates, or keep customer data secure. The team behind your eCommerce store will manage all that for you. You'll have all the advantages of having your own site, without most of the hassle you'd have in running a site on your own server—though you won't be able to change as much in your site as you could with a self-hosted eCommerce app (which we'll look at next).

Want to market your store with blog posts, email newsletters, and social media? Wondering how you'll keep track of accounting data and manage returns? Hosted eCommerce apps will take care of all that and more.

They'll take longer to set up than any of the other options so far—and cost more, at least up front—but you'll get a customized site for your efforts. Here are the basic things you'll do:

  1. Create an account with a hosted eCommerce app, and pick your store's name and domain.
  2. Choose and customize a theme for your site, along with a logo and other branding aspects.
  3. Add your products to your store.
  4. Add any other details your store will need—typically a payment processing account, shipping info, and a contact form where customers can get in touch if needed.
  5. Open your store to the public and start promoting it online.

The important thing with hosted eCommerce apps is how much their interface fits your workflow and needs. Instead of directly opening an account and committing to one app right from the start, you might want to try a trial account on several apps and see which one you like best before building your full store.

Where to Sell:

  • Shopify to quickly build a store that looks and works like you want with themes, add-ons, and mobile apps. Learn more on Zapier's Shopify review
  • BigCommerce to build a store that's integrated with your favorite accounting, mailing, and other apps—and to cross-list your products on eBay, Etsy, and Facebook Pages. Learn more on Zapier's BigCommerce review .
  • Big Cartel for simple tools to start a smaller store. You can start out with listing 5 products for free, then grow your store as your business grows. Learn more on Zapier's Big Cartel review .
  • Volusion to drive sales with daily deals, color swatch tools on product listings to preview designs, and dozens of themes—along with a custom theme design service.
  • LemonStand for a developer-friendly hosted store that lets you use Bootstrap, React, Angular, or other front-end frameworks to design your store.
  • A site builder like Squarespace, Weebly, Wix, or Jimdo that also supports stores to add a small shop on the side of your existing blog or website. They're best for selling merchandise along with your site that's primarily focused on your brand.

What It'll Cost: Pricing for hosted stores varies based on your needs. Big Cartel is free for tiny stores, Shopify lets you get started with a $9/month lite plan, and Volusion starts at $15/month.

For a full suite of features, most stores cost around $30/month, plus payment processing fees and additional charges for customizations like themes and your own domain.

Self-Hosted Online Stores

Magento dashboard
Self-hosted stores let you tweak everything about your site (Magento pictured)

If you're already running your own website or want to customize everything about your site, self-hosted eCommerce tools are the next best option. They offer many of the same features you'd find in hosted eCommerce apps, and the core versions are free—though you'll need to pay for things like hosting, though..

Self-hosted eCommerce apps such as WooCommerce and Magento are some of the most popular ways to build a store since they let you customize everything. You'll find a wide range of themes and plugins for each to make it simple to build the site you want. And because they're running on your own server, you can dig in and customize their code and database however you want.

That same flexibility makes them more difficult to start using and maintain, though. You'll need to set up your own server or hosting, and the onus is on you to keep your customer data safe. And you'll often need to look further for add-ons with the exact features you want since the core apps themselves are a bit more streamlined.

Here's the minimum you'd need to do to run a self-hosted online store:

  1. Get a hosting account or run your own server, complete with your own domain and SSL certificate to keep customer data secure.
  2. Install your eCommerce app, along with any dependencies it needs to run and any add-ons you need for your store.
  3. Add a theme to your site and customize it to fit your branding.
  4. Add your store's info and connect it to a payment processor service.
  5. Add your product listings and any other pages you want to include in your site.
  6. Share your site and perhaps set up integrations to help manage your orders.

Want to try out a self-hosted eCommerce app before committing to it? You could run them locally on your computer using a local server tool like MAMP, or could try a pre-installed version in a hosting tool like Digital Ocean. That'll help you figure out if you like the tool enough to set it up entirely on your server.

Where to Sell:

  • Magento for one of the most powerful eCommerce platforms with a wide range of paid extensions—and an Enterprise edition if you need more features as your store grows. Learn more on Zapier's Magento review .
  • WooCommerce to run a store right inside your WordPress site. It's simple to use, takes minutes to set up, and includes a wide range of themes to customize your store. Learn more on Zapier's WooCommerce review .
  • For a simpler WordPress store, Go Pricing and Simple Pay give you an easy way to just add payments to your store.
  • X-Cart for a store that integrates with eBay, includes a point-of-sale view, and lets you create your own marketplace—along with a Mac and Windows app to test-drive your store on your computer.
  • FastSpring or Ecwid for adding a hosted checkout to your own website. It's a handy split between hosted and self-hosted stores—you run your own site, and then let FastSpring handle the secure parts of your transactions. And, as mentioned above, a payment form could work perfectly for payments on your existing self-hosted site.

What It'll Cost: The core versions of most self-hosted eCommerce stores—including Magento, WooCommerce, and X-Cart—are free.

You'll need to pay for your own hosting (starting at $5/month on a service like Digital Ocean), a SSL certificate to encrypt your site (from around $9/year), and will likely need to purchase themes, plugins, and paid upgrades to get the features you need—along with payment processing fees and your domain name. You'll also need to count for the time it takes to set up and maintain your site.


Which Should You Choose?

There's no perfect place to start your store. Everything comes with tradeoffs. Marketplaces give you a built-in audience in exchange for higher fees and less control. Hosted eCommerce apps cost more per month, but are packed with features. Self-hosted eCommerce apps are free as long as you have hosting and time to manage them.

One might work better when you're starting out, and as your business grows you can switch to another eCommerce app. That's what the Moment Lens team found. "Kickstarter was an early fundraising platform that played a key role in getting off the ground, gauging customer demand, and funding early production," says founder Marc Barros. They then built their own store in WooCommerce to drive sales after the crowdfunding campaign. And they still needed social media, like Instagram, to drive sales at their site.

Others start out on a marketplace, and build their own store later. Tasha Burton did that with her Belle Butters store. "Etsy is where I began," Burton says. It became crowded with similar stores over time, and the fees added up, so she moved her store to Big Cartel.

Or you could use multiple eCommerce platforms at once, as Urban Baby Bonnets does. "The branding strength of my own site is more powerful than the sub-branding of other platforms," says founder Colette Palamar. So, for the best of both worlds, she sells her products on her own site and on Etsy and Amazon at the same time to grab customers from their vast customer base.

Self-hosted eCommerce tools are popular for their flexibility, but they can also be too much to manage. As BottleKeeper founder Adam Callinan said, "WordPress and WooCommerce worked well for the first year and a half. Then, we outgrew the system and had 29 plugins operating simultaneously, tremendously slowing performance." Shopify fit their needs better, and their team didn't need to spend time optimizing the site.

Start with the tool that seems to fit best now, and when you outgrow it, make the switch. You could even sell in more than one place at once—just like you could have a real-world bakery and sell your baked goods at festivals on the weekend, too.

It Takes More Than Just a Store

sign in front of store
How are you going to replicate that in your online store?

No one's going to walk past your online store. They won't follow your Facebook Page by accident, and aren't likely to randomly choose your product on eBay a second time if you don't try hard.

As BzaBiz founder David Bizer said, "Starting an eCommerce business is super easy and can be done in one day. Getting sales is hard, though."

A store on its own isn't enough. You need to get people to notice your store, take interest in your products, buy them, and share them with their friends. And you'll need to support your customers when things go wrong.

The tough part is that you need to do a great at all of it. As Tasha Burton said, "If the product is excellent, the customer service is great, you'll have instant customer loyalty. Don't take your customers for granted!"

It's the same things you'd need in a real-world store, only this time, your best tricks are with apps, not signs and fresh-baked samples. Here are some great resources to help you get started:

  • You need to get people's attention with your new store. Here's a look at 19 great customer acquisition channels, from affiliates to viral videos, and what you can expect from each.
  • Social media is one of the best ways to promote your products, whether you're selling directly with a Facebook Store or not. Here are 101 ways to smartly automate your social media so you don't have to have Facebook open on your phone at all hours.
  • One of the best ways to keep people coming back—or to get them to buy a product they've already looked at—is with email marketing. Zapier's free Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing gives you the tips and tools to send great emails to your customers and keep them engaged.
  • You'll also need to support your customers. Zapier's Ultimate Guide to Customer Support is another free book you should add to your collection. With tips from a number of companies on how to offer great customer support—and guides to the best apps for customer support—you'll hit the ground running with your first support emails.
  • Once you've sold some products, want to know what people think about them? Here's how to monitor your brand online to see what's said about your store and products.

Building the next name-brand giant takes great products, along with a location where you can show them off.

Your online store is no different. The internet is really just the world's cheapest real estate, with online marketplaces, social networks, and hosted stores acting as shopping malls, market stands, and kiosks. What matters most is a combination of a good location, great products, and marketing that attracts people to your store.

There's no one perfect place to sell your products. Your best bet might be a combination of all the above—maybe you should try a Kickstarter to develop your product, then promote it on Facebook and make some extra sales, and eventually build a full-featured WooCommerce site on your own once you're ready. Maybe you'll end up starting a real-world store, too.

So go give it a try—in chapter 4, we'll show you step-by-step how to open, stock, and run your online store. There are so many ways to sell stuff online, it'd be a shame to want to start a store and never do it.

Go to Chapter 4!

Written by Zapier Marketer Matthew Guay.

Image Credits: Shopping cart photo by Caden Crawford via Flickr; market photo by Erik Scheel via Pexels; specials sign photo by Ed Gregory via Stockpic.

Previous Chapter

From Startup Costs to Business Plans: What You Need to Start Your Own Business

Next Chapter

How to Start a Store: A Step-by-Step Guide to eCommerce with Shopify and WooCommerce

Build workflows with your apps.

Try Zapier Free

Connect apps. Automate tasks. Get more done.

Try Zapier Free

“If we didn't get these ongoing notifications through Zapier, we’d miss important information on how patient funding is going. It's saved us so much time.”

Grace Garey, co-founder of Watsi

Try Zapier Today
Workflow

Take the Work out of Workflow

Zapier is the easiest way to automate powerful workflows with more than 750 apps.