One of the most important questions small business owners face is “where should I sell my products?” With the Internet being the norm nowadays, it’s no secret that eCommerce is becoming the most predominant way consumers purchase products, especially during the days of the COVID-19 pandemic. If your business is part of the retail world but doesn’t use an eCommerce platform to sell, then your company is going to be left in the dust.
Nasdaq estimated that 95% of all purchases made by consumers will be through eCommerce. While the electronic exchange’s analysts made that prediction in 2017, other studies since have indicated that eCommerce purchases will continue to dominate the way Americans purchase products. According to research firm Gartner, 30% of B2B sales cycles in the US will run through a digital sales platform, and AI sales assistants will replace in-person sales assistants by 2026.
Online Marketplaces vs. eCommerce Platforms
Small business owners should note that there is a difference between eCommerce and selling in an open marketplace and should carefully evaluate which one they prefer. While Amazon is the world’s largest online marketplace and Etsy, Facebook, Instagram and eBay are examples of popular marketplaces for small businesses, they are not actually eCommerce platforms because you cannot set up your own store and sell individual products within these marketplaces. Instead, you would be one of thousands of sellers.
Selling products on an online marketplace may be a better option for micro-businesses. Amazon and Etsy are among the most popular online markets for consumers, and selling your products on them will save you the time, effort and cost of creating and managing your own online store.
On the other hand, you’re rolling the dice by selling on an online marketplace.No matter how popular the marketplace site, you’re not guaranteed sales because there really won’t be anything that makes your products stand out. You’re just going to be another vendor in a crowded marketplace of vendors.
Most Popular eCommerce Platforms
If you are considering moving at least part of your sales to an eCommerce platform – which essentially is your business’ online store – or you’re a new small business that only wants to sell online, the most important question you face is which eCommerce platform out there is the right one for you and your business?
There are several factors you need to consider before making that decision, including costs, the number of integrated sales/distribution channels being offered, and a realistic estimate of how large of a market there is for your products.
Shopify is arguably one of the best online sales platforms in terms of features and low transaction fees, especially for small businesses selling niche or unique products. The platform features multi-channel shopping and drop shipping so that you can sell your products through third-party marketplaces or directly from your website. It also offers Shop Pay, a payment processing system, and Shopify POS, a feature that can administer in-person sales. The cost ranges from $29.99 per month for basic Shopify to $299 per month for Advanced Shopify, plus you get a 15-day free trial and a custom domain name.
- Relatively low transaction fees;
- Easy-to-use mobile app;
- Built-in marketing tools;
- SEO monitoring services, and
- Shopify can integrate with other sales platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Google, Walmart Marketplace, eBay and Amazon.
- The advanced Shopify package is relatively expensive, and
- Shopify is prohibited in several countries such as Canada, Germany, Australia, Ireland and Italy, among others.
Adobe Commerce (formerly Magento)
Adobe Commerce offers a powerful and flexible, non-hosted platform that enables small business owners to customize their online store to create a completely tailored experience for online shoppers. The platform allows users to sell across multiple channels, especially mobile platforms, add new brands and sites, expand globally and engage in both B2B and business-to-consumers transactions. The platform allows users to offer tailored promotions, and seamless multi-channel fulfillment options. It also has an integrated sales channel with Amazon Marketplace.
- Not hosted – meaning that you, the business owner, are doing all the hosting as opposed to having the eCommerce platform serving as the host for you;
- It’s free to start, and
- It’s highly Customizable.
- It requires a deep knowledge of coding, since you’re going to have to customize your online store. If you’re not adept at computer coding, you will most likely need to hire a programmer and possibly a web designer;
- Some users have said that it is not SEO friendly, and
- It requires third-party extensions for online transactions.
Wix is a popular platform because it allows you to build your company’s website for free by offering customizable templates, domain name registration and web hosting. It’s easy to use, especially if your business’ website is for informational and marketing purposes only. For an added price, Wix also gives you the option to open your own online store and sell products. Its eCommerce platform allows you to track orders, process online payments, sell products on multiple channels and create campaigns to attract browsers who abandon their online shopping carts before making purchases. Its business basic plan costs $23 per month, while its Business VIP plan costs $49 per month. By installing third-party app Ecwid, it offers integrated sales channels through Facebook and Instagram.
- Wix is easy to use;
- Your eCommerce store is fully hosted, and
- Wix provides 24-hour customer support.
- Wix can get expensive because tracking and analytics requires a separate, paid plan;
- Your online store isn’t transferrable; meaning, if you decide to abandon Wix and build your own eCommerce store, you’re going to have to start from scratch, and
- You may have to use Wix branding in your sales.
Squarespace is a competing website hosting platform to Wix, and like Wix, it offers easy-to-use tools to build your online store. With some tweaking, you can pretty easily convert your informational website into an eCommerce store for a price. Squarespace’s eCommerce platform offers inventory tracking tools and the ability to sell subscriptions and gift cards in its higher-priced plans. It offers integrated sales channels through Google Actions, Amazon, Etsy and eBay. Its prices range from $26 per month to $46 per month.
- No transaction fees;
- Strong Customer Support, and
- Professionally designed templates.
- Limited multi-channel sales;
- Limited phone support, and
- Integrated pay options only include PayPal and Stripe.
If you host your own website and use WordPress to manage your blog content, Woo Commerce may be the answer for you, as it is essentially an add-on to WordPress. If you don’t already have a blog on your site, you probably should consider starting one. Put simply, Woo Commerce allows you to easily monetize your blog. Woo Commerce allows you to customize content with purchase orders by adding relatively easy-to-use drop and drag blocks to allow browsers to easily purchase your products after reading your content.
Its features also allow you to easily manage email address marketing, shipping, payments, CRM and product management with multiple available plug-ins. Woo Commerce has integrated sales platforms with Google Shopping, Etsy, Amazon Marketplace, Facebook, Pinterest and Walmart. Its basic package is $30 per month, but it can get pricey as you add plugins and integrations.
- Easy to use;
- Open sourced and customizable, and
- Provides over 6,000 plugins and integrations.
- Since Woo Commerce somewhat limits you to selling through your blog, you’re going to have to invest in content marketing. There are content marketing courses available online such as this one from Hubspot, and
- The costs for hosting, developing, maintenance and plugins can get expensive.
If you’re just starting out in eCommerce, PrestShop may be a very good tool for you. It’s a free, open-source platform for small business owners who are familiar with website building. PerstaShop’s tools include inventory tracking, online shopping cart, international selling and analytics reporting, plus control over privacy and security settings. It offers integrated sales channels with Amazon, Etsy, eBay and Facebook. Since it’s free, you can move on to a more sophisticated platform as your online sales grow.
- It’s free;
- PrestShop offers global selling opportunities through payment option plugins, and
- It’s easy-to-use.
- It offers low-quality web designs;
- Does not offer customer support, and
- Has limited scalability.
Setting up your own eCommerce store will require you to consider a multitude of factors, including cost, whether you have the expertise to do so, and determining if your market is big enough to warrant selling your products online. You may choose to sell your products in popular marketplaces instead. Either way, you’re probably going to have to sell online, as that’s where the future of retail shopping clearly lies.