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How to sell online

The beginner’s guide to setting up an online store.

If you’re new to the world of e-commerce, selling your products online can seem like a daunting venture. This guide outlines the steps you need to take to sell online, from finding the right e-commerce platform to migrating brick-and-mortar store wares online.

Why sell online?

It’s simple: selling products online increases your reach. Storefronts restrict your sales to customers who can visit you in person. But selling online offers the opportunity to sell to customers anywhere in the world. More customers mean more sales — without having to contend with the overhead of a traditional storefront.

How do I sell products online?

To sell products online, you’ll need an online store. And that means you’ll need to sign up with an e-commerce platform.

E-commerce platforms offer an arsenal of online selling tools, including website builders, store themes, payment gateways, shopping cart software and point-of-sale software. Some even offer integrated payment processing so you can begin accepting customer payments as soon as your store goes live.

E-commerce platforms are the ideal choice for those looking to start an online business.

Should I sell on an online marketplace?

Another way to sell products online is by creating an account on an online marketplace like eBay or Amazon. This option may work for beginners looking for a side hustle, but isn’t ideal for those looking to build an online business — competition is fierce, profit margins are slim and you won’t have much control over how your products are listed, marketed or sold.

How do I choose an e-commerce platform?

There are a number of things to consider before you set up shop on an e-commerce platform:

  • Cost. There are a number of costs associated with selling online, including setup fees, monthly service fees and transaction fees.
  • Payment processing. Before you can sell online, you’ll need a payment processing provider. Some e-commerce platforms, like Shopify and BigCommerce, offer integrated processing. Others integrate with third-party processors.
  • Themes. Many platforms have website builders and themes to choose from, but some are more beginner-friendly than others. You’ll also want a platform that offers mobile-ready themes for buyers that come to your site from their mobile device.
  • Hosting. Those new to selling online will want to opt for a hosted e-commerce platform like Shift4Shop, while those with more experience or technical know-how may want to explore open-source platforms, like X-cart.
  • Shipping options. Shipping software providers can offer discounted carrier rates, pickup scheduling, return shipping options and more — for a fee. If you’re interested in organizing shipping through a shipping software provider, you’ll need to find out which providers your e-commerce platform integrates with.
  • Social media integrations. Speaking of integrations — do you plan to sell through social media? Some platforms allow you to market and sell on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, but you’ll need to make sure the platform you choose integrates with your preferred selling channels.
  • Point-of-sale hardware. Even though you plan to sell online doesn’t mean you can’t also sell in person. Luckily, e-commerce platforms like Square and Shopify also offer point-of-sale hardware for merchants that plan to take in-person payments.
  • Customer support. When do you plan to manage your online store? Find out how your e-commerce platform offers customer support to ensure you’ll have help when you need it.
    Early termination fees. If your provider asks you to sign a contract to use its service, you’ll need to be wary of early termination fees and penalties.

Do I need a business license to sell online?

It depends on where you live. Business licensing requirements vary by state and municipality, so contact the Small Business Administration to find out what the requirements are in your state. You may need to obtain a sales tax license, federal license, occupational license or official certificate of use before you can start selling online.

Compare e-commerce platforms

Name Product Products Monthly fees start at Processing fees start at Hosting
Payment processing, Website builder, Inventory tracking, Shopping cart software, Shipping software
2.9% + $0.30 per transaction
BigCommerce is an all-in-one e-commerce platform created to help you sell more.
Payment processing, POS software, POS hardware, Website builder, Inventory tracking
1.92% + $0.08 per transaction
Conveniently packaged into three service tiers for in-person and online sales.
Square Online
Square Online
Payment processing, Website builder, Inventory tracking, Shopping cart software, Shipping software
2.9% + 30¢
Create an online store with beautiful layouts to help drive business.
Payment processing, Website builder, Inventory tracking, Shopping cart software, Shipping software
2.9% + $0.30 online; 2.4% in person
Shopify offers both e-commerce and in-person POS systems designed to help you build a new online store from the ground up.

Compare up to 4 providers

How do I get started on an e-commerce platform?

Here’s what to expect of the e-commerce platform setup process:

  1. Select your platform. Pick an e-commerce provider based on the features and services that will help your business thrive.
  2. Sign up. Many platforms allow you to complete the signup process online. Be ready to supply your business name, employer identification number, annual revenue and business checking account information.
  3. Create your website. Select a website theme and begin the process of setting up your website.
  4. Add your products. Once your online store’s framework is in place, begin adding products. You’ll need to decide on price points, product descriptions, images and shipping options.
  5. Start selling. Market your products through social media and integrated sales channels. As sales start rolling in, stay on top of inventory levels with your platform’s accompanying point-of-sale software.

How do I bring my existing store online?

If you already operate a brick-and-mortar store, there are a number of e-commerce platforms that can help you synchronize inventory and sales both in-person and online.

To simplify payment processing, look for an e-commerce platform that integrates with your existing processor. Or, consider swapping out your processor for an all-in-one provider that offers point-of-sale systems, e-commerce software and payment processing — like Square.

Next, you’ll need to set up your online store by adding the products you’d like to sell online. With the right point-of-sale system, you’ll be able to manage your in-store and online inventory all in one place.

How much does it cost to use an e-commerce platform?

Most providers charge monthly software fees that range from $25 to $300 monthly, depending on your monthly processing volume and what features you want to access. You’ll also be expected to cover per-transaction processing fees for each sale you make. Additional costs may include point-of-sale terminals for those who plan to sell in-person and website theme fees for those that want to build their store using a premium theme.

How do I price my products?

Working out the right prices for the products you sell can be a challenge. If you’re new to the world of online selling, consider the following:

  • Profit margins. How much does it cost you to make or source your product? How do you need to price your products to ensure that you can still make an acceptable profit?
  • Fees and costs. In addition to the fees imposed by the e-commerce platform or marketplace you choose, you’ll also need to consider the cost of returns and the impact of foreign exchange rates when selling to overseas buyers.
  • Competition. Examining what your competitors are doing is crucial. Research how similar products are priced to stay ahead of the competition.
  • Incentives. Once you’ve worked out a competitive price point for your product, think about the incentives you can offer to help your products stand out from the crowd. For example, you could offer limited-time discounts or free shipping for orders over a specific minimum amount.

Bottom line

There are plenty of ways to get started selling online. The right choice for you and your business depends on how much control you’d like to have over the selling process.

Learn more about your e-commerce platform options to find the best software solution for your online selling needs.

Frequently asked questions

How long does it take to create an online store?

For those seeking a simple setup, you might be able to get your website up in less than a day. For those looking to build a site from scratch, potentially with the help of self-hosted software, the process could take weeks.

What is a hosted e-commerce platform?

A hosted e-commerce platform offers web-hosting as a part of its e-commerce services. Hosted platforms handle security measures, like PCI compliance and SSL certification. Self-hosted platforms offer the opportunity to customize software but merchants are responsible for software setup and security.

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