Want to start selling on eBay, Amazon, or on your own, but don't know where to start? You're in the right place! This guide will show you where to start, and how to do it right.
So you’re interested in selling stuff online, eh?
Perhaps you have dreams of quitting the rat-race to start your own online, eBay or Amazon business (which obviously involves waking up at 10am, working in your pajamas, taking long weekends whenever you like, and answering to nobody because you're the boss...)
Or maybe you just want a few extra bucks in your back pocket.
Whatever your reason for wanting to start selling online, eCommerce offers huge opportunities for anyone with an internet connection.
Of all the ways of making money online, it's perhaps one of the easiest to understand and get started with.
Our ten-minute guide to the world of online selling will show you where to start, and how to do it right!
We’ve broken the process down into six simple steps to take you from complete beginner to professional seller.
Let’s jump right in!
Before you get started investing time and money into an online business, you want to be sure that selling online is right for you.
So let’s look at the pros and cons of selling online so you can weigh them up and make an informed decision.
While working from home in your pajamas is definitely a plus, there are plenty of other amazing reasons to work from home while building your own eCommerce business:
Like anything in life, selling online comes with a few downsides. It's important you're aware of these before you begin, so you set yourself realistic expectations.
To simplify, this isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme.
But if you're happy to spend a little time building a reputation, developing your brand, and optimizing your processes... the sky's the limit.
There are several different business models to consider before you start selling online, each with their own set of pros and cons.
You will want to think carefully about which business model is best for you. They all require different levels of financial investment and will determine how you structure your business.
The simplicity of dropshipping does come at a cost. You usually pay a higher price to your supplier compared with buying in bulk, and you’ll usually incur a dropshipping fee.
Shipping also tends to take longer as most dropship suppliers are based in China. But dropshipping is extremely popular and many people have built successful eCommerce businesses using it. Dropshipping is best for people looking to dip their toe into selling online, those who don’t have a lot of capital to buy in bulk, and people who want to keep their workload to a minimum.
See our Complete Guide to Dropshipping.
Dropshipping is the darling of the eCommerce world. Why? Because the barrier to entry is so low. You don’t need to make any financial investment to get started. Meaning, you won’t pay a cent until you make a sale.
That means you don’t need to place any large orders or store excess stock. You just need to decide what you want to sell, find a supplier that provides dropshipping services, list your products on your preferred online marketplace, and start selling.
Basically, your supplier does most of the heavy lifting and your main job is to make sales. Simple, right?Here’s how dropshipping works:
Sourcing products from wholesalers is a more traditional retail business model. It’s used by brick and mortar stores and eCommerce stores alike. Once you’ve decided on what product/s you’re going to sell, you find a reliable wholesaler and buy the product/s in bulk. Getting the best price usually requires some negotiation.
Buying in bulk requires that you have significant cash to spend up front. The upside is that you’ll usually get your products at a cheaper price than you would with dropshipping. That means higher profit margins for you every time you make a sale.
Once you’ve ordered the product/s, it’s up to you to arrange storage, to list them for sale online, and to organize shipping. Alternatively, you can use a third-party fulfillment service like Amazon FBA or Shipbob (there are many options to choose from) to handle the packaging and shipping for you. However, this comes at an added cost that eats into your profit margins.
You can see how sourcing from wholesalers can be more labor-intensive than dropshipping, but the financial benefits can make the extra work worth it.
Sourcing a product from the manufacturer is a similar process to sourcing from a wholesaler. The main difference is that you can work with a manufacturer to create your own product, or a private label product.
The initial investment is higher as you’re creating something new, but if you want to build a brand and sell a unique product, then sourcing from a manufacturer is the business model for you.
There are a lot more hoops to jump through in terms of product development, design, testing, packaging, and legal obligations, but if you’re ready to set in for the long haul and build a business that you can differentiate from the majority of online sellers, sourcing direct from manufacturers is a good option.
If you’re creative, artistic, or have a unique skill, then by all means, you can make your own products and sell them online. Whether you crochet beanies, build wooden chopping boards, or engineer new technologies in your bedroom, there’s bound to be a market for your creations. Think of it as turning your hobby into a business.
You can even start selling your own products as a side-hustle, while you’re still working. If you are successful, you may be able to turn it into your full-time job.
The main thing with selling your own products is that all of the responsibility is on your shoulders. You can only sell as much as you make, so you have to invest your own time into production.
The main benefit is that, aside from the cost of materials and your time, you don’t have to make a significant investment up front. You also don’t have to rely on suppliers. It’s all on you.
You’ve probably thought about this step already.
In fact, most people start by thinking of products they can sell online and go from there. What starts as a daydream at the office often flourishes into a successful business, so be careful what you wish for!
Choosing what to sell is arguably the most important decision you will make as it will determine the demand for your product, price and profitability, market competition, sales, and marketing. It’s also one of the hardest decisions you will make.
Of the billions of products out there, how do you know which one to sell?
For the full run-down on choosing a product to sell, see our “What to sell?” article. But in general, you're looking for a product that meets these requirements:
The answer to that is: Almost anything. However, if you want to be successful at selling online, you should follow the strategies of top sellers and choose products that meet the criteria below.
The first thing you should do to get ideas for what to sell is to brainstorm your hobbies - the things you’re interested in. The reason why this can be a good idea is that you’re more likely to be invested in selling products you’re interested in. You’ll also have a certain level of expertise that can help inform your business decisions.
Once you’ve identified your hobbies, try and think laterally and outside the box to generate product ideas that aren’t so obvious. The more specific your niche is, the better.
Try to become intimately familiar with products that are selling well on the most popular online marketplaces, including Amazon, eBay, Aliexpress, and Alibaba. Obviously you don’t want to sell products that are already doing well in highly competitive markets, but often those hot products can give you ideas for similar, complementary, and less competitive options.
You can do your own market research, or use a tool like SaleHoo’s powerful market research lab to do the heavy lifting for you. SaleHoo Labs uses data from Amazon and eBay to determine the sell rate, average retail price, and competition for a massive range of products. You can simply browse by product category and set specific filters to identify products that you can be confident will sell online.
This is the million dollar question. But the answer is not simple. As you will know from your own market research, there’s a wide range of products that are selling well online.
The thing is, that once a product becomes a “best seller”, it’s probably too late to start selling it as the market quickly becomes saturated. You need to learn to anticipate trends, or identify ways to sell items that are similar or complementary to best-selling products.
However, according to our own data and research, products in these five niches are always selling well. You’ll just need a bit of creativity (and a dash of intuition) to discover the next best-selling product.
Another strategy to consider is selling products that tap into consumer’s physiological needs. American psychologist Abraham Maslow created “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” way back in 1943 and it’s still relied on by marketers and salespeople today. The hierarchy of needs are:
If you can identify products that fit into these deep-seated human desires, then you are almost guaranteed to have success selling them. You can see how luxury goods might fit into the ‘esteem’ need, home security items tap into our need for ‘safety’, and the latest and greatest pillow fills our ‘physiological’ need for sleep.
Once you’ve decided on a product to start selling online, you need to find a reliable supplier for that product.
Finding a supplier is probably the second most time-consuming part of selling online, and also comes with a raft of boobytraps to avoid - so be careful! A supplier is one of your most important business partners so you want to make sure you choose the right one.
Your business model will largely determine what type of supplier you work with. But let’s get down to the nitty gritty. How do you find a supplier you can trust?
There are several ways to look for suppliers:
SaleHoo can help you save time and minimize risk when choosing a supplier. SaleHoo’s directory has more than 8000 legitimate, low-cost suppliers of a massive range of products, located all over the world. SaleHoo’s staff check and verify all suppliers before adding them to the directory so you can be confident that they’re reliable and trustworthy.
If you want to go at it alone, you can use search engines like Google and online marketplaces like Alibaba and AliExpress to find dropship suppliers. It takes a lot more time and you have to watch out for fraudulent businesses and scams. But if you’re willing to invest the effort, you can find good dropship suppliers this way. Start by searching “[your product] + dropshipper” and go from there. On websites like Alibaba, you can contact suppliers directly and ask if they provide dropshipping services.
Google is your friend when it comes to finding wholesale suppliers. However, you should be aware that often the best suppliers don’t have a lot of time and money to invest in marketing (and their websites can look really cheap), so they can be hard to find online. If you’re wanting to secure the best deal, you’ll have to do a bit of groundwork. One way around this is to work with local wholesale suppliers, or to visit trade shows and meet suppliers face-to-face, the old-fashioned way. A lot of the sellers on Alibaba, AliExpress, and other major online marketplaces will be wholesalers, so you can contact them and make enquiries. If you want a shortcut, there’s always SaleHoo.
You can find manufacturers much the same way as you find other suppliers - on Google, SaleHoo, and popular online retail sites. But if you’re getting them to manufacture your product, there are just a whole lot more boxes to add to your checklist. You need to be even more vigilant and ensure you do due diligence. Ideally, this means visiting the factory, meeting the manufacturer, and testing their products and service before committing to your first order. Finding a great manufacturer is essential to the success of your business.
So you’ve found a few suppliers that you want to reach out to? Great! You’re making real progress. The next step is contacting them. This sounds as simple as flicking them a quick email. But you should know that the best suppliers get contacted by a lot of aspiring online sellers every day, so if you don’t make a good first impression, chances are they’ll just ignore you. And you don’t want that!
You need to know what suppliers want in a potential customer/business relationship, and you should also know what you want from the supplier. These are the top five things that a supplier is looking for when you contact them.
The best way to achieve these objectives is by doing your research and not overloading the supplier with questions. To help with this, we’ve put together a list of 35 questions you should ask a potential supplier (just don’t ask all of them at once!).
We highly recommend that, whenever possible, you always opt for a telephone call. Email is OK, but it doesn’t give you that personal interaction which can help you determine the legitimacy, expertise, and professionalism of potential suppliers, which are all things you need to know when you're giving someone a bunch of money.
So you’ve contacted a suitable supplier and you’re ready to commit? Now’s the time to get down to business and negotiate your deal.
Remember: your goal is to be able to source your products for less than what you'll eventually sell them for. Every little discount you can get will count towards your profits — and it can really add up!
So, how do you get a better deal from your supplier? Simple! You can:
Now that you’ve decided on what product you want to sell and who you’re going to buy it from, it’s time to make everything official and legal! Yes, that means taking the step to becoming a real online business.
So you’ve got all the ingredients to launch your online business, now you just need to make everything official. Every country has different requirements when it comes to setting up a business, so it’s always a good idea to speak to an accountant or lawyer to get professional advice.
However, to make sure you’re getting started on the right foot, here are the four main things you need to consider when setting up your business.
Make sure it’s something you feel comfortable broadcasting via your social channels as well as in person. For example, don’t name your business “Miss Kay’s Underwear Store” even if you’re selling underwear. Who’s going to want to share (or even click on) a store’s social page if they think it’s a joke? Make sure your business name is on-brand. Even better, choose something original so that the .com domain name is still available.
Business regulations are different across countries and, in the United States, they vary from city to city and state to state. A simple Google search of your country and city will tell you whether you need to register your business in order to operate legally.
If you are serious about starting an online retail business and sourcing products from wholesalers, in most US states, you'll need a Sales Tax ID. A Sales Tax ID is a number you obtain from your state and/or local government that allows you to charge sales tax whenever a buyer in your state, county and/or city purchases an item from you, even if it’s an online purchase. Note: This is only relevant for businesses in the US, or with customers in the US.
When you launch your online store, you want to be ready to start accepting money. That means you need to offer a range of payment options for your customers. These days, it’s common for online stores to cater for credit cards, Paypal, Stripe, Afterpay. You don’t need to be signed up to every payment option, but the more flexible you are, the more sales you will make.
Now that you know what you’re selling and your business is set up legally, it’s time to choose where you want to sell. There are a lot of options, but how do you know which is the best for you?
I wish I could tell you that a specific online marketplace is the best one for you, but it really depends on what you’re selling and what you’re hoping to achieve with your business. Each platform has its own pros and cons, so it pays to do a bit of research into a few different platforms before deciding which one you will use to start selling online.
You should also consider starting your own online store using a platform like Shopify so you don’t have to compete in a crowded marketplace like Amazon or eBay.
|Marketplace||Operates in||Product categories||Seller fees|
|Amazon||Worldwide||All||From $39.99 a month + referral fees of between 8% and 15% per item|
|Etsy||Worldwide||Arts, crafts, jewelry, collectibles||$0.20 USD listing fee and 3.5% commission|
|Bonanza||Worldwide||All||3.5% Final Offer Value fee|
|eBid||Worldwide||All||3% Final Value Fee, or subscriptions from $1.99 to $99.98|
|Rakuten||Japan-based, worldwide users||All||$33 a month, 8% to 15% category fee, and $0.99 per item sold|
|Newegg||Worldwide (mostly US and Canada)||Tech and electronics||Free up to $99.95 a month and 8% to 15% commission|
|eCrater||Worldwide||All||Mostly free, but they take 2.9% of sales that they bring to you|
|Ruby Lane||Worldwide||Arts, antiques, collectibles, jewelry||$100 set-up cost, plans from $69 a month, $0.19 listing fee|
|Walmart||Worldwide (mostly United States)||All||Free to join, 8% to 20% referral fee|
There are a lot of platforms where you can sell your products, but the two biggest players are definitely eBay and Amazon. However, there are plenty of viable alternatives, including setting up your own website with the help of website builders like Shopify, WooCommerce or Squarespace. Let’s look at some of the best online marketplace options for your new business.
Congratulations! Your online store is up and running. Now you need to attract customers to your listings or website. This is where your marketing strategy comes in. You can’t just sit back and expect the money to start rolling in. It’s time to get to work.
You’ve already got the first ingredient to running a successful online store: A great product! But there are several other factors you need to get right from the beginning to ensure long-term success.
When you’re starting out selling online, you probably won’t have a big marketing budget like major retail brands. In fact, you might not have any money put aside for marketing. Thankfully, there are a lot of ways you can market your products online for free - as long as you’re willing to invest some time into learning how to do it.
If you have some money to spend on paid advertising, it can definitely be a worthwhile investment. Paid advertising allows you to target specific audiences with your products and generate traffic to your listings immediately. Paid advertising is the only method that some online sellers, especially dropshippers, use to make sales. If you can, it’s optimal to use a mix of free and paid marketing to give your online store the best chance of success.
Almost every online marketplace has its own paid advertising platform to promote your products. You should start by focusing on the platforms that your customers are likely to be engaging in most. Paid advertising is fast becoming a must have for growth and success in ecommerce. It’s worth becoming familiar with the different platforms as soon as you have some money to experiment with.
A great way to differentiate your online store from the masses is by creating a professional and recognisable brand.
When creating a brand make sure it meets these criteria:
While social media and content marketing strategies, outlined above, definitely help with Search Engine Optimization (SEO), you’ll want to have a specific SEO strategy that bumps your business up the list on popular search engines.
You’ve got a lot of great tips to work with there, but if you’re after some additional resources to give you that extra edge on the competition, check out these guides:
You should now be well on your way to running a successful online store. It can be an exciting journey, but it’s important to never stop learning so that you’re always keeping up with - or staying ahead of - your competition.
Here are some extra resources that are going to help you as you navigate through the early stages of selling online.
You could look into our advanced strategies for increasing your eBay sales or your Amazon sales.
You may also want to start considering your pricing and shipping strategies.
Finally, if you’re selling on your own webstore, you need to focus on social media, email, and content marketing to get customers to your store and keep them coming back.
Now that you’re up and running, here are some practical tips to keep you on track:
Additionally, here are some other great blogs to follow that frequently post content to help you along your online selling journey:
We hope this guide has helped you understand the basics of selling online! If you follow the tips and tricks we’ve shared, we know you’ll be an eCommerce mastermind in no time.
eCommerce is a fantastic (and fun) way to make some extra cash online — and potentially build a full-time income. It also gives you the freedom to be your own boss while doing something you really love.
If you’ve found this article helpful, be sure to share it with your friends! As always, thanks for counting on SaleHoo to provide you with the tips and tricks needed to create your dream store.