I’ll be honest, I love to shop online. According to global statistics I’m not alone either. Ecommerce is actually one of the fastest growing markets in Europe right now, and yet still overlooked by many as a genuine way to make an income. According to research last year 40% of UK consumers shop online spending an average of £3,370 a year (OK, I might be in more limited company for the amount I spend then!), a figure which is definitely not to be sniffed at. The rise of open auction sites and the online equivalent of market stalls have played a large part in the public’s growing acceptance of ecommerce, making it so quick and easy to get your listings online you can often have a new shop up and running in under an hour. The founding father of the online auction site has to be eBay – a business started in 1995 that now has around 2 million people browsing listed items every day. That’s an awfully big potential audience, and if you have something they want to buy this could be a perfect accompaniment to your bricks and mortar retail business with no initial set up fees and very low running costs. Not only this but the buyer to seller ratio is more favourable than on the high street. Over 70% of Brits shop online, while only 14% of small businesses sell their goods online. Who wouldn’t like to be operating in a less competitive market?
eBay isn’t just about offloading your bric-a-brac and unwanted wedding gifts (although it works just fine for those purposes too if you like). Over £750 worth of goods change hands across the site every second. Shoppers go there because it’s quick and convenient and you can find listings for pretty much anything you could imagine – from the utterly mundane to the truly bizarre. I’ve seen listings for a papier-mâché urinal (wouldn’t want to be in the room when that was used!) and even someone selling his mother (or at least photos of her so you can pretend that she’s your mum). Canny traders can do good business just by going to the ‘inconvenient’ places to buy stuff cheaply, before marking it up and selling it on through eBay. Once registered you will see it’s very straightforward to list an item. Make sure you take care producing your posts – a decent photo and a good description are essential to making the best sale. You’ll find plenty of tutorials on running a good eBay shop if you Google it.
TIP: An independent trade body called the Professional eBay Sellers Alliance, or PESA, has been set up to support those merchants who want to formally turn their eBay trading into a full time business.
TIP: A study by the Journal of Consumer Research found that red backgrounds lead to more aggressive bidding, so photograph items on a red background to subliminally encourage better sales.
Now, you can sell pretty much anything on eBay – although they recently banned listings for existential and made up stuff, like ghosts in jars and love spells. But if you’ve got something more hand-made and crafty (in the non-devious sense) to offer Etsy is the place where all the cool kids hang out. This is the best-known open marketplace for artistic types to display their wares. It was started in 2005 by a group of people who just wanted an easy way to sell their own creative endeavours; it grew rapidly and now the website’s blurb declares the lofty goal of wanting to “empower people to change the way the global economy works”. From handmade jewellery to vintage clothing and way, way beyond; there is something for everyone’s taste here. You don’t have to be a professional artist to set up shop on Esty – in fact only about a quarter of sellers are – you just need a niche, artsy product at a reasonable price and some of the 42 million unique visitors a month might be persuaded to buy one.
TIP: If you own a corner shop or convenience store anywhere in the UK you could join a network of over 5,000 small businesses taking in parcels for local customers of online retail giants like Amazon and ASOS by signing up at Collect Plus. Don’t expect to earn a fortune from the scheme directly, but one major retail chain claims to have seen a 20% rate in “collateral” purchases while the collector is in store picking up the parcel.
To dip your toe in the water of serious ecommerce Shopify provides a safe haven to pitch your stall and see if any customers take an interest. You’ll get a dedicated URL to point customers towards, which you can customise with themes and design tweaks before loading up your (virtual) shelves with all your products. There is a free thirty day trial after which monthly instalments start at £19. The extra cash will buy you more storage space and product listings, or SKUs to increase the number of separate product strands you can offer simultaneously. Also note that unless you go for the most costly account option there is a small percentage fee for handling transactions on top of the monthly subscription.
I also reviewed Tictail recently, which is an excellent way to set up a simple shop with just a few clicks – and best of all they don’t charge you anything for the simple service (though you will still be charged fees by the service you choose to process your payments, as explained in more detail in my full review).
Another option if you want to sell a few items from a broader website, perhaps explaining the history of your hand-crafted arts and traditional jams? I love Weebly for this as adding an ecommerce block is a simple drag and drop action. I put together a HOW TO guide on building a website with Weebly, which you’ll find here if you want to investigate further.
TIP: Instead of giving stuff away free during a promotion, sell it for some social publicity. Transact Socially puts a button on your web pages that your customers can click to automatically promote your message on their Facebook and Twitter streams in return for whatever promotion you’re running.