How To Sell Online in 2017 – The Ultimate Selling Online Guide

With the ever changing market, it's difficult to understand exactly where and how to sell your products online, regardless of whether they're physical or digital. A band, for example, might want to sell merchandise and music tracks, but trying to figure out the best outlet to do so is troublesome.

After all, selling a digital product would push you towards one platform while physical products like shirts and hats would send you elsewhere.

What's interesting about ecommerce is that online store owners come from all sorts of backgrounds. Do any of the following ring a bell?

  • A brick and mortar store owner who wants to expand into the online retail space.
  • An inventor of a new product who needs an outlet for testing and selling.
  • A passive seller who's not experienced with web development but still wants to find and sell cool items.
  • The organization that's not regularly involved in ecommerce, but would like to sell relevant items to make money (Bands, charities, etc.)
  • A blogger that would like to expand into eBooks or other digital products.
  • A drop shipper who has no interest in storing or shipping products but would like to make sales.

That's a mere taste of the types of sellers in today's world. As you might have assumed, each of the people or organizations outlined above require varying ecommerce platforms to sell online.

Learning how to sell online only takes a few minutes if you have the right information. That's why we put together this guide, to ensure that you have all the resources you need for selling on the ideal platform. Keep reading to understand where you should start selling.

Where Should You Sell Online?

Let's say you planned on opening a physical shop selling active wear for women. One of the first decisions you make is where you're going to launch your store. Location obviously means a lot to a brick and mortar shop, and it's no different online.

Therefore, your initial analysis should involve whether you'd like to go with a hosted or self-hosted ecommerce platform.

The Differences Between Hosted and Self-hosted Ecommerce Platforms

If you'd like to configure a full ecommerce store where customers can come to your store, place items in the shopping cart and pay you for the items, you'll have to select a hosted or self-hosted ecommerce platform. Both options require hosting, but they are different in the way you go about getting that hosting.

To start, a hosted platform already has the hosting included for you. For example, a favorite of ours is the Shopify ecommerce system. It's more of a consumer-oriented platform for people who might not know everything there is to know about ecommerce web development.

Although advanced users can find all they need with a hosted solution, the goal is to also make it easier for beginners. Therefore, you don't have to piece together that many services or tools. This means a hosted platform has cloud hosting, holding all site files and handling security and speed. You can also generally find domain buying services with hosted ecommerce systems.

Overall, hosted solutions like Shopify, Volusion, Bigcommerce and Squarespace are packaged products, with everything you need delivered for a monthly or yearly fee.

As for the self-hosted platforms like WooCommerce, Magento and Easy Digital Downloads, these are a little more complicated, but they often give you more control and flexibility in terms of design.

There's no telling if developers actually prefer self-hosted over cloud hosted, but most of the time you can assume that an experienced developer would rather have complete control with a self-hosted system.

For example, some of the largest ecommerce sites in the world use Magento or WooCommerce due to this control. The difference is that you must go out and find your own reliable hosting, manage the site files yourself and communicate with your host whenever something goes wrong.

It might sound complicated to some, but most hosts make WordPress and Magento installation simple nowadays. For example, hosts like Bluehost and Hostgator provide one-click installation buttons for WordPress and WooCommerce.

To sum it all up:

Hosted:

  • This is kind of like renting space to sell your products (you pay a monthly fee).
  • You don't have to think about hosting, since it's all given to you.
  • In fact, all features and templates and tools are provided in the monthly cost.
  • You might feel somewhat limited since you have to choose from the features given, along with the templates and designs.

Self-hosted:

  • You own everything and have complete control.
  • You have to find, manage and pay for your own site host and domain name.
  • This route isn't always best for beginners.
  • You can make your site look like anything, as long as you have access to the right templates, plugins and coding knowledge.

Keep in mind that both hosted and self-hosted options often come with app or plugin stores, making expansion possible for both routes.

Best Options for Hosted Ecommerce Platforms

Shopify

Why We Love Shopify

The main reason I like Shopify is because of its smooth backend interface and the templates provided. Shopify has over 100 templates and they all look modern and flexible. Shopify is the closest thing you can find to a Swiss Army Knife, since it has basic features for all stores, but you can also expand with the hundreds of apps for things like accounting, marketing and receipts.

The pricing for Shopify also beats out many competitors, seeing as how the Shopify Lite plan is $9 per month and the Basic Shopify plan (with shopping cart) goes for $29 per month.

Some Reasons You Might Look Elsewhere

Shopify has a strong selection of templates. So many that it might get a little overwhelming. Although the templates cater to various industries, you might eventually feel like none of them match your branding needs. You can customize the templates with your own CSS, but some non-coders would rather look to another platform to see if those templates work out.

Some people would also rather have more built-in features, minimizing the need to turn to an app store. Shopify is more like an iPhone, where you don't get that many built in apps, but the app store is incredibly large. If you'd rather limit the apps and receive more built-in features, Bigcommerce is most likely a better option.

Bigcommerce

Why We Love Bigcommerce

Bigcommerce is one of the only complete ecommerce packages. The pricing isn't that far off from competitors like Shopify, and the app store provides wonderful options for categories like accounting and marketing. The templates are close to the most beautiful in the business (Squarespace might be the winner here,) and the majority of the essential features are built-in so you don't have to dip into the app store as often.

Some Reasons You Might Look Elsewhere

Although the basic Bigcommerce plan (at $29.95) is similar to that of the basic Shopify plan, Bigcommerce fails to offer an even cheaper version. Shopify Lite lets folks sell on social media while also getting simple Buy buttons on their websites. It's super watered down, but it's a nice plan that Bigcommerce doesn't have. In addition, we've heard all sorts of complaints about Bigcommerce when you move into the Plus and Pro plans. Many customers report being charged higher fees than expected, and it all seems to depend on how many sales you have.

Try-Shopify

Volusion

Why We Love Volusion

Volusion comes ready to go right out of the box. Although more complicated coding and design areas will never get touched by beginners, the basic dashboard layout expedites the process of grabbing a template, uploading your products and selling as soon as possible. In addition, the middle and most expensive plans are far more competitive than that of Shopify and Bigcommerce, making scaling up a little cheaper in the long run.

Some Reasons You Might Look Elsewhere

The templates look great, but it's almost a requirement to know some sort of coding knowledge if you would like to make even simple changes to your overall design. Volusion has gotten better about this over the years, but I would argue that Volusion is the closest thing you'll get to being stuck with the exact design of the template you choose. This isn't a bad thing for beginners who don't want to make many changes to a template, but more control can be found with Shopify, Bigcommerce or a self-hosted platform.

Also, if you love app stores, Volusion has one of the worst ones on the market. Skip Volusion if you need to have a large selection of apps to choose from in the future.

The Best Self-hosted Ecommerce Platforms

WooCommerce + WordPress

Why We Love WooCommerce

WooCommerce is completely opensource (free and updated regularly). It integrates with WordPress, the most popular content management system on the market. Therefore, you have access to thousands upon thousands of guides and tutorials online. The internet is your support team.

Furthermore, WooCommerce combines nicely with current WordPress websites. So if you're running a blog or business website, WooCommerce instantly turns that website into a fully functional online store. I recommend finding a WordPress theme that's made for WooCommerce, but in theory, any theme should work fine. Finally, the world of WooCommerce is filled with extensions and plugins. If you'd like to collect recurring subscriptions, that's possible. If you'd rather make a complicated digital product store, you have that opportunity.

Some Reasons You Might Look Elsewhere

WooCommerce combines with WordPress, meaning that you'll have to find a hosting provider by yourself. This is a much more fragmented setup than that of a cloud hosted (Shopify or Bigcommerce) platform. If you want everything included in one package, skip WooCommerce. Because with WooCommerce you have to download, install or activate the following: WordPress, a hosting account, domain name, WordPress theme, WooCommerce and whatever other plugins you want.

Magento

Why We Love Magento

Just like WooCommerce and WordPress, Magento is completely opensource and free. It's known as one of the best solutions for scaling up into a large, high-traffic website. The features are endless with Magento, making it one of the most popular options for companies with enough money. You won't need to access any type of app or plugin with Magento, since you get an onslaught of built-in features for marketing, SEO, site management, analytics, customer service and more.

Some Reasons You Might Look Elsewhere

Magento is not for the faint of heart. By this I mean that you need to have some sort of development knowledge to take it head on. WordPress is far easier to work with, and it gives you enough plugins to piece together the puzzle that is an ecommerce site. If you don't have a developer on staff or don't want to hire one, go with another platform.

Easy Digital Downloads

Why We Love EDD

It's the simplest, and by far the best plugin for selling only digital products through a WordPress site. Not only that, but quite a few plugins and themes are made just for EDD.

Some Reasons You Might Look Elsewhere

I would go with WooCommerce if selling only physical products. An EDD extension is available for this, but it's more for when you have both digital and physical products to sell.

Should You Sell Through an Online Marketplace?

Etsy

Etsy has an easy interface and can often be connected to via plugins and apps from your ecommerce platform. It's more for custom-made products and crafts.

Amazon

As you may already know, you can sell anything on Amazon. But items like books, jewelry and electronics tend to perform the best. Once again, many ecommerce platforms have integrations with Amazon.

Ebay

Anything can be sold on Ebay, but I like it best for obscure, niche products like antiques, car parts and vintage radios.

Connecting to Social Marketplaces

Another thing to think about is whether or not you'd like to sell on social media. Facebook lets you build a complete online store. Pinterest has buyable pins for posting items and letting people buy them directly through Pinterest. Instagram doesn't allow selling just yet, but some apps have tools for integrating sales with the photo feed. Unfortunately the Twitter Buy Button is officially dead, but we might see something else in the future.

Over to You…

If you have any questions about how to sell online, whether it be on how to choose a hosted system or which social networks to sell on, let us know in the comments section below. I get asked many times which is my go-to solution for selling online and the quick answer is still Shopify if you're not a developer, or WooCommerce if you are. I am constantly trying all otehr options so will let you know when that changes.

Joe Warnimont

Joe Warnimont is a freelance writer who creates tools and resources to help other writers get more productive and market their work.

7 Responses

    1. WooCommerce is virtually free; once you buy your theme and set up your store, you’ll only have to pay for hosting.


      Bogdan – Editor at Ecommerce-Platforms.com

  1. Currently using Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook and Tumbler to spread the word about my web site and make sales. Posting items 8 to 10 times a day. I do use a drop shipper, DOBA. Sales are not going as well as I want. Any ideas what else I can do on the cheap? No sales no money to invest. Thank you, Steve

  2. Hi Joe,
    We were all set to go with a Shopify POS/Shopify backend system but realized it doesn’t have a way to directly enter cost of goods and therefore figure out your markup and margin. It seems we’d have to add that info in our accounting package (Quickbooks) after the transaction but that doesn’t seem efficient. I know there are a bunch of plugins that supposedly allow adding that info to inventory items as you enter them in Shopify but it’s hard to tell which ones are the most comprehensive or if we need a couple of integration apps but then I wonder if they’d talk to each other. Decisions decisions. Though I’d ask if you have a go to solution for integrating Shopify and QB.

    Thanks,

    Dean

  3. Thanks for a great overview of options. Since I already have two WordPress sites, I’m probably going to opt for Woo. But Shopify seems so tempting, for its simplicity. I’m not sure I’m getting this right, but here goes . . . is there a self-hosted Shopify option? How would having a self-hosted Shopify store compare to having a Woo one? SEO? Integration w/existing WordPress sites? Ease of integrating w/Facebook (clone-like shop on Facebook, for instance)? I’m just wondering about the pros and cons of this.

    1. Hi Susan,

      There is no self-hosted Shopify version. There is a Facebook integration for Shopify, which allows your customers to check out without leaving Facebook. See our comparison of the two here: Shopify vs WooCommerce .

      Best,

      Bogdan – Editor at Ecommerce-Platforms.com

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