Selling Online : A Primer

I recently have had a few friends and acquaintances look into selling online.  It’s a complicated business, partially due to the fact that the information needed to set-up an e-commerce store properly is relatively specialised knowledge and the various players out there are incentivised to keep potential customers in the dark.  I thought I’d write a beginner post to point people in the right direction; since I do know a little about this.

In my mind; there are basically 3 major ways to sell online

1) Electronic Markets

You can put eBay, etsy and the Amazon Marketplace in this category.  Heck, even BGG’s marketplace falls quite neatly in here.  Electronic Marketplaces generally generate revenue by charging stores a listing fee and/or a final sale fee.  Listings generally expire, forcing sellers to relist constantly (generally; for a price).

This is probably the most popular form for sellers; and it works great if you have only a few products to sell.  Electronic Markets provide a ready-made customer base; taking care of the visitor problem for sellers. However, it’s worth realising that these Electronic Markets are incentivised to make money for themselves; and quite often the best way to do so is to encourage competition between sellers.  Which means that your hard won fans are incentivised to go ‘looking’ at the competition.

2) Software-as-a-Service Shopping Carts

SaaS Carts are a middle-ground where sellers can get the full functionality of an online store; but may avoid many of the IT issues that owning a hosted shopping cart would require.  Many of these carts provide drop and drag professionally designed themes, fully integrated payment gateways and slick marketing and cross-selling features.  Cost is also often quite reasonable when you start-up – anyway from $15 up; with many  not even taking a % of your sales anymore.

On the other hand, this is really an intermediate solution.  It’s great if you have only a few products to sell; but you often end-up out-growing these services very fast due to Bandwidth or Storage restrictions if you’re successful.  Still, it’s a great stepping-stone and if your business is only partially going to be on the web; these systems offer great middle-ground.

3) Hosted Shopping Carts

That’s what we have at Starlit Citadel.  We run the software, are fully hosted on server space we’ve rented and deal with any design and code issues ourselves (or through our developers).  There’s a lot of options once you go down this route; from clamp-on shopping carts to WordPress (don’t, just don’t) to full shopping cart software like Magento & Zencart.

This is probably the most flexibly solution; customers you create are branded to your store like a SaaS cart but you have the option to introduce (or not introduce) new design / code changes as you see fit.  You aren’t held to a 3rd party’s development cycle (okay, only if you’re running an Open Cart system; but why wouldn’t you?) but you then have to deal with all the intricacies of the design and coding process.