How to sell on online marketplaces

How to sell on online marketplaces

Confused about how to sell on Amazon? Got questions about selling on eBay? Being present on these top online marketplaces can be great for your brand but using them to generate sales and grow your business can be tricky.

From which platforms to use, to what you can do to make your products stand out, here's how to sell online - according to three business owners already doing it.

Why should I use online marketplaces?

Trading online can give you more flexibility than running a high street shop. As Karen Riddick, owner of eco homeware brand Second Nature Online explains, "selling via online marketplaces means you can fit your orders in around your lifestyle and family."

For Amer Khan - owner of bedding and home décor specialist Love2Sleep - the beauty of these platforms is that they get his products in front of more customers. "One of the hardest things to tackle as a small business is finding the right people for your products. Online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay give you a great head start as they have a huge existing audience."

Janan Leo, founder of jewellery, shoe and accessories brand Cocorose London agrees. "By selling on marketplaces, you can reach different customers who might only want to shop on places like Amazon - perhaps because their payment details are already stored and due to the trust and security the brand gives. If you're not on these sites, you might never reach these audiences."

While the increased exposure and sales you can get from using online marketplaces is an obvious perk, the ability to collect reviews is another benefit. As Janan explains, "reviews are so important. You need to know what people think, so you can make informed decisions about future products, design and ideas."

Are there any cons to using online marketplaces?

That's not to say there aren't challenges to selling on online marketplaces. As Karen explains, "online shoppers have high expectations when it comes to delivery times and how quickly you communicate with them. So, it's important you keep on top of your orders."

Karen also notes that while online marketplaces can bring you more sales traffic, it's wise to maintain your own independent site. "Online platforms are likely to be your most powerful selling tool, but your own site is the only one you have complete control of."

How do I find the right marketplace for my products?

You've decided online marketplaces are for you, but with so many options available, where do you start? For Amer, it was about understanding the strengths of each platform. "We narrowed down our products to a main category, then looked at what each marketplace was selling in that category and made our decision on where to be based on that."

Janan took a similar approach. "There are so many online marketplaces, it's almost overwhelming! While it's important to keep an open mind, time and resources are always tight when you're running a small business, so you can't do everything. The solution? Try as many as you can, within reason. Some might generate conversions, while others could be a better brand fit - you need to find the balance."

Karen agrees. "Keep it manageable. You don't want to spread yourself too thin, so pick one or two platforms to start with, then experiment with a few extras to keep you ticking along and see what works best. Also, don't be put off by other people's experiences. What works well for them might not for you and vice versa. As time goes on, you'll get a feel for which online marketplaces are best for your products."

What can I do to make my products stand out?

Online marketplaces can be crowded but there are things you can do to help your products (and brand) stand out.

Amer recommends focusing on what makes your product different. "We always emphasise our unique value proposition to explain the benefits of buying our product over a competitor's."

Janan's advice? "How you upload your products in the backend of the platform can really help (like optimising your product descriptions with the keywords that shoppers are searching for). It's all about focus. You need to have a plan or strategy on how you'll get to page 1, then look at what budget you need to help you get there."

Think carefully about the strengths of each platform and how they fit with your products and brand. As Janan explains, "we sell on Etsy because the perception is that it's a go-to place for home-based, handmade products. We make our shoes by hand, so it fits perfectly with our brand values."

While you might think being competitive is all about price, Karen warns that this isn't always the case. "If you're on a platform amongst lots of similar products to yours, work on building trust and positive feedback by offering excellent customer service. Shoppers are willing to pay a bit more if they can see you've got great reviews."

What else can I do to improve sales and grow my brand?

According to Janan, being smart with your budget is key. "I use sponsored ads and posts, but you need to understand your target keywords, else you'll blow all your money straight away." The solution? Target words or phrases that are relevant to your products and commonly searched for, but not so competitive that you still won't get much visibility.

Amer also stresses the importance of careful planning. "We conduct lots of keyword research specific to each product, to make sure our search terms are effective. Take the time to create quality listings with great content - you'll thank yourself later."

Another online selling tip from Janan is to make the most of the features that your online marketplace offers. For example, "you can use Fulfilment by Amazon (FBA) - which involves sending your products to Amazon's distribution centres for them to deliver - so your products will be eligible for Prime customers too. You'll then get more exposure from Amazon. Just make sure you have enough stock to keep up with demand."

Finally, it might also be worth thinking about how you approach refunds and returns. To get the best from online platforms, Karen suggests putting a customer-friendly policy in place. "Buying online is more likely to result in a return than buying in-person, so shoppers need to know they'll have a hassle-free return experience, else they might be put-off altogether. Make a general allowance for returns in your business plan and don't waste time or energy picking over the detail of each. This is particularly important in your early days, when you're trying to build your reputation and positive reviews."

Want to grow your business? Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise Nation, shares the 10 biggest opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses today.

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Added: 12 Dec 2018