After all of your hard work finding a product to sell and a supplier to, well, supply your products, it’s time to get to the real meat of selling online! You have a big choice to make:
Where do you want to list your products?
I’ll be focusing on Amazon and eBay for the majority of this guide, but there are a few other options I’ll mention as well. Without further ado, let’s dive in.
The two biggest contenders for online retailing are eBay and Amazon. Both have millions in sales every year, both get hundreds of thousands of eyeballs every day, and both host almost every product you can possibly think of. But there are some significant differences:
One of the most well-known differences between these two behemoths is eBay’s auction style (as opposed to a fixed price listing). Basically, you’re able to list your items at a very low price, and consumers bid on that price. The highest bid when the time runs out, wins.
Amazon, on the other hand, simply lists items at the price they sell for, and that’s that. Overall, this isn’t a huge difference, simply due to the fact that you should almost always be listing your items at a fixed price, regardless of the marketplace you choose. Auction-style is much less reliable and is more for people selling one-of items around the house.
Amazon and eBay both charge a fee any time you sell something on their platform, but the exact amount you have to pay might differ between the two platforms.
Fees are determined by a number of factors, so it's worth doing the math and figuring out if it makes more sense to sell on one or the other. For exact rates, check out the fees for selling on Amazon and fees for selling on eBay.
FBA is Amazon’s warehouse fulfillment service. Basically, they will store all of your goods in their warehouse, and even ship them out for you, for a price. (Nothing’s free, of course!)
You may want to pick Amazon specifically for this reason, because storing your own inventory can be a huge hassle. For more information on FBA, check out Amazon’s help center. I’ll also talk about it a bit more in the advanced tips section below.
Just because Amazon and eBay both have hundreds of thousands of customers, doesn’t mean these customers are all equal.
Due to the original auction-styled nature of eBay, many of the visitors to eBay’s platform are more price-conscious. They're looking for bargains. You might find they're unwilling to pay any kind of premiums.
Amazon customers, on the other hand, are less likely to be in the bargain-hunting mentality. They're usually more willing to shell out a few extra dollars because they trust the platform. Many of them have a membership to Amazon Prime, which makes them psychologically more committed to Amazon.
eBay shoppers tend to care more about feedback than Amazon customers due to the “used” nature of many products (as well as the shady vendors that pop up occasionally).
That increased awareness of feedback could potentially make it more difficult to sell on eBay when you first start out, since you won’t have any feedback when you first open. (Unless you’ve started by selling things around the house, as I’ve previously recommended!)
While you certainly can sell on both platforms at the same time, I wouldn’t recommend it. Not to start out, at least.
In order to effectively sell on both platforms you need to split your inventory between the two, because if something sells on both platforms at the same time and you only have one item, your reputation is going to take a beating on one of your accounts (since you’ll have to cancel the order on one of the platforms).
While Amazon and eBay are the biggest and most well-known online marketplaces, there are plenty of alternatives if you’re not willing to sell on those giant websites.
Etsy is a great marketplace for any retailers looking to sell hand-crafted or vintage (>20 years old) goods. However, your goods need to fit the hand-crafted or vintage criteria, as Etsy is pretty quick to ban vendors who don’t follow their rules.
That said, they do have a form you and your supplier can fill out to become approved. However, the products you purchase must be handmade by the supplier; they won’t accept machine-made goods.
Jet.com is becoming a new major player in the online retail world. They seemingly appeared almost overnight and have quickly become a big threat to both eBay and Amazon. They are getting a lot of traffic, and are looking to grow fairly rapidly over the coming months and years. Of all the possible alternatives, Jet is probably the biggest standout.
Formerly Buy.com, Rakuten is basically the Asian equivalent to Amazon. While it’s fairly easy to set up an account and sell on them, I’ve heard bad things from their vendors. They seem to only bring in minimal sales, which is even worse because their fees are pretty high compared to Amazon or eBay.
Of course, this could just be hearsay, but I’d recommend doing some research or waiting until you have some experience before experimenting with them.
Ubid is the most unique of all the marketplaces I’ve listed so far. It’s an auction style, similar to eBay. However, instead of getting paid the amount someone buys it for, you get paid every time someone places a bid.
You could potentially earn $1000 for a $200 sale on an iPad. However, user beware; I’ve read a lot of reviews saying the uBid sellers are scams. While you won’t be scamming people, it may not be worth even being around potential scammers, lest you be clumped together with them and their bad reputation. That said, if you really want to avoid eBay or Amazon, it may be worth doing some more research about the company to see if you can be successful there.
Regardless of which marketplace you choose to sell on, the small details in your product listing page are going to play a huge part in whether someone buys from you.
Here are some tips for creating product listings that get more visibility and make more sales. I've ranked these in order of importance, so start at the top!
A picture is worth a thousand words, as they say. Your product image will be the reason people click (or don’t click) on your listing, so it's vitally important that you get this right.
Ideally, you need high-definition (i.e., large and clear) images that cover multiple angles and show the use of the product.
For example, let’s say you’re selling a helmet. You should have the following pictures:
For bonus points, you could include a video. High-quality videos (even videos of a static image!) have been shown to increase sales.
The title is the second most important thing to focus on. Together with your product images, your title is what will encourage people to click on your listing. It's also very important for increasing your visibility — particularly on eBay.
There are a few key differences between what makes a good title on a platform like eBay, and what makes a good title on a platform like Amazon.
To increase your visibility on eBay, you'll include "keywords" in your title.
For example, you might list a bike helmet as “Razor V-17 Kid’s Protective Helmet For BMX Bicycle Bike Cycling Scooter Ski Skateboard”.
Sounds kind of spammy, doesn't it? But this helps your listing show up when people search eBay for different things, like “BMX helmet” “Bike helmet” “Cycling helmet” “Scooter helmet” “Ski helmet” and “Skateboard helmet”.
Ebay’s algorithms pay a lot of attention to the words in your title, and even though "bike" and "bicycle", or "children" and "kids" mean the same thing, they'll still give higher billing to a listing that contains the exact word that the customer searched for.
So if you want to get your helmet listing in front of as many potential buyers as possible, you need to cram all those “keywords” in there — even though it looks spammy.
Amazon, on the other hand, wants you to list to-the-point, descriptive titles without too many keywords.
That same helmet might be listed as “Razor V-17 Youth Multisport Helmet”. Much more concise without the spam.
Keywords are an important concept when you’re selling online, so they deserve a special box.
Keywords are the words that you would like your product to appear in the search results for. For instance, if you’re selling running shoes you definitely want to appear when someone searches for “running shoes”. But you might also want to appear when someone searches for “sneakers” or “trainers”. Those are both words that mean roughly the same thing, and people searching for those things would very likely be interested in your product.
Likewise in our previous example, the helmet you’re selling might be good for lots of different sports: Skiing, skateboarding, scootering, and cycling. You want your listing to appear when a potential customer searches for any of those things. So you include those “keywords” in your listing somewhere.
The trick with keywords is to try to think like your customer: What might someone search for if they wanted to buy the thing you’re selling? Try to include those words in your listing. It means that you’ll get your listing in front of as many potential customers as possible.
Here are some tips for using keywords in your listing:
Once a viewer clicks on your listing and sees your product page, the next thing they’ll see is the product description. A great description is not only descriptive, but also easy to read and touches on emotions a bit. Here are a few thing every great description needs:
Remember to write with your ideal buyer in mind. Think of the exact person who would be buying what you’re selling, then write your description as if you were writing directly to that person. Maybe one of your friends or family would be the perfect person? Pretend like you’re writing to them!
The feedback on your product listings is really important, especially on eBay.
Most online shoppers look at the feedback and reviews on a product before they decide to hand over their cash. Not only does the feedback give them a good idea of whether the product itself is worth buying, but it also tells them if the seller (that's you!) can be trusted.
Feedback takes a while to build up, so this is more of a long-term strategy rather than something you can tweak in an afternoon. But it's still extremely important to keep in mind.
eBay and Amazon both automatically send them emails asking to rate or review their product purchase, but you can also increase feedback by personally reaching out to your customers and requesting it, or by including a printed slip in your box reminding them to leave feedback.
It's true that everyone wants the best deal possible, and (all else being equal) a tiny price difference might be all it takes to make a buyer choose one seller over another.
This is more true on eBay, due to their “used goods” nature; Amazon has a buy box, which I’ll talk about in the Advanced section, that matters more than price.
But there's a reason I've put "price" down the bottom of my pile of tweaks.
Before you get into a price war with your competitors and join the "race to the bottom", keep in mind that the other parts of your product listing (photos, description, feedback) can often trump small price differences.
Certainly look around at your competition and get a feel for what your market is accepting, but try to use other differentiators to get an edge over your competitors before you resort to slashing prices.
No matter how good you are at sniffing out "undiscovered" niches, there's a good chance you'll come face to face with some competition at some point in your selling career.
When this happens you need to give customers a reason to purchase from you rather than your competition.
Here are some ways to do that.
As I said before, price isn't the only way to make yourself more appealing to buyers than your competitors. Sometimes a more detailed, comprehensive, or reassuring description can be the deciding factor for your buyer.
In fact, sometimes a better product description can even enable you to charge more than your competitor.
One of the girls in the office at SaleHoo has experience doing just that: She used to sell the exact same video games that everyone else was selling, but she was able to sell them at higher prices because she provided much more comprehensive product descriptions. Her customers simply felt more comfortable buying from her.
So if you want to get the jump on your competitors, take a look at your competitors' listings, and see if you can see ways to improve on them.
Basically, spend some time analyzing your competitors' weaknesses, and then try to beat them.
Even though your buyers might be willing to jump ship just to save a few cents, this can also be made to work in your favor: By adding a small bonus to your product, you can make your offer stand out from your competitors'.
Think about it: If two different sellers were offering a wide-angle lens for your smartphone camera for exactly the same price, but one of those sellers offered you a bonus lens cleaning cloth with your purchase— you’d go for the one that offered you the freebie, right?
Even though that freebie might not be worth very much. All else being equal, that extra little bonus could be the decision-maker for your buyer.
Of course this tactic is hard to do if you’re dropshipping and you don’t get to personally handle your goods, but you could still have a chat to your supplier about whether it’s possible.
Another benefit of making a “bundle” for your product: if you’re selling on Amazon it might also help you get into the coveted “Buy Box” (see below).
The problem with marketplaces like eBay and Amazon is that it makes it so easy for buyers to compare your listing with your competitors. Buyers arrive at these sites with a "comparison mentality" — they're looking for the best deal.
But what if you could attract buyers who aren't in that "comparison" state of mind?
You can do this by using other marketing channels (like email or social media) to bring customers directly to you, rather than relying on eBay and Amazon to do your marketing for you.
For example, let’s say I’m selling cat necklaces for cat lovers. I happen to know that my cat-loving audience tends to spend a lot of time looking at cat photos on Instagram.
Because I know that's where my audience hangs out, I could have a cat Instagram myself where I post cat photos, and also promote my products for cat lovers available in my eBay store.
The people I attract to my listings through this method are completely different from the people who would normally find my listings through eBay: The customers from Instagram have come directly to me. They haven't searched for "cat jewelry" in eBay. They haven't seen my jewelry stacked up against all the other cat jewelry out there.
They're not comparing me to anyone else because I brought them straight to me.
Likewise, you might create a Facebook page for yourself. Or you might collect the email addresses of your past customers and email them directly when you add a new product to your catalog.
The trick is to find other ways of attracting buyers, rather than just leaning on eBay or Amazon.
This is a longer-term strategy, but it's something to keep in mind.
Another long-term strategy that will help you weather the competition is to build loyalty and reputation among your existing customers.
Make it so that they have such a great experience buying from you that they would never consider buying from anyone else.
I mentioned earlier that Amazon customers are often prepared to spend a little more on their purchases because they know and trust the Amazon brand. They know that if something goes wrong with their order (they choose the wrong size, or the order doesn't arrive) then Amazon will refund them without question.
Aim to build the same degree of trust and loyalty with your own customers, so that even when they see your competitor offering the same product for a lower price... they'll still come to you, because they know everything will run smoothly.
When you sell something that nobody else is selling, you cut out the competition completely.
I'm not talking about finding a product that nobody else is selling yet — I'm talking about creating your own product.
To sell a unique product, you must either invent something new, or improve upon an existing item. I’ve talked a few times about building your own brand and customizing your items; that idea fits in this category.
For example, matcha powder has become incredibly popular lately. You could sell brand-name, already made matcha powder; or, you could sell matcha powder with your own brand name, like Hello Matcha did.
Rather than selling an existing brand of matcha tea, they found a supplier who would give them private label rights (the right to put their own label on the product). Hello Matcha simply created their own logo and labels, gave these to the supplier, and the supplier dropshipped the newly re-labeled product to customers.
While Hello Matcha weren't doing this to sell on eBay or Amazon, private labelling your own product is a fantastic way to cope with competition in these marketplaces. There won't be anyone else selling the exact same product as you, so it will be harder for your buyers to compare you to other sellers.
This is a step to aspire to, rather than something to try straight away when you're just getting started. Just keep it in mind as a way to eventually grow your business.
Up until now we've been talking about strategies that broadly apply to whatever marketplace you might choose to sell in. Here are some additional things to consider that are specific to either eBay or Amazon.
eBay is a different beast than Amazon for many reasons, but one of the biggest is their plethora of “upgrades” for your listings.
While most of eBay’s listing upgrades are nearly useless wastes of money in most situations, there are a few you should pay attention to. The following are worth considering, depending on your budget, product, and overall goal:
Gallery: Allows you to use more images on your listings. More images increases sales. If you have the extra images, it could increase conversions (the number of people who see your listing and buy).
Subtitle: This shows a subtitle under your main product title on the search page. More text means more attention to your listing, which means (hopefully) more sales.
Bold: Bolds your product title on the search page. Again, standing out could increase clicks on your listing and, potentially, sales.
Border: Puts a border around your product listing on the search page. Stand out even more!
Highlight: Highlights your product listing on the search page. Noticing a trend?
Gallery featured: Features your product in the gallery view version of the search page. Makes the picture bigger and places it above the other listings. This may be useful if you have a high ticket item and don’t mind losing $20 of the profit.
Homepage featured: The most expensive, and potentially most impactful upgrade eBay offers. You get your product featured on the homepage of eBay! However, at a whopping $179.95 fee for fixed price listing ($59.95 for auction-style listings), you’d better be selling something expensive. Not for the beginner, but something to look into if you start selling some high price, high margin items.
While these upgrades certainly aren’t necessary, they can be beneficial if you need a slight boost over the competition. I recommend always using the Gallery upgrade at a minimum, since having lots of high-quality photos is a huge deciding factor in whether an eBay viewer will buy or not. The other upgrades can mostly be left alone until you determine you need a competitive edge.
Kind of like running your own website, eBay allows it’s users to install store templates, which customize the look of your personal eBay store.
Here are a few free template websites:
Just be careful when picking a template for your store or listing: It’s easy to get carried away with the bells and whistles (and Comic Sans font) and have it actually hurt your chances of making a sale.
Remember that you always want to look professional and trustworthy. I recommend keeping things as simple and clear as possible, and keep the focus on the product.
As I mentioned earlier, Amazon’s Buy Box is very important. It is the box on the right side of the page where viewers can purchase their item. Only one seller can get into this box. It’s done by:
This last option can be a little hard to understand, so let me illustrate: Imagine you are selling a Nike shoe (not that you necessarily should, this is just an example). You’ll almost certainly have a lot of competition and it would be hard to get into the Buy Box.
BUT! If you create a Nike shoe “bundle”, which includes the shoes and socks (or shoe cleaner, or something) then Amazon sees this as an entirely different product. So long as nobody else is selling the exact same bundle, you'll be the only one competing for the Buy Box, and you'll get in.
Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) is one of the biggest reasons to choose Amazon over eBay if you’re starting with a fairly large inventory, because it means Amazon can become your warehouse. Inventory is a huge pain to deal with (probably one of the #1 biggest headaches to online retailers), so if you can avoid storing and shipping your own inventory, do it.
Also, if you use FBA, your items will be eligible for free 2-day shipping to Amazon Prime customers. This can increase your sales, as many Prime shoppers are heavily biased towards only buying Prime items. (I personally only buy Prime items.)
Keep in mind that your profits will suffer if you use FBA. Amazon charge you for every item they store and ship. Do your math and see if it still works out in your favor.
You now have a much better understanding of the different marketplaces available to you, and hopefully which one you should pick. One option we haven’t discussed yet is starting your own web store — this can be a great alternative or supplement to selling on eBay or Amazon, but it deserves its own topic: for info on that, check out the next section, “Starting an Online Store”.
You could also head to our “Dropshipping” section if you’ve decided you’d like to try that. Otherwise, go right to our “Online Business Basics” section to learn the last of what you need to know before starting and growing your new store!