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How to Sell Online

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Selling online can be a fun, convenient, and lucrative way to get rid of your old things — or even to start your own small business. It’s no secret that online retail has been increasing in popularity. In fact, over the past ten years, data shows that retail sales online have been steadily growing. This is due to a few different factors, like growing comfort with the idea of buying online, a massive boom of online businesses, and the growth of the logistics industry, making 2-to-3 day shipping the norm.

All of that seems like a pretty good reason to get involved in online retail, whether that’s just to sell an old bike you don’t ride anymore, or to start your own online store to sell homemade crafts. Some people even start full-on online stores from their own garages — your options are really limitless.

There are tons of ways to sell online, tons of products and services you could sell, and about a million and a half ways you can go about marketing yourself and growing your business. Needless to say, it can be pretty confusing when you’re just starting out. We’ll help make it clear and actionable. This post will walk you through the ins and outs of selling online. You can check out the list of topics we’ll cover below:

Feel free to click on one of those if you just need a refresher on a specific aspect of online sales. If you’re a beginner, don’t worry; we’ve made this guide to help anyone who wants to sell online, no background knowledge required. 

What do you want to sell online?

First, it’s probably a good idea to figure out what exactly you want to sell online. There are different marketplaces for different types of goods, and you can sell pretty much anything you want online. In this section, we’ll cover common things people sell online: used goods, their own products, and even services. If you’re thinking of starting an online business but you’re not sure what you want to get in, take a look at our online marketplace ideas for some lucrative sales opportunities. 

Used goods

The internet is filled with people selling used goods online. New to the game and not sure what you can and can’t sell? A good rule of thumb is that, if you wouldn’t even sell it at a yard sale, it’s probably not worth trying to sell online. Consumers have plenty of options, so trying to sell a half-used box of tissues is probably not going to have many takers. Common products that can be sold for a decent profit online include items like these:

  • Big-ticket items: The better condition your item is in, the more you’ll be able to list it for. Household appliances, cars, furniture, and electronics are all fair game to sell used online, and there are plenty of apps to sell furniture available as well. 
  • Clothes: Used clothes are often in high-demand online. There are shops specifically devoted to selling lightly used highly-coveted clothing items (more on that further down).
  • Jewelry: Your old used jewelry could be somebody’s next favorite piece. You can sell gold and silver jewelry online and likely expect a reasonable amount of demand. 
  • Books and entertainment: Books can be pretty expensive, and if you’ve got a collection of cool and unique books, you can bet people online would be interested in purchasing them. This also goes for any other kind of fun entertainment items, like vinyl records, or collectable items. 
  • Hobby supplies: Rock climbing gear, bikes, hiking backpacks, fishing poles, painting supplies — anything that can be used for a hobby is bound to have a thriving online market. 

Your own products

While many people just want to get a good price for an old item they’re ready to part ways with, others are more interested in starting up their own online store. This can be a lucrative decision, but it takes some know-how and clever planning to execute correctly. Here are a few examples of popular online store products:

 

  • Homemade crafts: Do you have a productive hobby? Turn it into cash by selling your crafted birdhouses, jewelry, or leatherworks online.
  • Curated thrift store finds: Fashionistas with an eye for vintage often find it lucrative to scour thrift stores for knock-out clothing finds, then sell them online for a profit. 
  • Artisan foods: This one is easier as a locally-focused online store, but making your own jellies and jams, honey, or even garden-fresh fruits and veggies can be a great online store idea.
  • Plants: Got a green thumb? Try breeding rare and exotic plants. Plants are having a bit of a moment, and cashing in on their popularity could be the store idea you were looking for.
  • Home decor: If you have an eye for interior design, put it to work by selling interesting thrifted, home-made, or refurbished interior goods. 

Services

Lastly, plenty of people have highly valuable skills that can be marketed online. Now, we have separate guides for freelancers, but it’s worth mentioning that there are many freelancing skills that are highly marketable, and that you can sell online. These include:

  • Computer programming 
  • Web development 
  • Graphic design 
  • Content creation 
  • Photography
  • Video editing 

There are sites where freelancers can market themselves, which we’ll discuss more in the next section. In addition to these web-based skills, abilities like handyman services, painting, plumbing, and car repair are also highly sought-after, and could be a great basis for an online store. 

Once you’ve figured out what you want to sell online, you’ll probably want to know where you should sell it. Let’s take a look at that now.

Where to sell online

The website you use to sell online depends on what it is that you’re selling. For instance, you can’t upload your used Toyota to Poshmark, and it may not be wise to advertise your cybersecurity programming skills on Craigslist. If you want to get into online selling, be sure you’ve found the right market. Here are a few of the online marketplace options available for different products.

Selling used goods online

Craigslist 

Craigslist is the essential online used goods store. It has one of the broadest reaches of any online marketplace, and it’s also one of the most popular websites on the internet, often cracking the top 20. You can sell just about anything on Craigslist: cars, sweaters, old books, carpentry services, electronics repair — really, anything. However, because it is so vast and unregulated, it’s important to know that Craigslist can be something of a dangerous place. Exercise caution whenever meeting with a buyer or seller, and be sure to do so in a public and neutral space.

Ebay

Ebay is similar to Craigslist in that it is a popular go-to site for interesting used and vintage items. If you’ve got a cool collection of original edition books, or a record player from the 70’s, chances are you can get a great price for it on Ebay. Some even build small side hustle businesses buying and selling vintage items on Ebay, so if you’ve got a passion for it, that’s something to consider. 

Facebook

Facebook Marketplace  has somewhat recently (2016) taken a step into the online buy and sell game. Now, the platform has gained in popularity, and many regular Facebook users post items for sale on the platform. You can think of it as a Craigslist alternative. It has some benefits over Craigslist, like being able to see more about your potential buyer, but you are limited to buyers who have a Facebook account. 

Others

In the past few years there have been a small army of sites and apps trying to disrupt Craigslist’s dominance in online used goods sales. Apps like OfferUp, LetGo, and Vinted are trendier and more user experience-oriented Craigslist alternatives that you can try out. There are also item-specific sites where you can sell things to a more discerning audience. For instance:

  • Poshmark is a popular clothing site where you can sell cool, used and vintage goods to fellow fashion-lovers
  • Grailed is another site where you can sell used goods, though this one focuses on menswear, and in particular, high-value name-brand pieces
  • NewEgg is a used and refurbished electronics and computer sales site for the tech-savvy online shopper

Many other online sales sites for specific interests and hobbies exist as well, and if you’re interested in selling your hobby supplies or other niche items, be sure to search for sites particular to your interest. Talking with other people in your hobby community is also a good way to find the right marketplace.

Starting an online store

Of course, many want to go beyond simply selling a used item online. If you’re interested in starting your own small business, side hustle, or web-based revenue stream, there are a few basics you should know. We’ll cover online sales strategy next, but first, you’re probably curious where the best place to actually sell products online might be. Once again, it depends on the kind of products you sell, as well as the size of your operation. Here are a few common options, as well as what they’re best geared-toward. 

Etsy

If you’re the crafty type, and you love making your own jewelry, knitting beautiful garments, or even customizing pieces of vintage clothing, trying to make money on Etsy may be your best bet. Etsy is essentially an enormous home-made crafts store — along with curated interesting curios. It’s not likely you’ll put together a large-scale sales operation based solely on Etsy, but for those who want a place to monetize their hobby and add a revenue stream, it can be a useful option. 

Amazon 

Amazon is the largest marketplace on earth, consistently nearing 50% of all online sales. When people go to buy something online, they almost always think of Amazon first. But, in addition to selling brand-name items (as well as Amazon’s own proprietary brands), did you know Amazon also sells thousands of smaller businesses’ goods?

Selling on Amazon is actually something that’s available to just about anyone with the capital to afford their fees and administrative costs. Now, Amazon doesn’t lend itself well to sellers who make unique crafts (again, Etsy is probably your best bet in that department), but for those who want to sell their own line of clothing, or who have the capacity to produce large quantities of paper clips, for instance, it can be a great option. 

If you’re worried about having the logistics capabilities to ship orders across the country, or world, Amazon has you covered. Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) is a service offered by the tech giant that plugs any paying seller into Amazon’s massive logistics network. If you’re considering starting an Amazon store, take a look at our comprehensive guide here:

Pinterest

Pinterest is best known as a place to browse interesting fashion, beautiful home decor, and other aesthetically pleasing photos. Did you know, though, that it’s also a huge hub for e-commerce? 

In particular, small fashion and home decor companies can access a large potential customer base by marketing themselves through Pinterest, and offering their products through Pinterest’s integrated sales platform. While you’ll need to have the sales capacity on your own site to be able to host a link to buy a product on Pinterest, having your products available on the site opens up a larger pool of customers that are organically interested in your products.

Personal website with built-in sales capability

If you’re starting your own small business online, it’s likely that you’ll build a website (which we’ll cover below). If you’re just selling custom iron-on patches on Etsy as a side hustle, a web page might not be necessary. But for more intensive business operations, customers want to be able to learn more about you and your brand. That means having a centralized website where all your items are located. 

Some website builders, like SquareSpace, have the option to integrate a sales platform directly into your website. You can also use a service like Shopify, which allows you to build an ecommerce store using their platform. 

Pro tip: Selling on Amazon, in addition to maintaining your own website, is common, and your business may benefit from the larger pool of potential customers. 

It’s time to take a deeper look at online sales strategy, a critical part of knowing how to sell products online.

Online sales strategy guide

Once you figured out the basics (what you want to sell and where you should sell it), it’s time to start thinking strategy. In addition to the usual business concerns you’ll face — like managing production costs, thinking about hiring employees or outsourcing work, and keeping profits steady — knowing how to sell online means knowing what strategies to use. Often, getting noticed is the first biggest hurdle. Here’s what you can do to start growing faster, sooner.

Start selling on multiple platforms

We covered a few platforms where people interested in selling online can go to find potential customers interested in their products. However, in order to gain the most interest possible, a wise online merchant knows to make listings on as many sites as possible.

Of course, be sure that the sites you’re selling are relevant to your product. Let’s consider an example. Say you’ve figured out an inexpensive and efficient way to refurbish vintage denim and market it to a younger audience. As you slowly start to grow your online business, start by making listings on a few sites. In this case, you might make a personal website, an Etsy store, and a Facebook Marketplace posting. 

Building a website

Speaking of your personal website, those serious about selling online should think about building one as soon as they can. Personal websites offer a number of benefits to your small ecommerce business. These include:

  • A central hub where all your products or services are clearly listed 
  • A place where you can tell your story, so customers can find out more about you
  • They are an additional potential point of purchase for customers 
  • They allow you to build your brand and make a well-known name for yourself

Building a high-quality website can take some investing. It’s clever to pay for enough memory that your website loads quickly, as customers are highly-likely to click away from a site that takes too long to load. Graphic design is essential, too, as many customers are mistrustful of poorly-designed sites that look like they could be scams. Lastly, if you’re getting really serious, you may want to consider SEO & CRO. 

  • SEO: Search engine optimization strategies help your website and products appear higher on Google (and other search engine) searches. This increases the likelihood that a customer will engage with your products. Usually, this involves using keywords related to your product in your copy and other content. 
  • CRO: Conversion rate optimization strategies increase the likelihood that, once on the page, customers actually follow through with a purchase. Strategies like including a call to action (a button that says “Find My Fit,” for instance, for a fashion website), or simply improving the graphic design, can all enhance your CRO. 

Doing your research

Market research is an important part of any small business. Whether you’re looking to pivot due to lagging sales, or you’re just starting out looking for a unique and lucrative ecommerce opportunity, it’s vital to know what people are interested in. 

You can start by using a tool like Google Trends, which can help you find out what people are searching for. That gives you insight into what’s currently hot: maybe it’s jewelry, video game posters, sports apparel — only research will help you figure it out.

Social media marketing

Next, it’s time to start marketing. If you’re a small ecommerce business, a prime time TV spot or a highway billboard are probably a bit out of budget — and honestly, may not be too helpful to your brand anyway. Most ecommerce brands find that social media marketing is a great way to spread the word about their products and gain brand recognition. Placing ads through Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook is especially useful, as their algorithms are built to feed users content they are most likely to engage with. That means surfers will find out about your killer board shorts, or musicians will hear more about your amazing online tutorials.

Selling online checklist

Before you rush to the web (or elsewhere on it, rather), let’s go over a basic online sales checklist for anyone trying to market their products online. 

  1. Take engaging product photos; ensure they are well-lit and clearly display your product

  2. Post your photos and well-written descriptions on multiple sites related to your product

  3. When using your own website, create a secure and simple way for users to check out

  4. Clearly specify the delivery options on your website

  5. Be sure to post contact information and your return policy

How to sell online: FAQs

Finally, let’s finish up with online sales FAQs. Here are questions many hopeful sellers have, answered.

Where is the best site to sell stuff?

The best site to sell depends on what you’re selling. For used things, sites like Craigslist, Ebay, and Facebook Marketplace make great options. For new products, sites like Etsy, Amazon, and your own personal website powered by an ecommerce service are ideal.

Where can I sell my stuff online for free?

Selling things on Craigslist and Facebook marketplace is free. If you do set up an online store through Amazon, Etsy, or your own website, you can expect to pay commission on sales.

Is it profitable to sell online?

Absolutely — as long as your business model is secure, and you follow smart, brand-boosting marketing strategies. Selling online is just like selling in the real world. It all depends on the quality of your products or services, how well known you are among consumers, and how well you manage your business.

Selling online can be a great career choice, side hustle, or simple way to get a bit of spending money in your pocket. With the right knowledge and strategy, you can make it work for you. 

Sources

US Census | SimilarWeb | Emarketer | FTC | US Small Business Administration

 

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