E-commerce has completely redefined business. That’s why we’ve developed this all-encompassing guide to walk you through the basics of selling products online. Whatever type of business you have, taking advantage of this burgeoning consumer trend is likely to be a worthwhile endeavour.
Companies of all shapes and sizes are constantly leveraging fantastic new opportunities to sell their products and services online, which is why researchers at Statista are forecasting a 246.15% increase in worldwide e-commerce sales by 2021.
That equates to a global spend of around $4.5 trillion, with an estimated $99 billion worth of trading happening in the UK every year.
Why should my business be selling products online?
Depending on the type of industry you’re operating in, it might feel a bit odd trying to sell your goods or services online. Truth be told, online selling does work better for some companies.
Ideally, a successful online seller will have well-defined products that can be sold without much human involvement. Those products will have fixed prices and can be delivered reliably within a particular timeframe.
That being said, online selling can be utilised in a number of ways to benefit any type of company.
Cut overheads by selling online
First and foremost, selling products online will enable you to reduce operational overheads and setup costs. By setting up an online shop, it will cost you far less than renting and staffing a premium brick-and-mortar retail space.
You’ll also be able to slash your processing costs, because any basic e-commerce store will be able to automatically produce and catalogue customer orders.
Selling products online will also help you to drastically expand your company’s global reach and boost sales, because consumers from any time zone will be able to explore your products and make a purchase 24 hours a day.
On top of all that, it’s worth noting that setting up an online shop or utilising an existing external partner to sell your goods can be incredibly affordable.
How can I integrate e-commerce services into my existing website?
If you’d like to explore the benefits of selling products online, setting up an online shop for your company is incredibly simple. Adding shop functionality to your existing website is even easier.
Online selling platforms
Software platforms like Shopify offer affordable e-commerce packages from just $29.00 (approx £21) per month, giving you the opportunity to create a basic online shop that’s very easy to customise. With over 100 free store themes and templates, Shopify offers an accessible drag-and-drop way to create a slick online shop without needing to know much about the web.
All you need to do is register your business details, select your theme, and start uploading product details. It’s really that simple.
Shopify isn’t the only dynamic online selling platform worth exploring. Alternative services like ShopWired, BIGCOMMERCE, and Weebly are all worth exploring. Each platform has its own unique selling point. No matter what type of online selling platform you choose to set up your store, there are a few must-haves you should be looking for.
- Catalogue management
- Order processing capabilities
- Payment security
Ideally, you should shop around before you commit to launching an online store with a particular platform. That being said, switching from one of these platforms to another is a fairly straightforward process.
If you’ve already got an existing website that you’d like to integrate with a new online store, that’s even easier. There’s a wide range of advanced services that offer plugins for WordPress, which is one of the largest and most user-friendly hosting services online.
WordPress is an ideal platform for those without a lot of IT experience. It’s also perfect if you plan on allowing multiple users to access and maintain your company’s website.
Bearing that in mind, if you’re already on WordPress and would like to start selling products online through your existing site, you can download a plugin like WooCommerce to give your website a whole lot of new functions.
WooCommerce is one of the most popular e-commerce plugins on WordPress. It enables companies to sell both physical and digital products. It is also designed to support the addition of affiliate products, which means you can leverage any existing relationships you may have with other businesses.
If you’d only like to set up an online shop to sell digital products (like photographs, video files, or ebooks), it’s worth looking into Easy Digital Downloads. This plugin seamlessly integrates into just about every WordPress site template, and it offers an intuitive way to display and organise digital products.
Does your business offer subscription-based services? MemberPress could be the e-commerce plugin for you.
It enables you to sell and manage subscriptions for digital products and services – for example, pay-per-view content or pay-as-you-go advice. MemberPress is particularly impressive because it offers strong access rules that allow you to restrict some pieces of content and prevent others from accessing your services without properly compensating your company.
Can I set up an online store for my company on another website?
When you’re first starting up, it can be fairly difficult to get your online store the proper exposure it needs in order to reach your target market. That’s why a huge number of small businesses are now turning to global companies like Amazon for selling products online.
When it comes to e-commerce, Amazon is king. According to researchers at Slice Intelligence, 43% of all online sales now originate on Amazon. Fortunately, the web giant has made it fast and simple for businesses to take advantage of that huge global audience by allowing them to create their own virtual stores on Amazon.
To start selling products online through Amazon, all you need to do is register as a seller. In order to register, you’ll need to provide the site with your:
- Credit card details
- Phone number
- Company registration details
- Primary contact person information
- Beneficial owner information
- Bank account information
Once you’ve registered to sell online with Amazon, you can start uploading product listings almost immediately. You can also opt to enrol in Fulfilment by Amazon, which is a service that sees Amazon pick, pack, and ship your products as and when orders come in.
Every time someone places an order through the site, Amazon will notify you via email and your Seller Central Dashboard. If you’ve opted to enrol in Fulfilment by Amazon, you don’t need to do a thing. But if you’re handling your company’s own fulfilment processes, that notification means that it’s time to select, pack, and ship the order out to your Amazon customer.
Payment for the balance of those orders (minus the Amazon Seller fees you must pay to use the site) will then be directly deposited into your bank account.
Amazon is definitely the biggest and most convenient way to land online sales, but you can also find immense success by setting up online stores on external websites like eBay.
eBay is great for small businesses because it offers a range of flashy and professional-looking shop-front designs, as well as unique URLs that are easy to promote and market. The platform also has built-in functionality that allows you to send marketing emails out to your subscribers.
To set up an eBay shop for your company, you’ll first need to register as a business seller on the site. To do that, you must provide eBay with a valid UK postal address or landline telephone number, as well as details of a bank account that will accept Direct Debit instructions.
You will also need to be PayPal verified. If your company is registered for VAT, providing eBay with your VAT identification number will also enable you to receive net invoices on all your seller fees.
Depending upon what it is your business sells, you could even look into setting up an online store on niche sites like Etsy or Not on the High Street.
These platforms are generally geared at companies producing artisan-style products, but they’re always taking on innovative new ideas.
Are there any laws I need to know about when selling products online?
Just like customers who purchase items in your brick-and-mortar shop, the UK Government offers some protection to individuals that purchase goods and services online. The vast majority of these measures are common sense, but you need to be very careful to ensure you’re complying with each rule when selecting a website template or hosting service.
Before any order is placed on your online store, the UK Government stipulates that you must make it clear to customers that they have to pay when an order is placed. You must clearly display how customers can pay, and you need to include delivery options and costs.
Step by step order process
Furthermore, as an online seller, you’re also expected to list all the steps involved in a customer placing an order. You must take all reasonable steps to allow customers to correct errors in their order after submission.
Your company’s online shop will also need to include a valid terms and conditions page that customers can access. You must include your email address, your VAT number (if you’re VAT registered), display the cost of using phone lines used to communicate with your business, and promote a description of goods or services on your site.
Finally, regulations dictate that you must clearly display a total price, the total delivery cost, and offer any conditions for ending rolling contracts or contracts with no clear end date.
Like it or not, customers also have the legal right to cancel their purchase at any time within 14 days. You are legally obliged to inform your customers that they can cancel their orders up to 14 days after it is delivered, and they do not need to give you a reason for cancelling.
If you fail to tell your customers about their right to cancel, they can then cancel at any time in the 12 months that follow. If you tell them about the right to cancel during these 12 months, they have 14 days to cancel from when you tell them.
After an order is placed online, your company must then:
- Provide a receipt or invoice no later than when the goods are delivered
- Deliver the goods within 30 days unless otherwise agreed
If a dispute with a customer does arise over your company’s compliance with these online selling rules, it’s worth pointing out that the UK Government does recognise multiple exceptions to these rules. GOV.UK provides full guidance on online and distance selling rules and regulations, which we advise reading.
If you are not a UK resident, or your UK company will be trading online in affiliation with another overseas business, you should also check the online selling rules in your jurisdiction to ensure that you’re compliant with regulatory frameworks in your home country.
The bottom line
Although you will be expected to observe a wide range of regulations, selling products online is an incredibly effective way to expand your business. Best of all, you don’t need to be tech-savvy in order to get started.
Hosting platforms and e-commerce plugins now enable you to create dynamic online stores from scratch in a matter of minutes, and often at little-to-no cost.
What’s more, you can even utilise existing web platforms with huge followings by creating your own online stores on their websites. It’s fast, it’s simple, and it works.
As always, just remember to take your time and do your homework. There are a dizzying number of options out there, and you owe it to your company to choose the methods and platforms that will work best for you.