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How To Sell Online: A Step-by-Step Guide

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Selling online has unlimited potential. You sell products or services to anyone, anywhere, and grow a profitable business with as much (or as little) involvement as you wish.

The problem: there’s a lot to do between finding an idea and making a full-time income from your online business. Here are the nine steps you need to sell online.

How to successfully sell online in 9 steps

  1. Find a niche or competitive angle
  2. Establish your target audience
  3. Decide which products to sell
  4. Create an online store
  5. Choose your sales channels
  6. Set up payment processing
  7. Choose your shipping methods
  8. Promote your products
  9. Continuously improve your services

1. Find a niche or competitive angle

With so many entrepreneurs operating their own online stores, you need something to set your new business apart. Choose a niche you’re interested in, then find products in high demand you can sell within it at a high price point.

Research your competition

Who are your competitors for your target audience’s attention? Find them through competitive research. Look at their marketing strategy, audience, and price points. Use what they’re doing well to inspire your own ecommerce business.

Evaluate your idea

Arguably the hardest part of selling online is deciding on a business idea. Whether you operate the store from home, on the side of a day job, or as a creative outlet, find an idea before progressing to the next stage of selling online.

Write a business plan

You know what you’re selling and who you’re competing against. Put this information in a business plan. It’s a document that outlines what your company is, its mission statement, competitive analysis, and marketing strategy.

2. Establish your target audience

Your target audience is the type of person you sell to online. Discover them through surveys and competitor analysis, and build a buyer persona to target them.

Run customer surveys

Customer surveys allow you to get inside the mind of your ideal customer. Run quizzes, one-to-one usability tests, and group feedback sessions to figure out the wants and needs of your target audience.

Evaluate a competitor’s audience

When you start selling products online, you’ll have to convince a competitor’s audience to buy from you instead. Uncover the customer persona they sell and market to through competitive analysis. Play on the unique value proposition that sets you apart.

Build buyer personas

Buyer personas are characters that detail who your ideal customer is. In yours, include their pain points, interests, hobbies, demographics, and job title. Refer to them to make sure you’re targeting the right people (those most likely to buy) through your marketing campaigns.

3. Decide which products to sell

You can’t start an online business with nothing to sell. The product you choose has a large impact on how successful your ecommerce store will be.

Choose a business model

A business model is the framework you use to sell products online. There are various models to choose from, depending on how much cash you have to invest, the type of product you’re selling online, and whether you want to handle inventory storage and fulfillment.

Find an in-demand product

The more in-demand your product is, the easier it will be to find prospective customers looking to buy it. Whether you’re dropshipping or selling directly to consumers, an in-demand product makes sure you’re not wasting time promoting products people won’t buy.

Price your products

A high profit margin means you buy items for much cheaper than you sell them online for. But there’s more to sticking an arbitrary figure on your products. Customers are heavily influenced by price. Get it right through research and analysis to avoid scaring them away.

4. Create an online store

An online store allows shoppers to buy products from you over the Internet using a web browser or a mobile app. If you’re tight on budget and plan to validate your product idea before committing to an ecommerce store, try Shopify’s Starter plan. Access all the tools you need to sell from $5 a month.

Create essential pages

People look for specific information before trusting an online retailer with their money. That includes your product, category, About, Contact, and FAQ. Make sure you have them ready to go before online shoppers look for them.

Optimize the checkout process

People abandon their online cart for several reasons. Dig deep into the most common reasons and fix them through checkout optimization. When customers buy through a Shop Pay–optimized checkout ecommerce website, retailers see a 1.72 times better conversion rate. And, because it only takes one click to complete the transaction, it’s a superior customer experience.

Manage inventory

Do you know how much inventory you have available to sell? Inventory management is one of the biggest struggles for retailers, especially if you sell products online across several channels. Find an inventory management system that merges data from all channels and prevent stockouts from driving customers toward a competitor.

5. Choose your sales channels

A sales channel is the platform you use to sell products to online shoppers. Here’s how to identify those you should be using.

An online store

Your online store is a direct way for people to buy your products. Not only will you maintain high profit margins since you’re minimizing middlemen taking a cut, but you’ll collect customer data so you can deepen the relationship and set the foundation for future personalization. Know exactly who’s buying what when the order comes through your online store.

Linkpop

Most social media platforms only allow entrepreneurs to direct users to one external link (usually through their bio). Use Linkpop to workaround this problem. Show your bestselling products, divert people to your social media profiles, and showcase new collections—all through one link.

Online marketplaces

Consumers spend $357.26 billion per year through online marketplaces like Amazon or Etsy. Reach those shoppers by listing your products for sale there. Just bear in mind that each site takes a cut when you make a sale. Mitigate risk by adding an online marketplace as a secondary sales channel—not your primary one.

Social commerce

Social media isn’t just a place for people to browse photos from friends. Social media users rely on their favorite platforms to buy products, engage with brands, and share product recommendations. Get active on your customer’s favorite platforms to drive sales for your ecommerce business.

B2B or wholesale

Wholesale commerce happens when you sell items to another retailer, usually in bulk and at a lower price. It’s a good strategy to increase sales without upping marketing spend, enter new markets with less risk, and leverage other brands to sell products online.

6. Set up payment processing

A payment processor allows you to take payment when selling online. It moves funds from your customer’s account to your merchant account, keeping sensitive information secure and encrypted throughout the process.

Debit/credit card payments

Debit or credit card is the most popular payment method for online shoppers. Accept credit cards on your online storefront to capture those people. Your ecommerce platform requests authorization from the customer’s bank, which approves (or denies) the transaction and releases funds into your merchant account.

Digital wallets

Customers can pay for online purchases without entering their entire credit card number each time. Digital wallets, such as Shop Pay, store a customer’s credit card information. They can make purchases with just a few clicks, minimizing friction and increasing conversion rates.

Buy now, pay later

Buy now, pay later is a payment method that allows shoppers to pay for their purchases in installments. Enable this on your online store through a provider like Shop Pay Installments. You’ll capture the millions of people who use BNPL to buy products online.

7. Choose your shipping methods

Modern customers demand free, fast shipping; many would abandon an online purchase if the delivery didn’t meet their expectations. They also want brands to be more sustainable. With the Planet app, customers can choose a carbon-neutral shipping option for between 3.5¢ and 15¢ per order.

Domestic shipping

Shipping online orders to a customer in the same country is cheaper than shipping internationally. That said, evaluating different couriers, packaging materials, and shipping zones can bring costs down—and therefore increase your profit margins while improving customer satisfaction.

International shipping

How do you get parcels to customers on the other side of the world? With an international shipping strategy, you can decide where you’ll ship to, the rules and regulations of that country, and the costs associated with getting a product into a cross-border customer’s hands.

Omnichannel fulfillment

Ecommerce fulfillment describes how you pick, pack, and ship orders to your customers. Choose to manage fulfillment in-house, work with a dropshipping supplier, or hire a third-party logistics partner.

8. Promote your products

Once you know what you’re selling and how customers will receive it, spread the word about your products with an ecommerce marketing strategy.

Promote on social media

Broadcast information about your products on the social media platforms your chosen audience is using. Produce high-quality content, experiment with images and video, and regularly engage with followers. Use native social commerce features to share in-app shopping experiences to users without leaving the platform.

Run paid advertising campaigns

Advertising increases the odds of reaching your target audience. Whether you have a budget to invest or are sticking to free advertising sites, build an advertising strategy to promote the products you’re selling online.

Partner with influencers

Influencers have the power to drive thousands of dollars in sales to your online store. Find and partner with influencers across your ideal customer’s favorite platform—be that Instagram or TikTok—and leverage their audience loyalty to make sales.

Invest in SEO

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a long-term marketing strategy that increases your chances of appearing in the search results of your target audience. From keyword research to building backlinks, follow SEO practices to attract potential customers already looking for the products you sell online.

Start an email list

Email is the only direct line of communication you have with your customers. Encourage people to sign up to your email list and send them regular content, such as educational videos or cart abandonment emails. Unlike social media platforms that can restrict your content at any time, email marketing means you’ll always reach your customer’s most sacred virtual place: their inbox.

​​9. Continuously improve your services

People with an entrepreneurial mindset always aim to improve. Once you’re ready to scale, continuously improve back-end operations and product assortment to remain competitive.

Automate time-consuming tasks

Small business owners spend hours working on their business every week. As you grow, automate tasks you spend the most time on. Use that free time on higher impact activities that will help your business scale.

Experiment with in-person commerce

Take your online business in-person by attending local events. Host a pop-up shop or use your brick-and-mortar store as a way for customers to buy online and pick up items in-store. Shopify POS gives you a single source of truth by merging retail sales data, inventory, and customer profiles between both sales channels.

Start selling online FAQ

How can I legally sell products online?

The legalities of selling online vary depending on your ecommerce business’s structure. Consider registering a trademark or patent-protecting your business’s name for legal protection. You’ll also need to adhere to email privacy laws, especially GDPR, if your customers are based in the EU.

What is the best site for selling online?

Shopify is the best site for online selling. From just $5 a month, the Starter Plan gives you the tools you need to sell across the social media channels your target customers are using.

Do I have to pay taxes on items I sell online?

The amount of tax your ecommerce business pays depends on where you’re operating from. In the US, you’ll need to collect sales tax on any products you sell online. Talk to an accountant to make sure you’re paying the right taxes.

What is the most profitable thing to sell online?

  • Digital artwork
  • Handmade goods
  • Water bottles
  • Pens and pencils
  • Custom design clothing
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