A guide to how to sell online and why it’s a good idea

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 11 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Selling products online can be highly beneficial for retailers and manufacturers, regardless of whether they already have a physical site. Consumers are increasingly reliant on online shopping for a vast range of products and selling them online can help businesses reach much wider target markets. Knowing how to sell online and why it's a useful strategy can help you run a successful e-commerce business. In this article, we explain how to sell online and why online selling is a good idea.

How to sell online

There are a variety of approaches you can take if you're wondering how to sell online. The right strategy for you depends on your aims and the product you're selling. You can build your own e-commerce website but this can be time-consuming and it might be more challenging to attract customers when you first start selling. You can also combine multiple strategies to expand your online selling business. If you want to get started with selling online quickly and efficiently, these suggestions can help you:

1. Use established sales platforms

There are various well-established online sales platforms that you can use to sell your products. Some are generalist platforms that host a vast range of retailers and products whilst others focus on a particular niche, for example, handmade or artisan products. Many of these platforms are suitable for small businesses and sole traders. It's important to research the different options to decide which is most suitable for your venture.

These sites immediately give you access to a large pool of customers but often charge commission on your sales. For this reason, selling via well-established platforms can be a sensible strategy when you're first selling online. As the business grows and you build personal relationships with your customers, you might find it's more effective to start your own online shop instead of using an external sales platform.

2. Sell via social media

Selling via social media channels also helps your products gain significant exposure. You can use social media to sell directly to customers or use it to promote your products and engage with potential customers. Social media can help you target the type of customers you want, which can make it an efficient approach to selling online.

Social media platforms often give you the choice of letting customers complete their transactions on the platform or redirecting them to your own sales website. Selling via social media also gives you opportunities to connect with influencers who can promote your products to a large audience.

Related: How to become a social media consultant in 8 steps

3. Try dropshipping

Dropshipping is a form of online retail where your inventory gets stored elsewhere. As the retailer, you're part of the supply chain and arrange for manufacturers, wholesalers or a warehouse to store the product and send it to the customer. This option has minimum set-up costs and can help you get started with selling quickly. You can also easily scale up your dropshipping business and sell a wider range of products than if you had to store the inventory yourself.

4. Use a multi-channel approach

A multi-channel approach means you use more than one method to sell online. This could involve using multiple existing platforms or selling on your own website, on social media and on an external sales platform. You can also use all of these different approaches together to reach the maximum number of potential customers. Different customers discover your business in different ways and a multi-channel approach helps even more people find your business.

What is online selling?

Online selling is a form of e-commerce that allows customers to purchase goods from sellers on the Internet. Many retail businesses with physical premises now also sell products online. Some businesses and sole traders only sell their products online. Online selling offers flexibility for both buyers and retailers, making it an increasingly popular way to sell products.

Online selling is also appropriate for a vast range of different products. It can work well for services and tangible goods. Products that you sell online can range from handcrafted items to mass-produced products and the strategy can work well for businesses of all sizes.

The advantages of online selling

Selling online has plenty of advantages for businesses and entrepreneurs. These benefits can make online selling seem attractive for small businesses and sole traders while making e-commerce a sensible strategy for larger and well-established businesses to increase their sales and target audience. These are some of the primary advantages of choosing to sell online:

More flexibility

Selling online gives you greater flexibility than if you're restricted to operating a shop during certain hours. You might be able to choose your own hours if you're working independently. You also have the freedom to work from anywhere you choose, particularly if you have a dropshipping business and can work in a separate location from your inventory. Many online business owners appreciate the flexibility their career gives them.

Related: What is an entrepreneur and what are the 9 types?

Save on costs

There are some costs associated with setting up an online selling business but you can often save on costs if you do this compared to starting an alternative business. You're likely to pay for website hosting and advertising and might pay a warehouse partner for storage space. These initial costs are significantly lower than if you had to pay for physical premises. With low overheads, your business can quickly become profitable.

You can earn a passive income

Online selling lets you earn a passive income, which is an income you earn without actively working for it. This is because online sales platforms are active 24 hours a day. If you can generate sufficient website traffic and conversions, it allows you to earn money at any time of day, including when you're taking a break from work. This is also a benefit if you want to sell products online as a form of secondary income.

Related: What is a second income and how can you earn one?

You can reach more customers

Selling online helps you reach a greater audience than a physical store, including customers in other geographical locations. Having exposure to more customers can increase your sales and revenue, helping you to make a profit more quickly. This benefit is especially useful if you sell products that appeal to a niche market. These products are more likely to sell successfully if you can reach a larger audience.

Business can grow

An online selling business can easily grow and expand. As you reach more customers, you can increase your product range and further develop your brand. As the business grows, it might also be possible to expand your target audience to reach international customers. It can sometimes be easier to grow an online business because there are more opportunities and fewer overheads than with other types of retail businesses.

Related: Why work in retail? 8 reasons retail can be rewarding

Products you can sell online

You can sell virtually any type of product online. The online marketplace is expanding as customers rely more on online shopping to meet their needs. If you're interested in starting an online selling business but are yet to decide what type of products to sell, these are some options you can consider. Before you begin selling online, it's worthwhile to conduct in-depth research, including looking at competitors and estimating costs and sales forecasts, before you start selling. This ensures that the product you want to sell is viable. Things to research include:

Tangible products

People commonly sell tangible physical items online, which then get delivered to the customer. These products can be anything from clothing, food items, homeware, tools and equipment. Tangible products can be things you make yourself, products you've designed to fill a gap in the market or products made by other brands that you resell.

Digital products and services

Digital products and services are also a popular option for selling online. This describes any online product or service you can sell aside from physical items. It includes things like eBooks, digital music downloads, software or online services like coaching, tutoring or consultancy work. This category has grown significantly and is now a substantial part of online sales.

Bespoke products

Bespoke or customised products are another popular choice for selling online. These could be physical products with customisations such as engraving or embroidery or pieces that are made on commission like furniture or art. You might sell bespoke items alongside standard tangible products. Lead times for these products are typically longer than for standard products.

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