Business Plan Center

How to sell your products online

Learn about two options for selling products or services online: through your own store or an e-commerce marketplace.

Published: April 24, 2015
Updated: May 14, 2019

Customers are purchasing online more than ever: E-commerce sales reached $453.5 billion in 2017, and have been rising an average of 15% a year since 2010.1

Whether you want to complement an existing brick-and-mortar business or plan to sell online exclusively, you have two main options for e-commerce.

1. Build an online store.

Before you can sell your products or services online, you need an online storefront. You could hire a web designer to custom-build one for you, although that often requires more upfront and ongoing investment. Alternatively, you can leverage an existing e-commerce platform, such as BigCommerce, Shopify, or Volusion, which help you create, customize, and manage your online store. E-commerce platforms generally charge between $29 and $299 a month for hosting, depending on the features you want as well as the size and scale of your business.2

Some e-commerce platforms are available specifically for service-based businesses. Shopify, for example, allows customers to add services to their virtual shopping carts. The app BookThatApp enables customers to schedule classes, appointments, and other activities after buying them from an online store.

Whether you sell products or services, look for a platform that includes:

  • Web hosting: Allows you to choose and purchase your own domain name, or website address.

  • A store builder: Creates your online storefront, providing design templates to choose from and customize.

  • Inventory management: Helps you organize inventory with product images, prices, and descriptions on the front end, and inventory tracking on the back end.

  • A shopping cart: Automates placing, accepting, and fulfilling orders.

  • Payment processing: Automates your merchant account to accept payments from credit cards and PayPal. Look for the option to automatically charge sales tax and shipping costs, too.

  • Returns management: Allows you to accept returns, replace merchandise, and refund money.

  • Marketing support: Helps you optimize your store for search engines, integrate with social media, create marketing emails, publish customer ratings and reviews, and offer discounts and coupons.

  • Analytics tools: Measure your store's traffic and sales performance.

2. Join an online marketplace.

An alternative to building your own e-commerce website is joining an online marketplace such as Amazon, eBay, or Etsy, which allow you to create your own store within a larger site. They offer fewer customization options than building your own e-commerce store, but selling your products through an online marketplace has several advantages, including:

  • Faster and easier setup

  • High visibility and referrals

  • Established branding and customer bases

  • Back-end infrastructure and support

The cost of selling through an online marketplace varies by your product type and price, as well as how many you sell. Most marketplaces charge a fee per item, from 3% of the retail price to 15% or more.3

Other considerations

Whether you sell through your own store or an existing marketplace, budget for shipping. Handle it yourself, or pay a third-party — like Shipwire or Fulfillment by Amazon — to store your merchandise in their warehouses. Orders are packed and shipped on your behalf for a fee per order.

By making your products or services available online, you can reach customers regardless of geography or time zone. No matter which e-commerce option you choose, an online store can help you market your products or services and make the shopping experience easy for customers.

Learn how to create an online marketing strategy.

1 “What Is the Share of E-Commerce in Overall Retail Sales?”

2 “How Much Does an eCommerce Website Cost in 2018?” Atlantic BT.

3 “A seller’s guide to online marketplace fees.” BriskSale.