You may be asking yourself, “Do I really need to start selling on the internet?” Perhaps people have been asking why you don’t, or you’re starting to realize that you could stand to do a little more business, or maybe you’re thinking of starting an online selling business that’s strictly virtual. 

Whatever the reason you find yourself reading this article, the answer to if you need to start selling online is yes. Unequivocally — YES!

And here’s why: In 2020, over two billion people purchased goods or services online, and during the same year, e-retail sales surpassed 4.2 trillion U.S. dollars worldwide. And the fact is, the number of digital buyers is increasing year over year with a projection of 2.14 billion digital buyers in 2021. That’s a lot of online sales! Wouldn’t you like your business to bring in some of that 4.2 trillion dollars? 

Of course you would. But, if you’ve never sold anything online before, you probably have a lot of questions. No worries — in this article, I’ll cover not only why you should start selling on the internet but also where, how, and even what to sell online (if you’re not a conventional retailer).

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The top benefits of selling online

While most people believe that selling on the internet is just about the exchange of goods for money, that’s not the only purpose of selling online. Let’s take a loot at some of the other benefits that come with taking your business online.

Diversification

As my mom always told me, “Don’t put your eggs in one basket.” When COVID-19 caused entire countries to shut down, many small business owners had to shutter their businesses — whether temporarily or permanently. However, when you’re doing business in more than one place (without the overhead of having more than one physical location) you have a better chance of weathering economic storms.

Meet customers where they want to buy

87% of shoppers now begin product searches online so if you have a product — any product — you need to have it online. This goes for services as well (I explain this in the ideas section below).

Low-cost, quick, and easy option for expanding your business

Traditionally, expanding business meant finding a better location, a larger building, or opening an additional location. Needless to say, it was an expensive proposition and took years to accomplish. 

Today, you can expand your business in just a few hours (some say minutes, but to do it right it’s worth investing a few hours into it). And, in some cases, you can set up your online store for free!

Brand awareness

An online store provides another opportunity for people to find you and become familiar with your business. What’s that saying? “If you want to make sales, you have to get in front of the customer.” A well-branded online store can help you do that and the more times and places a potential customer sees your brand, the more you’ll stay top of mind when it comes time for them to make a purchase. And brand awareness is an important tool in building your business overall.

Measurable results

When selling on the internet, it’s easy to see how your marketing efforts are working. Most sales platforms have integrated sales analytics that you can use to see everything from units per transaction and average order value to the taxes you’ve collected. And if you really want to get to the nitty-gritty of your sales, you can integrate other platforms and applications to obtain more detailed information.

Basic ecommerce store analytics — part of Constant Contact’s ecommerce tools — show where your buyers are shopping from, how many orders have been placed, and total revenue.
With Constant Contact’s Website Builder, you have advanced sales analytics that give you details about your store’s traffic and sales — including how long someone spends on a page and who your top customers are.
If you have an online store with Constant Contact, you can add scripts to each page of the checkout flow for even more in-depth sales information.

FAQs about selling online

I’m sure you have lots of questions about selling on the internet and while I hope I’ve answered some of them already, here are some of the questions we get the most:

Do I need a business license to sell online?

If you already have a business, you don’t necessarily need to have a separate business license to sell your products and services online. However, it’s always a good idea to check with your local city, county, and state government to make sure that you’re following the letter of the law in your area.

If you don’t already have a business, when you’re ready to start one — virtual or otherwise — you will need to check with your local government agency to find out about registering your business and what licenses, if any, you will need to obtain before opening your store.

What is the best site to sell stuff on the internet?

The best place to start selling on the internet is your own website. A website is a virtual asset and having your own ecommerce site allows you to have complete control over your store.

After you’ve set up your own store, however, it’s important to expand your reach to more customers by setting up shops on multiple online marketing places. For instance; if you’ll be selling handmade goods, you definitely need to start an Etsy shop, if you’re a reseller then selling on Amazon is always a good idea, and if you have highly competitive prices and can meet all of the requirements, then think about selling on Walmart.com as well.

The reason you need to sell on several marketplaces is the same reason you need an online store in the first place — to get in front of your customers where they shop. And, the more you’re seen, the better you’re remembered when it’s time for a customer to make a purchase.

What are the best items to sell online?

This question often comes up with individuals who don’t already have a store, but if you’re not sure what to sell online, here’s your answer: whatever you have to sell. Seriously.

If you have a product that can legally be shipped, you need to be selling it online.

If you have a service that can be explained, you need to be selling it online.

If you can source products related to your business that can be shipped, you need to be selling them online.

Bottom line — You NEED to be selling on the internet.

How can I learn to sell online?

Funny you should ask. I wrote a two-part series on opening an online store, the first, What You Need to Know Before Starting an Online Store, covers starting an online store from scratch, meaning you don’t have an existing business that you’re trying to expand.  The second article, How to Set Up an Online Store, walks you through setting up your online store, from picking a platform and setting up your store through publishing your site.

What is the best way to start selling online?

It really depends on your business, but all online businesses should start with their own website. As I mentioned previously, a website is a virtual asset and like your email list, it belongs to you and no one else. This means you have complete control over it. So, the best way to start selling on the internet is to build your own website. Then, you can expand from there, creating online shops on the ecommerce marketplaces that suit your business the best.

Can you sell services online?

Absolutely! So many small business owners believe that because their business is service-oriented, or “atmosphere” dependent that they can’t sell online but that just isn’t true. 

While there may be circumstances that won’t allow you to “close the deal” online, you can certainly have customers book appointments, schedule callbacks, and even have them submit preliminary information — all online.

Obstacles to selling online

People most frequently think that only retail goods can be sold online, but as I mentioned above, services can be sold online as well. And, honestly, there are no true obstacles to selling on the internet.

I can hear the shouts now… “But River, what if I’m not an online selling business?”

You are an online selling business, you just don’t know it yet. It’s really just about perception. Let me show you.

Selling personal services

  • Sell your services by providing details of what services you provide and who your typical customer is, then provide a way for people to make an appointment with you.
  • If you carry products in your shop — i.e. hair combs, shampoos, or lotions — you can sell those online as well.
  • Become a dropshipper and sell items that you don’t carry in your shop but are related to what you do, such as bib aprons, shaving kits, and essential oils.
  • Become an Amazon affiliate and recommend products — on your website, blog, and social media platforms —  to get a commission on sales.

Selling creative studio events

If you own a creative studio, like Color Me Mine it can be difficult to imagine selling your classes online, but that’s exactly what you can do. Besides holding classes in your studio (or if your studio is temporarily shut down) you can hold virtual classes with clients signing up and purchasing all of their needed supplies — all online. Still not convinced? Take a look at how Paint and Sip does it.

If you’re an independent studio, even better! You can host virtual classes and sell the supplies on your own website, but you can also sell supplies on other marketplaces and even become an Amazon affiliate where you make recommendations and then get a commission based upon sales. 

Another option is to become a dropshipper of items related to your business that you wouldn’t otherwise carry, such as kids’ craft kits, travel art kits, or sketch pads and other art supplies. When dropshipping, you don’t have to carry any stock and you can not only open your own online store, but you can also branch out to other ecommerce platforms, including Amazon.

Caution: Offering virtual classes may result in new clientele signing up for classes with friends and family that live too far apart to otherwise attend your studio — potentially resulting in an expansion of your business far beyond your local neighborhood and causing classes and sales to increase exponentially.

Selling products or services that require personalization

If you traditionally don’t sell your products online because it requires some relationship building, personalization, or customization, you should start building that relationship with your website.

Your website should let visitors know why you’re the best choice for them. So, make sure that it outlines what you do, who your customers are, and what makes you better than your competitors. Then…

  • Set up an online store with the products you offer. Be sure to include plenty of details about each item including the requirements and constraints to installing or using said items (this goes for everything from custom kitchen cabinets and restaurant equipment to used cars and farming equipment). 
  • Let your customers know upfront that while they can choose items from your inventory they’ll need to speak with a member of your staff before they can place an order. 
  • Include an easy way for them to contact you or make an appointment to speak with a member of your staff — think about offering in-person, phone, and virtual appointments to gather more information, further build that relationship, and make a final sale.

If you still think that your business just can’t sell online, then it’s time to rethink how you see your business. Because doing business strictly offline is not an option anymore. In order to thrive in an ever-changing economic environment, your business must be flexible and you must be doing business online. Period.

How to get started selling on the internet

When it comes to selling on the internet, getting started is incredibly easy. As a matter of fact, it can take as little as a few minutes to set up your online store and start selling. With quick start options like Shoppable Landing pages and website builders that are designed for ecommerce getting products up for sale online is easy.

Where you’ll want to spend your time and energy is on branding and online marketing. After all, you’ll only sell products if people see them, right?

Here’s how to get started with online selling

  1. Create your ecommerce website.
  2. Add your products and great product descriptions.
  3. Publish your new site.
  4. Start marketing online.

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