A step-by-step guide to selling products onlineff
Selling online is a great way to drive revenue quickly at relatively low risk. Without an expensive brick-and-mortar store, you can skip the substantial costs and risks that come with renting the property, setting up a storefront, and relying on foot traffic to stop in.
It’s much more cost-effective to sell products entirely online, allowing you to keep overhead low and a higher portion of your revenue, all while reaching a larger audience outside of your immediate zip code.
If you’re not sure where to start, that’s okay! This guide will walk you through the essential steps to selling online. From start to finish, you’ll learn everything you need to know to start selling products online.
Here are the 12 steps you must follow to start selling online:
- Step 1. Decide what to sell
- Step 2. Source your products
- Step 3. Conduct a market research
- Step 4. Create buyer personas
- Step 5. Design your brand identity
- Step 6. Choose a domain name
- Step 7. Apply for an e-commerce business license
- Step 8. Build your online store
- Step 9. Set up your online payment process
- Step 10. Choose a shipping career
- Step 11. Create high-quality product content
- Step 12. Promote your products
Step 1. Decide what to sell
When you’re trying to determine what products you want to sell, niching allows you to focus your products and messaging on a small segment of your overall potential audience. A watch retailer, for example, could niche down and only offer athletic-friendly watches that are prone to harsh hits and that track steps.
When you’re in a narrowed-down niche, it can actually be easier to excel and set yourself apart. A business selling candles, for example, doesn’t really stand out, but one that offers organic, handcrafted slow-burning soy candles absolutely does.
Step 2. Source your products
Now that you know which products to sell, you’ll need to figure out how you want to find the products that you’re actually going to sell. There are three primary sourcing options here: manufacturing the product yourself (DIY), dropshipping, and purchasing from a wholesaler. Each has its own pros and cons.
Making your own products allows you to have truly unique products that you are passionate about. It’s a special touch that can really make you stand out from your competitors. This can be time-consuming, however, and when you stop working, you have to stop selling unless you’re hiring workers to help. You also will need to order raw supplies to create your own products, which can increase your production costs and reduce profit margins.
Dropshipping is easy and convenient, allowing you to sell items that are made by someone else and shipped directly from them to the customer. You don’t need to physically hold the items or ship them yourself, so there’s a lot less labor involved on your end and no need for storage space.
With dropshipping, however, you don’t have original products (though you can sometimes brand them yourself), and you aren’t in control of quality. If there are delays in shipping, this is outside of your control as well.
When you purchase from a wholesaler, you’ll buy a batch of products, have them shipped to you, and then list them in your store, increasing the price for a wider profit margin. You do need storage space, and you’ll pay for shipping, but you get to inspect the products yourself.
You can use a combination of different supply options. A jewelry store, for example, may manufacture their own pieces from scratch to create unique offerings, but also sell cleaning cloths and extra earring backs that are sourced from a wholesaler.
Step 3. Conduct a market research
Another key prep step before selling online is to conduct market research. Here’s how to do so by analyzing your competitors, surveying your audience, and doing some pricing homework.
When conducting market research, one of the first things to do is analyze your competitors. But what factors should you analyze? Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Overall market growth: Are new companies entering the industry and growing or are companies struggling and closing down?
- Competitor strategy: Look for the leading competitors and take notes on what they are doing. For example, analyze their products, differentiators, audience, brand voice, web design, branding, and key messaging.
- SEO analysis: Find out which companies are ranking for your target keywords. Study your competitor’s SEO strategy to learn what keywords they’re ranking for, how much traffic they’re getting, what content is performing best, how many websites are linking to them, and if they are running paid search campaigns.
- Opportunities: Do you notice any gaps in the market? Is there anything that none of your competitors are doing that you think could give your business an advantage? Take note of your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses.
By looking into how your competitors are doing, you can learn about your market to ensure it’s a profitable one to enter. Plus, you can learn what’s working and how to gain an advantageous position.
Survey your audience
Next, when planning your product lineup, it doesn’t have to be pure guesswork. Instead, you can get direct feedback from your target audience to gain insights into what products they actually want. But how and where should you conduct surveys?
- Social media groups: Find a social media group that includes people who are in your target market. Then, create a post and ask for input.
- One-on-one interviews: Identify people in your audience and ask them if you can interview them. Then, ask about their needs and product preferences. Further, gauge their reactions to your different products.
- Online surveys: Create an online survey for your target market. Plan a collection of questions that will help you understand the market’s wants and needs. Plus, this can be an opportunity to start building an email list that you can contact once your products are on the market.
While you will continue to learn about your target audience’s preferences and which products sell the best from your analytics, getting a head start can save you lots of time, money, and trouble. Use these survey tactics to learn as much as you can before launching any products.
Set the right price
You’ll also want to look to the market and note the price points of your competitors before setting your prices. Keep in mind, it’s not always best to set your price below everyone else, and likewise can be a bad idea to set your prices above everyone else. Many customers are willing to pay a bit more for a quality product but will look elsewhere if they feel you’re overpriced. Market research and analysis of your brand’s position can help you strike the right balance.
Step 4. Create buyer personas
Once you know what you want to sell and how you want to supply it, it’s time to determine who your target audience is. This will shape everything from your site to your marketing strategy and your branding, so it’s important to take a significant amount of time here to do your research. The market research and keyword research you used to choose your products and define your niche will be really helpful in defining your target customers.
To start, create buyer personas that will help you really understand who your target audience is and what audience segments you can appeal to.
Buyer personas are meant to act as fleshed-out representations of what members of different segments of your audience may actually be like. To create buyer personas, you’ll want to determine the following:
- Demographic information, including age and gender
- Location, if relevant
- Lifestyle, including online shopping behaviors, education level, job title, and household income
You’ll also want to consider what pain points and motivations your target audience may have. Think about why your product could benefit different types of customers, and use that to segment your audience accordingly.
Target each persona differently
With your buyer personas in place, you’ll want to plan a strategy that involves targeting each persona differently. While it may sound like a bit more work, it can be very worth it. Why? Because not all buyers are the same and they don’t all care about the same things.
For example, if you have a brand of high-quality, high-end jackets for those who like to explore the outdoors, you may have Buyer A who buys the jacket because it is truly well-made and will keep them warm when camping in extremely cold weather. Then, you may have Buyer B who buys the jacket because the brand is well-known as the best and prefers to have the best of everything — even though this buyer may not be using it to its full extent. The way you speak to buyer A and buyer B should be different to appeal to what they care about. For example, ads for Buyer A might show someone in extreme conditions and highlight the specs of the jacket like its materials and temperature rating. Ads for Buyer B might emphasize industry leadership, quality, and someone wearing the jacket in a social setting.
By planning messaging that’s tailored to each of your buyer personas, you’ll have a much better chance at closing the sale. Some of the factors to keep in mind include the buyer’s age, gender, interests, income, relationships, values, priorities, social media channels, and affiliations.
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Step 5. Design your brand identity
Once you’ve nailed down your brand identity, what do you do with it? Partner with a designer to bring it to life through various assets for your business, including your:
- Logo: Put simply, a logo is a symbol made up of images and/or text that identifies your business. It’s one of the main foundational parts of a brand identity that should become so intertwined with your company that it can stand on its own— like the Nike swish, for example. A good logo helps to communicate who your brand is and what it values, leaving a lasting impression on your audience. It should also be simple, clean, and visually appealing. Further, you want to aim for something that is designed to last for years to come, not some trend that will die out in a few months. Once finished, your designer should deliver your logo in several formats to ensure that you always have the logo you need (e.g., full color, one color, and white).
- Website: Your website is your digital storefront and is a place for your brand identity to shine, especially when you’re running an online business. Once your site loads, your customers should instantly get a feel for what you bring to the table. Your brand can be expressed through your color scheme, layout, images, voice, tone, and messaging. All parts should work together to make the right impression.
- Product Packaging: When your product is a physical one that is shipped out to customers, you have another opportunity to make a brand impression with your packaging. It should include your brand colors, logo, and a design that aligns with the rest of your brand assets.
- Business cards: Business cards can help to keep you in the mind of your potential and current customers. Being so, it’s a good idea to use them to leave a good impression while also reinforcing your brand. While you don’t want to go overboard, be sure to include your logo and key personal details.
- Email design: Email is another place where you can let your branding shine while engaging your customers. You’ll want to consistently include your key brand elements like your colors, logo, and voice. Aside from that, design your emails according to your end goal whether that’s to make a personal connection, educate, or share an announcement. That may mean keeping it short and simple, making longer content easy to scan, or including eye-catching product photos.
Step 6. Choose a domain name
Your domain name is the address that users can access your website online, and it often involves your brand name. It’s important, therefore, to choose a strong domain name because it can impact the buyer’s perception of you.
Domain names should be short, memorable, and clear. Remember that the shorter they are, the easier they are for users to spell and remember.
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Step 7. Apply for an e-commerce business license
You may be required to have certain licenses or permits, depending on your business’s location and your particular industry. To determine what your requirements are, you can contact your local business office licensing department. For U.S.-based companies, you can contact your state business license registration.
Certain regulated industries will often have additional licensing that you’ll need to acquire before legally being able to sell to customers. This may include those selling medical devices, for example, or food or alcohol.
In general, the sale of handcrafted items doesn’t require additional licensing.
Step 8. Build your online store
Whether you decide to build your own online store from scratch or to use some common online solutions such as BigCommerce, Shopify, or Magento just to name a few, there are some “golden rules” you must keep in mind:
The must-have pages that should be included
We always focus on the product pages, but there are other pages that you’ll need to excel when selling online.
- A strong homepage that establishes your unique selling and value proposition.
- An “About Us” page that talks about you, your brand mission, and lets the customer feel like they know you better.
- An FAQ page, detailing information about return and exchange information, product manufacturing, or anything else they may need to know.
- A Contact page, so that users can get in touch if they have any questions or concerns at any point in the buying process. Encourage users to share feedback here, too.
- Product Category pages, which allow you to display relevant items in the same category together
The must-have features your e-commerce site needs
In addition to must-have pages, there are also some must-have features that will significantly increase your sales potential.
- Streamlined checkouts, ideally with instant payment options.
- Accessibility, allowing all users to access your site even if they have a disability that requires relying on screen readers or other tools.
- Mobile-responsive layouts that work on all types of devices and loading quickly on each.
- User-generated content and reviews, particularly on product pages. Bonus points if they include images from the customer.
- Urgency-driven notifications, like “low stock” or “only three left” alerts on fast-selling products.
- Featured products, which can showcase similar or complementary items to increase upselling or add-on purchases. Either way, you can increase your average order value.
- Wish lists, which allow users to save their favorite products when they create a log in. You can use these lists in your digital selling strategy as part of a retargeting campaign.
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Step 9. Set up your online payment process
If you’re selling in an online store (and not just a marketplace), you’ll need to ensure that you’re set up to process online payments.
Most e-commerce platforms have native features that can help with this, but you’ll want to do all of the following:
- Ensure your site is secure. You should invest in security for your site so that you can protect your customer’s payment and personal information. You can typically pay more for improved security if your site host doesn’t offer this automatically.
- Set up at least one payment method. It’s best to offer multiple payment methods, including instant payment options like PayPal or VisaCheckout. You’ll also want to accept credit cards when possible.
- Establish correct tax rates. Many platforms have tools that can help with this, automatically calculating tax rates based on the buyer’s location. You want to do this upfront to avoid any errors or liabilities.
Security tips for online payments
- Partner with a trustworthy payments provider
- Use two-factor authentication
- Don’t store customer payment data
- Get an SSL certificate
Step 10. Choose a shipping career
Once you start making sales, you need to start shipping. This means you’ll need to choose a shipping career.
There are several considerations to make when choosing a shipping carrier:
- Speed: Which carriers can get your products to your customers quickly and on time?
- Insurance and reliability: Are some carriers better about ensuring your products don’t get damaged en-route? And if not, how much do they charge for insurance if the package is damaged or lost in their care?
- Cost: Each carrier has different costs. USPS is generally most cost-efficient, with UPS following and FedEx as the most expensive. Certain online marketplaces and even e-commerce platforms, however, offer exclusive shipping discounts for their members.
It’s important to ensure that shipping costs aren’t destroying your profit margins. Look at how much it will cost to ship your products through different carriers, and have those costs built-into your e-commerce platform. You’ll want to account for product size and weight so you can assign the right values to each SKU as needed. You’ll also need to consider whether you’re shipping domestically or internationally.
Step 11. Create high-quality product content
Create product descriptions that sell
Product descriptions can make or break your sales potential. Because of this, unless you’re a seasoned copywriter, it can often benefit you to hire a copywriter with e-commerce experience.
You’ll want to make sure that your product descriptions are long and in-depth, answering every question that your customers may have. Ideally, these will include the page’s target keyword at least three to five times and include LSI keywords as needed.
Make sure you break these descriptions down into easy-to-scan, digestible formats. This will help customers find the information they need quickly.
Get professional images
Images must be high-quality if you want to drive sales. If not, you risk losing out on potential sales to your competition and looking less reliable or credible.
Make sure that your product images are all clear and in high-resolution with good lighting. You should have at least one picture where the product appears alone on a neutral background. Try to have multiple product images for each item so that users can get a better look.
You also want to optimize your images for SEO so that they can help your site rank better and so that they have a chance of showing up in a visual search. Add ALT tags to all images, clearly stating what the image is and using keywords from your research when possible. This helps the search engine understand the context of the image, and it allows customers using screen readers to more easily understand your site content.
All images should be compressed so that you’re minimizing site loading times on both desktop and mobile. This is crucial for SEO, as a slow-loading site makes it harder for search engines to properly understand it—and you’ll frustrate your customers too.
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Step 12. Promote your products
Wondering how to raise awareness about your products and create some buzz? Try these ideas:
- Paid social media marketing: Social media channels like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, and Twitter have millions and even billions of users. Being so, they are a great place to reach your target audience without even leaving home. You can opt to use the paid advertising options offered by various platforms so you can design ads that are shown to your desired audience. On the other hand, you can use influencer marketing to get the ball rolling. To do so, find a platform where your audience hangs out. Then, find an influencer, someone with a sizeable following, who attracts people who match your buyer personas. With a few influencers in mind, you can reach out and propose they promote your products through a certain number of posts in exchange for free products or pay. Your audience will then get familiarized with your brand through someone they trust.
- Content marketing: When your audience is looking for products like yours, they often type certain words into search engines. By identifying the words they use, you can create content like blog posts, videos, and podcasts that are optimized for those keywords. Over time, if done correctly, your content can rise to the top of the search engine results pages for your targeted keywords which drives your target audience to you. This traffic can build over time, creating an exponential effect. Unlike paid advertising that stops when you stop paying, content marketing continues to work even after you stop.
- Launch a subscription model: Looking for a way to keep customers coming back? Offering your products through a subscription service means they sign up to continue ordering them at regular intervals. One of the oldest and most well-known examples of this is the newspaper. Subscribers pay and receive their newspaper at their doorstep each morning. Similarly, they can continue to receive your products without needing to remember or visit your store. This is a great way to create recurring revenue.
- Build an email list: While marketing on social media can be great, you’re building a presence on a platform that could be gone tomorrow. By building an email list, you ensure you have direct access to your audience of existing and potential customers. Then, you can create email campaigns, newsletters, and sequences to stay in touch and drive your desired results. It’s best if you stay in regular communication by developing a regular email schedule. You can jumpstart your email list by adding a popup to your website which offers a discount in exchange for the visitor’s email address.
- Optimize for SEO: We talked a bit about search engine optimization above when you’re creating content, but it’s also important for your website as a whole. You’ll want to ensure that your main website comes up when potential customers search for your primary offering. To do so, you’ll need to identify the main keywords they use and then add them throughout the site strategically to product titles, descriptions, images, blogs, web copy, meta tags, title tags, and meta descriptions.
- Start a YouTube channel: Like Google, YouTube is a search engine but for video content. Being so, many people use it to find all sorts of information, including the details about the products they want to buy. Plus, video content is increasingly some of the most engaged with content on both social media and the web at large. By creating video content about your products, you can help to raise more awareness about your brand and guide customers toward buying from you. Again, you’ll want to understand what keywords and phrases people are using when looking for your products and then you should make video content that’s a great result for those searches. For example, if you sell green juice, a keyword might be green juice benefits. You could then make a video talking about the top 10 benefits of green juice. Over time, as your video collection builds, so will your audience and customer base.
Running an e-commerce business and selling products online is more accessible than ever before, thanks to so many incredible platforms and a growing e-commerce sector. Whether you want to sell hand-crafted, made-by-you items on your own website or dropship items with a third-party platform, the sky is the limit for what’s possible.
Take some time to think about what products you want to sell, what you’re passionate about, and the audience you want to reach. These should guide your decisions moving forward, and combined with the steps discussed in this post, can help set you up for success. You’ll be able to start selling products online quickly and start generating revenue without having to worry about overhead costs and the risks of a brick-and-mortar store
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