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How to Sell Online in 3 Steps (and 9 Bonus Tips)

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Online sales make up an increasingly larger piece of the U.S. retail market, and small business owners need to be online to get in on the action.  A smart-looking website is a great start, but using the right store solution for your needs – maximizing searchability, mobile readiness, payment processing and advertising – will help push your small business to the next level.

Wondering how to sell online? We’re here to get you started with this step-by-step online selling guide.

How to Sell Online in 3 Steps

1. Decide What You Want Your Online Store to Look Like

Hopefully you know what kinds of products you want to sell online.

Next, you have to think about how you want to sell those products. What do you want your online store to look like? Answering this question will help you determine what kind of eCommerce service you might use, or whether you might just work with an online marketplace, like Amazon.

To seize the opportunity and figure out how to sell online, start by creating a must-have list of what your online store needs – and make a wish list, too – then choose a store solution based on those items, says John Lawson, CEO of e-commerce educator ColderICE and author of “Kick Ass Social Commerce for E-Preneurs.”

You may need strong display with oversize magnification, shopping carts with size and color selection, multiple payment options, or the ability to tie in with your legacy accounting system so inventory data automatically updates with each sale.

2. Choose the Best eCommerce Platform for You

After evaluating your must-haves for your online store, weigh your needs against what the big eCommerce providers have to offer.

BigCommerce, Shopify, Wix, and Miva Merchant are the big store solution players.

Each has strengths and weaknesses, so choose a service that best aligns with the must-haves on your list. Expect to pay $20-200 per month, depending on volume, or upwards of $7,000 for advanced custom design. (If you’ve got a business website already there’s no need to start from scratch; you can add a shopping cart plug-in, or integrate with a store solution.)

What’s great about investing in selling through your own online store is that you are in full control of what your store looks like an how it operates, as every eCommerce website builder gives you a lot of flexibility.

Not only that, having your own, legitimate-looking online store gives you credibility in the eyes of your customers. You want them to feel as though they’re shopping on a professional and secure website when they go to your business’s online store.

3. Consider Selling On Marketplaces

Wondering how to sell online? If you asked online retailers this question, they’d probably tell you to get in on one of the big marketplaces. Amazon and eBay account for 90% of all B2C sales.

Selling on a marketplace can be very easy to get started, making a marketplace solution a good option for business owners who don’t want to invest in perfecting their own online store, but want to sell online and start making money now.

In most cases, it’s as easy as setting up a seller account, listing your products for sale, then determining how you want orders to be fulfilled, how you’ll accept payments, and how you’ll ship those items.

Of course, there’s a little more to it. For a deep dive, check out our guide on to selling on Amazon, opening an Etsy shop, or selling on eBay.

There are challenging sides to selling on marketplaces. Most notably, standing out from the crowd. Each marketplace has their own algorithm that your business, if you choose to sell online this way, will be subject to. You’ll need to invest some time into optimizing each of your marketplaces’ profiles to be sure that the millions of users on these platforms are actually seeing your product.

9 Tips for How to Sell Online

You’ve got the quick-and-dirty on how to sell online and start making money quickly. But if you’re looking for a bit more, here are some extra tips for how to sell online and do it right.

1. Be Mobile Ready

Your m-commerce-friendly site should have a “great design that removes friction” for smartphone and tablet users, Lawson advises. Keep it simple so customers can easily add to the cart and pay.

2. Flesh Out Every Product Page

Customers can’t touch and feel your product or service, so tell a compelling story with superbly written copy and multiple photos. “Your landing page is the sales page and the gateway to your brand and your stores,” Lawson says, since most people find you through search and may never see your homepage. Everything a customer needs to make informed decisions about purchasing should be on each product page.

3. Keep the “Buy Now” Button Above the Fold

“Don’t make me scroll for that button,” Lawson says. To bolster conversion rates an “add to the cart” button should clearly stand out on the page.

4. Utilize Site Search

Nothing’s more frustrating than bad search. Visit sites hosted by the same store solution to see how well it works before committing to a service. Your search bar should always be at the top right corner of the page, where people instinctively look for it.

5. Provide Great Customer Service

Most cart solutions include order tracking, a must-have for all shipments. Offer a good return policy and free shipping, or at least free after a certain price point. Lawson advises setting that bar 10-15% over the average cart total to really see a sales lift.

6. Build on Your Wish List

Add-ons to consider include alternative delivery methods, ranked search, auto-completion within search, advertising on search results, and determining what shows up when there are no search results.

7. Curate and Personalize

With another plug-in, make product suggestions based on past customer purchases or search items, particularly as customers add items to their cart. “Just don’t try to up-sell me once I’m already in the cart and ready to pay,” Lawson cautions. “When I press the “checkout now” button the next thing I need to see is the checkout page.”

8. Be Secure

Set up a merchant account and payment gateway (with, for example), or go through a third-party payment processor like PayPal, to accept credit cards. An SSL certificate encrypts the personal information of your website users, preventing scammers from accessing sensitive data like credit card numbers.

9. Advertise Effectively

“‘If you build it they will come’ is so far from the reality of things,” Lawson says. “You are responsible for driving your own traffic, and the best way is to pay for it.”  Don’t let social sites like Facebook and Pinterest be your whole strategy because “it’s hard to scale up no matter how good it is,” he adds. It’s much easier to increase your budget and reproduce good advertising. Before spending big bucks on Google ads test out conversion rates on cheaper search engines like Bing. It will actually cost you less if you target the advertising based on key words, demographics, geographic location, age range and time of day. Facebook analytics can help you zone in on your target market.

Miriam Reimer

Miriam Reimer

Miriam Reimer is a small business and entrepreneurship columnist at Fundera. Previously she wrote for Forbes, TheStreet, Jewcy and StarChefs. Follow her @miriamsmarket.