Beyond Amazon, eBay, and Etsy: free and low cost alternative marketplaces, shopping cart solutions and e-commerce storefronts
by Hillary "The Whine Seller" DePiano
The following is a guest post from Amy Johnson of a small orange but you’ll notice it’s right in line with what I’ve been saying about alternatives to eBay, Amazon and Etsy all along. Take it away, Amy!
If you’re selling goods through an online platform like eBay, Etsy or Amazon, maybe you’re tired of the red tape and fees and you’re thinking of taking your business to the next level. Can you do that? Do you need them? Maybe you do, but maybe your business is ready to be profitable on its own. There are a few considerations that might help you determine whether your business would be viable without an online selling platform.
First, get past the nitty-gritty. If selling your product is an activity that you consider to be a hobby or side job, it may make sense to stick with a third-party seller. Ultimately, it does save some time and attention that would otherwise need to be paid to administrative tasks. However, if you’re thinking that your selling has the potential to become a business, or to grow as a business if it already is one, then know what’s ahead with regard to administration, banking, payment and taxes.
You need a company name, if you don’t already have one, you need to register the URL. According to sage advice from Inc. magazine, don’t worry if you’ve not established your catchy “brand”; you can establish a name just to get the business ball rolling and then create a DBA (“doing business as”) later. Find out from your locality whether you need permits or other licenses in order to conduct business. At minimum, if you’re selling a product, you will need a seller’s permit. The forms and information can be found at your state’s IRS site or, usually, in your local administrative offices. Set up a business bank account and create an accounting spreadsheet. If this seems like too much work, or if you don’t think that you have time to perform administrative tasks on an ongoing basis, it might be better to stay with a low- to no-maintenance online seller in order to save yourself a little time. Are you prepared to receive direct payment from customers (i.e. by credit card), as opposed to using a third-party like PayPal? Also, do you have a method by which you can calculate applicable sales tax? If you’re selling through an online retailer, its shopping cart may be doing this for you, so it is imperative that you figure out how to do it on your own, or find a reliable application for your website that will take care of it.
If all of this sounds like more of a commitment than you want to make, then it’s possible that going solo might not be the right move for you right now. But, if you’ve considered all of that and you’re ready to take the next step, there are a few more things to consider.
Do you have a business plan that includes a method by which your products will be marketed? The best advantage to being an eBay or Etsy seller is that you have a built-in search mechanism; when someone is looking for an item you’re selling, if his search terms match with your description, there’s a good likelihood that you’re going to be found. If you are thinking of going out on your own, you need to have a way by which your products can be found without the help of a built-in search tool. If you decide to leave those platforms, you must either already have a devoted customer base, or you have to have a good way to market. If you’re not looking to “go huge” and you have loyal customers, perhaps even having a Facebook page and encouraging your customers to like and share your updates, photos and product posts would be enough. However, if the goal is to take your business big-time, then you need to have a well-developed and -hosted site that has the search terms for your product optimized. Reliable web hosting is crucial to the success of your site; in order to be sure that your site will run, not have down-time and is sustainable; you need to figure out what kind of website hosting meets your needs. Web hosting providers can provide a range of plans from shared hosting to dedicated servers so that you can determine what is best for your growing company.
Even if you don’t feel ready to plunge into the vast unknown of breaking your business free from any kind of third-party, there are alternatives to eBay and Etsy; do your research, and don’t make a hasty decision. There are sites and apps that provide an in-between place that’s not a “big three” seller, but that offer tools to help you accomplish your selling goals without your having to do it completely on your own. Think about whether you’re looking to maintain your business or grow your business, and the amount of time and energy you’re willing to spend doing it; then, find a place on the web that’s comfortable for you. There are lots of options out there – after some good evaluation, you can find the best fit for your business.