Finding the Right Online Selling Platform

by Lisa Anderson Shaffer

Courtesy of Handmade Business

When it comes to making sales, and connecting with a target market, handmade business owners are expanding beyond in person events and creating an online presence. Selling online not only spreads the reach of handmade brands, but also makes products available to customers 24/7, meeting the demand for at home shopping. According to one of our readers, Diane Stroud, ''Selling online is a must.'' Knowing the right platform for your business can be tricky. There are a number of options out there for both retail and wholesale opportunities. Most come at a cost, and all have their own pros and cons. To help navigate the rough seas of online sales, We have gathered together some of the top selling platforms to outline what to look for and how to meet your perfect match.

Know your business

Choosing an online sales platform for your handmade business requires knowing what you need. The first step to finding a match is to start with the basics. Think about what YOU need to sell YOUR goods. Do you need specific sized images? Video? Do your products require variant listings? Various shipping options? An easy to update blog? Also consider what makes you special and how do you best connect with customers. Taking the time to answer these critical questions up front will make your decisions easier as you begin to weigh the pros and cons of different platforms.

Also, important to consider before taking the plunge is the value of your time and money. While some platforms might have a less expensive monthly charge or take a smaller percent of each sale, consider your overall time and budget. Does a more expensive platform offer integration with your bookkeeping system that will save you time at the end of each quarter? Does a platform offer a point of sale device and app, allowing for both in person and online sales through the same channel? Finding the right online sales platform match is really about knowing what you specifically need and want and weighing that against your budget.

Something for everyone

The good news is that there is no shortage of incredible online selling platforms to choose from, making it more than possible to find a great match for your business! In order to help narrow down the options, We have gathered together the top platforms used by Handmade Business readers, along with what experts agree give you the best bang for your buck. While it might sound overwhelming, most online selling platforms exist in one of three categories, making it easy to find the right match.

Weighing your options

There are sites like Etsy, Amazon, and eBay that allow businesses to sell on their site: hosting your images, helping with SEO and offering help with shipping, and in the case of Amazon, even fulfillment. For the sake of this article, We're calling these partner sites, in that they sell your products, but customers do not access your products via your own domain name or website. In essence you partner with them by giving them a percentage of your sales or paying fees on items sold.

The second category of sites are essentially shopping cart sites. Meaning they allow you to migrate your own website domain name to a platform that supports and houses your product images, descriptions and allows customers to easily shop and pay for your products. Often these sites also allow for blog posting, video, and content that is relevant to your brand, like space to have a custom about page, to list events, a calendar and other options that will be attractive to your target audience. For the sake of this article, We're referring to sites like Shopify, BigCommerce and Squarespace as shopping cart sites.

The third category is wholesale partner sites. These are platforms, similar to partner sites, that host your store with your products on their website platform, alongside other online stores, exposing your brand to a wide audience of wholesale buyers Handmade Business readers shared that they use IndieMe most, followed by Stockabl and Faire for this type of online selling.

Partner sites

When it comes to creating an online presence, and offering your products to an online audience, there is a lot to like about partner sites. Sites like Etsy (rated highest among Handmade Business readers), Amazon Handmade, and eBay already have a HUGE audience. I'm talking in the millions. ''Handmade at Amazon has a far reach and has a good setup for completing sales that buyers trust and don't hesitate to use,'' according to one user, Jean Judd. Customers already know to find great products there and each of these sites has invested a lot of money in being found and easily searchable on search engines. Type handmade into a search engine and chances are Etsy and Amazon will pop up first. ''Etsy comes up in search engines usually on the first page. They also do a lot of advertising for the site in general to increase traffic,'' Staci Thompson, a Handmade Business reader, comments.

Partner sites have massive brand name recognition and offer all the perks that come with being a part of something that has gained customer trust in terms of returns, timely shipping, and customer service. Reader Luann Udell responds to why she likes Etsy with, ''I LOVE how easy they make it to provide shipping options and costs automatically. They also offer buyers the ability to select their own shipping method.'' It's easy to see why partner sites would be a good option when it comes to selling online.

What Etsy, Amazon Handmade and eBay have in common from a seller's perspective is fees. Each site has a mix of listing, selling or shipping fees. This basically means that you are paying a small fee to list each of your products on the site and that when it sells, the site will take a percentage of your sale. Sites like Amazon Handmade also charge an annual fee to sell on the site, but in turn offer order fulfillment, meaning that you can ship your product to an Amazon warehouse, offer customers Prime two-day shipping and Amazon will fulfill your orders automatically. Cool, right?

So, what's the drawback? While I think that partner sites offer a lot, especially when you are starting out, they offer a lot for EVERYONE. Meaning that your brand is housed with a lot of other brands and can often get lost in the shuffle. Partner sites are a great place to start. They require little set up and really you are paying for the convenience of using a system that is already put in place and driving customer engagement to handmade products. And, there is something to say for that crazy search engine investment that these sites make. Many handmade business owners, myself included list on a partner site like Etsy and also have their own website with a shopping cart so that customers who feel more secure ordering through a major retailer can do so with someone like Etsy, or eBay.

STOCKABL
Have you heard of Stockabl? We're a wholesale platform for handmade goods, but more than that, we are a community of makers and artisans from the US and around the world. We're also 100% community-supported and grassroots. Makers who sell on Stockabl have access to a beautiful, always-on, digital line sheet that they can send their existing buyers to order from as well as be found by new ones. No more endless back and forth via email or phone calls, and no chasing down payments.

Have a complicated product with a lot of variations, customizations, or per item minimums? We've got you covered. Our listing system is the most flexible of any platform. We have a rich order fulfillment system which can calculate shipping costs and collect it from the buyer at checkout (no more invoicing them later!) as well as update buyers on order progress and providing shipping and tracking information. And you get paid within 3 days of the order processing!

Not enough to convince you? Here are some more features we offer:
  • Personalize your shop with custom shop banner and icons.
  • Help buyers get to know you with a maker profile.
  • We verify that every buyer on the platform is a legitimate wholesale buyer.
  • Additional promotional opportunities both onsite and nationally.
  • Flexible membership terms and low fees.
  • Need to take a break? Put your shop on vacation without taking it down completely.
  • Create coupons that meet your specifications.
  • A built-in messaging system that also emails you, so you never miss a buyer's question.
  • Real people answering your support requests.
  • Bulk product listing importing is also available.
  • Share your brand story through our ''meet the maker'' blog series.
As part of our mission statement, we focus on finding ways to help makers grow their business. This includes semi-monthly online workshops on various maker-business topics, trade publication co-op advertising opportunities, useful tools like our wholesale/retail pricing calculator, and a private Facebook support group. Most recently we held workshops on why retailers love starter packs and an ''ask me anything'' session with an actual retail buyer. We're also always looking for new ways to help our members grow.

As we move into the second half of 2019 and beyond, we are excited to roll out some exciting updates to our platform including a streamlined user experience for sellers, additional payment options for buyers, improved shipping calculations (including real-time rates and print-on-demand shipping labels) and more opportunities for makers to participate in tradeshows and retailer publications.

We look forward to meeting you and your brand. If you are interested in selling your line on Stockabl, you can apply at https://stockabl.com/apply/sell. Let us know you heard about us in Handmade Business magazine!

Shopping cart sites

Shopping cart sites offer the ease of big business perks to the little guy. They allow for all the bells and whistles of your very own website via a template, or even custom code in some cases, with the ease of built-in payment collection, shipping options and integration with apps, bookkeeping services and all sorts of cool and convenient options. According to user Penelope Diamanti, ''Shopify makes it easier to build a nice website. They offer good support and a lot of apps.'' I personally LOVE shopping cart sites and think they offer the small business owner a whole lot for the money. Like Etsy, Amazon Handmade, and eBay, sites like BigCommerce, Shopify, and Squarespace – the top three – offer the support of keeping your orders organized, collecting payment, offering you shipping options, label printing, and tech support, all at the touch of a button.

However, unlike partner sites, shopping cart sites, allow you to migrate your own domain name. Meaning you get all the perks of a big, big, big company under your very own business website name. The similarities between BigCommerce, Shopify, and Squarespace are many. All provide SEO support, tech support, beautiful templates, or custom options, along with easy payment options for your customers. It really comes down to what option feels the best to you and what value you put on your time. All sites offer integration in one way or another to different add ons, or apps that can provide everything from a pop up window for newsletter subscribers to apps that take care of organizing quarterly taxes and even shipping fulfillment. Shopping cart sites will even allow you to take wholesale orders via the same platform, often offering separate private pages via password for wholesale accounts to place orders, or the option to take orders and send invoices with your wholesale prices and tax exemption.

Committing to a shopping cart site will take some research to find which one is your best match. The great thing about taking the time to research which one is best for you is that when customers come to your site, they are there for you. You have their full attention. Whether they arrive through direct, search, or social media referrals, when they land on your page, it's all you. Shopping cart sites offer the incredible opportunity to invite customers into your world. To share what makes you special and why they need your products. You are only competing with yourself.

Wholesale partner sites

Wholesale partner sites have exploded recently and are gaining momentum with a younger set of millennial buyers. They offer the wholesale buyer the ease of shopping and placing orders while sitting in the comfort of their store or home. No more traveling to trade shows, or trying to figure out what products will create a beautiful story together from perusing a ton of catalogues. Everything is in one place. Additionally, wholesale partner sites offer buyers incentives, like net 30, and even net 60 as in the case with Faire, and the ability to return items. These sites put the buyer first and provide a lot of ease in the seasonal ordering process. But what do they offer handmade business owners?Handmade Business readers rated IndieMe as the most popular and well-liked wholesale partner site, and there are many handmade business owners that see great benefit from being a part of one of these sites. They definitely offer makers exposure to a store buyer that they might not know about or have been able to reach. With incentives for buyers, the buying process becomes less risky and may help stores take a chance on a new product or higher price item in your collection. IndiMe user, Vicki Sutton agrees, ''IndieMe connects me with retailers I would not be able to reach on my own'' Sites like IndieMe even offer customization and links back to your own website, which can help buyers get a sense of your story and what makes your product unique and special.

Well then, what's the drawback? Speaking specifically to Faire, they have tremendous venture capital funding and are in the game of making money. Their fees are high – at 15-20% they topple over most individual rep commissions and they also act as a middleman. While some business owners see this as a benefit, others like being able to reach out to their accounts off the platform and create long lasting relationships outside of the wholesale platform. It really depends upon what you are looking for and what makes the most sense for your time and money.

IndieMe
IndieMe has been revolutionizing the way artists and buyers connect for over 21 years. With features designed for our members by industry leading professionals, we focus on member's needs, not the bottom line. We allow our members to connect any way they choose with no limitations or rules in place. After all, whether you're the buyer or the artist – it's your order – manage it the way you want or need to.

Hello Artists! With IndieMe you can enjoy no commissions, no listing fees, and no fee avoidance clauses. Just $39/month flat fee up to 500 products! Take the guesswork out of how much commission you will pay by simply budgeting our flat rate. Have more time in your studio with our fully integrated shopping cart and 100s of features built with you and for you.

Hello Buyers! Shop online and enjoy an easy to use interface with time saving features like multiple wishlists, my follows, trade show planner and the option to add multiple shipping addresses. Work directly with the artist in or out of our platform. Our search options are second to none with the ability to drill down with your searches. Shop in print from our award-winning printed Buyer's Guide mailed to you three times per year for free.

IndieMe is a service-based platform which means you will get unparalleled customer service. We reply to emails and calls within minutes – even on weekends or after hours. We know your time is precious and we value that. Artists are assigned a dedicated Client Specialist who will reach out to you periodically to check in and see how you are. Buyers look for our Buyer Liaison who will contact you offering assistance and support.

All members on IndieMe can relax knowing they are part of a handcrafted community of like minded individuals. Our artists are juried in from peers and industry professionals. You will be amongst the best of the best Made in the USA/Canada artists. Buyers can relax knowing all artists are makers from the USA or Canada, no more guesswork.

We offer so much more than just a wholesale platform. We have advertising opportunities for every budget in both print and online formats. Don't just listen to us, hear what our members say...

''IndieMe is a professional pleasant organization to work with. I feel they are a part of my marketing team and would not hesitate to highly recommend them to any artist or craftsman looking to grow their business into a wholesale market.'' Artist - David J.

''IndieMe is my go to for ordering from handcrafted makers. I am not overwhelmed with thousands of makers and I am not underwhelmed by not enough. They manage to strike the right balance of artists to buyers. With their easy to use interface I can manage all my orders quickly. If you are an artist this is where you need to be!'' Buyer - Becky L.

The perfect match

Finding the perfect match for you and your customers online can be daunting, but with all the options out there, I am convinced you will find a really good match for your business. And sometimes one size does not fit all. Many businesses take advantage of all three types of online shopping sites to provide multiple sales channels. It really comes down to what feels right to you.

As you make your decision, it's always good to ask around. See what your colleagues think about the options out there. Get feedback and ask questions. I also recommend getting in touch with the platforms you are considering. Get a sense of their customer service, how quickly they answer emails and how they run their business. This can be a good indicator as to whether your ideals align with theirs.

In the end, finding the right online selling platform for you, is exactly that, FOR YOU. Do your research, think about your needs and go with what feels right for your brand. In the end, that ease will come through to your customers, creating a successful experience no matter what you choose.


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