How do I start selling online? A beginner’s guide

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Make your first sale online

Launching an online store is both challenging and exhilarating. It’s never been easier to join the world of online selling with a business website, but there are important steps to follow. To help you understand everything involved in opening an online store, we’ve created this beginner’s guide to start selling online.

In both South East Asia and Hong Kong, e-commerce spending has increased dramatically since the pandemic started. The region that includes Singapore, Malaysia, and The Philippines has added 70 million new online shoppers. While in Hong Kong, the percentage of those who shop online is expected to grow from 73% to over 83% by 2025.

Gone are the days where selling something meant that you need a physical store. With the help of new technologies and its rapid advancement, the world of e-commerce and selling online is booming. But how can you take advantage of this trend? Let’s get started with everything you need to know to start your online selling business!

A beginner’s guide to start selling online

In this beginner’s guide, we’ll cover tips and tricks to help you get started making your first sale online. From knowing what to sell, finding suppliers, and choosing the right mix of online channels for your online store.

Here is what we’ll cover:

  • What to sell
  • Sourcing products for your online business
  • Figuring out what items are popular locally
  • Starting out small
  • Doing market research
  • Knowing both your customer and the competition
  • Choosing the right channels to sell on (website, social media, marketplaces, etc.)

Keep in mind, there’s a lot to learn when starting an online selling business. Before jumping into the e-commerce space, soak in as much relevant information as you can. Understanding topics like marketing, SEO, and customer support are essential. Also, don’t skip over creating a business plan and learning how to register your business.

Related: Small business plan help and tips for new entrepreneurs

WHAT to sell?

When it comes to selling online, perhaps the number one consideration is what to sell. Because you may have the fanciest online store in the world. But if nobody wants the products you offer, it’s unlikely you’ll achieve the online retail sales you hoped for. On the other hand, by figuring out what people are looking to buy, you’ll position your online store for success.

Know your supply chain

Before you start selling online, you’ll need to know where to find great products to sell. This is your supply chain. A supply chain is made up of the manufacturers, wholesalers, or distributors of your merchandise. If you plan to sell your own hand-crafted items, you will mainly focus on sourcing raw materials. Otherwise, you’ll need to find suppliers for those products. Let’s go over the most common options to source products and start selling online:

Buy inventory from a wholesaler

Rather than producing all of their own items, most retail stores instead rely on wholesalers and distributors. These companies provide merchandise to re-sell. Because wholesale products are typically sold in larger quantities, they are usually sold at discounted, wholesale pricing.

There are many popular platforms for finding wholesalers, especially for products coming from China. These include websites like Alibaba, Chinabrands, and DHGate. To get started finding wholesale products, head to one of these platforms and start browsing. Or, just type in what you are looking for on these business websites.

Start Selling Online Alibaba Yoga Mat

You’ll also be able to see important information about the manufacturer. This is helpful when deciding which supplier you’d like to order from. Ultimately, you want to sell a great product at the best price to your customers!

These platforms are great for imported products. But keep in mind, to start selling online, the best supplier for your business may be a local company.

Use the dropshipping model

Dropshipping is a popular method to start selling online. This is where your online store doesn’t actually hold any inventory. Once customers place an order through your website, you place an order with your supplier. The supplier will then ship the product directly to the customer.

The benefits of dropshipping are that you don’t need to invest in inventory beforehand. Therefore, you can list many items for sale on your website without needing to know exactly which items to carry and in what quantity. This can reduce how much money you need upfront. It can be great for small business owners who want to start an online selling business with less capital.

However, there are potential downsides to dropshipping as well. For instance, you’ll need to trust that your supplier has inventory in stock. Otherwise, you might accept payment for a customer’s order, only to find out later that the item is out of stock. Without owning your own inventory, you give up some control over your online business.

Create your own crafts or handmade items

If you plan to start selling online with handmade items like art or crafts, you won’t be buying finished products from a supplier. However, you will still need to consider how to get a hold of the necessary raw materials.

For instance, if you sell handmade jewellery, where will you source the metals, gems, or other materials you need to fashion these items?

Sell digital products

Finally, don’t think that to start selling online, you must sell physical products. The best products for your online business may be digital products. These include downloadable or streamable items like ebooks, software, and online courses.

Here are a few examples of digital products you can start selling online:

  • Ebooks for exercise or diet
  • Custom WordPress templates
  • Online courses on business or hobby topics

No matter what kind of products you decide to sell, it’s important to understand your supply chain.

This includes finding suppliers that provide high-quality products at competitive rates. For extra peace of mind, consider securing backup suppliers. This will help protect your business from disruption. For example, if supplier A becomes unable to deliver, you can still get your merchandise from supplier B or C.

Related: 5 side hustle ideas that can make you money from home

Know what’s popular in your locale

Winter skiing clothing and accessories are popular in Canada and France. But will they be big sellers in your local market? It’s likely they may be more of a niche item – which is not necessarily a bad thing! Before you start an online selling business, figure out how much demand there is for a product in your region. How do you find out what’s popular locally? You’ll need to roll up your sleeves and do some research. We start covering research in the next section!

Starting small

There’s one more thing to understand at this point.

When you start selling online, take things one step at a time. It may not be the best idea to spend a fortune on inventory right away. It’s much better to start with a small amount of product.

 

Then, once you see that your customers are buying a particular item, you can order more.

If you are dropshipping, buying inventory isn’t relevant to your business model. But, it would be wise to apply this mindset to all aspects of your online business.

Across your business, start small. Test the waters. Then, increase your spending and effort once you see results.

Editor’s note: Need an easy to set up yet powerful E-commerce site? Head over to GoDaddy’s E-Store and start creating your online store today!

HOW to sell? Doing Market Research

Market research is the real key to knowing not only what to sell, but how, and to whom. This research can be highly scientific and detailed. But it can also refer to hopping on Google or heading out to your local shopping centre.

Before you start an online selling business, there are a few types of market research you should perform:

  • Keyword research
  • Customer research
  • Competition analysis
  • Trendspotting
  • Using social media

This research shouldn’t be thought of as optional. It’s actually a crucial step in launching any e-commerce store. As small business owners, we may think we know exactly what customers want. But you shouldn’t base a business on assumptions. Instead, let research guide your decisions. Who knows, you might be able to find some niche products for an underserved group of customers!

When doing research, don’t just look at your target customer. Seek to understand the entire market including your competition.

 

Keyword Research

Keyword research helps uncover if a particular product is in demand. Whether you should sell it online depends on many other factors, including how competitive the market is. But it’s a good starting point to know how many people are searching for that item.

Both free and paid keyword research tools are available online. Free tools include Google’s Keyword Planner and Keyword Tool among many others. Paid tools with limited, but useful free plans include Semrush’s Keyword Overview. Tools like Ubersuggest also provide blog post ideas based on your keyword. This can be very helpful when trying to boost your search engine optimization (SEO) rankings.

Also, don’t forget about plain old Google. Enter a product or keyword into Google’s search field and see what websites are returned. Are the results mostly large e-commerce stores that will be difficult to compete with? Or, do you think there will be room for your own e-commerce site?

When researching product ideas, look for keywords with high interest, but without intense competition. Too much competition will make it difficult to rank. But a lack of competition may signal weak customer interest in that product.

To gain a broad view of a keyword’s popularity in your region over time, head over to Google Trends. In the data below, we can see that the keyword dumbbell has grown steadily in Singapore since 2004. Notice that interest spiked in April 2020 at the start of the pandemic.

Start Selling Online Google Trends Dumbbell Singapore

Related: Four actionable SEO techniques for your website

Know your customers

There’s a misconception among some who hope to start selling online. It’s the idea that all you have to do is upload a product online and people will buy it. However, you’d do much better by first gaining an understanding of who you’re selling to. Find out who your target customers are. What are their tastes and preferences? Why will they be interested in your products?

The famous marketer and author, Seth Godin, says, “Don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customers.” Instead of brainstorming random product ideas, start with your customer. Figure out their wants and needs. Can you find a new or better way to provide what they’re looking for?

Seek to gain a deeper understanding of the different types of customers and your ideal customer. Once you do, you can begin to understand their internal motivators. This will enable you to refine your product offering and determine how you communicate across your brand. Both are invaluable as you start your online selling business.

Know your competitors

Who are your competitors? What stores, both online and offline are selling the same or similar products? And what similar products compete with yours? For instance, if you sell cookies, stores selling cupcakes are competing for your target market’s attention and money. These are the kinds of things you need to gain a good understanding of. Knowing what your competitors are doing well will help you improve your offering as well.

Start researching your competition by heading over to your local shopping centre to see what stores are selling. If you see the same items in multiple stores, it’s probably safe to assume that customers are buying them. Also look at online stores and marketplaces like Shopee, Lazada, and Zalora to see what they are offering.

Analysing your competitors can help you with differentiating, pricing, and promoting your products.

 

Social Media & Trends

Don’t forget to keep an eye on social media. Stay aware of trending styles and products across Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, etc. Start following brands and influencers in your niche. Also, follow hashtags related to your product category.

WHERE to sell? Picking the right mix of channels to sell

In terms of preparing to start selling online, there are multiple channels available. Channels in marketing and e-commerce refer to the network or tools used to communicate, distribute, and complete a product transaction. It’s the platform through which you will sell your products. E-commerce websites, social media, live streaming, and marketplaces are all distinct channels.

However, to start an online selling business, you don’t have to just choose one channel. Using multiple sales channels will allow you to better meet your customers where they are online. The mix you choose should depend on your target customer’s shopping preferences as well as your business goals. Let’s take a closer look at each of these e-commerce selling channels.

Website

Having an e-commerce website is the cornerstone of many online business strategies. And it’s no wonder why. Many of the best brands in the world sell directly from their business websites. Take Malaysian beverage company, ChaCha Kombucha. Customers can easily find the website online, learn about the product, and place an order. By having your own e-commerce site, you can control everything about it. And since it’s so easy to use eCommerce store builders these days, there’s really no reason not to have one.

Find a store builder that can help you build a superior experience of an online store. This will be the best way to attract and retain your customers!

Start Selling Online GoDaddy E-Store

Editor’s note: Ready to create your own E-commerce store and start selling online? Check out GoDaddy’s E-Store today!

Social Media

Social media channels like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok are great for promoting your brand. By creating fun and inspiring content, you’ll build brand awareness and encourage sales. But these channels can also be used to start selling online. Facebook and Instagram both have direct e-commerce store integration. If you built your business website with GoDaddy, it’s very easy to connect your online store to Facebook and Instagram. TikTok also has a growing number of ways for brands to sell through the platform. Sponsor branded hashtags, paid ads, and a link in your bio can all help drive your sales numbers higher!

Finally, don’t forget about partnering with influencers on social media to build awareness and promote your products. This can help launch your brand to the world as you start your online selling business! Influencers can help to direct their followers to your business website.

Live Streaming

Television shopping channels demonstrating products for sale have been successful for years. Similarly, live streaming is on the rise as a powerful channel for online selling. Being able to show products in action, as well as having limited-time offers, are powerful motivators for shoppers. Livestreaming can be done on various platforms such as Facebook. The key is to gather your audience for your live stream. From there, you can direct them to your products or special offers. Here’s how to create a live shopping video on Facebook.

Marketplaces

Marketplaces are websites that usually feature a massive variety of products. They allow sellers to list their products for a fee or percentage of each transaction. The benefit is that it can be relatively easy to start selling online. However, there are often tens or even hundreds of sellers competing to sell the same product. And customers tend to pick the seller with the best price, resulting in reduced profits.

In Malaysia, Singapore, and The Philippines, Shopee and Lazada are amongst the most popular e-commerce marketplaces. In Hong Kong, TaoBao, Tmall, WeChat, and JD lead in market share. Head to this guide for an overview of selling on these HK platforms.

These are some of the most common channels to start selling online. But this list isn’t exhaustive. Email marketing, for example, is another channel that many e-commerce veterans swear by. Email allows you to keep in direct contact with your customers. You can continually promote new products and specials, thereby maintaining customers and converting undecided shoppers.

Regardless of the mix of channels you go with, every e-commerce business should have a professional-looking business website. A good website can inform, lend credibility, and direct prospective customers to purchase your products.

Related: How to take your business online and start making online sales

Don’t wait until everything is perfect

With all that goes into selling online, you may be tempted to wait until your entire strategy is perfect before going live with your store. You may be afraid to make any mistakes or think your business website needs to be as polished as Zalora. This is a mistake. In the start-up business world, there is something called MVP, or minimum viable product. This refers to just getting the basic idea out in front of customers. Then, refining the idea once you receive feedback.

Too many great business ideas never get launched out of fear, indecision, and hesitation.

 

It’s much better to acknowledge that your website or logo isn’t perfect yet. Just get it 80% there and then launch your business website or online store. You’ll continue to learn, gather resources, and improve as you go.

Wrapping up

Launching a successful e-commerce store takes more than simply uploading a few products online. You need to consider: what to sell, how to sell, and where to sell. This includes finding a great product and lining up your supply chain. Then, understanding your customers and competition. And knowing the best way to sell your products, either through your own e-commerce business website, other channels, or a mix.

There’s plenty to learn when getting started in the e-commerce industry. But starting your own online selling business is one of the most satisfying experiences you can have.

Ready to start selling online or build your business website? Get in touch with our Care Team or visit our website to get started!