Starting Your Own E-Commerce Website: Which Platform to Choose?

by Lois Leonard

3 min read

The continued growth of internet commerce has made it incredibly easy for entrepreneurs to create and run their own businesses. Running a business online is a low-cost way to globally bring your product or service to people who you may not ordinarily reach. The number of e-commerce websites that have popped up make it even easier.

Shopify

With more than 200,000 online stores operating, Shopify offers one of the easiest and lowest-cost ways to start a retail business. Its visual appeal and assortment of different pricing options give sellers the ability to create an engaging customer experience within almost any budget.

If you’re just starting out, you may be focused on minimizing costs while you’re launching. Shopify has plans that start at as little as $9 per month for the basic “Shopify Lite” platform and up to $299 per month for the more robust Advanced Shopify. One of Shopify’s biggest advantages is its ability to deliver a retail e-commerce site that rivals many larger competitors. It provides excellent point of sale payment processing capabilities through its secure system, and its Buy Button integrates with a number of other platforms. Shopify also offers SEO optimization, marketing, blogging, and web hosting as part of some of its packages.

On the downside, the sites can be a bit cumbersome to build if you’re not familiar with website creation. Creating things such as drop-down menus and other features can be a little finicky. Also, Shopify’s cheapest Shopify Lite option doesn’t come with the ability to create a freestanding store, just an integration with an existing Facebook page.

Etsy

Etsy is an ideal choice for creative types looking to sell their own home goods, handcrafted items, and other knick knacks. The site also tries to make the experience feel more like you’re at a craft fair or flea market than just buying through a major retailer. Etsy’s brand recognition as an arts and crafts specialist helps drive a more targeted customer base of like-minded individuals to your store.

Etsy’s size and customer base can be both a good thing and a bad thing. On one hand, the site boasts more than 27 million active buyers who generated nearly $2.4 billion in revenue in 2015. You’re getting access to a large number of people looking specifically for homemade items. Etsy also makes it easy to list and sell as little as one item, and get it shipped to your customer seamlessly.

On the other hand, Etsy has nearly 2 million sellers, making it difficult to stand out in a large crowd. There is not a great deal of customization available for your online store so it is much more difficult to be unique. Costs can also be an issue. While there are no monthly fees, Etsy charges listing, transaction, and payment processing fees that can be 6% or more of the price of the item.

Amazon

Amazon is the undisputed king of online retailers, providing sellers with access to customers like no one else. Amazon generated more than $100 billion in revenue in 2015, and boasts roughly 250 million active users. It is estimated that nearly half of all online shoppers start their journey on Amazon’s website. One of the advantages of selling on Amazon is you get access to its infrastructure. It can handle inventory, fulfillment, shipping, payment processing, and tax collection, taking some of the biggest hassles of operating a small business off your plate.

Like Etsy, your biggest adversary may be the size of the company. With Amazon, you don’t operate a standalone online store. You’re merely selling products on its website. As such, Amazon can control a lot of what happens with your products. It can promote your product or push it down the food chain. If you offer something unique, Amazon could develop a product or establish a deal with a different vendor, and end up undercutting your price. Amazon can also be very costly, taking as much as 25% of every revenue dollar generated.

Ebay

Ebay has adapted its business model over time from an online auction site to more of an Amazon-like online retailer. You do have the ability to set up a store-like presence on the site, but your goods, like with Amazon, are more of a commodity.

Ebay has many of the same advantages and disadvantages of Amazon and Etsy, larger built-in customer bases and high fees. It tends to maintain more control over the selling experience, offering limited payment and listing options, and also tends to specialize in popular items, such as clothing and electronics. If you’re someone who is selling hand-crafted items, it may be more difficult to have success on eBay.

References & Resources

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