Amazon, eBay, Etsy, Scoutmob, OpenSky, Krrb, The Grommet — which marketplace should you start selling on? Is it better to go big or own your niche? The Insider compares marketplaces so you don’t have to.
You may have stumbled upon this article because you’re considering giving this whole e-commerce business a whirl. You may’ve already taken some steps in that direction. If so, congrats! Selling your products online can be a fun way to make some extra cash on the side. But what if you could turn your passion into full-time self-employment?
“Remember that it’s all a very expensive hobby until people are actually buying the goods, so do whatever it takes to get your products into the hands of paying customers,“ says Elliot Aronow, proprietor of chic necktie company Jacques-Elliott.
Whether it’s creating a shop for artisanal hair ties or ugly holiday sweaters — if you can dream it, the internet can help you do it.
May we present: the guide to everything you wanted to know about e-commerce platforms but were afraid to ask. Primarily: where should I sell my stuff?? Maybe you should opt for a large platform with lots of visitors? Or perhaps a more specialized online marketplace with customers who are looking for something unique? Here’s the lowdown.
First off, Amazon gets a lot of traffic and is known as the site that has everything. It may be a generic one-stop shop — but it’s also a first-stop shop. So even if someone is looking to buy something as obscure as woven rope sandals or an inflatable toupee, there’s a chance they might head to Amazon to look for it.
“Amazon has the ability to sell a ton more of a specific product,” says Edward G., who’s worked as an Amazon and eBay seller for several years. “Hot listings always stay hot and the sales potential for a single item is exponentially greater.” The site is also a win, says Edward’s former business partner, Daniella D., because of its “greater traffic, more advanced consumers, and superior product rating and review system.”
On the other hand, Daniella D. warns, Amazon’s seller support and product listing procedure can be hard to navigate.
“Items that aren’t ‘fulfilled by Amazon’ don’t sell as well because so many customers use Amazon Prime,” she observes. “It’s hard for smaller sellers to get started unless they’re giving up a big chunk of their profit.”
Insider Tip: Read Skip McGrath’s Post, “Taking Your Retail Business to Amazon” for a quick primer.
Still, Amazon can be a great resource for those looking to self-publish or move large numbers of one specific product very quickly. (Especially if you’re not looking to do too much branding.)
“Maybe your products don’t need all that extra stuff, so going straight to Amazon can be a good move,” suggests Aronow.
Unlike many other sites, eBay doesn’t require you to assign specific prices to your goods. Many sellers simply let the natural demand for their products determine their prices.
Much like Amazon, eBay offers a “built-in marketplace where people come looking for your products,” says Skip McGrath, an online retail expert. McGrath has been selling on eBay since 1999, and stresses the importance of buying low and selling high. “You make money when you buy—not when you sell. So the trick is to buy really well to maximize your margins.”
“It really is a buying and selling community,” stresses Daniella D., adding that customers “often require a lot of communication.”
Meanwhile, eBay’s user base tends to skew older—more than 50 percent of the site’s users are over the age of 35. So if you’re looking to target an older demographic, eBay may be the right market for you.
As the line between creators and consumers continues to blur, many e-commerce sellers have ventured into making their own artisanal products. The “Handmade Revolution” has put the power back into the hands of the little guy—to the tune of $2 billion in sales last year.
“Etsy is a good parallel to a real-life shopping experience,” says Meaghan Garvey, an artist, designer, and writer who sold hip hop-inspired candles and clothing through an Etsy store until 2013. Garvey liked the site because of its browsing capabilities, search functionality, and capacity for customization. She adds, “It’s easy to brand your store in a way that attracts buyers.”
Read our Etsy vs. Handmade at Amazon side-by-side comparison here.
Garvey says Etsy’s site is not without its downsides. “If you have a dispute with a buyer, they are able to rate you publically. Sometimes stuff happens, and that stuff can be easily handled between buyer and seller. I found that allowing this kind of open commentary, especially when I’d already handled the situation privately, was petty and annoying,” she confesses. “The other thing is that Etsy can put a freeze on your shop without warning if there are enough disputes.”
Even so, Etsy can be a great place for a collector or artisan looking to reach a large number of potential buyers. Etsy recently launched a new service called Etsy Manufacturing that connects makers with manufacturers in order to help scale their small businesses.
Imagine a version of Craigslist that’s just for artisans — and scammers aren’t allowed. “When you shop on Krrb, you’re buying from individuals who sell from their homes or studios and from independent businesses,” says Krrb’s Community Director, Vanessa Londono. “There’s a connection with who you’re buying from — whether it’s a professional seller or just your average Joe.”
Like the idea of selling on Etsy but prefer the “local” feel? Krrb may be the platform for you.
Imagine a store that sources its goods by working directly with artisans. What if it also allowed those artisans to submit their goods to be sold in the store? Well, that store’s already online, and it’s called Scoutmob. It offers a curated e-commerce experience, selling unique clothing, gifts, and crafts made by independent designers. According to the Scoutmob sign-up page, sellers set both their wholesale and retail prices. When a customer buys your goods, you keep your wholesale cost, and Scoutmob keeps the remainder (after shipping and handling costs are factored in, of course).
Opensky functions more or less as a co-op for brands, allowing small and medium-sized businesses to band together and reach a larger audience. So what makes it different from Etsy or Scoutmob? Opensky implements Big Data analysis to create a tailored shopping experience for each customer — and offers a wide range of diverse goods, from clothing to computer accessories.
Are you an entrepreneur or inventor looking to get your product seen by a large audience the minute it launches? Then look no further than The Grommet, which boasts: “We find unique, undiscovered products and help them succeed.” Since 2008, The Grommet has helped more than 2,000 companies release products — or “grommets,” as they’re called. The site also emphasizes the story of each grommet’s creator, putting a face to each product.
Creating Your Own E-Commerce Platform
When Aronow was looking to launch Jaques-Elliott, he claims, “I was more passionate about creating a universe that my products would exist in than just throwing a bunch of ties on Amazon and hoping for the best.”
As big as the rewards can be, there are greater risks in creating your own site than going with a pre-established platform. Even though setting up a proprietary e-commerce platform takes time and money, Aronow insists that building your own platform could really pay off. “I’m selling a vibe and a look and the ties fit into that,” he says. The e-commerce destination was all part of that aesthetic.
Meaghan Garvey certainly agrees with Aronow’s philosophy but isn’t ready to commit to the task of creating her own platform.
“Setting up my own proprietary site would be ideal, and if I didn’t have a day job, I’d probably pursue it,” she admits, also noting that maintaining your own online store “seems daunting to be running as an individual.”
Breaking News: Shopify and Amazon Get Married.
Maybe You Can Have It All?
Amazon recently shut down its “Webstore” service and moved everyone to Shopify. This is big news for Shopify sellers, who’ll soon be able to export and post listings directly to Amazon, synchronizing product, customer, and order data between platforms. Shopify store owners now have access to Amazon’s payment systems and “Fulfillment By Amazon” (FBA). Best of all, you don’t even need to ship your orders — they’ll all be managed by Amazon’s warehouses.
The Big Takeaway
The most important things to consider when choosing an e-commerce platform are your long-term goals. For example, if you want to be a part of a community, then don’t go with a big seller like Amazon or eBay. Likewise, if you’re only selling a couple of items and trying to take advantage of the margins (and own your niche), then it makes little sense to be on a specialized site such as Etsy or Krrb.
Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer. “The most important thing,” says Aronow, “is to laser-focus on making the best, most authentic product you can and then think about where you want it to live after.”
That means owning your niche in the marketplace, as well as committing to sourcing, manufacturing, and consistently promoting your product to your target audience. The right platform is merely a fraction of the whole.