Dear Design Doctor
There are so many online retailers and market places out there, how can I choose the right one? And how do I know if they give me honest answers?’
‘Indeed there is a big boom in online selling and buying of design, crafts and hand-made products. You might feel a little overwhelmed by the choice, especially as many new online sites will be approaching you at craft or trade shows, all competing for your business!
As selling online has become very popular there is now a wide variety of places to sell.
Very often we put all the different online selling options together on one big heap, but there is a wide variety of options available and you’ll need to understand the differences between them and what’s best for you and your business, at this stage in your career.
3 main ways to sell online: own site, online market place & online shop
1. Your own website
This is often the starting point for many creatives, although it might feel daunting.
The biggest advantage of having your own website (with e-commerce possibilities) is that you will be in total control. You can can create the exact branding you want, and you can easily create your own online shop window and collect contact details.
We recommend SupaDupa, BigCartel, Word Press and Square Space as the best and easiest to set up e-commerce softwares for creative products.
It’s important to have one online place to show your work and tell your story, but the big disadvantage of having your own site is that you will need to spend a lot of time driving enough traffic to your site is a big job and can be very difficult.
You might find this practical book about Blogging for Creatives useful as a good starting point for creative ideas, but also technical information.
2. Online market place
Secondly you can become a seller at popular market places such as Etsy, Folksy, DaWanda, ASOS MarketPlace, E-Bay.
Also have a look at what non-profit organisations such as Craft Central or Design Gap can do for you, as they promote their members online.
If you are providing a services then you also might want to look at sites such as ArtsThread, Behance or the Association of Illustrators.
Here you create your own online shop and are responsible for marketing your own shop, and dealing directly with your customers. You will need to make sure that you stand out on these sites with fantastic images and clever use of key words and tag words.
A big advantage is that they have already existing traffic, although it often still is very competitive.
3. Online shops & boutiques
The third option is to go with an online boutique or retailer, such as Fab, Designers Makers, Bouf, ….
Like a brick-and-mortar shop they will show and sell the work of a variety of designers, makers, artists or illustrators.
If you want to get a really good overview of ALL the different places to sell your crafts online (from your own website to e-commerce software, from online market places to online shops and boutiques, and places to sell your surface pattern designs), then check out social media expert & crafter Claire Hughes new book on starting to sell your crafts online.
This book is a very useful guide if you want to get online (quickly) and learn step-by-step what to do.
In this book she gives a fantastic overview of all the different online selling options. You can read our extensive review of this book here.
How to select the best online place(s) for you
You will need to do some research before you commit, and ask yourself the following questions at these 3 stages:
1. Is the positioning right for you?
Firstly check if your products are a good match with your products or services, and your dream clients:
- Who is selling at this website already?
- Are they offering similar products to your own at the price levels that you want to sell at? You can learn so much from that – very quickly.
- Are they your peers that you want to share a website with?
- Do they attract the kind of clients you are looking for?
Check Google or Twitter for any negative comments or reviews of the site from buyers and sellers. (but don’t believe everything you read online ;-))
Ask your peers how they find using a certain online retailers and get recommendations.
If the match isn’t right then don’t be tempted to sell through them.
2. The numbers game
I get nearly daily approached by people from across the world who want to start or are running an online shop, and who want to get promoted via The Design Trust website to attract more sellers like you.
Contact the retailer and ask any questions you might have. Professional businesses will be more than happy to give you any information you might need. You can even do a credit check or research Company’s House records.
I always ask them the following questions:
- How many people sell on this site?
- How much traffic do they get?
- How much sales do they get in total?
- What are the average sales?
Connected with that are questions like …
- Who is behind this site ( e.g. Staff, management and potential financiers)
- What is their background and expertise?
- How much money do they spend on marketing the site and the brand?
- And where do they focus their marketing, and is that where your potential clients hang out too?
It might not be easy to get detailed answers to all these questions, but you will soon get a broad picture about the professionalism, expertise and potential of a site.
The good sites will be very happy to give numbers and info on their sites. They even might share with you Google analytics statistics on traffic numbers.
Don’t be afraid to ask the other questions by email, if you can’t get the info online.
3. The practicalities
If the positioning matches with yours, and the numbers add up, then it’s time to start looking at some of the practicalities:
- What are the selection criteria (if there are any)? What kind of products or images are they looking for? Do they want exclusive products? Do they want personalised products? Some sites (such as NotOnTheHighStreet) are very specific about what they want for their site and what images you need to provide. Make sure that you read the registration info thoroughly before applying.
- What are the costs? Is there a signing up or admin cost? Is there an annual or monthly fee? Is there a minimum period of signing up? Are their listings fees per item? What is the commission rate and how is this calculated? Or is there a mark up? How easy is it to get out of the contract if needs be? Evaluate the costs versus the potential of extra income and exposure for you. Make sure that you read the terms & conditions, and never sign a contract that you don’t understand!
- How does the buying process work exactly? Are they keeping stock or you? Are they purchasing stock (most often not)? Who is responsible for providing images (most often you)? Who is packing and posting products? Who will do the invoicing? Who is responsible for transport insurance? How are returns handled? When will you get paid? How will you get paid? Will you get paid in pounds or how is the exchange rate being calculated? Are there special offers or deals, and have you got any influence on that?
- How do they teach you how to sell more online? Have they got fact sheets, videos or workshops that you can attend? Can you speak to somebody to get personal feedback?
- Do they offer any additional services and support? For example Etsy provide an extensive Etsy Help service with 100s of practical blog posts, and regularly organises local meet ups. Clare Yuille set up award winning online design shop Plaisir, but also runs a brick-and-mortar shop and The Indie Retail Academy, full of very useful advice on selling to retailers. Membership organisation DesignersMakers offer real life popup opportunities and sell their member’s work every third Saturday in the popular Old Spitalfields Market in East London. Giftwrapped & Gorgeous offer an additional PR service highlighting potential journalist requests to their sellers.
- Are they a reliable and credible company? How long have they been selling? Have they got a brick-and-mortar shop as well? Is there a clear address and phone number to ask any questions? Have you checked there records with Company’s House? Do you trust this company? Do they behave professionally when you are in touch with them? Online buying is more risky for potential clients. So, if you don’t trust them why would your potential clients purchase from this site?
Deciding which online place is the best for you is a very personal process:
Based on the answers to all these questions it’s easier for you to make up your mind what the best place is for YOU to sell online.
My top tips for selling online successfully …
- Try to have a variety of different online and off line selling opportunities and integrate them to use the advantages of each option.
- Having your own website is best to show your work and present your brand at its best. Sell at 1 or 2 online market places to get the advantage of their higher level traffic. And select some online retailers depending on your size, your sales targets and appropriateness for your target client groups.
- And finally, don’t just rely on selling online: combine your online presence with craft fairs, exhibitions, talks, open studios and the like.
Want to learn from me how to sell more successfully?
Do you want to learn how to identify and research the best clients for you, and how to approach them successfully?
Do you want to learn which marketing techniques REALLY work to get more and better clients and sales (online as well as direct or through trade shows and craft fairs)?
The Design Trust Get Clients Now! coaching programme is a 6-week online course that will boost your marketing knowledge. I will help you to create a 4-week marketing plan for you and your creative business with 10 daily/weekly actions to turn your goal into reality. And yes, you will get into action for 28 days and DO the marketing, while getting weekly group coaching sessions and individual confidential marketing and business coaching from me!
Sounds interesting? Get more information about our next Get Clients Now programme here.