I’m going to spoil this whole blog by telling you the three reasons you should build your own eCommerce website in this very first sentence: eBay, Etsy, and Amazon. That’s it, there you have it, that’s why you should build your own eCommerce website.
I know what you’re thinking: “Deborah, you’ve gone completely bananas. I couldn’t possibly independently compete with those three!”
Well I hate to break it to you folks, but I went completely bananas years ago. You should know that by now. But that’s completely aside from the point and unrelated to anything I’m saying here. Just let me continue, and stop mentally interrupting me, OK? Thanks.
Even when you list your products on those sites, you are still competing with all of them. But let’s take a closer look.
Of these big three sellers, Amazon.com was founded in 1994. Who even remembers having the internet in 1994? My family had an Apple computer back then, but eventually switched to a PC. I think we got dial-up in 1995:
beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep ccccccccchhhhhhh doooooo-dee-doo000-beepbeep-boop-beep-dooop cccccccchhhhhhhhhh
. . . and then that sweet sound of connection. It wasn’t long before I discovered Amazon.com. It used to be all books, all the time, and soon after, I could also get CDs and DVDs, and better yet, I could soon buy them used from other sellers! I’ll admit, I have Amazon Prime membership in both the USA and Canada. As a buyer, Amazon is pretty great.
But what about as a seller?
Amazon is complicated. Their fees are high. You’ve got a huge amount of competition, including people who buy and bulk, which isn’t great if you’re a smaller business. Not only that, but you are also in direct competition with Amazon itself.
Take for example the issue of AmazonEssentials products. Despite claims to the contrary, Amazon employees have used what is supposed to be private information about independent sellers on the company’s platform to develop competing products, going directly against their own company’s policy.
Speaking of competing products, several major brands have refused to sell on Amazon because they don’t police the grey market well enough. One brand even preferred to sell exclusively on Walmart instead. Not to dis Walmart or anything (loyal shopper here), but I kinda think that says something.
Ah yes, the wild west of online sales. Or so it seemed to be back in those first few years. eBay was founded only a year after Amazon, in 1995. It started simple enough. The first sale was a broken laser pointer to a fellow who collected broken laser pointers, who would’ve thought? Initially, listing an item was free, but the founder’s internet services bill got too high, so he had to start charging a listing free, which people found pretty reasonable.
(As an aside, my first year of high school, my school’s principal, Tom Sawyer (yes, that legit was his name, no relation to the real fictional Tom Sawyer, though), was an expert at calling auctions. You know, that really fast-talking thing. Everybody in town would get him to do live auctions. Pretty amazing. eBay should have hired him for . . . something.)
Thousands of people have found success on eBay, but more and more, people have become increasingly frustrated. In the words of one former seller, “eBay sacrifices its sellers to its buyers”. I know that “the customer is always right” is a good general policy, but eBay appears to take this a bit too far. According to this same seller, “eBay ‘insures’ purchases by resolving all disputes in favor of the buyer, and then forcing the seller to cover the costs. Paypal helps them by seizing the seller’s funds.”
So eBay runs on a guilty-until-proven-innocent-system where the seller can almost never prove themselves innocent. It also leaves the seller open to buyer fraud.
eBay can limit your sales very arbitrarily, despite your good record (and bringing in lots of income to eBay itself). An ill-intentioned person can give a seller a bad review, a postal strike causing a delay in shipment, or any other little fluke can lead them to limit how much a seller is allowed to sell. One seller whose whole business. You are subject to eBay’s whims. You may feel like your own boss, but you are at the mercy of buyers and eBay’s poor customer service.
Etsy, the newest to the market. Launched in 2005 on the east coast, it’s the indie girl’s heaven for vintage, handmade, and craft supplies. Yes, I’ve purchased all of the above on there. Etsy has been great for sellers of these things, but in recent years, Etsy’s policies have changed for the negative.
Etsy is no longer friendly to small business, you are literally competing with huge shops in China. It’s sad really — you see someone has designed something creative and lovely, and within a few months, other people are copying that design and it’s all being shipped from China. Sure, maybe it was handmade, but do you really think the worker got fair pay for the work they did?
Not only that, but because of Etsy opening up their policy to this type of business, small business owners have faced lower sales volumes and increased competition due to the sheer volume of shop owners on the site, and it’s not exactly easy to differentiate your own shop from all the rest. You get a name and you get a logo. That’s about it. It’s very difficult to truly build your own brand.
On top of this, Etsy has their own weird SEO algorithms that work completely differently from most ordinary search engines, and at the same time, Etsy items don’t rank well in Google searches. And then there are the fees. They can arbitrarily hike the fees whenever they please, cutting into the profit margin of small businesses as well.
At the end of the day, is it really worth all this trouble?
Who are you really working for?
All three of these platforms make it somewhat easy to list your products in an online shop, but is it really worth it? How does it really benefit you as a business? Perhaps early on it might have been easy for people to search and find your products, but now they’re so over-saturated that it’s difficult for people to find you. You can’t truly build your own brand.
At the end of the day, with having to follow someone else’s ever-changing policies, very little control over how operations are run, and the inability to truly build your own brand while paying someone else fees, it sure sounds a lot like you’re doing a lot of work for someone else. You may have more flexibility than a typical job, but you’ve still got someone bossing you around.
But what else can a small business do?
Gosh, I’m sure glad you asked! The truth is, building your own eCommerce website isn’t that complicated. There are lots of options out there, though our two favourites are WooCommerce and Shopify. The great thing about your own site is you are in charge. You decide what your website will look like, your branding, everything. Nobody will tell you what kind of payments you will take, you get to decide that. You get to decide what shipping options you will offer, and where you will ship.
I don’t know about anybody else, but I’m pretty stubborn and don’t like being told what to do. I’m also a bit of a control freak, so being able to control every aspect of my business (or delegate to people whom I trust) is right up my alley. Both of these platforms offer countless tools to make it easy to do.
How will people find me if I’m not on one of these big sites?
OK, that’s the easy answer, but not the only one. Look at it this way: you’re not just selling stuff, you’re building a brand. Do you have a Facebook page? Instagram? Most of these eCommerce platforms have integrations with both Facebook and Instagram (WooCommerce: Facebook, Instagram; Shopify: online sales channels).
Honestly, lots of the new stuff I discover is through social media, so build a following! Write blogs about your products, get other people to share your products and how great they are! Get in people’s heads. Build your brand. If you need any advice on SEO, social media, or digital marketing, talk with us. We are more than happy to help!
Back to Google though — this year they announced a new feature they are making available on their shopping search results. Currently their Google Shopping search results are all sponsored products, but this spring, in the US, they opened it up so that people could list their products for free (there would still be sponsored listings, a bit like regular search results).
This isn’t available in Canada yet, but one article suggests it will be quite soon for Canada, and another says that it will be global before the end of the year. I find this pretty exciting, as it’s another SEO opportunity for our eCommerce clients. It appears that already there are integrations for WooCommerce and Shopify.
OK, but what about the cost?
I’ll admit, there’s a bigger up-front cost with building a site yourself.
I take that back. Shopify isn’t all that bad, although they have monthly fees, because it is hosted, although the monthly fees might add up, but it comes with everything all-in-one full-meal-deal if that’s what you like. You can pay to have someone set it all up for you, have it match your branding and whatnot, or you can set it up yourself and you’ll probably get by either way. It’s a great option for someone who wants a store. Some pretty big brands use Shopify, including Hasbro, The Economist, Heinz, Crabtree & Evelyn, and Penguin Books.
WooCommerce is my favourite though. It’s a great option if you want a full website, more than just a shop. From what I understand the API is easier to work with, so if you like doing your own coding . . . stuff (sorry, I stick to html and css, disturbingly so), it’s a better option. I like that you can use their official plugins or third party plugins to make it do whatever you darned-well please. Many-a-time a client has asked “but can you make it do this?” and I’ve said “of course we can!” then gone to one of our developers and said “so . . . they asked me if we can make it do this” to be told “weird but . . . I guess so?”
As for cost, WooCommerce itself is free, though if you purchase it with a theme, it sometimes comes with other paid upgrades. There are paid and free plugins you can get for WooCommerce. Your main cost will be building the website, and then the monthly or annual fee of hosting it varies from provider to provider.
I may or may not be the Yes Girl, much to the chagrin of our CEO. (Sorry Kelly.)
Let’s do it!
So now that I’ve given you all the reasons why you really ought to have your own website instead of working for someone else, why don’t you give us a call, send us an email, or contact us through social media and let us help you get your business online! We can offer advice on what platform is best for you, or we can do all the work for you. Whatever level of service you need, we’re here for you.