How to start a business that sells products on marketplace websites

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How to make money online by buying and selling goods from online marketplaces

The e-commerce market revenue forecast in the UK is expected to grow to £101.7 billion by 2024. You are here because you want a slice of this pie, right? This guide will take you through essential steps and strategies on how you can start a business as an ecommerce seller.

Things you need to know; pros and cons of selling online

Pros of e-commerce businesses

Flexibility – Working on your own ecommerce business can give you flexibility and freedom. Depending on how much time you are willing to spend to build the business, you can determine if it will be a side hustle / lifestyle busines or something bigger.

Your Rules – Running your own ecommerce business, you can decide on what type of products you want to sell depending on your areas of interest or expertise. Otherwise, if you’re not too concerned about what you sell, you can offer any types of products from your online store. You can also decide on the margins and how much you aim to make on a product sale.

Fun – Running your own ecommerce business gives you the ability to to turn a hobby and passion into what will hopefully be a profitable venture.

Risks involved when starting an online business are generally low compared to traditional business setups. For example, you will not have to worry about leasing property or storing inventory as you can utilize dropshipping. There are also tools offered by Shopify or WooCommerce which make launching a store front a 5 minute task that is also low cost to maintain and operate.

Cons of e-commerce businesses

Marketing Challenges – There are endless options for sourcing products online. Creating a storefront website is also relatively easy. The most difficult part of running an online store will be marketing. Where and how will you get customers. You can rely on paid advertisements on Google, Facebook or LinkedIn, however these may be costly in the long-run and make you dependent on paid web traffic. You can try to increase the ranking of your website on Google or Bing/Yahoo! Search, however this will take time to work on the Search Engine Optimization of the website. You can try to push for word-of-mouth referrals and free social media marketing, however, as with any marketing strategy, a balanced approach would likely generate the consistent returns.

Competition – The ease of launching an ecommerce business has attracted millions of entrepreneurs around the world to start a business. With just a website and a product, an entrepreneur anywhere in the world can target customers from wherever he/she chooses.

Time Management – If your business is subject to demand peaks due to seasonality or natural growth, you may find yourself having less time to partake in other activities outside working. Business owners can fall into a trap of dedicating too much time and effort to building their business for nothing more than financial gain. When a business is growing, it’s easy to forget the importance of maintaining a work-life-balance. Thus, time is an important consideration when launching an ecommerce business.

Identify types of products you want to sell online.

Today, with a simple click of your mouse, you can buy products from several suppliers globally and resell the same products through various online marketplaces. Most products sold through ecommerce websites fall into one of two types; niche or commodities.

What are Commoditized products?

These are high demand, essential, and or popular products. Generally, these are products that the majority of consumers need, such as food, clothes, kid toys, and others. When you take a look at popular online marketplaces like Amazon, these products make up the majority of their sales.

What are niche products?

These are services or products with a focus on satisfying the needs of specific customers or target group. Examples include musical instruments, exercise or medical equipment. These products tend to be used for longer periods of time and are purchased less frequently by consumers.

How to select products to sell?

Online marketplaces are saturated, but having a good product idea can give you a competitive advantage. In this section, we’ve compiled a list ideas when deciding on what products to sell on your website.

  • Identify products or services that can solve a problem. They do not have to be complicated problems. Think about simple problems, that occur as a result of events, weather or other occurrences happening around you. For example, if the weather forecast for a particular season is going to be very cold, you can anticipate people will be searching for a buying thicker clothing, heating devices and other items to stay warm.
  • Consider the products you’re passionate about, as doing so will make it easier for you to craft brand messages. Additionally, doing something you’re passionate about will help to carry you through times when you may find yourself bored or challenged by running the business.
  • Consider the branding potential of the chosen products. Focus on the benefits the products give to the target consumer. Consider factors such as sustainability, community engagement, as well as others.
  • Discover what sells well on the popular online marketplaces to give you ideas for complementary or similar options that are less competitive.
  • Take advantage of trends early before they hit peak popularity.
  • Look at products that can fulfil guilty pleasures.
  • Identify a segment of clientele and serve that niche, for example, people who play board or casino games at home.
  • Pay attention to social behaviour, which industries are currently getting traction?
  • Go for less competitive products with high profit margins.

Where to find suppliers?

Finding a reliable supplier for your product is crucial, and it’s probably the most time-consuming activity before you can sell online. Below are several ways you can look for suppliers.

SaleHoo directory

Using SaleHoo’s Supplier Directory you can find a supplier and also reduce the risks of being scammed. They have over 8,000 verified, legitimate, low- cost suppliers, located worldwide.

Dropship suppliers

You can also use popular online marketplaces like Alibaba or search engines like Google to find dropship suppliers. On Alibaba, you can contact a supplier directly and inquire about dropshipping services. On search engines, start with (product name) + drop shipper then review the relevant search results.

Wholesale suppliers

You can use search engines or go the traditional way of face to face meetings by visiting trade shows. There are also plenty of wholesalers on AliExpress and Alibaba, where you can contact or use SaleHoo.


You can also search for manufacturers directly to find makers of products. Many of these businesses may not make it explicitly clear who you need to contact to talk about partnerships or placing bulk orders. However, if you see a commodity product on Amazon, you can search for the manufacturer online and contact them directly. Manufacturers usually offer a ‘white labelling’ service. This means they can put your own brand on any of their products, in addition to offering product variations to make you stand out from your competition, who may also be signed up with the same manufacturer.

How do I contact suppliers?

Once you have a few suppliers in mind, the next step is contacting them via email, phone, the contact page on their website, LinkedIn or even their company profile page on AliBaba. Most of the reputable suppliers get approached by other aspiring sellers. Thus, you should aim to make a good first impression as it will ensure a quickly reply to your emails.

Suppliers are constantly looking for new and profitable customer relationships. Here is what a supplier looks for when deciding on their partners;

  • Possibility of long-term term customer, ideally on a contract.
  • A partner who has a genuine purchasing intent and who is not just fishing for prices.
  • A partner who poses low commercial risks when it comes to their conduct and what they aim to achieve with their business.
  • Clear and concise communication.

The best way to ensure you tick all the supplier boxes, it helps to do some research about their business. Avoid asking too many questions upfront, and try not to be offensive or indicate their products are cheap, overpriced or poor quality. Distribute your questions through several emails or calls. This will help build trust and ensure the supplier is responsive to client need. Make sure the questions you ask are relevant to the supplier’s business or their ability to meet the needs of your business.

Consider ordering in bulk

Develop a relationship with the supplier by showing seriousness and consistency. It could earn you bonuses on the volume you order, discounts or other perks. Ask about the availability of discounts for bulk orders. If they value the commercial relationship. they may offer you a reduced rate based on volume or an ongoing discount.

How can I quickly setup my business?

Now that you have an understanding of the products or services, and your suppliers, you can start thinking about setting up your business. There are three primary channels you can use to establish a business online, they include;

  • Online marketplaces.
  • E-commerce stores like Shopify
  • Social media platforms.

All the above channels will help you sell, but not all platforms will suit your type of merchandise.

What is the ideal online marketplace for my business?

Consider the following factors when deciding on an ideal marketing place for your products:

What is the customer base?

Considering the number of shoppers should be the first step. Know that a broad audience may increase your chances for potential customers and may also mean increased competition from other sellers.

What is your target market?

Do you prefer a general marketplace for all types of customers or a niche website for only a specific audience? Also, find out if the marketplace gives you access to a global audience, or if it restricts you to buyers of a particular location.

Pay attention to seller fees

Consider the fees charged by the online marketplace you are considering. Be aware of all the charges that apply to new sellers before you register an account. Most common prices usually include the following

  • Membership costs
  • Product listing fees
  • Sales commission
  • Dropshipping fees

Ease of use

The process of becoming an online seller can be daunting, to ease the process, consider marketplaces with a straightforward user interface. Try to sign-up for a demo or trial of the services you are considering. This will help you avoid signing up to any contracts before you’ve been able to give the marketplace a proper test drive.

Customer support

At some or many points during your online selling endeavours, you will come into contact with customer support. Check the customer service support offerings of the marketplaces you are considering using. Does the marketplace offer a sufficient level of service based on their costs? D you feel the service will be adequate for your needs? Check the existing resources available that assist sellers. For example, look for the FAQ section, online seller hubs, and live chat systems in place to get a better understanding of the marketplaces quality of existing support for sellers.

Account registration requirements for online marketplaces

When you have narrowed down your options of marketplaces, ensure that you have the required documentation or details to setup your business profile. These typically include the following:

  • Business name, address, and contact details.
  • Reseller’s license.
  • Insurance.
  • Payment options.
  • Delivery arrangements or contracts.
  • A description of your merchandise.
  • Cancellation, returns, and refund policy.
  • Any other included charges such as tax, dropshipping costs, and others.

Note that the above requirements may not apply to all sellers.

Which are the best online marketplaces to buy and sell products for profits?



  • Largest online marketplace that operates globally.
  • Customer audience of over 350 million members.
  • Excellent seller infrastructure. They’ve figured out and resolved many pain-points for sellers.
  • Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) service allows sellers to ship inventory to Amazon warehouse.
  • Global shipping program.
  • Trade-in program, which enables anyone with little or no money to sell used electronics.


Amazon has seller membership fees categorised into two types. The first being individuals who sell fewer than 40 items in a month. Individuals pay $0.99 for an item sold in addition to paying a closing fee which varies in range between $0.50 and $1.50 per item. The second type are professional seller’s, who seller more than 40 items per month. Pros pay a $40 monthly subscription and referral fees. Professional sellers also are required to pay a variable closing fee and a referral fee. The total fee ranges from 6% to 25% depending on the item and the volume sold. Using the FBA program also has its own fee structure. There are also the following two points to consider:

  • Fierce competition from other sellers or Amazon itself if they also sell a similar product.
  • Lack of customer loyalty, mainly because the customer goes through Amazon.



  • Operates worldwide, with over 170 million active buyers.
  • Allows you to sell almost anything aside from a handful of prohibited items.
  • Global shipping program.
  • Platform has selling, inventory, and listing tools that make everything straightforward.


  • Fee structure is a bit complex that includes membership fees, PayPal transaction charges, insertion costs, final value fees, and others.
  • Stiff competition; thus, you can easily get lost in the crowd.



  • Allows the sale of handmade items, vintage goods, and art supplies from around the world.
  • Boasts of over 33 million shoppers globally.
  • Ideal option if you’re looking to sell your handmade goods to a niche audience.
  • User interface is easy and straightforward.


  • Designed for specific items.
  • Saturated, competitive market depending on the product niche.



  • Free to open an account and doesn’t include membership and related fees.
  • Can sell anything, from new to reusable items.
  • Easy and convenient to start selling on Facebook.
  • Buyers can pay online through PayPal.
  • Create or join groups and sell them within it.


  • Mostly targets local buyers.
  • Platform does not include y back guarantee.



  • B2B e-commerce website that allows buyers to connect worldwide.
  • Designed for selling and buying in wholesale quantities.
  • Does not include commission fees.


  • Annual membership fee to be an Alibaba supplier, with the cheapest package at $399.
  • Not for sellers looking to sell directly to customers.

Five keys that make a product a success online.

Profitability – Profit should be your main consideration when deciding on what products to sell or what kind of ecommerce business to operate.

Price point – Rhis is directly related to profit margins. Look to sell products that can be sourced at low prices and sold at high but reasonable prices. Avoid selling more expensive items if you’re not good at marketing because it may be harder to earn your customer’s trust.

Size or weight – Ideally, consider selling lightweight or small products that do not take up a lot of space. This can enable you to offer free or low shipping costs to your customers.

Popularity – Ensure your products are popular and in-demand or can solve a consumer problem.

Competitiveness – Look at products from the supply side; those that are exclusive will stand out better compared to products that are offered by multiple suppliers.

Which are high margin profit products to sell online 2020?

  • Pet products like pet food or dog collars
  • Wireless phone chargers
  • Watches
  • Shape-wear for both men and women
  • Baby toys that are educational, classic, remote-controlled, modeling, and others
  • Wireless earbuds or headphones
  • Maxi dresses
  • Drones and quad-copters
  • Beauty products, such as skin-care routines based on skin type or skin issues

Other tips to building a successful online business

Master product photography prior to your first posting

  • Take light and bright photos of your products.
  • Stage the item to showcase its strongest attributes. For example, if selling clothes like dresses employ a model and have them pose in different angles in well-lit room behind a green screen.
  • Take multiple photos of the item from different angles and zoom in interesting parts or those that highlight product features or benefits.

Focus on nailing down good product copywriting

  • Create quality titles and descriptions. Add keywords to help with product descriptions. For example, instead of “floral dresses”, type something like, “2020 blue maxi dresses.”
  • List items under categories and avoid random collections. People look for specific goods, so the more honed in the categories the more likely you are to find the target consumer.

Provide good or great customer service

  • Regularly ask your customers for positive reviews.
  • Respond to all customer feedback, comments or questions as quickly and effectively as possible.
  • Resolve all customer enquiries or complaints as quickly as possible.
  • Have a forgiving refund policy and an efficient refund process.
  • Offer loyalty promotions for repeat customers.

Keep an eye on trends and competitors

Continue to improve how you operate your ecommerce business and how you source new or existing products. Try to spot buying trends before your competitors do. Also, keep eye on the products your competitors are selling and customer feedback of these products. Can you see any ways of improving your product to make sure it does not cause similar customer issues or result in negative feedback?

Develop and refine your marketing strategy

Earlier in the article, several platforms were discussed for online marketing. You can attract customers either through paid or free marketing methods. Some free marketing methods include the following:

  • Content marketing methods, such as blogging.
  • Social media marketing.
  • Starting a YouTube channel and creating content about your products, brand or you as a business personality.
  • Positive PR with the potential to generate media attention.

Wrap up

This article was intended to provide you with online sales and marketing tips, tricks, and industry knowledge to help you build an ecommerce business. We covered some key areas of how to buy and sell online. We would like to hear your opinion about this article, was it helpful? Are there other areas you would like us to discuss further? Please leave a comment. Your feedback is appreciated, thank you.