Nowadays, the question how to sell online, does not deserve an obvious answer.
More and more people are deciding to shop online, and the numbers are steadily growing. Online sales are constantly expanding, and alongside the channels we have become accustomed to platforms such as marketplaces and ecommerce, new alternatives, such as selling on social media, are also trending.
In this article, How to sell online: the complete guide, we be looking at the different strategies for selling online, looking at all possible cases. From those who want to start from scratch and start a professional online sales business, to those who want to find the best platforms for selling as a private individual.
We will see how to take the first steps in opening an ecommerce and how to sell on marketplaces and classifieds sites. We will look at what the different platforms have to offer and what commissions are involved, so we will find out with which sites you can sell online and make the most profit.
We will also take a look at what tools are provided by different marketplaces to enable us to start a professional business.
Finally, we will see how to sell through social media and what tax aspects to consider.
Table of Contents
Why sell online
Before we figure out how to sell online, let's also try to answer another question: does it make sense to open an online sales business?
Let's look at some of the latest statistics to better understand how consumer habits are changing (Statista).
As you can see, the number of buyers is growing year by year.
What are the advantages? Why does it pay to sell online compared to traditional selling?
Selling online allows you to transcend the geographical limitations you would have to undergo with a physical store. In this way you can also extend your sales globally and generally have the ability to reach more customers.
In addition, you can implement marketing strategies to acquire new customers, thanks to digital channels. For example, you can bring people to your site with organic traffic, advertising, and social networking.
Also you can monitor your progress, figure out which strategies work best, and even expand sales by using multiple channels. Nothing prevents you from using multiple channels. For example, you could create your own ecommerce and also set up a storefront on a third-party marketplace to make money online.
How to sell online: the alternatives
Having seen the advantages of selling online, let's see what possibilities we have to start selling our products.
Selling physical products is one of the ways to earn online and that is exactly what we have focused this guide on. However, there are also other systems, such as taking advantage of the affiliate marketing system or starting a web hosting business.
Returning, however, to selling, you basically have three main options before you:
- opening an ecommerce,
- Sell on a third-party platform such as a marketplace,
- Or aim to sell on social networks.
The first thing to do, then, is to choose how to sell online, that is, which strategy to use to start offering your products.
To help you choose let's look at these different options in detail, but first let's see what the main differences are between marketplace and ecommerce.
Ecommerce and marketplaces compared
The choice of marketplaces, as opposed to setting up an ecommerce site, is undoubtedly easier to navigate and accessible to all.
Let's see what are the main advantages of using marketplaces to sell online:
- You can start from scratch and begin selling online.
- You do not need initial investment to create and manage an ecommerce.
- You can sell online as a private individual.
On the other hand, as far as disadvantages are concerned, it must be taken into account:
- There is more competition, so it can be more difficult to reach and retain customers.
- Sometimes there are fixed costs and percentage costs with respect to each sale.
- In some cases the products you can offer for sale are limited.
On the other hand, what possibilities does an ecommerce offer?
Open a online shop - this definitely has more advantages because it allows you to completely manage your store. With an ecommerce in particular, you will have no limit on the number of products you can sell and no commission on the sale.
You also have no limits on customization and can implement active marketing strategies (email campaigns, recovery of abandoned carts, and so on).
You can, in fact, accurately analyze customer behavior, see which strategies bring customers to your site, and thus improve conversions by adopting the methods that work best.
In addition to campaigns and promotions you can also attract customers by targeting organic traffic. Of course, these strategies open up many possibilities for you, but they also take time to implement.
The "disadvantage" of selling online with an ecommerce, then, is precisely that you have to do all the management and marketing.
Which, on the other hand, by choosing to use a marketplace to sell online, you still have the platform to act as an "intermediary," for example by handling shipping. As we will see next, however, there is also another option for selling online without a warehouse.
First, let's see how to take the first steps to open an ecommerce site, and then let's see how to sell online without a site.
How to sell online by opening an ecommerce
If you want to learn more about how to create an ecoomerce site check out our detailed guide.
Here we briefly summarize the basic steps you need to follow to open an ecommerce:
- Set your budget
- Choose what to sell
- Create your brand (find a name and create a logo)
- Choose which platform to use
- Choose the domain and check that it is among the available domains
- Create the store (enter products, implement payment methods, etc.).
- Promote your business.
If you choose a self-hosted platform, for example you want to create an ecommerce with WooCommerce or with PrestaShop, then you also need to choose a hosting. For example, you can start with a WordPress hosting or a PrestaShop hosting and then switch to a plan like semidedicated hosting when visits start to increase.
If you choose to set up an online store, you still have other choices to make that relate precisely to what to sell online.
You can start a full-fledged online sales business, and that means finding suppliers for the goods you want to sell, taking care of warehouse management, shipping, and customer management. Or, if you are wondering how to sell online without a warehouse, you should know that you can opt for dropshipping.
In the latter case, you will not have a warehouse and will not have to deal with logistics, but you will act as an intermediary between the customer and the supplier.
Basically, it is a third-party sale, with the supplier holding the goods, managing the warehouses, and shipping the orders. You focus on marketing and customer management.
Dropshipping is a type of ecommerce business that is becoming more and more successful precisely because it can be started with low costs and because at the same time it allows you to have the same benefits as selling online.
In any case, remember that even with dropshipping you will have to pay attention to tax compliance. We will discuss this later when we look at whether you need a VAT number to sell online.
You can also learn more about the legal aspects of setting up an online store by checking out our guide to ecommerce.
How to sell with marketplaces and classifieds sites
In addition to being able to create your own ecommerce and sell products online directly on your site, there are also other alternatives.
If you are wondering how to sell online without a site, you can use marketplaces or classifieds sites that allow you to sell your products.
Of course, even in this case, in addition to having to choose the most suitable marketplace based on the type of products you want to sell, you will also have to promote your items so that you will be able to win over the competition.
To be able to navigate your choice and understand how to sell online, here’s an overview of the major marketplaces and classifieds sites:
- Ruby Lane
For each marketplace and classifieds site we will see the main options available that would allow you to sell your items online either as an individual or as a business. We will also take a look at the fees and commissions that are charged by individual sites against sellers.
As you will see, in some cases there are fixed fees, while in others there are only commissions on sales.
Keep in mind that the regulations of individual marketplaces change often, so I encourage you to check the rates on individual sites.
One of the first choices for people who want to buy online is definitely Amazon. This makes it an excellent candidate in the set of marketplaces that allow you to sell online.
This marketplace offers you different possibilities according to the sales plan that best suits your needs, let's take a look at them in detail.
How to sell online as a private individual on Amazon
To sell online as a private individual using Amazon, you can choose the Individual plan.
This option allows you to sell a maximum of 40 items each month. You may consider it if you are just starting out and do not have many sales.
In addition, there are some product categories that are restricted and require specific authorization that can only be granted with the professional plan.
With this plan you do not have fixed monthly fees, but you will have to pay an amount for each item sold.
Specifically, for each item sold you will pay €0.99 (excluding vat) to which additional commissions are to be added depending on the product category. You can find the full table in the Amazon Sell section.
You can also take advantage of Amazon's logistics for shipping management. The service has variable rates that depend on the type of product, weight, and size. You can find all the detailed tables on the page I've linked above.
How to sell online on Amazon (professional plan)
In addition to the individual plan, Amazon also provides the option of creating a professional account.
With this option you no longer have the limit of 40 monthly products, plus this plan also gives you access to additional and special product categories, for which an authorization is required (e.g., alcohol).
The professional plan also allows you to create bulk bids, access APIs, take advantage of the internal advertising services offered by Amazon, and have multiple users linked to the same seller account.
This plan has a fixed monthly cost of 39€ to which additional fees are added, which always vary depending on the product category.
Again, in addition to being able to manage shipments yourself, you can access Amazon's logistics service.
How to sell handmade products online on Amazon
Amazon also allows you to sell handmade products with Amazon Handmade. To access Amazon Handmade you must have a professional sales plan.
However, when you meet all the necessary requirements and are authorized to sell in the Handmade section, you will not have to pay the monthly fee for the professional plan (39€ per month).
How to sell used products online on Amazon
With Amazon Renewed you can access the buying and selling of refurbished products. Specifically, the allowed product categories are:
- video game consoles
- home appliances and power tools
Let's take a look at another online sales giant, eBay. What are the commissions involved? Can you sell products individually and create an entire shop?
How to sell online: the complete guide - how to sell as a private individual on eBay
Fees charged on eBay vary by type of seller. For non-professional sellers, there are fees on the sale value of the product, listing fees, and any optional options.
In addition, there are other costs if you want to set up an eBay store.
Commissions on sales
Commissions on sales provided by eBay apply to the total amount, this means that packaging, shipping and VAT are also included.
The fees on the final value are 5% on the amount up to 2000€ and 2% on the amount if the total exceeds 2000€. A fixed fee of 0.35€ is added per order.
Specific rates apply for the sale of vehicles.
Keep in mind that these commissions are charged only when you sell products.
Advertisement rates and additional options
If you want to sell online as a private individual with eBay you have up to 150 free listings available. Above this threshold each listing has a fee of €0.35.
Different rates apply, however, for listings that are part of the Car and Motorcycle category.
Additional options such as sponsored or scheduled listings or adding the listing to even a secondary category involve extra fees.
For example, to place a second category you will again pay the expected price for listings (usually 0.35€).
You can check out all the additional rates in the section on the private sellers.
Fees for membership in a basic eBay store
The creation of a basic Store involves a monthly membership that costs €19.95. In addition there are commissions on the final value:
- 5% for sales on amounts up to €2000
- 2% on amounts over 2000€.
With the membership you have up to 250 free listings available each month. Listings apply to both "Buy it Now" sales and Online Auction listings.
Above this threshold you will pay 0.35€ for Online Auction listings and 0.15€ for Buy it Now listings.
How to sell online on eBay (professional sellers)
Professional sellers on eBay are subject to different fees than private sellers. Again, there are commissions on the sale, fees for listings, and additional options.
Commissions on sales
These fees apply only for products sold and on the total amount. Total amount means the total price of shipping, packaging and VAT.
Commissions in this case depend on product categories. For example, for technological devices (speakers, stereos, home appliances, and so on), a commission of 6.5% is charged.
You can see the fees for each category in the section on rates for professional sellers of eBay.
Rates for additional listings and options
If you are not a member of an eBay store, free listings are not available to you. In that case, these rates apply:
- 0.35€ for Buy it Now listings
- 0.50€ for online Auction listings.
Additional fees apply for additional options such as being able to set a reserved price, create scheduled or sponsored listings, or add secondary categories.
You can check in detail what they are by following the link mentioned in the previous paragraph, on rates for professional sellers.
Keep in mind that different rates are always charged for vehicles.
Fees for joining an eBay store
eBay provides different types of plans for online stores. Let's see what the rates and options are under the plans.
How to sell online on eBay with a basic store? As a professional seller you just need to subscribe to a plan with a monthly fee of €19.50.
With a basic store, eBay provides you with:
- 400 free Buy it Now listings per month
- Buy it now listings over the threshold at $0.10 each
- 40 free online auction listings per month
- Online Auction listings above this threshold are at €0.50 each.
To sell online on eBay with a premium store, you must subscribe to a plan at $39.50 per month.
With a premium store you have at your disposal:
- 10000 free Buy it Now listings per month
- Buy it now listings over the threshold at $0.05 each
- 100 free online auction listings per month
- Online Auction listings above this threshold are at €0.50 each.
Premium Plus Shop
You can sell online on eBay with a premium plus store by subscribing to a 149.50/monthly plan.
With a premium plus store you have at your disposal:
- Buy it now listings unlimited and free every month
- 250 free online auction listings per month
- Online Auction listings above this threshold at €0.50 each.
Bonanza allows you to create a store and add your products for sale. Unlike other marketplaces, in fact, here you cannot post individual listings, but must create an entire store to put your products up for sale.
One of the biggest advantages it offers sellers is that it has no listing fees or monthly fees.
Commissions, however, apply only to sales and are still lower than on other more popular buying and selling sites. Let's look at the service specifically.
How to sell online on Bonanza
On Bonanza you can create your own store and list your products for sale. There are no subscription or listing fees. Commissions are charged only on sales and the final value of each purchase.
Keep in mind that in this case the final value is understood to be the price of the product plus the cost of shipping when it exceeds $10. For example, if you sell a product for $30 and the expected shipping is $15, the amount on which the commission will be calculated will be $35.
Generally when the amount is less than $500, the fee will be 3.5 percent, while for amounts over $500, a 3.5 percent fee plus an additional 1.5 percent fee will be charged on the portion of the amount that exceeds the $500 threshold.
For example, if you sell a product for $700 you will pay 3.5 percent commissions on $500 plus 1.5 percent commissions on $200.
If you use the Bonanza Advertising sponsorship system, commissions vary depending on the type of service you choose between 9 and 30 percent on the final value.
Ruby Lane is not a generalist marketplace, but focuses primarily on buying and selling collectibles, antiques, vintage, or handmade works.
How to sell online on Ruby Lane
If you want to sell vintage items, Ruby Lane is the platform for you.
Opening a shop on Ruby Lane is free of charge, but there is a fee of $25 per month. In case at least 15 items are added to the shop during the month, the maintenance fee is refunded for that month.
There are also commissions on sales that amount to 9.9% of the total order up to a maximum of $250 per single item or single listing when it comes to multiple items.
Keep in mind that for each product category there are specific requirements to be met, such as information to be provided (e.g., publication information in the case of collectible books) or the inclusion of photos that allow the buyer to view the product before purchase.
Etsy is a marketplace where you can sell handmade items, vintage items, and DIY products. Let's see how to set up a store on Etsy and what kind of costs and fees are involved.
How to sell online on Etsy
Again as we saw with Ruby Lane, there are specific requirements on the items that can be offered for sale.
For example, handmade items cannot be resold, that is, you cannot offer an item for sale if as the seller you were not actually involved in making it.
Rates for listings
On Etsy each listing carries a $0.20 ($0.18) fee, exceptions are private listings for which there is a fee only if you finalize the sale.
Each listing is maintained for four months and then automatically renewed. You can also turn off the automatic renewal system.
Commissions for online sales
Etsy charges sellers a 5% commission on the total amount equal to the listing price, cost of shipping, and any fees for gift wrapping or product customization.
Fees for payment processing and shipping
There is also a payment processing fee for payments made through Etsy Payments that varies depending on the country of the bank that is used to receive the payments. Let's look at some examples.
For Italy there is a 4% commission on the total sale, plus a fixed charge of €0.30.
For the United States, a 3 percent fee is charged in addition to a fixed charge of $0.25.
If the seller is based in Canada, Great Britain, India, the United States and Australia and uses PayPal or Etsy Payments as payment methods, they can purchase shipping labels directly from Etsy.
In this case, costs depend on the origin and destination of the package as well as the type of package, weight, and size.
Sales with Etsy Plus
Etsy Plus charges €8.80 per month and offers you a number of tools to improve your store's visibility. For example, it allows you to personalize your store and send emails to shoppers when an item becomes available again.
Vinted is a platform for buying and selling used or nearly new products to both private sellers and professionals. The platform allows you to create your own ads and focuses on the sale of:
- clothing, footwear and accessories
- cosmetics (as long as they are new, also this category is not accessible to Pro sellers)
- household items
Let's see what the options are for those who want to sell online on Vinted as individuals and as professionals.
How to sell online on Vinted
On Vinted you can create free listings to sell your items. You can place up to 20 photos for each item and provide all the details to describe the product, select a category and a price.
Since these are used items, it is good to include a detailed description that includes any defects in the product. It is also important to specify the condition of each item (New with tag, new without tag, excellent, good, fair).
It is important to take care in correctly and objectively specifying the condition of the item. The platform also invites you to upload photos that clearly show the defects present.
In fact, remember that the buyer can return the items if they do not match the conditions stated in the listings.
Regarding shipping methods, you can choose to ship with a courier of your choice, use the prepaid shipping label and couriers provided by the platform, or deliver the product by hand.
There are no commissions on Vinted, plus shipping costs are always the responsibility of the buyer. If you choose to ship independently generally as a seller you may have to charge extra.
How to sell like a pro with Vinted Pro
Vinted Pro is the service reserved for professionals and therefore suitable for selling a larger number of items.
To have a Vinted Pro account you must be a sole proprietorship or nonprofit organization, registered in France.
This means that during registration you will have to enter all the information about your company, for example, your SIRET number and VAT number.
You can also choose to keep the standard account separate from the Vinted Pro account.
With Catawiki anyone can become a seller and sell online by auctioning their products. Catawiki is a portal intended for the sale of rare and collectible items such as limited edition comic books or rare jewelry.
Sales can be made by private individuals or as professionals. Let's see exactly how it works and what commissions are involved.
How to sell online on Catawiki
Catawiki is an online auction site that allows professionals and individuals to sell and buy at auction.
There are no limitations on the number of ads, each ad is free, and you only pay commission on the sale.
In order for a lot to be included in Catawiki's online auctions, it first undergoes a verification process. You must provide information about the condition of the items, include detailed photos, and accompany any documentation such as certificates of authenticity.
A team of experts will review the items submitted and select those suitable for inclusion in the auctions.
When the auction ends and the buyer makes payment, the seller must ship the lot or prepare to transport it if pickup has been arranged. Upon confirmation of receipt, the seller receives payment.
The portal charges fees to both sellers and buyers.
Commissions for sellers are 12.5% on the winning bid. Commissions for buyers are 9% on the winning bid.
How to sell online with social media
In addition to marketplaces, there is also another alternative for those who want to know how to sell online without a site. More and more social networks are creating marketplace sections to allow users, individuals or ecommerce merchants, to sell their items or make a catalog available on social media and redirect users to their site to finalize purchases.
The Facebook Marketplace is free and allows all users to create public ads for sale.
You can add photos, include item information and price, and mark items as sold after the sale.
With Facebook Marketplace you can create a seller profile where buyers' ratings of both the sale and the products and badges obtained will be shown.
For example, sellers who respond quickly to messages they receive about ads receive the High Responsiveness badge. Based on the number and status of ratings received you can get the badge Excellent ratings and so on.
Facebook Shops is Facebook's tool that allows you to create a storefront for your products that will be visible to users via Facebook and Instagram.
You can choose to allow users to purchase directly through Facebook and Instagram, an option that is currently available only for the United States, or to send customers back to your website to finalize purchases.
How to sell online with Facebook Shops?
First, you must have a business Facebook page and an Instagram Business account to sell on Instagram as well.
You can then set up your shop for free and create a catalog for your products. When everything is ready, you can publish the shop. Of course, you will also need to set up a payment method.
The first option is to choose to show only the product catalog and then redirect shoppers to your website.
If your business is based in the United States, you can allow purchases through Instagram or Facebook and use Shopify's Shop Pay payment method.
Another option is to allow purchasing via messages, that is, redirect the user to Messenger or WhatsApp. In the latter case you must have a business account on WhatsApp or Messenger.
You can sell online on Pinterest by creating a catalog and entering a description of your products and a price. You can then redirect buyers to your website by including a link to the product sheets.
You can also link the Shopify store to your Pinterest business account to directly import the product catalog.
You can follow Pinterest's guidelines for getting a verified Merchant badge.
To track orders and to evaluate the effectiveness of marketing campaigns through Pinterest, you can add the Pinterest tag to your site.
TikTok is becoming increasingly popular with over 500 million monthly active users. This definitely makes it a viable platform for attracting customers to your ecommerce.
You can create a free business account and then link your online store, for example TikTok can be integrated with a Shopify online store, but not only that.
Like the other platforms, TikTok allows you to create paid advertising campaigns.
How to sell online without a VAT number
One of the aspects that should not be overlooked when selling online is tax compliance.
As we have seen, many of the marketplaces we have looked at also have options for those who want to sell online as individuals. But how should one go about this? Is it always necessary to open a VAT number?
To understand this we need to consider what kind of online sales we are talking about and in particular the frequency with which sales occur. Let's clarify further.
If you use a classifieds site or marketplace to offer a used item for sale, this type of sale cannot be classified as continuous ongoing selling, but is understood as occasional selling. In this case, therefore, you do not need to have a VAT number.
When sales are made on a regular basis, and therefore we are talking about a regular activity in all respects, the activity falls under commercial activity.
Specifically, the ATECO code for an ecommerce is this:
47.91.10 Retail trade of any kind conducted via the Internet.
In these cases, therefore, it will be necessary to open a VAT number and comply with all the requirements for merchants.
If you have a vintage item to sell, want to start small or create a storefront in a marketplace, you should now be more clear on how to sell online and which platforms to target.
As we have seen in this article, How to sell online: the complete guide, each marketplace or ad site has its own rules and target audience. To succeed in making money from online sales, you must first choose which platform to target.
Depending on the volume of sales and their regularity you can continue to sell online without a VAT number, but if you want to sell regularly you will have to adjust your business and comply with the various requirements. In that case you will also find it helpful to consult a professional in business matters.
Remember that you can also leverage multiple channels, such as associating social sales ads with your ecommerce.
Have you ever used a buy/sell or classifieds site to sell your products? Or have you already created an ecommerce? Let me know in the comments below.