Should I be selling online? A simple guide to ecommerce

18 Sep 2020

What is an ecommerce platform?

In layman’s terms ecommerce is simply the practice of buying and selling goods online. Ecommerce platforms come in all shapes and sizes and are designed to cater for different business needs.

When you hear “Ecommerce Platform” your mind may automatically picture something that takes your time, money, and energy away from running your bricks and mortar business – but this doesn’t have to be the case. This guide aims to help you to decide which platform is right for your business and tells you what you need to get started.

We’ll cover the main levels of ecommerce platform ranging from bespoke websites and mobile apps to online marketplaces and everything in-between.


If I already have an offline, why do I need an online one?

Bricks and mortar shops rely on potential customers physically coming into your shop to make a purchase. Recent world events have magnified the fact that this isn’t always reliable, with businesses affected by government closure and lack of confidence in the safety of the high street. It’s crucial to make your business available to potential customers now more than ever.

By making your offering available online you’ll be able to not only reach customers who are looking for your products, you’ll also be able to reach more customers who are ready to buy. Selling online doesn’t have to be time consuming or expensive and in recent years has become much more user friendly.


What different types of ecommerce platform are out there?

Broad Online Market Place

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Amazon and Ebay are the two most well-known examples of online market places and are often the first port of call for customers looking to make quick purchases.Pros of using an online marketplace such as Ebay or Amazon include:

  • Ability to reach the wide audience who are already customers of Amazon or Ebay.
  • Only takes a few minutes to set up.
  • Starts at just £25 for a monthly subscription.
  • Different levels of subscription to suit your needs.
  • No commitment to long contracts, can cancel at any time.
  • Access to help, support and resources.
  • Upload your products and go, no need to worry about your online brand identity.

Cons of using an online marketplace such as Amazon or Ebay.

  • It can be difficult to compete with other sellers’ prices as many slash prices to undercut other sellers and manufacturers.
  • Online marketplaces usually take a fee for each product sold on top of a monthly subscription which can eat into your profits.
  • Difficult to “stand out from the crowd” when selling within the marketplace.

Niche Online Marketplace

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Dependent on the kind of products you sell a niche online marketplace may be more suitable for your brand.
Arguably the most well-known marketplace for independents is Trouva, which represents independent boutiques with products across home, garden, clothing, gifting and lifestyle product categories.

Another notable online marketplace designed with independent retailers in mind is Down Your High Street, and during this difficult time have waivered their monthly fees to help support retailers through COVID-19.

For fashion stores there’s an abundance of choice with dedicated marketplaces such as Depop and Asos Marketplace offering no fees to list items and commission as low as 10%.

Pro’s of using a niche online marketplace.

  • The customer base is already tailored to your type of business.
  • Customer support in your specialised area of business.
  • Ability to reach a global audience.
  • Less time needed to build an online presence.

Con’s of using a niche online marketplace.

  • Commission on sales is generally a lot higher when selling via a niche marketplace than on a general marketplace.

Social Media Selling

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Selling on social media can be an obvious next step for businesses who already have a social media presence but don’t want to commit to a full website. The biggest platforms that enable integrated selling are Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp.

Pro’s of selling through social media.

  • If you already use social media you’ll be using tools that are familiar to you.
  • Free to set up.
  • Free training, free tools and support available for small businesses.
  • Integrated advertising.
  • Ability to interact with customers on a more personal level.
  • Ability to advertise services and events.
  • Access to analytical tools.

Cons of selling through social media.

  • Higher technical ability is needed to set up an online shop on social media compared to an online marketplace.
  • Consistent work is needed to promote your business on social media.
  • Although free to set up, it’s difficult to grow your online business without investing in social media advertising.

White Label Website

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Bira’s preferred ecommerce provider EKM helps members sell online without the massive overheads.
Pro’s of selling via EKM.

  • 3 months free for Bira members
  • Various packages to suit your business.
  • Get access to a team of ecommerce experts
  • Upload products, monitor stock and more – all in one place, with tools and features that make building and managing a professional online shop simple.
  • Your website will be continuously optimised through their Evolution Mode, so your online shop never gets out of date
  • Choose from a large range of customisable themes

Cons of selling via EKM.

  • A website alone isn’t enough to generate online sales – you’ll also need to market the website to potential customers.

Bespoke Website

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Bira’s preferred website design provider SiteWizard offers Bira members various options to suit most budgets.

Pro’s of selling via SiteWizard.

  • Discounted offering for Bira members.
  • Full customisation to your specifications.
  • Bespoke offering to suit various businesses.
  • Account management and technical support.
  • Discounted online marketing support.

Con’s of selling via SiteWizard.

  • More costly than other ecommerce platforms due to bespoke design
  • Takes longer to set up more bespoke options.
  • Requires more technical understanding.
  • If you don’t take up the marketing service along the web service you’ll need to allocate time to promote and market your website.

 Mobile App

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We would recommend considering a mobile app only when your business has already established at least one other ecommerce platform. This is because although customers increasingly shop on their mobile phones, launching an app on its own will exclude potential online customers.

Pro’s of selling via a mobile app.

  • Having a dedicated mobile app encourages customer retention.
  • Bespoke offering to suit various businesses.
  • Ability to implement push notifications, discount codes etc.
  • Ability to make a more personalised customer experience.

Con’s of selling via a mobile app.

  • A high quality app will take months to develop, and any increased functionality will increase this time frame.
  • Running an additional ecommerce app will require an increased investment and development costs will be much higher than other ecommerce platforms.
  • Technical knowledge will be required to develop the app and to continually test and update bugs, features, and functionality.
  • An ongoing cost is required to keep the app up to date.


Not yet a Bira Member?

Join Bira today to gain access to all of Bira’s benefits including discounted ecommerce solutions from SiteWizard and EKM.

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