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Which platform is the perfect choice for selling online?

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18 May 2015

So you've decided to start up your own retailing business. Congratulations! Chances are the plan is to create an online store before opening a real one: it's a great way to test demand without committing to binding leases, which is an appealing option in a city with sky-high rents like Hong Kong.

For newcomers to online retail, the best option is probably a turnkey e-commerce platform, where you can easily create a shop from an existing template. The difficulty lies in selecting the exact platform, as there is a wealth of choice: eBay, Etsy or Shopify to name just a few. So how do you decide which one's best for you? 

Generally, the choice depends on the complexity of your business: the greater the complexity, the more customised your website should be.

Starting Small If you have only a few items and are still unsure of your business plan, you might want to go with a peer-to-peer site like eBay, Amazon, or if you're focused on handmade products, Etsy. Setting up a shop on these sites is free, so you wont't lose much - except time - if things don't work out.

Filling up your store with products and pictures is relatively simple . And you won't have to worry about getting exposure: as a reference point, Amazon attracts 85 million unique visitors a month. The only price to pay for these perks is a commission on every completed transaction.

On the other hand, there are limited customisation options, especially if you want to a more professional profile. So unless you don't mind having something like ebay.com/FluffySlippers as your web address, it's time to step it up to the next level.

Growing Up If you want a flash online store but don't have the budget to build one from scratch, all-in-one e-commerce platforms such as Shopify, Big Cartel, Magento and Squarespace are probably your best bet. For a few dollars a month, you'll have access to a user-friendly platform with various templates to choose from and decent selling options, such as a customised URL and plenty of storage space.

For those new to coding, start with Squarespace or Big Cartel (the latter also offers a stripped-down free plan, which is a unique selling point). If you have some knowledge of web technologies, Magento can be more suitable. Most platforms have a free trial, so you can give them a spin before settling on a choice. Pay attention to add-on costs and transaction fees. As your sales volume grows, costs will grow, too. In the end, it may be more economical to have your own independent website.

Think Big Because it's not just about looks but also functionality, work with a web designer if you want full control of your website. Not all types of businesses can get away with a Shopify template. With a professional developer, you'll be able to build a website exactly the way to want it, with a unique design and a user experience perfectly tailored to your customers. You'll also benefit from a dedicated support service, in case your website needs any fixes. It'll be longer to set up and requires a larger outlay, but the result will be worth it.

Photo credit: Jeff Sheldon