Best Online Marketplaces for Ecommerce Beginners

Location, location, location! The three most important factors for brick-and-mortar retail success are just as relevant for ecommerce. In other words, where you sell online matters. So, it’s important to make sure you’re using the right marketplaces. 

But there is no single “best” online selling channel; it depends on your business model, product lines, target customer group, and marketing efforts. Amazon’s the biggest, sure, but also has the most competition, whereas Etsy has a fraction of their traffic, but it’s all niche customers so niche sellers thrive there. 

With the profitability of multichannel selling, choosing the best online marketplaces to sell on is crucial to ecommerce success. That goes double during the coronavirus pandemic when many online retailers need to adapt and try new methods to increase revenue. 

So what’s the best place to sell online for you? We’ve compiled this quick pocket guide on the most popular online sales channels so you can browse each and see which ones work best for you. 

Amazon and eBay: Leveraging the Ecommerce Goliaths

In terms of size and traffic, Amazon and eBay are the two biggest online marketplaces in North America and Europe (although they are a couple of contenders in China). But before you dive in head first, please understand that the “biggest” isn’t necessarily the “best.” 

For example, as the largest marketplace, Amazon exerts its force on its sellers. There are strict guidelines on pricing your products (and these rules don’t just apply to products on Amazon — you have to sell products for a certain price on all your channels), as well as the types of products you can sell. 

You’ll also have to pay per-item shopping fees, or even a $39.99 per month professional plan, and additional fees if you use FBA (Amazon’s own storage and fulfillment service). And, as we mentioned before, competition is fierce on Amazon, so you’ll have better luck if you sell rare or unique goods — but not homemade, vintage, or worn used items, those are better for niche marketplaces (see below).  

The up-side though is traffic. Amazon gets over 200 million unique visitors per month, and 55% of Americans start online product searches on Amazon, regardless of where they make their final purchase. 

Similarly, eBay receives more than the lion’s share of traffic. Modern eBay is a far-cry from its late 90s/early 2000s glory days. Many people still associate eBay with auctions — a function they still offer — but nowadays eBay operates mostly like any other marketplace, with upwards of 70% of sales sold at fixed rates since 2013. 

eBay still has a predilection for rare, used, and otherwise odd products, but you can just as easily find toothbrushes and other common goods. Another plus is that they’re more relaxed about seller policies than Amazon, so it’s a great alternative if you want to hit big markets without all the red tape.

The Middle Markets: Bonanza, Walmart, and More

At the top are giants like Amazon and eBay, while at the bottom are smaller but still effective niche marketplaces. But what if you want the widespread general product range without all the competition or getting lost in the crowd? Or maybe you want to open a second shop to hedge your bets? There are plenty of “middle” options that offer the best of both worlds. 

For starters, Bonanza prides itself on catering to merchants and consistently ranks highly in the polls for EcommerceByte’s yearly awards. That’s no surprise, considering they don’t have listing fees or setup costs. That makes them ideal for new ecommerce startups with no predominant niche, as well as established online retailers who want to expand somewhere with low financial risk. 

CAPTION: 2020 EcommerceBytes Survey (Source)

Walmart Marketplace is making a name for itself in the ecommerce community, thanks in part to millions of dollars invested by their parent company. That investment didn’t go to waste as Walmart’s online store is gradually approaching eBay’s numbers. Still, they are a bit selective about who they let sell on their marketplace, so this is more for established brands and experienced online retailers than for newcomers.   

Google, too, has eyes on the ecommerce market, and its Google for Retail platform utilizes all of its properties: Google Search, Google Assistant, and Google Express. You also have streamlined access to Google Shopping Ads, although there are unpaid channels as well. Think of this as a back-door into Google SEO, if that’s one of your central marketing priorities.   

If those middle-ground marketplaces don’t suit you, look into Rakuten, Japan’s answer to Amazon, or Sears — another brick-and-mortar heavyweight trying to break into ecommerce. Both require flat monthly fees and transaction fees, so they’re better for companies with an adequate spending budget. 

Niche Marketplaces: Etsy, Ruby Lane, and Newegg

Don’t let their size fool you. Niche markets and ecommerce go hand-and-hand — the entire internet is built around connecting small groups of people with eclectic tastes, a fact enjoyed by many vendors who sell focused and specialized goods. 

The most famous niche marketplace is Etsy, the “Amazon” of niche platforms. Etsy specializes in homemade goods, from jewelry to furniture to personalized items. The platform prioritizes community-building and makes it easy to connect with shoppers and develop your brand — perfect for startup crafts brands. 

For vintage goods and antiques, including porcelain and glassware, Ruby Lane is the top site. Just browsing their site, it very much feels like an online antique market. Not only do they serve their loyal customers well, but they also impressed EcommerceBytes with their high merchant ratings. 

CAPTION: 2019 EcommerceBytes Survey (Source)

For tech gadgets, software, and DIY computer parts, Newegg is the most trusted online market. While computer parts are their bread and butter, they still veer into mainstream categories like mobile phones and home appliances, but their shoppers no doubt expect some kind of tech twist.  

Of course, the trouble with niche markets is that they’re not for everyone. If you’re not selling in one of the above categories, there are still hundreds more niche marketplaces to choose from. More specific niche markets may be harder to find because they’re smaller, but that just means the payoff is even bigger. And if you need product inspiration, we’ve compiled a list of the most profitable niches for ecommerce in 2020. 

The Best Fit, Not the the Best Site

Remember that how “good” an ecommerce marketplace depends on how well it fits the seller — eBay’s top seller might flounder on Etsy while the niche leader on Ruby Lane might find Amazon’s seller policies stifling. Start by browsing each of your prospective channels and take note of: 

  • the most popular product categories
  • standard price ranges
  • the amount of competition
  • which marketing strategies the top sellers employ
  • common policies for shipping and returns
  • customer service or how they treat their sellers (check the seller forums for positive/negative feedback)

Once you’ve done your research, it’s just a matter of choosing the one that matches your business model. After analyzing your favorites, trust your instincts and choose the one that “feels” like the best fit for you and your brand!

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