Choosing an E-Commerce Channel (Part 2)
In Part 1 of our three-part series on e-commerce, we gave you key points to consider if you are thinking about taking your products online as a way to diversify your offerings and make your products more accessible to customers.

Considerations When Choosing an Online Platform
If you have made the decision to take your product(s) online, the next big decision is which channel you will use to connect your customers with your offering(s). You will first choose if you want to manage sales internally or use a third-party e-commerce site with existing customers and systems in place.  The most important aspect of choosing an e-commerce channel is finding one that meets your goals. One of your first decisions is the type of channel you will select.

Option 1: Manage Internally - Adding E-Commerce to Your Website
Your business is likely best suited for having your own online store if:
  1. You already have a modern website that can support e-commerce.
  2. Your customers have a strong connection with your brand.
  3. You have a strong digital following (e-mail, social media followers, blog readers), or a customer e-mail list that you can use to introduce your customers to your new e-commerce offerings.

Option 2: Using a Third-Party E-Commerce Marketplace
Third-party marketplaces might be the right option if you:
  1. Do not have a strong digital following or are looking to expand your customer base outside of your geographic region.
  2. Want to take advantage of specific features, such as fulfillment services.
  3. You are uncomfortable or don’t have the resources to build your own online storefront and are unable to hire a professional to do so.
  4. Do not have a website, or your website is too dated.
  5. Are putting products online as a short-term, stop-gap measure to increase your revenue during the pandemic.

A Note About Fulfillment
No matter what your goals are for putting your product online, timely and accurate fulfillment of customer orders is key. Time, cost, inventory storage, and other potential complexities are all considerations you must make in choosing both a fulfillment option and a corresponding platform that is best suited to your fulfillment strategy. Examples of fulfillment models include:
  1. Curbside pickup (local customers only)
  2. Local delivery
  3. In-house fulfillment (packaging and sending orders yourself, perhaps using a resource like
  4. Fulfillment from the manufacturer or vendor directly to the customer
  5. Fulfillment through a third-party marketplace (i.e. Amazon)
  6. Fulfillment through a third-party vendor (i.e. FedEx or local Opportunities, Incorporated)

Selecting the Right E-Commerce Features for Your Website
If you elect to host a storefront on your own website, you will need to select a specific e-commerce platform to use. There are many available (Shopify, Wordpress, and Wix Stores are just a few common options).  In addition to cost, you can evaluate what features matter to you. Below are a few common "pillars" of an effective storefront:
  • SEO: Shops that allow you to choose your own URL will help associate your products with your brand and boost your search-engine optimization (SEO). Some platforms offer enhanced SEO tools in their plans.
  • Scalability: If your goal is to grow your business through e-commerce, you will want to check out all of the plans available to see if the more expensive options allow you to grow if you choose.
  • Responsive design: Users today shop from both their phones and their desktops, so you will want to make sure that your e-commerce channel adjusts to different sizes of screens.
  • UX (User eXperience): Both you (the store owner) and customers will need to use your website. Is it easy to navigate? Are the tools simple and straightforward? Can users filter product searches? Does the platform easily integrate with social media or your website? Can you add apps/extensions to enhance functionality?

Regardless of the online platform you choose, you will need to set aside money for marketing. In the third and final part of our three-part series, we will learn more about marketing from Brian Lee of Revelation PR.
Free On-Demand Course:
"Getting Your Products Online"
This hour-long course, developed by the Food Finance Institute, discusses insights to help you develop your strategy as well as tips, tools and resources for getting your products online .
Common E-Commerce Channels for Your Website
Wix is commonly known as a website builder, but they also offer e-commerce plans that are popular with startups. Plans start at $17 per month and max out at $25 per month and include a free domain if paid on an annual basis.

In addition to tangible products, Wix enables other functions, such as selling digital products, take online restaurant orders, customize a music player, and more. Read Inc Magazine's review for more details.
A common choice for small businesses just getting started, Shopify offers packages starting at $29/month. The platform provides a responsive templates, free and paid add-on apps, and access to the code for more sophisticated enhancements. Included in all Shopify plans are unlimited file storage, unlimited product offerings, hosting, security, abandoned cart recovery and 24/7 support. Read Inc Magazine's review for more details.
WooCommerce is the e-commerce plugin designed for WordPress, the world's most popular Content Management System. Because WordPress is open-source, any user can develop extensions - nearly 300 exist in the WordPress store covering all aspects of e-commerce.

Integrating extensions is simple, though some may require an additional cost. As with WordPress, hosting is not included. Read Inc Magazine's review for more information.
Popular Third-Party E-Commerce Sites
Your products and customers are two major factors if you choose to use Etsy . On this platform (dedicated to the sale of handmade, vintage, and craft items), Etsy charges a  listing fee  of $0.20 per listing and a transaction fee of 5% of the price of an item (shipping is set by the seller on top of these fees). Etsy Plus members pay a flat $10 per month. 
Amazon's extensive market share - 112 million U.S. Amazon Prime users as of January 2020 - makes it hard to ignore. It also has extensive (if time-consuming) analytics and promotional tools through Amazon Seller Central and the option to use Amazon Fulfillment to ship items on your behalf.

Getting Started
  • Local business owner Mike Zhang of Fenrici Brands - known for his "invest to test" strategy for business success on Amazon - is offering a free 5-day bootcamp to help businesses get started on the platform. The bootcamp will take place beginning 5/14/2020.
  • Amazon itself is offering webinars to help you with that process. A few upcoming webinars include:
  • How To Become A Seller On The Amazon Business Market Place
  • Brand Registry
  • Responding to Feedback
  • For the full list of Amazon webinars, visit here.
As one of the original online marketplaces, eBay has a global reach and allows sellers to sell items in almost any category. The two primary fees for selling on eBay are a listing fee and a fee when your item sells. The site does not have setup or recurring membership costs. Fees generally equal between 10-12% of the sale. 

The new program was created to help new small businesses transitioning to e-commerce through the COVID-19 crisis.  The eBay Up and Running Program is a pledge of up to $100 million in support for small businesses across North America.
The program includes:
  • Free basic eBay store subscription and waive selling fees for 3 months
  • 500 free listings
  • Guidance and resources needed to run business on eBay
The Wisconsin SBDC Network is a proud part of the  Institute for Business & Entrepreneurship  in the  University of Wisconsin System . It is funded in part through a Cooperative Agreement with the  U.S. Small Business Administration.