Selling online: a small business guide to online marketplaces

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Selling online has always been a great way for physical shops to extend their market. Now Coronavirus has led to more stores taking stock of their situation, we explore your options if you want to start selling online.

Where can I sell online?

Here’s our pick of the top five places to sell online, taking advantage of the largest online retail opportunities.

1. Amazon Marketplace

Amazon is the world’s largest online retailer. Amazon Marketplace gives you the opportunity to sell on their globally recognised site. It is a great way to reach a huge international audience. You can reach ‘hundreds of millions of customers via Amazon Marketplace, but competition to be near the top of the search results is very high.

There are two plans: professional or individual. The professional plan costs £25 a month for unlimited sales and is designed for people selling 35+ items per month. Individual costs 75p on each item sold and is for people selling fewer than 35 items a month. There are additional selling fees on top.

2. eBay

eBay is one of the best-known online marketplaces. Founded in 1998, it has over twenty years at the top. Once an online auction site where buyers bid for items, you can now set an upfront fee and sell directly. You can sell anything on eBay - from comic books to cushions, and smart watches to wedding dresses – and with ‘24 million registered buyers in the UK’ there’s a large established audience.

Like Amazon, you can choose a basic pay-as-you-sell plan or register as a business to access additional features as a bulk seller. The professional plan varies in price but starts at £25 per month.

3. Shopify

Shopify isn’t an online marketplace as such, but it offers several options for sellers to get online and get organised. Shopify is essentially a website building programme specifically set up to create ecommerce sites. Used by one million businesses, it is intuitive to use even if you’re not that technical.

Using Shopify, you can build a branded online shop to take orders and payments. It includes financial and marketing functions, such as creating discount offers and connecting with people who’ve abandoned their shopping cart. You can also use it to push product listings out to other online marketplaces.

You can try Shopify for free for 14 days. After that, you’re looking at around £25 per month for the basic package, up to £250 per month for the full bells-and-whistles plan.

4. Etsy

If you sell handmade goods, Etsy is the leading online marketplace to sell your products. It is hugely popular niche website for handmade crafts and vintage goods where ‘millions of shoppers spend billions each year’. Etsy have a simple pay-as-you-sell pricing structure and an affordable ‘plus’ plan for just £8 per month.

The benefits of Etsy are their established reputation, dedicated niche audience and low professional fees. They also promote products across the web, which can help you reach an even wider audience if you’re chosen to feature.

5. Google Shopping

Unsurprisingly, tech giant Google offer opportunities for online retailers. Google Shopping is one of their search channels, which allows their millions of users to search specifically for products.  You can’t rank organically in Google Shopping results; this is purely a paid opportunity.

However, the price does include tools to help you manage your listings and make sales through their Merchants Centre. And, as you’d expect from Google, you can create content that follows visitors around the web through ‘dynamic retargetting’ (those sticky ads that pop up after you’ve looked at something online but not bought it).

What are the alternatives to Amazon and eBay?

There are lots of options out there beyond the big hitters like Amazon. Here’s our ‘best of the rest’ selection of other places to sell online.

Social media

If you’ve got an established Facebook, Instagram or other social media following, you can use this to sell your products. You won’t benefit from any of the sales or payment processing features of an online marketplace, but you can potentially reach a larger online audience. Post about your products on your pages, invite friends and followers to share them and add them to special interest groups.


Fruugo is a UK-based online marketplace that aspires to be the world’s preferred place to buy and sell. One of their special features is that they offer translation into 17 languages and accept payment in local currencies, making it easier to sell your product overseas. Just pay a fee on anything you sell.


 A bit like Etsy, Notonthehighstreet provides a place for independent creators to sell their wares to a niche audience. Unlike Etsy, however, this site is managed and curated to only provide products that sit within their brand. You have to apply to sell with them. But, if you’re accepted, you can reach a large brand-loyal audience.


OnBuy is a British site that claims to be the UK’s no 1 marketplace and one of the fastest growing in the world. They aim to be an Amazon alternative and promote the fact they have ‘competitive’ seller fees starting at £19 per month. However, this lower fee is offset by the fact that they have a smaller audience than Amazon with 8 million buyers. One nice feature is that, if you make less than £500 in sales one month, they waive your subscription fee next month.


Market aims to be an online ‘shopping destination’ where buyers will go to browse new arrivals, a bit like a trip to a shopping centre but online. Market say they sell ‘direct from the factory’ so may be a good option for bulk sellers. It is an attractive site with an eclectic selection of products. When we visited, the featured products included weightlifting belts and a bulk buy of stock cubes.

Game Marketplace

A specialist shop for retailers in the gaming sector, Game Marketplace allows you to promote your products via their website. This allows Game to provide an extended range to shoppers, whilst keeping them on their site. And it lets you reach Game’s huge online audience. From custom controllers to gamer desks, you can sell a wide range of specialist products direct to adoring fans.

How do I choose the right place to sell online?

There are lots of factors to weigh up before deciding where to sell online.

1. Cost

  • How does the marketplace charge and is it good value for your individual circumstances?

  • Will you pay commission on what you sell or have to pay a subscription fee?

2. Audience

  • How big is their audience?

  • Does it match your target market?

  • Is there a marketplace specific to your niche?

3. Competition

  • Will you be up against a large number of competitors for similar products?

  • Will you have to pay more to boost your products to the top of the listings?

4. Usability

  • Are you tech savvy and able to build your own site?

  • Or do you want something that is easy and ‘out of the box’?

5. Tools

  • Do you need a basic sales function?

  • Or do you want extras like advertising, invoicing and inventory tracking?

What do I need to know about selling online?

There are some rules you must follow in the UK if you’re selling online. Find out more on the Government's online selling pages.

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