The pros and cons of selling from your own site vs. a platform 

Oh, for the days when she could simply sell seashells by the seashore. Harder to say, absolutely, but infinity simpler than determining the best way to sell your products online. Do you build your own site or ease into a premade shopfront on one of the internet’s many online e-commerce platforms like Etsy or Shopify?

It seems like every time you ask ‘ooooo, where did you get that?’ people are telling you about another cute, little Esty-esque shop they somehow unearthed from amongst the masses out there in Internetland.

So, the question then becomes, is that the exception or the rule? Should you ditch the costs and attendance of owning your own site and ride the shopping app platform wave into the future or will you just end up in a veritable sea of competitors hoping to your product keeps shopper’s attention long enough to get them through the checkout? So we thought we’d look at the differences between using someone else’s platform vs building your own.

Using a ready-made platform like Etsy or Shopify

The biggest and most glaring benefit of utilising a platform, is exposure. To get a customer onto your business’ own site, you must be intensely googleable or they need to be looking for you. Otherwise you’re just one more online store in a sea dominated by big brands with perfect search engine optimisation (SEO). This is where these platforms can save you through the power of equalising.

People using these apps don’t want to be directed to the big brands they already know, they’re looking for boutique and special; an experience Google’s top ten search results can’t supply. Putting your store onto a platform puts your name out there to millions of customers who would likely otherwise have been beyond your reach without some serious luck and possible witchcraft.

If can’t afford to sink serious funds and time into promotion and advertising, platforms can do a lot of the heavy lifting for you and save you big time.

Putting your store on a platform means your design work is as simple as getting good pictures of your products and picking an appropriate theme. Not only do you save on the work intensive design process of building your own site, you’re also unlikely to look out of date. When it comes to online shopping, customers are quickly turned off by a page that looks dated or worse – like a dodgy site.

That brings up another important benefit of using a platform – people (aka your customers) trust them. We all know the internet can be a seriously treacherous place – at least as far as your credit card is concerned. So it’s only natural that customers are wary of unfamiliar sites or payment systems; in fact it’s just common sense at this point. Keeping your site secure is one thing, making sure your shoppers trust that security is another. Any indication that your site is low budget or worse – a scam, and you’ll have would-be customers hitting the ‘back button’ faster than you can say ‘malware’. People trust platforms, and with good reason. A business of that size has a whole army of people completely dedicated to keeping their users’ information safe, they couldn’t operate if they didn’t.

So that’s easy, go with a platform. Problem solved! Right? As you might be imagining, it’s not that simple…

Building your own shopping site

Selling from a shopping platform might cut down on costs, but it also limits your control.

Whereas your own site can be carefully tailored to build your customer’s brand experience, the whole point of a platform is to give people options. Great if you’re a consumer looking to compare choices, not so great if you’re a business owner trying to keep a shopper’s attention or build loyalty. It’s hard to make the case for your product’s unique selling proposition when there’s a nicely labelled tab called ‘you might also like’ at the bottom of the page, leading your customers to a hundred similar items from other stores.

There’s also a level of legitimacy inherent in selling from your own site. It may be misinformed, but there is still a distinct impression amongst customers that Etsy and Shopify products are just a little bit ‘home-made’. Leaning slightly closer to the ‘hobby business’ end of the spectrum than the ‘serious business’ end. For some business – particularly those just starting out, that’s perfect. Maybe you want to keep things small, keep down your overhead costs, give your new store a moment to grow before you dive in with both feet. However, there comes a point at which you need a google search of your business to bring up just that, a business, not a profile page.

So, what’s the solution?

Like so many complex and vexing questions in business, the answer isn’t simple, it depends entirely on you, your business and of course, your market. If you target customers are all flocking to Etsy then that’s probably where you need to be but there are no guarantees. Apps get popular and then lose that popularity just as quickly, so you need to be prepared for the chance that some change in the system might send your customer’s running for the next big thing without any notice.

There’s also the chance (probably at this point a small, tiny one) that your platform will cease to exist or start charging significantly higher fees – just think FaceBook my friends. People who built their entire business there, suddenly had to pay up big time or lose it all.

So maybe you need to compromise. Use the platforms but start thinking about how your own site’s shop might work. Get a site build going when you can and maybe include a card with each purchase, directing your customers to your own home site. Offering a discount code for as little %10-15 goes a long way in building goodwill and convincing shoppers to make the change.

Whichever way you go, there’s a lot to consider, but when it comes down to it, it’s all about creating the best brand experience for your customers. That’s where we can help. If you’re ready to take your customers’ e-commerce experience to the next level, we’d love to talk. You can always give us a call on +61 2 9828 0111 (Sydney), +61 3 9240 6300 (Melbourne) or +64 9 263 8855 (Auckland) or drop us a note via the form below.

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