Your e-commerce business might get its start on Amazon or Etsy. But if things go well, it shouldn’t be long before you start to need your own platform as well.
Owning your own platform allows you to create your own brand identity, engage with customers in more meaningful ways and gives any small business customizable options and tools that fit specific needs.
So, how do you know when it’s time to take the next step? Our experts have identified some of the signs that you and your business are ready to take the plunge and begin selling on your own e-commerce platform.
Related: 4 Secrets to Multichannel Success
1. You’re paying too much in fees.
Without your own independent revenue stream it can literally feel like eBay and Amazon are “eating you alive with fees,” says Dave Huckabay, who sells scientific and industrial equipment, mostly to other businesses.
Amazon, eBay, Etsy and other similar marketplaces make their money off of fees, often around 15 percent, generated by each transaction. That money might be better off funding some expansion of your business and not on fees.
“When you’re starting out, fifteen percent may not seem like a huge number but once you start making significant sales in the five figure range, you are forking over thousands of dollars to these platforms that can otherwise be moved under your own bank account,” explains Terry Lin, an e-commerce educator and founder of fashion accessory company Baller Leather. “It may take a while to build up an online store and shift traffic there, but it is a long ball play that is better from a strategic business standpoint.”
2. You’re not diversified.
To protect your empire, you’ll need more than one stream of revenue. “If you have everything built on a single platform, you'll be boned if you get kicked off,” explains Brad DeGraw, author of e-book FBA-Hot List, on the fulfillment-by-Amazon program explains. “The best way to have a resilient income is to own the business rather than hope you always fit in the business of other platforms.” For many people, the moment to diversify is when their revenue reaches $10,000 per month, says Degraw.
That said, it’s easy to go the independent route long before you hit a five-figure milestone. A variety of platforms make it simple for entrepreneurs of all stripes to sellthrough their own stores for low monthly rates that would have been unheard of just five years ago.
“Having an online store now starts as low as $25 per month for entry level plans, up to $200 for enterprise and full-scale solutions, Lin explains. “By having your own site you’re also building a new sales channel that you completely control, not subject to anyone else's design, fees, or market prices. Furthermore, nobody can advertise against you on your own website.”
3. Sales are flat.
DeGraw has helped business scale their revenue into seven-figure territory on Amazon alone, but he also recommends creating your own platform once sales there or on eBay begin to slow.
“Amazon makes it so simple. They take care of all your headaches and Amazon comes with customers, its own channel of hungry buyers,” DeGraw says. “Once you’ve found your plateau … it’s time to start another channel. As soon as we see that plateau off we’ll focus on other channels as well as our own site.”
Dave Huckabay, who sells scientific and industrial equipment, mostly to other businesses, agrees. “Once you have as much of that market as you're going to get, it’s time to go after that rest of the internet.”
4. Customers are asking for it.
Having your own site is a sign of brand maturity and tells customers that there is a serious business behind your product. When people ask where they can find you online sending them to Amazon or eBay could dilute your brand’s equity.
“There is a certain level of ownership a brand must have by having their own real estate on the internet,” Lin says. “Imagine if you owned a hotel and you told someone to find you through Expedia or TripAdvisor, versus your own website. It doesn't make sense.”
5. Your needs have become more sophisticated.
As your business matures, you’ll discover whether your buyers need customized functionality that platforms like eBay and Amazon don’t offer. “If you are selling T-shirts, most shopping carts know that you might have different sizes, colors, and logos,” Lin explains “On the other hand, if you are selling custom motorcycle parts that can be customized, you may need a more advanced shopping cart due to all the different widgets and pieces that go into a motorcycle.”
As your volumes increase, you may also require a more streamlined system to collect valuable customer information such as an email addresses, order history or shopping cart abandonment. This data is crucial to building a customer retention strategy – and essential to the long game.
6. You sell a specialty or luxury product.
“There is a reason Louis Vuitton and other luxury brands avoid listing their products on Amazon and never provide discounts,” Lin says.
Companies like that never officially list their items on sites like eBay and Amazon in order to maintain a sense of exclusivity. Depending on your brand, it might make sense to maintain very tight control over where customers can find your products. This strategy is usually for low volume, high margin businesses in the jewelry, fashion and accessory industries where user experience is paramount.
“It sets the image and emotional state for a consumer that Amazon or eBay never could,” Lin says.
By that same token, if you are selling wholesale, business-to-business or items in bulk, having your own website will make your business seem more credible and dependable. People like to know that there is someone on the other end to answer emails or phone calls, especially for high priced items with long lead times.