What it Means to Be an Online Merchant
An online merchant is someone:
- Who sells goods
- Who sells at least some of those goods online
Online merchants may have fully functional brick-and-mortar stores through which they sell the vast majority of their goods. They may only maintain one small online shop through which they sell two or three products a month. They may sell online 99% of the time, but also set up a booth at the occasional vintage market or craft faire. The goods they sell online may be sold through well-known sales platforms, using plug-and-play commerce tools, or via entirely independent online shops that have been built from the ground up.
Online merchants may also sell a wide variety of products:
- Handmade goods
- Vintage goods
- Print-on-demand goods
- Goods sourced through a variety of vendors
In some cases, online merchants never come into contact with the goods they sell. In other cases, they carefully construct each and every item they supply, plus also manage packaging and shipping.
The type of online merchant you choose to become depends entirely on your personal strengths, abilities, and preferences.
The Perks of Becoming an Online Merchant
Many online merchants enjoy:
- The freedom and flexibility that accompanies self employment
- The ability to engage in a creative pursuit that also yields profits (should one, for example, sell handcrafted goods)
- The opportunity to earn a profit from one's talent with curation (sourcing products, after all, requires excellent curation skills and good taste)
- The ability to work from home (should one not also maintain a brick-and-mortar storefront)
- Earnings that could potentially become passive (especially if others eventually manage day-to-day sourcing, order fulfillment, and shipping operations for you)
Major Myths Associated with Online Sales
Common untrue assumptions people make about online merchants are that:
- The work simply involves fulfilling orders (much, much more goes in to running an online store, including administrative bookkeeping, communications with customers, constant sourcing or production of new items, market research, etc.)
- Opening an online storefront will not take much time (it is ultimately far more demanding and time-consuming than you might think; many full time online merchants do not feel like they can easily take vacation days the same way they could were they employed by traditional businesses)
- Selling more products is as easy as lowering prices or paying for an ad campaign (this is far from the truth)
- Online stores can quickly yield enough income to fully support their owners (this is possible, but only if owners are very diligent about not only selling products, but also making a real profit)
- All types of products can lead to profits (some products require a lot of labor and have to contend with tons of competition, which makes viable prices too low for one to be able to consistently profit from their sale)
- Online sales is easy to juggle with stay-at-home parenting (while online sales is popular amongst stay-at-home mothers/fathers and many of the world's top online shopkeepers are also stay-at-home parents, they work incredibly long hours and typically need extra support from their significant others or other family members when it comes to childcare)
Major Trends in Online Sales
The following trends are significantly altering the manner in which amateurs and professionals alike are addressing online sales:
- More sales through mobile devices: Reporting on information from eMarketer and Forrester Research, Internet Retailer reports that the percentage of sales taking place through mobile devices will steadily rise (meaning that it is all the more important that merchants make sure their online storefronts look good and function well on smartphones)
- General growth in online sales: Internet Retailer, reporting on eMarketer statistics from April 2013, suggests that online sales will grow from $225.5 billion in 2012 to $434.2 in 2017.
- More sales platforms: The growth in available sales platforms caters to a wider variety of talents and product types, plus offers a wider range of store and fee configurations; this has made it possible for even more people to enter the world of online sales and has also, to a certain extent, made it possible for one to hunt around for platforms that offer lower fees
- Sales tools that are more powerful and easy to use: This means that online merchants have access to more functionality and analytics and do not have to be as technologically-adept to run advanced campaigns and manage complex sales reports
- The rise of on-demand products: There are more online sales platforms than ever that maintain an arsenal of products that sellers can customize with unique designs, then sell through a unique storefront without having to touch a single physical object; this makes it possible to sell a wider variety of products through a wider variety of storefronts without having to manage sourcing, shipping, and production independently
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