Setting up an online shop: Pros and cons of each type

If you’re thinking of starting an online shop you might be surprised at the number of options available to you. Working out whether to use eBay, Amazon or to get your own website is enough to make your head spin, so here’s a quick guide to the pros and cons of each different type of shop.

If you’re wondering how to tell which is best for you, think about what you’re going to be selling, the level of technical skill you have, your budget and how likely you are to want to grow the shop later on. You can run two different shops alongside one another (many business mums have both an eBay shop and their own website) or you could (say) start with eBay and build your own website later on.

There’s more about  actually starting up in my article how to start an online shop.


What is it? HUGE auction website.

Pros: It’s an enormous marketplace, so thousands of customers are to be found there. It’s quick to set up shop and doesn’t take any technical knowledge, although there is a knack to writing a listing that sells.

Cons: The huge competition and the fact that most visitors expect a bargain means that you may be forced to keep your prices low. Together with the increased charges in recent years, this means that you have to think carefully about how you’ll make a profit before you begin. Also, the pressure to keep your feedback rating high can mean you end up having to offer exceptional customer service (and that some unscrupulous customers take advantage of this) which ultimately costs you time and money.

Tip: One way of avoiding the competition problem is by selling unusual or  one-off items e.g. sell plates to replace broken ones from dinner sets that are no longer available in the shops. Or you can specialise in dealing with the side of selling that others don’t have time for such as batch-buying stock – perhaps from car-boot sales or businesses who want to clear out old stock – and listing them individually on eBay.


What is it? HUGE online marketplace selling just about everything.

Pros: Like eBay, it’s an enormous marketplace. But it differs from eBay in that it’s not an auction website, customers don’t always expect rock-bottom prices and customer service isn’t such a challenge.

Cons: The charges are high, but you need to compare that with the time and effort (and therefore cost) of bringing all those customers to your own website. It might be a fair trade-off.

Craft Marketplaces

What are they?, (UK), (Australia). Similar sites that aren’t just for handmade or craft items are and (both UK based).

Online marketplaces where small businesses and individuals can sell handmade and/or original gifts, jewellery, fashion, interiors, crafts and so on.

Pros: Much prettier and classier places to be seen than eBay 🙂 but they still have lots of visitors.

Cons: Again, competition from other sellers and check out the fees. You need to apply and be accepted if you’re going to be listed on Not On The High Street. Many will only accept handmade items.

Website builders (‘template websites’)

What are they? Build your own website for far less than a web designer would cost, even though you don’t have any technical skills. Examples include Moonfruit, MrSite and Create.

Pros: Less competition and far lower fees than the options above, plus complete control over your pricing and customer service.

Cons: You have to promote it yourself, which scares the pants off many business mums. There’s no doubt there’s a learning curve, but internet marketing can be learned and implemented a little at a time over a long period, so it’s very flexible. And if you do it your yourself, it can be very cheap (or free).

The website builders tend not to give you much control over search engine optimization on your website such as title tags and meta tags. Some are have coding that isn’t very tidy – so search engines can’t easily ‘read’ what’s on the website – which could make it hard for your customers to find you.

WordPress with a shopping cart

What is it? Originally designed as blog software, WordPress is now used to build websites that aren’t blogs, too. There are a number of shopping carts that are compatible with wordpress (just Google ‘WordPress shopping carts’). I’m just about to test a wordpress shopping cart out on a new project, so I’ll report back in a few months!

Pros: WordPress is open source and therefore free, although you’ll need to pay for a shopping cart and hosting and perhaps a premium theme (so it looks more professional). It’s very flexible to use and search engine-friendly.

Cons: You will need some technical ability or to pay someone to set it all up for you. Although it’ll be much less expensive than getting an e-commerce website built from scratch.

Tip: If you’re looking for a web host, I recommend Clook because I’ve been with them two years now, they are very reliable and their customer service is great.

Having your own e-commerce website developed

What is it? A web designer builds you a website with a shopping cart.

Pros: You can have whatever you like! If you don’t want to do anything remotely technical, someone else will do all this for you. Assuming you hire a good web designer, it’ll look professional and be search-engine friendly.

Cons: The most expensive option by far. For that reason you will need to do thorough market research to make sure you business stands a good chance of success before you begin. The other options are low-cost  so you can dip a toe in the world of e-commerce without risking much. Also consider that it will cost you more if you want to make changes to your website later on – make sure you build this into your plans.

If you have any other suggestions, please do leave me a comment!

If you found this post helpful, you might like to join my mailing list Sign up now and you can download your copy of  my e-book Running a business around a family: 9 steps to success.

Creative Commons License photo credit: JaseCurtis

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6 Replies to “Setting up an online shop: Pros and cons of each type”

  1. I’m currently in the process of setting up an online store. I am using WordPress and Ecwid (

    I can totally recommend it. Its quick and easy to set up, has great documentation & help forums if you get stuck or need help tweaking the design to fit your site, and its free (although there is a paid option with more features if you feel you need them).

    On the downside, because the store is embedded in your site (you can use it anywhere you can add the snippet of code), it is a little slow loading, and its not as feature rich as something like the WP e-Commerce plugin.

    But overall, for a simple, easy, low-cost online shop setup its pretty good!

    1. That’s great, Meg! I’m just starting out with WP shopping carts and I don’t have much to report yet, so thank you very much for sharing your experience of Ecwid.

  2. Great blog!

    Regarding using a web designer or agency, you have to be careful as you may need to re-employ them to make amends to your site in future (such as text and image changes) if you had something bespoke designed so this means the costs could really mount up – I used to work for an agency. The benefit of platforms such as Create is that you have complete control over making changes any time. Also, they update their platforms on a regular basis so your website can move with the times and you can change your design if you want to meaning you avoid looking dated. I’m biased of course because I work for them! 😉

    We do provide advice for marketing yourself so it’s worth checking out our blog and Help Centre via the button on the upper right hand side of this page.

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