Setting up Shop: 3 Approaches to Selling Online


For a long time, picking between convenience, exposure, and experience determined which ecommerce platform you should lean into. Now, the lines are being blurred as Shopify, Amazon, and social media sites continue to develop their ecommerce platforms with vastly different approaches. Which is best suited for your store?

There’s never been a better time to get into ecommerce. The market has never been so accessible, consumers have never been so willing to buy, and getting an online store set up has never been so easy. In fact, it might be just too easy. In a sea of ecommerce platforms and solutions, it’s easy to ask which is the right one for your business and will help make you the most money as quickly as possible.

There are a few key players that are spearheading different approaches in ecommerce. For the sake of simplicity, let’s divide them into three groups: 

Each approach has its share of pros and cons, so it’s important to think about what’s important to you and your business. Want a killer customer experience and the opportunity to create repeat customers? Want to reach as wide of an audience as possible? Want to set up your shop and get your product out quickly and easily? How important is branding every detail to the customer experience?

Let’s take a deep dive into the swelling waves of ecommerce to see which way is right for you.

The Amazon Approach: A Marketplace That Handles the Logistics

Amazon is the third-most valuable company in the world (or second or first depending on which day you’re reading this) because of their ability to simplify and streamline buying and shipping processes. That’s no different when it comes to selling online.

Listing a product on Amazon is about as easy as turning your computer on. Once it hits the marketplace, you’re visible to Amazon’s 20.6 million visitors. And in 2018, more than half of all product searches began directly within Amazon. It’s hard to discount the power of reaching such a large, motivated audience.

The best part about listing a product with Amazon is that they can help take care of fulfillment. They handle storage as well as all of the tedious fulfillment tasks, from picking and packing to printing shipping labels and packing slips, which saves heaps of time and money over handling your own logistics.

On the other hand, if you care about differentiating your product, creating a better customer experience, or gaining repeat customers, Amazon might not be the way to go. There is practically zero customizability for your product’s listing, you risk getting lost in a sea of competitors (and ripoffs), and you have to give a cut of your profits to The Man (ya know, Bezos). 

Plus, Amazon’s user-interface is not pretty, but it’s a tried-and-true experience to help customers purchase with ease. Finally, without any differentiation or superior experience, Amazon is essentially just an online Sears catalogue. 

All of that can be tough to swallow, but the truth is that the biggest drawback of turning to the Amazon approach is the behemoth’s ability to cannibalize their own offerings. Thousands of retailers have listed a product on Amazon and watched it do very well, only to see an Amazon private-label product undercut them in price and steal their customers a short time later. 

Since Amazon is also a major producer of goods, they can pump out basically whatever they want—with no mercy. Amazon is able to see what’s hot on the marketplace, source goods, and manufacture products cheaper than you or us. Listing your products exclusively on Amazon runs the risk of being swallowed by Amazon’s own private label products.

Facebook Approach: Intuitive Interface Made for Mobile

For ease, we’ll lump Facebook Shops, Snapchat, Instagram Shops, and Pinterest together for this section. Since Facebook is the most popular of the platforms, it’s the one with the most weight to throw at a social media-steeped selling strategy.

Selling on social media opens you up to potential virality and a whole heap of customers you can find with precision. Sharing a product is easy and since you’re already on a social platform, getting referrals is simple. 

Social media sites have recognized the potential impact they can have on ecommerce and have deployed and updated ecommerce solutions frequently over the last few months.

Facebook and Instagram, for instance, have leaned heavily into ecommerce with the launch of Facebook Shops and Instagram Shops. These releases give customers an in-app shopping experience that fits seamlessly into their typical scrolling habits. Customers can also get in touch with sellers through Facebook Messenger or Instagram DMs, which means the potential for better customer service and more loyal customers.

The main issue with Facebook Shops and Shops on Instagram is that they do not offer the same level of customization that Shopify as other ecommerce-specific platforms. This makes sense, since Shopify is ecommerce-first while Facebook and Instagram are social-first with a side of ecomm. 

While total customization is still an issue, these social media ecommerce options are definitely a step above Amazon in a few ways:

Pssst! To learn more about Facebook Shops and our take on them, check out our blog article.

Snapchat is the black sheep of this approach as it actually has no ecommerce offering within the product. Snapchat users are generally very tech-savvy and frequently make purchases online, but while dynamic ads can be used to reach the right customers and swiping up will open your site in-app, the customization ends there. 

Another exception is Pinterest. On Pinterest, nearly half of all users log on just to shop. With sky-high buyer intent, you would be silly not to invest some resources into Pinterest ads. Unfortunately, the best you can do on Pinterest is link to your ecommerce website and hope people follow through with their purchase.

The issue with social selling is that it only goes so far. In Snapchat and Pinterest’s case, having a social presence is more of a customer acquisition strategy than true ecommerce. Facebook Shops reach a large audience and have the benefit of being able to hone in on your customers directly within Facebook, but they don’t offer the customizability to help you build your brand.

Shopify Approach: Complete Brand Experience

Again, for reader ease, we’ll lump all ecommerce platforms like Shopify, Woocommerce, BigCommerce, etc. together. 

Shopify was founded in 2004 and is the predominant ecommerce platform available. A sort of anti-Amazon, Shopify customers believe in customer experience, a smooth pre- and post-purchase experience, and the ability to create passionate customers who will return often and refer friends.

Shopify lets customers build a strong brand identity with a wide amount of customization and powerful ecommerce tools. Plugins from other companies (like Route) can simplify and streamline the shopping experience even more.

Of course, Shopify is just the platform. Gaining traction and visibility is up to you. Whether that comes from Google ads, social ads, viral campaigns, or some other scheme, the marketing is 100% up to you. Shopify has some tools to help, but you’re mostly on your own.

In fact, when it comes down to it, Shopify is much less about the convenience and much more about creating a powerful shopping experience. If that’s what’s important to you and your business, you’ve found your match.

And if you are worried about losing out on the motivated Amazon shoppers, Shopify makes it easy to list your products on Amazon as well.

Three Ecommerce Approaches Blurring the Lines

These three approaches have their distinct pros and cons. Shopify very strongly tries to be the antithesis to Amazon’s approach. But underneath, some strategies are making them all look very similar.

Take Shopify’s recent partnership with Walmart. Walmart definitely isn’t Amazon, but they’re as close to it as you can get. In this partnership, 1,200 Shopify sellers will be listed on Walmart’s Online Marketplace. Sound familiar? Increased exposure, but at what cost? And what is to stop Walmart from doing the exact same thing Amazon does to its sellers down the road?

Additionally, selling through social media generally requires a web page to redirect to. If you choose not to have one and be exclusively found on Facebook or Instagram, it’ll be hard to verify your reputation.

If you can have a mix of all three, you’re golden. If you need to focus on one, go with the Shopify approach. It will take more effort, but you’ll create a brand that customers can love. You’ll be able to customize their experience and make as frictionless of a flow as possible. In turn, your customers will come back and refer their friends.

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