Should I run an online store outside of my website?

With so many options available for selling your products online, it can be hard to know which to choose. Is it better to spend time and money on setting up an integrated ecommerce platform, or should you simplify things and have a separate web store on a well-known platform?
The popular answer from many experts is 'yes, you should run an online store' - but it comes with a caveat.
Whilst you should run an online store outside of your website, you should only do so if it's in addition to your website's integrated e-commerce store. If your website is just an information-based poster site and your shop is instead hosted elsewhere, for example on eBay, this is really not ideal. 

Integration vs simplicity

Operating an online shop from a separate platform such as eBay, Amazon or Etsy gives you less control over your shop, as you don't have as much say on its appearance, how it's run and the overall customer experience. Importantly, it also makes it much harder to connect the data; such as traffic, sales stats and data capture. This means it's difficult to make decisions over whether your shop is working or not. 
On the plus side, having a shop on an external platform does mean you also get the support and development built in, which is not always easy to manage for your own website, unless you have your own web team or are particularly tech savvy. Platforms such as Etsy are also responsible for managing VAT collection for digital items under the new EU vat laws, a definite bonus for smaller store owners.
With your own site, however, you are able to price competitively as you won't be paying fees to the platform. Of course, you will have other overheads associated with a website of your own, so you'll have to balance this up.
Integrating your shop and information website means that a customer has all the intelligence in one place. They can get a feel for your company, find the human and relatable side through reading your blogs, news feed and 'about us' sections, and overall it provides a more integrated experience. This will all help with the sales funnel, encouraging people to buy your products! What's more, by running your own ecommerce store you don't have to fight with competitors within your own site, like you do with platforms such as Amazon.

Spreading the net

If, however, you run an ecommerce website with an eBay, Amazon or even Etsy store in addition, you benefit from added exposure - you'll prosper from the guaranteed traffic already coming to the site, with very little extra effort put in by you. Having your own e-commerce store means your off-site shop can act as a billboard, directing new customers back to your store. 
Of course, having this as well as a website shop means paying two lots of fees, but the extra admin is minimal. With any luck - and some good re-marketing - your new customers will come to you directly next time, and keep coming back too!
For help with navigating the rules that surround online selling check out our guide or read more about setting up an ecommerce plugin for WordPress sites here.

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