Complete Guide to Selling Online in the UK
Congratulations! Finding this article means you’re on your first step to start selling online in the UK.
And you’ve made the right choice—the Brits are turning to online sellers for all their shopping needs more than ever before, with predictions that almost 40% of all sales in the UK next year will take place online.
In this graph from Statista, you can see the share of online sales compared to total retail sales. From 2020 to 2021, ecommerce sales went from 32.5% to 37.5% and show no signs of slowing down in the upcoming years.
These statistics show that there are many potential customers in the UK that’d love your online store and the products you’ll offer. However, as exciting as selling online is, it also takes work to set up your store and win shoppers’ hearts.
But worry not—all these challenges that come with selling products online are possible to conquer! In this blog article, I’ll guide you through everything you need to do to start selling online in the UK.
Strap in and let’s go!
How to decide what products to sell online
Every ecommerce expert I’ve ever spoken to has said that the first step to selling products online is finding your niche.
A niche is a specialized market serving the needs of a particular audience. It’s what helps you carve out your place in the saturated world of ecommerce stores.
Understand your target market
So, a niche is defined by a group of people who have something in common. Try to think about what unifies your potential customers. Are they animal lovers? Maybe they’re avid travelers?
Your potential customers have other features about them that’ll determine their shopping habits. Expand on the vision of the people stopping by your online shop and try answering these statements about them:
- What price they are willing to pay for your products;
- Where they live—in a city or in the country;
- What quality do they expect from your online store;
- What they value and what they are passionate about.
When you’ve combined the vision of your potential customers, their shopping habits, and values, you should have something that resembles a customer profile.
- Gamers from London in the age range of 18–35 who stream on Twitch and want to stay up-to-date with all the newest developments in the gaming industry;
- Stay-at-home mums aged 25–45 from the suburbs who are passionate about home decor and value higher-end wall art, and other home & living items;
- Cooking enthusiasts of any gender aged 40 and up from the country who appreciate funny quotes and puns based on their passion.
Conduct market research for the UK
Once you have a picture of who your audience is and what they’re into, take a look at your competitors’ online stores—what products are they selling, how they price their items, and what designs they create.
By understanding what others provide in your niche, you can come up with a strategy for your online business and be one step ahead. Try to find something that your customers aren’t offering yet but your target audience would appreciate.
On top of that, you should look into what’s hot among your potential customers in your target market.
For my hypothetical online store, I’ve determined that my audience is going to be gamers from London from the previous section’s examples. A quick glance in Google is telling me that the most popular video games in the UK last year were FIFA’21, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, and Grand Theft Auto V. I’d think how I can adapt my products to my audience’s liking to fit these gaming trends (without breaking copyright laws).
Gather ideas for your niche
There are many ways you can get inspiration for your online shop. See what’s trending at the moment, but is also guaranteed to stay around for a while. Or, identify the problems of your potential customers—what are they missing?
Keep in mind that a lot of niches are already saturated, so it’s best if you define a sub-niche and give your own spin to the products you’re selling.
When browsing the web for the first time in search of online store niche ideas, you’ll see most of them will be pretty broad. For example, baking, gadgets, mental health advocacy, and so on. My advice is to dig deeper and try to break them up into smaller components to find what clicks for you.
Let’s continue on breaking down the gamer niche to illustrate how you can find one for your store:
- The first idea: sell apparel for gamers. That’s a broad niche to enter—Google alone shows over 453 million results for the search term apparel for gamers.
- Next step: I’ve noticed that a lot of gamer apparel seems to be aimed at younger audiences and I want my products to appeal to gamers looking to be more sophisticated while remaining comfortable. I want to sell t-shirts to gamers who appreciate apparel that’s both casual and elegant.
- Digging deeper: I see that embroidered apparel is trending at the moment. With embroidery, I can sell t-shirts with small gaming-related designs on them.
- And now for the sub-niche: I’ve decided I’m going to sell chic, embroidered t-shirts for gamers who prefer more subtle designs compared to traditional gaming apparel.
You can definitely go even further down this path and define your niche in even finer details. That will definitely benefit your business and help you stand out. Let your creativity (and Google searches) guide you to whatever fits your ecommerce store best!
How to choose a business model for an online store
When you’ve decided on the niche and the target audience, you need to think of the products your business will offer. This process is called product sourcing and there are several ways you can find products to sell in your online store.
Drop shipping (no upfront investment)
Drop shipping is an order fulfillment method where a customer purchases a product from your online store and it’s fulfilled and shipped by a third-party supplier.
This model means that:
- You don’t hold any stock yourself
- The third-party supplier charges you for the service
- You sell the product at a markup and keep the profit once the end customer has paid
The drop shipping business model is convenient for those who don’t want to deal with equipment, managing inventory, and shipping. It also allows you to operate from almost anywhere in the world as long as you have access to the internet.
- No upfront investment
- No need to buy or store inventory
- Managing the business from anywhere in the world
- Lower profit margins than traditional retail
- Limited or no control over product quality
- Unpredictable shipping times from suppliers
Print-on-demand (no upfront investment)
Similar to drop shipping is the print-on-demand model. Except, in this case, you can customize the products with your designs.
By choosing print-on-demand for your online business, same as with drop shipping, you don’t hold any inventory yourself. Your print-on-demand partner (like Printful) holds the stock, prints your designs on the products, and ships them to your customer.
Print-on-demand gives you full creative freedom—no matter if you’re an experienced artist or just starting out. You can add your own pre-existing designs to products or use Printful Design Maker’s built-in features.
In the Design Maker, you can choose from a huge range of fonts, cliparts, ready-to-use designs, or Getty Images to create your designs without the need to spend a lot of money on expensive design programs like Photoshop.
Print-on-demand also allows you to avoid dealing with heaps of leftover stock because the product is only customized once your customer places an order.
If you choose to try the print-on-demand model with Printful, your customers will enjoy the benefits of fast fulfillment and shipping times due to our facility in Birmingham.
- No upfront investment
- No need to store or manage inventory yourself
- You only pay upon order
- Creative freedom
- Higher cost per item
- Delivery time depends on fulfillment and shipping times combined
Wholesale (with upfront investment)
Another online business model is wholesale. It means that you’d buy inventory from suppliers in bulk. Then you’d sell the products to customers at a markup.
With wholesale, you’ll need to be involved in all stages of the business—buying the products, having them shipped to your house or office space, selling and shipping the products to the end customer.
Being in complete control of the business may seem enticing, but it also takes a lot of work. When your business grows, it might not be enough with operating just from your home since products and packaging take up a lot of space. You might also need to hire additional staff to help you with operations.
- Complete control over your business operations
- Low cost per item
- Investment required
- Managing and restocking the inventory yourself
- Risks of leftover stock
Where to start selling online products
Now that you know your niche, have decided which products to sell and which sourcing model to choose, let’s find you a platform to set up your ecommerce store!
There are two ways an ecommerce seller can go: for an online marketplace (for example, Etsy) or an ecommerce platform (for example, Shopify).
An online marketplace is an ecommerce site with many sellers and you’re one of them.
The advantage of an online marketplace is that it already has a stable audience. All you need to do is to make sure that the customers find your listing
Since selling online in marketplaces can be competitive, you need to work on discoverability. Product descriptions are especially important when it comes to people finding your products—it’s hard to be successful on a marketplace without an optimized product description.
Different marketplaces have different algorithms and ranking criteria. You need to look into that before choosing the one for your business. For example, Etsy’s search engine takes into account titles, tags, categories, and other criteria before it shows your listing to the customer. I’ll elaborate on this further below in the section on SEO.
Some of the most popular marketplaces are Amazon, Etsy, Wish, eBay, and StoreEnvy.
An ecommerce platform is a software application that allows you to build your own website and run an ecommerce store.
While a marketplace allows you to list products alongside other sellers on one website, with an ecommerce platform you can build your own unique ecommerce site. This means full customization from fonts to color schemes, and so on.
However, with online selling platforms, you need to put more effort into attracting traffic to your website, since you won’t be selling on well-known marketplace giants mentioned previously.
For starters, you should compare the costs of subscription plans for different platforms. Decide what are the necessary features for your ecommerce store and how much you’re willing to pay for them.
Some of the most popular ecommerce platforms are Shopify, Wix, Squarespace, WooCommerce, BigCommerce, and many others.
You can connect any of the biggest ecommerce platforms to Printful and start selling print-on-demand products online easily. Find useful resources on the Printful blog and YouTube channel and learn how to connect different ecommerce platforms and marketplaces to your Printful account.
When your business grows, you don’t have to settle on selling products online in just one marketplace or only on an ecommerce platform. You can later consider multichannel retailing and selling on multiple platforms.
How to work out your marketing strategy
Let’s recap—we’ve looked at the importance of a niche, choosing the right model for you, and picking a platform for your online business. The next big question is how to nail your internet marketing and get your products to sell.
A compelling marketing strategy will get more eyes on your ecommerce store and its products. It’ll also ensure that the customer visiting your store makes a purchase and won’t click away looking for better alternatives.
Let’s go through the marketing essentials you need to focus on when you’re starting an online business in the UK.
Build your brand
To put it simply, branding is everything that distinguishes your brand from others. It can involve your values and promises to the customers, brand identity (name, color palette, logo, etc.), and the perception of your brand by the public.
Having strong branding is important for any business. It gives your company an identity and helps to build brand awareness. It’s what’ll make your customers purchase from your store and suggest it to others because your business is trustworthy and memorable.
When starting an ecommerce brand, the first things you need to develop are your values and principles. They’ll define what your brand stands for and how the decisions are being made. Your values can then influence your brand’s mission and vision.
For example, ASOS’ brand values include being authentic, brave, creative, and disciplined. They also mention that at ASOS they “ (..) believe in a world where you have the freedom to explore and express yourself without judgment, no matter who you are or where you’re from. That is why our purpose is to give fashion-loving 20-somethings the confidence to be whoever they want to be.”
ASOS’ purpose and values integrate well with their brand—when we think of this brand, we imagine a fashionable and playful look on clothing for young people.
Once you’ve defined your brand values, the next thing you should work on is your brand identity. Think of a memorable yet unique name, come up with a logo, and define the color palette and fonts that’ll be present throughout your visuals.
If you’re not Photoshop savvy (high-five!), you can outsource the visuals from freelancers. Ask around your friends or approach someone on freelancer outsourcing sites like Fiverr (you can get 10% off freelancer services on Fivver with the code PRINTFUL10), Upwork, Freelancer.com, Linkedin, or others.
For example, this is the Printful logo that consists of our company name and the three triangles. The triangle colors—yellow, red, and green—are present in all of our other visual materials and they make it easy to distinguish us from other print-on-demand companies.
Pay attention to SEO
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It’s a process where you optimize your website or listing to make it appear among the top results on search engines when internet users look for a specific product. When these customers come to your website, it’s called organic traffic.
Most of the online shoppers go on search engines to look for the desired product. Your ecommerce business needs to appear high on search engine results to catch the attention of those customers looking for products in your niche.
SEO is done by using specific keywords in the content on your website. For example, if you want gamers from the UK to discover your graphic gamer tee, in the product description you’d use words like gamer shirt, gamer tee, t-shirts for games, graphic gamer tees, etc.
Tips on SEO:
- Do keyword research before crafting copy for your website’s landing pages and product descriptions. It’ll help understand what your future customers are looking for and what you need to include in your copy.
- Don’t use random keywords where it’s not appropriate, even if they rank high. Your content needs to match what the customer is searching for.
- Including images in your content and adding image tags to them will also help with SEO. The bots that scan all content on the internet and help the algorithm estimate the relevancy of the content can’t read an image, but they can read the text of the image tag.
- If you’re targeting customers in the UK, make sure to add it to settings when doing keyword research.
Here are some free keyword research tools you can use:
- Google Trends—shows the popularity of a keyword over time;
- Keyword Generator—shows you up to 150 keyword ideas for any primary keyword;
- Keyword Surfer—a Chrome extension that’ll show you estimates of global and local monthly search volumes;
- Answer the Public—finds questions, comparisons, alphabeticals, and related searches for a primary keyword.
Take advantage of social media
Do you even exist if you’re not on social media? Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but it’s still important for an ecommerce brand to maintain an online presence on platforms like Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Facebook, and others.
Being active on social media can help promote products, and get online sales from new customers. You need to make content that’ll drive in the customers who are interested in your niche, so follow your competitors to see what hits their sweet spot.
Since social networks are about connecting with your customers, you need to find out where they hang out more. For example, Instagram would be the best place to connect with Gen-Z, but Facebook—to approach the older generations.
Here are some of the best practices for an online business’ social media:
- Be consistent—publish relevant and consistent content to your followers so they know what they signed up for;
- Know when’s the best time to post—look at what time the British audience uses social media more so you can post content that reaches a lot of eyes;
- Connect with your audience—you want to make your followers heard and seen, which makes them more loyal to your brand and they’re likely to return to your store;
- Discover new things—social platforms are useful to explore new trends and developments in your niche.
You’ve got this—start an online business in the UK!
Now’s the best time to start an online business in the UK—online sales in this region are booming! As long as you find your niche, and have a clear vision of your business, your ecommerce dream can come true.
Checklist to start selling products online in the UK
Here are all the necessary things you need to tick off your to-do list when preparing to launch an online shop in the UK:
Good luck on your business journey! Have you tried selling in the UK? Share your experience with this exciting market below.