Selling stuff online – demystified

Ever felt baffled by how to start selling stuff online?

Worried you’ll choose the wrong option, or end up tearing your hair out over weird technical issues, only to descend into a dark pit of madness and despair in which you stop showering, forget to eat and start to look decidedly unhinged?

Hey – I’ve been there. And so has Virginia (not her real name), who wrote to me with this question:

I’ve been reading your fabulous posts on Design Sponge regarding creating websites with wordpress. I just wondered if you had any advice on the best way to sell products with a wordpress website. For a “non-techie” (that’s me) is it worthwhile using a wordpress plugin or is that getting a bit complicated? The other thing I was thinking was having a wordpress website and then making the button to “Shop” link to an etsy site for the shopping to be done there. Do you think this is something that could work? I would love to hear any advice that you may have.
Many thanks,

If you’ve been puzzling over the whole ecommerce thing, you’re in the right place. Today, I’m going to lay it all out for you in plain language.

Mercifully, you essentially have only three options when it comes to selling stuff online:

Option 1: Use an external shopping cart solution, such as Shopify or Big Cartel

  • Shopify and Big Cartelare examples of shopping cart “software” that will let you have a store at or
  • If you already have a “main” website and your store is just an offshoot, you’ll probably want to put your shop at so that your main site can keep truckin’ along on your main domain.
  • Big Cartel ($0 to $29.99 a month, depending on your chosen plan) is for clothing designers, bands, jewelry makers, crafters, and other artists, whereas Shopify ($29 a month and up) is for anyone selling anything (except the nasty stuff. That’s probably not allowed).
  • Both services offer lots of help and support when it comes to getting your shop set up.
  • Shopify lets you choose a “theme” for your shop, and Big Cartel lets you customize the look of your shop as much as you want if you know CSS and HTML.
  • To “add” your shop to your main website (if you already have one), all you have to do is create a link somewhere on your site (ideally in your menu bar/navigation menu) that links to your shop (e.g.

Option 2: Use Etsy

  • Etsy is a great option if you’re selling handmade stuff (you can’t use it to sell non-handmade things).
  • There’s no technical know-how required; you just register and follow the steps to set up your Etsy shop and set up your products.
  • To connect your Etsy shop to your main website, I recommend putting a link to your shop in your menu bar/navigation menu. Somewhere prominent, where people will easily see it.

Option 3: If you have a WordPress site, use an e-commerce plugin.

  • Using an e-commerce plugin lets you integrate a shop right into your WordPress site. You’ll manage your products and prices through the plugin interface (no particularly scary technical skills required).
  • If you need to keep track of physical inventory, this option might not be for you (most e-commerce plugins don’t track inventory).
  • There are many options to pick from, but here are some reputable ones to check out:
    WP E-commerce
    Shop Plugin

  • To get going with one of these plugins, you’ll need to purchase it (if it’s not free) and install it (the links above will have instructions on how to install each plugin).
  • Once you’ve installed and activated the plugin, you can set up your products (again, refer to the instructions that came with the plugin) and make sure you have a “shop” or “store” link in your menu bar or navigation menu.

I hope this helps cut through some of the confusion that comes with contemplating e-commerce. No matter which option you choose, there are nice people waiting to help you (in fact, I went to high school with a lovely young man who now works at Shopify).

And if you dig this kind of simple explanation of intimidating tech concepts, I have a hunch you’re going to love The Girl’s Guide to Web Design, my online course that teaches you to ditch your fear of code, unleash your inner designer and create an awe-inspiring blog or site. Click here for more details on exactly what you’ll learn.

{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Anna August 15, 2012, 1:09 am

    Love, love, love it when you can take the complicated and break it down. You rock!

    • Amanda August 15, 2012, 8:18 am

      Thanks Anna! That’s what I try to do – so it’s awesome to hear that!

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