Drop Shipping

The 3 Keys to Successfully Selling Online

December 18, 2022

Did you know that globally, there are 12-24 million ecommerce sites?

One of the great things about ecommerce is that it has offered more people the opportunity to sell products, with accessible platforms and widespread availability. On the downside, there’s a lot of competition and many ecommerce businesses don’t get great results.

What separates successful businesses from the rest? There are three main keys to successfully selling online:

#1. You’ve got to have something to sell

First thing’s first, you’ve got to have a product or service to sell. This sounds simple enough, but it’s a little more complicated in reality. You need the right products or services. Getting the product mix right can be tricky - you need to be able to offer products that your customers want at a price they’re willing to pay.

You’ve usually got no shortage of competitors, especially if you’re going to sell products or services that aren’t your own. You need to be able to serve a need - that’s what it boils down to. If there are competitors in your space, you need to either compete in a market with a huge customer base, find a way to differentiate what you offer from competitors, or both.

It’s worth putting time and effort into research before deciding on the products or services you will sell. For example, 59% of millennials go to Amazon first when shopping for a product. If they sell similar products to you, they may be your biggest competitor. Alternatively, you may need a strategy that includes selling on Amazon.

Strategies for finding the right thing to sell online

We’ve rounded up a few tried and true strategies for finding the right products or services to sell online:

  1. Solve a customer pain point or significant need. This is an old, but always-valid way to discover the right product or service. If you can solve a pain point in the market, even if it’s a new solution for an old problem, this is a great place to start.

  2. Select a niche with a passionate following. When you do this, you can create the sort of product catalog that appeals to enthusiasts or hobbyists. If you’re able to provide them with a very good service, that’s even better.

  3. Look at your own expertise or experience. Is there something you do or know very well that people would pay for?

  4. Capitalize on emerging trends. You can often get clues from sites like Google Trends, Product Hunt, or Trend Hunter.

  5. Improve on products that are already popular. You can read online reviews and discover what people have to say, good and bad. How can you solve for any negative points?

#2. You need a way to sell your products online

The second thing you need is an online platform through which you can accept and fulfill orders. Most successful ecommerce businesses operate with their own website, while many use third-party marketplace platforms such as Amazon, Etsy, or eBay. Some do a mixture of both in order to maximize their visibility.

Pros and cons of owned websites vs. third party platforms

One question most people ask when they’re starting out is, which platform should I use to sell? The answer will be based on whether the setup and any ongoing fees or maintenance work for you, as well as your ability to get an audience to the platform. Here’s a quick breakdown:

Owned websites


  • You have full control over the design, look and feel. There are exceptions: when you use an ecommerce website platform such as Shopify or SquareSpace, you’ll find some restrictions on what you can do.

  • You get your own real estate online. This means you can brand yourself and boost the visibility of your brand. You can also maintain control over how your site operates (unlike social media, where your page is at the whims of the platform’s algorithms and changes).

  • The customer stays on your website while they buy. This means there are fewer opportunities for them to be distracted by other product listings.


  • You have to deal with the transaction from end to end, including inventory management, fulfillment, and shipping. (Unless you set up dropshipping…)

  • You have to look after website maintenance and updates yourself (except on some of those ecommerce platforms, like Shopify).

  • You’ve got to draw an audience into your website yourself.

Third-party platforms


  • They often come with large audiences (such as Amazon).

  • They take care of website maintenance - you just have to maintain your listings.

  • Some (like Amazon) come with fulfillment options for you.


  • Those with large audiences and many sellers can be difficult to compete on.

  • It’s easy for people to get distracted and click away to a competitor’s listing.

  • You get a lot less brand visibility.

  • You don’t have any control over design and functionality.

  • You have to play by their rules.

#3. You need someone to sell to

This third step is arguably the most difficult of the lot. You need someone to sell your products or services to! It’s not easy to get people coming to your website and making purchases. They have so many options and the internet is a busy, crowded place.

You need a steady, reliable stream of visitors to your ecommerce site in order to make enough sales. The average abandoned shopping cart rate is nearly 70% across all industries, so you need to consider that potentially up to 70 out of every 100 visitors won’t buy anything.

Here are some common ways to get website traffic:

Build an audience

This means growing a following of people who are interested in you or your business. Influencers or content creators typically build an audience. Many grow their audiences to large numbers before considering selling to them, although making that transition is often something influencers struggle with.

An audience tends to be the most difficult to acquire, yet the most valuable of the various ways to get customers. This is because there is an established relationship between the influencer or content creator and the customer. Similarly, brands are able to utilize their reputation to drive sales because it establishes something of a relationship with their customers.

Audience-building happens when you have the right platform and a very good understanding of who your audience is. You can then create content that your audience wants to consume. Social media platforms tend to be at the forefront of this, with sites like TikTok soaring as an entrant into the social commerce field.

Website blogs or email newsletters can also be good audience builders (yes, people still subscribe to and read email newsletters!). Like social media, the key is to create the content your audience wants. You can then sell products from that content, for example via links on blogs or newsletters.

Organic traffic

Organic traffic is great because you don’t have to pay for it directly. This describes the traffic that lands on your website via search, links, or other means, without you having to purchase ads to promote your website.

Organic traffic tends to be a slow-building strategy. It takes time for your website to show up in search results, for example. You will need to follow an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) strategy, including things like relevant content, use of keywords, building backlinks, and any of a long list of SEO techniques.

Paid acquisition

The main disadvantage of paid acquisition is that you must pay to acquire traffic, then hope that you get enough of the right traffic so that you make sales. 

Paid acquisition may be done through PPC (pay-per-click) on search engines, or you might use social media advertising platforms. It’s important to consider where your audience is likely to come from first, so that you don’t waste money on the wrong platforms.


There really are just three keys to selling online, it’s getting them right that’s the tricky thing. You need the right combination of product choice, platform choice, and audience to ensure you’re able to make sales and not fruitlessly driving traffic.

Finally, there’s a lot that goes into the order and fulfillment side of ecommerce, which many businesses often don’t have the resources to handle well. With the three key elements above in place, dropshipping may be a great option for anyone wanting to sell online, but without the resources to warehouse products and fulfill orders. Here’s how Mothership can help you set that up.

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