Selling items on online platforms
- Gerdine Annaars
- How to
- 5 Apr 2019
- Edited 5 Dec 2022
- 8 min
You are looking to sell products through online platforms such as Amazon, Shopify, eBay, Zalando, Marktplaats, Etsy, and bol.com. If you sign up as a seller with one of these platforms, you will have access to millions of buyers. But is this process really as simple as it seems? Read how to attract new clients through online marketplaces and what to do about terms and conditions, costs, and creating sales accounts.
Whether you are a new business owner or a seasoned tycoon: as an entrepreneur, you are always looking for ways to boost your sales. A survey conducted by Centraal Bureau voor Statistiek (CBS) reveals that nearly 8% of businesses sell products through an online (in Dutch). A total of 2% of these businesses even sold exclusively through online platforms; that is, without their own website or app. While the current data is unknown at this stage, it is likely that the number of business owners trading through online platforms has skyrocketed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you would like to sell your items through a platform, you must keep in mind the following:
Developments and opportunities
The world of online selling is constantly changing. New insights offer opportunities to you, as a (new) business owner.
As of 28 May 2022, new rules on reviews, discounts, "free" online services, and comparison sites, among other things, came into force for B2C e-retailers selling products or services on a shopping site, sales platform, or social media.
Opportunities provided by advances in technology
Jasper Stevens, Head of SME Sales at Marktplaats, expects the growth in online trading to further increase and that online platforms will play a key role in this process. “I am seeing the emergence of a growing number of ‘vertical’ platforms, which specialise in a specific product group, such as exclusive trainers. There are massive opportunities for business owners to find a good mix between these vertical platforms and a horizontal platform catering for a wide audience and with a large reach.” Stevens also states that there are a growing number of possibilities within the world of online sales. “This might include platforms which use plug-ins to easily link your own online shop to a variety of platforms. This ensures you are visible across many different channels.”
Changing consumer behaviour
Mel van Lieshout, Country Manager at E-commerce platform Shopify, also sees a number of changes in online businesses. “Many products are sourced from faraway countries. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw occasional supply-chain problems in Asia, such as when the Chinese market was shut down completely. For this and other reasons, Dutch business owners now source their products closer to home, so they will be less dependent.” Van Lieshout believes this does affect prices, because higher cost prices result in higher prices for the clients. “However, we are about to enter into a new stage. Consumers increasingly value good customer service, sustainable production, reused packaging, and environmentally friendly (‘green’) delivery. You can no longer compete on price alone.”
Also for B2B
You can use online platforms to sell to both consumers and businesses. Daaf Vunderink, owner of Equipment4U internal transport materials from Renswoude, found this to be an eye-opener. “My products are perfect for online sales, as no explanation is needed when the products are delivered, and there is also no need for them to be installed by a technician. I can reach both larger and smaller clients through online platforms, ranging from local farmers to multinationals such as Grolsch and KLM.” Vunderink only employs staff for service and maintenance, while sales are managed fully online. “I sometimes joke that my ‘sales staff’ are never sick and do not require a pension or a company car.”
Terms, conditions, and costs
Check out the terms and conditions of the platform you are using. Sometimes you pay a fixed fee per month (subscription fee) for these types of business accounts. In some cases, you may be able to open your online store free of charge. You will often pay a fee for each item you sell; this is usually a percentage of the revenue and may vary depending on the product category. However, you will pay extra for extensions to the standard package, such as a link to your social media channels, a payment module, or a chat module.
For advertising, you pay an amount per click. Vunderink: “I make sure that my advert will be displayed at the top of the first page. Although I do pay for that exposure, it generates a lot of traffic to my website. Words with a high search volume have a high price; for example, I pay €2.50 every time someone clicks on the work ‘forklift truck.’”
One pitfall is that adverts will cost you more than you had imagined in advance. Vunderink shares a tip with prospective business owners: “You should decide for yourself how much money you would like to spend, and to do it as efficiently as possible. I currently spend between around € 8,000 to € 10,000 per month. While this might seem like a lot of money, it is not in proportion to my revenue for last year, which was €6.7 million. That does tend to make you see these amounts in a different light.”
There are rules in place for the transparency of online platforms. For one, platforms must be transparent about their general terms and conditions. These rules provide you with greater security for when you do business with an online platform.
As a partner of the platform, you can create your own shopping page, containing information about your online shop, contact details, and terms and conditions. Visitors will also be able to see how other users rate your shop, along with a list of your products and/or services. Be sure to put effort into your product descriptions. This means not only including the basic specifications, but also showing the benefits of your product and telling customers what they can expect when they buy the product.
Note: you must ensure there are sufficient stocks of your products. Some platforms will penalise you for any delivery problems, which could potentially result in a lower ranking on the platform. Worse, they may even proceed to close your sales account.
As a seller on online platforms and marketplaces, you also have the option to join Thuiswinkelwaarborg. They provide a certification that will allow you to compete in the market and attain a higher ranking on the platform. Your certification shows that you comply with the applicable laws and regulations and that your customers can file complaints and use independent dispute settlement services.
Many online platforms measure response times. For example, bol.com expects you to handle 90% of customer queries within 8 business hours. Van Lieshout advises new business owners to handle queries by email. “It is low cost, and you can save the messages automatically. Be sure to use a business account and clearly state your response time on your website, to ensure customers know what they can expect.” His winning tip: “If you create a FAQ section on your website, this will save you a lot of direct contact with customers.” The top 5 topics you put in your FAQ should include:
- Changes and returns
- Processing orders
- Customer accounts
Many online platforms also package and ship your products – this is known as fulfilment. Using this service will save you work, and you will pay an agreed amount for each parcel shipped.
You can choose to buy products from a domestic or foreign supplier and have these shipped directly to the online platform or the customer. This service is known as dropshipping. One advantage of dropshipping is that you will not get stuck with merchandise you will not be able to sell, while a disadvantage is that you will not actually see the merchandise yourself, which means you have no control over the quality of the products.
Please note: if you import and sell products through an online platform, you are personally responsible for the safety of these products. Avoid marketing unsafe . The platform can take merchandise offline, and the NVWA (Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority) can require that you withdraw the products or impose a fine on you.
Be findable online
Creating an account on the online platform is not everything: you also need an online strategy to reach your customers and incite them to buy your products.
“Learn about your audience: who are my customers? If you sell smart watches, you are probably catering for seniors who are looking to get more physical exercise,” Van Lieshout says. “The ‘About Us’ page on your website is the perfect place for you to show your customers who you are and what you represent. Use language appropriate to your audience and give them information on the things they find important – for example, that you sell only sustainable products.”
Search terms are important when it comes to people finding your website, as well as for sales through an online marketplace. “When you get started, do some research on the platform first,” Vunderink says. “What keywords are customers looking for? You should use these words in your advertisement. Avoid a scattergun approach; initially, you should focus on your bestselling products.”
Data is your friend
You can use an online platform to drive more traffic to your website. Vunderink: “Data is your friend. You should design your online shop in a way that you can see where your visitors come from. It provides you with valuable information: you can see through what platform a visitor ends up on your website, which in turn tells you what to do, such as increasing or reducing your budget for a specific platform or a specific product.”
Many platforms use a review system for users. Vunderink: “One thing I underestimated is the importance of reviews. I have noticed that this has become increasingly important of late, to the point where people allow reviews to influence their decisions. You should therefore ask your customers to write a review (in Dutch). Even if they are negative, you can still learn from them.”
Stevens: “Businesses can benefit in particular from seasonally driven items. Our platform mirrors society. We see what trends there are in the market: it might be time to offer garden furniture, or Pokémon cards might suddenly become popular again. There are opportunities to be had there for businesses, because what private individuals offer does not always correspond to demand. For example, private sellers do not sell air-conditioning units when it is very hot outside, but there is still a demand for it. We share this type of valuable information about supply and demand with businesses, which makes it easier for them to respond to customer demand.”
Bol.com and Chamber of Commerce registration number
If you intend to sell products, for example through the bol.com partner programme, you are required to meet to a number of terms and conditions. One of these conditions is that you must be registered with the Chamber of Commerce. Sometimes, you need to be at least 18 years of age to open a business/professional account with a sales platform. You do not need to be 18 years of age to register with the Chamber of Commerce. You should therefore read the platform’s terms and conditions carefully.
If you plan to register with the Chamber of Commerce, schedule an appointment online. You get to choose the date, time, and place. Registering your business costs €51.95. After registration, you will be given your Chamber of Commerce number right away. Sometimes a platform will only accept your application after a specific number of weeks (maximum 10 at bol.com) after you have registered with the Chamber of Commerce.
After registration, KVK will share your details with the tax authorities, who will send you your VAT ID and VAT number by post within two weeks.
For specific product groups, platforms such as Amazon and bol.com require that the brand under which you sell your products has an official registration in the Benelux brand register. You can organise this through . This is not always as easy as it seems; for example, you must first check whether the brand is not already registered in someone else’s name. The basic fee you pay for brand registration is € 244.
If you would also like to sell your products through your own website and develop your name and brand through this channel, follow the practical Online shop roadmap.