Why You Should Stop Hankering After Your Own Web Store

“I just need to get selling on my own website – there’s no eBay fees, no feedback system – I’ll save so much I could even set my prices lower to bring the buyers in!”

Have you ever thought that? Or heard other sellers say it? I’ve heard it many times, and don’t question that there are advantages to having your own independent web store.

But there are many differences between selling on the marketplaces, and selling through your own store. The marketplaces have the advantage in almost all of them. In this post I’ll explain why most sellers should concentrate their efforts on the marketplaces, and tell you about the few cases where it still makes sense to go it alone.

Why buyers buy from marketplaces

Technology has changed a great deal in recent years but buyer psychology has not. Buyers still need to be compelled to buy, and the marketplaces do a fantastic job of it.


eBay and Amazon are household names, but they haven’t been around all that long – it took a lot of effort and expense for them to get where they are. And they continue to work hard to bring potential buyers to their sites with advertising, search engine marketing, social media, affiliate programs, loyalty programs and much more.

Buyers buy from marketplaces because they know they exist, and there are many different routes that bring them to their sites.


When a buyer is browsing on a marketplace, they might see products from dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of different sellers. But the buyer doesn’t see it that way.

They just see it as buying “off eBay” or “from Amazon”. Do you often hear someone saying “I bought this off SellerXYZCo789 on eBay”? I doubt it. The particular seller they buy from is of little interest, as long as they satisfy a basic minimum standard in the buyer’s mind.

After all this talk of compelling reasons to buy, why don’t eBay and Amazon buyers care who they buy from? Don’t they need to be “compelled” any more? Actually, they need compelling reasons more than ever, but it’s not the individual sellers providing many of them – it’s the marketplaces themselves.

Buyers trust eBay and Amazon, even though they buy from third-party sellers, because:

  • They trust the marketplace to assess sellers and throw out the bad ones.
  • They trust the marketplace to put things right if they do go wrong.

And that’s exactly what the marketplaces do. The way marketplaces assess seller performance is sophisticated and comprehensive. If sellers don’t provide a good enough service, they drop down in the search results, have limits imposed, or get banned completely.

The marketplaces have strong buyer protection programs in the form of the eBay Money Back Guarantee and Amazon’s A-to-z Guarantee. When there’s a dispute between buyer and seller, these programs tend to give the benefit of the doubt to the buyer. That sometimes hurts the seller, but the buyer’s trust and goodwill is a big asset for the marketplaces. If it’s lost they might never get it back.

Buyers buy from marketplaces because they trust them, and that trust is well placed. The marketplaces have earned it and don’t take it for granted.


Buyer loyalty is where all the marketplaces’ advantages come together, powerfully.

Most of the time when I want to buy, I go to Amazon. Then I might try eBay. Or perhaps compare the two. Sometimes I’ll go to the website of one of the UK’s high-street retailers like Tesco or Argos. If all that fails, I’ll use Google, and I might arrive at an independent online store.

So finally I give the small online seller some attention! Actually, I’m only likely to have got this far because I was searching for the wrong thing at the larger sites. If I find the right product at an independent site, I’ll probably go back to Amazon and search for it there.

Am I an insanely loyal marketplace buyer to work so hard to avoid buying elsewhere? Is this rare? Unfortunately for the independent seller, it’s not. Even if you can get people to visit your online store, they often prefer to buy from another site they know and trust.

Why is that? Trust is probably the most important factor, but buyers who are loyal to the marketplaces also benefit from:

  • Not needing to register with the site.
  • The convenience and speed of saved address and payment details.
  • A consistent experience – they don’t need to learn how the site works.

Now “loyalty” is a strong word, conjuring up images of unbreakable, irrational devotion. But marketplace loyalty is entirely rational. Buying from eBay and Amazon again and again only increases trust, convenience and usability. Most sellers can’t break that loyalty with their own web store.

Buyers buy from marketplaces because they’ve bought from them before, and it’s in their best interests to buy from them again.

What’s theirs is yours

I’ve spent some time explaining why the big marketplaces have almost all of the advantages when it comes to selling online. Most small web stores don’t stand a chance. It’s unfair.

Or is it? Yes, the marketplaces have it good, but you can sell there. I can’t think of any other industry where the dominant companies willingly open their doors to every other business who can keep to their standards. If you sell on the marketplaces, all their advantages are your advantages.

  • The marketplace seller doesn’t need to advertise, because the marketplaces do that for them.
  • They don’t need to work so hard to get the buyer’s trust, because the buyer already trusts the marketplace.
  • They don’t need to create an attractive and usable web store, because the buyer already knows how to buy on the marketplace – and likes doing it.

Marketplace sellers can concentrate on excelling in just those areas that they need to – product sourcing, fulfillment and customer service for example. Marketplace fees are for entry to the venue, marketing, and access to millions of buyers who come ready and willing to buy. Is there any other business where that’s possible?

When web stores still make sense

A quick recap: most sellers with their own web store will struggle to create a compelling reason for buyers to buy from them, instead of marketplaces like eBay and Amazon. That’s most sellers, but not all of them.

What is so compelling that it can override buyers’ loyalty to marketplaces? There are several models that can, and do, work as independent web stores. But it’s not just a case of sourcing different product lines or writing a blog – these are completely different business models.

Under-served product categories

On eBay you can sell just about anything. There are some restrictions but most of those are items that would be immoral or illegal to sell anywhere. There are more restrictions on Amazon, even including categories like auto parts which actually require sellers to have their own web stores, or at least hosted product images.

The potential to sell products that just aren’t allowed on the marketplaces is very limited, but there are some categories which marketplaces don’t do well. One example is fresh flowers. Both eBay and Amazon do actually sell flowers, but it feels a little odd to buy them there.

Bunches is one online florist that I don’t expect to be strongly threatened by the marketplaces.

Personalized products

You can buy engraved or otherwise personalized products from the marketplaces, but they don’t fit cleanly into their shopping system. Amazon has even imposed limits on “novelty” items.

To buy personalized products on the marketplaces, buyers have to fill in a notes field or send an email after purchase. That can easily be forgotten or include mistakes, as there’s no automatic confirmation or preview of what the finished product will look like.

So personalized items are still a good fit for independent web stores. Trophy Store is one example of an online retailer in this area.

Your own unique brand or invention

Many marketplace sellers have unique products, either private label Chinese imports or combined “bundles” of other products. That may be enough to distinguish products from competitors on the marketplaces, but they aren’t really unique.

An online store can be successful selling genuine new brands. I think the best new brands target a niche of motivated enthusiasts – they’re not just another version of something that already exists. Good examples include Beardbrand and NatureBox.

Hobbies, causes or luxury products

Some products just work best when sold on a dedicated site. These are the exceptions to the rule, that many buyers would actually expect to buy from an independent web store, and would feel out of place on a marketplace.

Here are some examples that I think fit that model:

  • The Origami Paper Shop. For the origami enthusiast, the specialism of this site is appealing in its own right – it marks them out as someone “in the know”. It’s backed up by the impressive range of paper available.
  • TOMS. This company sells shoes on a buy-one, donate-one model: for every item sold, they give one away to a third-world charity. The message would be lost on a marketplace.
  • The Travelwrap Company. These are expensive cashmere wraps that would be devalued if sold on the marketplaces. The independent site helps convey that they are exclusive products from a specialist supplier.

In closing

Selling on your own independent web store is not a simple extension of selling on marketplaces – it’s a completely different world.

It’s not just because you have to generate you own traffic, but also because buyers trust the marketplaces, enjoy buying from them, and will only go somewhere else if there’s a really compelling reason.

But the marketplaces offer many advantages over web stores, and the majority of sellers who sell commodity products should make the most of them.

Finally, successful online stores can still be built. But only by businesses with unique business models, or that sell under-served product categories, personalized products, their own brands or inventions, or appealing niche products.


Andy Geldman
Andy Geldmanauthor

I agree it makes sense to diversify to protect your business, and there are some buyers that will go to Google first - but even then there's a good chance they will end up back on a marketplace.

For those who do sell through their own stores, I think it's important not to see it as just another channel. Marketplace sellers can do OK without having a particular niche or audience, but not so much on their own site.

Patricia Beattie
Patricia Beattie

I am so glad I read your article Andy. There is much pressure to have a web store with little thought of how to manage one - assuming you can get people to buy in the first place. I am a sole trader and haven't the time to devote to two 'shops' or to co-ordinate stock between one and the other. I am now going to use my time to try and increase traffic to my eBay shop through email, and concentrate on doing one thing well instead of two things badly. I have bought a couple of Domains for possible future use, but I will wait until I have a unique selling point before I think about opening an independent shop.

Jack Phillips
Jack Phillips

Excellent points Neil. I look as the costs of the various marketplaces as customer acquisition expense. You are going to pay to acquire customers on the websites also. In fact, there fees provide a good estimate of what to budget when creating your own marketing plan.

Bernard McNamee
Bernard McNamee

Great article and interesting discussion sparked....

Seamus Breslin
Seamus Breslin

Excellent article Andy.

Mark Hetherington
Mark Hetherington

Great blog by the way Andy, most people would simply trash a comment they didn't agree with so that's a very credible attribute that is rare these days.

Mark Hetherington
Mark Hetherington

Useful update, I actually dropped Amazon in July last year so had not heard about that one.

Good luck, I'll take a look over the rest of the site.



I think I am not even in the ring in this fight. As a reseller do you think I must get permission from my 8 suppliers to advertise their products from my webstore on any marketplace? And must I increase my webstore pricing to cover the charges exacted by the marketplaces when my webstore pricing is usually below my suppliers pricing in their websites?

Mansi Nigam
Mansi Nigam

Hey! thats a great article and also very true!
I'm doing a research project on this topic, i was wondering if you came across any research papers while writing this article.
Let me know


Hi, I have been tasked with investigating an Amazon store for our product. We have an established company in an industry that we are a known entity. We do have our own webstore and we do pay for Google searches. We are just no satisfied with the business we do online at this time. We felt that opening an Amazon store would give us more visibility. I have looked into our product (from our competitors) on Amazon and have not found any competition. I feel that in my company's situation we would clean up our own webstore instead of going with Amazon.

Do you have any advice for a manufacturing company that is know in our industry regarding an Amazon store?


Kiri Masters
Kiri Masters
In reply to Kiri Masters

Hi Tom,

Some manufacturers in your situation prefer to partner with a specialist consultancy that will help you launch your product assortment on Amazon.

My company, Bobsled Marketing, offers such a 'done-for-you' service. We've worked with manufacturers, inventors, and everything in between to painlessly launch their product on Amazon and start generating significant revenue within just a few weeks.



Thank you for this article. I just started a business selling costumes and really struggled with deciding which was a better route: personal website vs. amazon & ebay. I'm very limited in funding, and want to spend my investment wisely.
Even though these marketplaces charge a fee when your item is sold, I think this cost outweighs having to dump money into a website monthly without generating consistent income..at least in the early stages. Perhaps if sales increases, then considering a website would be a good alternative.



LOL Given example with paper advertising is not related to these days AT ALL. People now buy much much more online, you can setup facbook account (free), advertise on Youtube (free) and much more. But if you know how to use PAID ADVERTISING (Most people don't) you can start running IMMEDIATELY 50 000 - 20 000K monthly turnover on almost any item that you can find. You can run 20 000K monthly only with check Chinese bracelets so please don't tell me that have your own website is bad and it doesn't worth. IT DOES! The only downside is traffic if you don't know how to generate it but everything else is better then eBay or Amazon.

david heap
david heap

An excellent article but nowhere do I see what is actually a major point here. That is that the marketplaces, like Amazon in our case, actually own the customer. SO one's efforts to build a really valuable business are severely restricted. Repeat customers are a major factor in any "valuation event" i.e. obtaining an outside investment or selling or merging the company etc. etc. If marketplace revenue is a major part of your business it's really only a lifestyle business at best. It's definitely tough to build one's own website but if you're serious about making money I don't see any alternative.

Brian Arkton
Brian Arkton

To add on, there's a massive fundamental aspect one must look at. When selling on the marketplaces of eBay and Amazon, it will be run along the lines of eBay's and Amazon's interests. Sometimes policy changes will not align with your own interests and you'll be forced accomodate or lose your ability to sell.

If you're a seller on Amazon, it is most wise to use the success in that marketplace to expand your business into other marketplaces and perhaps even major retailers. Tapping into a major retailers marketplace will not only provide you with a more specialized relationship with the marketplace owner but they'll show interest in the sale of your merchandise since it has a bigger influence on them(unlike Amazon or eBay where it's not always easy to speak with somebody with sway in the company to help make things easier for you and there is always a horde of sellers ready to take your place).

Even if you don't think your own site can fit you while selling on Amazon, if you plan to expand, having a site at least with a core setup(say to serve as a database for product information and images) will come in handy because it's highly likely you'll evolve and expand to a point where it becomes more profitable to handle matters in-house than to rely on marketplaces.


Well I've just been banned from Ebay and my whole business was ran through it. No warning, just straight kicked off overnight. So let that be a lesson to anybody operating a marketplace only business.

Now you might think that I've done something really bad, but in the real world what I have done is trivial. Ebay don't allow you more than 0.3% of your sales to have cases closed by Ebay. This is for items not received, items not as described etc. If a customer contacts you and says that they haven't received their item, you then tell them to check their local sorting office and check with their neighbours and get back to you. The problem is that if they don't get back to you and instead contact Ebay then Ebay just refunds the customer automatically and closes the case in the buyers favour, this then counts to that 0.3%. In short they open the case and close it without giving you the chance to sort it out, case open, case closed without you knowing there was a case in the first place.

This happened to me 3 times in around the last 1,300 sales, but one customer had purchased two items in separate transactions so that one was classed as two. In a nutshell I was shut-down because my cases closed without a seller resulution rate was above 0.3%, do you know what it was? It was 0.33%. So I was 0.03% out of their rule and shut down and never allowed to sell on Ebay again. Everything else was completely fine, my returns rate was less than 1%, my feedback was 98.3% in a sector that is difficult to maintain perfect 100% feedback and the feedback comments were excellent with many saying that they would shop again with myself.

You have all been warned, do not build a worthwhile business on the marketplaces. For these reasons:

1. You can be shut down over night. No reasoning, just shut down. That means you lose your income and have a load of stock on your hands and still the costs of storage but without a way to sell it.

2. The business has no value. You cannot walk away after building up the business and sell it. If you build your own website then you can retire and sell it to somebody else, so your hard work has got value, even if the website doesn't make any money it usually has some sort of value. A marketplace only business has no value what-so-ever, you cannot sell an Ebay or Amazon business.

3. You end up living in fear of being shut down. I know it sounds daft but I am relieved that Ebay has shut me down. Everyday checking for bad feedback and wondering if someone is going to complain to Ebay is very stressful but you don't realise it until you don't have that worry any more. With your own website you don't have to worry about anything like that. You can have a customer rant and rave on at you about the most stupid of things but you don't have to worry that they will have a detrimental effect on your business, their complaints don't show on your website so no other customers see any unfair negative comments, nobody can shut your website down because of that one customer.

4. The marketplaces are all about being the cheapest. There is no other factor to the buyers behaviour, in general you have to be within 10% of the cheapest price or else you don't get a look in. This means you end up working for peanuts, often below the minimum wage. On your own website you have full control over the branding and can charge a lot more than the marketplaces because you look a lot more professional and like a proper business rather than a one man band selling from a spare room in their house. Ebay buyers seem to think that you are a volunteer selling not for profit.

So don't sell on the marketplaces unless you are just doing it for a bit of pin money and already have a full time job. If you haven't got a full time job then it's business suicide to just rely on the marketplaces.

Also don't kid yourself that you are 'testing the market' before opening a website. What works on Ebay doesn't mean it will work on your own website. So it's a pointless exercise. You don't even need to sell on Ebay to see what sells. Just open an account with Terapeak and that will tell you everything you want to know regarding the market share and the best sellers The only thing you should use Ebay for is to shift dead stock at a loss or as a bit of pin money on the side.

You have been warned.

Chris. (now living a stress free life : )


The ultimate problem with Amazon is that it seeks to reduce all product to commodity status.

Unless you are a big player, you can't compete on a commodity basis...that is, on price.

MOST products are not truly customized. In other words, most items are mass produced and if you are seeking income by reselling them, there is no way to effectively differentiate them on Amazon...from the guy in the booth next to you.

This is the real problem with the marketplace. There is nothing in it for most sellers. That is, unless you are willing to take a very big risk buying product or entering into contracts, only to be responsible for returns and making 1-2% per sale.

Don't forget Jeff Bezos has said repeatedly he is always looking to reduce cost to the buyer. Someone pays for that...and you guessed it...it is you and I providing products in the marketplace.

Take a look at the reward / punishment system for ebooks. It is very revealing. In essence, if you post a reasonable price for your wares ($15.99)...you get much less margin. It isn't to reward Amazon with a bigger check, it is to prevent you from charging much more than $4.99.

Not a fan of Mr. Bezos.

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