The IAMTHELAB Guide to Creating an Online Marketplace: Part 1 – Why build your own storefront

This is the first post in a series on creating your own online marketplace. I’ve had the privilege of working with makers and artists from around the globe and many of them have built successful e-commerce business. In this series, I’m going to share with you all that I have learned and observed over the past 10 years. This series will cover the following topics:

  1. Why build your own storefront
  2. What platforms are available
  3. Own your domains
  4. Manage your own wholesale website
  5. Mastering Social Media
  6. Get offline
  7. Affiliate programs
  8. Collaborating with Other Makers
  9. Shipping, Taxes and Customer Service Tools
  10. Stay Inspired

E-commerce has changed the way we live. Think about it: in just 25 years we’ve seen the rise of Amazon, the online behemoth that has altered the way we shop for everything. It sure seems like everyone shops there. Other platforms have had mixed success. For instance, Etsy, which was once the single most potent place for makers to mingle with customers, has now become a victim of its own growth. Then there is WordPress. WordPress fuels a large part of the e-commerce landscape with its Woocommerce plugin. Heard of Wix and Squarespace? Both are household names, with unmissable commercials flooding your television and YouTube. Makers and artists have flocked to both, taking advantage of their usability and price. E-commerce has also moved social media to adopt its strategies and tactics. Instagram is now a scrolling stream of products and ideas, ruled over by influencers, baiting us to purchase.

When you control your own storefront, you create an opportunity to tell your story, connect with customers on your terms and to showcase your products how and when you want to.

Why build your own storefront?

What’s clear to most of us is this: if you’re a maker or artist, your entire business model has been completely molded by this new paradigm. If you want to be seen and discovered, it appears to be absolutely necessary to embrace the marketplace as it is. It can be overwhelming, true. But in order to grow your creative business, you have to see things as they are and adapt to it. There are tools and training available to help you build your own space on the web. The reality is that we need to own our own real estate, or at least own as much of it as you can. One of the best places to start is with your own online marketplace.

When you control your own storefront, you create an opportunity to tell your story, connect with customers on your terms and to showcase your products how and when you want to. It may seem like a daunting task, but it is very doable and IAMTHELAB is here to help.

Before jumping into the technical side of things, let’s start with a little inspiration project. Can you pull together a list of 5 online shops that you admire? While you might be tempted to aim for the big dogs, I would recommend looking at the shops of artists, makers, designers, architects, and other creatives. I’ve found that the real roadmap to online success is to look to the folks who are doing it in the indie universe. These are our inspirers. A little lost for a place to start? Here are some places where you can find really well designed websites to serve as inspiration:

Siteinspire – Shop Category
Awwwards – E-commerce Websites Category
klikkenthéke – Shop Category

Here are a few maker and artist shops that I think are worth checking out:

Shoppe by Amber Interiors
Won Hundred
Air Poster
AR.M Anna Rosa Moschouti
Rino Pelle
SAR Studio
Drink HAUS
Florian Gadsby
Jars of Dust
Kristina Krogh
Hola Lou

While I love looking at what’s been designed and delivered to the web, sometimes it can feel overwhelming. If you are looking to start your own e-commerce website, it’s good to know what’s been done. It’s also not a bad idea to just start from scratch. With so many platforms to choose from, that can be a real challenge. In our next post, we’ll take a look at what’s available.


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