Selling stuff online has become the new "side business" of many Internet users, whether it's used clothes, vintage computer items, custom-made gadgets, or homemade cookies. There are numerous venues to do this without having to expend any brainpower (eBay still being the go-to source) but there are downsides to using those services—namely, there are so many people using them to sell items of questionable quality that it's easy to get dismissed as "yet another eBay seller."
But making your own e-commerce site is a huge pain and easy to screw up, isn't it? Well, yes and no. To build an entire system from the ground up might require more time and resources than you currently have, but you can easily fake it by creating a site to hawk your wares and by using PayPal as a payment processing back-end—and your buyers don't even have to have a PayPal account to buy from you. Here's a simple tutorial for setting up your own site to sell stuff with the help of PayPal.
First, it's wise to have a PayPal account already, but it's not required. The reason we recommend having an account is because PayPal offers a few extra tools for sellers if you have an account, like inventory tracking and the ability to save your buttons. However, if you are completely averse to this, you don't have to (but we question why you are already this deep into the article you aren't interested in using PayPal's services).
Through a series of way-too-many clicks from PayPal's main page, the "Website Payments Standard" section is what you're looking for for this tutorial. From here, you can choose whether you want to add buttons to sell a single item or multiple items using PayPal's shopping cart.
For the purposes of this article, we're going to set it up so we're selling multiple items, because we're setting up a store for clothing.
Click on the "Create one now" link under "Sell multiple items." Here, you can specify whether you're selling Products (we are), Services, Subscriptions, Donations, or Gift Certificates. Make sure you have the radio button chosen for selling multiple items, and give your first item a name. If you're going to use your PayPal account to help track inventory, give your item an itemID.
Because I'm offering the same item in multiple sizes, there's a handy way to customize the button with a drop-down for different options. You can specify whatever options you want—sizes, colors, different configurations—and prices for each.
But what if you don't want to use the ugly orange PayPal button? If you create your own button image in Photoshop (or some other image editor) and upload it, you can link that in the form for PayPal to use in place of its own button.
Once you're done adding in the rest of the options (i.e., shipping costs, any taxes you need to charge, etc.), you can generate the code for your button by clicking "Create button." What's annoying about this is that PayPal kicks you to a page with your code and an example of your button, but if you have decided to use a custom image, it won't show in the form, leading you to believe that your custom image isn't working.
Worry not—this appears to be a bug. When we pasted the button code into our webpage, the custom button showed up just fine.
Having a sharp-looking webpage for your shiny new button is actually the hard part, but we're not here to tutor you on Web design. Realistically, any webpage will do—even the most basic HTML will get the job done, although it doesn't take a marketing genius to tell you that your customers will react more favorably if the site doesn't make their eyes bleed.
For the purposes of this article, I violated my above rule just for you and created an extremely basic, ugly HTML page to showcase my "product." All you have to do is paste in the button code from PayPal in the right place on your page—it can go into a table cell or a div tag, or wherever else you'd like—and it's automatically linked to the PayPal shopping cart. You can check out the page yourself here, or check out the screenshot below:
Clicking on my custom "Add to Cart" button will add the item to the PayPal shopping cart and keep items there until you're done shopping. So, if you are offering multiple items (or multiple colors/sizes), people can browse all they want and add items to the cart just like they would on a "real" e-commerce site.
If you have multiple products across several pages, you can see how this would be helpful. And, if you're tracking inventory using PayPal's system, the count won't go down until your customer completes the transaction.
If you logged in with your PayPal account during the button-creation process, you can add quantities of each option for tracking later. In the below screenshot, I specify that I have one of each of the sizes and five "custom" sizes. This is helpful because when you run out of a specific size/color/whatever, PayPal won't let your customers order any more until you add more of that item in the system. It will also notify you when you are running low on a specific option.
You can also log in and modify buttons that you have already created by going to the "My Saved Buttons" section. From here, you can edit what you already have or create similar buttons off of your main template.
There's even a link on this page to show you a report of your sales from week to week, though this total includes other PayPal payments you have received from other sources (such as Etsy or eBay) and doesn't specifically break out the buttons from your website.
More importantly, you can customize your checkout and payment page from this section. This is beneficial if you want to make sure your customers remember that they came from your site and you want to make the experience a little more personal. In order to do this, go to Custom Payment Page Styles, where the PayPal style will be checked by default. If you click the "Add" button, you're brought to a page that allows you to change the header image, background colors, and more.
Now, when you try to add items to your cart from my shopping page linked above, it looks like this:
(And if you make your banner the correct size, unlike mine, it will actually appear in a more visually pleasing manner. It's supposed to be no more than 85 pixels tall.)
As we mentioned earlier, customers don't need to have a PayPal account to enter their credit card info and pay you for your stuff, so this is a truly easy solution to get your online store off the ground. There's another tier, called Website Payments Pro, that allows you to integrate the shopping cart into your own site and take payments without ever sending users to another URL, and it even allows you to take in-person payments, but this option costs money ($30 per month plus the regular transaction fees). The free service is good enough for most small sellers and those experimenting with PayPal.
Once you have things all set up, you really can do anything with the buttons. Years ago, I used this system to run an online T-shirt store and it worked quite well. Again, the most challenging part of this will be creating a smooth and useable website that will keep your customers interested and convince them that you are a professional, but you can certainly have fun with it while figuring out how to present your store.