How To Start Selling Online In Canada

Introduction

A few years ago, I started my resale business online. I had watched and researched what others were doing but found limited information and resources that covered doing these things from a Canadian perspective. That created challenges because let’s face it, Canada and the United States are two very different places, and while the basic principles are the same (buy low, sell high, and be nice to customers), there are some substantial differences between platforms and even customer expectations. This post will cover the basics you need to get started, an overview of some different platforms, finding product, bookkeeping, and shipping. This will be based on my personal experience and what I have learned since launching my business. This is not the “guide to end all guides”, but something I know I would have found helpful back at the start.

Topics Covered:

Tools Needed

Products

Platforms

Payment Handling

Shipping

Bookkeeping

Summary

Tools Needed

This section is exactly what it sounds like. At the most basic level, these are the tools/items you need on hand to begin selling online anywhere.

  • Inventory
  • Printers
  • Posting Tools
  • Shipping Materials

Inventory

I recommend having the items you are going to sell on hand. This means you have items in your inventory waiting to be sold. “Drop shipping” is when someone creates a listing for a product they do not have and when someone purchases from their listing, the seller finds another vendor and has this vendor ship the product to their customer. Confusing? Better believe it is. Therefore, I recommend steering clear of it. The biggest Issue with this is that if the product goes out of stock at the store you are going to purchase it from, and you sell one before ending the listing, you will have to cancel the transaction and have a disappointed customer. So, have the product ready to go. Best practise is to have the product you source and sell stored in your inventory system ready to be shipped once sold.

Printers

Having a printer to use to create shipping labels from your home/business is almost a necessity in this business. There is nothing worse than waiting at the post office with a dozen packages to ship half an hour before close with a line forming behind you while you hurry to figure out custom information and where exactly each package is going. To start you do NOT need a fancy label printer. A label printer is a huge investment compared to a regular printer and is a huge cost up front for something that only gets more beneficial when you are shipping a large quantity of product every day. You may already have a printer or access to a printer, so take advantage of what you already have before investing into equipment- your wallet will thank you.

Posting Tools

To sell online you will need a smartphone, a smartphone and a computer, or a computer and a camera. Most printers will need to connect to a computer, although some do have wireless capabilities. However, many programs to create a shipping label work best on PCs. The same goes for website creation and data entry. Sites and templates can certainly be created using mobile, but the full access of most websites is still only available on PCs. To take pictures of your product to sell you will need to have a camera (duh).  Most smartphones have one built in and by having internet capabilities, it is easy to plug your photos into your templates or have them shared to your computer to add to your listings later. If you do not have a smartphone, a camera can be used if there is a way to transfer information from the memory to the PC.

Shipping Materials

If possible, it is most convenient to have shipping material on hand for when a product sell. It can be a pain to have something sell, realize you have no way to ship it, go to a store to find materials, go back and finally package it, then drop off to the shipping company.

The following graph recommends what shipping material may be best suited for the type of product being sold.

Shipping Material Type of product
Poly mailers Soft clothing items; dresses, t-shirts, jackets, pants, skirts
Bubble Mailers Magazines Notebooks Some jewelry DVDs CDs Items that require an extra level of packaging to ensure cases won’t be broke or the item creased or bent
Letter Envelopes Sport cards Jewelry (if product is properly wrapped prior)
Boxes Multi-quantity orders Breakables Shoes Products that if creased or take any type of damage will be unusable  

Poly mailers are a plastic baggy-like product that can fold over like a document envelope and be sealed with its adhesive flap. They are sold in a variety of sizes, colors, and padding.

Boxes are the safest way to ship an item but are also bulky and the size of the box, regardless of weight, can add additional shipping charges. If you are using a box, it is best to find ones that fit your items in snuggly taking in consideration if they need additional wrapping. it is necessary to ensure there is not too much additional room in the box for the item to bounce around excessively as this will cause damage.  A product like shoes would be safe in a box wrapped in some tissue paper but an item like a glass punchbowl set would require everything to be wrapped individually in layers of tissue paper, bubble wrap, tape, and then the box would need to be stuffed to be sure there is no movement during transit. Reusing boxes is a great way to save on costs and helps eliminate waste.

 Before reusing a box be sure:      

  • Box is in good shape and there are no tears or creasing.
  • It is not flimsy in structure (cereal boxes are considered flimsy).
  • Ideally, the box would not be covered in graphics.

 Packing tape is very versatile. If you are selling on multiple platforms it is handy to have a few plain, clear rolls of packing tape. Some platforms sell their own branded tape and it can be confusing for a customer to receive packaging for one platform but the item they purchased from another. It is also good to have tissue paper, bubble wrap, and packing paper on hand depending on what type of product you sell.

Product

What do you want to sell? What are you passionate about? What do you already have prior knowledge of?

It is important to keep your heart out of your business. Just because you really love a special something does NOT mean you can sell it for a profit.

Example: you love home décor! You find a gorgeous pink glass vase you are in LOVE with. You pay the vendor $3 and scurry home to clean the piece up to sell. Upon further inspection, you learn the vase is not vintage and was mass produced in China very recently. Comparable listings on this product look to be in the $5-$7 range, and with excellent merchandising and customer service skills you may be able to sell $10. After fees, the time and effort you put into this one listing, and the emotional distress of waiting for the product to sell, isn’t a very sustainable way grow a business.

Having prior knowledge of a niche is crucial to avoid rookie mistakes. You do not have to be an expert in anything to begin selling, but to avoid big losses it is best to look up each product you are considering purchasing to make sure it will be a good buy. If you do not have data on your phone (I didn’t until recently), look up what products you want to sell to get a sense of what is doing well.

Items can be found ANYWHERE! Thrift stores, yard sales, your Grandma’s attic, online, in stores, dumpsters, Kijiji. It’s all about being creative.

If searching online some helpful keywords are: Wholesale, lots, bulk, and pallet buys. These types of deals won’t make sense to every business or for every location but does not hurt to explore all protentional avenues.

Platforms

There are many different platforms available for Canadians to use to sell their products online. This post will be giving an overview of; eBay, Poshmark, and Etsy.

eBay        
eBay is a large marketplace that can lead to products being seen by customers around the world. No longer being a place solely for auctions, eBay is well established, well respected, and has millions of users. The listing process is very straightforward. Starting, the site will give you a small quantity of listings- typically 10- you are able to do in order to establish trust. You will need to prove that you are a good seller and will meet or exceed customer expectations. You are able to do up to 50 listings for free (subject to change, and still has to be the limits you are allowed to sell in) and exceeding those 50 you will be charged a small insertion fee (depending on category you are selling in) unless you opt for a store subscription. eBay currently offers three types of store subscriptions and with these you are given perks, x number of listings for free, a quarterly branded shipping supplies coupon, and a few other incentives. If you have “free listings” you are then only invoiced once something sells. Invoices are due on the 15th of every month. eBay has a very low risk to enter, they just expect high quality photos, listings, and customer service. Items that do best on eBay are new, but the site will let you sell almost anything!

Poshmark
Poshmark is a relatively new app/site that has launched in Canada after gaining traction and being established in the United States. Poshmark is used for clothing, accessories, and select home goods. The app allows you to create a “closet” showing your items for sale and lets you post as much as you want with no cost. You are only charged once an item sells at a rate of typically 20% (some exclusions apply). These fees are taken automatically once your funds are released when the customer receives their purchase. Poshmark right now is only used for buying and selling within Canada but is expected to soon expand the marketplace and merge markets. There are fewer users, but they are searching within a niche. To keep your items near the top of search results, items within your closet need to be shared and this can be done as frequently as you wish, and “Posh Etiquette” is to share other’s listings too.

Etsy
Etsy is used for handmade or vintage goods. I do not personally sell on Etsy as most of my inventory is not suitable for the site. On Etsy you set up your shop with your logo, banner, and add your listings. If selling vintage goods, you need to specify the era of the item. Etsy’s fees include a listing fee, shipping transaction fee, transaction fee, Etsy payments processing fees, and a listing currency conversion fee. These details are best laid out at the website: https://www.finder.com/ca/how-to-sell-on-etsy.

Payment Handling

Each platform will have you set up how you want to receive payments. The platforms want you to win so if you are not set up for success, they will not let you post or sell something. For eBay (as of 2019, subject to change) you will need to set up a PayPal account. Totally free to do, just need to link a bank card to the account. It takes a few days to set up the account- PayPal will send you a few pennies and you need to report back to ensure there are no issues before transferring around larger amounts of money. They do take approximately 2% for fees and again it will take time to establish trust with the platform. Until you have established a strong selling history some sales will have the “money held” and will not be available until the item has been shipped and received by the customer. If you have a private website, you want to sell on or already do you are able to add “PayPal Checkout”. A big pro of PayPal is that it is well established and trusted so this will give potential customers comfort with where their money is going.

Etsy and Poshmark both hold and transfer money directly from their platforms to your bank account. There is no third-party payment processor that you need to establish a second relationship with. The downside is that there is no specific date that you will receive your money when requested. Poshmark it can take up to three days but being self employed and relying on this income three days can feel like an eternity.

Shipping

The most daunting part of starting my online business had to be trying to figure out shipping. My advice is to find one shipping partner and create a relationship with them. Canada Post is well established within Canada and can ship to almost every part of the country quickly, unlike some other services. I live in a rural area so my options were limited to begin with but some services like UPS charge a much higher price if you are not in a city. It is best to open up the webpages of the shipping providers nearest to you and begin estimating what the cost will be to ship across Canada, starting within your province and working your way across.

 Poshmark is a great platform to sell on because they have a deal with Canada Post for 12.99 flat rate shipping and once an item sells, they will make the shipping label for you and send it to your email. eBay and Etsy will however require you to do it yourself and gives you the options to sell worldwide!

Right now on eBay, over 50% of my sales go to the United States, and it took me MONTHS to work up the courage to give it a shot through trial and error!

Super Quick Overview of Shipping From Canada To The United States

Once you get the hang of shipping from Canada to the US, these basics can be carried over internationally. For this, I use Canada Post. Most trusted, easiest way to get through customs, and tracking is accurate. And yes, I absolutely recommend shipping using a tracked packet for many reasons but the biggest is that if anything happens to the package you know right where it is and when it gets delivered- avoiding most customer questions and insecurities. Without a tracking number (though most people are very honest), a buyer can claim they didn’t get the item even if they did and need to be reimbursed because there is no way to prove otherwise.

To get the obvious out of the way, go make a free business account with Canada Post. They sometimes send special offers and having a business account (that is free, just so we are clear) you will eventually hit savings tiers which means you get to save money on shipping just for having the account. Then using their “Shipping Estimate Calculator”, type in your address then see what the rate will be to send to one location in the US. If you’re not sure of the size and weight of the item you will send, use your best guess, and rule of thumb, it is best to guess a little too much than not enough.

Example: shipping one t-shirt is usually 22cmx22cmx2cm and around 300g.

The rate that you get will be the cost to ship to any location in the US. Do I know why? Nope! But such is life.

So, you list your item on eBay, you have the estimated rate entered for the shipping cost, and a US customer purchases your product! Great, now you can go to your PayPal account and create the shipping label. This is where you will need to enter the custom information.

The customs information is extremely straightforward. The form is one line per item, and asks:

  • Type of item (example: Men’s T-Shirt)
  • Quantity (how many of this item are you sending?)
  • The value of this item (how much did the customer pay?)
  • The weight of the item, not including packaging
  • Country of origin (where was this item produced?)
  • HS Code (see next)

The HS Code is a six-digit number and is used as part of a huge coding system. Canada Post offers an excellent webpage that walks you through the details of your item to find the correct code:

https://www.canadapost.ca/cpotools/apps/wtz/business/findHsCode?execution=e1s1

There is also something called the “De Minimis”. To summarize, this states at what cost will a person in a specific country have to pay in duties if over a certain dollar value. If this is to be charged, the customer will receive that when they get their item and be charged through their post office. If you plan to ship internationally it will be beneficial to search out what countries you will be sending to and what their specific rules are.

Bookkeeping

If I had one arch nemesis on this Earth, it would have to be bookkeeping. I am bad at carving out the time to do it and every year during tax time, I might be lucky to get four hours sleep during the entire month. To get the best information relevant to you, your province, and what you want to do, please please please, speak with an accountant. Most are wiling to do a free consolation and will tell you exactly what you need to do to have your ducks in a row.

The basics required are to keep track of your inventory; what you have in stock and what has sold, and when the year ends have a grand total. An inventory sheet should include the item specifics and what the cost of the item was.  A log of what has sold should include the item and the price it has sold for. Be sure to keep all receipts and designate a specific work space.

The program QuickBooks is able to plug into some marketplaces and is a great tool to help keep your record keeping organized. On the program Microsoft Excel you are able to create your own charts and have more control over the customization. It is really up to you and figuring out what will work best for you.

Summary

The Internet is a big, wonderful place.  Across an infinite number of webpages there are thousands of marketplaces, websites, and buyers looking for a great deal. With so many resources now available, anyone can create a business right out of their home using a computer and a bit of luck. I hope this guide has provided you with a bit of information and instill confidence in yourself to go forth and chase your passions. A little cheesy, I know, but with so many opportunities available, how can you not be excited?

Good luck! If you have any follow up questions or anything to share go ahead and send a comment!

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any of the websites listed in this guide. I am just the owner of Keek’s Boutique sharing what has worked for me and my experiences starting my business. That being said, what has worked for me might not work for you. Use your brain! Use critical thinking! Just promise me not to blindly throw things at a wall and hope for one thing to stick.