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Keep On Growing

Use eBay to better your business: test out products, vary your inventory, find new suppliers and more.

For storefront retailers, foot traffic is the key to higher sales. But when it comes to finding products to sell on eBay, it's all about the eyes.

As opposed to the limited floor and wall space of a brick-and-mortar location, retailers on eBay find new customers with good photography, well-written product descriptions and of course, great products, all of which buyers can see from their own computers at home or work.

"In a five- to seven-day listing, we'll get hundreds of people looking at a specific guitar," says Tommy Colletti, owner of The Music Zoo (eBay User ID: themusiczoo), a high-end guitar shop in Little Neck, New York. "At my store, it might take a year just to get 100 [people] to look." Colletti's specialty and custom guitars can cost thousands of dollars, which limits his regional customer base. Now, as The Music Zoo is booming online, musicians can find--and buy--his products from anywhere in the world. After almost four years on the site, Colletti, 41, reaps sales of up to $75,000 a month. "eBay just kick-started everything for us," he says.

Many retailers keep separate inventories for their physical stores and what they show on eBay. For these businesses, eBay is mostly a way to diversify, test out new products to gauge demand, reduce inventories of seasonal or outdated merchandise and unload product returns and irregulars.

Experimenting with new products often brings retailers to new suppliers, including different wholesalers, distributors and manufacturers. Trade shows provide a quick immersion in a new market and instant access to hundreds of new contacts. Online wholesale portals are another useful source, as is eBay itself, where you can find job lot sellers in a variety of product categories.

If diversification is the goal, many retailers will find that eBay can help narrow down which products to source. Greg Holden, a writer and eBay PowerSeller in Chicago (eBay User ID: byte-writer), suggests using eBay as a market research tool before expanding to different brand types. First, he says, choose the product type, then search for completed items using a specific price range. "This enables you to see what people really like on eBay," says Holden, author of 1000 Best eBay PowerSeller Secrets. "The more research you do, the more items you'll find that regularly sell for hundreds of dollars."

But sticking to the tried-and-true works, too. Colletti's online and store-based inventory is about the same, but he does notice that some items do better in the eBay Marketplace than others. "If it's a specialty piece, we think 'this is perfect for eBay,'" says Colletti. "[At the store], it will get lost among the 1,000 other guitars we have."

Sometimes the shift to online commerce is an adjustment for the suppliers of established retailers. Colletti says he was surprised by the reluctance of some manufacturers. "Some of them think it makes the product look cheap," says Colletti, who overcomes this obstacle by promising not to list items below the manufacturer's suggested retail price. "My response to that is I never saw a Ferrari on eBay I thought was cheap."

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