This article has been excerpted from Expand Your Business Using eBay, available from Entrepreneur Press.
An eBay Store is a great addition to your selling arsenal. A store will provide you with a space within eBay's huge ecosphere where your prices are fixed, customization is easy and your competition isn't invited. Don't think of your eBay Store solely as your business's niche from which you serve eBay's existing traffic. Think of your store as a doorway into the eBay universe.
eBay's established traffic is huge, but it still pales in comparison to the larger shopping population of the internet. Your auctions and fixed-price listings are confined to catering to the shoppers already on eBay, but your store has the potential to reach out beyond eBay's borders and pull in new buyers. When you design your store, don't limit yourself to eBay by considering only the needs and expectations of eBay shoppers. Instead, plan to appeal to a much larger audience--the whole internet shopping population.
An eBay Store will provide you with many benefits. Not only will it increase your professional appearance and credibility on eBay, it will also make the more advanced marketing strategies possible.
Store items have fixed prices. This provides you with two main benefits. First, you can guarantee the profitability of every sale--something that can be tricky with auctions. And shoppers have more customary price expectations once they enter a seller's eBay Store--especially if they are entering your store from somewhere other than eBay. As prices are fixed, the buyers are no longer offended by retail, or near-retail, prices. They see higher prices as an assurance of quality and good service.
High prices no longer mean that they're getting ripped off or are losing themselves to the competitive environment surrounding auctions. They become shoppers again, not bargain hunters. This presents a great opportunity for you to list and sell your items for full price, just as you would through your retail store.
eBay offers three levels of the Stores program: basic, featured and anchor. The basic eBay Store is $15.95 per month and comes with most of the bells and whistles that the two more expensive subscription levels offer. The difference in pricing is mainly due to promotion and placement of your store within eBay. Featured stores, $49.95 per month, receive a promotional text link in a list of the other featured stores that runs down the Stores gateway page. Links are also placed in the "Shop eBay Stores" box of appropriate search results pages. Anchor stores are quite a bit more expensive at $499.95 per month, but they are granted 24-hour dedicated customer support, frequent promotion in the "Shop eBay Stores" box, and an advertisement with logo at the top of the eBay Store gateway page.
For most users a basic store subscription will suffice, though I suggest opting for at least the featured store subscription as an early promotional boost while getting started.
Before you begin building and customizing your eBay Store you should have clearly defined goals for the store. I caution you to not think too small during this step. Some sellers pack their eBay Store full of the items that they can't seem to sell at auction. They figure that because the listing fees are lower for store items, that this is a good way to keep them available without spending too much on unpopular items. While this may be true, it is also thinking too small.
Your eBay Store has huge potential. It is a full service e-commerce solution plunked right down in the middle of millions of shoppers. Search engines such as Google, Yahoo!, Live.com, Ask.com and others drive traffic into eBay Stores every day. Popular shopping sites, such as Froogle, Shopping.com and Dealio do the same. You should set ambitious goals for your eBay Store. The opportunities are endless.
The first goal of your eBay Store should be to reflect your business well. You should have customized design that incorporates and boosts your company's branding. Your logo should be prominent. Your company colors should be obvious. Your contact information should be displayed anywhere you can fit it. You should set up your eBay Store exactly as you would set up any non-eBay e-commerce store.
eBay shoppers are so accustomed to seeing stores built using the boring default template and color scheme that when they see some actual design and customization it leaves an extremely favorable impression. Traffic coming to your store from off eBay will be expecting to see some graphic design and may find eBay's default laundry list of items a bit jarring. Professional design is as important here as it is for your main website.
Appealing to Everyone
The second goal of your eBay Store should be to encourage repeat traffic. eBay PowerSeller Blue Star Computers does 95 percent of its eBay sales through its store. The majority of those sales are from repeat customers. Blue Star has proven itself to be friendly, fast and accurate. Their store is so well stocked, and their service is so reliable, that their customers have no reason to shop the rest of eBay for better deals. They just come right back to Blue Star's store.
Your aim should be to create a store that gives your customers no reason to shop elsewhere. To do this your store must be easy to use, helpful to the specific needs of your customers and well stocked with items at fair prices. In an effort to address the specific needs of their customers, eBay PowerSeller Trumbull Mountain Tack Shop has posted helpful articles written by the staff. These articles address proper saddle fitting, saddle terminology and the store's unique saddle trial ride policy.
Anticipate the needs of your customers and provide help in as many ways as you can. If a browsing customer finds your store to be more helpful, more attractive and easier to use than any of the other stores they've come across, you'll be the first seller they think of when they return to make a purchase.
The final goal of your eBay Store should be to pull in traffic from beyond eBay. With your unique design, your helpful tools, your informative articles and eBay's full-service sales platform, there's no reason you shouldn't be promoting your eBay Store to every corner of the internet. People all over the world are aware of eBay. It is an asset to you. Buyers know and trust eBay with their sensitive credit card information. Often buyers are skeptical of submitting personal information to the mom-and-pop e-commerce shops trying to make it independently on the internet. eBay gives your buyers a level of protection.
A custom designed welcome page goes a long way toward making shoppers who might be unfamiliar with eBay feel welcome. eBay's default store template shows a long list of all your store items as your welcome page. No independent e-commerce store would ever think to design a welcome page in this way. Shoppers are not used to seeing it--they want to see something more professional before they lay down their cash. The same design rules that apply on the internet at large, apply to your eBay Store.
One of the keys to capturing sales from both eBay and non-eBay shoppers is to use techniques that appeal to both. For example, while eBay shoppers may be accustomed to seeing quick-and-dirty lists of items, regular online shoppers may not. To appease both groups, build a custom designed welcome page that presents many of your items or categories that the eBay shoppers are seeking with the professional design that the off-eBay retail shoppers need to see. The last thing you want your store to be is exclusive.
Your design and helpful tips should not stop at your welcome page. Each store item listing page needs to be considered for both audiences as well. Include the usual eBay information for the regulars: shipping policies, return policies and accepted forms of payment. But also include a little hand holding for buyers who might have found you through Froogle and aren't familiar with eBay. Include a blurb for these buyers walking them through the checkout process. Explain to them what PayPal is and that they do not need a PayPal account to use the service.
The best thing you can do to help both eBay veterans and newbies is to provide your telephone number, e-mail address, photos of your location and some company history. Shoppers new to eBay are used to dealing directly with businesses, not through intermediaries like eBay. They don't understand what all the colorful stars mean and put no stock in "PowerSeller" banners or Store icons. Providing them with proof that your products are indeed from a legitimate business will make them feel better about making the final click. eBay veterans will appreciate having the assurance that this background and contact information provides as well--especially in the early days of your store when your feedback rating isn't yet off-the-charts impressive.
J. S. McDougall is the owner of Fruition Web Systems, an internet development firm that works with small businesses to create dynamic websites, databases and communication systems. He is the author of Expand Your Business Using eBay, available fromEntrepreneur Press.