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Transitioning From Offline to Online Selling

Taking your business onto eBay can be profitable, but heed an expert's advice on doing it right.

You're already a success in your brick-and-mortar business--you have a loyal following for your product--but might there be room for some online growth in your business? In other words, could eBay be the answer to expanding your offline business into the online world? Absolutely, according to Jay Fiore, senior manager of eBay Business Marketing. He cites many examples of brick-and-mortar entrepreneurs building their businesses with an eBay component. Entrepreneurs might sell refurbished or used items online, or even try to sell slow-moving inventory on eBay.

The first step for any entrepreneur, says Fiore, is to familiarize yourself with the workings of eBay. "Simply get to know the marketplace. Go to www.ebay.com, register, buy something and sell anything--it doesn't matter what," says Fiore. "Get a sense of what the buy-side and sell-side experiences are." Also, spend as much time as you can browsing the myriad seller resources on the site, including Seller Central and the new Merchant eCommerce Solutions Center. Even though you know your existing product and business well, you should treat your new eBay expansion as a new business and research everything from how much items like yours are selling for to the mechanics of a successful listing. Fiore especially suggests looking through historical listings. Search for "Completed Listings" to get an idea of what types of listings reap the most success.

Once you have the eBay basics down, decide what you're going to sell. Creativity can help with your product sourcing--it worked for the eBay seller who lists trade-in jewelry from his offline jewelry store. And while you can always sell used, slow-moving or surplus products from your offline store on eBay, you can find new product sources as you grow. "One of our larger sellers began by selling used restaurant equipment," says Fiore. "As he looked for ways to expand his business, he found offshore manufacturers who were eager to find a seller to introduce them to the U.S. market."

Be aware, however, of how different selling on eBay can be from offline selling, notes Fiore. Be prepared to offer excellent customer service (answering e-mail questions promptly, for example) and top-notch descriptions of your products (definitely longer and more in-depth than a classified ad in a newspaper, for instance). "Many businesses that look to adopt eBay as a channel don't take the time to research average selling prices for their items," Fiore warns. "For example, to be successful with auction-style listings, you often need to start the bidding significantly lower than what you'd expect the final price to be. But many businesses are unwilling to trust the market and consequently set start prices too high to be compelling to most eBay buyers."

Still not sure your product will sell on eBay? Check out http://pages.ebay.com/sellercentral/whatshot.html for information about what's hot and what's being merchandised at any given time by eBay. "[eBay] also offers listings of categories and products where bid-to-item ratios are high and demand is outpacing supply," says Fiore. "We also publish information on top searches and most-watched items."

Now, armed with all that knowledge, check out your stockroom for products, and go forth and sell.

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