For businesses using eBay on a regular basis to move merchandise, the advent of eBay Stores was a great step forward, organizing all their auction-style and fixed-price offerings in one online location. Still, while this powerful tool allowed retailers to tap into the massive traffic coming and going on eBay, it didn't offer them an opportunity to create their own branded e-commerce presence that could be marketed independently.
That's where ProStores comes in. Launched in June 2005, ProStores is a complete e-commerce solution for businesses that want an online presence independent of their eBay offerings. While eBay Stores are distinctly eBay-right down to the familiar multicolored logo in the upper left-hand corner--ProStores offers vari-ous options for customization, from using a wizard and selecting template options to using the Design Studio editor, or third-party design tools like Macromedia Dreamweaver. For regular eBay merchants, a key benefit is that products on ProStores sites can easily be listed on eBay.
In July, Big Bearing Store, a Memphis, Tennessee, wholesale distributor of ball bearings and chains (eBay User ID: bearingsandchain), launched a ProStores web store in addition to its eBay Store. In less than four months, the ProStores site's sales were averaging more than $10,000 per month, while the eBay Store's volume was approximately half that amount. Combined, the company expects sales of more than $200,000 over the next year, with the majority of sales from its ProStores presence.
"There are some people who, when they go online to find something, go directly to eBay, but there are a lot of people who go directly to search engines.... Now, we reach all of those people," says Kevin Carnell, 22, who founded Big Bearing Store with Mike Anderson, 54.
According to Julian Green, director of ProStores, the comprehensive suite of e-commerce capabilities that ProStores offers, including shopping cart functionality, credit card processing and PayPal integration, allows e-tailers to build their own online brand, complete with automatic search engine optimization, while easily maintaining listings on eBay. "It's the best of both worlds," says Green.
Green also references the fact that ProStores offers an intuitive wizard function that allows sellers to configure their own professional-looking websites from 180 different templates. ProStores Design Services is also available for an additional fee, offering a professional design team that will create a fully customized web store.
Donny Lowy, author of Secrets of eBay, says ProStores offer a more polished appearance than typical eBay Stores and allow retailers more flexibility in listing their product offerings. "You can set up categories based on volume [and] search through your store based on different criteria," he explains. "An eBay Store is a page that rests on the eBay site. If you have 100 products on [an] eBay Store, you haven't created any more natural listings on search engines. With a ProStores [site], you potentially have 100 search engine listings driving traffic to your site."
ProStores is offered in four tiers, with increasing options and prices. Sellers pay a per-sale commission of 0.5 percent per transaction (1.5 percent at the Express level). All tiers have a one-month free trial. The tiers are:
- ProStores Express ($6.95 per month) allows the seller to list up to 10 unique items, and it offers easy interface with eBay as well as the ability to create shipping charts and customer path tracking and analysis reports.
- ProStores Business ($29.95 per month) offers an unlimited number of product listings, 50 unique e-mail addresses, 5GB storage space and 50GB per month of data transfer. This is also the first level that offers a personalized domain; 24/7 phone support; real-time credit card processing; and FedEx, UPS, USPS and Canada Post shipping options.
- ProStores Advanced ($74.95 per month) offers 100 unique e-mail addresses, 10GB storage space and 200GB per month of data transfer. After login, unique customer pricing can be displayed, allowing you to offer your best customers special discounts and loyalty promotions. You can also track inventory of products by attribute and offer payment options such as purchase orders, internal department orders and c.o.d. orders, as well as automatic repeat billing options for regular orders or subscriptions.
- ProStores Enterprise ($249.95 per month) provides the highest level of customization possible. In addition to all lower-level ProStores features, you get supplier integration, advanced inventory management and sales management functions, as well as 200 unique e-mail addresses, 20GB storage and 400GB of data transfer per month.
Green says ProStores is also integrated with QuickBooks, which allows retailers to quickly update their accounting system with inventory and pricing information. Green also points out that some companies continue to find success using both a ProStores web store and an eBay Store concurrently.
"They do well enough that we'll keep them both," says Carnell, who still relies on both solutions. "But we can more effectively market the ProStores [web store]."
Ready to Go Pro Yet?
When is it time to upgrade to a ProStores web store? You might be ready if...
- You want your e-tailing business to have its own domain name.
- You want to cultivate a brand image.
- Your e-business is growing, and you want a more professional appearance.
- You need the capability to offer special promotions to your online customers.
- You need to better track customer orders.
- You need to more easily sync orders with your QuickBooks program.
- You want to create e-mail campaigns for buyers through your website.
- You want to more effectively market your business on the internet.
- Your sales would benefit from submitting your products to shopping search engines like Froogle, Shopping.com and Yahoo! Shopping.
- You've developed a base of repeat customers or are prepared to use the tools needed to acquire customers online.
- You would like your customers to be able to choose shipping options and track orders from your site.