If You Build It
With more than 222 million registered users trading $1,590 worth of goods every second, businesses have been increasingly realizing the power of eBay, a global marketplace that allows them to reach more customers than they ever thought possible. However, if you think of eBay as just its signature auction-style listings, it's time to explore the multitude of tools that eBay has developed to help businesses sell more stuff.
These seven savvy entrepreneurs did just that. Taking advantage of everything from eBay's charitable giving tools to its relatively new eBay Express and ProStores offerings, they have tapped new marketing opportunities that have had a positive impact on each of their businesses.
Getting Ahead by Giving Back
Kim MacBeth looked around at a sea of pink. From nightgowns to loungewear to swimwear, it seemed as though every manufacturer had a thing for pink last fall, and the owner of Le-Papillon (eBay User ID: no_cal_girl), a Los Gatos, California, online lingerie shop, started to get an idea. "Pink has become the color that everyone thinks of for breast cancer awareness," explains MacBeth, 46. "Most of my customers are women, and I feel strongly about advanced research, so I thought it would be a good idea to do some good." So MacBeth created "Pretty in Pink," a promotion that donated 50 percent of her October 2006 eBay sales proceeds to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation in San Francisco. Her first step to get up and running was the eBay Giving Works section of the eBay site. Powered by MissionFish, eBay's charity solution provider, eBay Giving Works lets merchants conveniently donate a portion of their proceeds to one of nearly 10,000 different charities.
"The record-keeping aspect is very simple," explains MacBeth. "[eBay] automatically bills you for the donation. Setting it up is really easy: You just click on the icon, and you can select the charity."
MacBeth found that her good deed also had some marketing clout. Her promotion ended up landing her on the eBay Giving Works main page, and at the beginning of the promotion, her page views nearly doubled from 1,600 to 3,000 a day. She found that visitors were spending more than the average of 30 minutes in her Store. And although sales remained within her typical range, she found that people were bidding relatively higher--sometimes more than 50 percent of the suggested retail price. (MacBeth usually gets approximately 30 percent of retail price on her items.) The higher bids kept her profits intact, while enabling her to make a $550 donation to the Komen Foundation.
Now, MacBeth is sold on selling for charity, looking for unique ways she can make a difference. "I think it put me in a different class," she says. "My buyers view me in a different light because I'm trying to do something good. I received a lot of heartfelt stories from people who bid, and [I] ended up getting a lot of new prospects and a new opportunity to communicate with my customers."
When Jack Sheng first read about eBay Express, it seemed a little too good to be true. He could promote his vast array of electronics along with all of eBay's other A-list merchants on one site that offered an easy shopping interface grouped in categories, as well as a single checkout function. Best of all, he could sign up for no extra cost.
"It was a no-brainer," says the 31-year-old founder of El Monte, California, electronics e-tailer EforCity.com (eBay User ID: eforcity). "It was easy for us to launch--literally, just the click of a button. And it was an opportunity to capitalize on what we already pay and help incremental sales without any additional cost."
eBay Express is more like an online mall than an online marketplace. Most products are new and offered at a fixed price from participating eBay Express merchants. Participating merchants are all eBay sellers with a 98 percent or higher positive feedback rating who also have a Premier or Business PayPal account, ensuring an additional level of comfort with the transaction. An easy product search interface helps users find offerings within various categories, and customers can fill their shopping carts and check out one time instead of having to shop individually from each merchant.
Sheng says that his company saw an increase in sales within two months of signing up for eBay Express. This additional sales platform cost him nothing, he adds, and will continue to expand as eBay continues to promote eBay Express, attracting more shoppers.
What about being positioned with the competition? It doesn't bother Sheng a bit. "The competition will always be there," he says. "The trick is not to find a place where there's no competition, but a place that has lots of eyeballs. It's actually a good thing to create choice and compare prices and find the best deal out there. That's how customers learn about you and keep coming back."
Jody Rogers and partner Asad Bangash, both 33, had been experimenting with selling on eBay part time for two years when they went to eBay Live!, eBay's annual conference, in New Orleans in 2003. Inspired, they decided to launch an eBay Store and make their women's ethnic accessories business, Beachcombers (eBay User ID: beachcombers!), a full-time endeavor.
"It gave our customers a destination to find us," says Rogers. "It made us start branding ourselves and marked the transition to becoming a business--not just a seller, but a business." Rogers found that giving the business a home base allowed it to expand. The Altamonte Springs, Florida, company now does more than $200,000 annually and has a small warehouse space, although its operations are still homebased. Since its launch as an eBay Store in 2003, Beachcombers has developed an independent web presence and also sells its wares on other online storefronts.
The biggest challenge to launching the Store, Rogers says, was determining an adequate amount of inventory. This is a common mistake of budding eBay Store entrepreneurs, she says. She and Bangash opted to stock approximately 150 items, which ranged from bracelets to henna to shoes. At one point, their inventory surged to more than 600 units, but the company offers about 400 units today, which Rogers says is a good fit for them.
"It's really important to keep up with what's going on with eBay," she advises. "It's constantly coming out with more opportunities for promotion. It just expanded the amount of space we have in the promotion box. It has search engine optimization options that help people who aren't even on eBay shop with you. But for most of the [promotional features], you have to know about them to take advantage of them."
When the eBay Stores logo changed in 2005, Rogers and Bangash founded www.doors2stores.com, which calls itself "an educational effort started by a group of eBay Store owners to inform the eBay community about eBay Stores." Rogers says that with no promotion other than word-of-mouth, the website now gets 10,000 visitors a month and houses a directory of eBay Stores as well as a number of informative how-to articles for eBay Stores entrepreneurs.
Today, 30 percent of Beachcomber's sales come from its eBay Store. "We use eBay very differently from when we started," says Rogers. "We get about 200 customer leads each month from our eBay Store. It is still a very important part of our business."
Joining the Pros
Joe Altin, 22, had been in the cell phone business for years before deciding to launch online mobile phone retailer eGizmo.com (eBay User ID: egizmoltd) with Ian Aronovich in July 2005. But once the Great Neck, New York, duo decided on the business idea, they weren't sure what to do next. Then they learned about ProStores through a link on PayPal.
"There was a free trial, so we decided to try it," recalls Altin. "It took only a week to get up and running, giving us a very professional look."
ProStores is an e-commerce solution for businesses that want a customized online presence separate from their eBay listings. ProStores sites are fully customizable, allowing businesses to reflect their brand and preferences, with no eBay branding on their site. Available in four levels ranging from $6.95 per month to $250 per month, and transaction fees ranging from 0.5 percent to 1.5 percent, ProStores is targeted to small and midsize businesses that need a simple, one-stop solution for running their online sales.
Since taking the ProStores plunge in October 2005, Altin and Aronovich, 34, have found that ProStores' cost-effective and scalable interface has grown with them as their business has skyrocketed to 2006 sales of $1.35 million as of October. They have chosen not to integrate their eBay sales, although Altin says that doing so would be a simple matter, given ProStores' software capabilities.
The holiday season makes up 30 percent of eGizmo's revenue, and Altin is pleased that the increased traffic and orders are accommodated so smoothly. Seamless integration with UPS, the company's shipping provider, made getting merchandise to customers easy, even during high-volume periods.
Altin says one of the key benefits of ProStores is the easy item submission process to shopping sites like Froogle.com and Shopping.com (available for Business tier subscriptions and above). When eGizmo submitted products to Froogle in 2006, sales climbed nearly 7 percent immediately. He and Aronovich are impressed with ProStores' marketing and automation tools. "A lot of times, people who are starting on the internet are worried about search engine optimization," Altin points out. "ProStores gives you lots of options for optimization. You can also view your sales reports, see which items are selling best and which aren't selling at all. It automates a lot of functions like invoicing. It practically runs your business for you."
Make the Trade
Jerry Elzinga, 53, was so enamored with the potential of trading on eBay that he left work at his eBay customer support job to take on his own eBay business, Zzzzinga (eBay User ID: zzzzinga), full time. He had a background in retailing and had some good connections in the home décor sector, so he soon found himself with a profitable little venture on his hands. "Soon, I had people I knew asking me to sell for them," Elzinga explains. "So it [was] natural for me to become a Trading Assistant."
Soon after starting his Trading Assistant business, Elzinga made some big moves. First, he and his wife moved from Utah to Chester, Texas, a small town approximately 95 miles northeast of Houston. Within 90 days, his business tripled, mostly due to word-of-mouth promotion.
"It's a rural community here, so there aren't a lot of people who are Trading Assistants or who even know eBay," says Elzinga. "Once they heard that I knew what I was doing, they were willing to give it a shot and asked me to start selling things for them."
The eBay Trading Assistant Program advertises experienced sellers with good track records to help others sell their goods on eBay. To become a Trading Assistant, a seller must have sold at least 10 items during the previous three months, have a feedback score of 100 or more with a 97 percent or higher positive rating, and have an eBay account in good standing.
Trading Assistants usually collect a fee and/or percentage of the sale. However, the fact that eBay doesn't impose a fee structure on Trading Assistants, leaving them free to set their own fees for their businesses, is one of the great things about the program, says Elzinga. "It's open to every Trading Assistant to set their own fees and cover their costs, to determine what percentage [of the sale] they take, and to determine how they run their businesses," he explains.
Elzinga promotes his business by keeping his listing in the eBay Trading Assistant Directory up-to-date, as well as by hanging fliers in local retail establishments. When shopping or running errands, you might find him in an eBay shirt or hat, striking up a conversation with another customer about what he does.Gwen Moran is co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans.