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Growing Your Offline Business Via eBay

Make the leap from brick-and-mortar storefront to eBay seller with these tools and services to get you on your way.

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Not long ago, Bill Rosinger had a dozen or so employees and a brick-and-mortar storefront selling photographic equipment in Amityville, New York. Then he began selling a few items on eBay. Today, Rosinger's business, Cameta Camera, is a Titanium PowerSeller (eBay User ID: cametaauctions) that may have thousands of listings open at a time. Most striking is the effect eBay selling has had on Cameta. "We went from 10 or 11 [employees] three or four years ago to 55 people today," says Rosinger, who ran his business for 20 years as an offline enterprise before finally trying eBay. After that many years in photography, Rosinger knew cameras. But he didn't know how to manage a sizable eBay enterprise.

Rosinger found help in the plethora of tools and services available for offline entrepreneurs who want to expand their businesses onto eBay. As Cameta Camera's business on eBay grew, Rosinger found it particularly challenging to manage communications with buyers.

"Let's say in a given day, 200 listings will close," he says. "eBay will send e-mails to notify the winning bidders. But I want to send my [customized] e-mails to tell them what to do next. These have to be generated automatically, and they're different for every person. I [needed] a system where I could automatically send out specific e-mails depending on the item the person bought." Rosinger also needed software that would update the status of an order, showing whether it was at the payment or ship stage, for instance.

Custom Business Solutions

For help, Rosinger turned to Tobe Goldfinger, owner of Woodmere, New York-based JDT Technologies Ltd., a custom software company and Certified Provider for sellers on eBay who find that existing off-the-shelf solutions don't quite fit their needs. "The biggest issue is often inventory control," Goldfinger says. "This becomes a real challenge if you're selling items that are available in limited quantities, such as tickets or antiques."

Inventory problems intensify when sellers use multiple channels to sell, such as a brick-and-mortar storefront and eBay. "On eBay, your feedback is critical," Goldfinger says. "And nothing upsets customers faster than selling them something you don't have."

JDT also helps sellers set up bi-directional information feeds with fulfillment houses; creates tools that generate custom, automatic listings from inventory information; sets pricing for sellers based on fluctuating sourcing costs; and more. "They basically ask us to build a customer tool that fits into their existing selling platform," Goldfinger says. And that's what JDT did for Cameta Camera, focusing on custom list strategies and order and inventory management.

eBay Tools

Custom developers such as JDT may charge anywhere from a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars for seller solutions, with ongoing fees for support, upgrades and maintenance. But there are quite a few tools from eBay and third parties that cost little or nothing and are suitable for growing existing offline businesses on eBay.

One of the most useful eBay tools for entrepreneurs is the Seller OnRamp Program. According to eBay's Katie McNerney, OnRamp teaches proven selling strategies through phone-based consulting. "We have helped thousands of companies acquire new customers and sell slow-moving inventory more efficiently," says McNerney. "Our research shows that OnRamp businesses are significantly more successful than other businesses on eBay."

The program is free. Any business looking to grow on eBay can call a Seller OnRamp consultant toll-free at (866) 304-EBAY. Seller OnRamp helps sellers improve listings to make them more marketable, giving specific suggestions on topics such as writing listing titles. They'll also consult on marketing strategies, including choosing the best day and time to launch a listing.

"We can also help them with cross-promoting within their eBay Store," McNerney says. If a seller has many items to sell, he or she can promote related items to interested buyers. Item listing pages will display a "See More Great Items From This Seller" box near the bottom, which shows other items available from that seller. If an eBay shopper clicks on any of the four items in the box, he or she will be taken to the item page for that listing. Cameta Camera uses this feature in its Store.

"eBay Stores offers a lot of different marketing opportunities," McNerney adds. For example, sellers can automatically send out an e-mail newsletter to people who indicate they want to receive it.

The Merchant eCommerce Solutions Center is another free eBay tool for existing businesses expanding onto eBay. It helps merchants with a wide range of eBay selling activities, from getting started with selling online to setting up an eBay Store. You can get instant online access to how-to information on many matters of interest to businesses selling on eBay. There are broad overview topics, such as developing an e-commerce strategy, setting up business operations and using PayPal. And there are valuable tips on the finer details, including choosing listing formats, taking advantage of programs such as PayPal Seller Protection, and even printing shipping labels from your home computer.

Certified Providers

Midway between custom software developers and broad-based eBay tools such as Seller OnRamp are third-party, off-the-shelf products and services available from Certified Providers. These organizations are validated by eBay as having the expertise and experience to satisfy customers.

eBay Certified Providers come in two flavors: technical and nontechnical. The nontechnical providers help sellers design site templates, plot sales strategies and the like. Technical providers include custom developers like JDT, as well as off-the-shelf software and service providers such as Infopia, which sells Configurator, a product to help sellers create listings that allow shoppers to configure custom products--such as computers and peripherals--right on the item page. The tool from the Salt Lake City-based company has been shown to sharply increase sale prices, conversion rates and other e-commerce vital signs. With the variety of Certified Providers creating tools for eBay sellers, you'll likely find one that's right for your business (see Some services are free; others require a subscription fee or a percentage of the final sale price.

Paving the Way from Offline to eBay

The solutions for helping offline businesses grow on eBay continue to multiply and evolve. eBay's platform is morphing steadily with modifications such as the category expansion planned, at press time, for later this year. On a smaller scale, software developers and their customers are constantly coming up with new ways to smooth and automate the multitude of tasks required for growing a business on eBay. Rosinger, for instance, says he has dozens of ideas he is going to discuss with JDT Technologies. "We figure out what we need, I talk to JDT, and they build it. It's an ever-changing system."

Even while he waits for improvements, Rosinger knows he wouldn't be the owner of a star business on eBay today without the tools and services he has deployed to date. Says Rosinger, "We couldn't possibly handle the number of orders we do--and handle them as well as we do--without the software to back us up."

Mark Henricks writes on business and technology for leading publications and is author of Not Just a Living.