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A Place to Call Your Own Once you've learned the ropes of selling on Ebay, it may be time to open an Ebay Store or your very own ProStores site.

By Laura Tiffany

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The nesting instinct is strong for some people. Eventually, selling on eBay just isn't enough. You want an online home, a place of your very own that you can tell people about, fill with all your items and decorate just how you want to. If you think it's time for you to settle down, opening an eBay Store could be the right move.

"An eBay Store lets you have your own e-commerce solution on eBay, complete with your own individual brand," says Rich Lee, marketing manager for eBay Stores. "You get exclusive marketing tools that help you attract and retain buyers."

By drawing customers into your eBay abode, you take them away from "all these items from different sellers to just your items," explains Lee. "The chances of you getting add-on sales or upselling items are greater."

The Basics
To open a Store, a seller must have a feedback rating of 20 or higher, be verified (that is, have a valid credit card on file) or have a PayPal account in good standing. Integrating PayPal, which is owned by eBay, into your Store has several benefits: PayPal is a fast, easy and safe payment method for all online transactions, and eBay customers are already familiar with using it.

The next step is determining which subscription level you want to start with. Here are the three levels and some of what they offer:

  • Basic ($15.95/month): This level is recommended for those who sell 10 or more items or at least $100 worth of items per month. You get dedicated customer support from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. PST; five customizable pages to explain your policies and otherwise connect with customers; 300 customizable product categories; Markdown Manager, a feature that lets you create discounts and sales; Selling Manager (usually $4.99/month); and e-mail marketing to communicate or stay in touch with all your shoppers.

    There are many additional services, including marketing features, available at all subscription levels that we'll discuss later in this article.

  • Premium ($49.95/month): Suggested for those who sell 50-plus items or more than $500 worth of items per month, this level gets you dedicated customer service 24/7, 10 customizable pages and Selling Manager Pro (usually $15.99/month). You also have the option of reducing the size of the eBay logo in your Store. A text promotion for your Store rotates through the eBay Stores front door, and you can access more advanced traffic tools.
  • Anchor ($300/month): This is the Big Kahuna for high-volume sellers in the 500 items/$5,000 range. You get all the good stuff we've already mentioned but more of it, including 15 customizable pages and a rotating store logo (rather than text) promo spot on the eBay Stores homepage.

Getting Started
Just like listing an item on eBay, starting an eBay Store doesn't require any technical skills or HTML expertise. Products you already have in a listing will automatically populate your new Store. Using eBay's Quick Store Tuneup feature (http://pages.ebay.com/help/specialtysites/customizing-your-store.html), you can easily choose one of 16 themes, add custom titles and pop in promotion boxes.

If you want a more customized Store, you can design your own using HTML or enlist the help of an eBay Stores Certified Designer. "[The designers] are required to take an exam [that] tests their knowledge of eBay Stores to make sure they [understand] our policies and how to customize a Store," explains Lee.

The next thing you need to consider is how you want to take advantage of the different listing options. In addition to auction-style and Fixed-Price listings, you now have Store Inventory items. Insertion Fees are cheaper (3 cents to 10 cents) and item listings can have an unlimited duration. However, the Final Value Fees are higher (tiered from 2 percent to 12 percent) and items have less visibility in the general search and browse results, compared to auction-style and Fixed-Price listings.

"There's a misconception about this where sellers put everything into Store Inventory format because it's cheaper, but [the items] don't always appear in search," says Lee. "We tell people it's good to list a good percentage of their stuff in auction or Fixed-Price formats so they show up in search. When people [view your auction] items, they'll see your Store and the Store Inventory format items that they might not have seen."

Putting Yourself Out There
Some marketing tools are automated, so you can just sit back and enjoy the results. These include your Store link and logo accompanying your listings; an RSS feed of your products; your Store's occasional appearance in the "Shop eBay Stores" section of search results; and, for Premium and Anchor subscribers, more frequent placement on the eBay Stores homepage. However, there are many more tools that you can proactively use to draw traffic to your Store. Here are a few choices:

  • E-mail marketing: eBay provides templates so you can easily send out messages telling customers about new items, sales and more.
  • Sales and discounts: The aforementioned Markdown Manager allows you to give a monetary or percentage discount on Fixed-Price or Store Inventory listings. A newer feature is a limited-time free shipping offer, which can apply to auction-style listings as well.
  • Fliers: Trigger repeat buying by creating promotional fliers to include with shipments, highlighting featured items or deals.
  • Search engine optimization: Improve your Store's page rankings in search engine searches by customizing your keywords in Manage My Store to bring in more visitors from outside of eBay. eBay even offers an incentive to use this and other marketing tools: If you drive qualifying traffic to your Store from a location outside of eBay, you could qualify for a 75 percent discount on your Final Value Fees.

Moving On Up
Once you're comfortable with the eBay Stores setup, you may want to expand even further. "A lot of eBay sellers are very entrepreneurial, and they eventually want their own off-platform store," says Lee. For those users, ProStores (prostores.com) can be a smart move. With ProStores, you have an independent website, but you can easily import your eBay listings into it if you wish.

The service comes with robust customer service and inventory tools, as well as advanced marketing features for your Pro-Stores store, like auto-generated SEO, product feeds for Google Base and shopping engines, and in-store promotion and upselling features. If you don't have the time or skills to manage it all yourself, ProStores offers setup, design and marketing services, as well as integration with outside vendors like PayPal, QuickBooks and all the major shipping services.

Michael Moran started selling his Thai food products on eBay and through a ProStores site simultaneously in 2006. But after two years, he decided to close his sales on eBay and focus on his ProStores website full time. "With ProStores, I can focus on directing customers to my own brand that I'm working so hard on developing and making successful," says Moran, 31, of his Atlanta-based company, CurrySimple (currysimple.com), which also sells products in specialty grocery stores like Whole Foods.

Moran designed his website himself, which took several long days of shooting product photos, writing content, creating the design, setting up a credit card system and establishing shipping rates. Moran credits ProStores' 24/7 support with helping him through any issues he encountered along the way.

Now Moran focuses on drawing more traffic and increasing conversion rates through Google CPC advertising, newsletters, SEO and PR, which all help CurrySimple bring in $150,000 to $200,000 each year from its retail site alone.

Laura tiffany is a freelance writer in Orange County, California. She can be reached through her website, lauratiffany.net.

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