Power Up Your eBay Profits

Know how to use eBay's tools and services to get the most out of your business on eBay.

By Sheree R. Curry

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

After obtaining a degree in architecture, Sarah Embry went to work designing commercial buildings for an architectural firm in Nashville, Tennessee. There was one storefront she never imagined she'd design, however, let alone quit her job over. But that's exactly what happened in 2001 after her hobby of selling equine accessories on eBay grew so quickly it led her to open an eBay Store that has buyers ponying up nearly $50,000 a month for her products--more than her first year's salary as an architect.

"Opening the eBay Store was a big boost for sales," says Embry, who, for the fun of it, started selling the horse tack she used with her own stallions on eBay. Her business, Green River Discount Tack LLC (eBay User ID: greenrivertack), expanded into selling new items she purchased wholesale until it grew to the point that "we were literally moving saddles to get out of our front door," she says.

Soon, Embry, 30, realized, "My day job was hurting my eBay sales. There was a lot more happening on eBay, and I saw more promise in that." So in 2003, she moved the business out of her home and barn into a Morgantown, Kentucky, warehouse. She now employs five others, not including her husband, Derrick, 34, who quit his construction business to oversee the shipping process for the nearly 1,500 items they sell per week at an average price of about $25 per item.

An eBay Store is just one of the many marketing strategies and tools Embry and other PowerSellers use to help increase their profit margins, whether it's selling $75 horseshoes, $7,000 6-carat diamond tennis necklaces or $6.99 Teen Titans action figures. Here are some tools that will help you increase traffic, lower overhead and drive profitability. Pretty soon, you just may make that jump from Gold PowerSeller to Platinum or Titanium.

Set Up Shop
This online marketplace, which sells more than $1,359 worth of goods worldwide every second, is about more than selling items to the highest bidder. Think of it as a shopping mall. There are niche boutiques and anchor stores. Shoppers who salivate over one of your items in a listing--perhaps even bid on it--will more than likely want to seek you out to see what else might catch their eye. It would be a lot easier for them to find you and be tempted by other merchandise you offer if you have a store for them to saunter into--complete with signs directing the way--than it would be if you were a street peddler, folding up your table at the end of the day and setting up shop somewhere else tomorrow. Thus the creation of eBay Stores, which provides just such an online experience. An eBay Store is one of the best routes to improving your profitability as an eBay seller. To learn more about setting up an eBay Store, go to www.ebay.com/stores .

Take It to the Max
Many sellers have found that a completely customizable eBay Store instantly maximizes their online presence for as little as the cost of one tall mocha latte per week. Weiser Jewelry, a medium- to high-end diamond dealer with a brick-and-mortar store in Manhattan's jewelry district, saw a big increase in sales once it opened an eBay Store.

David Nativ is owner of KaNa Global, a Kew Gardens, New York, business management consulting firm that runs Weiser Jewelry on eBay (eBay User ID: weiserjewelry). Although Nativ occasionally puts some of the jewelry up for sale in auction-style listings, he does so primarily to drive traffic back to the eBay Store, since most eBay purchasers first access the regular eBay search and browse results instead of conducting a targeted search of eBay Store Inventory items. Visitors who find Weiser through auction-style listings can link to the eBay Store items by clicking on "Visit This Seller's eBay Store!" in the "Seller Information" box in the listing.

Store sellers get cross-promotion placements on all their "Item," "Bid Confirm" and "Purchase Confirmation" pages. Such cross-promotion is advantageous to Store sellers, who can use this as a tool to draw repeat business. For example, if Weiser is selling a diamond-and-sapphire bubble pendant, it could also display other pendants that might interest the potential buyer. Or after a bid is placed on that pendant, it might display complementary items, such as matching earrings, on the "Bid Confirm" and "Purchase Confirmation" pages.

Make It Personal

Ty Simpson, president and co-founder of Ty's Toy Box with his wife, Heather, knows all about the positive effects of cross-promotion. He operates a website along with his eBay Store (eBay User ID: tystoyboxauctions) to sell hard-to-find preschool toy brands, such as Strawberry Shortcake wristwatches, tennis shoes and nightgowns.

After a stint selling Beanie Babies on eBay in 1998, he began his latest eBay adventure in 2002 as a result of trying to purchase some The Wiggles-branded items for his young daughter. He ended up buying a box of goods wholesale, direct from an Australian vendor, and began selling the items on eBay to other parents he assumed were also having a hard time locating the products in the U.S.

"From word-of-mouth and repeat buyers, we started establishing a name on eBay [as the place] to get Wiggles merchandise. After [the 2003] holiday season, I built a website while still selling on eBay, and this is how eBay helped jump-start Ty's Toy Box," says Simpson, 32. "eBay was starting to complement our website while we were extending the brand beyond eBay. Then we had two things going: a successful [business on eBay] and a website that was starting to grow."

Simpson is one of many eBay sellers who create and manage their own keyword-targeted advertising campaigns on eBay through the eBay Keywords program. When a user searches for particular terms, the results will show the advertiser's ad unit at the top of the eBay search results. This prime placement drives traffic to the seller's items or eBay Store, often resulting in increased sales. "You appear above all the other listings, and you have an opportunity there to grab a buyer before they start searching the listings," says Simpson.

Simpson targets terms like "Wiggles" and "Strawberry Shortcake" to boost traffic to his site. "Whenever anyone searches [those terms], it brings people to our eBay Store. It is pay-per-click and could run between 10 cents per click and 50 cents per click," he says. But as a PowerSeller and eBay Store owner, Simpson receives a monthly allotment from eBay to help cover the costs of his Keyword campaign.

eBay also encourages Store sellers to set up links to their Stores from other sites. For every visitor who enters an eBay Store from a promotional link on an outside website--whether it's the eBay seller's site or a third party's--store owners can receive a 75 percent credit toward some fees when that referral results in a sale through eBay during that visit. Plus, when buyers type in a Store's URL in their web browser, eBay's system automatically interprets this as a user coming in from an off-eBay promotion, thus making Store owners eligible for a Store Referral credit.

Simpson makes use of many such eBay Store owner perks, which help increase the profitability of Ty's Toy Box. Other eBay perks available to Store owners include promotional fliers and e-mail marketing, both great ways to reach repeat buyers. The e-mail marketing tool allows Store owners to send customized e-mails to buyers, manage e-mail lists, and create and send e-mail campaigns--between 100 and 4,000 individual e-mails, depending on whether the seller operates a Basic, Featured or Anchor Store.

Whether it's for a particular promotion or a regular newsletter, the e-mail marketing tool makes it easy to merchandise specific items via e-mail. "It drives repeat traffic to the website," says Carole Alvarado, director of eBay Stores. "We built that tool in a way that is safe for buyers. We have limits in that sellers can't send to the same e-mail list more than once a week." And buyers have to opt in from a check box on the "Save This Seller as a Favorite" page.

All levels of eBay Store owners can also further brand their Stores and increase profit margins with the free promotional fliers tool. Go to http://pages.ebay.com/storefronts/promoting.html to download templates for customizable and printable promotional fliers emblazoned with eBay Stores logos and space for sellers' logos, and insert them into shipments to buyers to encourage repeat shopping.

Using various communications to stay in touch with the horse enthusiasts who visit Green River Discount Tack is an important part of business, says Sarah Embry, who answers many e-mails from new riders looking for the right equipment for their horses. But she also puts phone and fax numbers on all communications and has found it has helped increase sales. Says Embry, "Excellent customer service brings a lot of people back."

The Tool Chest
eBay tools can help you save time and increase profitability. Once you start selling a high volume and variety of goods, it's imperative that the timing of each listing is optimal, the price is right and the title hits the mark. Try these selling tools to help you increase productivity and profitability:

  • Accounting Assistant allows you to reduce manual processing by pulling eBay or PayPal transaction data, including fees, into QuickBooks financial management software. It also allows you to track sales and fees by customer.
  • Blackthorne Basic and Blackthorne Pro (formerly seller's assistant) allow users to create listings, organize inventory, track listings' status, process sales, send e-mails and manage shipping offline, making these tools great for easy access anywhere. Key features let you manage your pictures and save and reuse common information, such as shipping and payment details.
  • Picture Manager , eBay's picture hosting service, allows you to add and edit pictures for each listing. You can also see which listings each picture is associated with to determine whether it's safe to delete an image.
  • Sales Reports Plus help you identify which items to source and sell by analyzing your historical sales performance.
  • Sales Traffic Reports for eBay Store subscribers offer real-time reporting on page views for each of the listings and Store pages, including the display of the seller's most popular pages. Sellers can also view keywords used by buyers to get to their listings. Featured and Anchor Store subscribers receive additional information in their Traffic Reports, including path analysis showing how visitors move within their Store and Bid/Buy It Now tracking to help optimize their Store for bidders and buyers.
  • Selling Manager and Selling Manager Pro give you an at-a-glance snapshot of your selling activities and help you manage your sales. Features include bulk relist, which allows you to relist multiple items from the "Unsold" view of Selling Manager with just one click; e-mail templates, which let you e-mail buyers directly using templates for winning buyer notifications, payment reminders, shipping notifications and feedback reminders; and more.
  • Turbo Lister is a free listing tool for medium- to high-volume sellers that allows you to create professional-looking listings and upload thousands of items in bulk in one shot.
Sheree R. Curry is a suburban Minneapolis-based freelance business journalist who often writes on business best practices. Her work has appeared in Advertising Age, Fortune and The Wall Street Journal.

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