Transitioning From Offline to Online Selling

Taking your business onto eBay can be profitable, but heed an expert's advice on doing it right.

By Nichole L. Torres

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're already a success in your brick-and-mortarbusiness--you have a loyal following for your product--but mightthere be room for some online growth in your business? In otherwords, could eBay be the answer to expanding your offline businessinto the online world? Absolutely, according to Jay Fiore, seniormanager of eBay Business Marketing. He cites many examples ofbrick-and-mortar entrepreneurs building their businesses with aneBay component. Entrepreneurs might sell refurbished or used itemsonline, or even try to sell slow-moving inventory on eBay.

The first step for any entrepreneur, says Fiore, is tofamiliarize yourself with the workings of eBay. "Simply get toknow the marketplace. Go to, register, buy something and sellanything--it doesn't matter what," says Fiore. "Get asense of what the buy-side and sell-side experiences are."Also, spend as much time as you can browsing the myriad sellerresources on the site, including Seller Central and the newMerchant eCommerce Solutions Center. Even though you know yourexisting product and business well, you should treat your new eBayexpansion as a new business and research everything from how muchitems like yours are selling for to the mechanics of a successfullisting. Fiore especially suggests looking through historicallistings. Search for "Completed Listings" to get an ideaof what types of listings reap the most success.

Once you have the eBay basics down, decide what you're goingto sell. Creativity can help with your product sourcing--it workedfor the eBay seller who lists trade-in jewelry from his offlinejewelry store. And while you can always sell used, slow-moving orsurplus products from your offline store on eBay, you can find newproduct sources as you grow. "One of our larger sellers beganby selling used restaurant equipment," says Fiore. "As helooked for ways to expand his business, he found offshoremanufacturers who were eager to find a seller to introduce them tothe U.S. market."

Be aware, however, of how different selling on eBay can be fromoffline selling, notes Fiore. Be prepared to offer excellentcustomer service (answering e-mail questions promptly, for example)and top-notch descriptions of your products (definitely longer andmore in-depth than a classified ad in a newspaper, for instance)."Many businesses that look to adopt eBay as a channeldon't take the time to research average selling prices fortheir items," Fiore warns. "For example, to be successfulwith auction-style listings, you often need to start the biddingsignificantly lower than what you'd expect the final price tobe. But many businesses are unwilling to trust the market andconsequently set start prices too high to be compelling to mosteBay buyers."

Still not sure your product will sell on eBay? Check out forinformation about what's hot and what's being merchandisedat any given time by eBay. "[eBay] also offers listings ofcategories and products where bid-to-item ratios are high anddemand is outpacing supply," says Fiore. "We also publishinformation on top searches and most-watched items."

Now, armed with all that knowledge, check out your stockroom forproducts, and go forth and sell.

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