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 abrick-and-mortar storefront selling photographic equipment inAmityville, New York. Then he began selling a few items on eBay.Today, Rosinger's business, Cameta Camera, is a TitaniumPowerSeller (eBay User ID: cametaauctions) that may have thousandsof listings open at a time. Most striking is the effect eBayselling 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 beforefinally trying eBay. After that many years in photography, Rosingerknew cameras. But he didn't know how to manage a sizable eBayenterprise.
Rosinger found help in the plethora of tools and servicesavailable for offline entrepreneurs who want to expand theirbusinesses onto eBay. As Cameta Camera's business on eBay grew,Rosinger found it particularly challenging to manage communicationswith buyers.
"Let's say in a given day, 200 listings willclose," he says. "eBay will send e-mails to notify thewinning bidders. But I want to send my [customized] e-mails to tellthem what to do next. These have to be generated automatically, andthey're different for every person. I [needed] a system where Icould automatically send out specific e-mails depending on the itemthe person bought." Rosinger also needed software that wouldupdate the status of an order, showing whether it was at thepayment 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 andCertified Provider for sellers on eBay who find that existingoff-the-shelf solutions don't quite fit their needs. "Thebiggest issue is often inventory control," Goldfinger says."This becomes a real challenge if you're selling itemsthat are available in limited quantities, such as tickets orantiques."
Inventory problems intensify when sellers use multiple channelsto sell, such as a brick-and-mortar storefront and eBay. "OneBay, your feedback is critical," Goldfinger says. "Andnothing upsets customers faster than selling them something youdon't have."
JDT also helps sellers set up bi-directional information feedswith fulfillment houses; creates tools that generate custom,automatic listings from inventory information; sets pricing forsellers based on fluctuating sourcing costs; and more. "Theybasically ask us to build a customer tool that fits into theirexisting selling platform," Goldfinger says. And that'swhat JDT did for Cameta Camera, focusing on custom list strategiesand order and inventory management.
Custom developers such as JDT may charge anywhere from a fewthousand to tens of thousands of dollars for seller solutions, withongoing fees for support, upgrades and maintenance. But there arequite a few tools from eBay and third parties that cost little ornothing and are suitable for growing existing offline businesses oneBay.
One of the most useful eBay tools for entrepreneurs is theSeller OnRamp Program. According to eBay's Katie McNerney,OnRamp teaches proven selling strategies through phone-basedconsulting. "We have helped thousands of companies acquire newcustomers and sell slow-moving inventory more efficiently,"says McNerney. "Our research shows that OnRamp businesses aresignificantly more successful than other businesses oneBay."
The program is free. Any business looking to grow on eBay cancall a Seller OnRamp consultant toll-free at (866) 304-EBAY. SellerOnRamp helps sellers improve listings to make them more marketable,giving specific suggestions on topics such as writing listingtitles. They'll also consult on marketing strategies, includingchoosing the best day and time to launch a listing.
"We can also help them with cross-promoting within theireBay Store," McNerney says. If a seller has many items tosell, he or she can promote related items to interested buyers.Item listing pages will display a "See More Great Items FromThis Seller" box near the bottom, which shows other itemsavailable from that seller. If an eBay shopper clicks on any of thefour items in the box, he or she will be taken to the item page forthat listing. Cameta Camera uses this feature in its Store.
"eBay Stores offers a lot of different marketingopportunities," McNerney adds. For example, sellers canautomatically send out an e-mail newsletter to people who indicatethey want to receive it.
The MerchanteCommerce Solutions Center is another free eBay tool forexisting businesses expanding onto eBay. It helps merchants with awide range of eBay selling activities, from getting started withselling online to setting up an eBay Store. You can get instantonline access to how-to information on many matters of interest tobusinesses selling on eBay. There are broad overview topics, suchas developing an e-commerce strategy, setting up businessoperations and using PayPal. And there are valuable tips on thefiner details, including choosing listing formats, taking advantageof programs such as PayPal Seller Protection, and even printingshipping labels from your home computer.
Midway between custom software developers and broad-based eBaytools such as Seller OnRamp are third-party, off-the-shelf productsand services available from Certified Providers. Theseorganizations are validated by eBay as having the expertise andexperience to satisfy customers.
eBay Certified Providers come in two flavors: technical andnontechnical. The nontechnical providers help sellers design sitetemplates, plot sales strategies and the like. Technical providersinclude custom developers like JDT, as well as off-the-shelfsoftware and service providers such as Infopia, which sellsConfigurator, a product to help sellers create listings that allowshoppers to configure custom products--such as computers andperipherals--right on the item page. The tool from the Salt LakeCity-based company has been shown to sharply increase sale prices,conversion rates and other e-commerce vital signs. With the varietyof Certified Providers creating tools for eBay sellers, you'lllikely find one that's right for your business (see http://solutions.ebay.com). Some services are free;others require a subscription fee or a percentage of the final saleprice.
Paving the Way from Offline toeBay
The solutions for helping offline businesses grow on eBay continueto multiply and evolve. eBay's platform is morphing steadilywith modifications such as the category expansion planned, at presstime, for later this year. On a smaller scale, software developersand their customers are constantly coming up with new ways tosmooth and automate the multitude of tasks required for growing abusiness on eBay. Rosinger, for instance, says he has dozens ofideas he is going to discuss with JDT Technologies. "We figureout what we need, I talk to JDT, and they build it. It's anever-changing system."
Even while he waits for improvements, Rosinger knows hewouldn't be the owner of a star business on eBay today withoutthe tools and services he has deployed to date. Says Rosinger,"We couldn't possibly handle the number of orders wedo--and handle them as well as we do--without the software to backus up."