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Expand Your Retail Biz on eBay

Ready to expand? Turn to eBay to ramp up your sales--no matter what kind of business you own.

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Buyers of pricey Los Angeles Dodgers collectibles don'texactly line up at your door when your music, comics andmemorabilia shop is located in Joplin, Missouri. So when RodneySpriggs finds that one of his 10 Vintage Stockstores in the Midwest has slow-moving merchandise, he lists thoseitems on eBay to reach a bigger audience.

"eBay gives us a great outlet for higher-dollar items oritems that might not sell in the Midwest," explains Spriggs,38, who co-owns the company with partners Steve Wilcox, 39, and KenCaviness, 49. "Five-hundred-dollar Star Wars items might justsit in the store, but when we put them on eBay, we reach a wholenew audience."

Sales on eBay make up approximately 3 percent of thecompany's $7 million in annual revenue.

Spriggs expects the percentage to jump in 2006, when VintageStock plans to open an eBay Store instead of running individuallistings from each of the company's locations.

While brick-and-mortar retailers may not immediately think ofeBay as a viable selling option, Janelle Elms thinks every retailershould have an eBay presence as a way to unload inventory, beef upsales and even drive traffic into local store locations. Elms,co-author of eBay Your Business: Maximize Profits and Get Results,lives in Kirkland, Washington, and teaches courses on eBay selling,in addition to consulting with businesses to maximize their profitson eBay.

"I've worked with hundreds of businesses, and I'veyet to find a product or service that doesn't work oneBay," says Elms. "For a very low cost, you can get yourname out there, brand your business and reach an audience that younever dreamed of with a small retail business."

Tools You Can Use
Retailers can choose to run individual listings to get started, orinvest in an eBay Store, which creates a common area on eBay whereretailers can display all their eBay items, says Elms. The virtualstorefronts are available at different levels, each with a varietyof services, and range in price from $15.95 to $499.95 per month.Entry-level packages include five pages of customizable space,sales tracking capabilities and other features, as well as accessto customer support. Top-tier subscriptions for high-volume sellersfeature 15 pages of space and all the features of the lower-levelsubscriptions, as well as 24-hour access to customer support.

The eBay Certified Provider Program promotes access to a networkof technical and nontechnical service providers who are carefullyscreened by eBay. These companies offer services to help eBaysellers ramp up their volume. Nontechnical providers can be hiredto help with sales strategy, product sourcing and creativestrategy, while technical providers offer services such as customsoftware development and integration of an existing e-commerceeffort with the eBay platform. Certified Providers have extensiveexperience serving the eBay community, pass certification exams andprovide customer references, which are checked by eBay.

Of course, the eBay site has many basic tips and tools for thosewho want to get started or launch more successful listings. You canstart at the Learning Center, which offers everything from basicselling techniques to links to starting a business for the advancedseller. And like most other business functions, listings can beoutsourced. eBay also offers access to Trading Assistants,experienced eBay sellers who will sell your items on your behalffor a fee.

In addition, eBay has trained an army of instructors asEducation Specialists to help you get started selling. To find onein your area, check the Education Specialist Directory.

Extend your Reach

Making the Most of It
Regardless of your approach to getting started on eBay, Elmssuggests creating a strategy and selection of products from thebeginning. She advises new sellers to think inventory. "Somepeople just sell one or two items," Elms says. "You'dnever open a brick-and-mortar store with just two items. [Customerswould] treat it as a garage sale instead of a business."

And it can be big business. Sales were down and the futurelooked dismal for Atlanta restaurant equipment retailer A City Discount,and owner John Stack was about to close the doors. Around the sametime, Stack found 250 coffee pots in a stash of used restaurantequipment he had purchased for resale. Stack knew he couldn'tsell them in his store. Then, one of his employees suggestedputting them on eBay.

"To my surprise, it worked," recalls Stack. "Theyended up selling for over $150 each--more than we could get in thelocal market. That opened my eyes to the potential ofeBay."

That was in September 1999. Today, A City Discount does morethan $10 million per year, selling 25,000 pieces of new and usedrestaurant equipment on eBay--which accounts for nearly half of thecompany's volume--as well as through its own website and retaillocation. Most surprising, says Stack, 54, is the synergy betweeneBay and the retailer's other channels. His eBay listings havedriven traffic to his website, and customers have phoned fromaround the country to find out if he has a specific piece ofequipment. A City Discount now has more customers in Californiathan it does in its home state of Georgia.

Spriggs agrees that eBay is a powerful marketing tool. VintageStock puts tags on in-store items that are also being offered oneBay, so if a customer is unsure about an item, he or she can takesome time to decide and then log onto the item listing to purchaseit.

"If you already have a brick-and-mortar store, whywouldn't you be on eBay anyway?" asks Debra Schepp, authorof eBay PowerSeller Secrets: Insider Tips From eBay's MostSuccessful Sellers. "You already have sources for yourproducts. You already know your product line. You are alreadyexperienced in customer service. So selling on eBay can't doanything but put your business into a global marketplace withmillions of potential customers."

Some brick-and-mortar stores actually have their beginnings oneBay. Keith Chrapliwy, 31, and Andrew Cape, 30, were both graphicdesigners and started selling furniture on eBay as a hobby. For sixyears, the two maintained a friendly rivalry in their listings.Then it became clear that their pastime could sustain them as abusiness. In 2003, they both quit their corporate jobs and openedModology, a modern furniture store in Cincinnati. Inless than two years, the company's revenue has grown to almost$300,000--85 percent of which is still sold through eBay--andcontinues to climb.

"We wouldn't have survived if it wasn't for eBaybecause of the high-end furniture that we sell," saysChrapliwy. "It's given us an international platform tosell our stuff." Because of the sheer volume of users, eBaycan also build exposure and drive customers from other locales intoa retail location. Some of Stack's local customers have foundhis store because of his eBay presence. And Chrapliwy recalls onecouple who traveled from Idaho to his store. Based on their volumeof listings on eBay and the reputation that Modology has built, thecouple commented that they had expected to find a much largerretail store than the company's 2,000-square-foot location.

Setting Up Shop
Setting up a proper store on eBay requires some search enginemarketing savvy, says Elms, since eBay Stores often show up insearches done on Google, Yahoo! and other online search engines.Each eBay Store has a title, which, she advises, should includewords that describe your business in 35 characters or less. Usingkeywords related to what you sell in your Store title will yield ahigher ranking in search results. For example, Elms' eBay Storename, Auction Profit Education Consulting, has resulted in 41percent of her traffic coming from Google, which ranks her withinthe top five results of a search for "eBayconsultant."

Schepp adds that retailers should make every effort to keeptheir feedback scores--the comments from buyers that indicatewhether their experience was positive or negative--high. Positivefeedback is the backbone of a successful eBay enterprise.

"Serious sellers guard their eBay feedback more closelythan their inventories," she says. "If your feedbackrating is 97 [percent positive feedback] or less, you are suspecton eBay."

Schepp says that the best way to maintain positive feedback isto give truthful descriptions of products, use clear pictures, andkeep buyers apprised of the selling process, shipping fees andstatus of their auction at all times. Stack found that adding afreight calculator to his website, accessible from his eBaylistings, was a popular feature with customers, who could thenavoid sticker shock when learning the fees for shipping his largeequipment.

Schepp adds that eBay can be a valuable part of a trade-inprogram. "Offer your current customers trade-ins on their usedproducts, and sell those items on eBay," she advises."That way, you turn every sale into three sales."

With ample tools and resources to get retailers started ine-commerce, eBay offers a turnkey solution for taking part in a $34billion marketplace. That's something few independent retailerscan do on their own.

"I think at a certain point, you have to look at everypossible opportunity," says Spriggs. "Look at just thesheer number of eyes you get on eBay. They're definitely thedominant force. They're definitely where you go. You'd behard-pressed to find someone who hasn't heard ofeBay."

More Than Just Auctions
Want to complement your retail store with a complete e-commercesuite? eBay has the answer. In June, the company launchedProStores, a turnkey e-commerce solution for retailers who wish tosell online.

ProStores creates online stores that are separate from eBay.com.So, while eBay Stores are collections of a seller's currentlistings on eBay and have eBay's logo on each page, ProStoresis all about you and your business. The fully customizable productuses your own domain and is easy to tailor to the look and feel ofyour business, says Chris Tsakalakis, senior director of eBayStores.

ProStores is still compatible with eBay, and it allows you toeasily create and list auction-formatted or fixed-price productsdirectly onto eBay.com. ProStores is also compatible with PayPal,allowing retailers to accept credit cards without having to applyfor their own merchant accounts.

"This is more than just a website," says Tsakalakis."You get a shopping cart, a product catalog and fullcustomization capabilities. It's a solution for retailers whowant to get started selling online, but who want to keep theircosts down."

Of course, ProStores users don't have the traffic ofeBay's 147 million registered users. ProStores sellers mustdrive their own site traffic. For retailers interested in gettingstarted online, ProStores offers a single-source option to get anonline store up and running for an affordable monthly fee.

Gwen Moran is a writer and consultant specializing inmarketing.

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