Online auction powerhouse eBay currently boasts more than 2 million sellers, and nearly 800,000 of them consider eBay sales their primary or secondary source of income. Many of these sellers took advantage when the site introduced the debut of individualized storefronts - called eBay Stores - in 2001. It offered a new platform for frequent users to house all of their wares at one online location, and provided a more familiar, retail-like shopping experience for buyers. Thousands of eBay sellers credit their eBay store with being crucial to their success. So whether you're a first-timer or already a full-fledged eBay addict, check out what experts have told Inc.com about the best ways to launch and manage a successful eBay storefront.
Building an Ebay Storefront: Find a Niche
Successful eBay storeowners stress the importance of focusing on a specific product or genre. Mark and Robin Le Vine of Chicago-based Bubblefast, launched their business by selling a rather unlikely product - bubble wrap. When eBay rose to popularity in the late 1990s, Robin Le Vine knew many eBay sellers who were shipping from their homes, and recognized their need for bubble wrap to ensure safe delivery of the products. She began purchasing rolls of bubble wrap in bulk, selling them, and establishing a loyal customer base in the process. Soon, customers started requesting other products, and Bubblefast was born.
Her husband and business partner, Mark, says that truly successful eBay stores rely on one type of product. "If you're searching in your garage for a few random items to sell, the buyer can sense that," he says. "People are more likely to trust a seller who has an established presence on eBay. We know how to work with the customer and understand how important customer service is."
Sarah Davis, owner of the Beverly Hills-based Fashionphile, started as a so-called "garage seller" 10 years ago. She was in law school, hoping to make a little extra cash, and never intended to launch a full-blown business. "I was literally selling everything in our house that wasn't nailed down - that's how I learned," Davis says. "I began gauging what was selling well, and what wasn't, and I honed down to women's handbags."
When Davis started selling on eBay, the site didn't offer the option of eBay stores. However, as soon as the opportunity presented itself, she felt she was ready to take her hobby to the next level. She already had an established following, so Davis was confident that a store was the right move for her. Nonetheless, Davis cautions others to make the transition slowly.
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Building an Ebay Storefront: Ease Your Way in by Testing the Market
Even eBay itself encourages sellers to take their time and familiarize themselves with the process before opening a store. Jim "Griff" Griffith, eBay's senior manager of seller advocacy, always tells sellers, "If you've never bought on the site, it's very important to understand the buyer's experience as well. Research is critical if you're going to survive in e-commerce."
And Griffith probably knows better than anyone - he joined eBay as the company's first customer support representative in 1996 and is eBay's longest running employee. "My advice is to never jump in with both feet at once," he says. "Only when you reach the point where you're constantly listing and selling, and your inventory is between 50 and 100 items, that's when you'd want to investigate starting an eBay store."
Mark and Robin Le Vine agree. "The market is ever-changing, the platform is ever-changing, and you need to know what you're doing before you start making major financial investments - talk to other sellers - listen to the voices of experience," Mark says. Both Mark and Robin have seen competitors' businesses fail as the result of what Mark calls the "my eyes are too wide syndrome." Mark says people tend to get overzealous spending money on things like e-mail marketers and third-party applications before they've taken the time to establish a solid foundation and customer-base for their store.
Not sure if you're ready to take the leap for a store? The site features a "fee illustrator" tool for potential store-owners to determine which store level is best for their business. Just enter basic information like how many items you list per month and how much your typical item sells for, and the calculator generates a chart comparing monthly fees without a store to those of each store level. For example, a "basic store" has a monthly fee of $15.95, and charges 20 cents per listing, while an "anchor store" (the highest level) is $299.95 a month, and only 3 cents per listing.
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Building an Ebay Storefront: Brand Yourself
Many sellers who decide to make the transition to a store recognize it as a chance to transform into a "brand," and also create a more personalized buying experience for the user.
Lynn Dralle is a prime example. She operates her eBay store TheQueenofAuctions from Los Angeles, selling antiques and collectibles. She estimates she's sold around 8,000 items on eBay since she started in 1998. Along the way, Dralle has become something of an auction expert - and an identifiable brand herself: She's written six books about selling on eBay.
Dralle says one of the things that appealed to her about launching a store is the fact that one can categorize items, and have a store banner and logo. She also utilizes other tools the store affords sellers, like sending out a free newsletter to her 1,200 loyal buyers.
Experts say that customers tend to feel a more personal connection to the seller when they buy an item from a store, as opposed to purchasing a random item at auction. "There's an 'about me' page, where you can talk all about who you are and what you do," says Mark Le Vine of Bubblefast. "Branding and letting people know who you are is very important to having a successful store. It allows you to differentiate yourself from any other seller."
Bubblefast and TheQueenofAuctions both note that the platform also lets sellers feature promotion boxes to highlight products on sale - and once a seller marks down a price, it will automatically alert the frequent shoppers with an e-mail.
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Building an Ebay Storefront: Focus on Customer Service
According to Sarah Davis of Fashionphile, quality customer service is invaluable when selling any product - but even more so for the luxury handbag business. "With what we sell, there are so many counterfeits and we recognize that buyers are jittery. Even with a positive 10,000 feedback [score], people are still hesitant," she says. "We do a lot of handholding, and are as responsive as we can possibly be. We offer 100 percent refund if there is any issue, and we stand by our refund policy 100 percent."
Dralle stresses that customer satisfaction is almost as important as the products themselves. She makes sure every package includes a personalized note that says "thanks for doing business with us, and if for whatever reason you're unhappy, please let us know." Customers also receive an automatic e-mail with a tracking number upon purchasing an item.
Dralle feels that eBay has done a fantastic job of streamlining the selling process, making it extremely user-friendly. "I was so afraid of it when I first started 12 years ago. I was not Internet-savvy at all," she says. "But now I tell people 'don't be afraid! Jump in and try it!' It's so easy - there's even an app that lets you literally list something from your iPhone. I have my 13-year-old doing it for me!"
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