Tired of eBay? Maybe it’s time for your own Web store

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 eBay may not be your best long-term strategy for your business. Photo by Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

eBay may not be your best long-term strategy for your business. Photo by Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

Are sellers quitting or is eBay kicking us out? ... eBay doesn’t seem to realize that (by) chasing away all the good sellers, that all the good buyers will also be chased away.”

This eBay community discussion went on to debate the pros-and-cons of selling on eBay versus Amazon and other e-commerce options.

We’ve been hearing the same arguments for years: “The marketplaces take advantage of small sellers.” Or, “The marketplaces are the only way to make money online.” Or, “You can (can’t) make money by selling from your own Web site, social media account,” and so on.

Regarding e-commerce for antiques dealers, I occupy the middle ground: I believe that everyone can benefit from selling online, but there isn’t a one-size-fits-all e-commerce solution. Each venue must be analyzed in terms of a dealer’s objectives.

If one’s goal is quick revenue, nothing beats a large marketplace. Amazon, eBay, and others have the three ingredients essential for e-commerce: traffic, trust and familiarity. Amazon gets 206 million visitors per month; eBay gets 109.4 million.

These marketplaces generate a high level of trust because they arbitrate customer disputes, hold sellers to high standards, and ban sellers who don’t conform to policies. With few exceptions, individual sellers are transparent. When asked where an item was purchased, buyers will reply, “I got it on eBay,” not “I got it from the Suzy’s Vintage Clothes’ eBay store.”

Customers are willing to enter their credit card information because the buying process is familiar. Dealers can tap into the established “traffic, trust, and familiarity” model for the price of listing and transaction fees and selling commissions.

Marketplaces are ideal for building a transaction-based business. If one’s focus is buy-low-sell-high and good inventory turns, there is quick money to be made. But, building a long-term business on a marketplace is problematic. Marketplace selling is a “lifestyle business” that doesn’t build intrinsic value. Intrinsic value is found in customer lists, reputation and processes – like Web sites.

Marketplaces are built upon the backs of their independent sellers. Our fees support their operations, but the information (photos and descriptions) we and our customers submit is theirs to keep. eBay, for example, sells its data (our data) to WorthPoint, Terapeak, and a host of other valuation services. Amazon cross-sells and upsells our customers. Even popular antiques marketplaces like Ruby Lane and Etsy own your customer’s information.

The long-term agendas of marketplaces don’t include small sellers. eBay actively pursues relationships with corporate retailers and auction houses, giving them “best rates” and preferential treatment.

 The way to keep online customers is to have your own e-commerce site, customer retention strategy and email marketing plan.

The way to keep online customers is to have your own e-commerce site, customer retention strategy and email marketing plan.

More and more, dealers’ listings are missing from eBay search results. Listings that aren’t seen can’t be sold. Amazon’s platform strategy is even more nefarious: they allow others to sell on their site so they can explore which niches are profitable. Once they know, they sell in those niches and compete against their small sellers. Their platform strategy is a zero-sum game: Amazon’s gains are equal to a dealer’s losses.

You can’t build a future with a short-term strategy. To build a long-term business, it’s necessary to think long term. It’s important to consider the long-term value of a customer and a delivery system (Web site) rather than quick profits from a marketplace.

Neil Patel, an e-commerce guru, reminds us that Starbuck’s marketers don’t focus on selling $5 cups of coffee; they focus instead on the $14,099 average lifetime value (LTV) of a customer

We, too, should focus on the LTV of our customers. The way to keep online customers is to have your own e-commerce site, customer retention strategy and email marketing plan. Build your own store not because you are disgusted with marketplace selling, but because it allows you to serve your customers better.

With an online store, you can collect customer information (name, address, email) and give customers the option of receiving email from you (a newsletter, sale notices, new inventory listings). Some will decline, but many won’t. With a good customer list, you can cross-sell, upsell and re-sell. You don’t lose touch with your customers. Over time, your list will become your most valuable business asset.

Building an online store doesn’t have to be a complicated and expensive undertaking. If you team with one of the major e-commerce Web site providers, you’ll find that the traffic-trust-familiarity model is ready-made. Customers will be able to browse your inventory and get to know your business. When they visit your store, they will be predisposed to buy. And, you’ll keep most of the profit generated.

If you have a WordPress Web site and a paid hosting account, adding a store to your Web site is as simple as installing and configuring a WordPress plugin like WooCommerce or Shopify (see instructions at www.wordpress.org/plugins/wpshopify).

Shopify is simple to use and allows you to display items in your Shopify store directly on your Web site. All the technical aspects of running a Web store — like payment processing, shipping costs and customer data collection — are handled by Shopify. Once you have entered your business information and your inventory, you’re ready-to-go; simply copy the listing code from your Shopify page and paste it onto your Web store page.

Your Web store pages are automatically generated and all the payment buttons, etc. will work. Shopify “buy” buttons can be used on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to promote and sell, and at remote events like fairs and antiques shows. Shopify is well supported; there are more than 70 apps available to help you promote your business.

Your Shopify customer data can be downloaded, so you always maintain control of your list. Shopify for WordPress starts at $9 per month; or you can get a nicely sized Web store for about $29 per month. For more details, see the Shopify page “Build an antiques business that lasts” by visiting www.shopify.com/sell/antiques.

If it sounds like I’m a big Shopify fan, I am. But my purpose here is to suggest resources, not sell a product. If you don’t have a WordPress site, e-commerce sites are available at GoDaddy, Squarespace, and other hosting providers.

Although an e-commerce store can be acquired at a modest cost, creating and managing listings can be time-consuming. You’ll need to photograph items, write descriptions, list the products online and remove items when they are sold.

A Web store works for you 24/7, can be operated from anywhere, is cheaper to operate than a bricks-and-mortar store, and builds value into your business.

Isn’t it time you opened a Web store?