I’ve been selling items online for about 5 years now.  Currently and hopefully for the rest of my working days this is a full-time gig.  In the past it has run the gamut from part-time in addition to a full-time lifesucking corporate job, little time because it was just a hobby, to virtually no time as in listing on occasion and letting the “business” sit there until a sale occurred.

 As with most things in my life, I have learned this business the hard way.  From my mistakes, from others’ mistakes, from reading incessantly for hours, and from trying a variety of new things as I went along.  Some attempts were successful and many were abyssmal failures but all were necessary to get where I am today – a mild to moderate success with much improvement needed.  🙂

I still feel like I don’t know a lot about this business but there are a few things that I feel that I know for sure.  These thoughts have occurred to me a lot in the last few weeks so I felt the need to write them down.  You may agree with some of these things.  You might strongly disagree but this has been my experience.

1.)  Online selling is a numbers game.  All the studying, Tweeting, webinars and podcasts do NOT replace listing and more listing.  The more I list, the more I sell.  Period.

2.)  Surround yourself with whiners, complainers, and do-nothings and that is what you become.  There are plenty of capable, successful people on the internet that are more than happy to be an example of what works and will share many helpful ideas on their blogs or on Facebook/Twitter.  There is a disproportionately large number of disgruntled negative sellers that feel the need to channel all of their energy into “not selling so that I may complain.”  Avoid them.  They are everywhere.  Especially in chat forums.  Enough said, until you get to Number 4 anyway.  But first, Number 3… 

3.)  Put the Best Offer on your eBay listings and OBO (Or Best Offer) on Bonanzle.  Not everyone will be a lowballer and I can always reject any offer.  It’s also FREE, so why not?  This single item is the best thing that I’ve done for my eBay store this year.  Not every buyer uses it but many want to haggle and succeed in getting an even better deal.  Some offers get declined but I wake up to a few of these every day.  In a tough $$$ week, I’m happy to see these offers because they represent to me “money in the bank.”  If I accept an offer on eBay, it’s an automatic sale.  Craig Stark of BookThink just wrote about this feature and his experience was similar.

4.)  Chat forums are, by and large, supreme time wasters.  Hours can go by while I read about the latest “controversy” on each venue.  I use the chat rooms now as a water cooler (with time limits in place) or as a place to go to find answers.  Working at home is isolating but I don’t need to have hours of online conversation either.  Don’t even get me started on the people who spend all of their time Tweeting news stories all day…  😦

5.)  Be flexible.  As much as it pains me to constantly change and ‘roll with it, baby’, it’s a fact of life online.  Things move fast here and when you sell on many venues there is always a “major change” ahead.  Each venue is constantly improving themselves (or they’re trying anyway) and that means CHANGE.  Whether I like it or not.  Will I complain if I don’t agree with the change?  Yep, but hopefully not for hours in a chat room and not for long.  I will tell myself to get over it and plan accordingly.  It’s their sandbox and I’m not taking my toys home unless it causes me to lose a significant amount of money.  Then I’ll just leave. 

Many MANY people criticize eBay.  I have many not-so-nice opinions of the way they’ve done business over the last two years.  I’ve never left them though.  It’s where I have made a large amount of money and their traffic still can’t be beat.  When I tell people that I sell on Bonanzle, they’ve never heard of it.  This is changing and it’s why I stay even though my sales there have been poor.  I have faith in Bonanzle and the people that run it.  When I tell people that I sell online, they say “You sell on eBay?”  It’s still the synonomous word for “online sales” and that is where the average internet buyer will go to look for a deal.  So I stay there and roll with the changes, for good and for bad.  Which brings me to…

6.)  Sell on various venues.  Don’t get roped into believing that one venue is the answer.  Always have an alternative site or, in my case, many sites.  I’m not so enamored of eBay to not realize that they can shut me down in a second.  I’ve read all the stories and heard all of the tales.  If Bill Harding at Bonanzle was offered a mega-million dollars to turn over the keys to Bonanzle, would he be foolish enough NOT to take it?  Even if it happened to be from his competitor?  And I wouldn’t blame him one bit for taking it and running.  These types of things happen all the time in business.

Spread yourself around and try to stay away from trouble.  Read the guidelines of each site and try, although this one is tough, to keep up with the ever-changing rules of each site.  Don’t try to cheat the system.  Don’t give a venue a reason to shut you down.  If you get an offer on eBay, keep it on eBay.  If you’re not allowed to direct a buyer to your blog off-site, don’t post your website on your listing.  When you get a sale from Borders through Alibris, don’t tout your own site in your packing materials.  “Dance with the one that brought ya” as they say. 

7.)  Sell a variety of items.  Having a mix of new, used, collectible, and rare items is a good plan for me.  Used books are becoming harder and harder to sell for any real money.  This is the market that I started in and it is becoming the part of my business that I’m spending the least time with.  The Kindle is here whether we like it or not.  Used books donation bins are becoming a business model for more and more megasellers.  Friends of the Library sales are increasingly rare and usually picked over by the libraries themselves, who have finally figured out that the books they were selling for 25 cents are worth a lot more to keep and sell on their own.  Amazon is continually hawking how easy it is to “Sell Yours Here” to anyone that pushes the button.  Anyone can be a bookseller on Amazon, just hit the button.  Many wholesalers are now competing against their retail customers too. If I stayed with the books I would be very much worse for the wear right now.

These are just a few things that I know and I have so much more to learn.  For now, I’ll be listing auctions for the rest of the day because —  8.) Blogging  doesn’t make me money despite what I’ve read on Twitter…

Hubby and I went for a spur-of-the-moment drive Sunday that took us south to Cooperstown, New York, “The  Home of the Baseball Hall of Fame.”  Did our day include anything baseball-related?  No, silly…  We’re not baseball fans.  We like free food so much more.

Our stop included a walk-through of the Fly Creek Cider Mill which has been in existence for as long as I can remember.  Why had I not visited there?  Did I already mention the free food?  Yup, aisles and aisles of gourmet, snacky goodness – many with samples in front just ready to be tasted.  And taste I did!  Salsas, sauces, dips, chips, popcorn, brickle, fudge, honey, cider products, cheese,  muffins, and I’ll say it again, fudge!  We walked through the two floor country store perusing all of the fancy foods then went upstairs to look at a humongous amount of crafty, cutsie, country-style knick-knacks.  I picked out a few things for upcoming birthdays.  No bargain prices here, just a huge selection of quality gifts and very delicious foods.  Something for everyone.  After we checked out at the cash register we were “funnelled” to the door at the back of the store and as we stepped outside we were pointed directly at the outside deli/bakery/ice cream stand.

Am I writing this to share what a great time we had?  Not really, but that’s just a by-product.  I wanted to write about the genius of marketing and how some companies have really figured it out.  Since I own my own little business I am ALWAYS looking at how successful  businesses are run.  It is fascinating to me why some companies are so much more successful than others and also how some seem to cover every angle of marketing goods to their customers. 

This “little” country store has a genius of a marketing plan.  The more I thought about it, the more it seems like they were doing everything right: 

Many road signs to get people to turn off of the main drag and go to the Cider Mill.

Many parking spots at the location and across the street.  This place was full of people and there were still empty parking spaces.

No admission fees.  Just walk in and start perusing the goodies.   

A huge variety of foods and gift items for every niche available.  Upstairs the gift items included the usual collector niches like birds, apples, bears, angels, camping, hunting, teachers, grandma stuff, Mom stuff, school theme, country towels, oven mitts, signs and more.  The foods ranged from sweet to spicy, from fudge to chips and pretzels.  Again, something for everyone.

When we cashed out our merchandise the cashier told us about their online store and gave us a coupon for Free Shipping for over $100.00 purchase, a coupon for $2.00 off our next visit to the brick and mortar store, and a 10% off coupon for the snack bar just outside the door.

Just a few steps from the cash register was a complete menu page (that we could take) showing all of the food that we could get at the snack bar AND showed all of the prices.

The whole time we were in the store the workers were very helpful and friendly and were likely to point out a special that was going on in the section you were perusing.  (Not in a pushy way either, if you know what I mean.)

As we were driving away, we saw a section to the side for children.  It was a maze that they could ride little toy tractors around.  It had several wooden boards with the faces cut out so Mom and Dad could take Junior’s picture as he put his face in the painted scenery after he rode his tractor to that stop.  Cute! 

SCORE!  Successes are made by continuous marketing and improvements, not by sitting back and watching and waiting for the money to roll in.  Do many businesses know this?  You would think so, but we all know that’s not the case.

Did I learn something from this wonderful experience?     Absolutely.

1.) Don’t gorge on a variety of free samples that may not combine well. 

2.) More importantly, don’t sit back and expect your customers to know all about what great things that you offer.  Tell them. Show them. 

3.) Sell only quality items. 

4.) Let them try the products when possible. 

5.) Don’t charge for admission or tack on silly “handling” fees. 

6.) Give something free when possible. 

7.) Be pleasant and helpful then go away. 

8.) Give your buyers your brochures. 

9.) Send them away with several reasons to come back. 

10.) Direct them to another potential buying opportunity.  Cross promote. 

We’ve already decided to go back soon (when we don’t have melting groceries in the car.)  We want to see the Farmer’s Museum, the Art Museum, do some Lakeview Dining and, of course, make another stop at The Fly Creek Cider Mill.  It’s free, we have a coupon :-), and the chances are good that we’ll want a little snack!  Of course we’ll buy something too and then we’ll just sit outside by the pond and feed the geese some corn.  (Another nice touch – especially if you’ve got toddlers.) 

I obviously highly recommend this attraction if you’re ever in the Cooperstown area.  I also invite business owners to give some thoughts about how well your current marketing plan is working.  I sure did and some changes will be made.

What changes might your business need?  I’d love to hear from you.

Put some grrreat stuff up on eBay this week. 

This is some of my absolute favorite paper ephemera!  I love to read, hold, touch, dream, and wonder about these old items.  I can pore for hours over a box of vintage paper that I’ve acquired at auction and put next to my lamp that is next to my comfy couch while the hubby watches TV.  When I come home from an auction I will usually set aside a mixed box lot of paper to sift through while we watch the television.  Sifting is so much more interesting…

Like this for example:

teacher 2

Going along with the academic theme is this nice little booklet from 1901:

super 1

These are penmanship primers from 1888:

writing 1

Written way back when handwriting was important.  Did anyone else have to do “push me, pull yous” in elementary school?  I certainly didn’t learn the Spencerian turn of the century writing method but we had the Palmer method and a clear plastic card that we would have to lay over our writing to see if it matched the perfect script on the card.  This must sound very odd to anyone under 35…

Speaking of antiques 🙂 this catalog was a very rare find:

tea 6

How many paper catalogs exist that are over 120 years old?  The engraved illustrations are just so ornate and detailed.  Just lovely.

There’s more to list and sift but I’ll be sharing some items here too. 

Just click on any of the above photos to go directly to the auctions.  Sign up for my store newsletter if you like what you see.

Does anyone else find historical paper ephemera this fascinating or am I among a handful of crazy people??  Many would say “Throw this crap out!”  I say to that, “What, are you insane?”  In my opinion, someone, somewhere is connected to this piece.  I’ve heard all kinds of stories from my customers about a particular kid’s book, cookbook, sewing item, event bulletin, postcard, etc. having great significance to them and I love EVERY story that they take the time to email to me.  They usually thank me profusely (although this is not even the best part) for offering the item and tell me their story.  Did I mention how much I love this part?  It’s what keeps me going.  Just call me the Matchmaker.  Even when I don’t  have a particular item, I know where and how to find it.  Today I matched my husband’s boss with a rare book that her grandmother gave her as a child.  She told my husband that she wrote in it so much that her mother threw it away.  😦  I didn’t have the book but showed my husband where his boss could find it on Amazon.  He told me a while ago that she has now ordered it and it’s on the way.  Another happy customer even though she wasn’t mine.. this time around. 

I’m off to sift….

Who exactly is eBay appealing to now?  I’m not so sure that they’ve figured out what sellers want nor do they seem to care.

The latest “big announcement” is that eBay will, as of June 16th, 2009, be allowing the first five auction insertion fees to be waived and the Final Value Fees on those auctions be lowered to either $20.00 or 8.75% whichever is lower.

Hardly a big deal for those of us who list many auctions per week.  For me this new procedure will save a measly $1.75 per month (.35 x 5) in listing fees plus a few percent of the FVF which has lately been a low selling price (assuming that those five auctions result in a sale.)  It’s a start and it’s heading in the right direction (down) but I can’t even begin to feel excitement about this change.  Also part of this new offering is that in order to get the five free insertion fees the seller must use the Sell Your Item or Simple listing tool.  I use a third party listing program (Inkfrog) as many store owners do, so I would have to go outside of my inventory management program to save a few dollars.  Probably not worth the trouble for a few dollars.

Why is eBay appealing to the very casual eBay seller?  What do they gain by targeting this customer?  Not much from the looks of it.  Anyone who sells just a few items a month on eBay may not be aware of this change or may not care enough to  increase their auction listings.  Isn’t that what the intended result of this change was?  To increase listings thereby making more money for eBay?  If so, why not serve casual and mega-listers and make that magic number 20 free auctions?  That way the casual listers can still list a few per month, possibly list a couple more things from the basement, and megalisters can actually get a bit of a break on a larger number of auctions and actually be happy to see their monthly bill go down a notch.  Here’s an even better scenario:  the first fifty auctions per month free.  Watch the auctions go up, up, up and eBay can collect all the FVF’s they want.  Ebay and the sellers are happy as clams.

I can still dream, can’t I.