Harry Rinker

July 18th, 2013

I had a nice talk with antiques and collectibles veteran Harry Rinker yesterday. Harry is 72 and lives in Michigan. He has been in the business 35 years. He is still having fun because of the changes in the industry thanks to the Internet. Here are some takeaways:

1. eBay has moved away from auctions, unfortunately, which has taken much of the fun out of shopping for antiques and collectibles online. But be careful with the Buy It Now prices. They are hardly accurate. They vary widely and you have to scroll extensively to find bargains.

2. Marketplaces like GoAntiques, TIAS.com, and Ruby Lane are doing well and have taken much of the business that eBay gave up when it abandoned the collectibles field.

3. Only a quarter to a third of antiques and collectibles sold online go to collectors. Most buy for decorative purposes. Many repurpose items and re-use them in their households.

I felt an affinity with Harry because he is making a living as a freeance writer thanks to the Internet. Our words don’t appear in print (for the most part) and it’s OK. “It’s a damn fine time to be around this business,” he said.

Update: I thought of one more option for making money without a website. How could I forget that I co-wrote a whole book about this?

Amazon.com,Facebook, WordPress, storefronts, and e-commerce marketplaces: These are all potential “home bases” for you online. I used to write that you had to have a website in order to make money online. And websites are still important, don’t get me wrong. But there are a lot more options available these days. Here are some examples:

eBay

This is sort of the obvious place to start an online business. You can create an eBay Store, or you can simply list dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of products on this venerable marketplace without having a formal store. eBay is great as a starting point for anyone wanting to learn how to do business online. But more and more people, turned off by its fees and cumbersome rules for sellers, are turning to other venues to find customers.

Add on to Amazon.com

Some people–booksellers in particular–sell their books by adding them to Amazon.com marketplace listings. Their products show up here:

I wrote an article on ECommerceBytes about several sellers who, to my knowledge, don’t sell through a website, but primarily through Amazon, Alibris, and ABEBooks.
Marketplaces

If you open a storefront on eCrater, Bonanza, or Webstore.com, you don’t need to create your own full-fledged website from scratch. The marketplace gives you a head start

WordPress or Another Blogging Platform

A blog can take the centerpiece of your online presence. A platform as robust as WordPress can host a blog and lots of web pages. essentially, it is a website, but one that you can update by posting on a regular basis. My Buddhist meditation group, Jewel Heart, uses WordPress for all of its website content. In fact, if there is a blog on this site it’s a very minor part of the content.

A Facebook Kiosk

Facebook is good for marketing and networking and just having fun. Some people use it for e-commerce, too. You can sell on Facebook through an online kiosk. I’ve written about her before, but Kharisma Ryantori uses her Facebook page to advertise, and sell, her jewelry designs, as shown  below.

Twitter: Sell Simp.ly

You can do more and more with Twitter. Some dedicated Tweeters advertise and sell products through the site in short and sweet sales listings. Read about it in this article on the site called Sell Simply.

The bottom line: you need a “home base”, but that doesn’t mean you need to create a website from scratch. You can grow into a website, but you don’t have to start there. Start by piggybacking onto someone else’s site, whether it’s eBay, eCrater, Facebook, or Twitter. Get used to creating sales listings and handling a few transactions. Then you can create a website with confidence–and link to your various marketplaces from it, so can you boost your SEO.

Pricing merchandise is one of the key functions for anyone who sells online, whether you have a few items for sale on eBay or Amazon, or whether you operate a full-featured store with a 1000-item catalog.

Assigning the right prices and staying competitive with those prices can be a frustrating and time-consuming proposition. You want to make a profit, so your price has to be higher than what you paid for the item you’re selling (unless, of course, you’re unloading inventory that never sold in the first place). But it needs to be either the lowest available or at least very close to the lowest when compared to your competitors.

The difference is often a matter of a few cents–or even one cent. Take a look at one of my own books, which you can find on Half.com. It’s kind of painful to look at the prices being offered when you consider that the book sold for about $24.99 retail when new. But this is an old edition and out of print.

If you can’t read this, I’ll tell you that the four prices for this brand new book are (sigh) $1.89, $1.00, $0.99, and $0.97. (You wonder why I don’t write books for a living any more?) Let’s suppose that, for some reason, you wanted to buy this particular edition of this book. Would you pay $1.89 when you can pay $1.00? Would you pay $0.99 when you can pay $0.97?

That’s the problem lots of businesses face, but on a much larger scale. I just spoke to the owner of a company in Wisconsin who has hundreds of items in his product catalog and who sells on eBay. He and his employees used to scan through listings manually and adjust prices so they were the lowest. But the manual route is extremely time-consuming.

“Even if you factor only 2 minutes per product with 200 products you’re talking about over 13 hours a day of work if you do it twice a day,” says the businessperson, who asked to remain anonymous. “Never mind the fact if you tried to pay someone to do that all day every day they would be burnt out before the first week is over.”

Once you get past 100 items in your catalog, it pays to pay a little money for a pricing tool. This sort of tool can be configured to search for items similar to yours and make sure you have the prices you want. You can tell the tool you want to be the lowest, second lowest, or third lowest. You can tell the tool to make sure your items are one cent lower in price than those of your competitors. Here are two such tools:

  • In ECommerceBytes recently, editor Ina Steiner wrote about a pricing tool for Amazon.com sellers, Teikametrics.
  • I just interviewed the developer of a pricing product for eBay called PriceSpectre.

I’ll be writing about PriceSpectre in more detail after that article comes out. The point is, no matter how much you sell, once you put your items online, keep checking prices against the competition to make sure you’re positioned correctly–especially if you are in a super competitive field like electronics, digital media, or books. Whether you do it manually or use an automated software program, you’ll end up with more sales. Even if your profit margin is a little lower than it would be otherwise, you’ll be better in the long run because you’ll have more loyal customers and hopefully more repeat business.

Coffee and E-Commerce

January 2nd, 2012

Over the holidays, I did some obsessive shopping for an espresso machine. Back in the day, I could find used machines on eBay. No more. Where have all the bargains gone? Craigslist, Bonanza, eCrater–couldn’t find anything. But it turns out there is a specialty site for nearly every niche market. In this case I trolled the forums on CoffeeGeek.com and found a good one. Niche sites are the place to buy and sell specialty items, not general marketplaces, in my opinion.

Here are my top tips for selling on eBay:

  • Take lots of photos. Photos sell better than text. Always include more than one photo. Try to get closeups. Pay attention to lighting, and arrange a background that contrasts with what you’re selling.
  • Get detailed with your description. Yeah, I’m a writer, so I’m prejudiced, but think about it. Aren’t you more likely to buy something if the seller talks up how it feels or how it works, and describes its unique features? Be enthusiastic; tell the world why you like what you have to sell and what it will do for them.
  • Go for quantity, not quality. The only way to make a consistent income on eBay is to get multiple items online, not just one or two or three. Don’t try to make everything perfect. Just get it online. You can fix it later.
  • Automate. Come up with a system for getting multiple sales online: a Web site template; a photo studio; software that will streamline your listings and get many of them online at once.
  • Get help. Don’t try to do everything yourself. You’ll quickly get exhausted and stop selling. Get your kids or family members to help; if that fails, hire a student or friend.
  • Choose brand names sell. Get to know the top sales items in your area of interest. Learn all you can about unusual and distinctive products that people will want. Try to find them at wholesale so you can offer them online.
  • Remember that the customer is king. …and queen too. Whatever someone wants, give it to them if you can. Give them a refund. Give them new photos. Answer questions quickly. Personal responses and personal attention leads directly to sales.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. If someone returns an item, accept it and move on. If someone complains, apologize. Don’t get bogged down in arguments and negotiations. It’s not only bad business, but it’s not worth the trouble and will distract you from selling and fulfilling sales.
  • Be passionate about what you sell. People always ask me what they should sell online. Sell what you love. After all, you’ll be spending many hours per week surrounded by these items. Make sure you love them yourself—or are at least moderately interested in them. Your interest will help you get your work done.
  • Expand to multiple channels. Don’t just stick with eBay auctions. Open a store. Try sites like Bonanzle and iOffer. Sell through your own Web site. Make all your online stores point to one another. The more points of sale you have online, the better your chances of success.