When times are hard and you can’t sell your original product line as well as you did, you need to find new products and new ways to sell them. Business on eBay was great for Creative Paper for several years, especially in its eBay Store. Things have changed for reasons that other eBay sellers know all too well. As one seller put it to me, “eBay has lots of sellers, but it needs to find more buyers.”
Business was great for quite a while. “We started in 2001, really going crazy in 2002 and 2003, tapering off in 2003. Now scrapbooking is maybe 10 percent of our total business. eBay has now been flooded with a lot of other sellers doing the same thing we do—selling scrapbooking kits and scrap paper. That is compounded with the fact that the market just is not as good as it used to be. If you combine the two, it’s tough.”
But when you look at the big picture, things are much rosier: Less than six years before this was written, Creative Paper didn’t exist at all. And he was throwing his scrap paper in the recycle bin. Jeff ran Suburban Paper and primarily serviced customers in his local area. He didn’t know anything about mailing lists, databases of customers, packaging, or selling products directly to the public. Current monthly sales from scrapbooking materials are $10,000. It was all made possible and continues to be possible thanks to eBay.
“The Whole Purpose of eBay Is to Get Customers”
It should be obvious: People sell on eBay in order to find customers for their merchandise. What’s changed in recent years is the role eBay plays in the relationships businesses develop with those customers. In the early years, many companies saw no need to go beyond having an eBay Store. But now, with rising eBay fees and increased competition cutting their profit margins, an increasing number of businesses see eBay primarily as a “front end” tool. eBay gives them a way to make initial contact with customers, but their ultimate goal is to sell directly to those customers without eBay’s involvement. Creative Paper is one of those businesses. “We don’t do much better than break even with eBay sales because we are selling such small items,” says McCullough. “When we started doing this, eBay was charging a dime per sale. Now they charge 30 cents to list an item, and more for Gallery photos and other extras. The whole deal costs 60 to 70 cents per listing now. In the beginning, four out of five auctions were selling. Now, if I list ten auctions, I am lucky if three of them sell. Now, we encourage customers to go to our web site to make purchases. The whole point of eBay is to get customers we can sell to later on.” The Creative Paper web site (http://shop.store.yahoo.com/creativepapers/index.html), which is hosted by Yahoo!,
“We Do a Blast E-Mail to 20,000 Customers”
When you are just starting out, customers come and go. You barely notice their names and addresses as you write them on the package you’re about to take to the post office. But smart businesspeople know those names and addresses are like gold. They or their employees record the information in databases for later use. What kinds of things can you do with this business “treasure”? Some suggestions are presented in the following sections.
Send E-Mail Announcements
One thing Jeff McCullough does is send out regular e-mail communications to tell people about new promotions, seasonal specials, closeouts, and the like. Such messages enable Jeff to keep his company’s name in their minds so that, when they are ready to place an order for more paper, they’ll know exactly where to turn. It’s also a way to develop a kind of “one to one relationship” that marketing professionals talk about in regard to e-commerce.
McCullough’s mass e-mail “blast” is essential to his online business. “Right now my web site sales are about $5,000 a month, and half of that business comes from the blast e-mail I send out once a month offering free shipping, two-for-one deals, whatever. Business always spikes after I do the blast e-mail.”
Include a Gift
Like many successful eBay sellers, Jeff includes something extra in each package he sends to a buyer. Along with the item they ordered, they get some additional paper on a ring
“We throw a swatch ring in with all of our orders; it includes samples of our paper, hundreds of different patterns and shapes, and encourages customers to go to our web site to find out more.”
When a customer places an order on the Creative Paper web site or when he or she is viewing a short explanation about how to order he or she is given the option to sign up for the company’s free newsletter. What can a newsletter do to help you keep customers? Here’s what:
- Builds credibility A newsletter lets people know you’re on the ball and actively managing your business.
- Reminds them about you Web shoppers are fickle and will go anywhere they can find the best price unless you develop a sense of loyalty.
- Gives them new reasons to visit your site Your newsletter can include descriptions of products your customers didn’t buy and didn’t know about originally. You introduce them to your entire product line; since they already know and trust you, they’re more likely to purchase one of those new items than someone who’s visiting you for the first time.
“We Do Give People the Option to Opt Out”
Jeff McCullough is very conscious of what separates legitimate business communications from the dreaded “Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail,” otherwise known as “spam.” Whenever he sends an e-mail “blast” or a newsletter, he includes a note giving recipients the chance to “opt out” and not receive such messages in the future. The bottom line: Don’t approach your valued customers unless they have chosen to receive such e-mails from you, or unless you have specifically asked them if they want to receive such notification from you in future.
“When someone buys a product from us, they do so through Andale, which provides us with a checkout system. The checkout system gives people the option to opt out of any future communications from us after the purchase is made. Some people do opt out, but most don’t. It’s surprising, considering all the spam that’s out there on the Internet, but in a typical month we add 400 names to the list of 20,000, and we usually get 100 who opt out. Once they opt out, they don’t get messages about our products anymore.”.