This is a continuation of a series of articles about the basics of e-commerce. In particular, I'm discussing how to get noticed on the web. In my previous article I provided some tips on using search engines effectively, and introduced targeted search engines (particularly price comparison search engines) as a very effective way to attract people to your website. This post is about an alternative route: selling through other established sites like eBay or Amazon instead of your own web site.
I call these stores "sell through stores."
The biggest advantage to running a store on Amazon or eBay .. is that it's Amazon or eBay. They're top destinations on the web, receiving millions of visitors every day who are interested in buying things. Taking your product to these sites and competing on the same page with the big dogs can be a very effective way to sell.
Another advantage is that you don't have to build or maintain an independent web site to sell products. Starting an Amazon Marketplace account or opening an eBay Store is a relatively straight forward and inexpensive process, and they provide a lot of tools to promote your company and products within their sites.
Both Amazon and eBay are interested in helping you sell more, and they provide extensive documentation and private forums for sellers to come together and help each other out. Having a supportive community and well documented set of services makes it easy to get started and make informed decisions about promoting your products.
There are a few disadvantages, however:
- Amazon and eBay charge for each transaction or require a subscription (or both). These fees are usually pretty reasonable when selling high margin items (like apparel), but they can be a deal breaker on low margins (say, computer memory).
- Although the sites typically let you customize your company's page to some extent, it's a far cry from building an independent presence and identity on the Internet. If you're interested in being known as something other than an eBay or Amazon shop, you'll have to create an external site to promote and market your company.
- Many search engines, targeted or otherwise, don't pay much attention to sell through shops -- some specifically ignore or forbid such listings. Your marketing efforts will be almost entirely dependent on the site you're selling through.
What about using eBay and Amazon as outlets for your independent web store? Well, the essential problem is that selling on multiple sites requires you to independently manage inventory and orders on each site -- your own web site, and each of your sell through stores.
There are a couple of solutions to this: you can do it by hand, or you can do it with software.
Doing it by hand isn't so bad if you're dedicated and don't have very many products. If you're selling sock monkeys, and you only have five kinds of sock monkeys, than keeping everything up to date would take a couple of hours per month. No sweat!
On the other hand, if you're a seasonal retail shop with thousands of products, you're either going to have to hire several very dedicated typists, or get some smart software to automatically link your independent site's inventory with your sell through stores. What does this entail?
- eBay and Amazon have different methods for interacting with their services, so you'll need to find a developer (or a team) familiar with them.
- The developer(s) will have to access your site's database of products as well, in order to retrieve inventory information to push to eBay and Amazon.
- Time and money. Depending on the experience of your developers, and the complexity of the management you're performing, these links could take several months to build and test.
Next we're probably going to hit the blogs and aggregators in search of ways to get noticed. How do you get talked about and linked ... and what about advertising? Good questions! And what do you want to read about, anyway? Let me know.