Whether you’re a seasoned pro who has been selling online for years or a rookie just entering the game, there’s always something new to learn about selling products online. To get the inside scoop, I talked to successful online entrepreneur Marsha Collier, an expert on small business, social media and customer service, and the author of numerous books, including “eBay for Dummies,” now in its 8th edition.
Rieva Lesonsky: Today, selling products online is very competitive. How do you stand out from the crowded pack?
Marsha Collier: Selling online is not just about building a website and it’s not like opening a store. You can’t attract attention just by running an ad. If you want to draw an audience, go on online marketplaces like Etsy and eBay. That’s where the people are. You also have to build a social media presence, search for the audience that would be interested in your products and engage in discussions with them. It’s never been about consumers waiting for you [to build it], and today it’s even more complex.
Lesonsky: Etsy and eBay are crowded platforms as well. How do you attract customers there?
Collier: Titles are eBay magic. Choosing keywords that people would use when searching for the products you’re selling and including them in your titles on eBay is key. But even so, your products are not going to fly out the door. You need to build your reputation on eBay and build your feedback.
Lesonsky: If you’re new to eBay, and haven’t had the chance to garner good feedback, how do you get customers to buy from you?
Collier: It’s all about educating the customers. EBay has a money-back guarantee. You need to emphasize that in your listings — to point out that there’s no risk [ordering from you] so you can build a customer base.
Lesonsky: Any eBay selling secrets you can share?
Collier: Try to find items you can keep selling — that keep you listed in the search engines. If sales get stale, change your titles. Make more items “Buy it Now,” especially if you’re selling new products (though auctions are coming back for rare, unique and used merchandise).
Lesonsky: You once shipped four tractor tires, so I know you’re a pro at shipping. Any tips?
Collier: It’s easy to seep cash when it comes to shipping. It’s up to you [the seller] to find the cheapest way to ship, while making sure you offer a professional presentation. Some ideas include:
- Avoid sending small items in big boxes
- Send items weighing less than 13 ounces via first-class mail for less than $4
- Wrap items in bubble wrap and mail them in a padded envelope
- Send clothes wrapped in tissue paper in priority mail envelopes instead of boxes
Consumers want their products quickly, and the FTC [Federal Trade Commission] requires you to get them their goods in less than 30 days, or you need to offer them a refund. Using Endicia Platinum Shipper, for instance, you can find the most cost-effective way to ship.
Lesonsky: More consumers around the world want to buy American products. How hard it is to ship internationally?
Collier: At one point, I noticed a decline in my international orders and discovered the service I was using to ship added a surcharge, making my products too expensive. If you use Endicia, you can ship a package up to 4 pounds by simply printing your international shipping label with the customs information [already there] and handing it to your [mail deliverer]. No muss, no fuss.
Lesonsky: American consumers don’t want to pay shipping costs. How do you deal with that?
Collier: Consider it another cost of doing business. Get as much free stuff [boxes and flat rate envelopes] from the post office, and keep your packing supplies on hand.
Before you ship an item — before you list an item — you need a plan. Know your items. Know your numbers. Know what the shipping costs are going to be. Be prepared. And then roll those costs into the price of the item.
Shipping costs vary depending on where the goods are being sent. The United States is split into eight shipping zones. Some buyers want their merchandise faster and buy from a local seller. One trick is to say “make an offer” in your listings, allowing you to discount items if shipping will be cheaper than you originally calculated.
Lesonsky: In the “old” days, many people considered selling stuff on eBay a hobby.
Collier: It may be a hobby in your mind, but the U.S. government says you’re in business. So act like one. Use Endicia’s shipping software to help you ship fast and print labels that have your company name on them.
You can compete with the big guys, especially when it comes to customer service. After an order, I always send a personal email thanking the buyer, telling him/her how to reach me and to contact me with questions or problems.
Use social media. It drives sales. You can’t run a business without being social.