Sunday, July 08, 2007

Why Do You Sell Online?

Most online sellers, whether they sell on eBay, Amazon,, Overstock or their own website, have a story to tell about why they began selling online. I'm sure many of them were motivated by just wanting to make more money but I think for a great many sellers it goes deeper than that.

Many of you have heard or read my story before. It was 2001 and I was preparing to sell my business. While I lined up potential buyers, I began to look for my next adventure. My son was collecting Pokemon cards at the time and wanted to complete his collection. So, being the great dad that I was, I set out to help him do that, even though I had no clue what a Pokemon card was.

I had been on eBay since late 1999, so I was familiar with the site but I really hadn't sold anything. I began checking out Auctions for Pokemon cards. Some of the cards, he needed, were getting pretty expensive and actually had small bidding wars going (those were the days). Now, I wanted to help my son out but I wasn't going to spend $50 on one card, so instead I decided to just buy a few packs of cards at the local store and see if maybe he would get lucky and get the card he wanted. Low and behold, that's exactly what happened saving me roughly $50 and making my son's face light up.

That's when the light bulb went off in my head. I could buy a pack of cards at the local store let my son pick through the deck for the ones he needed and then sell the others on eBay. I could help him put together his collection and possibly even make some money on the deal.

Well, I was soon buying cases of Pokemon cards picking through them with my son and then selling them on eBay and Amazon. I didn't get rich but it did get me thinking. What would happen if I found a steady source of product at a great price, would I be able to sell it at a profit on eBay and Amazon?

I began to look for items to sell, since my background was in TV production I thought I would seek out independent video producers who were trying to get their videos sold. Several of my friends had boxes of videos sitting in their garage, that they were unable to sell, so I told them I would take the videos on consignment and when I sold them I would pay them the agreed upon amount. I was doing this on the side while I ran my other business and it brought in a little extra money, at least enough to tell me there was potential with the idea.

About this time, the DVD began to rise in popularity, so I began looking for a source for DVD's. I found a surplus supplier and began buying all of the product he had. I was selling it as fast as I put it up and Glacier Bay DVD was born. eBay was my new selling venue and I sold $400,000 in DVD's the first year while I tested things out. The problem was, I didn't have a steady flow of product. Some weeks I would get 500 pieces and others nothing, before I could make this a full-time business I needed to get a steady supply. One day while surfing around on the Internet I came across a local DVD and CD distributor in my same town and soon I was in business for real. I sold my other business and incorporated the new eBay business in 2002 as Glacier Bay DVD. I was in heaven.

I had been an entrepreneur for most of my adult life but mostly in service businesses like video production, web design, computer consulting. The income I made depended a great deal on how many hours I had in a day. With this new business, it was unlike anything I had done before. I could be asleep at night and wake-up to 30 - 40 orders making me $4 - $5 each. I had found business Nirvana.

I won't go any further with this story now but it contains many more highs and lows over the next 4 years. My point for bringing it up, is there are many sellers out there with similar stories and I would like to hear them.

I recently met an eBay seller named Suzanne at eBay Live in Boston and she briefly told me her story about surviving divorce and single parenthood by creating her own eBay business. Those are the stories I want to hear. If investors, analysts and industry watchers wonder why eBay sellers are such a vocal bunch its because eBay opened the door to a bright future for many of them and over the last few years appears to be working hard to shut that door.

Once you give someone hope for a better life they are going to fight to keep it. I would like to hear your stories. Please use the comments section of the blog to tell me your story. If it is too long for the comments section please email me at rksmytheatyahoodotcom and let me know if I have your permission to share it.

Update: Store like this from B.K. in St. Louis.

"Hey Randy - I started out back in the mid 90s selling things on the internet newsgroups. Sold collectibles with no photos, had to be very descriptive and be sure and find the right newsgroup for the item I was trying to sell.

Have been an eBay member since 1998. And that EBAY word kept cropping up in the newsgroup titles and I kept thinking, what in the heck is that???? Seems like a long time ago now that eBay has taken on such a life of it's own.

I am a widow with 2 kids and have used eBay all those years to support us. It was not always my main source of income, but I sure have sold many things over the years and certainly remember the cozy community it started off as.

I still do it mostly fulltime and not much has changed for me. Don't like some of the changes, but Stores and Paypal have enhanced the selling experience for the better. It does allow
me to scrape by and stay home, which is what I like about it the most. " Thanks, B.K.


Anonymous said...

In 2003 I owned a retail store and found that selling online (eBay) was more profitable and less hassle than running a retail location.

Two years ago I sold the retail location to focus 100% online and on eBay. At the time eBay was calling for more Store's, etc.

Now, however, the profits on eBay are not so good. For the last year or so, ever since eBay tossed Store's overboard with the fee increase and reduced exposure, I've been working towards getting away from eBay and diversifying.

eBay management seems to enjoy spitting in the face of those who made them... so I'm leaving eBay ASAP but will keep just enough listings on eBay to siphon off as many of their customers to my off-eBay site as possible.

Sue said...

I won't bore you with *all* the back story, but the short version is that selling online enabled me to quit stressful jobs and lifestyle in London and live in the French countryside, to deal with my depression and to feel like I have some element of control over my life. There is no way I can go back to paid employment, nor would I want to, so the bottom line for me is that I have to make this work, with or without eBay.

If eBay make it too difficult for me to sell via their site, then I have no intention of becoming one of those sellers who sits around complaining about how eBay have "ruined their business". I am diversifying my sales away from eBay, and my income away from selling, but at the moment I have no intention of quitting eBay. The buyers are still there: the biggest problem is other sellers. There is competition now like I have never seen before in seven years of selling on the site, largely due to people like you and me being public about the fact that there is a living to be made there :-D

katiyana said...

It's funny - my story starts the same as yours with Pokemon trading cards. Just as you did, I found it better to buy the cards, get what we wanted out of them, and sell the rest. Eventually, my daughter outgrew them, but I didn't. I've been selling them ever since 2000. I've expanded to include trading card supplies, and then diversified with handmade doll and bear clothes. My business brings in extra money that goes into savings towards my daughter's college education

It also helped me keep my sanity when my husband died suddenly last year. It was something to focus on and stay busy with, instead of dwelling on him being gone.

eBay is still 75% of my business, but I'm diversified across a number of selling venues, and hoping to become less eBay-Centric in the future. And it all started with those same little Pokemon cards.

Randy Smythe said...

That's what I like to hear. Please keep them coming.

Each of you has an interesting story to tell but if you don't feel like telling it here then please send it to me directly via email. I would love to hear it.