Building and Marketing Your eBay Business - Part 2

"Niche Marketing vs. the Shotgun Approach..."

By Steve Myers, Online Marketing Consultant

Who are you? What do you want to accomplish? Your online business success depends on answering these two questions accurately and honestly.

Who Are You?

Your background makes you uniquely qualified for a particular niche online. What should you sell on eBay or your web site? Someone with a strict marketing background might tell you it depends only on what you can sell at a profit. Half right.

While you have to choose a market segment that's profitable, that alone won't do it. Yes, it's true that certain products tend to do well on eBay, for example. A research tool like HammerTap can help you identify profitable products to sell on eBay.

But you'll find thousands of products you can sell at a profit on eBay. The trick isn't in finding things you could make a profit selling on eBay. It's in finding what you should sell.

Play to Your Strengths

What do I mean by that? Here's a simple example. I love woodworking. My wife bemoans that fact that she'll never get a car in our garage. That's where my woodworking tools live. The cars have to stand outside in the cold.

In all fairness, my wife has fed my habit by buying me saws, drills, sanders, and other power tools. Her dad worked for Black & Decker for years, so she came by her love of tools honestly.

So what's this have to do with selling on eBay? It's just to say that when choosing a product to sell on eBay, I'd be better off selling tools I can sell at a healthy profit than I would be selling collector dolls, for instance.

Why Specialize?

You might be thinking, if both products are equally profitable, why should I care what I sell? Well, while I could make a profit with either product category, which do you think I'll be more excited to sell?

I'd have more fun selling woodworking tools. That enthusiasm will come through in anything I write about them. I'll tend to put more time into my business if I sell something I enjoy talking about. Perhaps more importantly, knowing a thing or two about them helps me write better product descriptions for my eBay listings and on my web site.

It also helps me come across as an authority on the subject. That may not seem so important when selling on eBay. But when you're selling on your web site, which many eBay sellers do, specific product knowledge is king.

More than Just a Shopping Cart

Let's get one thing clear. An ecommerce web site is not just a shopping cart. No really effective one is, anyway. Why? If you want to compete on anything more than price alone, you don't stand much of a chance at making a good income with your web site if it's just a catalog of products.

Don't get me wrong. If price is your clear advantage, it might be enough of an upside to persuade people to buy from you instead of your competitors. However, if that's the only reason they buy, understand the downsides and risks in doing so.

Risks of Competing on Price

When you compete on price, you're in direct competition with web sites, eBay sellers, and traditional retail stores. It's unlikely that you have the buying power they do. They can buy in large bulk. In doing so, they almost always can buy products for less than you can. If people only buy from you because you're cheapest, they'll go away once someone undercuts your price.

The other major reason that price is often a risky choice as the main reason people should buy from you is that you're deeply cutting into your bottom line. Even if you can buy products at the same wholesale price as your competition, my guess is you have bills to pay. You can't work for nothing. And unless you're doing something to get not just a one-time sale, but long-term customers, you can't entertain the notion that they'll come back if you raise your prices.

In short, I never compete directly on price alone. And the good news is, you don't have to. Chances are, when you're looking for most consumer items, you choose where to buy from based on price. Let's say you're looking to purchase a big-screen television. Where do you likely start?

How Do You Shop?

For many of us, we check the ads in the newspaper, looking for a good deal. Why do we often approach major purchases this way? Simple. It's probably how our parents found bargains.

If we want the best price, we may use a tool like Froogle.com, a search engine of sites that sell products online. It ranks results on the price you'd pay.

Why Your Customers Willingly Pay More

But many customers see beyond price alone. Think about it. You've probably heard of, or even shopped at a Nordstrom's store. They have a few products you can only buy there. But for the majority of the products you'll find on the racks, you could buy the same identical item at Walmart for much cheaper.

So why do people shop at Nordstrom's? Are they unaware that they're paying more than they'd have to? Of course. So why do they pay more? Simply put, they're buying the experience of shopping at Nordstrom's.

Nordstrom has a no-questions-asked returns policy. I've known of people who shop thrift shops for worn out Nordstrom shirts. They return them to the store and exchange them for new. Nordstrom knows this sort of thing happens. But it's the price they're willing to pay to maintain a no-hassle-shopping experience.

Here's another example. When you go out to eat, what are you really buying? If you go someplace nice, you're paying quite a premium. You could pick up a raw steak at the grocery store for much less than the price you pay at a nice restaurant. If the point of going out to eat is just to cure your hunger, you could pay a lot less at McDonalds.

Provide More than the Product

As with buying at Nordstrom, when you eat out, you're buying the experience. You're buying service. When you ask the waiter for a recommendation of what's good to eat there, you're buying his or her knowledge.

With some planning and a little extra time on your part, you can break free of competing on price alone when you sell on eBay or your web site. But to do so, you need to view your buyers differently. Change your goal from making a sale to getting a new customer.

After all, if you get a new customer, you also get the sale. But more importantly, when you take good care of a customer, you are likely to make many sales in the future.

This brings us back to our original point, why you should sell something you have a passion for and knowledge of. When you choose a niche you can speak authoritatively to, you have an advantage over web sites and eBay sellers who pick a product strictly on what they can make from selling it.

Building a Relationship of Trust

Even on eBay, people buy from those they trust. That's why eBay has their seller ranking system, to give buyers confidence in purchasing from those with a good track record. But on the web, you have a much better chance to build a lasting relationship of trust.

So how do you build that trust on a web site? First of all, make sure that for every sale you make, you live up to your customer's expectations. In fact, exceed their expectations when you can. Throw in a little something extra. You'd be surprised how a small gift and a thank you note for their business added to customer orders can change the relationship.

After-Sale

You're allowed to send email messages to recent customers who buy from you. Use that to your advantage. Send out a newsletter describing new and exciting products related to the one your customer purchased. Just make sure you give valuable information and not just a blatant sales pitch. Give helpful hints and point customers to relevant articles on your web site.

Again, you want profit margins that look more like Nordstrom's than Walmart. When you position yourself as the expert who delivers outstanding customer service, you no longer have to compete strictly on price. More importantly, you put yourself in a position to get long-term customers who stick with you.

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