I received this question from an eBay seller:
"I have been doing well on eBay for several years, but lately it just seems like eBay is making it harder and harder for sellers to make money. The fee increases, the loss of our ability to leave neutral or negative feedback for buyers, the impact of DSR ratings, and losing so many Paypal disputes (and money) because of dishonest buyers, I feel like I need a back-up plan. What do you think of starting my own website?"
I think starting your own website is a smart way to create a safety net for yourself. Let's face it - eBay is making it harder and harder for sellers to make a living. I'm not sure that eBay realizes that for many of us selling is our livelihood - it is how we pay our mortgage and support our families. It isn't just a fun past time - it is how we earn a living.
I'll be honest with you, I have my own e commerce site in addition to my eBay store. For privacy reasons, I don't make my site known. But after several undeserved negatives from impatient international buyers, my DSR dropping, and a "warning" letter from eBay, I decided it was time time to create that safety net in the event I leave eBay at some point.
There are several advantages to having your own e commerce site:
1) You play by your own rules, not eBay's. You can list/sell what you want, link to what you want, and run your store as you like. No interference from Big Brother. You call the shots.
2) You can charge less for your products and make the same profit. Without eBay listing fees, final value fees, store subscription fee, and photo fees, you can charge less for your items and make the same profit.
3) You can sell what you want. On some eBay international sites such as eBay UK, the rules for what can be listed are very strict. With your own site, you can sell whatever you want.
4) You can make MORE money than on eBay. With your own website, you can add Google AdSense, affiliate programs, and other advertising and make money outside of just selling your products. Your ecommerce site becomes a fully rounded business - not just a store.
So, here is what you do. First, you have to find a place to put your site. You need a site that is easy to build, has web hosting, an integrated shopping cart, and I suggest a Paypal feature since eBay buyers (your target audience) already use it. You definitely want a site that comes with its own integrated shopping cart - that part of the process can be a nightmare.
I use CoolBuild for both my coaching site and my ecommerce store. I did a lot of research on this and CoolBuild is very similar to eBay. For $19.98 a month, you get all of the features listed above plus 500 pages, 500 images, and up to 500 products. You can customize your colors, fonts, backgrounds, page layouts, and choose from 200 predesigned templates. You don't have to know any HTML or programming. (In fact, it is very similar to eBay as far as uploading photos, creating the listing, etc.) I have experimented with other sites such as Yahoo Merchant Solutions, and CoolBuild is by far the best. You can go to CoolBuild and do a free 10-day trial and play around with it - it is kind of fun to see all the stuff you can do. I figure for $20 a month, I have a safety net and can build another business on the side that can grow along with my eBay business. You can also look a my coaching site (click here) to see how a completed CoolBuild site looks.
Now, after you set up your site, you will need customers. (This is one of the disadvantages of having your own site - you have to drive the traffic there - but it can be done.) There are several ways you can direct your current and previous eBay customers to your website. Once a customer buys from you on eBay, they become YOUR customer and you are free to communicate with them off of eBay. A word of warning, DO NOT PUT ANY LINKS TO YOUR WEBSITE ON YOUR LISTINGS - THIS IS AN EBAY VIOLATION.
1) Update all of your eBay automated emails (such as winning item, payment received, etc) to include a sentence about your new website. Say something like, "Please visit our website at XYZ." eBay's automated system does not allow for hyperlinks, but at least you are getting your site in front of your customers.
2) Pull your history from Paypal. Log into your Paypal account and find the Download History option. You can go back years into your history. Download your history into an Excel spreadsheet. You will have a record of every customer, their email address, and the item they purchased. You can create an email campaign for your new website with this information.
3) Create promotional materials for your current eBay orders. Include a flyer or business card about your new website and put it in all your eBay orders.
4) Use social networking. Promote your new website on Twitter, Facebook, and in all the places you have been promoting your eBay store. Contact your best customers and ask them to check out your new site.
It will take some time to build your business on your own website, just as it has taken time to build your eBay store. Be patient and give it time. But, you will have a safety net in the event that you are (wrongly) suspended from eBay, choose to leave eBay, or if eBay evaporates overnight.
Have a happy 4th, and be safe!