Now that you know the definition of a powerseller, you're probably wondering how to go about becoming one yourself. I sure hope so, because I just got off the phone with one.
Jerry, owner of the successful eBay store Zzzzinga's-zBay and bona fide powerseller, was kind enough to set aside some of his time this morning answering all my questions. The store's most popular offerings include area rugs and quilts and quilt sets, as well as some high-end wooden furniture lines such as hand-crafted beds and hutches. Many of the same products are also available at his new website Decor Village, where the product line will soon be expanding beyond the scope of his eBay offerings
Jerry and his wife have been selling on eBay since February, 2003. Around that time, he was working at one of eBay's customer centers, initially working on email security issues such as spam and spoofs, and eventually manning a powerseller helpline, where he was consulting with top sellers and helping them to grow their businesses. Having of course been aware of eBay before all this, and now having direct contact with successful powersellers, Jerry's main motivation to open his account was to gain experience with the user end of the site. As an employee, he needed to know his stuff.
What was he selling in those early days? He already had previous retail experience, which got him off to a good start in the area of product sourcing. "We immediately set up ebay stores as fast as we could and contacted a lot of manufacturers we had dealt with for years, and made arrangements to sell their products on eBay." The first offerings were mostly area rugs, on which he was able to get wholesale pricing. These manufacturers were also willing to ship directly to his customers from their warehouses, eliminating the need to develop dedicated storage space and handle the technicalities of physically shipping the products. Yes, I intentionally avoided the term "dropshipping" there, though that is technically the correct term for this kind of arrangement.
We got into discussing the benefits of dropshipping, and there's an important distinction to be made between real manufacturer dropshipping and the websites that come up when you type the word dropshipping into a search engine. Regarding the latter, Jerry speaks from experience, "I've looked at their prices, and I've looked into what things are selling for on eBay, and unless you're willing to make a penny or two pennies on a sale, it's not worth it. When you can work directly with a manufacturer that will ship right to your customers, that's a good deal." It's important to note that these manufacturers are not all over the web advertising themselves as dropshippers. If you're not lucky enough to already have some contacts, a good way to get started is to locate manufacturers in a certain industry or product area and give them a call. Have your notes ready, get a sales rep on the phone, and explain to them that you understand that this may not be their usual business model, but if they're willing to work with you, you just might be able to help them make some sales. You might get hung up on a few times, but you might also be surprised at some of the names that have small, unpublicized dropshipping departments, often because they received a few of these types of calls.
So dropshipping really does work, as reported by a powerseller. That said, area rugs and solid wood furniture are large, heavy items, and I had a feeling that the US Postal Service's flat-rate priority mail service wasn't going to be as useful to Jerry as it is to somebody selling more manageable products like clothes or shoes. Nope. Most of these products have to be transported by freight carriers, the cost of which may easily be many hundreds of dollars. If you call the next number you see on the back of a tractor trailer and tell them you want to ship six hundred pounds of furniture from Georgia to California, you'll see what I mean.
After working with this issue for what's quickly approaching four years, Jerry has found that the best way for him to handle it is to offer free shipping on the area rugs, and charge his customers a flat rate on the furniture items. This flat rate represents a reasonable portion of what he expects it to actually cost to get the product out to the customer. Since there's no way to know ahead of time where the next customer's shipping address will be, this means the actual freight bill often turns out to be more than the shipping charges he passes onto his customer. That's the cost of doing business sometimes, but at least it covers a portion of his shipping expenses.
Regarding the area rugs, they basically have to be offered with free shipping, because that's what the competition is doing. The quilts and other more easily handles items are usually shipped UPS, and for these the eBay shipping calculator is used to try and pass on at least most of the actual shipping costs.
Speaking of eBay tools, they're all Jerry uses to manage his eBay business. He has never purchased any subscription services or third-party software, nor hired any outside help to manage his listings. He saves time by having his items automatically be relisted, and uses Selling Manager Pro and Turbo Lister, all tools offered directly from eBay. He also makes healthy use of the marketplace research tools and traffic reports that are offered to eBay stores, and the email marketing tools help him keep his name in front of his customers.
He also advises that as a store owner, it makes sense to use all the tools that are made available for free.
"Take advantage of whatever features eBay offers. If you have a store there are a ton of free features available, and sellers need to get in and look at those and determine what's really going to be able to help them. Every feature in there is designed by eBay to help a seller be more successful. eBay doesn't put features in there just because they think they're pretty, they put them in because their research shows that these are the features that are going to help sellers be more successful, so take advantage of every free feature that you can."
Jerry's final advice for new sellers:
"Don't get discouraged. It seems like it's going to start slow usually, but Hang in there. Learn the rules, learn the policies. Over the years, especially as an eBay employee, I've seen a lot of sellers get very discouraged because they didn't take the time to understand the policies... As a first time seller, I used to tell people to buy twenty or thirty items first. Find out what it's like to be a buyer on eBay, and that will help you as you sell. Successful sales come basically because people have the right titles, they have the right keywords in their titles, good descriptions and good photographs."
Special emphasis is placed on the importance of having good quality photos to represent listed items. Jerry accounted some of his experiences where he's listed items two or three times using a certain photo and failed to sell the item. A couple weeks later, the same item listed with several photographs taken from different angles would sell for a profit. "Because people are online, they can't see, they can't touch the item like they're used to in a [brick and mortar] store... Good photographs are very important."
Thanks again Jerry, for sharing some of your first-hand experience with us. Everybody else, if you want to take a look at some real ebay powerseller professionalism, do have a look at Zzzzinga's-zBay and Decor Village.