eBay has enjoyed a reputation as a 21st century path to the American Dream since before the 21st century actually began. By the end of the last century, eBay presented a unique opportunity to start and build an independent business, capable of providing a sustainable income for budding entrepreneurs and their employees. Media buzzed with the idea that eBay was "the greatest business incubator the world has ever seen." Indeed, we've said so ourselves. And over the many years that we've followed eBay's growth, we have truly and sincerely believed it.
Throughout some of those same years, the media also highlighted every misstep eBay made. And undoubtedly some of those missteps caused some eBay sellers headaches. Yet, when the hype and dust cleared, most sellers remained loyal and largely successful.
Although life is different on eBay in 2008, the site still enjoys the loyalty and enthusiasm of many long-time successful sellers
Just this past February, eBay's groundbreaking round of announcements spurred a much-publicized strike among sellers and talk of leaving eBay behind for other online venues. The buzz of multi-channel selling had been brewing over the course of the last two years, and last winter's developments suggested that it might just be the end of the eBay road for many sellers. If eBay could create so much anguish among sellers, was there still opportunity for those who wanted to build an e-commerce business on eBay?
We're happy to report that, although life is different on eBay in 2008, the site still enjoys the loyalty and enthusiasm of many long-time successful sellers, and opportunities still abound for those who are just starting out.
"eBay is still a great place to sell, because of the demand from buyers who shop on eBay," says Debbie Levitt, chief executive officer of As Was, an e-commerce consulting firm. "It can be like having a shop on the corner of the hottest intersection of the country, and knowing you have all of those chances to get someone into that shop."
Stephanie Inge, a PowerSeller and eBay success story agrees. She operates on eBay as stephintexas, and she's still a huge fan of the site. "I challenge anyone to find another business that has a lower start-up cost and higher chance of success than eBay," she says. "And to make it even better, most of us already have everything we need to get started."
The ease of start-up has long been a strong attraction for new sellers on eBay, but eBay also offers quite a few other benefits to those just starting out in the world of e-commerce. "On eBay, you can research and test your value proposition with extraordinary speed and cost-efficiency," says e-commerce consultant, David Yaskulka. "eBay remains the lowest-risk, fastest-to-market channel for starting an online businessand for starting any retail business for that matter." So, quick and easy start-up and great market research opportunities are still hallmarks of the site, but Yaskulka is quick to point out that eBay is a great place for established merchants, too.
"eBay takes its role as a business incubator seriously," he notes. "The key is the opportunity eBay intentionally provides for growing your business' relationship with the customer. You can create your own branded storefront, About Me page, listing template, gallery images, custom pages and more," Yaskulka explains. "You can encourage customers to add you as a favorite seller and sign up for your newsletter. You can even utilize a third-party checkout to invite customers to opt-in to your off-eBay newsletter. That's amazing brand control and lifetime customer value for a marketplace to offer!" David is quick to point out that these opportunities are nowhere near as simple to find on other online selling venues. Plus, "eBay remains the most efficient channel for turning problem inventory into cash very quickly," he adds.
A good business model is to start small, grow fast, and take advantage of the wonderful eBay tools that are readily available and can help to streamline your daily operations
Perhaps that's because, as of March 31, eBay reported that there are approximately 83.9 million active eBay users worldwide. In the first quarter of 2008, 647 million new listings were added to eBay, and users trade an estimated $2,040 worth of goods on the site every second. In that same quarter, growth in international business on eBay surpassed that of its U.S. operations, 55 percent to 45 percent. Clearly, the world is far from over eBay!
We're the first to admit that operating a successful eBay business has never been a simple way to earn a living. There have always been challenges to staying competitive and profitable on the site, and they remain real, especially in the form of higher fees and greater competition. "eBay still takes serious attention to research, product selection, product presentation, overall listing design and marketing, and listing strategy; so it's not easy," says Levitt. "You can't really do it well from your pool raft, as some infomercials would have you believe." But, eBay's status as the greatest business incubator ever known to humanity still seems secure.
"A good business model is to start small, grow fast, and take advantage of the wonderful eBay tools that are readily available and can help to streamline your daily operations," advises Inge. "Plus many of them are free."
Yaskulka advises that new sellers take advantage of "eBay's 'secret weapon' for growing an enduring, committed passionate relationship with customers: the eBay Giving Works program." As he notes, "It's only on eBay that a small retailer can forge world-class cause-marketing partnerships with the best nonprofit brands. You can use eBay to acquire and keep customers who care about the American Red Cross, The Nature conservancy, Habitat for Humanity and 12,000 other groups." Not only will this help you build a loyal customer base, no matter where you take your e-commerce business, but it also "gives your customers something to talk about, and post on Facebook, StumbleUpon and Digg, and generally spread the word about your business," Yaskukla says.
"A large part of the American Dream is being your own boss," Inge observes, and eBay has made that possible for hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. Sure, eBay has been through many changes since September 1995, she notes. Indeed, it's become a household word and, for many, a way of life. Yet, "eBay remains the single best option for anyone who wishes to break out of the corporate rat race and start their own business on a shoestring," Inge says.
We've yet to meet anyone who willingly headed back to that rat race. That sure sounds like a business incubator to us!