You use Amazon, you have your own eBay business and you, or someone you know, sells things on your own Web site, or maybe even a crafts site such as Etsy. More than likely, all of the above applies, since you're savvy enough to be reading this article on Auctiva.
To you, e-commerce is no big deal. Yet all of e-commerce represents just about 8 percent of corresponding total retail sales (excluding categories not sold online, such as food, gas and automobiles), according to the market research company comScore. And that's in this country. In places like China, e-commerce has even more room to grow. While China now has more Internet users (298 million) than does the United States, it also has 1.3 billion inhabitants.
At the same time, the recession is taking a huge bite out of traditional retailing, and only a comparative nibble out of e-commerce. With people losing their jobs by the millions and exploring all employment options, e-commerce is looking very attractive. It's into this milieu that the new, revitalized Internet Merchants Association is operating.
As many people look at e-commerce for the first time, the IMA is ready with the answers they need to get started. This comes after a difficult few months during which internal fissures threatened to erupt and permanently damage IMA's landscape for good.
But in March, the recharged nonprofit trade association announced a new board of directors headed by President Cathy Aggelopoulos of Visibility Unlimited. Other elected members include Cynthia Lizana (vice president), Pat Pepe (secretary), Crystal Wells (treasurer), Chris Finken, Andy Sollofe and Burne Hill.
No e-merchant left behind
While it seems as if anyone acquainted with e-commerce already uses it, there are many who still need answers to basic questions
As the IMA's new president, Aggelopoulos is aware of the challenges before her, yet challenges don't intimidate her. Maybe that has something to do with how strongly she feels about the IMA's mandate. The IMA is "a place where you can ask your questions," she says.
Its primary purpose is education through trade shows, member forums or member-to-member contacts that occur unofficially. It's an educational organization. Any time you have a question, the forums are right there with members eager to help you out. For example, Aggelopoulos noted that recently someone asked about a replacement for the software program Quick Keys. Within days, IMA members recommended several other programs.
When we recently interviewed Aggelopoulos, she explained that while it seems as if anyone acquainted with e-commerce already uses it, there are many who still need answers to basic questions. Consider the IMA's experience training ASD/AMD show attendees in March. The two groups were meeting at the same time in Las Vegas. IMA members arrived early to offer attendees of ASD/AMD beginners' classes on topics such as search engine marketing, marketing Web sites on a budget, even things like shipping.
It's a good thing the attendees were there to learn.
"They have no idea of the business they are losing because they are not on the Internet yet," Aggelopoulos asserts. "People are afraid."
During the break between classes, ASD/AMD members lined up to ask questions. Sometimes the questions were as simple as "What's a URL?" Members needed both basic advice about getting sites up and advice about topics such as how to choose a good company to help you build and operate an e-commerce Web site.
Recession hits IMA members
So how is business for experienced IMA members during this recession (or whatever history ultimately dubs it)? While the economy is definitely hurting some members, especially those in higher-end businesses such as jewelry, others are faring well.
"A lot of sellers are doing fantastic," Aggelopoulos says. "They ask each other 'Have you seen the news?'"
Selling online instead of through brick-and-mortar stores definitely helps.
For example, Aggelopoulos' Illinois town is being hit hard by the recession. But her company focuses on a market that's worldwide, which gives her a greater reach. Not that the recession hasn't touched her. She specializes in scuba diving and snorkeling equipment and has found that the market for the more expensive scuba diving stuff is drying up. Yet, there's still a demand for the cheaper snorkeling equipment. Apparently, people are not willing to give up having family fun altogether and are still taking less expensive trips.
Too many people put all their eggs in eBay and a lot got hurt
As far as other IMA members go, for jewelry sellers, business may not be good. But those selling sporting goods, video games and other items that some consider "basic needs" are doing well.
Amazon vs. eBay, vs. …?
The past few years have seen a lot of larger e-commerce sellers move business away from eBay and onto Amazon. While there are still plenty of IMA members who sell on eBay, the trend toward Amazon continues.
"(Customers) go to Amazon because it's safe," Aggelopoulos notes. IMA members are taking advantage of its run, "but at the same time are waiting for the other shoe to drop." They've learned from their experiences with eBay.
"Too many people put all their eggs in eBay and a lot got hurt," Aggelopoulos says. They didn't move quickly enough to Amazon, or to their own Web sites. These days, IMA members are definitely working on their own sites to a greater extent than ever.
eBay attended the recent IMA meeting.
"We still respect eBay," Aggelopoulos acknowledges. The company hosted a session on maximizing profit in this economy.
"eBay is still huge, and I'm hoping I can go back to eBay," the new IMA president says. "They can bring it back if they listen to their customers."
What are the issues that led eBay to its current state? "It's the instability, all the changes," Aggelopoulos says. "They didn't seem to have a plan; they reacted too quickly, and then were forced to take several steps backward."
Looking ahead, the IMA has several initiatives to increase visibility. Plans include launching a big membership drive, hiring a public relations representative and participating in radio, podcasts and, of course, social media. Aggelopoulos says the IMA started Twittering in March and already has more than 1,000 followers.
And in June, the organization launched a new Web site at www.imamerchants.org, having lost ownership of the previous Web domain in the transition to new leadership. "Like anything else, it's a work in progress," says Aggelopoulos.
For now the IMA must ensure the transition from the old board to the new board goes smoothly. They want to bring more value to all membership levels. With that said, they expect next year's conference to be very big. We can't think of anything that's standing in their way.