Selling holiday items year 'round might seem a little crazy to some, but for Debbie Reed, an eBay seller of more than three years, it's proved to be a sensible business strategy.
Reed gets about 120 orders a month, even in the holiday-free months. "Holiday items sell best in-season, but I do sell some Easter bunnies at Christmas, and a little bit of Halloween year 'round," the Top-rated seller notes.
In Sugar Camp Cottage, Reed's eBay Store, buyers will definitely find their share of bunnies. They'll also find a variety of vintage-inspired critters to decorate their homes during the holidays, plus a hodgepodge of craft supplies like glass glitter, Victorian "scraps"—or colored printed papers often used for decoupage, collages, scrapbooking—and much more.
My business grew to include old-fashioned-looking holiday items, like paper-mache Belsnickles and jack-o-lanterns
Hand-lettered signs show the way
Holiday items weren't the inventory Reed anticipated selling when she started on eBay. The folk artist, who had been buying on eBay for years, first used the marketplace to sell signs she had crafted from vintage cabinet doors, weathered wood and old dressers. She decorated these with various messages and designs.
eBay buyers responded well to these. Reed even nabbed a few commercial jobs, painting indoor and outdoor signs for businesses. But trying to compete with merchants who offered screen-printed signs that could be produced faster and for lower prices was tough.
"For those who know the difference between a hand-lettered sign and a mass-produced sign, my prices were worth it, but I realized I could probably only sell so much," she says.
Reed decided to adjust her inventory so she could achieve her goal of quitting her day job to focus on online selling. Being an artist, she added craft supplies she, herself, had a hard time finding, hoping others crafters would like having one place where they could find what they needed.
"My business grew from there to include old-fashioned-looking holiday items, like paper-mache Belsnickles and jack-o-lanterns," she adds.
Crafting a business
Reed found the freedom of deciding what to sell in her virtual store very appealing. In the past, the seller had managed the gift department of a major retail store, and though she was in charge of the department, and knew the store's and the customers' needs, she had no say in what items were stocked. This was frustrating, Reed admits.
"[The merchandise] was chosen by buyers far away from the store, and they were choosing merchandise for hundreds of stores, all the same," she says. "Now, I'm the buyer," deciding which critters, figurines and supplies to offer and which to pass on.
Reed posts most of her eBay items as fixed-priced listings, but she loves Auctiva's scheduling feature when she does want to post the occasional auction, she says. This allows her to create listings when she has down time and then post them at the optimal time. And knowing that her ended listings will be saved within her Auctiva account until she deletes them is a big time saver, especially for someone who sells a lot of the same holiday items, year after year.
"What I love about Auctiva is how easy it is to use," she continues. "I tend to sell items over and over again from year to year, and I can just go to my saved listings and relist them easily."
It's up to me, as the business owner, to make sure they get what they paid for in a timely fashion, and in the condition they paid for
Keeping shoppers happy
Reed admits there are challenges to selling online, for instance, keeping shoppers happy. "I think customers have been trained by big-box stores that the customer is always right," she explains. "The problem is that I'm not a big box store. I'm a very small store, run by just me."
This means she can only work at a certain pace and that returns can hurt her bottom line. Still, she wants customers to leave happy, and buy from her again and again, so Reed does everything she can to keep them content. Her background in retail has been of great help with this, she says.
Reed knows that buyers want questions answered quickly, so she's always done this. She also knows communication is of utmost importance, so she quickly lets customers know when packages are on their way. And she's honest with buyers. Doing all of this goes a long way in building trust and encouraging shoppers to stop by again.
"When someone overpays shipping, I refund it," Reed adds. "If something gets broken in the mail, I send replacements, if possible, or refund their money. It's up to me, as the business owner, to make sure they get what they paid for in a timely fashion, and in the condition they paid for."
Reed even goes the extra mile in her listings, offering her "impressions" of the items she sells. For instance, if something seems smaller than she expected, she lets browsers know. And she's sure to note if an item's quality is not quite up to par.
"I don't want to glorify something in my description only to have [my buyers be] disappointed when they receive the item," she says.
Reed's years in the retail environment taught her a lot of lessons that she's carried over into her online business. One of the biggest things is that professionalism is always important. This not only means that merchants have to create accurate and attractive listings; they also can't assume their jobs are done when someone buys their products. They have to pay close attention to the way they ship items.
Shoppers have certain expectations, she says, and it's up to sellers to deliver. "I once received an item from an eBay seller shipped in a microwave dinner box," she notes. "When Priority Mail boxes from the post office are free, this is unacceptable."
Sellers should always keep this in mind and invest in quality materials, including the right-size boxes, bubble, packing peanuts and "lots of printer ink to print your labels," she says. New sellers should also note one other thing: Selling on eBay isn't a quick way to get rich.
"If someone knows how to do that, I wish they would tell me," Reed jokes. "It's very time consuming to set up your product and take good photos, edit those photos and make the listings."
Still, it can pay off if you stick with it, Reed notes. She's now close to achieving her goal of working full-time on eBay.
Visit Sugar Camp Cottage.