Should You Sell Online or Offline?

Most of the customers who buy my guide are selling on online sites such as E-bay and other auction sites. I did get a fair number of customers who operate brick-and-mortar retail stores that are looking for merchandise to fill in and complement their product selection. A lot of people want to know the different between selling offline and online. I’ve done both and I’ll be honest about the pros and cons of each.

The first part we will tackle is what it’s like to sell online. The market conditions for E-bay may be drastically different than they are at the moment you read this article. But E-bay is a very, very competitive market place and one of the things that I really need to make my customers realize is that sometimes they have no idea what type of company they are looking at.

When you’re doing research or when you’re looking at other options, sometimes you’re looking at someone that has a company just like this. They may be buying from a jobber, and selling on E-bay. And then sometimes you’re looking at a very large company with significant resources that is just using E-bay as a sales outlet.

Having said that, there are still specific categories of merchandise that do extremely well for the independent seller on E-bay. What they are, I couldn’t tell you because they vary from time to time. They may vary depending on what’s currently trending in fashion or accessories. They have so many different variables involved that it’s hard to give an answer that stays consistently true. But the truth of the matter is that you have to do your research. E-bay and other types of online marketplaces are great because they bring in their own traffic and give you a chance to get your feet wet. They also help you understand buying and selling before you have to tackle the beast of bringing in your own customers.

We have quite a few buyers that have their own websites. This is the other option but that landscape is also becoming increasingly crowded. However, there is always room for specialized sites with focused merchandise. There will always be room for that. And we have clients that also, they either completely off-price or they buy off-price just to fill in their merchandise and they do very well.

Selling online is a wonderful option for a lot of people. Some of you have lifestyles that don’t really allow you the flexibility of anything else and some of you just live in a geographic area where selling online is pretty much your only choice because you don’t live in an area that can sustain a retail store. It’s really a great opportunity for some people but to be successful at it, you really either have to invest the time to learn and understand internet marketing.

I won’t just throw out terms like search engine optimization, because the truth of the matter is we’re evolving into that kind of internet but also away from that. You’ll see a lot of focus paid on social media and on social shopping. Whatever the phrase of the moment is will change over time but basically, you will just have to have an incredible understanding of what it takes to market to customers online–how do you reach them, how do you get them on to your site, and how do you get them to buy. However all that is being done, at the point in time that you’re undertaking it you need to understand what to do or you need to be able to hire someone to do it or you need to find a company that can do the work for you. But the bottom line is truly, truly, truly, you should know how to do it. A great example of this is how Zappos markets themselves as a customer service company that just happens to sell a whole bunch of merchandise.

Actually, the more successful independent retailers online are those that are marketers who understand how to market online. They know exactly what to do even if they just pick a product that fits into their level of expertise or needs a lot of other criteria for the optimum type product to sell online. That’s the kind of thing that you will need to know if you plan on having your own website.

We’ve also seen people really do some interesting things like focus on certain internet communities and sell to them. We’ve seen people do Facebook. For e-commerce it’s not what I recommend but I have seen it as well as a bunch of different methods. It all comes down to how much you have to get it going and how large a scale you want it. The great thing about this is that the level of infrastructure that it requires to sell online is such a small fraction of what is required to sell offline. When you have a brick-and-mortar store, you need more of everything to have more space to sell your merchandise. You pay more rates, utilities and electricity, you need more staff. Online, you don’t have those same considerations so you can scale pretty significantly without requiring as much in resources.

Read Part 2: Brick-and-Mortar Retail