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Hillary DePiano: Where to sell online

By Chris Dawson September 17, 2009 - 10:30 am

hillarydepianoHillary DePiano is a fiction and non-fiction author best known for her play, The Love of Three Oranges. She has been selling online since 1997 using eBay and other online platforms and is an eBay Store owner, PowerSeller and Trading Assistant. Hillary discusses the world of e-commerce and selling online daily on her blog, The Whine Seller and on Twitter as @hillarydepiano. This is her review of marketplaces backed with 12 years of online selling experience:

When I started selling online in 1997, eBay was one of many platforms I was selling on. While many of the places I sold on in the early days no longer even exist, I wanted to do a quick overview for the benefit of TameBay’s readers of what I found on my journey.

One thing I do want to add before I begin is that I am a US based seller of both new and vintage items. If a certain platform works better for a certain type of product I will indicate below.

Of all the various platforms I have sold on, here are the ones I consider noteworthy:

eBay

Right from the start, eBay stood out amongst the hundreds of auctions sites in the late 90s as the best of the bunch. The marketplace has consistently evolved and added new features over the years making it the best marketplace around for new, used and collectible items. Not only has eBay evolved hundreds of tools to let you list, edit, buy and sell as fast and efficiently as possible, there are hundreds of support companies and third party providers available to provide additional tools if you need them.

As we discuss the other companies below, understand that even with all the changes and fee increases over the years, eBay remains our most consistently profitable marketplace for items both new and old.

Amazon

It is difficult to talk about Amazon as a single entity as sellers who try to sell on the site quickly realize that there are many ways to sell on Amazon. Amazon Marketplace (free account) is an excellent way to sell media. With a similar interface to Half.com, you can list items instantly by just inputting a sentence description and price. The advantages to this include fees only when the item sells and a quick listing process but disadvantages are many. The biggest issue is that many buyers still do not understand the marketplace system and expect the same terms as with a sale with Amazon.com proper, often leading to misunderstandings with shipping and bad feedback.

Amazon Marketplace Pro is eligible for Fulfillment By Amazon. FBA is a program by which sellers can have Amazon store their items for them. Items sold through this program appear on Amazon proper instead of just the marketplace so items ship with SuperSaverShipping or other Amazon shipping promotions. While some sellers swear by it, this program’s price tag ($30 a month and then an additional fee per storage size) has kept this from being profitable for us.

Amazon Advantage is another program similar to Marketplace Pro with FBA. With Advantage, Amazon stores the items for the seller just like with FBA but the program only costs $30 a year instead of a month. The one restriction to Advantage is that you must be the rights holder (or have the permission of the rights holder) to sell any content that you sell through their program which may render many items you sell ineligible. We have been using this program for many years and it more than pays for itself. The small $30 a year fee is well worth Amazon storing and shipping the items for us.

Other selling programs on Amazon include Booksurge, CreateSpace and the Kindle. For sellers with content (written, video or audio), these represent a powerful way to get your content to buyers without any upfront costs. Publishing on the Kindle, for instance, is nearly instant (items are available for sale less than an hour after uploading in most cases) so it is an ideal platform for monetizing old blog posts or other content for some extra income. Sales on any of these platforms only yield profit as Amazon automatically deducts the fees from the price the buyer pays.

Overall, Amazon is often the best place for selling media items. If the Amazon list price is lower than what you want to charge for the item, however, I would recommend another marketplace. You aren’t going to be able to compete with Amazon no matter how much they let you play in their world. That is always the somewhat uncomfortable element of selling on Amazon. If you are selling the same item as they, their sale always takes preference and they will undercut your items and promote their items over yours as a rule. As long as you can always beat them on price or have unique enough items, however, it can be a great marketplace.

Half.com

Half listings showing on eBay was at once the best and worst thing to happen to that marketplace. Half.com sellers now get increased exposure which is great but with new eBay policies that gives advantages for things like free shipping, most of the time it behooves the seller to list the item on eBay instead of Half though they will show on the same page of results no matter which site they were originally listed on.

However, if Amazon is already charging less than you on an item, Half is a great alternative with no upfront fees.

A1 marketplace and HalfValue are both very similar to Half.com so they can be handy if you just want more exposure for an item by listing on several sites.

Overstock Auctions

In the beginning, Overstock really impressed me. As an eBay PowerSeller, they approached me before they even launched the site and let me use the auctions while they were in BETA. They also reserved my eBay username and gave me a substantial credit towards future fees. This went a long way towards buying my loyalty and convinced me they were a class act.

I immediately moved some of our inventory over to Overstock, double listing items on both eBay and Overstock to see where items would sell first. I never even used up my entire initial fee credits. I tried selling on the site for the better part of the year, trying all sorts of items because the fee credits encouraged experimentation because I wasn’t actually paying a dime.

I never sold a single thing in all that time. Even our bestselling items that were selling constantly on eBay never moved a single sale on Overstock Auctions. As the platform moved to favor new items over collectible items, I was gone for good. While sellers of new items may find Overstock a good place to double list some items they have listed elsewhere forr extra exposure, they were simply not worth it for us.

In the end, they tried their best to lure sellers from eBay with fee credits and reserved user names but never successfully lured the buyers to buy our items.

Bonanzle, eBid, ePier, iOffer

I have tried all of these in turn and none of these have been a profitable marketplace. I like some ideas from each site. I like the idea of sales as “events” with Bonanzle’s Bonanzas, eBid’s lifetime membership to guarantee no fees ever, iOffer’s import tools, etc. Each site has some different ideas and a cute detail here and there that I like.

In the end, however, I have to lump them all together because they all suffer from the same problem as Overstock. While sellers may like several of their features, buyers simply haven’t heard of them. That doesn’t mean any of these sites aren’t going to grow in the future but, for now at least, we just aren’t seeing any sales.

If I can list the same item on eBay and these other sites, price the item higher on eBay to cover fees and the items still sells first on eBay or Amazon, the other bells and whistles these sites offer don’t compare to simply selling items faster and more often.

The other big issue is the time involved in listing items on these other sites. eBay has been around for so long, there are many bulk tools that help you to do business with them as fast and efficiently as possible. With these newer sites, their listing and selling process is far more manual. If items sold faster on one of these new sites, I’d be willing to take the extra time but when it takes longer to list on a new site than it does on eBay and the item still sells first on eBay, you’ve lost my business.

Message boards

One thing I want to mention, though not an official platform, is online message boards. There are many boards that encourage buying and selling. Selling on a message board has a certain element of risk because there aren’t the safety checks in place like on the bigger e-commerce sites but you can usually get a higher price on collectible items on “the boards” then you can on any public site because you are avoiding all fees. The boards are also great places to buy items for resale as many of the people selling on message boards are doing so because they are not registered on another selling site and may not realize the full value of what they are selling.

Boards are usually better for collectibles than new items. A few tips for selling on message boards: firstly, find the best site for what you are selling. An action figure board may be a good choice but if there is a board for the specific line of action figures, that would be better. Don’t be afraid to post the same listing in several relevant boards. Secondly, protect yourself. Make sure you receive cleared payment before you ship your items. If possible, use a service like PayPal that has built in Seller Protection because there is no main company to mediate problems if they happen. Lastly, make sure that you follow the rules of the board. If there is a designated selling section of the site, make sure that you keep your posts in that area.

Another advantage of selling on message boards is that you can often work a sale backwards. If someone has posted a “Want Ad” for a certain item that you have for sale, you can basically work your price and often have a guaranteed sale. It can be a more profitable and faster method of selling than anywhere else.

Cafepress, Zazzle

These sites are very appealing because the print on demand technology allows you to sell items without the overheard of buying inventory in advance. Unfortunately, there is a cost for this technology in the print cost so items are often prohibitively expensive. While these sites are great for small groups like schools or churches for fundraisers or other small events, if you are going to sell your designs you are always better off finding a big printer with whom you can do a bulk order. While both Zazzle and Cafepress do bulk orders, neither can give you the kind of discount you can get elsewhere.

Remember, the more you pay for the product upfront, the more you have to charge for it and the less you make per sale.

Oddly enough, the non-eBay platforms we had the most success with were the now defunct Yahoo and Amazon Auction programs. While neither ever reached eBay sales volume, we had consistent sales on both platforms before they were shut down.

  • still trading
    11 years ago

    you can tell she writes books,
    I can say the same in less than 10 words

    when selling online ,
    ebay & amazon are the only option

  • Shelly
    11 years ago

    Why exactly do you consider overstock, eBid, ioffer, Bonanzle, and epier “noteworthy”? You wrote that in your opinion they are worthless so why did you decide they are noteworthy? Very odd.

    What about eCrater is it not even worthless enough to be considered noteworthy by you? Or, should I assume eCrater is a good site, because you didn’t include it among the noteworthy sites to mention?

    Exactly what is your purpose? Do you really think that any seller that was on eBay imagines they will sell more quantity on these smaller new sites than on eBay?

    You ought to be ashamed of yourself for trying to terrorize sellers looking to escape your boss eBay. Anyone with a conscience would get out of the way of sellers ready to unshackle themselves from eBay.

    Absolutely appalling!

    • still trading
      11 years ago

      sound sensible and useful advice just a bit pointless,
      as anyone with any wit knows ebay and Amazon are the only place to sell on the web, other than your own site,
      we are not trying to escape ebay ,far from it, we are trying to list more on ebay , ebay is our god not our boss 😈

  • 11 years ago

    Blimey!

    Hillary is a guest, I believe, on Tamebay. Any need to be quite so vitriolic?

    I really liked what she said, I found it informative and nicely written. In fact, it made me decide to go and relook at some of the sites I had decided to ignore, even though Hillary states they are not yet doing well. She points out some of the good points and did put a positive slant on them.

    I think YOU ought to be ashamed of yourself for coming across so bitterly!

    • I agree with Andrea.

      It’s well written and nothing with being verbose in this case.

  • 11 years ago

    Remember, the more you pay for the product upfront, the more you have to charge for it and the less you make per sale.

    No kidding?

    😥

  • Hillary
    11 years ago

    still trading – LOL I usually say it in so few words as well but Chris asked me for a complete review of each site I had used, pluses and minuses so I wanted to be a throughout as possible.

    Shelly- eCrater I just plumb forgot about! I will add that and ask Chris to edit, good call.

    My purpose was that Chris had asked me to do a guest post reviewing all the different sites I’d used. I know some people hate eBay and I am not trying to convert/upset anyone. I have just been selling online for over 12 years now and was sharing what I found.

    Business is not a 1 size fits all. Your business may die on eBay, thrive on another site for all I know. The only life I have lived is mine so that is the only frame of reference I have. For my business, this is what I found. That doesn’t mean you’ll find the same thing.

    You made my day by saying I was appalling! I figured at my age I didn’t have it in me to shock anyone! LOL 🙂

    Thanks for reading and if anyone has any questions or needs clarifications, please let me know and I will try to answer as best as I can.

    • 11 years ago

      Business is not a 1 size fits all.
      That is one of the best bits of advice anyone will ever get – and it’s something that eBay sellers (myself included) forget far too often.

    • 11 years ago

      I actually wrote a whole post about this once bordered around a lady who accosted me at the post office to “warn” me that it was impossible to make money doing eBay. She had tried it for a week. I’ve been doing it for 12 years.

      I was like, um, maybe impossible for YOU. 🙂

      In all seriousness, it isn’t one size fits all. I am sure that some of the eBay changes totally crippled some businesses. But just because it hurt your business doesn’t mean that the whole site is evil.

    • 11 years ago
    • 11 years ago

      Look at you, finding stuff!

      I just sat here trying to find that myself saying…wait what words were in that post again? lol Sad.

    • 11 years ago

      Heheh. I really vividly remember reading your title in my RSS reader and thinking “huh? that doesn’t sound like Hillary…” 😀
      So I put “impossible to make a living on eBay” into your search box and there it was 😉

    • still trading
      11 years ago

      our dog, the budgie, the rabbit,
      next doors cat, and its fleas all make a living on ebay, not to mention those that make a living selling advertising to them ,writing about them, supplying them, and their sellers, and lets not forget
      the revenue inspecters ,the accountants the law enforcement agencies that make money or get their living from ebay and its sellers

  • 11 years ago

    I am a guest blogger today, yes :-). If you want to yell at me on a regular basis, I am over at http://www.thewhineseller.com 🙂

    Andrea – I appreciate your support but it’s OK. If there is one thing I have noticed its that saying “I am still doing well on eBay” seems to be a dirty word online. I always feel like I need to apologize for the fact that my business isn’t failing.

    But I do understand that there is a lot of anger for some people and that is fine. I don’t work for eBay, I owe them nothing so it’s no skin off my nose, as they say, whether people like eBay or not. 🙂

    • still trading
      11 years ago

      too right hillary
      it seems to succeed on ebay is almost
      the same as being taliban

  • 11 years ago

    Just a note that CafePress also has a new Group order functionality (bulk buy on steroids), which is a great alternative to a traditional long-run print job that requires the same shirt, same design, etc.

    http://groups.cafepress.com/

    Cheerio.

    • 11 years ago

      I have used Cafepress a ton of small project (IE, fundraisers, family gifts, shirts for the cast of my play, etc.) and I have tried many times to apply their technology to something I can sell on eBay, elsewhere. But somehow what made them so great for me for those small projects just didn’t work on the larger scale.

      That said, some print-on-demand stuff can be ideal for eBay or elsewhere sales because you only need to pay for merchandise when you sell it so that lesser overhead can be pretty awesome so I am not through with them yet, you can be sure! 🙂

  • 11 years ago

    As an Antipodean online seller, I’ve been reading UK and US online selling blogs for years and have never quite got my head around all the different selling venues or Amazon’s different options.

    Thanks for explaining them all so well, Hillary. I still can’t, or won’t, use them, but at least I now understand what they’re all about. Heading over to check out your blog now. Cheers from Oz

  • 11 years ago

    You ust have forgotten about
    http://www.pennysaverusa.com/
    this one. I thin its one of the best places to put free classifieds if you’re selling something. I find it more reliable than ebay.

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