EPIS Merchant Profile: BooksMN.com
By Ina Steiner
Christine Olson began selling online in 1998 and created a successful business selling remainders and overstock books and DVDs at BooksMN.com. She now faces competition from her suppliers as they go online to sell directly to consumers, and as ebook readers and services like Netflix began to have an impact on her business.
Today's EveryPlaceISell.com merchant profile examines Christine's approach to multi-channel selling and how she deals with these challenges. She also offers advice for other sellers, including the importance of content. "Blogs are really important, and everyone should realize that you need content on your website."
Read more about where she sells (two websites and six marketplaces) and how well each channel performs for her business.
What is your first and last name?
What is the name of your business?
When did you start selling online and why?
I started selling online when working for my dad's bookstore back in 1998. I thought it would be a great new sales stream. No one thought it would amount to much. I found it amazing that right away I was selling to customer all over the world. My dad would give me any mark-up I could get on the book. If he sold it for $8 in the store and I sold it for $15 online he would give me $7. It was incredible when we first started. My dad still uses my original user name on ebay c-olson.
What was your background?
I worked in my parents remainder bookstores starting in 1992, before that I was a waitress. I worked all aspects of the bookstore but I loved working in the warehouse the most. I worked with my parents until 2002 when I had my first child. After a year as a Stay At Home Mom I found I couldn't give the book business up. I placed a $500 order with a company and had them deliver the books to my home, I sold them for $1000 within 30 days and never looked back.
What do you primarily sell and why?
I sell mostly remainder and overstock books and got into overstock DVDs a few years ago. I have been around books for so long they feel natural to me. I love being around them and all the knowledge they contain. I love book buyers, they are a diverse bunch. I prefer selling non-fiction and kids books across all categories. I can get excited about all kinds of books, even if it isn't something I would read. I love the product, the bright shiny covers, the crisp clean pages. I am not a big Used book fan, I like the remainders and overstocks, you get a brand new product for a fraction of the price.
What are the unique challenges you face with the types of items you sell?
My challenges are many. More and more of my wholesalers are going online, this competes directly with me, especially when they sell on Amazon and ebay. I have seen more online only sellers show up at the trade shows than in the past, it used to be mostly bookstore buyers/owners at the shows. The Kindle and I-Pad are worries for me, also Netflix, my own personal experience with Netflix, I hardly buy any movies anymore.
On which marketplaces and venues do you sell?
ABE, Alibris, Half, eBay, Amazon, my own sites (2 of them), Biblio.
What are the pros and cons of each marketplace and venue?
All but eBay are very simple. I have one place where I list my inventory (The Art of Books) and they take care of it. I could list my eBay inventory on The Art of Books but there are so many variables and constant changes on eBay it would be too complicated.
I like Alibris because they are constantly trying to improve their site, they listen to their sellers and talk to them, I have noticed an increase of sales with them.
Amazon is tough for me because it is so competitive on price.
When considering all the places you sell, which channels are most profitable?
eBay has alway been my number one site although sales have tanked since the end of March. Amazon is second, then Alibris, Half, my Website, ABE, Biblio.
How does your revenue break out by channel (what percentage of sales come from each channel)?
eBay 38%, Amazon 24%, Alibris 20%, Half 9%, Own Site 4%, ABE 4%, Biblio 1%
Which payment methods do you accept?
Paypal, All Credit Cards (through Propay), Google Checkout, Check or Money Order
What are the pros and cons of each payment method?
PayPal and Propay are about the same costs, which is high. I feel like they will always side with the customer, I have no recourse. I am thinking of getting my own merchant account.
Google Checkout is good for getting Google ratings, thus upping your SEO.
Check and money order are a pain but cheap, only half actually send one.
What was the impetus for starting your own website?
It's always a good idea to have your own website, it's another stream of revenue - I am worried about eBay, my sales have tanked. It helps when purchasing wholesale, some vendors don't like you selling on Amazon or eBay.
If you hired any companies to set up your website and/or design your logo/branding, how did you find them?
We haven't done any of this yet but are thinking of a logo designer.
What software/service powers your website, and would you recommend it to others? Why or why not?
I started using Chrislands, which is geared for bookstores. I never much cared for their flat design, and the SEO is just so-so. I recently started up with PrestoStore because my Inventory Management System (The Art of Books) announced they were supporting them.
I have only been with them for about 30 days but I am happy so far. I like the look, easy to set up and customer service has been quick to respond. The price is reasonable at $29.95 per month. It is geared towards all types of products, not just books.
Does it have a checkout system, is so, what do you use, and what do you like/dislike about it?
The checkout system was integrated with the set-up, there was no set-up cost. It was very easy to set up my existing propay account with them.
What did you pay to set it up, and what are the monthly costs of running it?
PrestoStore costs $29.95 per month, no other fees. My husband did the set-up which seemed pretty easy.
Does it have analytics, reporting?
It does have reporting but I think everyone should use Google Analytics because it's free and awesome.
What features do you wish it had?
An integrated Blog. Blogs are really important and everyone should realize that you need content on your website. A blog should be integrated into everyone's website and should be SEO friendly.
What are the challenges you faced in starting your own website?
SEO is a huge one. My first website christinesbooks.net gets some traffic because it has been around for several years, I never liked it much so I didn't push it very hard. It will take awhile for my new one to get some traction. A big challenge is to find a website that works with your Inventory Management System. For books you have a lot of SKUs, so I needed a company that didn't charge me per SKU.
What would you do differently if you were setting up a website today?
Since I am starting a new website, I am trying to do everything right this time. I am really working on content and getting external links.
How do you control inventory as a multi-channel seller? In other words, if you have the same item listed on multiple channels, and it sells, how do you make sure you take it down from the other channels?
I use The Art of Books to handle everything but eBay. I keep my full inventory on AOB, when I sell something on eBay, I have to login to AOB and change the inventory levels. I do this once per day. If I sell out of something completely, I have to go onto eBay and delete it. Not ideal, but it works for now.
How did you create the logo/branding for your business/site?
I have created it myself but have been thinking about using Elance to find someone to do something more professional
How do you differentiate yourself from others selling similar products?
I try to stress safe packaging. Many people ship books in bubble mailers and the corners get dinged up. I stress that most books are shipped out in boxes or cardboard to protect them. I also stress fast shipping (I ship the same or next day) and accurate descriptions. I try to add more than just the generic "Like New."
How do you drive traffic to your listings, and which channel do you primarily drive traffic to?
I try to drive all traffic to my website. I have invoices with my web address (where allowed) and stick bookmarks into the books with my web address. I put my website address at the end of all my emails.
My husband has a business/self improvement blog, and we talk about my business and include links. I comment on blogs. We have a few other blogs that we are starting that will have content that can refer back to my website. I am also working on content for my new website that will talk about books and small business.
Can you talk about some of the SEO techniques you employ to drive traffic to your site(s)?
Writing blogs that have content that talk about my business. Using Google Checkout and getting User Ratings, writing Content for my website, see above for other ideas.
Do you participate in social networking sites? If so, which ones?
I recently started a Facebook page under BooksMN.com. I have "Liked" several other small online retailers through my personal FB account to try and get a feel for what I like and what I don't. I want to try and post relevant industry news and talk about my business and maybe running a business with 2 small kids at home rather than spam with new items all the time.
Which ones work for you? Which don't?
I tried Twitter but it became too overwhelming. It seemed all the people that wanted to connect wanted to sell their own product. I tried doing giveaways, contests, things like, that but I couldn't get any tracking. Then my friend list grew so fast I couldn't keep track of anything. I can see how Facebook would work better.
Do you have any advice for other sellers about how to utilize social networking?
I suggest commenting on blogs to get backlinks, I suggest writing a blog or several blogs, anything to do with your product or small business or running a business from home. I think a business Facebook page is a good idea. Content is truly king, write content for your website.
Visit Christine's listing on EveryPlaceISell.com for the links to all of her websites and storefronts. If you are a multi-channel merchant with your own website, you can learn more about being featured in AuctionBytes on this page.
About the author:
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to email@example.com.
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