EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 271 - September 26, 2010 - ISSN 1528-6703     5 of 7

EveryPlaceISell Merchant Profile: Ann Ranlett's Art

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Ann Ranlett of Ann Ranlett's Art (AnnRan.com) is an artist and illustrator who sells her original art and reproductions in a variety of formats. She created her own website to showcase her art and pet portrait commission work, and sells her work on a number of marketplaces.

Ann also uses CafePress and Zazzle to sell her artwork that are printed on items such as cards, earrings and prints, something many traditional online sellers are doing these days with their artwork. (See AuctionBytes article from last September.) For example look at this tote bag on Zazzle featuring Ann's drawing of a twelve-spotted skimmer dragonfly.

Ann also finds that donating some of her proceeds to animal charities helps her differentiate her items and draw in shoppers interested in her pet related artwork.


What is your first and last name?
Ann Ranlett

What is the name of your business?
Ann Ranlett's Art

When did you start selling online and why?
I started selling "for real" in 2006 - on eBay. I had listed a few things on eBay prior to that, but not very often, and I wasn't focusing on selling my art. I also had a small store on my web site, but it wasn't getting any traffic.

What was your background?
I'm an artist and illustrator. I decided to give eBay a try again in 2006. In late 2006, I discovered ACEOs (small format art that began on eBay) and put some effort into selling those and my other art on eBay.

What do you primarily sell and why?
I primarily sell my art - originals and reproductions (cards, earrings, prints). I also sell my art on merchandise through CafePress and Zazzle.

What are the unique challenges you face with the types of items you sell?
Getting traffic to visit my online shops. I'm confident of the quality of my work, but getting the public to find it is difficult. There's a lot of good art on the Internet, I want people to find my art and realize it's fun and unique.

On which marketplaces and venues do you sell?
Bonanzle, Etsy, ArtFire, eBay, CafePress & Zazzle. I also have a small shop on my own website.

What are the pros and cons of each marketplace and venue?
eBay still seems to have the best traffic and name recognition, but their incessant tinkering has made it less viable for both sellers and buyers.

When considering all the places you sell, which channels are most profitable?
Zazzle is probably the best when I look at income vs. expense. Although I'm not making much at any of the venues.

How does your revenue break out by channel (what percentage of sales come from each channel)?
Zazzle: 50%; eBay: 25% (until recently, when sales have tanked); Etsy: 10%; Bonanzle/ArtFire/CafePress: 15% (none of them are especially profitable so I lumped them all together).

Which payment methods do you accept?
PayPal, Revolution Money Exchange; I also accept a check or money order if someone specifically requests it.

What are the pros and cons of each payment method?
PayPal is easy and credit cards are accepted - the downside is that some people have an aversion to it. It's easier for me because I get the money instantly - I don't have a problem with the fees - it's worth it for the convenience and is part of the cost of doing business. I've never had anyone pay via RME yet. Check/money order are okay, but I have to make a trip to the bank.

Background (URL, when launched)
Anran.com and my website store.

What was the impetus for starting your own website?
As a place to showcase my art and pet portrait commission work.

If you hired any companies to set up your website and/or design your logo/branding, how did you find them?
I set up and maintain my own site.

What software/service powers your website, and would you recommend it to others? Why or why not?
I use Dreamweaver - my site is just html at this point. It works fine for my purposes.

Does it have a checkout system, is so, what do you use, and what do you like/dislike about it?
I use a PayPal shopping cart. It's not perfectly seamless, but it works. I don't make many sales from my website store, so it's not worth the time to set up anything more complicated.

If you use an ecommerce service or shopping cart, how would you go about the evaluation process if you had to purchase one today?
I've looked into Zen Cart and have downloaded the software - it seems like a decent system, although it would be complicated for the novice user. I haven't had the time to implement it, but it's nice because it seems to have everything I might need and it's free.

Does it have analytics, reporting?
I use StatCounter for my analytics.

What are the challenges you faced in starting your own website?
Learning html.

What would you do differently if you were setting up a website today?
Probably nothing different to set it up, although I am planning to revise my current site - just to freshen it up.

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?
Most of my inventory consists of reproductions of my art in some form or another, so there's no problem with items listed on multiple channels. For items that are one of a kind, I don't list at more than 2 or 3 channels and I check my email many times a day. If I get notice of something selling, I pull it from the other sites immediately.

How did you create the logo/branding for your business/site?
My logo comes from the way I sign my art. An A & R combined.

How do you differentiate yourself from others selling similar products?
I try to explain how I create my art and share my feelings about my subjects. I also donate a portion of the proceeds from some of my sales to animal charities - I think that's a "hook" that gets attention.

How do you drive traffic to your listings, and which channel do you primarily drive traffic to?
The bulk of my art is on Bonanzle. I try to drive traffic there and to Zazzle. I recently set up an online shop portal at PetArtGiftsByAnn that has links to all of my sales channels. So I'm trying to drive traffic there as well. I also send out an e-newsletter with the shop links on the sidebar and articles about my art and where it can be found. I also post links to available work on my blog.

Can you talk about some of the SEO techniques you employ to drive traffic to your site(s)?
I use keywords that reflect the look of my art and my subjects (mostly animals).

Do you participate in social networking sites? If so, which ones?
Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, groups on eBay.

Which ones work for you? Which don't?
I have a LinkedIn account, but I'm not very active there. The other sites do help drive traffic to my sites or listings, although not a lot in the way of sales. But I've made a lot of great connections which builds interest in my work.

Do you have any advice for other sellers about how to utilize social networking?
Don't just blast your followers with link after link about what you have for sale. You really have to connect with them - respond to things they post, share your thoughts. People need to know why they should bother following you and what makes you different and interesting. Make a connection with your followers and they're more likely to reciprocate.

Can you explain any more about how you use CafePress and Zazzle to those readers who might not be familiar with those sites? I'm personally curious about how much above the minimum selling price you can charge and still attract shoppers. Have you experimented with pricing on those sites?
I haven't experimented with changing prices on the products on CafePress or Zazzle. Typically, I mark items up 20 - 25%, which makes a profit for me of from $1 to $10, depending on the item. Before I set my prices, I looked at what other sellers who are selling their art were charging for similar items. Because this is my art, I don't want to sell things for "rock-bottom" prices, even though there may be the potential to make more sales with a lower price. My art has value even if it is on a mass-produced mug, magnet, etc.

Although I'm not making a lot of money at either site, a big benefit to me is that I can purchase my own items at cost and sell them directly. In addition, the majority of my work is creating pet portraits, so I can also offer to put the portrait image on various items for my clients. Not a lot of clients have taken me up on that, but a few have.

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Visit Ann Ranlett's listing on EveryPlaceISell.com for the links to all of her storefronts and websites. 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 ina@ecommercebytes.com.


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