EveryPlaceISell Merchant Profile: Alice in Stitches
By Ina Steiner
Alice Rudolph started selling collectible toys and clothing on eBay five years ago. A professional quilt maker and quilting teacher, she now operates Alice in Stitches LLC selling needlearts supplies, including quilting, knitting, needlepoint and cross stitch supplies.
Alice has also expanded the venues on which she sells and has a presence on Amazon, Amazon Web Store, Bonanzle, Etsy and Ecrater, as well as her own website, AliceinStitches.com.
eBay and Amazon are currently her most profitable channels, and with approximately 1,350 items listed on eBay and about 450 items listed on Amazon, she said Amazon is starting to take the lead.
It's difficult for sellers to differentiate themselves, and Alice has a number of ways she markets her products, including sending newsletters, holding occasional sales, including flyer inserts in packages, as well as marketing her website on Twitter, Facebook, My Space and Squidoo. She is also strategic in how she stocks and prices her all-in-one needleworks shop.
In the following interview, Alice discusses the pros and cons of each venue and the challenges of setting up her own ecommerce-enabled website, and much more!
What is your first and last name?
What is the name of your business?
Alice in Stitches, LLC
When did you start selling online and why?
I started selling online approximately 5 years ago when I caught the eBay bug. I started by selling some collectible toys and clothing and really enjoyed it!
What was your background?
I had been a professional quiltmaker and quilting teacher for the past 20 years. I brought my quilts to art fairs and sold through a local shop. Before that, I was a secretary.
What do you primarily sell and why?
I sell all types of needlearts supplies. I had planned to sell my own quilts through eBay but quickly found that the market was much better on the supply end and I broadened to include knitting, needlepoint and cross stitch supplies as well as quilting.
What are the unique challenges you face with the types of items you sell?
The challenges are to set yourself apart from the competition. There are many people selling the same things and you need to decide what niche you want to occupy. It can be a challenge to avoid those products that are being sold at bargain basement prices. As I sell now on 5 different sites, another challenge is to keep inventory correctly updated on all the sites. Currently I do it manually without the aid of a "Channel Adviser" type program.
On which marketplaces and venues do you sell?
I now sell on eBay, Amazon, Amazon Web Store, Bonanzle, Alice in Stitches.com, Etsy and ECrater.
What are the pros and cons of each marketplace and venue?
eBay and Amazon have the traffic but higher fees. They also give you more in the way of marketing. eBay is challenging in that it takes time to answer many questions, constantly update listings as eBay changes, and to keep up on DSRs.
Amazon has challenges with listings that can be changed by anyone with the same product. I also use fulfillment and, occasionally, if a shipment has a problem, it's a nightmare trying to straighten it out. More and more, it's necessary to use fulfillment to stay competitive on Amazon. The Amazon webstore charges less in fees but requires you to market it for exposure, and I don't see a lot of sales there.
Bonanzle, Etsy and eCrater have much lower traffic and fees. These sites require you to put a bit more work in promoting yourself, adding attributes and tags, updating frequently and so on. Listing on eCrater is totally free. Bonanzle and Etsy both have small fees. Etsy seems driven by constantly listing to give yourself a bump up.
My own website has been quite a while in the making. It was open for a number of years as just a redirect to eBay, so I do have a number of customers familiar with my site. I opened my shopping cart in the fall of 2009 and have been working to steadily load my inventory to the site. I'm seeing a fair trickle of business there, but nothing to compete with eBay or Amazon. Of course, there are no fees to pay on my site other than PayPal or credit card processing and a small annual hosting fee.
When considering all the places you sell, which channels are most profitable?
Definitely eBay and Amazon. They are somewhat neck and neck, but Amazon is starting to take the lead. I have approximately 1350 items listed on eBay and about 450 items listed on Amazon.
How does your revenue break out by channel (what percentage of sales come from each channel)?
Approximately: Amazon 46%, eBay 45%, Alice in Stitches 3%, eCrater 2%, Etsy 1%, Bonanzle 1% and Amazon Webstore 2%.
Which payment methods do you accept?
Paypal, Credit card by phone, Google Checkout, money order, cashier check, personal check (as allowed on various sites).
What are the pros and cons of each payment method?
Up until recently, I haven't had too many problems with any of them. PayPal has had a glitch recently that is causing a lot of problems with not allowing customers to pay. PayPal is convenient for most people however and an easy addition to a website.
Google Checkout has not been used much, but I get the occasional payment through Bonanzle.
I've never had a problem accepting money orders or checks - you just need to wait for them!
Taking credit cards by phone was set up for my craft fairs and let me avoid the expensive terminal - however, they are pushing me to get one!
Where is your own ecommerce website?
What was the impetus for starting your own website?
To begin with it was to use a redirect to eBay and qualify for lower final value fees. However, it was always the plan to sell from my own site and eventually grow away from eBay and Amazon.
What software/service powers your website, and would you recommend it to others? Why or why not?
The site was built and modified by a number of different people. I host my site with 2ClickHere.com and have been happy with them. The site is reliably up and tech support is quick to respond.
The shopping cart is a program from WebAsyst. I'm pretty happy with the cart, with a few exceptions. I can only price items in whole dollar amounts for some reason. I'm not able to program in international shipping amounts or automatic shipping discounts. So there is a bit of manual work. However, there are no fees beyond the software purchase (about $300).
I use Constant Contact for my newsletter, but I've been pretty bad about getting them out. I do send newsletters more regularly from eBay. I have a built-in blog on my site from WordPress. Again, unfortunately there are not enough hours in the day, and I've neglected that for awhile as well. When I do use it, I see good results in Google.
Does it have a checkout system, is so, what do you use, and what do you like/dislike about it?
Yes, it checks out through PayPal. I do not have credit cards set up on my site but offer to take them by phone. The cart does not allow for different international shipping charges or lower combined discounts.
What did you pay to set it up, and what are the monthly costs of running it?
This system does not have a monthly fee and was included in the shopping cart.
How difficult was it to set up?
I had a programmer install it for me and I believe she thought it was fairly straight forward.
Does it have analytics, reporting?
Yes, it does have Google Analytics and all sorts of sales reports. I've been so busy adding products that I have not taken much time to get into the reports.
What features do you wish it had?
International shipping and combinable shipping. Checkout with merchant credit card on the site would be convenient.
What are the challenges you faced in starting your own website?
Creating good content for the site, keeping the site to a reasonable cost and easy to use. Choosing a cart that would work the best for my products and needs.
What would you do differently if you were setting up a website today?
I'm fairly happy with the way it's worked out. I may have chosen a different design when I was ready to set up a cart had I not been working around an existing site.
How did you create the logo/branding for your business/site?
I had a professional store design done for me when I opened Alice in Stitches. The designer incorporated a photo of one of my landscape quilts into the background of my logo.
How do you differentiate yourself from others selling similar products?
I've tried to build an all-in-one needleworks shop, including knitting, quilting, needlepoint, cross stitch and more. I've worked to source hard-to-find items and carry the best quality fabrics and yarns in the marketplace. We work hard to answer questions quickly and keep a friendly tone. I've written quite a few guides and hints in various spots on the web including eBay, my blog, Squidoo, and Amazon webstore.
How do you drive traffic to your listings, and which channel do you primarily drive traffic to?
On eBay, we continue to run numerous auctions each day to drive traffic - we don't just rely on fixed price listings. We send newsletters and offer the occasional sale. We now work to promote my website. We include flyers in all packages and price our products a bit lower on that site. My marketing has fallen behind recently, but when time permits, I'm on Twitter, Facebook, My Space and Squidoo.
Can you talk about some of the SEO techniques you employ to drive traffic to your site(s)?
I work hard to use the best keywords, tags, attributes, etc., on all my sites. We fill out the meta tags and descriptions for each page.
Do you participate in social networking sites? If so, which ones?
Yes, we have sites on Facebook, My Space, Squidoo and Twitter.
Which ones work for you? Which don't?
I would say Squidoo has been the most useful for me. I worked My Space for quite awhile and saw a little traffic from that. I don't promote myself too much on Facebook. We use Twitter occasionally but as we've opened more sites, we don't have time to keep up on all the social networking.
Do you have any advice for other sellers about how to utilize social networking?
Personally I believe it's good to have a presence in as many places as possible. If you can check in on each one regularly and keep your name out there in front of people they'll start to recognize you. I like sites where you can include a lot of content such as Squidoo.
Visit Alice in Stitches on EveryPlaceISell.com for the links to all of their 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 email@example.com.
You may quote up to 50 words of any article on the condition that you attribute the article to EcommerceBytes.com and either link to the original article or to www.EcommerceBytes.com.
All other use is prohibited.