EveryPlaceISell Merchant Profile: CharmCraze-y
By Ina Steiner
Wanda Fitzgerald sells charms on her website, The Charm Cellar, and on Ruby Plaza and eBay. She began selling on eBay 10 years ago, which she says is a good way for new merchants to learn about ecommerce, but recommends they also expand to additional channels. "Once the eBay marketplace has been mastered, I believe it's best to expand in order to reach more buyers for a particular niche."
Wanda's site is hosted on Big Commerce, which she recommends due to its ease-of-use and robust functionality. The only drawback is a monthly fee, she says. Big Commerce was not her first attempt at setting up her own website - a real do-it-yourselfer, Wanda approaches everything as a learning experience, whether it's researching and trying out ecommerce platforms and social networking sites, or researching charms and jewelry.
With a full time job, Wanda manages her online sales both as a part-time business and as a way to express her creativity. And, like many online merchants, she is experimenting with social networking sites and can confidently say that creating content is a powerful marketing tool. She writes regularly on her own blog, Charm Chatter.
What is your first and last name?
What is the name of your business?
When did you start selling online and why?
I began selling online as a result of my out-of-control collections, as I suspect many sellers do. It began about 10 years ago. I was a manic vintage charm bracelet collector, buying many entire bracelets in order to obtain one special charm. The only sensible thing to do was to pass the rest of my treasures on to other collectors, and in the process make enough money to buy more for myself.
What was your background?
I'm a certified public accountant by profession and work in the income tax department of a large Fortune 500 company. I'm also a mother and (very young) grandmother. Collecting and selling jewelry online is one way I express my creativity.
What do you primarily sell and why?
I sell vintage jewelry, primarily vintage charms and charm bracelets. I love everything about buying and selling jewelry. I love scouting jewelry at antique fairs, and shops, or buying it online, and then the anticipation of receiving packages in the mail. I love opening them and playing with the goods, sorting charms by color, theme, type, or other groups and arranging them on bracelets. Ultimately I love matching collectors with unique and personal pieces of history that hopefully they will cherish.
What are the unique challenges you face with the types of items you sell?
One challenge unique to the vintage jewelry business is constantly gaining knowledge of designers and periods to be able to authenticate different pieces. Some information is difficult to find and requires research.
Also, then educating my customers about the differences between quality vintage jewelry and newer mass produced products. There are many online vintage jewelry dealers that don't have adequate expertise, and often buyers spend more money than they should on a specific item. I write a blog called Charm Chatter where I write about my experiences as an online jewelry seller and share my knowledge of all jewelry, both new and vintage.
Another challenge for me, although it's not particularly unique to my business, is my recent foray into creating and managing my own online shop. I've tested a couple of different software platforms and finally settled on one I like. I recommend this to other sellers that are considering building their own site. It takes a lot of up front work, and there is a learning curve, but the rewards outweigh everything.
If the first thing you try doesn't work out, don't give up. There are many software programs available, and I believe there's a solution for every seller.
On which marketplaces and venues do you sell?
Ruby Plaza, eBay, and my own website The Charm Cellar.
What are the pros and cons of each marketplace and venue?
I've been selling on eBay for a long time and I think it's the best place to learn ecommerce. It's not an easy platform though. I think many people get frustrated and give up because of the rules and technical issues. I still have a store on eBay but have reduced the amount of merchandise there to mainly non-jewelry items. Once the eBay marketplace has been mastered, I believe it's best to expand in order to reach more buyers for a particular niche.
I like Ruby Plaza because I was one of the first members and got a Flagship store. It means I get a few extra perks with my membership. Ruby Plaza is extremely easy to set up and to add listings. The only drawback that I see right now is that it's a new site and I don't think many people area aware of it.
I'm especially proud of my new webstore The Charm Cellar. I use Big Commerce as my provider and am very pleased with its functionality and ease. The challenge involves marketing my site alone. I'm trying to do it organically without paying for exposure on Google. It's a learning experience and I love to learn new things, so for me, it's all worthwhile.
When considering all the places you sell, which channels are most profitable?
At the present time Ruby Plaza is the most profitable because they are running an introductory special on the monthly rate. Overall I am hoping that The Charm Cellar will eventually provide me with the best return. I used to sell a lot on eBay and made good money, but the fees are quite high and the actual profit was sometimes good and sometimes not so good. It was hard to project my profit monthly because of the fee structure which made it difficult to do business in my opinion.
How does your revenue break out by channel (what percentage of sales come from each channel)?
Currently they are about evenly split. I don't have much on eBay now, but when I had more listings there, it accounted for about 60% of my revenue.
Which payment methods do you accept?
I accept Paypal on eBay and Ruby Plaza, and credit cards on The Charm Cellar. Additionally I accept money orders and checks on Ruby Plaza and The Charm Cellar.
What are the pros and cons of each payment method?
Paypal and credit card payments are working nicely and I don't have any issues. The drawback to money orders and checks is the additional mailing and processing time involved. These types of payments are minimal though.
Background (URL, when launched)
The Charm Cellar www.thecharmcellar.com
What was the impetus for starting your own website?
I wanted to have a site that I had control in the process and methods of doing business.
If you hired any companies to set up your website and/or design your logo/branding, how did you find them?
I've tried several. In all cases I found my provider online and made sure they had a large portfolio and testimonials from prior customers.
What software/service powers your website, and would you recommend it to others? Why or why not?
I'm using Big Commerce and it is wonderful. I definitely recommend it because of the ease-of-use and robust functionality. The drawback is that there is a monthly fee, it's not an open source software. I also had to consider the fact that it's a hosted site and if the company goes away, as in out of business, I will lose all of my work. I have my information backed up, but it would mean setting up a new site.
I used to use Zen Cart and I don't recommend it. In my opinion it was not at all user friendly and required periodic expensive upgrades. I like the idea of all aspects of the site belonging to me and not another company though.
Does it have a checkout system, is so, what do you use, and what do you like/dislike about it?
My Charm Cellar site on Big Commerce has a merchant gateway that accepts credit cards. I like everything about it.
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 would read as much as possible, pick a few top choices, and made a side-by-side list of pros and cons. Also, I would try to find other users on forums that have experience and read their comments. Even so, I think it's still likely that I wouldn't end up using my first choice. There are just too many options available, and I didn't know whether I would like certain things without actually trying them.
What did you pay to set up your website, and what are the monthly costs of running it?
I believe Big Commerce was $50 to set up and a $50 monthly fee. The merchant account is $20 a month plus a percentage of the revenue.
How difficult was it to set up?
Big Commerce was very easy for me to set up. They also have lots of video tutorials that explain every step of the process. By the time I found Big Commerce I did have quite a bit of experience setting up websites though. It may not be quite as easy for a new user, but I still believe it's one of the most user friendly platforms available.
Does it have analytics, reporting?
Yes it has it's own analytics and also integrates with Google analytics.
What features do you wish it had?
I wish it had integration with Endicia and Constant Contact. Currently they use other providers.
What are the challenges you faced in starting your own website?
My biggest challenge was learning (how to) make custom alterations to the code. I actually made my Zen Cart disappear one time. I figured out the fix on my own so I felt good about that. Also, as I stated before, the marketing is challenging. I'm constantly working to achieve better page ranking in search engines and I could be using that time to sell my jewelry.
What would you do differently if you were setting up a website today?
Probably nothing. I feel like I learned something from every mistake I made.
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?
Currently I don't have any inventory listed across channels. The latest version of Big Commerce is supposed to integrate with eBay now, but I have not tested it.
How did you create the logo/branding for your business/site?
I bought some images from Dreamstime.com and played around with several photo editing programs to create my logo.
How do you differentiate yourself from others selling similar products?
There are many vintage jewelry sellers, but I specialize in charms and charm bracelets. By focusing on a niche, I've gained a great deal of expertise in the category.
How do you drive traffic to your listings, and which channel do you primarily drive traffic to?
I'm using Ezine articles and Squidoo to create interest in my niche and to insert links to The Charm Cellar. I enjoy writing so it makes sense. I also write a blog called Charm Chatter that is on page one of Google for keywords in my niche. I've had the blog for a couple of years and have built up a small reputation as a knowledgeable vendor. Another example is filling out this questionnaire in hopes of being selected as a featured merchant. That will be great publicity and I'll be honored if I'm chosen.
Can you talk about some of the SEO techniques you employ to drive traffic to your site(s)?
I write articles and include links with my keywords as the clickable link. Typically I submit to Ezine articles but lately I use a variety of sites. I try not to use the same content on two or more different sites as I've heard that is bad for SEO. I hear a lot of conflicting things about SEO techniques, though, so I don't always believe everything I read.
I try to use my keywords in the titles of everything I write, and I try to write about a variety of jewelry subjects. I think this keeps my readers interested, and I learn as I research the subject.
Do you participate in social networking sites? If so, which ones?
I use Facebook and Twitter to share relevant and interesting things I learn. Once in a while I advertise some of my jewelry for sale on the sites.
Which ones work for you? Which don't?
It's hard to tell. I can't really say if I've gained any customers because nobody has actually told me they found me from Facebook or Twitter. I can tell from my analytics that social networks refer quite a bit of viewers to my blog and website, so I'm assuming the social sites are beneficial.
Do you have any advice for other sellers about how to utilize social networking?
My advice is to post something related to your product or niche on a regular basis. And don't always blast the social networks with items for sale. Connect with others and be part of the conversation to create interest instead.
Also I've found that I get a tremendous amount of information on marketing from the social networks. I have to be selective about how I use it, but I haven't found any other venue where I can learn as much about online selling. I also think it's a good idea to find a forum related to your niche if possible. I participate in a couple of jewelry forums and, not only do I learn about jewelry, I learn about the business.
Visit Wanda's site, The Charm Cellar, 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 email@example.com.
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