Ina Steiner EcommerceBytes Blog
News and insight focusing on ecommerce.
by Ina Steiner, Editor of EcommerceBytes.com
Tue Jan 8 2013 07:01:45

Experts Discuss Challenges and Opportunities Facing Online Seller

By: Ina Steiner

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Rather than make annual predictions about the year ahead, we prefer to check in with ecommerce experts and ask them about the challenges and opportunities they see for online sellers in the New Year.

We're kicking off our second annual Online Selling Trends feature, and this year our panel includes executives from Google, Endicia, ShopRunner, Demandware, TIAS and Braintree.

We also have Maria Thomas, former CEO of Etsy, who is an angel investor and founder of Axios Ventures, along with Sramana Mitra, a serial entrepreneur and strategist who now heads One Million by One Million, which she founded with the goal of nurturing a million entrepreneurs to reach a million dollars each in annual revenue and beyond.

Part 1 of Online Selling Trends kicks off today and asks our panel of ecommerce experts, what are the biggest challenges you see online sellers facing in 2013, and what are the biggest opportunities ahead?

Some of the topics coming up in subsequent segments include selling internationally, same-day delivery, the impact of mobile shopping on sellers, and where merchants should be focused in terms of getting traffic.

Panelists were quick to point out in Part 1 the challenge merchants face with the demand for free shipping and how it compresses profits. They also pointed out that while new sites and better technology lowers the barrier of entry to sell online, it also is leading to "clutter."

As a result, finding a way to differentiate your products and your business, and finding ways to get visibility and traffic, are key in 2013.

Coming up, we ask about mobile shopping and social networking, and it's worth noting that only three panelists tackled the issue of social networking for online sellers, but almost all of them had lots to say about mobile shopping and its impact on sellers.

I hope you'll enjoy hearing from these executives and entrepreneurs as much as I have. Please weigh in on the issues as we go along, starting with what you see as your biggest challenges and opportunities for the New Year.

All four parts of this series are now available:

Part 1 Challenges and Opportunities

Part 2 Selling Internationally and Same Day Delivery

Part 3 Mobile Shopping and Social Networkings Impact on Sellers

Part 4 Legal Issues and Boosting Traffic

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Perminate Link for Experts Discuss Challenges and Opportunities Facing Online Seller   Experts Discuss Challenges and Opportunities Facing Online Seller

by: Massachusets Howler This user has validated their user name.

Thu Jan 10 00:56:10 2013

I think scamming and dishonest buyers and the free shipping are the biggest problems.
I think established sellers should be paid by ebay to do the dispute resolution as I think sellers are the only ones with the TRUE EXPERIENCE identifying them.
I think the insertion fees shoud be DISCOUNTED depending on how long the seller has been on ebay with the SAME ID.
If a seller has been selling for 2 years he should recieve 25% off insertion fees.
If a seller has been on for 5 years 50% off insertion fees.
If a seller has been on for 10 years- NO INSERTION FEES.
They could call this a ''Loyalty Discount'' and we long-term sellers would FINALLY GET SOMETHING FOR OUR YEARS of loyalty (remember that JD- LOYALTY)?
This, and the elimination of DSR's as a PUNISHMENT, would go a long way toward fixing ebay.
If JD had kept his word they COULD be a helpful tool, but he LIED.
''DSR's are just a TOOL to help sellers, they will NEVER be used against them''. Then 6 mos. later sellers were being killed off like flies by them!
CREDIBILITY/HONESTY from MANAGEMENT: This is a huge problem, especially with JD. It was PROMISED that changes would roll out 2-3 times per year, with pleanty of advance notice to sellers and then they actually SPED UP and STARTED DOING CHANGES IN DECEMBER- Credibility is what helps build businesses JD, being able to COUNT ON what our Partner says so we can PLAN accordingly.
WHY COULDN'T Ebay identify their most honest sellers and pay them a small fee to do disputes? They could pay a small percentage and it would make sellers feel as if folks who UNDERSTAND are looking at all these disputes?
Just some thoughts.
Mass Howler

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This user has validated their user name. by: Ming the Merciless

Thu Jan 10 20:57:24 2013

With a few exceptions, what I read here is a group of executives trying to sell us on what makes them money and tying what they view as challenges into selling whatever service they offer.

Don't want to pay Google and jumping through their hoop du jour? Then sell in venues that feed Google and use them to develop customer lists for your own website(s.)

Study the postal rates and your price points carefully --  zone rates for Priority Mail, flat rate PM options vs. non flat rate PM options and Priority Mail vs 1st Class depending on distance and weight.

If feasible where you live and when your carrier typically arrives and if you pay for postage online, utilize the Postal Service's FREE package pickup and their single scan sheet with Click n Ship. Make specific arrangements wth your Post Office about how your packages are to be handled before they're dispatched to the ever shrinking number of sorting facilities.

Using the single scan allows the window clerk to make ONE scan regardless of the number of package and ALL your packages will go into the USPS system for tracking.

Refuse anyone asking for a discount blocking them if necessary. Sellers who routinely cave in to discounts damage themselves and their bottom lines both in the short and long term.

File for your FVF on all deadbeats.

Use a discounted shipping service and private insurance.

Re organize inventory storage space to minimize the time spent from locating and pulling to shipping. Every step saved pays off.

Write templates for frequently asked questions and post sale problems.

If possible negotiate lower product sourcing and shipping costs. New sellers should know they can get free Priority and Express Mail supplies from the Postal Service.

Buy business supplies on ebay. The ones I buy cost a lot less than at Staples, Office Depot, etc. either in store or online.

Eliminate items from your selling inventory high rates of defects and or returns. In times past O would have also included stale merchandise, but what's stale now can easily become brand new by creating a new listing. Just because something doesn't sell the the first two or three times you list it doesn't mean it's a slow seller necessarily. It just means that ebay's lunatic search has buried it so deeply that only shoppers in your store are likely to see it.

This isn't rocket science.

Nevertheless, sooner or later the Googles of the world will allow the Wal Marts of ecommerce to put us small fry out of business just as most mom and pop stores have gone the way of the dinosaurs.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Philip Cohen
Web Site

Fri Jan 11 00:10:07 2013

State Sales Taxes …

As far as the varying local sales taxes are concerned, in Australia the various states and the federal government some ten years ago agreed to replace the mish mash of state sales taxes (on goods only at the last wholesale level) with a federally applied Goods and Services Tax, at every level, at the rate of 10%, on almost everything, and the revenue from that uniform tax is returned (weighted) to the states … then, too, some forty years ago, Australia began converting to the metric system of measurements (SI) from the mish mash of imperial and other measurements …

But I doubt that such an agreement between the states and the federals in the US could ever be reached about anything and so the US will undoubtedly muddle on with the most clumsy and inefficient system of local taxes that it has …

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by: TaxCLoud This user has validated their user name.
Web Site

Fri Jan 11 00:24:46 2013

My only comment is to Mr, Davies, when he said "Local sales tax. What is local?"

Uhm, your customers are local. They vote for sales tax to fund their priorities. The matter of sales tax is not an intrusion upon the e-commerce abstract "cyber-seller" that exists no where.

Sales tax is a politcal issue, not am e-commerce issue (please spare us the technical burden to comply argument, TaxCloud is free!). As a politcal issue, you may recognize this quote, everything is local.

Perminate Link for Experts Discuss Challenges and Opportunities Facing Online Seller   Experts Discuss Challenges and Opportunities Facing Online Seller

by: Tiffee Jasso This user has validated their user name.

Fri Jan 11 01:52:55 2013

It is my opinion that this free shipping and free return shipping is the product of the large retailers trying to put the small at home sellers out of business. Face it, a large retailer sells by the truck load and can negotiate a real discount on postage from UPS, etc. I have gotten packages with $1.89 on them from UPS that would cost me $8. Also when you sell items by the hundreds everyday you can afford to take a few returns and still make a profit. A small seller selling only a few dozen items a week does not get any break on shipping and when they do get a return, it kills any profit for that item and therefore they lose not only the value of the item, but postage both ways. So in effect, the return of a $10 item could cost the small seller up to $20 and even more if it weighs over 13 ounces. It is a known fact that one airhead shopaholic can and does return 20 to 60 items a year per retailer.  
Small sellers that buy into this free shipping & return myth perpetuated by the big Giant Retailers and Ebay, etc., are hurting not only themselves, but all other small sellers, as well. Stand up for Mom & Pop e-commerce and stick to your guns on getting enough to cover shipping and if buyer wants to return and item it is out of their pocket.  

Perminate Link for Experts Discuss Challenges and Opportunities Facing Online Seller   Experts Discuss Challenges and Opportunities Facing Online Seller

by: TheCuriousPhoenix This user has validated their user name.
Web Site

Fri Jan 11 07:40:59 2013

''Google Shopping VP of Product Management Sameer Samat: Consumer behavior is not a funnel anymore; it's a flight path. According to our research, 44% of users research online and buy products online, 51% research online and visit store to purchase, 17% visit a store first and then purchase online - 32% research online, visit a store to view the product, then purchase online.''


Ummm, perhaps I am not the brightest penny in the pile, but did anyone else notice that this adds up to 147 percent?

If they have found a way to have more than 100 percent of customers, I think they are on to something!

Perminate Link for Experts Discuss Challenges and Opportunities Facing Online Seller   Experts Discuss Challenges and Opportunities Facing Online Seller

This user has validated their user name. by: Basset

Fri Jan 11 09:09:50 2013

I believe Tiffee is 100% correct. I have had my own suspicion about this.

Like if sellers are told this often enough it will become true. Well, the word ''stepford'' does not come before ''seller''.

The ''free shipping'' and ''Fast'' does seem targeted at pressuring small sellers. Over the past year I've made several purchases from big retailers. The ''free'' shipping only kicks in if your purchase reaches a certain amount. I ran into the same with Amazon (I'm not amazon prime).

Unless they are having a special or you have a coupon code, most likely you are not getting ''free'' shipping on a $20 or $30 order.

I also notice the discounts they are getting on postage. Walmart's shipping charges are one to note. I imagine they are telling their shipper what they will pay for shipping in order to grace the shipper with their business.

Their shipping is not fast and every time I've ordered from them the parcel was delivered AFTER their estimated date. These were only household supplies, so I was noting the delivery time in that it relates to MY own business expectations.

I also notice the shipments arrive in unmarked white vans. Like a private contract courier - is this what eBay plans to try with their own vans?

My brief (under 3 month) foray into ''free'' shipping was unimpressive with sales plummeting. I felt like I had shot myself in the foot!  After I resumed separating the price and shipping, my sales are somewhat  back to normal for this time of year. It may work for some, depending on their category probably, but not for all.


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This user has validated their user name. by: Philip Cohen

Fri Jan 11 16:06:25 2013

@TheCuriousPhoenix,

147% is not a problem, some responders did more than one type of research/buy ...

@Basset,

You can bet that eBay's couriers will be sub contractors working for the equivalent of $1/hour or $1/call (whichever is the least)—gotta protect those executive bonuses ...

Perminate Link for Experts Discuss Challenges and Opportunities Facing Online Seller   Experts Discuss Challenges and Opportunities Facing Online Seller

by: sells-a-lot This user has validated their user name.

Sat Jan 12 08:03:26 2013

Personally I think the biggest challenge this year is for small sellers to be seen at all. All of this other stuff is a non issue if no one can find your items. With all the changes made by Google and Ebay in the last year it is making it harder and harder for those without large ad budgets to even get customers to the listings.

Of course, this is not a problem for these big companies who have a large budget and they are probably actually pleased to have less ''noise'' competing with them.  

Perminate Link for Experts Discuss Challenges and Opportunities Facing Online Seller   Experts Discuss Challenges and Opportunities Facing Online Seller

by: Mr_Sheeny This user has validated their user name.

Fri Jan 25 11:24:53 2013

Quoting Mr. Ming - ''Nevertheless, sooner or later the Googles of the world will allow the Wal Marts of ecommerce to put us small fry out of business just as most mom and pop stores have gone the way of the dinosaurs. ''

Speaking only for myself (small-time mom & pop seller), I have enjoyed the earlier years of eBay, and since then, a few other selling venues.  My merchandise consisted of everything, including the kitchen sink.

In the last couple of years, online selling through major venues has become a full-time job.  A job that requires too many requirements from every one involved.  The selling venue itself, search engines, keywords, UPC's, MPN's, ISBN's, exemptions, promoting (Pinterest, Twitter, Google+, Facebook, Forums, Blogs, the list goes on and on).  On top of that, postal rate increases, delivery confirmation, insurance, run to the post office, packing material, print labels, etc. etc.

So what's one to do if all this is too much trouble?  Look into selling via a local Facebook group.  Similar to Craigslist, yes, but more like Bonanza's live booth chat.  You get to know and feel comfortable with many buyers and sellers.  You don't have the work as mentioned above.  If not comfortable with buyers coming to your home, you meet in a public location.

Someone started a group in my area about a year ago, and is closing in on 10,000 members.  I live in what is called northeast Oklahoma, Muskogee to be exact.  This is not Tulsa or Oklahoma City, but Muskogee County with a population around 40 thousand.

Since early December, I have had better luck selling through this site than I have on any venue since those early days with eBay.  200 plus sales, ranging from $3.00 to $125.00, with nothing but some good pictures, a short description, and meeting some very nice folks.

I realize this may not be for everyone, but if you are a small time seller, you may want to look into it in your area.  It works with a lot less headaches.    

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by: Mr_Sheeny This user has validated their user name.

Fri Jan 25 11:30:51 2013

I forgot two very important pluses, NO FEES and NO BUYER'S REMORSE.

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