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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by: Barntiques859 This user has validated their user name.

Tue Jan 8 07:25:59 2013

this is all well and good from a CEO's point of view. But why not ask the true meat & potatoes of the on-line venues---the sellers. We know what the challenges are and where the lack of them are. These managers are not sellers

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This user has validated their user name. by: David Steiner

Tue Jan 8 07:27:50 2013

So tell us...

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This user has validated their user name. by: Bijoux Dragon
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Tue Jan 8 08:29:18 2013

This is the view from 20,000 feet up - boardroom babies, not actual sellers.  

Interesting that Google Shopping Rep had nothing to add - wait, he's already driven a stake through the hearts of many small sellers with more to come.

PS - FAST free shipping screws buyers and sellers worse than free shipping has!

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This user has validated their user name. by: Ina

Tue Jan 8 08:33:41 2013

"This is the view from 20,000 feet up - boardroom babies, not actual sellers."

So tell us where they are wrong, if you think they are out of touch with their users.

The point of this series is to discuss challenges and opportunities facing sellers.

The article and blog post are clear (if you've read them) that this is YOUR opportunity as sellers to comment on what the experts say and to share your own challenges and opportunities.

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by: erratic*attic This user has validated their user name.

Tue Jan 8 08:44:15 2013

''finding ways to get visibility and traffic, are key in 2013.''

How about shill bidding? What a great way to raise your visibility over your competition. The more bids, the higher you are in best match search.

Ebay does nothing about shill bidding for their selected 'pets'. If you are honest, you can't win.

How's that for a challenge.

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by: Moonwishes This user has validated their user name.
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Tue Jan 8 10:32:08 2013

There is no such thing as FREE shipping. Someone is paying for it, either the buyer or the seller. Many venues are pushing it to the point that buyers feel they should receive their items free of shipping, but it really means that the shipping cost has to be buried in the product cost. I do not participate in free shipping except for a couple of such lightweight items that I have in my store, it was easier to mark them free shipping than try to charge a separate shipping amount.

Google has done a huge disservice to smaller sellers in all the changes they have made and many of us are still reeling from them and still looking for ways to promote our products. I have not yet figured out a way to become more prominent in searches since the changes. After their last change, with no other changes happening at the time, my sales dropped in half or more. I had to add another selling venue and sales are still down around $4K this year.

As to Facebook, I have found that it is no longer fun to go there. Ever since they changed the time line and whatever else they did, I only pop in once a week to see any messages from friends. I don't seem to generate any business from FB for my store page. However I see HUGE possiblities with Pinterest besides it just being a fun site and answers some needs I had of keeping track of snippits of information I used to routinely lose track of on line.

I continue to provide fast shipping (24 hours from order or less except for from noon Saturday till Monday morning) and I get frequent feedback about my quick shipping. A seller that thinks they can get away with once or twice a week shipping isn't going to do nearly as well as a competitor that ships daily. I found that putting myself in my customers shoes really helps.

Sellers also need to maintain a professional looking store or listings as competition is stiff and I know I wouldn't want to purchase something from Jo Blow that can't write a coherent sentence or adequately describe their goods.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Bijoux Dragon
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Tue Jan 8 10:48:34 2013

Yes, I did read the article and blog post - a couple of times before making any comment.  

With so many different levels of sellers and the diversity of products, commentary that shows opportunity for one group is of little value to another.

As a smaller seller of vintage and antique jewelry and spoons, free shipping, especially combined with free returns, would have me out of business fast as I would have to raise prices above acceptable price points to cover it.  This might not be true for people selling other types of goods.  I would love to know how the proponents of this suggest we cover it and still make a profit.

As noted, businesses live and die by Google but Google keeps their algorithms close to the vest.  Comments by the CEOs about how they cope with this would be lovely.

As a seller who doesn't own a cell phone, by choice, I have trouble understanding how they can be used to shop and wonder if the higher rates of returns are due to the miniscule little screen that seems to make viewing items difficult.  Again, this would not be an issue for sellers of commodity items.

Personally, my challenges are better exposure which I am addressing through social media, increasing inventory and much study.  I see potential opportunities both in the new social media outlets and in plain old fashioned marketing.

Once again, I only comment AFTER reading posts. I look forward to part 2 of the series.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Ina

Tue Jan 8 11:47:15 2013

Those on the panel who talked about free shipping called it a challenge and acknowledged it was reducing sellers' profits, so I think they were spot on with that one.

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by: Theresa This user has validated their user name.

Tue Jan 8 12:04:13 2013

@Bijoux Dragon - As one poster commented, he succeeds in part by putting himself in his customer's shoes.  You may choice to not have a cell phone, but I think as an online seller, you are doing yourself a great disservice by not having more experience and knowledge about mobile shoppers.  Personally I am not a big fan either, but my younger customers are so I have to understand this segment.  Your comment about the "miniscule" definitely dates you....I am pushing 50 and can't read a thing without my readers, but even I must admit that technology has come a far way and the size of smartphone screens and the quality graphics make surfing the net and making purchases pretty easy.  And then of course there are tablets, which are a similar concept with an ever growing market and even better visibility.

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by: Ed This user has validated their user name.

Tue Jan 8 13:05:50 2013

We agree that Free Shipping is our biggest problem. We also know that shipping is based off of shipping zones and to offer shipping included the small seller has to be able to have the item price and the shipping combined so that the buyer only can see the single price.

Not every thing can fit in a Flat Rate shipping box (It it fits it ships is a total joke for most products. Many of the bib box retailers have distribution center in every shipping zone keeping shipping cost lower that small sellers that may have to ship a package 3000 miles.

Big Box retails buy their products at a lower cost than many smaller sellers.

If the smaller seller is to compete they have to offer a combined shipping out the door price and call it Free Shipping. If there is 8 shipping zone each zone will have its own Out the door price (Shipping included - Free Shipping. Small Sellers can't charge for 3000 mile shipping and then ship 500 miles. One Price for all will not work except in first class shipping.  

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This user has validated their user name. by: Basset

Tue Jan 8 13:54:22 2013

Per Amine Khechfe -

''...old, traditional retail is becoming more and more competitive. Offering extended hours, store specials, to get people to come back in the store...''

Sounds like Target is following this path. They just announced today they will match ONLINE prices of Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy and Toys R Us. (I noticed eBay is not on the list;)


On Mobile Phones:

I recently revised my listings to be less wordy while still getting my policies across. I use eBay item specifics (especially condition) as much as I can as those stand out  on mobile devices.

I am in the 50+ crowd and have made mobile device purchases - usually items on my watch list. As far as age goes, my 75 yr old mom wants a smart phone really badly. She wants to text and share photos with the grandkids (and send me messages on who died). No doubt folks in that age group are shopping on their phones, too, just not to the extent younger people are.

Tech devices like mobile phones ARE a choice, but the way the world is going it may not be much of a choice to do without one if your business involves selling.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Bijoux Dragon

Tue Jan 8 16:35:12 2013

Unfortunately, all parts of the country are not created equally.  I'm in rural Maine and when there is any cell reception it is bad, breaks up, calls are dropped and voices cannot be heard.  4G - hah - we'll get that when the rest of the country is on 6G.  A friend brought their phone to show me how easy it was to place orders.  3 drops later she gave up

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This user has validated their user name. by: Basset

Tue Jan 8 16:50:26 2013

Bijoux Dragon - Rural areas - that is so true!

That is one reason we haven't got my mom a smart phone. Other than the learning curve to use one (compared to a flip phone), she currently has to go outside and stand on top of the basement entrance or a hill in the pasture to be able to have good cell phone reception!

 

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by: bb6 This user has validated their user name.

Wed Jan 9 00:11:13 2013

@Bijoux Dragon it is also ''your choice'' to live where you do. The rest of the country and the rest of the world are making billions off of selling products through Mobile devices so your comment is a little ridiculous.

I love how all these people complain about ebay, amazon, facebook, twitter, google, etc. Running a business is not easy and no one ever said it was. If you sell products then you might want to learn how to use all of these websites to your advantage. Why? Because there are millions and millions of users/customers searching these websites to buy products every day. You have to work to get their business.  

And instead of bitching about all of these companies and their issues, how about you post an issue and a solution to go along with it. Anyone can complain, very few can fix the problem.  

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by: Digmen1 This user has validated their user name.
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Wed Jan 9 02:13:45 2013

Nothing much new in all of those comments, and many of them seemed keen to push their own companies.

And many companies were mentioned which I had never heard of.

But the overall message is clear.
Bricks and mortar are not going to go away. And the bigger online retailers have certain advantages, which big companies have always had.

So its going to be a few tough year for small sellers.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Philip Cohen
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Wed Jan 9 02:40:07 2013

@bb6,

"Anyone can complain, very few can fix the problem."

The great majority of eBay’s problems are caused by eBay, by the decisions of the eBafia Don and his hand-picked executive management team ...

How could all the simple non-MBAs who actually experience the clunkiness of the eBay marketplace on a daily basis possibly fix the problem[s] when Donahoe considers such people to be simply “noise”? Donahoe has expressed an utter disrespect for all the people who made eBay the great marketplace that it used to be, and eBay is today where Donahoe has put it, eating Amazon’s dust …

Do compare the performance of the eBay and Amazon share prices over the past five years; what do you think has caused the great difference? I’ll tell you, in the main, the utterly imbecilic decisions of Donahoe and his cohorts … Wall Street is not stupid, they can see through the smoke and mirrors, and they understand that eBay’s future in the long term has many question marks …

Now, if the current executive team would soon migrate to their off-shore accounts, maybe …

eBay / PayPal / Donahoe: Dead Men Walking

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by: Carol This user has validated their user name.

Wed Jan 9 10:44:08 2013

Good grief - The Endicia GM must have no experience sending packages to other countries if he believes that overseas shipping isn't fraught with difficulties.

Yes, software takes care of some of the MINOR problems like customs forms, but it does NOTHING about the major problem, which is the vulnerability of the seller to claims of nonreceipt/damage if the package is not sent via express mail, Fedex, or UPS.  

These ''premium'' shipping services are far too expensive to be feasible for the vast majority of things that most sellers handle - costing about $40 - $70 for the lightest weight package.

Isn't there anyone in these companies who knows the reality of shipping internationally????

I sell internationally (but not to the most troublesome locations) but do so KNOWING that I can get stung on any given transaction.  Insurance through Shipsurance or U-Pic covers most problems but is, of course, an extra expense with very definite rules that must be followed.

I'm still waiting for someone to take a comprehensive look at costs of various shipping methods and claims experience among different countries.  Insurers (including USPS) and large venues like ebay, etsy, Ruby Lane, and TIAS have data but I have never seen it shared.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Sandymenu

Wed Jan 9 13:42:20 2013

(Those on the panel who talked about free shipping called it a challenge and acknowledged it was reducing sellers' profits, so I think they were spot on with that one.)

Free Shipping on the smaller to lightweight items has always been a benefit. Charging the ''actual Flat Rate'' shipping cost works best but then again, there are those that aren't too smart listing a sink or an old rusty upright piano with $xxx.00 shipping added. Not wise choice to make.

I would much rather continue to read more of creative comments rather than the ''we already know that'' comments in order to help our merchants succeed this year.

Thanks Ina for posting this while I jot notes for my own use.

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by: dkkdolls This user has validated their user name.
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Wed Jan 9 13:52:53 2013

I have been using Endicia software for the Macintosh computer to process international shipments and all domestic postal shipments except Ebay, for the past year because the postal software, Ebay, and PayPal would not work properly. I was reluctant to pay the $15.95 a month, but now it saves me so much hassle it has been worthwhile. My Canadian shipments have grown a lot at all sites where I sell, and I am grateful to have reasonably priced insurance. I also tend to have a lot of Australian and Spanish costumers of late. I do not have the Japanese customers that I once did, but it is probably because I have fewer of the dolls they wanted. It is easy to do the labels and fill out the forms on Endicia. I still will not ship to countries that Endicia or Shipsurance (ShipSaver on Ebay) will not insure or places where the post office only insures to it touches the ground. I think anywhere in Russia and Brazil may fall in that category. I do worry about the First Class Mail International, but I owe a great deal of my business to being able to ship that way with insurance. I have been afraid to ship to Russia, though I did risk one shipment to the Czech Republic with good results to a person who posted on Robert Tonner's site as a major collector of his dolls, as the buyer was willing to pay for either Priority Mail International or Express Mail International. I have had some problem with customers having unexpected high tariffs on Express Mail in France and Spain and refusing packages. In one case one really nice Spanish person was willing to pay for the Express Mail shipment and pay again to have it shipped First Class International. That was because the tariff was $65 on a $75.00 doll when sent Express Mail but not much if anything when sent by a cheaper means either First Class Mail International or put inside a padded Flat Rate Priority envelope which was only slightly more (a single Tiny Betsy doll will fit in one of those in both boxes). I must say that small First Class Mail International packages to Canada take a long time to get there, but are often not much more than shipping somewhere in the USA, but it has to be small and light. I still won't ship to Africa, the Middle East (except Israel and maybe Turkey), Mexico, or many South American and places where packages can't be insured all the way. I also won't do business with the scamming types like those claiming to have their own shipping methods and who are vague about what they want. I've done this so long I know the types to stay clear of and ignore. Serious collectors know what they want and send inquiries about shipping for specific items. I still can't do a rate chart for international shipments because there are so many. I have been tempted sometimes to work out one for Canada, but so far working out each situation individually works, and items on Ebay have the postal chart.  

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

Thu Jan 10 00:01:31 2013

In my experience if you try and sell to China or Russia you will end up giving 2 out of 3 of your items away, if not all 3. I will not ship to either of those Countries nor to any Country the United State will not accept Registered mail to that Country. The Post Office knows more than the sellers do about safe global mail systems. When they won't allow a seller to insure delivery by Registering it then don't go there. Also some of the so called private insurances that are offering International coverage only cover the item till the plane's wheels touch the landing field.  

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