ChannelAdvisor Holds Conference for eBay, Online Sellers
By Ina Steiner
Sellers who came to ChannelAdvisor's Catalyst meeting this week have plenty on their plate with the demands of their online retail businesses, but seemed happy to have had the chance to invest time in some strategic thinking during the 2-day conference. A group comprised of many high-volume eBay sellers, who had been limited years ago to attending eBay's annual user conference, now has a plethora of such meetings to network with colleagues and talk one-on-one with executives from marketplaces and service providers.
"The ChannelAdvisor program was great," said attendee Andrew Green, who sells under the ID taximarket. "The education, the industry insight from thought leaders in this space - and that's unusual at an event like this."
If executives wanted to know what was on the minds of high-volume eBay and marketplace sellers, they could get an earful by talking to attendees. Green's biggest challenge, he said, was hiring the right people, and energizing and motivating them. Another seller, who wished to remain anonymous, expressed frustration at eBay's decision to ban auction-extender tools. (Several sellers who had used such tools reported their conversion rates had plummeted.)
A couple who run a business selling fabric online said their greatest challenge was taking photos of all the inventory they had. Another seller said he couldn't get his employee to improve the quality of his company's product photos - an especially difficult situation since his photographer is a relative - and a professional photographer who's great at people shots. Another complained of having Trust & Safety shut down his auctions, just weeks after being profiled by eBay as a model seller.
But it wasn't all "mom and pop" and family businesses, nor were sellers solely from the US. Jack Sheng of eforcity has over 100 employees in California and Asia, and sellers came from as far away as Hong Kong. Sellers' products were wide-ranging, including apparel, sporting goods, fabric, jewelry, microscopes and customized photo totebags.
Whether large or small, sellers shared one concern: the bottom line. Questions to eBay's Bill Cobb included, "why not lower fees if the listing day promotions are so successful?" and, "why is eBay the only marketplace on which I can't scale?" due to a lack of volume discounts. (A number of attendees prefaced their questions by thanking Cobb, happy for the opportunity to voice their concerns directly.)
Some sellers were new to Amazon's invitation-only merchant program and reported immediate success on the venue. So when Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne announced he was opening up the drop-shipping partner program on Overstock.com Shopping to ChannelAdvisor customers, they expressed interest in the program. Sellers reported low-hassle buyers in drop-ship situations, since the marketplace provides the payment-processing and customer service support, not the seller.
However, an analyst warned sellers during a session called "A View from Wall Street" of the dangers of listing on a marketplace that could turn around and compete with them, specifically pointing to Amazon.com. While attendees buzzed about the statement, it seemed many were either skeptical or unconcerned by it.
While attendees may have gotten their start on eBay or in the brick-and-mortar world, most now seemed to be multi-channel - which is no longer limited to marketplaces and ecommerce sites. Search and Comparison Shopping Engines (CSEs) were the darlings of some sellers, and they said their sales were up as a result.
Third-party developers were also on hand, and they too said they were going multi-channel rather than concentrating solely on one marketplace. And in fact, ChannelAdvisor - itself a developer - has created a developer program of its own. JDT Technologies and Aspyro have integrated with ChannelAdvisor to be able to better serve their mutual customers.
Brian Lawe of MyStoreCredit said the challenge for developers is that sellers are "trying to squeeze every drop of blood out of their businesses." Tobe Goldfinger of JDT Technologies agreed, and said that some sellers could actually grow their businesses without hiring additional employees with the use of marketing and productivity tools offered by developers.
In a research note issued on Thursday about the conference, Colin Sebastian, a Senior Research Analyst for Internet and Interactive Entertainment at Lazard Capital Markets, wrote, "We believe one of the key themes emerging at the conference was the increasingly competitive online marketplace environment, highlighted by ongoing growth and profitability issues communicated by a number of eBay sellers, the increasing use of search engines (particularly Google) and comparison shopping sites (e.g. Shopping.com and Pricegrabber) for online shopping, and Amazon's renewed focus on attracting new partners to its platform."
However, it's questionable as to whether all of the opportunities available to higher-volume sellers will become available to smaller online-auction sellers, at least any time soon.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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