eBay Collector Turns to Amazon to Power Online Toy Store
By Ina Steiner
Jay Langston began selling extra Star Wars action figures on eBay in 1998 to support his hobby. He expanded to Amazon.com and launched his first ecommerce site in 2006. His business, Backstage Toys LLC, now generates over $100,000 in revenue with one full-time employee, and he sells most of his inventory on Amazon and on his own website. "Whether you are the classic Star Wars fan or die hard Twilight Saga lover, we have got all the iconic figures," he said, with inventory selection ranging from the Marvel Universe and DC Universe to movie and TV characters.
Amazon has been much better than eBay for his business, Langston said, because Amazon protects and encourages consumer confidence in its marketplace. While Amazon limits sellers it allows in the toys category during the holidays, Backstage Toys is one of Amazon.com's approved toy sellers.
In the fall of 2008, he decided to use Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) so that he could aggressively grow his business and focus his attention on inventory acquisition, rather than order fulfillment. "FBA has allowed us to increase our sales during the Christmas season without adding overhead," he said.
Currently the majority of inventory for Backstage Toys is available on both Amazon.com and its own website, BackstageToys.com. But Langston plans to expand his presence on eBay, Buy.com and through Monsoon. "We'll use Amazon FBA to fulfill the majority of our orders on any additional marketplaces that offer our products," he said, but has not yet finalized his strategy for which products to offer on which marketplaces.
Because Langston sells on Amazon and uses Fulfillment by Amazon, he decided to switch his own website to Amazon Webstore to gain efficiencies. "We just completed our transition from the 1.0 Webstore to the 2.0 Webstore about a month ago. The upgrade process was very clunky and not what we expected from a world-class outfit like Amazon." However, he said, "If you started with the 2.0 Webstore program out of the box, I believe the process would go much smoother."
Langston said that, overall, he's happy with his decision to use Amazon Webstore. He pays a monthly fee of $9.99 because he is a part of all three of Amazon.com's programs (Selling on Amazon, FBA and Webstore).
Langston sat down with EcommerceBytes recently and shared more about his experience selling toys online. Before going to press, we asked Langston for an update as to how WebStore was performing. "Sales have been slow so far this year, but we're expecting bigger things during Q4 2011," he said.
Approximately 95% of sales come via Amazon and 5% from the Amazon Webstore. "The WebStore transaction fees are very small compared to the Amazon Marketplace commissions, so we would love to see orders shifting that direction in the future."
EcommerceBytes: When did you start selling toys online, and how did you get started?
Jay Langston: I began selling online via eBay in 1998 and launched my first ecommerce site in 2006. A friend introduced me to eBay selling and I began by selling extra Star Wars action figures to support my hobby.
<EcommerceBytes: Where do you source your inventory?
Jay Langston: We primarily purchase new inventory from wholesalers or directly from the manufacturer.
EcommerceBytes: On which venues do you sell?
Jay Langston: Currently the majority of our inventory is available on both Amazon.com and our own website, BackstageToys.com. Later this year, we have plans to expand to eBay and the Buy.com marketplace.
EcommerceBytes: eBay or Amazon.com - which is better for selling toys and why?
Jay Langston: Amazon has been much better for us because the shopping experience Amazon has created and protects encourages consumer confidence in their marketplace.
EcommerceBytes: Why did you decide to use Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA), and how is that working for you?
Jay Langston: We determined that we could aggressively grow our business and focus our attention on inventory acquisition by hiring Amazon to handle the order fulfillment side. FBA has allowed us to increase our sales during the Christmas season without adding overhead.
EcommerceBytes: In your opinion, would FBA work for antiques and collectibles? Why, why not?
Jay Langston: I believe FBA works best for consumer goods and media products with standard dimensions. Products with unique UPCs are also easier to utilize with FBA.
EcommerceBytes: Would you like to see Amazon add an auction format, and do you think it ever would?
Jay Langston: No, I believe the era of the auction format has passed. Time-deficient consumers prefer the convenience of the fixed price format.
EcommerceBytes: When did you start your own website and why?
Jay Langston: Our first website launched in 2006 to fill a specific collectible niche. Two years later we switched gears and launched a new site to offer customers a broader mix of products. We feel having your own site both spreads your net wider and leaves you less dependent on outside marketplaces.
EcommerceBytes: What service did you use to power your website, and what were the biggest challenges?
Jay Langston: We've built sites with CityMax, Instant Estore and Amazon Webstore. We've been challenged by the time it takes to build traffic and promote your own website. Also, working with freelancers to handle the design aspects requires much patience.
EcommerceBytes: Why did you choose to change store-hosting services, and why did you choose Amazon.com's Webstore?
Jay Langston: Once we made the decision to fully utilize Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA), we determined that it would give us the greatest synergy to share inventory between our Selling on Amazon account and Amazon Webstore. This also contributed to our decline in eBay listings.
EcommerceBytes: What are the pros and cons of Amazon Webstore?
Jay Langston: Amazon Webstore 2.0 (the current version) is still a relatively new product and they're still working out some of the kinks. We upgraded from the previous version and encountered numerous issues that new customers shouldn't experience. For us, the pro of sharing inventory across both channels far outweighs any cons we have encountered.
EcommerceBytes: What features do you wish Amazon Webstore had?
Jay Langston: Affiliate program widgets, better reporting, integration of video clips on product detail pages and tighter control of customer account management.
EcommerceBytes: Does Amazon drive traffic to Amazon Webstore powered stores, or is it up to you to drive your own traffic?
Jay Langston: Amazon does submit our sitemap to the search engines and our products to Google Product Search and TheFind.com. All other Amazon Webstore promotion is up to the site owner.
EcommerceBytes: What are shoppers looking for when they come to your website?
Jay Langston: With our newly launched website, visitors will find a unique shopping experience with customer reviews and online sharing options, a generous 30-day return policy, streamlined product categorization, Twitter and Facebook integration, collector-friendly products like graded action figures and collecting supplies, free shipping offers, special Amazon Prime member benefits and an affiliate program.
EcommerceBytes: How else do you market your site and drive traffic?
Jay Langston: We've partnered with a Search Engine Optimization firm in Australia (AussieWebsites) in addition to advertising partnerships with podcasts and collector websites that revolve around the products we offer.
EcommerceBytes: Have you tried marketing using social networking site? Any thoughts on what works and what doesn't?
Jay Langston: We're heavily involved with social media marketing, with most of our efforts focused on Twitter and Facebook. While we've yet to experience an impact to sales, we truly believe it helps drive traffic to the site and is another avenue for marketing our business and increasing our search engine ranking.
EcommerceBytes: How important is it to have an email newsletter?
Jay Langston: We've been building our email list for over 5 years and use Constant Contact for our email marketing promotions. We believe an email list is a valuable asset for any business and is very cost effective compared to print marketing.
EcommerceBytes: What metrics do you track in your business in terms of sales, traffic, and financial?
Jay Langston: We keep track of website traffic and sales with Google Analytics on the go with the Quicklytics iPhone app. We use Quicken to keep track of the financial side of our business and employ a local accountant to assist in payroll and income tax preparation.
EcommerceBytes: What are most small online sellers doing wrong and how could they improve?
Jay Langston: Most websites for online merchants are lacking in even basic Search Engine Optimization tactics like Title Tags. Merchants with bricks & mortar locations could benefit from the local search aspects of Google Adwords. Online sellers of all sizes can add a free social media presence for their business and then encourage participation from their customers with prominent website placement, email newsletter links, in email signatures and on business cards.
EcommerceBytes: If you had unlimited time to devote to one activity on your business, where would you spend that time?
Jay Langston: Inventory sourcing and purchasing would bring the greatest return on investment of our time.
EcommerceBytes: Any idea on what will be the hot toy for this holiday season?
Jay Langston: We're watching this closely and have reviewed several of the Hot Toy lists that have been released by the big toy retailers. Most of our inventory dollars for 2011 have been spent already so we're hoping that there's not a brand new toy or toy line that comes out of nowhere this year. We do expect the new LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar to be a big seller for us.
You can see Backstage Toys' listing on EveryPlaceISell.com with links to its online locations.
Want to learn more about Amazon Webstore? Check the Amazon Webstore profile on EcommerceBytes Ratings & Reviews.
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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