How Can I Use My Website and My eBay Store to Market My Product?

Online Marketing, in General

Q: "What do people look for when they search for stuff on eBay?"

A: When people search online, there are four things they are looking for (some people look for all of these, others just one or two).

First, they are looking for information. The Internet is all about content and making it accessible to interested people free of charge. Your website should not just be a laundry list of stuff you've got around the house you want to sell. It should be a source of information about certain types of antiques and collectibles that people are interested in knowing more about.

And not just any kind of information. Everything that appears on your website should be cool, compelling content. People these days have short attention spans and expect to have a measure of fun, excitement, or drama when they do stuff online. Your content must be interesting, captivating, and entertaining— the sort of stuff people will e-mail their friends about, creating positive buzz for your website.

Second, they are looking for stuff they can't find in their local stores. I have a Smith Corona typewriter that I bought in the early 1990s. Because I'm a fairly fast typist, I just find it a lot easier to use an old-fashioned typewriter to address envelopes and create mailing labels than printing them from Microsoft Outlook. Needless to say, I'm not able to find replacement parts, print wheels, ribbon cartridges, and correction spools for a i99os-era typewriter in my local Staples or Office Depot outlet. So where do I get these typewriter supplies when I need them? From eBay! There are several eBay Stores that actually specialize in typewriter parts, and I'm one of their best buyers.

If you're selling antiques and collectibles on eBay (or anywhere else online), do some research and find out if there are any antique or collectible categories that are underrepresented on the Web. Online retailers generally do best when they focus on a niche and become known for their knowledge and expertise within that niche. So, for example, you might want to focus your website on "to-bacciana" (tobacco-related paraphernalia, usually from the 1800s) or "hippie/ counterculture artifacts" from the 1960s.

Third, people are looking online for stuff they can buy at their local stores but at deep, deep discounts. To put it bluntly, a lot of people online are shopping for wholesale prices; they won't pay retail on eBay or anywhere else online if they can find the products locally at the same price.

If you've got a baby, you need diapers. Lots of diapers. You can always find them locally, and if you need to buy in bulk, there's a Wal-Mart, Costco, or BJ's Wholesale Club within a short drive of your home (although no drive is short enough with a screaming infant in the backseat). If people are shopping for diapers online, they are looking for prices that beat even Wal-Mart's "regular low, low prices." If you can offer bulk lots of diapers for half the big-box retail prices or less, you probably can find customers for them online. Otherwise, don't sell diapers online.

Fourth, and finally, people are shopping online for people with like-minded interests. Social network sites such as MySpace and Second Life are built on the principle that people are still interested in living in villages or communities, but no longer strictly geographical ones. Like it or not, the communities of the future are likely to be virtual ones—you might find you have more in common with someone in Timbuktu than you do with the person who lives on the other side of the privet hedge in your backyard.

Always have a space on your site where buyers and other visitors can interact with you and each other. This can take the form of a weblog, or blog, a community chat room, a discussion board, or a series of webinars on topics of interest to the people who buy from you. If you sell cast iron antiques from the 1800s, for example, you might want to post a request for tips from collectors on how to remove rust from these items without damaging them. Trust me, you will get responses, and the search engine spiders love stuff like that.

One more thing: Always be sure that everything on your website is what your customers want to see, not what you think they should see. I read a lot of blogs in my line of work, and far too many of them remind me of that old song from the 1970s movie Midnight Cowboy: "Everybody's talkin' at me, I don't hear a word they're sayin', only the echoes of my mind..."

Q: "How can I increase my Internet exposure and buzzworthiness?"

A: There are over one billion users on the Internet these days. That's a lot of people and information cruising around cyberspace. Naturally, people want to organize that information so it is more manageable. Web 2.0 is helping buyers sort all this information into social networks related to interest, genre, theme, and so on.

The ubiquitous eBay is a popular Web 2.0 site, according to eBay Store designer and consultant Rebecca Shapiro ( because it helps people shop according to niche market, and the eBay stores that are the most successful are those that capitalize on the power of social networking. "These eBay Stores use the free marketing tools that eBay provides such as Guides, e-mail marketing and custom pages to position themselves as experts in their niche market," says Shapiro. "This, in turn, builds buyer confidence and loyalty. Those happy customers then tell their friends and family who shop and tell their friends and family. Social networking is all about buzzworthiness and word of mouth."

Owners of eBay Stores also take advantage of other social networking sites to increase their exposure and drive traffic back to their eBay Stores. Many eBay Store owners experience significant traffic and sales coming from their My-Space blogs, Squidoo lenses, and YouTube videos (which can now be used in eBay listings).

Q: "What is a niche market?"

A: Selling in a niche market means that you're selling to a select group of people who share a common interest—for example, people who love baseball, Hummel figurines, or anything designed by Coach. Why should you bother to define or refine your niche market? Because it can be very lucrative, says eBay Store designer and consultant Rebecca Shapiro ( "When you're the very best in a healthy niche market you're the big fish in a small pond," says Shapiro. "You will either be alone or in very limited company in a niche market; other small businesses may not be aware of your niche and large businesses won't want to bother with it."

The trick, according to Shapiro, is to find or develop a niche that has customers, is growing fast enough, and is not already owned by a group of established vendors (like the supersaturated electronics, clothing, and jewelry categories). Then start expanding and refining your target market carefully so that you don't grow beyond the boundaries of your niche. Explains Shapiro, "If you're selling everything related to cats, you should think twice before you expand and start selling everything related to birds, turtles, gerbils and dogs. There's Petco for that!"

Successful eBay Stores are those that capture their niche market and use their expertise and experience to build healthy businesses in the eBay marketplace.

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