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Starting up your own business is never easy. For a bricks and mortar-type business, overhead costs can eat up all available cash. With the explosive popularity of shopping on the Internet since the late 90's, the barriers to starting one's own business have been lowered significantly. Now, one can set up a business in a matter of hours, with few costs, on eBay or on one of the hundreds of available ISPs.
Despite the Web's phenomenal growth, running a successful business online isn't as easy as many think. Price competitiveness is high. Competitors are numerous and marketing is an ever-morphing game that requires much of a business owner's time and efforts.
"Build it and they will come" is not a mantra for success online.
Seeing that most budding Web entrepreneurs face a difficult path to success, ECommerce-Guide decided to step in and do our part to help. After requesting submissions in April, we picked a struggling e-commerce site that needed help in a number of areas including design and marketing.
We compiled a panel of experts in the various areas to critique the chosen site. Steve DiPietro, of the DiPietro Marketing Group, Gabriel Dibble of SplitZero Design, our own eBiz Profile writer James Maguire, ECG Executive Editor Dan Muse and Managing Editor Devin Comiskey. Our friends at WebTrends also volunteered to step in and help our chosen site with its Web analytics.
'Throw Me a Line!'
Over the course of a month, we received an incredible variety of sites — from the single-person run shop to catering businesses and children's toy outlets. But our eyes all fell on one site: www.1OEL.com, run by Phillip Wolf of Brooklyn, NY. 1OEL, or Online Electronics Liquidators, sells, you guessed it, consumer electronics.
Mr. Wolf appealed to ECommerce-Guide for help on a site that receives plenty of visitors, but few sales.
"I started my electronics (I love electronics, always wanting, but rarely getting, the latest and greatest) business in college four years ago just to make a few bucks. I sold used electronics that I bought in bulk on pallets — storing in my parents basement and garage, with no seed money, working from one credit card bill to the next eeking out a few dollars," said Wolf.
"A couple of years ago I launched my Web site that I run today. In the beginning it was a part time operation. After graduating in July 2003, finding a job was difficult. I first worked for a small international metal trading company that lasted all of three months. I then took a job a few months later as the manager for a local wholesale food manufacturer that went bust five months later (after 40+ years of operation, my luck). So that is approximately 8 months of work in close to two years, all the while building and running my Web site," he added.
In the meantime, Wolf also got married in August 2004.
Wolf say he has worked tirelessly on his Web site, which he calls "My creation, my baby, my current source of income for myself and pregnant wife (twins!)."
He gave us a breakdown of how his site was created and what he's done to market his e-commerce site.
"The Web site was 'created' (I use that word liberally) using Comersus as its backbone for the shopping cart and database programming. From there, I have made countless modifications, learning ASP and SQL along the way to create the site that it is today. I still use Front Page just because of its simplicity in terms of color coordination between HTML and ASP — but all work is done in HTML mode," he said.
"I created the design and feel for the site and continue to add new features as time permits and my programming skills allow. I work hard daily (upwards of 12+ hours) to bring customers to my site by advertising on Shopping.com, CNET, and now BizRate. I utilize the free sites Froogle and SortPrice as well, and, of course, try to optimize the site as best as I can for Google. I only list about 20 products (ones that sometimes actually sell) on the PPC sites because the clicks that I did receive from them simply did not turn into sales and I cannot afford to simply draw in traffic without the sales — I do not have those kinds of resources, and it is pointless," said Wolf.
|1OEL.com is ECommerce-Guide's first pick for a site critique. It's suffering from high traffic and virtually no sales.|
He says he spent $600 on joining the BBB OnLine program, but he's not sure if it made any difference in sales. He has also filled out countless forms to ensure that he is an "authorized dealer" for the products that he sells, ensuring that his customers (the few that he has) will receive warranty work from the manufacturer should they need it.
"I work hard filling the few orders that I do receive each day and the remainder of the day is filled with paperwork, site maintenance, paying billing, finding and buying products that I sell, hope to sell, or have already sold," he says.
"I try to find items on eBay cheap to make a larger profit over distributors, or for discontinued items, answering the phone etc. etc. etc. — all of the work needed to keep my site afloat and business moving, albeit at the speed of a galloping snail," says Wolf.
According to Wolf, his site receives approximately 250 - 1000 unique visitors a day. His conversion rate? "Do numbers go that small? I receive about zero to five orders per day, where one to three is the majority and zero and five are rarities," he says.
Wolf sought the help of ECommerce-Guide as a last resort to improve his business.
"My site is there, it 'works' and a few people actually make purchases but nowhere as well as it could. This is my plea for help: to have experts come in and throw me a line and show my site (and me) some TLC. I will be waiting!" he says.
Tomorrow, we'll hear from the first three people on our expert panel. They have a lot to say about www.1oel.com.
Devin Comiskey is the Managing Editor of ECommerce-Guide.com.
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