eBay Seller Profile: BlueBerry Boutique

An eBay power seller talks about his strategies for success.

Editor's Note: Today, we begin our profiling of eBay sellers. ECommerce Guide will feature various sellers from time to time in James Maguire's Monday column.

In 2002, David Yaskulka was a marketing executive for a large non-profit organization. His family's finances were stretched pretty tight, so his wife Debbie wanted to do something part-time to help generate income.

But, Yaskulk notes, "It's hard to get out of the house with two little ones at home, so she came up with the idea of selling a few things on eBay."

That initial sale was pretty low end. "In classic eBay fashion, we found a few things out of our closet," he recalls. "Our strategic goal was probably to clear a couple hundred bucks a month."

In fact, the couples' budget was so tight that when they bought a digital camera to take photos of sale items, "we made sure they had a 30-day return policy, so in case the thing didn't work out we could get our $200 back."

However, the couples' sales revenue grew so quickly that "a few months later, I was leaving my job, hiring staff, and putting in IT infrastructure," Yaskulka says. Since then, sales have continued to grow, and Yaskulka is now an eBay Platinum Power Seller (sales of at least $300,000 per year).

He calls his eBay store Blueberry Boutique, and he has a stand-alone Web site by the same name. He focuses on selling high-end men's clothing.

So how has Yaskulka propelled his sales to this lofty level? He shares his top seven techniques:

1) Dedication to taking care of customers
"We made a point to never go to sleep at night with a dollar in our pocket from someone who didn't feel happy giving us that dollar," he says.

Specifically, he offers an unconditional money-back guarantee with all of his sales. He has bonded his auctions, so an insurance company backs up all his sales. In other words, customers can feel completely sure they'll either get the goods they want, or their money back.

To provide this insurance he has contracted with BuySafe; the company charges one percent of the auction sale price. "We've tested it, and our average sales price is more than one percent higher," Yaskulka says, due to the assurance this provides.

He posts this "BuySafe" surety bond in all his auctions, to promote customer peace of mind.

2) Reinforce your brand
"Thirty percent of our business on eBay is repeat business," Yaskulka says. "That's more than three times the eBay average. However, in broader business terms it's terrible."

Getting repeat business is very hard on eBay, he says, because buyers usually search by keyword, not by merchant.

To counter this, he advises sellers to pick a great store name and a great graphic, and reinforce them every chance they get. Most important, sellers should customize their listing as much as possible. In Yaskulka's listings, he repeats the name "Blueberry Boutique" and his little blueberry graphic umpteen times.

"In our customer service e-mail templates, it says 'thank you for shopping at BlueberryBoutique.net.'"

3) Build a reputation as a socially responsible business
Helping charities is a wise move for a seller, both spiritually and financially, Yaskulka says.

Sellers can help charities and non-profits in numerous ways. Yaskulka notes that MissionFish, which is part of the Points Of Light Foundation can facilitate this. eBay's Giving Works also enables sellers to help the needy.

"In an auction format, if you can donate a percentage of your sales to a strategically chosen non-profit, research shows that you will increase average selling price by 14 percent," he says.

More buyers are drawn to socially responsible auctions, he notes. "Sometimes the non-profit's constituents will add to your bidder base - if you get one more bidder, you're increasing your average selling price."

4) Grow online presence through appropriate discussion group postings on eBay
There are dozens of discussion forums on the auction giant. When a seller posts on one of these forums, their user ID is listed with their posting, which links to their sale items. Additionally, forum use "is a great way to learn," Yaskulka says, noting that anything a seller needs to know is probably found in these forums.

5) Source locally
"For someone who's thinking of starting a business on eBay, one tip is to source locally," he says. "Because you get a quick advantage over others selling on eBay." This local source could be a major manufacturer or a national distributor looking to liquidate certain items.

(Yaskulka freely admits he contradicts this rule — he lives in Long Valley, New Jersey, but most of his goods come from Italy.)

On a related point, when deciding what to sell, look for product categories that are not yet overcrowded with merchants. Yaskulka's store has 4,000 competitors in men's ties on eBay, but there are still categories that are not so saturated. "New categories are emerging all the time," he says. For example, a few years ago no one thought of selling cars on eBay, yet now it's a hot category.

6) Chose the best operational and marketing partners
If you expect to grow in eBay you'll need help, and you want to pick the best support options you can. Yaskulka, for example, uses ChannelAdvisor software to help him manage inventory, among other processes. "It automates the entire process," he says. The company charges him a monthly licensing fee and also takes a share of revenue.

7) Move outside the eBay channel
Because of the intense competition among sellers on the auction giant, "eBay remains one of most challenging channels in which to sustain profits," Yaskulka says. Many large companies are willing to sell at or near wholesale cost as a customer-building tactic, making it tough for mom and pop operators.

One of the ways to survive amidst this tough competition is to sell in as many markets as possible. Even eBay realizes that "any business that grows up has to sell in more than one channel," Yaskulka says.

With this in mind, Yaskulka displays his inventory across the Internet.

"Eighteen months ago, 100 percent of our profit was from eBay, now it's under 25 percent of our profit, because we're selling on Amazon, Overstock, and our own Web site, which shoots out to Shopping.com, Yahoo Shopping, Shopzilla, Froogle, Smarter.com, etc."

His real goal, he says, is to drive his customers to his own Web site. "Your own Web site is the fundamental building block of a multi-channel strategy," he says. "If you just take customer X, who's never heard of us from any of the [other shopping sites], our job is to get them to BlueberryBoutique.net."

Name: Blueberry Boutique

Date started with eBay: Fall 2002

Sales/Revenue on eBay: achieved Platinum Power Seller status (at least 300k annually), but now eBay drives less than 25% of his profits

Main software tools: ChannelAdvisor Merchant

Payment technology: Authorize.net

Number of employees: 6 (including 5 part-time)

eBay success tip: "Build your reputation as a socially responsible merchant by helping non-profits sell on eBay, and by donating a portion of your auction sales prices; your auction selling prices will likely rise, and customers will feel good about coming back."

James Maguire is a contributor to ECommerce-Guide.com. His weekly feature appears every Monday.

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