Making Storefront Connections to eBay

eBay has become a permanent marketing channel for lots of Web retailers. How can small businesses link their auction sales with those from their e-commerce sites?

From bedknobs to broomsticks, you can generally find it, buy it and sell it on the massively popular auction site, eBay. eBay not only offers a place to empty your company's warehouse of unwanted items and pocket a few dollars, it's now a permanent marketing channel for lots of retail businesses. Some businesses exist solely to market and sell their wares on eBay.

Many small businesses opt to use eBay Stores -- persistent, dedicated areas of eBay designed to showcase merchandise from a single seller. Compared to standard auction listings, eBay Stores can list products for longer periods and at lower cost, and the price, which starts at $9.95 per month, can save businesses money over the basic auction or Buy It Now listings. Another plus is that an eBay Store can have its own URL that a business may promote to its customers. And it's hard to argue with the sheer scale of the operation: Millions of potential shoppers log onto eBay daily.

However, eBay Stores generally lack the custom-branded look that most want for their businesses.

Granted, eBay has been taking steps to combat this -- Macromedia recently announced a new version of its Contribute 3 desktop application to customize eBay Stores and give business owners an opportunity to improve the quality of their eBay Stores. And eBay is rolling out new, optional ways for Stores users to tweak their appearance. Still, eBay Stores remain a part of eBay, and not totally under a merchant's control. That's why independent Web-based businesses still continue to flourish, and are growing in number.

Until now, selling wares through an eBay auction was separate from selling goods through a company's e-commerce site. Fortunately, there are a couple of specialized hosting services that are allowing small businesses to manage and process their eBay sales with those from their regular storefronts.

Thanks to them, a host of online sellers are using both routes as dual storefronts -- seeking to benefit from eBay's traffic and prominence while maintaining their own Web site suited for their business's look and feel.

Linking the two sales channels can make sense for many businesses -- allowing inventory, billing, accounting and shopping operations to be tightly integrated for both Web channels and eBay. This can save money and reduce time and labor.

In many cases, storefront linking allows small businesses to use their e-commerce sites to post goods on eBay, manage their auctions and process auction sales. These days, major shopping cart providers such as Aplus.net and Kurant provide ways for their shopping cart customers to move and sell products across eBay. On the down side, the companies that provide these eBay connections require you to use their proprietary hosting and shopping cart services. But if you're determined to integrate your eBay auction efforts with your e-commerce sales, the companies' solutions are worth considering.

Making eBay Connections
Offering a way for businesses to sell goods through popular sites such as eBay as well as Amazon, Shopping.com and Froogle, is Aplus.net. The company is a service provider that offers such traditional services as domain name registration, e-mail boxes and Internet hosting, as well as web page design and site maintenance. For its e-commerce and shopping cart features, the company relies on services from Miva Merchant.

To enable businesses to list and make sales on Amazon, eBay, Froogle and shopping.com, Aplus.net offers tools that are known as "connectors," which let businesses enter product data into their Miva Merchant stores and publish the products on the sites of popular online sellers and shopping directories. As with regular e-commerce sales, the company processes auction sales through a company's existing merchant account and deposits the funds into its designated bank account.

Aplus.net offers comprehensive design services to create attractive, professional-looking e-commerce sites. A wizard asks users to choose a hosting plan, select a look from some 3,000 templates and define some options. After that, the designers at Aplus.net build the online catalog and e-commerce site. The company charges for website design, depending on the number of pages - the more pages, the more money you'll pay, and the more sophisticated the options.

Aplus.net offers a $34.95 per month ePro program that offers basic hosting, a shopping cart and secure credit card processing, 2500 MB of disc storage, 500 e-mail boxes and free domain name registration. The more expensive Maxima plan, at $49.95 per month, handles security certificates, offers Microsoft database compatibility and supports scripting languages.

You may purchase Aplus.net's design services without arranging for hosting through the company, but you will pay more for your web site. And if you already have a web site, you may pay Aplus.net to integrate its e-commerce features into it and host it.

More eBay Sense
Earlier this year, Kurant Corporation added eBay listing capabilities to its StoreSense e-business solution. With these features, small businesses may post products directly to eBay from within StoreSense and manage the process of selling products on eBay by using the same interface that they use to manage their online StoreSense-based stores.

To sell on eBay, StoreSense lets business owners select the products from their inventory that they want to publish as eBay listings, and then asks them to follow a step-by-step wizard that guides them through the posting process. And when an eBay auction is complete, winners are directed to the merchant's StoreSense store to use the system's checkout and shipping options. StoreSense also manages the back-end e-business functionality to process the payment and update inventory.

Like Aplus.net, StoreSense offers a suite of e-business tools that are designed to help small businesses develop e-commerce sites. It features wizards to build a Web site and integrate e-commerce capabilities into it, and offers sophisticated site design tools to integrate e-commerce functionality and management capabilities. Offered on a monthly subscription basis, StoreSense is available only through Kurant's reseller, Website Pros.

While there's still something of a split between sales made on traditional e-commerce sites and those through eBay auctions, moves by leaders like Aplus.net and Kurant will help prompt more solutions like this in the future. And with their efforts, and because of the myriad benefits to maintaining both eBay and Web businesses, the process is bound to get easier. After all, eBay, like e-commerce, is here to stay.

Wayne N. Kawamoto is a contributor to ECommerce-Guide.com.

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