Small businesses venturing into the treacherous realm of e-commerce must decide between two distinctly different approaches: Go it alone, bearing all the expense and effort of setting up a Web site, but keeping all the revenue. Or set up shop through a bigger site, making it easy to get started, but surrendering a chunk of revenue and facing competitors at much closer range.
Those taking the latter route can now join forces with eBay, the global online yard sale with 30 million registered users. eBay has launched a program called eBay Stores, allowing merchants to establish their own identity within the eBay universe, and even sell products at fixed prices -- a departure from eBay's previous focus of selling only by auction. In exchange, eBay charges a monthly fee of $9.95, a listing fee of five cents per item, and a transaction fee ranging from 1.25 to 5 percent of selling price.
eBay Stores operators will have access to all of the site's many selling tools, such as online shopping carts for purchasers and tools for preparing listings and managing customer service. A new eBay Stores Hub allows buyers to search among participating merchants.
"Our sellers should realize increased sales as buyers become familiar with their stores," says eBay head Meg Whitman. "And our buyers will enjoy the added convenience of quickly being able to browse through the inventory of their favorite sellers."
eBay is also hoping that, by allowing store operators more control over how their wares are displayed and priced, it will attract businesses larger than the one-person part-time operators who now dominate the site. In an early sign of success, the first recruits for eBay Stores include IBM and Hard Rock Cafe.
Several other big Web sites offer similar programs, most notably Yahoo, which features Yahoo Stores, and Amazon.com, which offers zShops.