Earlier this year, downsized from his job and with a new baby on the way, the pressure was on Shawn Ellis to find new income starting a business made sense, but he wanted to begin immediately, without waiting for luxuries like staff and extensive financing.
With a desire to generate revenue as soon as possible, he adopted an aggressive e-tail strategy for his Tropicari casual jewelry business, opting for a three-prong approach: He built a Yahoo! store called Tropicari.com, he sells through eBay, and to complete his outlets, he opened a kiosk at his local mall in North Carolina.
The number of employees in Ellis's company, including tech staff, is a total of one. But while he works extremely hard, the recipe is paying off for him.
One reason is that his three outlets work in sync. "We're trying to advertise the Web site here in the mall," he says. With that many eyeballs passing by, it's the equivalent of a lot of banner ads.
He keeps a computer at his mall kiosk, so he can maintain his site and handle online orders between handling live customer orders. For his online sales, Ellis buys his shipping postage from Endicia.com, which allows him to handle much of the packaging process while sitting in the mall. This is essential: since Tropicari is a one-man operation, he's at the mall seven days a week, some 80 to 90 hours a week.
Selling through all three outlets allows him to see the differences between them. "For some reason, women buy more in person rather than through the Web site," he says, while the percentage of purchases by men is higher on his site.
Initially, the mall offered faster revenue, he says, "but now the Web sites eBay and Yahoo! combined are starting to catch up with the mall."
eBay vs. Yahoo!
Because Ellis sells through both a Yahoo! store and eBay, he sees the advantages and disadvantages of both.
Between the two, he favors doing business through his own site on Yahoo!. His site "is a long-term permanent location for the business, and you can sell your items at a higher price," he notes. Additionally, it costs him less to present his merchandise from his Yahoo! store, and it's "a good place for repeat customers to come back."
He really likes Yahoo!'s technical support; saying, "you cannot get a live person with eBay."
He uses PayPal for his eBay sales, and a credit card account for his own site's sales, which adds another plus to using his own site: "The fees are a lot higher through PayPal than your merchant account."
Yet eBay has its advantages, he concedes. His eBay sales were initially higher, because it was easier to draw traffic to his eBay display. Attracting shoppers to his Yahoo! store proved considerably more expensive, he found.
"You have to find the right ads that work and that takes a lot of money," he says.
Certainly Yahoo!'s marketplace helps draw traffic, but on the auction giant, "people are going to find just about anything you put on there."
On eBay, "there's a lower cost of advertising for selling a broader array of items," he says. "You don't have to pay each time someone clicks on your ad, like you do when you're using a search engine [advertisement] for your site."
But ultimately his business is still about the combination of all three outlets, regardless of the advantages of either, he notes. "I'm hoping the site does well, and one day I'd like to open a store in the mall."
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