This year Matt Brossard, our customer experience manager, decided that it was time for him to begin to sell regularly online. At the end of August, Matt launched Conversation Threads, an eBay store offering menswear items.
In yesterday's article, part one of this two-part series, we talked about Matt's reasons for becoming a professional seller, how he chose his niche and sources his products, and about some of his initial experiences with product photography, creating listings, and selling tools. Today, we'll talk about some of the challenges Matt faces, and about the ten takeaways, tips, and tricks for other sellers that Matt has developed based on his experiences so far.
Quarter One: Early Challenges and Adjustments
Matt Brossard says that his selling experience thus far has been a fun and exciting one, but that at the same time his foray into e-business isn't happening without some surprises. Things like margins, international shipping rates, and time management are raising unexpected issues that call for quick learning and important changes to his workflow.
Matt is learning to be careful about packaging and shipping, and to understand how these relate to margins.
"I'm adjusting my thinking about pricing in particular," Matt says. "Certain opportunities look pretty good so long as they’re going to be shipped domestically, but I'm learning that a lot of my most interested customers are international shoppers who don't have a lot of product available to them where they live."
Matt is finding that international selling requires more careful attention to the realities of shipping and cross-border trade. "I listed my first few items with free shipping and I wasn't really packing things strictly," Matt explains. "Eventually I went to go ship something over two kilograms—and quickly found out how shipping costs escalate. After that I started prepackaging things, weighing them, and in some cases using a dual-policy approach to shipping fees, because while an item could go to Washington state, it could also go to the Netherlands. That said, I’m delighted to have served shoppers on four continents already."
Matt expects to continue to learn about duties, cross-border tariffs, VAT, and other similar topics in the months to come, but he's also coming to realize that there are some issues that likely can't solved with more information or better tools and techniques—things like time management and labor.
Matt is having fun with his sourcing strategy, but he's beginning to realize that there's a limit to how well it scales.
Matt's sourcing-by-shopping strategy, for example, is impacting the amount of inventory he can acquire. "There's a limit," he says, "to how much I can scale this strategy. Markdowns are seasonal, and I'm finding that it's not easy to restock something that sells well. Eventually I want to explore wholesale supply."
Time-oriented difficulties are proving to apply to multiple areas of selling. "While I love designing my branding," he explains, "I was surprised at how many items I needed to customize. To do branding and marketing well, I need images for social media, email templates, invoices, thank you notes, listings, and profiles, and it takes time to make each image."
Matt expects to continue to encounter challenges and to learn from them in the months to come as his business grows. "It wasn't totally obvious to me as I set out to do this," he says, "just how much I'd need to learn and develop. I want my buyers to feel that their shopping experience with my store is smooth and professional right away, rather than fifty transactions down the road."
General Goals for the Next Quarter
Challenges aside, Matt is happy about how his first two months of business have gone, and is excited to think about how he'll evolve and grow. He's still working on coming up with numeric goals and benchmarks for his second quarter of selling, but he's clear about the general directions in which he'll need to move.
"I plan to keep exploring other sourcing options, other channels," he says, "but I'll need to ramp up slowly. It’s won't be good if I can't keep up with fulfillment, for example, or end up working so hard that it affects what I do for Terapeak. There's room to improve my efficiency, and to source higher end items with better margins. I'm also looking at what I can do to diversify. Overall the goal is to learn as much as I can about Terapeak’s customers by being one of them, long-term."
Quarter One: Numbers Summary
Selling began: August 2013
Sales so far: 13 items, just over $800 in revenue
Best selling product: Old Bones socks by Stance
Biggest sale: Ralph Lauren corduroy coat
Quarter One: Matt's Takeaways, Tips, and Tricks
Based on his experiences so far, here are some less-often-mentioned takeaways, tips, and tricks that Matt thinks will be useful to other sellers that are just starting out:
Be Serious. Do research. Make a plan. If you’re new to selling, it helps to define your business. Design a brand. Choose what you’re going to sell and how you’re going to source items. Plan your routine. Any groundwork you can lay early on makes every subsequent decision that much easier to make.
Source with a clear online focus. Remember that the items you sell have to be presented online; goods must present well in digital photographs and must suggest obvious keywords that shoppers might search for. Otherwise, they'll either not be found or won't sustain interest, no matter how great they are.
Study everything you can. Gather as many tips and tricks as you can. There are a lot of online selling resources out there to help you. Network with other sellers, listen to podcasts, stay up to date with changes in the market.
Be prepared for a product photos learning curve. Take product photography seriously; create a lightbox and an area with controlled lighting, and refine your process so that cropping and editing become unnecessary.
Matt's experiences so far are confirming that it pays to listen to customers, as well as to trust and value them.
Be meticulous about packaging and shipping. Pack and weigh anything you haven't previously sold before you list it, and check domestic and international shipping rates beforehand as well. Realize that you can lose money despite making sales if you don't do these things.
Give your shoppers information they can use. Describe product features and details that help potential shoppers make confident purchase decisions. Don’t settle for label size when you can measure the garment yourself and help a shopper decide ahead of time how it will actually fit them.
Actively look for potential mistakes when selling internationally. Take it one step at a time when doing your first few international purchases to ensure a positive experience for everyone involved. Yes, it’s more complicated but your international customers are worth the extra effort.
Listen to your customers. Every purchase is telling you something about who your customers are and what they care about. Pay attention to their needs and they’ll help you become a great seller.
Source and sell with particular buyers in mind. When listing items, take time to imagine who will search out and buy it, and what they'll need to know before they're willing to purchase.
Have trust in your channel and your customers. You're not in this alone; your trading marketplace and your buyers are equal partners in your profits. They want you to make sales and have smooth transactions as badly as you do.
Conversation Threads Beyond Buying and Selling
Matt's selling adventure on the Conversation Threads store is just beginning, but he's already learning a great deal, and is rekindling for himself the excitement that he sees in many of Terapeak's customers every day.
"Aside from reaching my sales goals, there are little things that are just making the experience worthwhile," he says. "When I wake up in the morning and something has sold overnight, or when I find something really cool to add to my store inventory. Those are the things that keep me loving being a part of the marketplace."
In the months to come, we'll keep brief tabs on how Matt's selling is developing and what he is finding out along the way. Matt hopes that this will help others that are new to online selling to learn the ropes more quickly, and to know that they're not alone out there. Many new sellers are doing the same thing every day, and learning the in the same ways as they go.
To see how Terapeak can help you to start and grow your business, take advantage of Terapeak's free trial membership today.