How to start your own business on eBay

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AM6K5F keyboard with the letters of the word ebay on it

Over the last 18 years, one company has transformed entrepreneurs' ability to start new retail businesses. Where this once required shop premises, lots of stock and enough demand locally, eBay now means it's easy to work from home selling to customers all over the world.

EBay currently holds more than 500 million listings. While many of these are the result of householders simply trying to clear out their junk, there's a large and increasing number of professional vendors too - more than 10,000 in the UK alone - with some making millions of pounds a year. Some operate online only, whereas others use eBay as a way of augmenting real-world sales.


"Selling on eBay makes your products available to 124 million active users around the world, and over 18 million customers in the UK alone," says eBay spokesman Steve Heywood. "It's the right time to get started and with approximately two billion internet users in the world today, it is clear that we are just scratching the surface of the amazing opportunities out there."

So should you take the plunge, maybe opening an eBay store for your existing business, or starting something from scratch?

"Go for it. eBay is popular and the number one e-commerce platform available – it's easy to integrate existing e-commerce systems. It's a trusted marketplace and a proven channel to attract new customers," says Peter Griffiths of United Joinery, which supplies and installs high-performance timber windows, doors and conservatories.

"If you are new to online commerce, start with a website and an eBay seller profile so you can list your products and start trading online. Tablet use has increased hugely over the last few months - eBay trends show that it's only set to increase further. Your competitors are bound to be beefing up their online presence, so make sure you stay ahead of the game."

Aspiring eBay tycoons first need to set up a personal account on the site, and to register for PayPal, the company's online payment system. They'll also need to decide whether to sell at auction or for a fixed price - most opt for the latter.

However, the company only allows sellers to open a store once they've had a certain amount of feedback. This means selling a few items on the site as an individual vendor - if necessary, asking your buyers to contribute a positive review.

Operating as a basic store costs £19.99 a month, which includes 200 fixed price listings. More comprehensive packages are available for £59.99 and £249.99 a month, although to open one of these you'll need a higher feedback rating. Listing fees are payable on items outside the listings allowance, and PayPal also takes a slice. As with any business, it's important to consider pricing carefully, taking account of all your overheads.

The look and feel of the store is important, and it's worth taking a look at the competition. It's important to make sure photos are optimised for the web so that they download quickly - online purchasers are an impatient bunch - and there's a strong link between the quality of images and sales. It's also important to be easily findable, so it's a good idea to make sure that the store is search engine friendly, loading quickly and containing the appropriate keywords. If in doubt, templates are available from providers such as Auctiva.

Once your site is up and running, engage with buyers - you're much more likely to get good feedback that way. Respond to messages quickly and be as helpful as you can - one of buyers' biggest complaints is difficulty in getting hold of vendors. Many vendors swear by social media such as Facebook and Twitter to promote their site, and eBay's email newsletter service lets your store create bulletins that go out to customers. Many sites even create videos for their customers: tutorials, testimonials and the like.

"Retailers should embrace every channel at their disposal. As more and more sales are coming from online sources, such as search and social media, it is important to be present across all channels
and to engage shoppers on many levels," says Griffiths.

He believes that, increasingly, businesses will start to see a presence on eBay as essential.

"With a strong retail strategy, marketplaces such as eBay can be a great way for retailers to increase their exposure," he says. "Even if retailers are used to traditional offline tactics, there's a benefit of partnering with the likes of eBay as their success is tied to enabling the success of others."

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