Todd Alexander is the man who knows how to turn the web into one great big opportunity, having worked at eBay for a long time and been a part of the online world for even longer. He has written several books designed to guide you safely and efficiently through the chaotic but rewarding world of eCommerce, to benefit sellers as well as buyers.
With a book aimed at getting seniors online due mid-year, we recently chatted to Todd about all things retail.
Your writing career actually began with a work of fiction. Why were you then motivated to change over to non-fiction and your guides to online retailing?
I was very fortunate to have my first book, a novel called “Pictures of Us”, published in 2006. The idea for my first book about online came from my publisher of fiction who was asking me about my day job, working at eBay. “There’s a book in that” she said and we decided to explore the idea further. I’d been working at eBay for 4 years by then and had been training people in how to use the site so it was a logical progression to put some of those training materials into order which is how the first book evolved. There’s an element to any author’s career that is dictated by commercial reality. My knowledge of the online world and retail (which I’ve now been a part of for twenty years) tends to generate more writing opportunities in Australia than sticking purely to fiction. I still write fiction, and hope one day to have another novel published but for now, there’s unquestionably more reader demand for my online books than there is for the kind of fiction I write. And balancing a career, with part time writing, demands that I prioritise what types of books I work on.
What are your top tips for getting started as an eBay seller?
The most important tip is to do your research thoroughly. Make sure there’s a market for the type of products you want to sell, at the prices you to need to achieve a sustainable profit. On eBay some sellers start small and then find themselves running large businesses without having adequately planned for growth. It’s crucial to have the correct planning in place from day one and this includes how you will provide outstanding service, that your logistics systems can handle significant volume, how you can expand the breadth and depth of product you sell on eBay by having multiple supplier relationships. Most importantly, it’s having an idea of what you’ll do to compete when other sellers inevitably move into your category. It’s imperative to dedicate a minimum amount of time each week to look at your eBay business objectively and tweak its operating rhythms to ensure you are continually optimising sales. My book “How to Make Money on eBay” outlined how sellers should account for all of their selling overheads so they can accurately measure net profit.
What are some common mistakes to avoid when you’re getting started as an online seller?
The most common misperception is that simply having a website is all you need for eCommerce success. In reality, success will only come with a comprehensive marketing strategy to drive traffic to your website. This means your business needs to be multi-channel (use third party websites like eBay, deals sites and shopping comparison sites as well as marketing on search engines like Google). But I tend to see most start-ups over-investing in website design and search engine marketing, and under-investing in backend logistics, supplier relations and overall customer experience. Avoid thinking about the eCommerce arm of your business as just another channel and instead, establish a stand-alone business plan for your internet sales that allows more flexibility around selling price and profit margins. Paying expensive retail store overheads for the products you sell online, for example, will restrict your ability to compete for value-conscious internet shoppers. These are some of the many concepts I explain fully in my latest book “Get Your Business Online Now“.
You’ve also written books to help the consumer get the best deals. Can you tell us about how a customer can achieve this?
Research is a critical factor here too. You can only be in a strong position as a consumer if you have a thorough understanding of your options. Understand price differentials, but also where you can get the best service, the best delivery and most comprehensive after-sales care. It’s also about displaying confidence as a consumer – outline your expectations and never settle for second best. I wrote a book called “Why Pay Retail?” that some people considered anti-retail but that was never my intention – it was written to show businesses how today’s consumers think and choose to spend their money. It’s a harsh reality, but one that all businesses – both on- and offline, need to adapt for. The internet puts the customer firmly in control as it instantly provides comparisons on price, overall value and convenience. Purchasing a smartphone is the simplest tip – it’s power in your pocket.
Some amusing things come up for sale on eBay, what are some of the funniest items you’ve come across?
The important thing to remember about the eBay of today is that around 80% of items for sale on the site are sold at a fixed price (not auction) and the majority of these are brand new. eBay has evolved a lot over the past few years and it’s the best place in Australia to find the most comprehensive range of retail items from both local and international businesses. Having said that, it remains the most popular marketplace for selling more unique items and some of my favourites over the years include a piece of cereal that looked like ET, the Pope Mobile, the first pair of Levi’s and stories of people who list every single one of their possessions for sale so they can start their lives over afresh. To me, that’s the beauty of eBay and one of the reasons why I’ve chosen to work there for so long – the marketplace connects buyers and sellers in an incredibly efficient way.