I think for us what worked was our photography. Kathy and I were bored
a couple of summers ago, not to mention broke. We thought of learning
how to use eBay, and posted an old clarinet. Of course the first
problem was to have a picture.
We took some basic pictures, but I`d always had an interest in
photography. I told her I had an old copy of Paint Shop Pro, but had
never learned it....what with all the complicated stuff. So I put a
copy on her machine, and revisited the copy on mine.
Over the next 6 months, we played and learned, found countless
tutorials, experimented, and read some books from the library. We had
little else to do for fun, so that became an obsession. And it paid off.
When we started selling office chair slipcovers, we had really great
photos. That got us a lot of "viewers" for the ads, and a few
"watchers" (people who mark the ad for notification of action). But no
Our next problem was to make our ads look interesting and exciting. We
didn`t like the eBay templates, and wanted some sort of easy WYSIWYG
editor. I tried a bunch, and eventually stumbled across Nvu
(Mozilla team). Even then, it wasn`t so easy to use until we found a nice tutorial
. That showed us how to use the status bar to put inline styles into place. And from there, we were ready to move.
Now we had great photos, an easy (sort of) way to do HTML, and I had my
writing skills. We were able to put together ads that I tried to model
after the many mail-order catalog ads I`ve seen. However, we still had
a problem with office-chair slipcovers because they`re customized.
Then we sat down and pondered a different product. It had to be
something we made, something inexpensive but that would sell for a
decent price. It had to be a sort of commodity item---repeatable, not
one of a kind. It had to be interesting, unusual, and fairly well
Kathy had made some wind chasers, and thinking about patterns we came
up with the thought of an American flag. That led to signal flags, and
we were inspired. Now our problem was how to make them, and how much to
charge for them.
We began trying to sell a single message banner: PARTY
. Then we
realized people would want different numbers of flags, spelling
different words. Each ad we put up, we`d try a different approach to
how we`d sell our a) messages, b) banners, c) words, d) phrases, e)
Then we`d keep an eye on how many viewers we`d get, and how many
watchers. EBay has a counter, but we found a better one. We found that
people didn`t want a "banner." Nor did they want a "message." Instead,
they had the most interest in "flags."
But here`s the thing: We didn`t invest an entire life and budget into
building up a whole branding system for "messages." We could quickly
put up a couple of ads, see what happened, see the interest, then
abandon it if it didn`t seem interesting to people.
We gradually began to understand what emotional interest people had in
the product. It was because we also decided to choose 1 product (the
PARTY) banner, and put it up constantly. That meant a 7-day auction,
which repeated over and over, regardless of if it sold. We wanted a
constant presence, in the same category, so people could trust the fact
that we existed.
The emotional appeal is in the colors, and the "secret message" idea,
as well as the interior decor/design aspects of flags. B&Bs, people
wanting to decorate a child`s room, and nautical themed interiors began
to emerge as the basic appeal.
We were able to track and discover this appeal mostly due to the "Ask
Seller a Question" function in eBay. People could ask us about their
idea, which in turn helped us to fine-tune our advertisements, content,
and even to develop new, offshoot product lines.
What it comes down to is the fast feedback we got. Each listing went
only for 7 days, so we weren`t locked in the way we would be if we`d
built an expensive Web site. If an ad didn`t work, didn`t say the right
thing, wasn`t noticed, wasn`t interesting, or sold flags the wrong way,
we learned it within 2 listings (14 days) and went back to the drawing
Because the ads were discrete items, we also could change them each
listing time. So we`d learn something in HTML, try it out in an ad, see
how it played, then keep it or toss it. Again, depending on feedback,
we could change our overall presentation.
Eventually, all that modification and experimentation formed our basic
concept for our first attempt at an actual Web site. We`d been using Village Photos
to host our pictures, and now switched to our own domain. We took what
we`d learned in Nvu on eBay, and began expanding it on the Web site. We
made the site more of a "flyer," rather than a complete Web site.
And again, with growing interest on eBay, more feedback, and emerging
requests for slightly different products, we were able to *slowly* add
them into the developing web site.
I`d have to say that by "playing in clubs" on eBay, we got all sorts of
practice and experience being in front of the marketplace---the
audience. AFTER we had that sort of real-world experience, THEN we
began working on a Web site and bringing to it our market experience.
All in all, I`d say that eBay is like playing out of town, where a Web
site is like putting the play on Broadway. eBay allowed us to work out
the kinks, find the best ways to appeal to people emotionally, explore
the technology, and discover tools that would come in handy on our own
One last note: It doesn`t matter what category you post an item under.
It only matters to eBay: not anyone else. Nobody browses categories.
They only search for what it is they want. You have 55 characters in a
Title, and if you understand database search queries, you can put the
SmudgeGuard under any category, but use the Title to be found.
So I guess I`d have to say that using the Title in our ads helped us
also to understand how Google and other search engines find results.
That helped when it came time for SEO writing on both the Web site, and
also other outlets we`re using (like SuN Marketplace).