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Rev Up Sales in Your Web Store in 2012

Part 2 of an interview with e-commerce maven John Lawson.

In Rev Up eBay Sales in 2012, we spoke with John “ColderICE” Lawson about what eBay sellers can do to enhance their sales in the New Year. We hope you found his advice to be sound. Lawson was also very generous in sharing with us some great tips for sellers who have ventured beyond eBay to Amazon and the Web at large.

Like millions of other e-commerce sellers, Lawson began on eBay, but today he also operates a very successful Amazon business, and he’s been focusing ever more attention on his own website.

We asked Lawson how Amazon compares to eBay as a marketplace, in general. “It’s so far beyond eBay now,” he replies. “In 2007, (Amazon) was 20 percent of our business. Now it’s 80 percent of our business.”

Of course, with such astounding metrics, we needed explanations and details.

“There are a lot of reasons for that,” he continues, “but one reason is people are starting their searches on Amazon.”

Selection is king

“Give them what they want. That long tail is very important”

From Lawson’s perspective, it seems that part of the maturation of Internet retail has led to shoppers being more effective in locating products. eBay is struggling to keep up with the catalogue of goods available on Amazon, and that’s not an easy task.

“Why would eBay say you can list 5,000 things?” he asks, referring to eBay’s increasingly frequent free listing days leading up to the holidays. “Either there’s not enough stuff to prime the pump, or they didn’t have enough for the holiday season. Sales on Amazon are up 83 percent, whereas eBay sales are about flat.”

Lawson believes the key to success on Amazon is offering customers “selection, selection, selection.”

“Amazon is constantly looking at selection,” he tells us. By selling baseball caps, knit caps, bandanas and other accessories, Lawson gives himself a broad range of items that are related but, at the same time, provide him with distinct revenue streams. Going into 2012, Lawson advises other sellers to offer more selection and a more robust inventory.

“Source for the platform to be successful,” he said. “Give them what they want. That long tail is very important.”

The rules

It is vital to know not only the products but also the rules of each marketplace, according to Lawson.

“On both eBay and Amazon, the people who are doing the best are the ones who are following the rules,” he says. “Those of us who got on eBay early had the best results. Those of us who get on Amazon early, which now is still early, will also do well. Amazon will ultimately have some of the same problems as eBay, but for now, Amazon is training the buying public.”

We asked what he thinks of Fulfillment by Amazon. Like just about everyone else we’ve ever asked, Lawson has mixed thoughts about the service.

“The good thing about it is that you can grow inventory without housing the product, it reduces your manual work and you can’t duplicate the shipping speed of Amazon,” he says. On the other hand, “it’s expensive for products under $10, which we sell a lot of. And, there’s risk here. If you build your business on FBA, you can’t control the outcome. You don’t control that part of your business. You have to account for that risk. It could cut off your income immediately, and you can’t control your profit margin,” he explains.

Still, he would recommend that sellers give it a try. “It’s great, especially for the Christmas season. You should definitely take a look at that. I can’t match that kind of shipping,” he says.

Expanding beyond Amazon

“I’m going to master Amazon and my own website. I don’t ever want to have this happen to me again”

When we spoke, Lawson was planning to seriously ramp up his own website, which he has had in place for quite some time.

“We’ve been doing that since 2005, but not really seriously until now,” he says. “It’s always been 5 percent to 10 percent of our business.”

Still Lawson has preferred to think of himself as a channel seller. “I didn’t want to do the heavy lifting, so I wanted to stay on sites that would do the marketing for us,” he explains. “That’s why we pay 15 percent to the markets. Now, I’m going completely into it. I’m ready to learn it, and master it.

“I mastered eBay, and, as they changed that, either I’m going to relearn all that, or I am going to control it. I’m going to master Amazon and my own website. I don’t ever want to have this happen to me again,” he adds.

To shore up his business against the whims and ways of channel markets, Lawson plans to use his current downtime from his speaking business to ramp up his store on the Web. “We’re getting ready to launch a new website,” he explains. “We have a new Yahoo store. It’s a fully designed and very professional-looking store.”

‘The list’

So how does Lawson plan to carry the weight of marketing beyond his role as a channel seller? He plans to use social media, but his best tip is maintaining a vibrant customer list.

“The most important thing is your list,” he tells us. “Use social media to build your mailing list, but I think that building that mailing list should be your first task.”

Of course, there are better ways to use your customer list, and ways to not venture into spamming or annoying your customers. His tips? He strives to provide information first and foremost. He shuns the idea of mass emailing advertisements.

“Try to get people to opt in to your information, and you’ve got customers,” Lawson says. We asked him for a specific example, and his reply was quick.

“I get the Jessica Simpson shoes,” he says. “I send that out to my mailing list, and I’ve got those shoes already sold by the time I get them in. I don’t have to list them in any marketplace.”

Lawson depends on software to manage his mailing list and send out his emails. We asked if he has a favorite, and surprisingly, he really doesn’t. “Constant Contact, and such,” he says. “I don’t think there’s really any differentiation among the top five or six products. Find the one you like and really learn how to use it. That’s the key. Learn how to use it.”

In all the years Lawson has successfully operated an e-commerce business, he has never lost sight of the need to keep learning and evolving. He came early to both the eBay and Amazon marketplaces, and now he’s taught himself the ropes of using social media to propel his business into even more profitable realms.

Our next article, Social Media Tips You Can Actually Use will let you in on some of the most successful ways Lawson is using social media to grow his business. Everyone is talking about it, but he was kind enough to share with us some specific and simple things sellers can do right now to move their Web businesses forward.

About the author

Brad & Debra Schepp
Brad and Debra Schepp are the authors of 20 books, including eBay PowerSeller Secrets and The Official Alibaba.com Success Guide: Insider Tips and Strategies for Sourcing Products from the World's Largest B2B Marketplace. Their most recent book is How to Find a Job on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Brad is also a literary agent for Waterside Productions. For further information, visit the couple's website, bradanddeb.com. Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

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