E-Rated – Own Your Reputation!

One of the biggest challenges in any e-commerce marketplace is getting the buyer to trust the seller and vice versa. To solve this issue, all marketplaces today build and employ a reputation system that differentiates a good seller from a bad seller (same goes for the buyer). Meaning, after each and every transaction, you are potentially rated by the other side (usually on a scale of 1-5 stars) to indicate to your future buyers whether it’s worthwhile to do business with you in the future.
In today’s marketplace ecosystem there are over 100M sellers, 1500 marketplaces and   widget
90% of sellers operate in more than one marketplace ( usually in the same space).
Meaning, eBay shares sellers with Etsy, and Amazon for example while Airbnb
shares users with HomeAway and Flipkey.
The biggest issue for all these cross marketplace sellers is the fact that this
reputation, which sellers and buyers deem as one of the most important
factors when buying online, is not transportable. Meaning, if you have
received that coveted top rated seller badge in eBay or that inspiring
Featured Merchant status within Amazon, you cannot show it off in any
of the other marketplaces you are using online.
eRated is a new service that lets you use a single identity across any online marketplace. It aggregates all your ratings, reviews and characteristics you have received online and displays this information in your listings for your buyers to consume.
eRated has been proven to increase seller conversion rates in approximately 15%. Meaning, if you are currently making $10K a year from your online business, using a simple plug and play solution, you can potentially make up $1500 more by displaying your cross market online reputation to your buyers.
Let’s take a look at how the solution works:

We invite you all to finally own your online reputation (it’s yours anyway) and use it to increase your sales, conversions and easily expand your reach to potential buyers. Visit the eRated website by clicking here and join the revolution. It’s Free!

erated from erated on Vimeo.

EBay Cyber Attack: Is your password strong enough?

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Although eBay was slow to address the issue of it’s recent cyber attack, news of compromised passwords rapidly spread like wildfire last week over the Internet and on news outlets. While the company did finally release a statement advising everyone to change their passwords on Friday (May 16), they were still being close-lipped about what exactly had happened although they did say that they only learned that there was a potential problem about two weeks ago.

All of this comes on the heels of Target’s big data breach and the Heartbleed bug (another cyber issues that had many online sites urging their members to reset their passwords). While clearly you may have little protection if an entire site is hacked, there are still some things you can do to help safeguard your password on eBay and other websites you frequent.

1. Although using numbers in place of letters, such as a one for an “l” or a zero for an “o” use to make for a fairly strong password, that is no longer the case. Hackers actually have programs that can figure those types of passwords out, so they are no longer effective. Don’t use them.
2. Do not use your name as part of your password. For that matter, don’t use your spouse’s name, family name or even your dog’s name. Although hackers may not know that you have a sister named Mary, they do often have access to lists of common names and will go through the list trying various combinations until they are successful.
3. Do not use movie titles, songs or the names of celebrities or famous people. Also, don’t use the word PASSWORD, which apparently is very popular with people who can’t remember theirs.

At this point, you may be wondering “well, what’s left?” Here’s a couple of ideas that can make it a little harder for your password to be hacked.

1. Make your password a mix of lowercase and uppercase letters. Using numbers and punctuation too can make your password harder to crack, but be careful about using control characters (symbols used to make computers do certain things such as ^D or ^U) or you may discover that you can no longer access the site you are trying to log into.
2. Use small words and divide them by different punctuation marks (cow!cat?dog.).
3. Take an unusual phrase and then take the first or last letter from each word. As an example, “the cow jumped over the moon” could become “tcjotm” or “ewdren.” You can then add a number or character to make it even more difficult.
4. Do a combination of 1, 2, and 3. While I don’t suggest writing your password down, do keep in mind that whatever you come up with does need to be something that is hard for others to crack, yet easy for you to remember. Now, go get creative!

 

Image courtesy of [Stuart Miles] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

What You Need to Know About Hazardous Materials and Amazon FBA

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When someone uses the word “hazmat,” it might bring to mind a bunch of nervous government workers running around in white body suits with respirators, but in the world of Amazon FBA, a hazardous chemical can be something more innocuous, such as a can of hairspray or a small bottle of baby oil.

While the USPS and other shipping carriers have had restrictions in place for years about the types of items (think perfume or cologne!) that can not be shipped by Priority Mail, which typically goes on an airplane, Amazon has caught some sellers off-guard by not having a more comprehensive list of what they consider to be hazmat allowable and what is not.

Part of the confusion with this is that in some cases, an item that is considered to contain a hazardous material may actually be something that is acceptable, but the seller has failed to label or package the item correctly. When an item arrives like this without the proper packaging or warning label, it is deemed to have hazmat concerns. The item may then be moved to a hazmat area in the warehouse and becomes basically what is known as “stranded inventory.” This means that it could potentially sit without being processed for months and months on end. Should Amazon finally decide that the item is a restricted one, they may even choose to dispose of it and could charge you a hefty fee for doing so.

Fortunately, Amazon does provide sellers with a fairly comprehensive list of items that fall into the hazmat category and you can read the list here. It doesn’t contain all restricted items, however, so if you are in doubt about an item you want to sell, it pays to do a little due diligence before you send it in.

Before you throw in the towel on selling any of these types of products, keep in mind there are some products that may be considered to contain a hazardous material, but are still okay to sell through FBA as long as they are packaged and labeled correctly. As an example, teeth whitening strips, shocks and struts, and refrigerators are all on the approved list. Also acceptable are products that contain small lithium ion or lithium metal batteries, but once again correct packaging and labeling are paramount when you are sending them in.

3 Secrets About Yard Sales That You May Not Know

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As you may recall, several weeks ago I wrote about some yard saling tips that I thought were helpful for buyers to know. Today, I wanted to take that a step further and discuss some things you may not know about yard sales that might help you take those yard sale finds and turn them into profitable sales.

The early bird may get the worm, but the late mouse gets the cheese. I confess, I am not a morning person. The idea of getting out of bed before the sun comes up and hitting the road to catch all those early morning yard sale finds is just not for me. While I may be missing out on some of those fat juicy “worms” by not getting an early start, it might surprise you to learn that I’ve still managed to get the “cheese” and locate some great yard sale finds by simply showing up just before a yard sale was over. In fact, I once unknowingly ended up with an exquisite tea set because I was rummaging through a medium-sized box of various items as a wife and her husband were shutting down a yard sale (it ended at 6 and I had arrived at 5:40). The wife said I could have the entire box for $3.00 and I said “SOLD!” I didn’t even know what all was in it until I got home, I had mainly been interested in a Fire King coffee mug and a platter that were sitting on top. The tea set was buried at the very bottom.

Watch for yard sales during the week. Setting up a yard sale is a lot of work. That is why some people begin setting up their yard sales mid-week and continue to bring out items until the weekend. They will then actually have an unadvertised yard sale on Thursday and Friday. It won’t be in the newspaper, but if you watch for those Yard Sale signs, you’ll usually find one or two if you’re watching for them. Most people won’t know it, so you can actually be the early bird to a lot of weekday yard sales even if you don’t wander into it until around 3 p.m..

Community yard sales versus individual yard sales. While I have had some incredibly good luck at church sales, I have to admit that I’ve never really found very many treasures at any community yard sales. The ones I’m talking about are where the entire neighborhood has a yard sale on the same day. These are usually in more “upscale” neighborhoods and I find I usually run into one of two things. Either the prices are way higher than they should be for a typical yard sale, or the family is trying to get rid of a bunch of baby clothes or items their children have outgrown. This may be great for sellers who deal in this kind of thing, but it’s not for me. Instead, I find that I typically have greater success by visiting individual yard sales which are generally in older neighborhoods or at houses that are sitting out by themselves on an acre or more of land.

How about you? Do you know any secrets about yard sales you can share? Leave a comment below!

How to make your old online business all shiny and new again

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Have you ever noticed how strange it is when you first move into a new house and have to figure out where everything is and how everything works? One day it’s a brand new house you’re moving into and the next day it becomes your home. As time goes by, however, we stop noticing the newness of it all as we become more comfortable in our new settings.

 
An online business can be the same way. One day you’re all excited about opening an online store on eBay or Amazon and everything seems all shiny and new. Over time, the newness begins to wear off though and suddenly you don’t really think about your store at all. You just list the items there and forget about it. You may even start to forget what it’s like to look at your store as a buyer and even worse, you may stop thinking like a buyer. Fortunately, you can always take a step back and examine how a buyer might think about your store when they come to it for a visit.

 
If you’re running your store through your own website, think about the functionality of the website. Is it easy to navigate or have you made changes that make it difficult to browse or search for an item? Is your business easy to contact or do buyers have to hunt for your contact information if they have a question about an item? Most store websites now have a “shopping cart” to make checkout easier. If it’s been a while since you’ve done anything new with your website it may be time to “slap on a new coat of paint,” so to speak and upgrade your website or at least try to give it a new look.

 
If you sell on Amazon, eBay or Etsy, of course, you are fairly limited to what you can do to improve your page layout, but it might not hurt to take a look at what you’re selling. Are you keeping up with the latest selling trends in your chosen niche or are you sticking with the old tried and true? Maybe it’s time to change your niche or at least expand on it. As an example, if you sell vintage clothes perhaps it’s time to give your buyers more of what they want and start selling accessories for vintage clothing too.

 
Finally, think about your buyers and the items you sell. Are the types of buyers you want still purchasing the items you sell on eBay or have they drifted over to Amazon and Etsy? Perhaps it’s time to take a little walk in the buyer’s shoes yourself and branch out. Your buyers will thank you and you might just enjoy the new view.

Spring Cleaning: Time to Spruce Up Your Return Policy

 

 

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Spring is officially in full force and summer is just around the corner. For many people that means it’s time to do a little spring cleaning. I’m not talking about shaking out those rugs or taking the curtains down to wash (does anyone even still do that?) though. Instead, I’m talking about sprucing up your eBay listings and more importantly your return policy.

Although a lot of sellers spend a great amount of time working at perfecting their listings, return policies often get written out once and then forgotten about. Over time, our thoughts and views of how we want to handle returns can change, however, so it pays to blow the dust off our return policy every now and then and springtime is a great time to do it.

Here’s some things you might want to consider for your spring cleaning:

First, where is your return policy? Some sellers still like to put the return policy at the bottom of their listing description, but eBay actually frowns on this and wants all the return information in the text portion of your listing under “Return Policy.”

Second, read over your policy and see if there are any adjustments you need to make. Does it really make sense? I know of one eBay seller who not only left a word completely out of their return policy, but actually misspelled a word in their return policy too. Not only does this look unprofessional for you as a seller, but it can be confusing to your buyers who may misread or misunderstand what your return policy actually says.

Is your eBay return policy simple and easy to understand? When it comes to return policies it’s best to just keep it short and as easy to understand as possible. If the item you sell has to be returned in an unused or unopened condition, state that right up front. In fact, list all of the conditions that are required for a buyer to return the item for a refund in the first part of the policy, so the buyer is sure not to miss it.

How long will you give the buyer to return the item? EBay strongly suggests that you give the buyer at least 14 days to return an item, but it’s really up to you. Keep in mind, that studies have shown that the longer the amount of time a business allow returns, the greater the amount of sales they will usually have. The buyer will actually have more confidence in buying from you if you allow a greater period of time, so you may even want to consider giving them as much time as 30 or even 60 days to allow for returns. There is also usually a larger chance of them becoming repeat buyers at your store when you give a longer time to return items as well.

Does your policy clearly state who pays for the return shipping and whether there is a restocking fee? A good rule of thumb to follow is that the seller will pay for the return shipping if there has been a mistake and the buyer will pay for the return shipping if they change their mind or they decide they just aren’t happy with their purchase. If you do require a restocking fee for a return or exchange, make sure to post this as close to the beginning of the return policy as you can. Once again, you don’t want to leave any room open for the buyer to tell you that they didn’t see that in your policy because they didn’t read it all the way through.

Finally, although eBay wants you to give refunds and allow returns, remember that is ultimately a decision that is left to you. In some cases, such as if you make an item for a buyer and it’s to their exact measurement requirements, it may not be practical to allow returns if the buyer misquoted the measurements or if they change their mind. If you choose to not allow returns, you can help yourself with claims being made against you by buyers by making sure to include in your return policy that all items are sold “as is.”

 

Image courtesy of  Lamnee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For Better or Worse: Marriage and Your Online Business

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Last week, I wrote a blog post about how you to know if it’s time to quit your day job so that you can commit full-time to your online business. Although I mentioned several factors you can use to help you determine this, I didn’t really go into what all is involved if you quit your job to go into an online business with your spouse.

I will state that my husband has little interest in my online business, so I rarely have to rely or worry about his input on anything. When he does voice an opinion (which usually happens if he wants me to list and sell something of his), it becomes more than obvious that he doesn’t “get” what selling on eBay or Amazon is really all about. We have, however, worked together in the past and as someone who was dragged kicking and screaming into the convenience store business, I do have a lot of insight as to what it takes to own a business with your spouse.

Here’s some things you need to know:

Establish boundaries for your online business. One of the most valuable pieces of advice that I ever got about running a business with a spouse is that you both need to have your own side of the “fence.” What this actually means is that there should be certain things that you handle and certain things that your spouse will handle and you both need to stay out of the other person’s way. As an example, I have a friend who has agreed with her husband that he handles the shipping of their eBay items when an item sells. She has told me on more than one occasion that she literally has to avoid the area where he is packaging the items because if she walks by him, she has to bite her tongue from telling him that he is doing it “wrong.” In other words, she has what she believes to be a much simpler way to bubblewrap items that uses much less tape, but they have agreed that he will handle the shipping and to keep the peace she just stays out of his way. In return, he keeps quiet when she orders their packing supplies because she is good at estimating how much they will need and he tends to either under-order or order too much.

Spending time together. Working together with your spouse has its perks, but it also has potential for causing a lot of conflicts. You may think it will be fun working and living together 24/7, but sometimes it can be too much of a good thing. It’s always a good idea to plan some separate activities each week where you both can take a break from all that “togetherness” and do your own thing. It’s also important to maintain some outside relationships with friends so you don’t become overly focused on just seeing each other day after day.

Establish office hours. One of the biggest pieces of advice that I can pass on to you is that you need to establish “office hours” and stick to them. During office hours, you can discuss the business, the budget, how your sales are doing or anything else that is business related. When office hours are over, however, you need to let the online business be closed for the night and focus on something else. I remember on more than one occasion that my husband and I would be having a nice meal somewhere and suddenly he would have us discussing something business related involving one of the stores. Talk about a buzz kill on date night! It may be hard at times, but at least make the effort to try to step away from the business side of things and just enjoy hanging out with each other. You’ll both be better off for it in the long run, trust me!

Image courtesy of BoyKung/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

The Power of Video

Whether shopping online or checking out a hotel in a distant city, more businesses are creating videos to reach their customers. Here are the findings of a survey from video services vendor Animoto Inc. that asked more than 1,000 consumers who watch online video about what they watched and why.

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WILL “CROWDFUNDING” CHANGE THE CAPITAL RAISING PROCESS FOREVER? [Part 1 of 2]

cliff As I’m writing this, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) is preparing to hand down final regulations allowing startup companies to use “crowdfunding” techniques to raise capital, for the first time in U.S. history.

For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, “crowdfunding” means soliciting money from people who are part of your social network online, whether you know them or not. Crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter.com and IndieGoGo.com allow people to tap their social networks to raise money for projects, such as a new book or motion picture, a prototype invention, or a medical procedure that isn’t covered by health insurance.

For over 80 years, SEC regulations have prohibited companies from using “general solicitation” and “general advertising” (such as newspaper or magazine ads) to raise money before launching an initial public offering (IPO). Within days, that prohibition will become history.

(Full disclosure: I have a personal stake in what the SEC does. My new book, “The Crowdfunding Handbook,” due out this summer, describes the law changes and how startup companies can best take advantage of them.)

But will “crowdfunding” really become “the” way for early stage companies to raise money? Here is my totally biased (but educated) best guess.

First, the Bad News. While I am generally a fan of the crowdfunding movement, I don’t think the new regulations will have as revolutionary an impact on the capital markets as its promoters suggest.

First of all, the cost of launching a crowdfunded offering is likely to be very high, and perhaps prohibitive for startups and other companies that haven’t yet proven their concept. The new regulations require companies to prepare a detailed Offering Statement describing their business plan, the nature of the securities they are offering, and the risks of investing in the company, and post the Offering Statement on a “funding portal” website that is registered with the SEC (at the present time we do not know if Kickstarter.com or IndieGoGo.com plan to register as portals – a number of smaller startups, such as EquityNet.com and SeedInvest.com, have indicated their intent to do so).

Because of the high malpractice risk associated with private offerings of securities, lawyers and accountants are likely to charge substantial fees to assist in preparing companies’ Offering Documents. The new regulations also require companies seeking more than $500,000 a year through crowdfunding to obtain “audited” financial statements, the cost of which will likely be prohibitive for companies that haven’t already been through one round of venture financing.

Second of all, the new regulations impose significant liability on the “funding portal” websites that facilitate crowdfunded offerings. If the website posts an Offering Statement that contains material errors, or certifies an investor as “accredited” (wealthy enough to afford to lose their entire investment) who doesn’t meet the SEC’s definition of “accredited,” it can be sued by all injured parties and lose its SEC registration.

To avoid liability funding portals will need to hire lots of employees to scrutinize individual offerings. Even if the portals outsource those employees to India or elsewhere in the developing world, the costs will be significant, and the portals will have to charge high fees to cover those costs. Fees that most early stage companies cannot afford.

Finally, even if a crowdfunded offering is successful, the time and effort involved in managing a “crowd” of dozens or hundreds of individual investors will be beyond the abilities of most startups.

Now, the Good News.

Before my readers get out their pitchforks and torches and start “doxing” me as a heretic, let me say that there is one aspect of the new crowdfunding regulations that is truly groundbreaking, and which has the potential to revolutionize at least one corner of the securities industry.

In addition to allowing crowdfunded offerings of securities, the new regulations allow companies to use “general solicitation” and “general advertising” to raise capital, as long as they allow only “accredited investors” to purchase their shares.

It has always been extremely difficult for startup companies to find the right “angel investors”. Traditionally, angel investors – wealthy “millionaire next door” type individuals who provide capital, networking contacts and advice to startups – are an unorganized, isolated bunch who make investments through personal connections in early stage companies based in their home state or region. The most social of them belong to an “angel forum” consisting of 10 to 15 people who meet once a month at a local restaurant or country club.

They are often ignorant of investment opportunities in other states (or countries), or in industries other than the one they know thoroughly from their years of working in corporate America.

By giving angel investors the ability to register as “accredited investors” on websites such as AngelList (http://angel.co), the new regulations will make it much easier for startups to find angel investors, and for angel investors to find promising startups, free of geographic or other limits.

More soon . . . Cliff Ennico (cennico@legalcareer.com) is a syndicated columnist, author and host of the PBS television series ‘Money Hunt’.  This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state.  To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our Web page at www.creators.com.  COPYRIGHT 2014 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO.  DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

Is it Time to Quit Your Day Job?

Many people start their online business as sort of a part-time job. They work nights and weekends building up a steady little income, but usually they can never find true success until they can commit to their online business full-time. If you have been thinking about making that leap from a part-time entrepreneur to a full-time online business owner, but you’re still not sure if it’s the right move to make, here are some things to think about that can help you know whether it’s time to take that big leap.

You have a real business plan. It’s something that a lot of people don’t like to think about, but having a business plan is the first step toward becoming independently self-employed. Think of it as having a road map that helps lead you to success. A lot of online sellers put off making a business plan, however, because it can sometimes be hard to predict what future sales are going to be when you really don’t have a lot of data to pull from. If this has been one of your roadblocks, you can still create a business plan by simply writing down and defining your goals for the business. It will not only help you to make those tough business decisions in the future, but will help keep you on target when you actually do go out on your own.

You understand what being an online business owner means. It’s one thing to blow off listing items on eBay or Amazon when you have your 9 to 5 job to fall back on, but it’s quite another thing to shirk those duties when it’s how you make your living. Trust me, working at an online business full-time is hard work. In some cases, it is often harder to work for yourself than it is to work for someone else. If you understand that you may initially have to work 24/7, 365 days a year to truly make a go of it, then you are committing to treating it like a real business and not simply a weekend hobby.

You can pay your bills. One of the biggest mistakes people make when they try to go out on their own is to be under-capitalized before they even get started. While it may not be realistic to have a year’s worth of salary sitting in reserve somewhere, it is important to analyze whether you can operate your business and still have enough money leftover to pay your monthly bills. If it is, you may still want to try to get several months ahead on your living expenses before you hand in a notice to your boss to say that you’re quitting. This will help you survive and ultimately thrive if your online business goes through a period or two of lean times before you completely get it off the ground.