eBay was founded as Auctionweb in 1995 in California and sold it’s first used item – a broken laser pointer for $14.83. The story goes that AuctionWeb’s founder Pierre Omidyar was so astonished that it had sold for so much that he contacted the winning bidder to ask if he understood that the laser pointer was broken. In his responding email, the buyer explained: “I’m a collector of broken laser pointers.”
By the end of 1997, AuctionWeb had hosted 2,000,000 auctions, raised venture capital and changed its name to eBay. The company is now the 9th largest internet company in the world with revenues of almost £10Bn. The laser pointer story says a lot about what has made eBay so successful. Essentially, it has found new homes for many millions of items that might otherwise have been discarded and many more that might have been sold for a fraction of the price in local classifieds or, you guessed it, on the shelves of charity shops.
Charity Retailers and Online Selling
The media, backed by compelling statistics has long predicted the death of highstreet retail and whilst almost every other retailer in the UK has opted for a hybrid or multi-channel retail business model, UK charity retailers tend fall into one of four categories:
- Selling large quantities of donated items online and through stores from a central location or hub,
- Selling modest quantities of donated items online from the shops where the stock is held,
- Selling the odd item on eBay when time allows from the shops or,
- Selling nothing online.
Surprisingly, most fall into categories 3 and 4. In future articles, I’ll examine the reasons why charity retailers should be selling online, but first it’s important to understand why, despite the compelling case for doing so, they are still resisting and to dispel some of the myths.
Why Charity Retailers Don’t Sell Online
I’ve met many heads of retail, area managers and shop managers and asked them why they don’t sell on eBay and the answers I get are fairly consistent:
- We don’t have time
- We don’t have the staff
- We don’t have the skills or knowledge
- We don’t want to pay the fees
- It takes too long to research, identify, value and list used goods
- We can’t handle the complexity of selling in-store and online
- We don’t want to sell all our “good stock” online and leave the shops bare
- Our customers don’t shop online
- eBay only handles auctions
Busting the Myths About Online Charity Retailing
Charity retailers exist to sell (mostly) donated goods and generate profit to fund their charitable activities. Anything, absolutely anything that helps a charity retailer to sell more, faster and for a higher price is good for charities – it’s as simple as that. Time is short because staff are limited – because they are typically volunteers. And because they are volunteers, it’s difficult to be selective when recruiting staff such that they come with the necessary skills and knowledge to sell online. If you only recruit volunteer staff and you cannot either specify or instil the necessary knowledge then I would accept that overcoming objections 1-3 is challenging. But for reasons I’ll go into in a moment, selling online is so effective at boosting sales volumes, velocity and profitability that in my experience, any charity can afford to hire and pay staff to perform the necessary tasks and still come out on top.
And boosting productivity – listing and selling more items for a higher price is exactly what Shopiago’s software is designed for so whether your staff are paid or volunteers, Shopiago can help you and them to be as productive as possible.
Next- fees. If your charity uses 100% of the proceeds of a sale for charitable purposes, then there are no fees – I’ll repeat that – eBay does not charge charities a single penny to list items and nor does it charge a commission on their sales on the eBay platform.
Selling new goods online is relatively easy. All you have to do is match them up to a marketplace’s product catalogue and hey presto, a listing can be completed in seconds. Not so with used goods. And the older or more obscure they are, the harder and more time consuming it is. You can spend so much time on Google searching for the item only to find it’s worthless. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Shopiago takes the effort out of it all by searching on all of the key marketplaces for you and all you have to do it scan a barcode with your laptop or phone camera, type in a brief description or take a photo. Shopiago matches the item, recommends a price and even completes most of your listing for you saving huge amounts of time.
There is a view that selling an item online whilst simultaneously selling it in a charity shop is problematic because of the risk of selling it twice. This is true. If you sell an eBay item twice and cannot fulfil the eBay order, this is called an “oversell” – dissatisfied eBay customers may generate poor seller ratings and eBay may even close your account. But you can mitigate against this risk by using multi-channel retail software like Shopiago to manage your stock across multiple sales channels and remove items form sale online if they sell in-store. Alternatively, you can selectively sell items online or in-store and remove the risk of overselling altogether.
The latter approach does mean that your higher value or more attractive items tend to be offered online instead of in the shop and to some extent that does diminish the overall value and appeal of your in-store stock but the velocity and added value of online sales makes this more than worthwhile.
And now to the last two myths. eBay’s buyer and seller demographic is very broad and certainly not restricted to the younger generation. So easy is it to sell your unwanted items and browse for collectables or bargains that lterally anyone and everyone is now using eBay and other marketplaces like Amazon. If you believe that your typical charity shop customer isn’t as keenly hunting for bargains on eBay as they are hunting for them on your shelves then you’re quite wrong. Indeed many of your customers may well be buying your stock and then advertising it on eBay themselves and making more profit than you are! Try asking some of your regulars next time they pay you a visit – do they shop on eBay or would they if you had an eBay shop – I guarantee you’ll be surprised by the response.
And finally, the concern about eBay being an auction-only marketplace. Once true – a long time ago. But now items can be listed with fixed prices as well as the facility for buyers to make offers. And they can be advertised for specific period of time or until they sell.
Let’s Take Your Charity Retail Business Online
So there really are no compelling arguments for charity retailers so maintain a bricks and mortar-only retail strategy. If you have yet to try it, now’s the time to take the plunge and remember that Shopiago’s multi-channel charity retail software helps you automate all of the key processes including researching, identifying, valuing, listing and selling your items plus automation of order management, messaging and shipping.
Next time, I’ll be looking at all of the very good reasons for selling on eBay and elsewhere so watch this space!