Business-like, isn't he?



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    eBay opens many doors to online business options

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2007 First published in Business in Vancouver

    February 13-19, 2007; issue 903

    High Tech Office

    Chris Anderson’s 2006 book The Long Tail is sub-titled Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More. He suggests that in the past, businesses succeeded selling a relatively few products to a mass customer base. Think network TV, the Big Three automakers, Top 10 radio.

    Now, however, the Internet has shattered “the mainstream into a zillion different cultural shards.”

    eBay is perhaps better known as an auction website is the world’s largest ongoing garage sale, but it has quietly provided online opportunities for entrepreneurs seeking to serve many of Anderson’s “countless niches.”

    One such niche has been filled by local businesswoman Marilyn Bild, named eBay Canada’s 2006 Entrepreneur of the Year. A casual user of eBay since 2001, she was researching possibilities for a home-based business that would be unique to Vancouver. To work from home, she needed a product that was small and easy to store and ship. She had been researching opportunities for about six months, looking at a wide variety of local businesses to get a sense of what was working.

    She saw a local TV news story highlighting Main Street’s Punjabi Market area, noting that it was one of the largest East Indian shopping districts in North America. Back at eBay, she concluded that no one in North America was offering high-end saris and East Indian fabrics and after contacting local wholesalers, decided to give it a try.

    Through eBay, she was able to set up an online store ( offering products she describes as “individually hand-selected to ensure you get exquisite merchandise at exceptional value.” Currently, she’s listing 59 items online, each as an item for auction, with (as is common but not required on eBay), an option to “Buy It Now” by meeting her pre-set selling price.

    Some vendors on eBay start their auctions with a low minimum bid but with a hidden reserve below which they won’t sell. Bild doesn’t do that, preferring to set a higher starting bid that reflects a more realistic selling price.

    She has found eBay an attractive alternative to running a traditional bricks and mortar shop, noting that she has flexibility to travel; she can get away by simply not scheduling any auctions, and lacks the fixed overhead of a physical retail location. Fewer than 1% of her thousands of transactions have been a problem. Build says she can count the number of insurance claims on one hand.

    “eBay all works on trust,” she notes. “I’m just blown away by how well it works. I think the Net is as secure as traditional transactions if you’re an informed consumer.”

    She suspects that Americans, however, are still more comfortable than Canadians about buying online. eBay customers can post feedback about vendors. Totallytextiles has received more than 3,800 feedback postings and had only two negative comments, an overwhelming message from customers that they’re satisfied with their transactions.

    A home-based online business such as this may not be for everyone, Bild notes. Building a successful online store can be labour intensive. For example, every item has its own colour and design requiring four to six photos and a unique description.

    For interested potential entrepreneurs, she advises: “Find a product niche with limited competition. Of course, on eBay, nothing is unique. You’ll have to do better than your competitors. The key to repeat business is customer service. Answer e-mails promptly and ship merchandise as soon as it’s been paid. Start slowly, becoming comfortable with the eBay platform before trying to list large quantities of items.”

    Marilyn Bild is offering classes on successful eBay selling in Vancouver and Delta. More information is available at

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan