Notes from the Seller’s Conference for Online Entrepreneurs
By Cliff Ennico
Twice a year I have the privilege of speaking at a leading conference and exhibition for people who sell merchandise online – the Seller’s Conference for Online Entrepreneurs, known as SCOE (www.scoe.biz).
Last week’s event in Philadelphia drew more than 100 Amazon “third party resellers” from around the country – some of the more than 1 million people in North America who make a full- or part-time living selling on the site.
Here are some news items from the conference:
Avalara (www.avalara.com) – a leading supplier of sales tax compliance software – has launched a new service to help sellers register for sales tax in all states where they may have “nexus” (a legal presence) – it’s called TrustFile (http://trustfile.com) and costs only $24 a month without any transaction limits. This is a huge service, especially for Amazon sellers whose merchandise frequently is stored by Amazon at remote warehouse locations.
In a similar vein, Amazon now requires sellers who list merchandise on Amazon’s overseas websites (such as amazon.co in the United Kingdom or amazon.ca in Canada) to maintain a local address where customers can return their merchandise if they are not satisfied. R R Donnelly, a leader in international mail and parcel delivery for over 100 years, has created a new service designed to help sellers comply with this requirement in Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom (see internationalservices.rrd.com).
Many Amazon sellers work out of their homes, so maintaining a professional image is often difficult. 20four7VA (www.20four7va.com) is a service that takes the traditional “virtual assistant” concept to a new level, offering three tiers of professional support:
- An “administrative” level providing basic customer service, e-mail management and cold calling;
- An “e-commerce” level with social media management, blog posting, research services (identifying products, competitors and manufacturers), auto-responder e-mail marketing and project management support; and
- A “specialist” level providing full e-commerce website service (design, content creation, programming, shopping cart installation and affiliate program setup).
Prices range from $65 to $88 weekly (for 10 hours/week), $104 to $144 weekly (for 20 hours/week), and $173 to $240 weekly (for 40 hours/week).
If you are engaged in “retail arbitrage” – buying merchandise at retail and then reselling it online for an even higher price – one of the biggest challenges is figuring out beforehand what your margin will be. Oaxray (www.oaxray.com) offers a database product that solves this problem – scan an item’s barcode, and the software searches Amazon, eBay and other sites and calculates your possible profit.
If you sell products on multiple platforms (such as Amazon, eBay, etsy.com and others), it is difficult to manage your inventory, orders, shipping and repricing using different software products. Zoobilee (www.zoobilee.com) offers a comprehensive all-in-one management tool with no set-up fees or contracts. Zoobilee’s founders also host “The Intentional Housewife,” an extremely funny podcast for stay-at-home-mompreneurs (www.intentionalhousewife.com).
Most of the buzz at SCOE centered on “private labelling” – buying generic, unbranded merchandise at wholesale and then reselling it on Amazon under your own trademark or brand name. John Lawson, e-commerce expert and author of several books on Internet marketing (www.johnlawson.com), says that building a brand involves more than selling just one product under a private label: “I don’t want to see you selling just a spatula; I want to see you selling the forks, spoons and other kitchen tools as well. I want to see you looking like Williams-Sonoma.”
In my own presentation, I offered the following advice for would-be “private label” resellers:
- Make 100% sure the merchandise you buy for resell isn’t counterfeit, especially if you are importing it from China or elsewhere in Asia;
- Make sure the manufacturer covers you as an “additional insured” under their products liability insurance policy, and don’t do business with a manufacturer that doesn’t carry this insurance;
- Just slapping your company name on a product isn’t enough to be “private label” – you should also be enhancing or customizing the product in some way so it stands out from the dozens of other Web retailers offering similar products;
- A trademark that isn’t registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is probably too weak to be viable as a brand name over the long term;
- As a “private labeler,” you “stand in the shoes of the manufacturer” – you are responsible for complying with all federal, state and local laws (such as labeling requirements) that apply to U.S. manufacturers of your goods;
- If you are selling products for children, you are required to have them safety tested by a nationally recognized laboratory before you sell them online;
- Always make sure you have the right to sell your “private label” business to someone else without having to get the manufacturer’s consent; and
- Never, ever negotiate a “private label” contract with a manufacturer without the assistance of a good e-commerce lawyer – there are no “boilerplate” contracts for these, and there are many “variables” that will have to be negotiated to make sure you and your business are adequately protected.
Cliff Ennico ([email protected]) 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 2016 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC. Follow him at @cliffennico.