Before we take a closer look at some popular e-commerce options, let’s take a moment to think commerce without the e. It’s hard not to be drawn to the shininess of online tools and it’s only natural to look to towards something similar to what you’re already used to when looking for alternatives. But by focusing online only, you may be overlooking the simplest solution. When it comes to running a business, however small, making the sale, connecting with your buyers and moving inventory are all much more important than how you actually do it.
Take a minute and really think about your products. Who are you customers? Where do they congregate? What potential buyers are currently out of your reach? Where and how do those customers buy?
Do your sales really need to be online?
But you didn’t want an offline option, you grumble. Before you blow this suggestion off entirely, hear me out. The biggest mistake you can make in business is to just completely reject something without actually trying it. Might you find that it doesn’t work at all for your items? Of course, that’s always possible. All I’m saying is that it’s a mistake to completely disregard it without at least investigating how it might serve your business just because your gut reaction is reluctance.
The best Amazon, eBay or Etsy alternative for your business may be an offline presence with a brick and mortar retail storefront, a regular stand at the local flea market, a consignment deal with a local store or even as a vendor at a variety of shows, conventions and meet-ups. While it’s hard to imagine any business today without an online element, the best way to cut back your dependency on one of the big three may well be to rethink how you connect with your customers and fans. Could you build an offline stream that becomes the bulk of your income thus enabling you to only use the big three sparingly?
Obviously, it doesn’t work for every business or items. But I know many seller friends with niche items that freed themselves from the big three by keeping a small web presence on Amazon, eBay or Etsy while doing the bulk of their business offline at conventions, craft shows and other meet-ups. If you aren’t ready to take the big plunge and get your own space, consider striking a deal with a local shop or vendor where they’ll give you some shelf space in exchange for a percentage of sales. Even if their cut is comparable to the fees you’d pay on one of the big three, you’ll be making those sales on your terms under your own brand and be able to build on that without being trapped into someone else’s marketplace.
Personally, I’ve sold collectibles at fan conventions, done sales and signings at a variety of non-traditional retail spaces and set up consignment deals with local bookstores to carry my books all alongside my web presence. You can move a lot of inventory very quickly at an in-person event like a convention or flea market and make more money in less time. It’s also easier to sell creative items such as books, crafts or artwork when the buyer can meet the person behind the work and it’s much easier to connect with and get a sense of your customers when you are face to face. The beauty of local consignment deals is that you can host events in their space, such as signings for books or workshops for artists, which is a win for both of you as it’s a chance for you to sell more items and promote your brand while the store gets the benefit of any new customers you’ve brought in.
If you’re not a people person, having to interact with customers face to face may not be your ideal but it does simplify the sales process. They hand you the money. You hand them the item. Done. No feedback, fees, or fights over whether the description really matched the item.