By Rhonda Schneider
I’m often asked about how my experiences as an online seller; how i began selling online, what I sold, and what my experience was like. Here for those of you who are curious is my personal experience as a seller.
My son is now 17, but when he was little, I wished that I could stay at home with him and still earn the income that we needed as a family. For over 10 years, I’d worked in sales as several high-tech companies in the Seattle area including Microsoft. In fact, I was on the team that introduced Excel 1.0. I enjoyed learning about and selling these new technologies, but I was fighting traffic to come home and spend a couple hours with my one-year-old before he went to bed. I guess a lot of dads experience this frustration.
In 1999, my local community library was having a Friends booksale. What made my library unique was that the vast majority of the books were donated by a book reviewer for the Seattle Times. So every book was in pristine condition and had the current year publication date. I took home the entire tech section that day. At the time, the only bookselling site I knew about was Half.com. So I listed them there, and they flew off the shelves. (Not literally though. Books can’t fly. I’m really annoyed that the meaning of “literally” has recently been changed to include exaggeration.)
After doing some research, I found a website that told me of all the booksales in my area. There were no scanners back then, so I stuck to books that had been published in the past three years. At the time, this was a pretty good strategy. Competition wasn’t as steep as it later became, and price degradation hadn’t yet taken hold. Pretty soon, I was able to quit my job, and was making a decent income on online booksales. This was enhanced, of course, when in 2000, I started selling on Amazon. I also had started driving to further sales if they advertised a sale of 50K books or more.
At a sale in Oregon, I met a woman who was also a seller. As we became friends, we learned a lot from one another, and devised an inventory acquisition strategy that we used for years. By then, she had moved to Florida. We would locate booksales of over 100K books. We learned the patterns, as most sales were annul or semi-annual. This worked really well if we could get two or more in a general location during one trip We’d both fly to that city and meet up at the airport. We shared a hotel room and a rental car, and scanned sales (by then we had scanners) and bought books. We traveled to Texas, Florida, New York, New England, Chicago, Ohio, Oklahoma City and several other places. Then we’d ship home what we’d bought using USPS Media Mail Service. I never lost a book, and not one was ever damaged in transit either.
At some point, we heard that Amazon was expanding into Europe. My friend and I met up at JFK airport, and flew to London to open European bank accounts, so we could sell on these new platforms. That week we opened accounts in London and Munich Germany. That trip was such an adventure and we learned so much. Not much later, we also drove across the US/Canadian border and opened bank accounts in British Columbia.
So now I was selling on Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de, ABE, and Half.com. Things were great. Sales were strong and I was having lots of fun too.
In 2005 I attended a conference in Seattle for Amazon sellers. The following year, I volunteered to help out. At the end of the conference, the two people who were mainly running the conference told me that they were no longer interested in putting on the conference, and asked if I wanted to take over. That conference eventually evolved into SCOE.
I was never a huge seller. At my peak, I had about 5000 units in inventory and was shipping maybe 50 to 100 orders per day during peak season. But I was doing it all myself. Prices had fallen, competition had gotten fierce, and I didn’t have the personal bandwidth to keep up with and implement selling trends, plus plan and oversee SCOE.
I officially quit selling in 2011. When I’m at SCOE and talk to other sellers, I wonder if I will ever go back to selling. I think I’d still enjoy it if the right opportunity came along. I guess I’ll never say never, but right now I’m very happy bringing together other sellers with topic experts and products made just for the online seller, and helping them become better at what they do.
Do you have a similar story? What was your experience becoming a seller? Did you have a unique edge that allowed you to beat you competition? We’d like to know. Tell us about your experiences below.