This July, I had the opportunity to share our eBay journey with other sellers while lecturing at the eBay Open event in Las Vegas.
eBay invited two sellers – Cori O’Steen and myself, to share our insights with other sellers to help them grow their businesses.
While my lectures focused on how Max and I optimized our listings to constantly increase sales, Cori shared how she used charity and personality to get a competitive edge.
Even after a decade of selling on eBay, learning from thousands of CrazyLister users and blog readers, Cori’s story showed me that I still have much to learn.
I’ve asked to interview Cori for our blog to share her unique insights.
How Cori was charitable and grew a $10m/year Business
Abstract: Cori donates 100% of proceeds from weekly auctions that are offered with a free combined shipping. The auctions draw in shoppers who relate with the cause and Cori’s values. The same shoppers then buy 4,5 or 6 more “for profit” items to utilize the free combined shipping. Everybody wins; shoppers get a great deal on packaging materials and get to donate to a good cause, Cori earns new customers and charities are getting a donation.
Turning a Personal Pain into a Business Idea
From a small one woman show, to a multi-state corporation; In 2015 eBay interviewed Cori, and summarized her story in these words –
In her eBay profile, Cori describes how her business got started –
Cori needed affordable and quality shipping materials and to get a volume discount, she had to buy more than she needed. Realizing that other sellers probably share her pain, she sold the remains on eBay and that’s how her business UpaknShip was born.
Find a Way to Connect and Make it about People
When I asked Cori what’s her top advise for sellers, she immediately said: Make it personal!
See how unusually lengthy Cori’s profile description is? Most sellers don’t invest that much effort in listings and profile pages to share their story. Cori does, and this personal touch is reflected in every aspect of her business, from her online presence to the products she sells. This approach is how she managed to grow to a multi-state business.
Looking to get an edge over her competitors, in 2010, Cori began personalizing the products she sold, the packaging materials.
At first, UpaknShip was mainly offering standard packaging materials, but then Cori realized that there is a value in customizing the packages to tell a story that people can relate to.
In 2012 UpaknShip created their own “Poly Pak” brand of custom designed mailers.
Every time I get a package in a plain white poly mailer it reminds me that I have a long road ahead but we are going to with our community, big and small stay at home Moms to Fortune 500 companies, create a new vibe in the e-tail shipping industry making it a more personal and memorable experience.
UpaknShip’s customized packages allow buyers to connect and relate to the sellers’ values and stories.
Cori uses the same strategy on her webstore’s about us page –
See how Cori shares the story behind her business and her family photos, this helps buyers connect with the business and immediately builds trust.
Using Charity to Market the Products
To get an edge over her competitors, Cori decided to stop participating in eBay’s price wars and focus her energy on creating a different competitive advantage.
Cori learned early on that shoppers chose her because she’s a small business; people can relate with her, talk to her and get to know and trust her business.
When she started to grow, it was hard to keep up with that personal touch, and this is when she decided to use eBay’s charity program to humanize the company at scale.
Here is how she does it:
Cori launches weekly auctions starting at $99c for some of her best sellers. 100% of the proceeds from these auctions go to charity.
These auctions usually end at much higher prices than the usual fixed price listings, this is because people know their money is donated to a good cause.
Now, this is where it gets interesting.
Cori offers free combined shipping for her products. And so – the same shoppers who won the auction are going to Cori’s eBay store, and look for more packing materials to take advantage of the free combined shipping promotion.
They then end up buying 4 or 5 more items that Cori profits from and everybody wins.
Additional Benefits of using Charity
On top of increasing her eBay sales, Cori also enjoys the following benefits of the charity program:
- In the US, sellers can get tax deductions since donations go to registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations.
- eBay credits final value fees to the portion you donate. If you donate 10% – eBay will credit 10% of the final value fee.
Using Charity to Connect and Win Returning Customers
Cori uses charity not only to win new customers but also to create a bond between the customer and her business to earn repeating business.
Her mailers will often include info about the charity the customer has donated to, thus making him learn more about the pain, connect with the cause and of course feel good about his donation and doing business with Cori.
These mailers, at scale, help bring attention to their need. For example, a mailer can say something on the line of “You’ve just helped our organization for *cause X* to grow stronger”, and explain what exactly the charity does and how the customer helped the cause. It can then say “Please don’t forget to check out our other charity auctions to support *cause X*”.
Cori told me about messages she’s gotten from customers thanking her for bringing the need to their attention, and giving them the opportunity to help others.
She also suggests you can add a card inside your package, sharing more info about the cause the customer has donated to. It makes them feel good and connect with the business that helped them do a good thing.
Three Pieces of Advice Based on 14 years of Experience on eBay
I asked Cori, “What are the three biggest and most common mistakes by sellers that you’ve seen on eBay?”
Here’s are her top three:
1. Offering anything but Fantastic Customer Service
Cori knows, just as any other eBay seller, that customers can be bad. Some shoppers use eBay’s policies against sellers in an unfair way, demanding unreasonable returns, refunds and compensations. “Sometimes you’ve got to suck it and look at the bigger picture.” Cori has a lot of stories about sellers who were focused on the immediate profit and failed to see the big picture. At the end, she suggests sellers should think and build a business for the long run. Most shoppers are good, don’t let the few bad ones drive your business down, “suck it up” and maintain a stellar reputation.
2. Obsessing too Much about the Competition
“What’s going to kill you is what you’re doing wrong, not what your competitors are doing right”
Cori suggests that sellers should focus on being who they are and on their own strengths.
In her own case, she saw no future in the price wars against her competitors and turned to create other, much more sustainable competitive advantages.
3. Trying to Go in Too Big
There’s a learning curve for entering a new platform/business. Mistakes will inevitably happen.
Cori tells of peers who made the mistake of going in big; buying a lot of inventory and expecting to make big profits selling everything fast. These sellers will usually look to buying existing, mature eBay accounts. but the harsh truth is that it’s not that simple. These sellers usually crashed and burned. There really are no shortcuts to success, you’ve got to work your way up.
Cori started small and as a result the costs of her mistakes were small. By the time her business became big, she was ready and experienced enough to not get off the tracks.
A personal note
Up on stage at eBay open my final message to sellers was “Never stop testing and trying new things to increase sales.” If you’re looking for a test idea to improve your sales, make it personal, add your photo to the listings, introduce yourself, your business, your story and your values to potential buyers, this will earn you tons of trust.
In my opinion, Cori’s use of charity is brilliant. Not only does it make the buy personal, it helps connect the buyer with the seller and it also helps a good cause!
P.S During the rehearsals for our lectures at eBay open, I was pleasantly surprised and honored to learn that Cori is a long time CrazyLister user, and her children are the ones who actually create the listings for her!