eBay for ‘older’ entrepreneurs

Every now and again I’ll get some questions from a journalist: they want a talking head for an article and I’m usually happy to oblige. Typically, I’ll provide quite a lot of material and a few sentences will be used. I sent these responses to a journo last week, so I thought I’d puiblish my full answers here.

Is an eBay business suitable for an older entrepreneur ie: 50+?
Absolutely. In fact, it’s suitable for any age of entrepreneur because, at the most basic level, all you need is some computer experience and access to the internet. eBay itself doesn’t require any particular technical expertise and the business side would be the same as setting up any other enterprise.

eBay is ideal for entrepreneurs who want to get started quickly, who will value flexibility, hours to suit them and being their own boss. For retired or semi-retired people, or just people who fancy a change, being able to operate on their own terms is the major attraction. For instance, if you want to take a holiday or even an extended break, it’s possible to suspend your operations and restart them with relative ease.

Many of the most successful sellers on eBay are the ones who are passionate about what they sell, or who have specialist knowledge. Many times I’ve seen older eBay sellers who say ‘I’ve always wanted to have a bookshop’ or ‘vintage audio equipment has always been a passion’. eBay has meant that they can realize their dreams without the stress, expense and commitment of taking premises.

What are the principle pros and cons of setting up an eBay business?
The pros are: It’s easy to get started, you need little capital, the risks are relatively small and you can choose the scale you operate on. It’s immensely flexible and you can do it your way.

On the downside, eBay is a complex and growing marketplace so there is an awful lot to learn. There is a complicated pricing model and a myriad of rules to know. It’s also a constant learning experience and you need to keep abreast of the latest developments and news to make sure you’re getting the most from eBay. Obtaining good stock, at the right price, is a challenge for any business but it’s a particularly hard task for new enterprises.

In terms of business practicality, these are no more or less onerous than any other business. You need to operate within the law, pay taxes and everything else a small business needs to do. Many sellers operate as sole traders and aren’t VAT registered.

Have you any stats on the number of older people using eBay for this purpose?
There are no official eBay numbers on what proportion of eBay business sellers are over 50 but from my own experience, I’d estimate that about a third are over 50. eBay isn’t a cool and trendy community and I don’t think anyone should feel self-conscious about being ‘too old’ for it. In the US and the UK some of the most successful and profitable sellers are over 50.

How do you see the eBay business market developing over the next few years and why?
eBay’s always changing and recent changes to Feedback, Fees and Search have hit the headlines. I’d suggest three major developments to the eBay marketplace in the next few years:

– Sellers will be held to higher standards of professionalism and expected, by eBay, to offer top notch service to sellers. Those who don’t will be limited from selling and potentially even removed altogether. Whilst this is happening already, expect it to continue.

– A move away from auctions to fixed price/buy it now formats. eBay is famous for auctions but enjoying better growth from BIN. It could be a bad idea to embark upon an enterprise that favours the auction format.

– Bigger and bigger sellers are coming to eBay. Rather than a level-playing field that has historically been critical to the marketplace, eBay’s biggest sellers (turning over more than £250,000 a month) can negotiate with eBay to get preferential terms and lower fees. Rather like a corner shop competing with Tesco, this is likely to represent a challenge to eBay’s army of small sellers.

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