Succeeding at business: Report from EComChicago 2017

October 27, 2017

I just got back from speaking at this year’s eComChicago conference for online retailers in Elk Grove Village, Illinois.

A little history: About eight years ago, when eBay started cutting back on its popular outreach programs for eBay sellers, sellers started forming their own support groups called “meetups” (for a complete list of all eBay meetup groups around the U.S., visit the Meetup website at ebaysell.meetup.com).

One of the earliest meetup groups was the Chicago Area eBay & eCommerce Sellers Group, founded in 2006. Today, the group is co-chaired by Rich and Nila Siok of Appealing Signs (a leading online purveyor of customized signs for small businesses) and Mark and Robin Le Vine of BubbleFast (a leading online purveyor of Bubble Wrap and other shipping supplies for online sellers). It boasts about 1,000 active members and sponsors the eComChicago conference.

As new online platforms such as Fulfillment by Amazon, or Amazon FBA, and Etsy have come onto the scene, the conference has expanded its scope beyond eBay to include people who sell on these platforms.

This year’s event attracted more than 200 sellers from all corners of the country, as well as some of the top speakers on the national e-commerce circuit. Here are some tips and new resources I learned about at the conference:

Cynthia Stine, Amazon selling expert and author of “Suspension Prevention: Get Reinstated and Protect Your Amazon Seller Account,” focused her presentation on new Amazon rules that will make it difficult for sellers to continue making serious money using retail arbitrage techniques (basically buying stuff, paying the full retail price and then selling it for even more money online). (Visit her website at suspensionprevention.com.)

More and more sellers on eBay and Amazon need to become familiar with the basics of trademark law. Sooner or later, they will receive a nasty letter from a trademark law firm demanding that they cease and desist selling the firm’s clients’ products, especially if they are engaged in retail arbitrage activities.

Amazon Brand Registry (brandservices.amazon.com/Brand-Registry/Learn-More) is a program designed to help Amazon sellers protect their registered trademarks and assure customers that they are purchasing authentic products. If you need help enrolling in the program, or if you have received a nasty letter from a law firm saying your stuff violates someone’s registered trademark (even if you bought it legitimately), the Chicago-based law firm McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff LLP can help. For details, send an email to BrandRegistryTM@mbhb.com.

Finally, there’s an insurance broker willing and able to help e-commerce sellers find affordable liability coverage. Sellers on Amazon are required to have at least $1 million of general liability coverage (slip-and-fall coverage for personal injury or property damage). Those engaged in private labeling activities — buying generic merchandise overseas and then slapping trademarks and brands on them — will need products liability insurance as well. Ashlin Hadden Insurance Agency, an Indiana-based brokerage firm that does business as Voldico Insurance (ecominsurancequotes.com or voldico.com) does business with multiple insurers and can tailor an insurance program to your specific needs.

Kathy Terrill (ilovetobeselling.com), internet marketing expert and former Hollywood actress (she played “Lolly the bar fly” on “All My Children” and had many movie roles), said there was a big difference between “social” media and “selling” media, explaining that if your primary objective on Facebook is to sell stuff, you won’t go very far.

Scanner Society, a self-proclaimed “chamber of e-commerce,” is a membership organization that provides information and support to e-commerce sellers on all online platforms. It is launching a new video series featuring e-commerce experts such as John Lawson, Julie Mathers, Ian Lurie and (ahem) myself (see facebook.com/pg/scannersociety/videos).

Let’s face it: When you think of the 10 sexiest and most exciting topics for e-commerce sellers, inventory management isn’t one of them. But it’s crucial to the operation of any successful small business, especially if you handle your own inventory. Do you know the difference between backstock, overstock and picking locations? If you don’t, download the SkuVault “Small Business Optimization” package (skuvault.com/SmallBiz101).

If you like to listen to podcasts on your morning run and sell on eBay or Amazon, you have your choice of e-commerce-themed programs: Stephen Peterson hosts the “ECommerce Momentum” podcast on which he interviews top sellers, service and software providers, and other interesting (to him) people. Ron LaBeau and Ali Young host the popular “So You Want to Sell on eBay” podcast for eBay sellers.

As I have said repeatedly, both in this column and on my YouTube channel (watch the video “Doing Business on the Internet: How to Build a World-Class E-Commerce Business in 5 Easy Steps”), if you are serious about growing a million-dollar e-commerce business, sooner or later you will need more than an eBay Store or Amazon seller page; you will need an actual e-commerce website that links all of your online retail outlets and helps you get recognition as a standalone brand. Solutions4Ecommerce, based in Massachusetts, can help you get there by building a fully integrated e-commerce website.