Michelle Williams: Thriving in the e-marketplace

Written by David Green. Posted in Feature Stories

By JEFF PICKELL


eBay. It’s been around for a decade. The website itself is nothing new. But eBay users keep finding new ways to turn a profit from it.

Morenci resident Michelle Williams is one such eBay user. About eight years ago she was a full-time worker at the Fayette Tubular Products plant in Fayette and a self-professed computer illiterate. But in 1998, the plant closed, and she began to look for new work.

ebay3 She dabbled in selling Avon products for a bit, but didn’t really care for it. Then she read an

article in Women’s World magazine about the budding eBay retail industry.
“I read it and said ‘I could do that,’” she said. Michelle had never had a computer before, or even a digital camera, so she bought both and spent the next few months learning how to operate them.

“It was hard at first. I was pretty much teaching myself how to use them,” she said.

Michelle registered an eBay account in March 2000 and started selling some of the clothes her son, Steven, had outgrown. As she became more familiar with the website, she moved to selling name brand retail goods—bedding, curtains, electronics, clothing, and other items. As her experience grew, so did the number of people buying from her. Before long, she was making dozens of sales a month and buying merchandise by the shipping pallet.

Michelle’s been a power seller, which means she sells over $1,000 in merchandise a month, for more than two years. The majority of her sales are done through her eBay store, “StopAndShopWithStevensMom.”

Since starting up, she’s learned some valuable tips about e-selling.“Your picture really sells your items,” Michelle said.  “But your description should have all the necessary info—brand, size, retail price, what kind of fabric it’s made of.”

The most crucial factor, however, is finding a wholesale supplier who deals in quality goods.
“It’s the most closely guarded secret in the trade,” she said. “Nobody wants to share their supplier. You have to find them yourself; that’s how you make your money.”

Michelle says she has a good supplier now, but that wasn’t always the case.
When she started her store, her goal was to buy new merchandise at wholesale prices after department store close outs, then sell it for a profit on eBay.
The first supplier didn’t always live up to his end of the bargain.

“It was supposed to be all new with tags, but I could tell it was a bunch of returns. I’d find holes and stains and other kinds of damage,” she said. “I had a lot of problems with him.

Since Michelle switched to a new supplier, her job has been easier. But it’s still not a complete cakewalk.“It’s like any other job. There’re some good things and some bad things,” she said.

Michelle estimates that, at a given time, she’ll have as many as 140 items listed on eBay. Customer service is one of her biggest concerns,.“I’ll check my email about a million times a day. If people have questions about auctions, I want to answer them as quickly as I can.”

Speedy delivery is important as well. In the last year, she has sold more than 800 products, which means she has averaged over two packages a day.

“The people at the post office and Gamble’s store know me well,” she joked .

Her customers have been as close as Hillsdale, but she’s sent goods all over America. For a while, Michelle even shipped overseas. She gave it up when the risks and hassle began outweighing the benefits.

“I’m not going to lie on a customs form,” she said. “People sometimes want me to lie about what they paid when [the merchandise] has to go through customs.”

Also, Michelle’s at higher risk of not receiving payment from out-of-the-country customers. Fraud over PayPal, eBay’s customized money transfer system, is more common in Europe than here, she said.

Even in America, fraud is one of the biggest risks eBay users face. One of the few safeguards eBay offers against fraud, at least for buyers, is a comprehensive feedback system. If both the buyer and the seller have a positive transaction, they’re likely to give each other positive feedback. Buyers can be confident that sellers with a lot of positive feedback probably aren’t swindlers.

Of Michelle’s last 2,115 transactions, 2111 have received positive feedback. That means she boasts 99.8 percent customer satisfaction, pretty good for someone who didn’t know how to turn on a computer eight years ago.

“People think it’s easy, but it’s not,” Michelle said. “I’ve received an awful lot of help from my son and my husband.”

“One of the reasons I got into eBay was so I could be closer to Steven,” she said. “I am above all else, Steven’s mom.”

And her eBay user name?

"Stevens-mom."

  - March 29, 2006

 

It's a world-wide garage sale 

Could eBay one day make the everyday garage sale obsolete?

Probably not, but one Morenci resident, who preferred not to be named, compares eBay to a worldwide garage sale.

“You can find demand for just about anything,” she said.

For instance, she makes a hobby of buying used horse equipment at tax auctions, fixing it up, and making a few bucks profit on eBay.

She said it’s hard to tell just what will fetch big money. Some buyers will pay large amounts for crafts with a certain maker’s mark. She remembers hearing of a man who bought a box of knickknacks for 50 cents at a Hillsdale auction. Included in the box was a small carved bird, which he sold for $600 after cleaning it.

Morenci resident Michelle Williams is no stranger to turning what she perceives as junk into riches, either.

Once, on a whim, she picked up three old wigs at an auction for a small sum.

“I thought, ‘Why would anybody want them?’” she said. “I decided to see what I could get for them, so I put them up on eBay.”

One California woman was willing to pay $125 for the antique wigs, and for a very good reason. She ran a vintage clothing store and needed hairpieces for her mannequins.

Michelle also put a jar from an old soda fountain that she’d bought at a garage sale up for auction. She sold it for $100. The price she paid for it? Fifty cents.

But area residents aren’t just selling items. They’re buying them, too.

Peggy Decker was trying to locate the 40th anniversary edition of one of her favorite books, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Someone suggested she try eBay. After that, she was hooked.

“I don’t know why it’s so addicting,” she said. “Even if I’m not buying or selling, it’s fun to see what other people are selling and want to buy.”

Amanda Harsh decided to try out eBay after a friend told her about an Australian movie that wasn’t available in the United States. Sure enough, it was on there.

“If I’m looking for something—a book, a movie—that’s maybe a little obscure, I always check eBay,” she said.

Amanda’s husband, Will Harsh, who owns C & W Cycle Shop on North Street, uses the website to find parts for the custom and vintage bicycles he builds. He just bought a brand new CW brand bicycle, which isn’t in production anymore, off eBay.

There’s even some antique Morenci memorabilia to be had. When Peggy typed in “Morenci,” she found Morenci postcards, Morenci milk bottles, even Morenci Civil War paraphernalia, for sale.

Perhaps a hazard for eBayers searching for classic Morenci merchandise is ending up with goods from the Arizona community of the same name.

That’s not a mistake you’re likely to make at garage sales around here.

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