When it comes to selling needlepoint canvases online, I am of mixed feelings. In general, I would say that you want to see, touch and smell (yes, smell!) a canvas in person before buying it. Unfortunately, no store can afford to carry all the canvases available in the marketplace. Thus needlepoint customers do in fact go online to find needlepoint treasures, or, and yes this does indeed happen, price shop.
Some of the things needlepoint buyers ought to watch out for include:
1. Is the canvas in good condition?
2. Is the canvas a fake?
3. Is the design stamped on the canvas despite being advertised as hand painted?
4. Is the canvas made of plastic or otherwise inferior material?
5. Does the seller actually have the canvas in hand?
6. Can you return the canvas if there is a dispute?
7. If you return a canvas, do you get your money back or some sort of “store credit”?
As far as I am concerned, there is nothing wrong with buying vintage canvases online. Some fabulous designs have become extremely rare and hard to find. If an older but compelling canvas is in reasonably good condition, it makes sense to purchase it — if the price is right. This is where the Web can shine. It is the same thing as searching out-of-print books or first editions.
What is not particularly right is for online sellers to dump needlepoint canvases below accepted market rates as thus do harm to the entire painted needlepoint canvas ecosystem. If you have been reading this blog, you are now becoming aware of the many hoops an owner has to jump through, as well as the major financial outlays that come with starting up a needlepoint shop. Online sellers either choose not to do so, or more commonly, simply do not have the means to invest in a B&M. What they often do is sell their stash, or else sell things they buy from other stash sellers in places like Fleabay. Other times, online sellers can be B&M shops or needlepoint designers quietly attempting to dispose of excess or unsold inventory.
I have already made a decision to sell part of my inventory online. The question is, what exactly is my strategy in doing so? For example, it might be a naive assumption to say that the reason for having an online channel is to boost off-season sales, since my store is located in Florida, and locals tend not to spend anywhere near what snowbirds do on things like needlepoint canvas. The reason that would be naive is that summer tends to cause a downturn in all online sales — if I am to believe the reports I read on the Internet. So an online channel may not be the panacea I am looking for in that regard.
Instead, I need to develop a clear strategy that is consistent across my entire sales strategy. For example, my strategy could be that I will only sell quality vintage collections at a fair price. Or it could be that I will only sell top of the line brand new canvases that I have on hand — at full retail price, or a trunk show discounts. Or it could be some combination of all of these things.
Once I have made this determination, my next step is to evaluate which online sales channel to use. There are four leading, and not so leading, marketplaces to choose from: Amazon, Ebay, Etsy, and Bonanza.
Etsy sellers complain of low sales volumes. There seem to be only 300 hand painted needlepoint canvases available on that venue, presenting little competition. However, I think Etsy may make more sense as an opportunity for high-end canvas arbitrage — though, again, one must be cautious as to quality and authenticity issues. In some, if not many, respects, Ebay has devolved into little more than a downscale flea market, which is not at all how I want to the Needlepoint Land brand to be known. Bonanza, does not advertise, thus limiting upside as it not already well known by most consumers, and suffers from too many red flags to be of interest to me as a potential seller.
This leaves me with Amazon, the mighty river of money.
The subject of selling on Amazon is a vast one. In fact it’s too large a subject to tackle in one post.
One thing the casual buyer may not know is that you simply cannot list your products willy-nilly on Amazon. There is a process, a daunting one I might add, that you have to go through in order to sell in that marketplace. From obtaining UPC codes (or getting waivers), to finding the right “approved” category that Amazon will let you sell in — this is one more set of hoops that only the committed needlepoint retailer will engage in — if the advantages of the potential order flow Amazon is sufficient to offset the hurdles Amazon has imposed, no doubt to protect its own brand and discourage fly-by-night operators.
Here are some key questions any needlepoint retailer might wish to consider when considering Amazon:
1. What does it cost to sell on Amazon? Are there recurring costs as well as percentage fees?
2. How do my margins change when I sell on Amazon?
3. Which category does my merchandise appear in?
4. Do I have to get a get a UPC code? Can I get a waiver? Do I really want to use re-seller UPC codes?
5. Where will my merchandise appear on a Google search ranking?
6. How to I brand my store on Amazon?
7. If an Amazon Prime gets free shipping, do I eat the cost?
8. When do I get my money?
9. Can I be delisted on Amazon?
10. Do I have any control of customer feedback?
11. What can I do if negative feedback is an obvious plant by a competitor?
12. What is to stop Amazon from competing against me?
13. Will I have trouble keeping my inventory tallies in sync?
14. Does the name of my brand appear on the billing charge to a customer?
Despite all these questions, it may be that Amazon could turn out to be the perfect channel for me to market Needlepoint Land’s modest collection of Vintage canvases.
After attempting to figure out how to answer all the questions in their deceptively simple but ultimately forbidding application page, I wrote them a long list of questions, many of them involving the UPC code business.
To my amazement, they answered pretty much right back (a good sign), thanking me for the inquiry, and promising to answer back in full within 4 days.
So, I’ll wait to hear from Jeff.
Maybe he’ll also ask me to write a needlepoint column in the Washington Post.
© Erin McGrath and Needlepointland.com, 2012 – 2016