How to Sell Your Antiques Online
A Complete Guide To Marketing Vintage Items In the Internet Age
Chapter 1: Getting Started
This guide was created to provide advice to those who'd like to break into the thriving Internet antiques market. Buying and selling antiques online can be a profitable sideline or a full-time business. If you have a fascination for old things, you can share your passion with other collectors and make money in the process. Whether it's antique children's toys, machinery, or old shoes, you'll find that there are many people who regard these as valuable collectibles.
Through online sales, you can start small in a specific niche or promote a range of antiques. You can build up a thriving enterprise as your reputation and audience grow. Selling from a web page, you can supply all the information and photos you need to attract customers, and develop the unique sales techniques that work for you.
To succeed in the online antique market, all you need is a passion for antiques, a little start-up money, and a good business plan. We'll provide some tips on doing market research to gain knowledge about customers and their needs, such as surveys, blog searches, and social media. You'll learn how to create and market your digital content like keywords or researching competitor tactics. You'll also be able to craft a mission or vision statement that becomes the brand and character of an antiques company that audiences will want to engage with.
Most antique buyers have well-defined tastes in the types of items they're willing to pay top prices for. They may be regularly scanning and searching multiple sites to find just the right collectible. As an antiques dealer, your challenge is to find genuine items that you can resell to these buyers at a profit. This will help you get started.
In the antiques market, demand for certain items can fluctuate. Values will change with them. Understanding what's happening within your market is a crucial step in staying profitable. A sound business model is only half the battle. You have to understand what's popular with your customers. It helps your business strategy to determine what user profiles represent your best customers, in terms of age, gender, income etc. You also need to gather feedback on their needs and opinions.
Particularly in the antiques and collectibles market, the value of any item is much more dependent on supply and demand than on material value. More scarce items also affect value, but there may be no market for unknowns. Following the markets will help to predict what items provide value to consumers, so you can tailor your marketing efforts to satisfy expectations. The Internet provides a number of resources for conducting your research.
Surveys and Social Media
Asking the right questions is the most efficient way to gather data. You could invite your audience to fill out surveys through social media posts and provide links for responding. It's also important to gather some information on demographics to help you identify which market segment these answers are coming from.
With millions of users from around the world active on social media platforms, it's important to take advantage of any data capture tools they provide. This way you can determine who's reading your posts, leaving comments, and liking or sharing your posts. Social media is an excellent way to gain insights into who your niche market is and what they respond to. Comments and survey results, like any information, can be stored in databases and reviewed or analyzed to determine patterns of behavior and the effect of changes you make.
Many people have turned to blogging today on a wide variety of topics. You can find general high-level blogs on the antiques market or quite specific blogs for various niche markets. These blogs are basically personal diaries through which the blogger shares their knowledge and experiences. The blog's followers often leave comments of their own. You can turn to these blogs to discover more about current market trends, values, and a variety of tips and tricks. You can learn about spotting counterfeits, or rare discoveries that stimulate interest. You'll also gain an understanding of the terms and jargon in use so that you can tailor or adapt your own content to connect with serious buyers.
At some point, you may want to consider launching your own blog. If you can portray yourself as one of these industry authorities by providing fresh content and ideas that your market will benefit from, you become an influencer yourself, and your blog can drive plenty of traffic to your social media or sales pages.
Driving traffic to your site is also based very much on search engine optimization (SEO). This is about including the right keywords or phrases into your content to align with user searches. The major search engines, like Bing and Google, index these keywords to determine what your web pages are about, so searchers get pertinent information. All search engines rank sites in terms of their relevance and importance.
It's important to utilize keyword research tools, so you know the subjects and phrasing that most people search on for each topic, as well as the number of competitors using these keywords. Finding the right mix of keywords will have a significant impact on search page rankings and the number of visitors that are sent to your pages. By targeting the users who are looking for your merchandise, you dramatically increase the chances of converting visitors into purchasers.
It also pays to do some research on what your top competition is doing. Using the tools provided by Google and other Internet resources, you can learn more about the successful marketing tactics your rivals use and incorporate them into your own plans. Visit their websites and social media profiles to see what they're doing differently. You may be able to track what keywords they're using, what platforms they're marketing on, and what kind of ads are working for them.
You can also determine which of your own ideas, or niche markets, your competitors have overlooked. Start by doing searches of your own on specific topics and keywords to see who the top-listed sellers are. Determine which influencers or partners they're using to spread their message and reach out to these advocates yourself. Discovering competitor strengths can help to identify your own, so you can focus on them and develop an enterprise unlike any other.
Mission and Vision Statement
From the beginning, you should have specific ideas of what you hope to accomplish in the long term. The steps needed to get there become your short-term goals. Your own ideas about how to deal with customers, treat employees and handle public issues become the principles of your company mission and influence the vision that serves as your ultimate business goal. You have to learn to adapt your business model so that it bests aligns with that vision.
You may focus just on selling antiques, or maybe you plan to branch out into services like restoration and appraisals. Your acquired skills or knowledge may also be of value to your market. The first step is developing ideas that set you apart from the competition and using those ideas to promote your value to consumers. Write down your mission statement as a contract with yourself, and try to stay true to it. Consistency is an important part of building trust with your audience as well as building recognition. Your mission defines what your company is all about, and your followers will expect that.
Permits, licenses, taxes, and other considerations must be observed to conduct business. Ensuring you comply with federal, state, and local laws is one of your priorities. In the next chapter, "Legal Requirements", we'll look at the measures every business must follow to satisfy legal regulations.
Chapter 2: Legal Requirements
Operating a business over the Internet is not very different from running any other business, but there are some distinct legal issues involved, as well. Your online company requires the same level of planning, research, and organization that any company needs to be successful. Running a business is hard work, and if you don't educate yourself on the legalities of your industry, a critical mistake could impact your profits, ruin your reputation, or put you out of business.
Register Your Online Business
Your new business must be registered with federal, state, and local authorities. Though laws and requirements vary from place to place, the first step is deciding what kind of business structure your company will follow. Your options as a new company are a sole proprietorship, partnership, or an LLC (limited liability company).
In a sole proprietorship, there is a single owner who makes the decisions. In a partnership, two or more individuals share leadership of the company by voting on decisions. With either of these business models, the owners are personally liable for business debt, which means you could lose personal assets and even your home to cover company obligations. A limited liability company, on the other hand, is a form of a corporation which is a separate legal entity from its owners. As an LLC, you may lose your investment in the company, but your personal assets are protected.
Sole proprietors have complete control over how their profits are used. Partnerships usually follow an agreement as to the share, or percentage, of each partner's interests in the company. With LLCs, any number of people, or members, may own a share of the company. Each owns a portion of the company relative to the extent of their investment, and profits are distributed according to each share.
The owners of sole proprietorships and partnerships must report their profits as personal income for tax purposes, but are not required to pay business taxes. Owners of an LLC will be paying double. The company must pay business taxes, while those earning profits from their share in the company must report those profits as personal income.
You must also choose the company or trade name under which your business will be registered. The name you choose is important to building brand recognition, so the name should be unique. interesting, and easy to remember.
Licenses and Permits
All businesses will require a license. This allows the government to track companies for reasons such as tax collection and public well-being. Your license must be renewed annually. Doing business without the proper license can result in fines or tax issues.
Selling antiques, even online, usually requires a sales tax license, though this may be specially designated for Internet sales. Even home-based businesses typically require a Home Occupation permit. Companies dealing with the public may also need a tax ID number that will be filed with local, state, and the federal government. You may also have to consider zoning laws or home owner association (HOA) rules, depending on how you do business and where you live.
To find out what you need and where to file, visit your local county website or use the "Local Assistance" link on the SBA.gov website and search by your state or zip code.
Paying Your Taxes
Giving up business profits that you worked hard for is a burden, but it's the price you pay as a citizen. Obtaining a federal tax ID, also known as an Employer Identification Number (EIN), uniquely identifies your business. In some cases, you may be able to use your own Social Security number if you're a sole proprietorship, but you'll need an EIN if you hire employees, are part of an LLC or partnership, do business that involves excise taxes, alcohol, tobacco, or firearms, or are involved with retirement accountants, outside investment, or non-profits. You apply for a federal tax ID using IRS Form SS-4.
Some states have tax exemptions for businesses that operate strictly online, while others may have specific tax requirements. If you hire help, you must make it clear to them what the business relationship is. You can hire independent contractors without paying unemployment, Medicare, and Social Security taxes, but they are mandatory with employees. You must report what was paid both in your tax statement and directly to those employees. Be sure to find out exactly what the requirements are for online business from your state's department of revenue. It's also your responsibility to keep up with any changes to the tax codes.
Failure to pay taxes is illegal and could result in forfeiture of assets, fines with interest, or even criminal charges.
You must also take into account that there are regulations for protecting customer data, both federally and from the payment card industry (PCI) when taking credit or debit card payments online. These regulations will be covered in more detail in Chapter 5, but keep in mind that you are expected to take precautions for your customers' safety so they don't fall prey to cyber criminals and credit fraud. This also prohibits sharing or publishing any sensitive consumer information such as credit card, account, or social security numbers, passwords, and IP or physical addresses.
Given the wide range of products in the antiques market, you are also responsible for observing any restrictions on what products may be sold or how they're advertised. Ecommerce in the US is now governed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). In order to protect consumers, the FTC has enacted laws regarding deceptive ads, failure to disclose, e-mail spam, and unfair business practices. It's important to avoid these issues in your online content.
Once you're ready for business, you need to establish your financial plans. It's important that online antique dealers understand the financial challenges of sustaining business growth. Chapter 3, "Financial Aspects", will cover some of the essentials such as costs, financing, bookkeeping, and risk assessment.
Chapter 3: Financial Aspects
Benefits of Financial Planning
One of the chief benefits of financial planning is that it provides oversight into how your money is spent. You can determine more easily where money is being wasted and adjust your spending. Tracking your expenditures lets you follow every dollar rather than making assumptions. Determining each part of your cash flow makes it easier to manage and keep to your long-term financial goals. Basic calculations enable you to recognize when objectives are being met, and provide the confidence of knowing that your financial strategies are working.
The business environment can change frequently, so it's unwise to assume that what worked yesterday will provide good returns tomorrow. Your startup costs should include not just the money you need to become operational, but some working capital for the time it takes to become established.
Physical space, office equipment, computers, telephony systems, and office furniture are usually necessities for any business. You may need to cover legal or tax services, employee payrolls and benefits, different types of insurance, utility costs, and means to do market research and analysis. You must also budget for the costs of advertising, IT services, and supplies. Some costs can be amortized over time to minimize the initial expense, such as leasing equipment.
Startup costs will be different for every entrepreneur. Coming up with realistic estimates takes consideration and accuracy. Your seed money will be the one-time costs required to become operational, but there will also be ongoing costs. Some costs will be constants, such as loan payments, but others will be variable, such as inventory or shipping.
How to Finance Your Online Business
The funds you need could come from a variety of sources. Here are some suggestions:
Personal Savings: Otherwise known as bootstrapping, this involves spending your personal cash savings on your startup. Depending on what you have saved and what you need, this can be an all-or-nothing gamble.
Bank loans: If you have good credit and a good idea, this can be a safe alternative. However, you should keep in mind that banks are more demanding when it comes to qualifying for business loans than for personal loans.
Credit Card: If you have good credit and low startup costs, you might consider charging these to your credit card. Consider paying off your old cards first or applying for a higher limit.
Crowdfunding: This involves collecting small amounts from large numbers of people, typically done over the Internet. Investors may expect returns or donate freely to what they consider a good idea or cause.
Angel Investors: These are usually business people who are willing to invest their own personal funds in a startup that shows potential. They may have expectations regarding interest payments or involvement in the company.
Raise Money: There can be other ways to raise money. Selling off property, applying for federal grants, or a home equity loan are just a few ideas.
Risk Assessment and Sales Forecasts
Any type of business will face some risks, whether they're financial, legal, or organizational. An important aspect to sustaining your company is identifying the possible risks of each major business decision. Becoming a successful entrepreneur is dependent on your ability to manage these risks.
Prospering at Internet antique sales takes specialized knowledge. Every time you purchase an antique, there's a risk that it could be stolen, damaged, or that it ends up gathering dust on your shelf. There are also many fakes circulating in the industry. Other antiques may have been devalued by poor restoration or repair work.
Never risk more money than you can afford to lose, and keep a cash reserve to cushion the blow. Insure high-ticket items. Always do your research before every purchase. When first starting out in antiques, it is be a good idea to focus on learning a particular niche market first.
Forecasting sales is a useful tool for any customer-facing business. If you have a good idea of what kind of revenue you can expect in the coming months or weeks, you have a good idea of how much you can afford to spend. This requires tracking your order history and taking into account things like product type, customer demographics, and seasonal or holiday sales.
There are any number of factors that may influence antique sales, such as economic conditions or shifts in product demand. Forecasting is still more a skill than a science. You won't have sales histories to project sales from new product or marketing ideas. Tracking and measuring each change is crucial.
No one can predict the future, but if you maintain your sales figures and customer information, over time you'll be able to formulate better projections of what to expect. This will enable you to optimize your investments and cash flow.
This is something no business can function without. You must keep detailed records on all your transactions and expenses. This is important not just for tax purposes but for analyzing your gains and losses. Good bookkeeping will tell you where you need to cut back or where you're doing well.
If your records are less than perfect, these discrepancies could cost you heavy penalties or the loss of your business license if IRS audits are done. An entrepreneur needs to account for every dollar to ensure small mistakes aren't permanent errors.
At one time, this was done in neatly written ledgers or spreadsheets. Today, you have better alternatives with accounting software that can also provide functions like tax preparation, inventory management, data analysis, and sync with electronic bank statements and other business or online systems. There are some affordable desktop programs that will make your bookkeeping chores much easier.
When your financial needs are taken care of, the next phase is putting all your resources together into a functional antique business. The next chapter in our guide, "Setting Up the Shop", covers this often complex process in greater detail. You'll learn about online selling fundamentals like website design, social media, product descriptions, pricing, customer behavior, and much more.
Chapter 4: Setting Up the Shop
When launching an e-commerce business there are two options you could choose: a self-hosted platform or a third-party hosted service.
Self-hosted refers to one of the e-commerce applications typically available through your web hosting provider or the application creator (OpenCart, WooCommerce, Magento etc.). These are generally open source platforms that you can install free of charge and manage yourself. Many of these open source versions have a support community already in place for providing documentation and advice. This includes developers offering add-on features through plugins or extensions.
If you have programming skills or can hire someone who does, you can uniquely customize the e-commerce platform to suit your own needs. You don't have to worry about software licenses and can adapt or copy your e-commerce solution as you like. On the downside, there's no tech support, so you'll have to roll back or resolve your own mistakes, which might be risky. Installation and settings can also be tricky, depending on the platform you choose and what you want to do with it.
Hosted e-commerce is a commercially available software package. The advantage is that these are complete solutions that include site hosting, technical support, and the variety of tools and functions. Typically, you pay a monthly fee for the service. This fee will vary depending on the size of the e-commerce solution, monthly or yearly payment plans, and the various options you want installed. You still have to maintain your store and products, but you can customize it to varying degrees and call on customer support when needed.
The drawback to hosted platforms is that the cost is higher. Many hosted e-commerce solutions may charge you more as your business and needs grow. The extent of any customizations you can make will also be limited, both technically and legally. If support and easier management are worth the higher price to you, some popular hosted e-commerce services include BigCommerce, Shopify, Wix, and Volusion.
The design of your store is always crucial in providing a good user experience. You want a visually attractive theme that at the same time is easy to use and navigate for your visitors. A more professional design increases the perception of your brand and value. More attractive and user-friendly layouts prompt users to explore your site further.
Your visual theme should use a consistent balance of color schemes, logos, headers, and menus. Eye-catching graphics are also important, but shouldn't be overused or take up too much space to the point of being distractions. For the same reason, your choice of fonts should be consistent and readable, not confusing or elaborate.
The goal is to create a site that will be visually inviting but within an overall layout that's intuitively easy to understand and navigate. Complicated branching and intimidating menus can frustrate users and spoil the experience.
Mobile First Approach
Consumers using their mobile devices to browse the Internet are a large and growing segment that you can't afford to ignore.
Mobile-first strategy means serving pages that are mobile-friendly, or designed to render well on the smaller screens and memory capacity of mobile devices. A mobile-responsive web design involves being able to detect the type of device, or its operating system, that's accessing your site and adjusting the layout accordingly to provide the best performance.mobile-friendly, or designed to render well on the smaller screens and memory capacity of mobile devices. A mobile-responsive web design involves being able to detect the type of device, or its operating system, that's accessing your site and adjusting the layout accordingly to provide the best performance.
As sales of smartphones have eclipsed the sale of desktops, mobile-first site design is the best option for e-store owners. The majority of on-the-go mobile users rely on their devices to gather information before making a purchase. Mobile-first capabilities enable you to offer these users better services through mobile features like geolocation, interactive email, or downloadable company shopping apps.
Social Media Integration
You can't underestimate the importance of social media today. There are literally billions of active users across the major social media platforms, though Facebook easily leads the pack. Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Google+ are all popular, as well. Provide a few social plugins to these sites across your product pages so that visitors can share the content they like on their own social profiles. Include buttons for user Likes, Tweets, Shares, Pins, or +1s so that users can promote your products on social media with a simple click.
Pinterest, for example, is a good platform for the antiques market, as it relies on images. Users can pin a photo of interesting items to their profiles to generate buzz among their own followers, increasing the odds that one of them will come back to make the purchase.
However, it's important to let this develop naturally from your audience. Posting too much or too often to your social media accounts may irritate viewers or distract from the importance of your message.
Integrating with social media also allows you to leverage analytic tools so that you can see who your social users are, where they come from, and what kind of items they prefer. You should set up credentialing that allows your customers to log in from their social media accounts. This is a more convenient approach that spares them having to memorize additional user names and passwords and frees you from the trouble of managing user accounts. Logging in from social profiles makes for a smoother customer experience.
You shouldn't leave it to chance, however. Invite visitors to share your content and their shopping experience with your business on social media. Encourage them to use tags, hashtags, and links that will lead people to your business or social profile. More social followers will respond if you offer them some incentive, such as discount, a coupon for free shipping, or giveaways like a free raffle entry.
Artificial Intelligence and Predictive Shopping
The latest and most promising technology in e-commerce is the use of AI, or machine learning applications. These use complex algorithms to track user behavior and provide each one a more personalized experience. AI programs can also enable biometrics like face or voice recognition, adaptive chat bots, and product recommendations.
Not so long ago, online shopping could involve multiple, frustrating searches through hundreds of products. By creating personalized experiences, you're raising the customer satisfaction of everyone who interacts with your website. AI allows you to structure entire marketing campaigns that will deliver results tailored to each customer or prospect.
Machine learning enables the software to develop an increased understanding of the customer's needs and habits so they're presented with the most favorable options throughout the sales cycle. Upselling and cross-selling can be done effortlessly.
This kind of personalization requires collecting a large amount of user data and integrating it with product pages. But once in place, your website will dynamically conduct predictive searches to offer users the antiques that they prefer. You can also issue notices when prices fall or new products appear that fit their shopping behavior. AI allows you to automatically track and analyze customer behavior. Recommending items that they prefer is an ideal means for focusing market strategy and improving sales.
Listing Antiques for Sale
Good product descriptions drive sales by letting the customer immediately understand the features and value of what they're looking at.
Product descriptions must be concise, not lengthy, so try to focus on a main feature of your product, whether it's beauty, quality, or historicity. Connect the item to something that benefits the user, such as being a great investment or rare showpiece. Be clear and specific on any details you need to provide, such as size, weight, materials, and year and place of manufacture. If you have room, preface the description with a clever and intriguing introduction of only a sentence or two.
What you don't want to do is make the description overly long, vague, or put more effort into hard selling than describing. Antiquers are typically savvy customers who want information, not hype.
Repeat your descriptions aloud, or have someone else look at them to be sure you're conveying the right impressions. Be certain of your spelling and grammar to avoid looking amateurish. Focus on the product descriptions that work best for you, and eventually, you'll develop your own formats and techniques for quickly generating good product descriptions.
High quality product images are important in selling antiques. Stock or poor-quality photos will only add to concerns that the actual item is fake or may be in poor condition. High quality color images, on the other hand, provide more immediate information and detail than even a written description. Quality photos instantly create buyer interest and confidence.
Multiple photos will enhance these feelings. You should provide views from several angles and close-ups of key features. Lighting should be bright but soft enough to reduce glare. In a pinch, natural light is best. If it's too bright, you can always put up some gauzy fabric to reduce glare.
A white backdrop is also preferable, as it will reflect light better and usually provide maximum contrast for showing curves and edges. Every photo should be high-def and as precisely focused as you can manage. If you don't have a camera that will deliver this, consider investing in one that can. It will be worth it in increased sales.
Every antique is a piece of history, so you might want to use that in context, such as showing an ancient Roman vase with a period backdrop. It's important not to confuse shoppers on just which antique you're offering. You might want to show the piece resting on a shelf or stand to give a sense of importance. You should also show some scale to indicate size, such as photographing them with a half-dollar or a new pencil.
Properly categorizing your items will help sustain user interest and keep them exploring your site. Learn what terms antique buyers use for different kinds of items and use them in your navigation. Users that are confused or surprised by which items show up in product categories are likely to lose confidence and look elsewhere.
Establish familiar antique categories and follow them when placing new items. However, you don't want to create categories with only one or two items, categories with too many items, or numerous categories that will only confuse and frustrate searchers. As your products change, feel free to move items and rename or hide categories.
Define high-level categories and filler categories within them. If you have a lot of antique porcelain, you could create "Porcelain" as a top category and "Figurines" as a sub-category. But if you have pre-dominantly figurines, you might want to use that as the top category and something like "Victorian" as a sub-category. Be sure your search filters conform to these categories. Just don't make your category hierarchies more than three or four levels deep to keep things simple.
Setting Currencies and Weight Units
People all over the world collect antiques, and you want to be sure they can do business on your site. Be sure your e-commerce platform can adjust to different currencies and units of measure for both weight and dimensions. If international customers don't find the variables they're comfortable using, they're much less likely to do business with you. Restricting your shipping options, measurements, or accepted currency to US buyers will eliminate a world of interested shoppers and cost you a lot of revenue.
Buy Now vs Auctions
Selling at popular auction sites can generate a lot of interest and recognition among antique buyers. However, bidding can go on for days, and not everyone has that kind of patience, or will let themselves be outbid because auction shoppers are looking primarily for a bargain. You'll rarely make more than you would charging a fixed price. Many auctions will allow a "Buy Now" option, but that still involves selling at a bargain price.
Don't look upon auctions as an income stream, but as a marketing platform. When buyers are happy with an item, you can send follow-up emails inviting them to create reviews, leave feedback, join your newsletter, and visit your main products page. Vintage items like jewelry, clothes, toys, and other collectibles are strong sellers. Auctions are a great and cost-effective way to reach more antique shoppers.
With your site optimized and ready to sell antiques, the next important step is providing secure transactions for yourself and your customers. The following chapter, "Offering a Safe and Secure Online Experience", will discuss electronic payments and ways to safeguard sensitive customer data. This is essential to creating customer confidence and repeat business.
Chapter 5: Offering a Safe and Secure Online Experience
Attracting new customers is something that every company has to prioritize. Marketing is a big expenditure of time and money, but a customer will quickly abandon you if you can't protect their personal information. In the online environment, they may even share their bad experience on social media or review sites so that your reputation is damaged. It's important to take all the steps necessary to keep this from happening.
Also called an information management policy, this is your agreement with your customers on how any information they provide through your site will be collected, stored, safeguarded, and used. It's common now for e-commerce websites to post a well-defined statement on protecting consumer data and confidentiality, as an entirely separate topic from any membership terms, user guarantees, or other business policies.
Your policy should state what you intend to do with this information. It may be used only for your own marketing or product research. If you plan to use email or snail mail addresses for direct marketing, provide a way for customers to opt out of this process. Some companies will also sell information to other Internet merchants or marketing research firms. This won't make customers happy, but they should be told upfront if this is part of your business practices.
Why E-Commerce is an Inviting Target
E-commerce sites are a favorite target of cyber criminals for several reasons. There are a growing number of people who do at least some of their shopping online, which means they may have debit or credit cards on file with numerous online merchants, or balances on their store accounts. Hackers can use purchase information to steal from bank accounts, or fraudulently order merchandise which they can resell. Often customers won't even notice small transactions. Cyber criminals may also use software to probe numerous e-commerce sites for weaknesses they can exploit.
Types of Online Fraud
Most fraud related to e-commerce falls into two major categories:
Identity Theft. The most common type of online fraud, this occurs when criminals gather enough personal information to impersonate their victims. Just knowing a name can allow them to track down information such as physical addresses, phone numbers, bank accounts, and social security numbers. With enough information, they can change passwords, drain existing store or credit accounts, and apply for new ones in the victim's name.
This is a terrible experience, as ruthless criminals can leave an individual's bank accounts empty and their credit ruined before they even know it's happening. If your e-commerce site doesn't take strong measures to prevent this, prospects and customers will be reluctant to do business with you.
Some of the methods you can use to protect your customers include using persistent cookies. These are small files stored on the user's hard drive to collect information such as behavior and preference settings, and cookies help validate the user. Part of this data can be detecting and storing information related to the device that's accessing the site.
It's also important to have up-to-date anti-malware and firewalls that can detect and isolate software attacks. You should also try to stay informed on the latest cyber threats and how to deal with them. To improve your site's user authentication, pose several multiple-choice questions from the user's personal history. Notify users by email of any suspicious activity.
Phishing. These scams typically involve emails that contain links to counterfeit websites that have been set up just to capture usernames, passwords, or account numbers. Customer contact information may be stolen directly from your email programs by hackers or spyware, or inadvertently exposed by careless employees.
Those who fall victim to phishing scams are generally too trusting, don't have proper email filters in place, or don't know how to verify what URL they're directed to. Sometimes they may not even be aware that phishing scams exist in several forms.
For instance, a phishing scam may send out emails to your customers saying that they need to verify their account information. Clicking on a link sends them to a bogus URL featuring a page that is copied directly from your website. When the user logs in and provides the requested information, it's recorded so that the criminal can access the real account later. Hackers are also able to infect legitimate e-commerce checkout pages with simple code that redirects the user to a phishing page. In some cases, the phishing page could imitate PayPal or a similar online payment service.
You should remind customers to habitually check the URL they're being sent to, look for secure site symbols such as a padlock and green address bar, and abandon any purchase that seems suspicious. The check-out page should always show exactly what the customer is ordering, what they're being charged, and provide a digital receipt. Good e-commerce management practices should include using a file comparison tool to see if any unwanted changes have been made to your site, and regularly verifying that your checkout process is working correctly.
Implementing cyber security is a crucial responsibility for any e-commerce website. With poor security in place, both you and your customers are in danger of fraud and financial loss.
Important measures for protecting your business and your customers start with security awareness and training for employees. You should also implement multi-layered security protocols wherever possible. For example, you need to use both firewalls and anti-virus protection at all times, and ask users to answer a security question or "captcha" code on top of their login credentials.
It's important to conduct risk assessment of your business in terms of the security you're providing. Understand which data is the most sensitive, and take measures to isolate and protect it. Don't save customer data that you don't use. Be sure your e-commerce platform as well as your security software are updated with any patches or upgrades.
Understand how e-commerce fraud occurs and how it can be prevented. For example, use systems that require CVV (card verification value), which is the three-digit number printed on the back of payment cards. AVS (address verification system) functionality should also be in place, which verifies that the customer address in a transaction matches the address associated with that card.
Password Requirements: Simple passwords are much easier for hackers to guess, so it's common practice to enforce stricter password rules, such as requiring both lower and upper-case letters, numbers, and special characters. But complicated passwords are hard to remember and to type, and enforcing these rules can lead users to abandon your site. This is one reason why many e-commerce sites don't follow stricter password guidelines.
Users also tend to forget their passwords even if they should be easy to recall. This obliges e-commerce operators to have mechanisms in place so that the user can reset their own passwords, usually via an emailed code or temporary password. Every time a customer forgets their password, even if they reset it, involves a delay that may be costing you money in lost sales.
However, some of the major social platforms are allowing merchants to integrate their authentication with that of the social platform. This allows users to seamlessly view and shop your antiques from their social account without an additional login. Partnering with social networks that have millions of users can also increase your conversion rates and raise your visibility.
Encryption: It involves using complex algorithms and unique alphanumeric keys to transpose information into a meaningless jumble of characters that can't be decrypted by anyone without the key. It's one of the best means of protecting data. Even if hackers can breach your security protocols, encrypted information is useless to them.
It can also secure communications by ensuring that messages are encrypted before they're sent. Otherwise, cyber criminals could intercept and read text, emails, or application data exchanges. The unique keys also help to ensure that the right person or system is receiving the communication.
When all customer transactions are stored on your website, a clever hacker breaching your security could download information on all your customers in moments. Every company should encrypt data to be certain that even if it's stolen or intercepted, it can't be used to defraud anyone.
Secure, modern encryption techniques and standards should be in place both when submitting information from your site pages and when sending information by email.
Other important means of encryption protection include SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificates. These are provided by only a handful of recognized authorities to ensure that encryption is being used throughout your website. A certificate-protected site appears in a browser address bar with the prefix "HTTPS" instead of "HTTP". Most certificate providers also provide a prominent site seal graphic that can be verified by simply clicking or moving a mouse over it. These indicators will immediately inform users that a site is secure.
If you allow others to post and sell antiques on your site, be sure you've verified the identity of the sellers. Be alert for any signs of unethical practices, and investigate any complaints.
Payment Methods and Secure Payment
The majority of online payments will be made through the following sources:
Credit Cards and Debit Cards: Both use similar account numbers and CVVs. Either form of payment should be considered highly sensitive data that must be encrypted both in transmission and in data storage. The Payment Card Industry (PCI) expects certain minimal security standards to be maintained before you can accept and process cards.
Gift Cards: Some e-commerce platforms or third-party services allow you to sell or give away gift cards redeemable toward your antiques. These cards are automatically assigned a monetary value and ID number, and sent with a unique verification code for each card which the user is required to enter before the card can be validated and used.
Payment Services: Companies such as PayPal or Google Wallet process the credit card for you so you don't have to store that information. After opening up a merchant account with these companies, your e-commerce platform should let you link your checkout pages to their site. Any payments received, after deduction of fees, are deposited to your account.
The next section of this guide, "Sourcing and Appraising Antiques", will provide information on the difference between antique, vintage, and retro items as well as where to find antiques.
Chapter 6: Sourcing and Appraising Antiques
Vintage vs. Antique vs. Retro
These are all very popular tastes in home décor. Each refers to some period of history and often to a particular style or place. But there are important differences between the three terms.
Vintage: This term derives its name from the original reference to aged wine, but is now used loosely to describe many older items. To most dealers, however, vintage describes an item at least 50 years old. A few might go as recently as 25 years and use terms like "new vintage". Also, when actual age can't be determined, many items that are clearly old will be called "vintage" to be safe.
Antique: This usually refers to items that are 100 years old or more. Relatively few items are stamped with a date, so it's often necessary to consult with manufacturer or industry catalogs, other antique dealers, or knowledgeable experts to get a reliable approximation of the timeframe in which the piece was produced.
Retro: Sometimes referred to as "vintage inspired", this is an item that is actually an imitation of an original fashion or style from the past, such as porcelain hand-painted with archaic scenes, or 1920s Art Deco designs on modern pieces. Retro is often a trendy choice in home decoration that people pay good prices to obtain.
Where to Find and Buy Antiques
You can find antiques wherever vintage items are being sold. Some sellers carry a broad selection of items, while others specialize in certain things like glass or knick-knacks. The trick is to find items that are going for a fraction of their potential value.
Flea Markets/Swap Meets: Flea markets are now popular bargain outlets that can be found in most towns, both indoors and outdoors, with either restricted or daily selling hours. In most swap meets today, there is much less "swapping" than direct selling. Most sellers handle newer items, but if you discover one that offers vintage or antique items, it's worth browsing.
Vintage/Antique Shows: These can often be pricey events where professional dealers show merchandise to passionate collectors. But there will be times when you find something that's underpriced or a great investment, especially if the dealer isn't familiar with that specific item's niche. For a novice, it's also a good learning experience.
Pop-up Market: Often called pop-up shops or flash retailing in the U.S., these are booths, tables, or kiosks that appear for a limited time in high-traffic areas or around crowded events. You'll usually find low prices and room to haggle for vintage items, but as always, buyer beware.
Art Shows: These are often more like craft shows, but you'll also find dealers selling vintage art like paintings or sculptures. By paying careful attention, you might find rare treasures at a bargain that a novice or busy dealer failed to identify.
Estate Sales: This is a favorite source for many antique buyers, as it's meant to liquidate the possessions of someone who's passed away. There may be jewelry, family heirlooms, or other items they've held onto for decades. Sometimes these sales are handled by professionals. But if family with no special knowledge are managing the sale, you can find some real treasures at a low cost.
Garage/Yard Sales: Everyone has probably heard stories about buying an old vase or teapot at a garage sale that turned out to a rare item worth thousands. Like estate sales, this is not unusual because the majority of owners simply have no idea of the real age or value of their own collectibles.
Live/Online Auctions: The advantage to live auctions is that you can physically look at the piece being sold, and there are relatively fewer bidders. You also get to take possession then and there. With an online auction, you may have hundreds of people interested in an item, and all you see are photographs. You also have to worry about shipping and insurance. Online auctions do provide convenience and more selections. Either wa,y you can locate some great items going for well below true value.
Thrift Stores: Vintage and antique items show up at thrift stores all the time. Often, it is simply old junk. But the staff are almost never trained to spot valuable items. With a trained eye that knows what to look for, you can sometimes find rare or quality items at incredible bargains.
Appraisal and Haggling
The value in most items will come from its age, rarity, quality, and condition. But in the antiques market, it will also very much depend on popular sales trends. Market values may rise and fall over time as consumer demand changes. It's essential to follow the markets, and certainly possible to do your own appraisal. But accurate, reliable appraisals are best done by experts to support your valuation of your items.
An appraisal is generally done for insurance reasons, but it is a legally valid, written document prepared by someone with expert knowledge and experience. Appraisers will do all the research necessary to establish authenticity, dating, materials, provenance, and other factors affecting value before providing their estimation. Typically, this will be a range rather than a single figure.
You can find professional appraisers in your area online, at appraisal fairs, professional organizations, or by inquiring at auctions or other antique dealers. With very rare items of a particular type or period, you may want to locate a specialist. If you can't find an appraiser within driving distance, some may do business through the mail.
In the antiques market, haggling over price is not unusual, sometimes even in high-end dealer shops. Of course, it works both ways. Your customer may be haggling for a good deal just the way you haggled when you bought it. Eagerness to please a customer or make a sale can eat up your profits. It's a sensible practice to think instead in terms of negotiation.
The difference is that haggling is always about the price, whereas negotiation is about value. This means more than simple dollars and cents. Haggling is more a contest of wills where the customer doesn't know or even care how much your overhead is. Negotiating is a conversation where you try to learn about the customer's tastes, needs, or habits, and assess what importance they're ascribing to the item.
Haggling aside, if the item is more meaningful to the customer, they'll pay more for it. That gives you some leverage. Negotiation is also about the purchase, not just the item. Throwing in some incentives like a coupon, a free service such as delivery or gift-wrapping, or a cheaper item as a bonus will increase the customer's perception of value.
In the course of buying and selling more antiques, you're likely to end up with a number of good pieces in inventory. Mishandling them can ruin their value and your chance of profits. Chapter 7, "Caring for Antique Items", will explore the proper ways to store, clean, and ship these often delicate items.
Chapter 7: Caring for Your Antiques
Storing Your Antiques
Whether or not you have a physical shop or a separate storage location for your antiques, you have to take some precautions on how they're stored. Improper conditions could have adverse effects that impact the condition of your items and reduce their value. Something that emulates controlled museum-type conditions would be ideal.
Lighting: Bright light, especially sunlight, can gradually do damage to aging organics like wood and paper, or fabrics like linen or wool. It can fade colors and dry out materials. Sunlight through exposed windows can also add damaging heat. Keep window coverings in place when the sun is bright, and stick with soft low-watt bulbs instead of bright overhead or spot lights.
Temperature: Antiques should not be stored in locations like basements, attics, or garages where temperatures are unregulated. Excessive heat or cold also damage delicate materials and finishes. It's best to keep the storage area at somewhat below room temperature, or about 64 degrees Fahrenheit.
Climate: When transporting your antiques, try to do so gradually. Rapid temperature shifts can cause expansion and contraction, forcing widening cracks in materials like wood or glass. It's a common cause of cracking in certain pottery glazes that can spoil the antique finishes that some customers prize. For large items like furniture, a climate-controlled storage unit is a good choice.
Humidity: Wooden items, books, and paintings will start to dry and shrink without moisture, while too much could invite mold, rot, or cause swelling. High humidity can also rust metals. In general, a neutral balance of 50 percent humidity should do. You might want to purchase a reliable hygrometer to track humidity levels.
Cleaning Your Antiques
For most antiques, the original finish, or gradually acquired patina (oxidation of the surface), is critical to value. While it's important to remove dust, antiques should never be cleaned needlessly or too vigorously. Keep a collection of gentle tools such as cotton swabs and pads, soft brushes, distilled water, rubbing alcohol, and a can of compressed air.
Cleaning silver: Remove any tarnish with a commercial product made for the purpose. For ordinary cleaning, warm soapy water will do, but be sure to rinse thoroughly and wipe with a clean, dry cloth. Store silver wrapped in acid-free paper and sealed in a plastic bag to preserve its luster.
Wood: Brush or wipe dust away regularly. If you need to revive the polish, use a liquid product based on natural beeswax, not modern chemicals or sprays.
Porcelain and Pottery: Keep these behind glass to eliminate dust build up. If they do get dirty, gently rinse and wipe clean with a damp sponge or cloth. Never use abrasive or harsh chemical cleaners.
Jewelry: Don't use commercial or abrasive products that can damage the natural patina. Clean with hot, soapy water or a little non-abrasive toothpaste using a soft brush to get into crevices. Wipe clean with acid-free tissue paper.
Old Photos and Paper: Keep them away from bright light, and always store them flat on their backs on acid-free, chemically neutral volumes or envelopes.
Books: Gently dust but don't try to clean them. Always wash hands before handling them. If you have books that need restoration, take them to an expert in the craft.
Always be gentle, careful, and thoughtful in cleaning antiques. Wash your hands or wear gloves before handling them to avoid spotting from you own natural skin oils. To prevent accidental damage, clean your antiques on a table top over a folded towel or pad. Don't use tape to secure parts as it can leave a sticky residue.
Never clean glass or ceramics in modern dishwashers, as this can cause tiny scratches. Keep any paper of fabric items away from high moisture, and never eat or drink near them to avoid staining. Do not try to clean antique fabrics by applying modern chemicals or in your washing machine to avoid damage and discoloring.
Any evidence of alterations following original production will lower value. Even touching up a spot of paint or replacing a screw is a mistake. The patina, or oxidation, on metal surfaces can also be important to determining age and estimating value. Do not attempt to sand, re-stain, or glue wooden pieces. Finally, it’s important to remember that before attempting to do any sort of restoration on any antique, you should consult an expert.
Insurance and Security
In the antiques business, protecting your investment in your valuable inventory is essential. Dangers such as theft, fire, vandalism, or natural disasters are always possible.
Break-ins can happen, especially if word gets out that you're dealing in antiques. Ask a trusted friend or relative to check on your place if you're going to be out of town for any length of time. You might want to discourage burglars by installing cameras and upgrading to or adding electronic locks. Keep smaller, more valuable items like jewelry in steel lockboxes that can be tucked away out of sight.
Even though you may be working from home, your homeowner's insurance many not cover the full value of your items, even with a personal property endorsement may even consider antiques as ineligible property. Others may not cover for damage that was your own fault, such as drops or scratches. If you can't get adequate coverage under this policy, seek out a company that specializes in antiques and art insurance.
Be sure to inventory every item you buy and keep the receipts, as well as any professional appraisals. Insure the item for the appraised replacement value when possible, rather than purchase price. You can also make videos of your items as visual proof in the event of loss. Often the insurance agent will come to your location to record the collection themselves.
Packing and Shipping
As an online dealer, it's your responsibility to ensure the shipped item arrives safely.
Pottery and Glassware: Wrap the antique and any separate pieces, such as lids, individually in bubble wrap and secure with tape, then tuck these away between layers of foam or more bubble wrap. You could also consider packing smaller items into a box of their own, and then packing this box in a larger box with plenty of loose packing material.
Fabrics and Wood: With textiles, you don't have to worry about breakage, however you'll want to wrap them in plastic to keep out moisture. The same goes for small wood items. Bulky items like furniture you may want to leave to professional shipping services.
Photos and Documents: These can be shipped in a paper sleeve tucked inside a standard shipping envelope of the appropriate size. Never fold or trim antique paper items.
Jewelry: Secure any loose parts like chains or cords with a plastic tie or elastic band. The best way to see that jewelry arrives securely is to put them in a cushioned plastic or paper bag before packing in a small.
Metals: Silver, for example, can still be dented or scratched. Be sure that each individual piece is both wrapped with bubble wrap and the item surrounded with foam packing products.
Remember to use sturdy shipping boxes to resist any drops or improper stacking that happens during delivery. For each item, use a box of an appropriate size so antiques aren't jostling loose. Fill any extra space with foam peanuts or crumpled newspaper. Don't forget to include an invoice, and don't be skimpy about sealing boxes with fiber packing tape.
Selling is crucial to the success of any business. In the next chapter, "Marketing", you'll learn about online promotion. This will include topics like SEO, social media, and email campaigns, as well as useful tools and technologies such as analytics and live chat.
Chapter 8: Marketing
Marketing Strategies for Your Ecommerce Business
Many e-commerce companies are using blogs as an effective marketing tool. A blogging platform can be added to your existing antiques site or created as a separate website. This can provide a number of benefits.
By adding good content and integrating the right search keywords, it helps to build on your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. You can choose your own style and purpose for the blog content you add, allowing you to take advantage of engaging techniques like storytelling, which aligns nicely with the historical aspect of antiques.
The point of a blog is to build a following of prospective buyers who are interested in the content you publish. A more engaged audience for your blog will generate more traffic to your sales pages and more revenue. By publishing fresh, useful content for the many people intersected in antiques, you become an authority on the subject, which builds consumer confidence in your company.
You should also try guest-posting your content on other antiques websites. This expands your reach, your reputation, and helps you to make connections within the industry that could work to your benefit in the future, such as with potential partners or associates. By regularly posting quality content online, you draw visitors to your business, rather than relying on limited traditional advertising to capture their attention.
Most web hosting companies make it simple for you to install free, open-source blogging platforms like WordPress or Joomla. You pick the theme for a particular look, or add functionality to your blog through plug-ins or widgets, and create new posts through easy editing tools. The challenging part is coming up with content your audience will value.
Before you start writing, it's important to understand who your audience is in terms of demographics or buying behavior so you can design posts that target them specifically. Find the topics that they're interested in and write on them with a style that suits your own personality and interest. You might choose to be humorous, exciting, exotic, or anything that fits your nature but connects strongly with your audience.
Keep in mind that blogs don't have to be all text and images. Video blogs are increasingly common and always popular. Many customers prefer video to blocks of text. If you don't create your own, you can always embed YouTube videos that your audience will find useful. Just search for the right video and click Share, then Embed to generate code you can copy and paste into your own pages.
Don't over-publish, so that followers won't feel overwhelmed. Determine a schedule that works for them and for you, such as twice a week. You can check on your progress by regularly visiting your site's visitor statistics.
You should also include a comments section or feedback form and start inviting visitor feedback. This way you can collect information on user opinions and expectations to adjust your content and marketing. Be sure to answer any questions or address any problems promptly; otherwise users will feel that you don't value their input and your audience will shrink.
Search Engine Optimization or "SEO"
Search engine optimization is all about planning your online content so that it ranks higher in search results. A simple search can return millions of site listings; the higher up you are, the more likely searchers will find and visit your site.
The major search engines all have their own criteria and algorithms for how sites are ranked, but they're all fairly similar in their approach. In the vast majority of cases, your site will be crawled by software "robots" in order to discover your content and index the keywords you're using.
Other ranking factors include things like in-bound links from other sites, site structure, visitor traffic, the relevance of keywords to content, and many others. Essentially, the search engines are trying to please their own users by ranking sites of greater value higher on the list of results. Here are some tips to improve your site's ranking:
Keyword Research: Find a keyword tool and determine what the most popular search phrases are that match your content.
Competitor Research: Visit the company sites that rank highest for your keywords and try to learn what they're doing to earn that top ranking.
Native and Off-Page SEO: Both your on-site content and any off-page content should be designed for better SEO. This included optimized keywords, menus and site navigation, and URLs and page titles that reflect what the content is about.
Provide Unique Content: Search engines tend to penalize for content that's duplicated on your other pages, including images and URLs. Try to make content as unique as possible, including page names, menu options, and image file names. Do not copy generic descriptions or advice from other antique listings.
Using Images: Search engines are also indexing images, as well as text content, since images are important to many searchers. In addition to giving them unique names, try to use keywords in the names, and take advantage of the "alt" HTML tag to give them brief descriptions that can also leverage keywords.
Mobile Friendly: An increasing number of users rely on smartphones for internet use, not laptops or desktops. Be sure your site looks orderly and functions well for mobile users.
Customer Reviews: Encourage customers to leave reviews on your site or popular review sites. Any positive review is good SEO for you. Search engine algorithms now take into account that may shoppers rely on product reviews, so the quantity, quality, and frequency of reviews that mention your business contribute to your site ranking.
Social Media: Include social media buttons on your website pages and blog, Encourage visitors to share your content to further grow your market reach and improve your SEO at the same time. This is because search engines take into account your social "signals", which include the number of followers, number of business mentions, and count of likes and shares.
Marketing by email is the modern version of direct-mail marketing, except that email campaigns are much cheaper, more effective, and far easier to manage with the help of modern software tools. You can send hundreds of followers your newsletters, coupons, or special offers with a few clicks.
Emails can allow you to tailor content to any market segment with personalized messages or offers. This produces higher sales, while consistently engaging audiences through well-crafted emails will sustain longer customer relationships. Here are some tips for successful email marketing:
Opt-In: Unsolicited email is considered spam and may be blocked by many email servers. Invite users to become subscribers on your web pages.
Personalize: Always personal emails to address each subscriber by name. It helps them to feel and appreciated as individuals, not marketing targets. You can do this with standard mail merge templates.
Interaction: Emails should invite customers back for further interaction with your site, such as order checking, new product info, or special deals. You can also use emails to invite customers to create reviews or leave feedback you can learn from.
Cart Abandonment: Email tools can help automated sending cart abandonment notices in case customers forget about returning to complete a purchase. If the customer abandoned the transaction for a particular reason, finding out why can help fix software bugs or optimize the purchase process.
Newsletters: Email is an easy way to publish business newsletters. You can set out calendars for specific promotions, talk about special products, or antique market trends, buying tips, or other knowledge that will provide your audience with a perception of your commitment to providing greater value.
Customer Loyalty: Show customers you appreciate them by sending your regards on birthdays, holidays, or rewarding them with digital coupons on your upcoming store events.
Encourage Repeat Business: Send reminders to customers who haven't purchased in a while that you have special promotions running.
Buyer Habits: You can use prior order history to recommend similar products to past purchasers.
Billions of users around the globe are spending more of their time on social media. This presents a valuable marketing platform you can use by engaging with social users. Determine which sites your market segments spend the most time on, such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
These and other visually-oriented formats like Pinterest or YouTube are productive channels for antique sellers. Multiple photos, related stories, or informative videos will generate interest in your business and help sell your items. In addition to posts about your business, you can use social media to link to and respond to questions from sites such as Reddit or Quora.
Your goal should be to provide your social audiences the kind of interesting and valuable content they'll share with their own social followers, such as helpful tips and customer experiences. When posts go viral, you've got an expanding network of followers helping to promote your antiques business. Other users will view posts from friends with greater trust than if it seems like self-promotion coming from you.
Use attention-grabbing hashtags on Twitter and Facebook share links on your product pages. You can also encourage interaction by inviting audiences to antique-related groups, live chat, or webinars. The important thing is that your posts are consistently helpful and entertaining.
Customer Buying Experience In the Digital Environment
The era of the Internet and its capacity to connect users with information, and with each other, has had a huge influence on shopping behavior. The Internet has inspired millions of online entrepreneurs, so it's more crucial than ever that you find ways to separate your business from the competition. This is best achieved through providing exceptional customer experiences, because customer responses will also become a persistent part of digital information.
While positive reviews will help to promote your business, negative reactions and complaints are just as easy to post to industry sites or social media. Users primarily want good value for their money, so negative feedback often generates more attention than positive reviews.
Especially in a market like antiques with changing demand for styles or historical periods, digital customers are often controlled by media stories or cultural trends that are followed online. Collecting data on customer trends can help to anticipate these shifts in the consumer market.
This involves organizing historical sales data such as pricing, sales volume, and demographics to detect patterns that help to forecast what those market trends are. This can even be done at a customer level to predict what a particular shopper is likely to do next. Tracking user engagement with your website also includes behavior such as browsing and search habits, click-throughs, time-on-page, and other metrics to identify user preferences.
This detailed insight into customer habits allows you to provide a more user-friendly experience for each visitor. Predictive searches, for example, save the customer time and streamline results to align with their demonstrated tastes. This is a more efficient process for the customer while helping you to use targeting to boost your antique sales. A more rewarding experience will keep customers coming back, while a poor one will only discourage them.
Good customer service is just as important in e-commerce as any other business. If a customer has problems or questions, they expect you as the seller to provide resolution. Listening to and empathizing with customers are the keys to delivering customer satisfaction. The expectation of good service is what turns purchasers into loyal customers.
In the antique business, items and prices change constantly, so the quality of your service is one of the few things over which you can have complete control. Buyers are likely to judge you based solely on the customer service you provide. The confidence in knowing that you're ready to help even after the sale is a chief selling point for your business.
This doesn't have to be a traditional call-in process. Many digital users prefer not to use the phone. As an online business, you can support customers through other formats. For example, you could address common questions and concerns on an FAQ page so that customers can find their own answers.
However, there should still be channels for instances where the customer needs direct help with their issues, such as email, phone lines, or live chat. Social media is another platform where customers may seek help. Customer service may take place over multiple channels as you attempt to resolve customer concerns, such as starting with queries on social media that can be addressed in depth through chat lines or via email.
Many of today's online companies utilize chatbots. This is smart software that can emulate customer service agents over chat lines to answer basic questions or direct them to other resources. It's a significant improvement over the usual tools such as automated phone menus, in that chatbots can emulate human responses so effectively that a customer may never know that they're dealing with software rather than a live agent.
Social media is a versatile, but powerful platform for your marketing. It will be covered in more depth in Chapter 9. You'll learn how to use your social networks to influence customers, utilize story telling effectively, and establish your own unique branding to make your antiques business stand out from the rest.
Chapter 9: Social Media
Using Social Networks as Marketing Tools
Social media continues to rise in popularity with audiences all over the world. Businesses began using social networks early on for marketing purposes. Using social media to market your antiques provides other benefits apart from the potential to reach millions of people.
It's a very affordable platform. It costs you nothing to launch a social media profile with the major networks like Facebook and Twitter and start engaging with audiences. Distributing your content is as easy as posting it and inviting your followers to share it with others. Social sites are also good for storytelling. You can blend visual images into your posts that people can relate to easily, and use them to build instant recognition of your brand.
Increasing your own following takes some effort but is really a simple plan. Post quality content that your audience will enjoy, and post it regularly. As your followers share it with their followers, and these share it with theirs, and so on, you have a widening circle of people promoting your content for you. That growing audience will generate more traffic for your antiques site. The catch, of course, is that you have to provide great content before you can generate this kind of social buzz.
Social media marketing should also be targeted to your market segment. Many of the major social sites provide analytic tools. Learn what you can about the people who are buying your items and what they have in common. You can develop a good profile of who your best customers are and tailor your posts and marketing to this group. Try to test new ideas and gauge reactions to your posts.
Good content, social mentions, and rising traffic will also increase your visibility with the search engines. Increased conversation about your brand makes you seem more relevant and influential, so that your site ranks higher in search results. Improved site ranking means that even more people will discover your brand and you'll sell more antiques.
It's important that you provide your audience with a good customer experience. Social media users are just as likely to share bad comments as they are good ones, if not more so. You can find tools to monitor your social media mentions so you can respond promptly to bad reviews. The impression that you're responsible and anxious to make amends will go a long way toward countering negative reviews.
Using social media successfully does involve some challenges. It takes some hard work and sound practices. These include choosing the right social platforms for your brand that will connect with your target audience. The time of day that you make posts can also affect the impact you have. It's always a challenge to consistently come up with fresh content that provides value to your followers.
Remember the social platforms are about conversation. Focus on building genuine human relationships, not just selling. Track what kind of feedback you're getting to develop the most productive strategy. Your goal is getting people to like your brand and share your content, so that a growing circle of followers is more likely to buy your antiques.
Telling a story is about sharing experiences in a meaningful way. People want to interact with other human beings, not faceless companies. They prefer to be entertained, not constantly pounded with sales pitches. If you can create an emotional connection to your brand through a good story. People will remember it. It becomes part of them. Think about the simple childhood tales you've remembered your whole life.
In order to win over audiences, storytelling should follow some basic concepts. Stories are not simple, random events. A true story has a start, middle, and ending. It conveys some form of emotional content that audiences can identify with. Stories may involve conflict, overcoming obstacles, humor, a sense of community, illuminating life lessons or values, or simply evoking sympathy. Often, stories have emotional value just because they're fascinating and unique.
However, authenticity is crucial. You don't want to give your followers the idea that you're misleading them through exaggeration, following a formula, or simply indulging in irrelevant entertainment. Real, genuine stories touch people at a deeper emotional level.
Respect the format of the social platform you're using. Blocks of text, for instance, are the wrong media for image-focused sites like Pinterest or Instagram. Don't let yourself fall into the trap of trying to write a dramatic novel. The whole point is to make a personal connection and stimulate dialog.
Your stories should be brand-related. If you're selling 16th century English silver, people don't want to hear the story of Henry VIII. They want to understand more about your brand's promise, commitment, and values at an emotional level. They want a sense of what the experience of buying antiques from you will feel like. If consumers have a clear idea of how your brand reflects on them and on society, they'll be more likely to buy.
To create these associations through stories, relate the personal side of your brand. It's not the company name or logo that stimulates human interest, it's the connection your audience will feel to the people behind the company.
Find stories that show in an interesting way what you've been doing, the things you've learned, or a look at what goes on in the antiques business. You might have a particularly striking story about how you came by a certain antique. This will create a sense of importance and emotional value that only a good story can produce. It will stimulate both more interest and higher perceptions of value for that item.
Use your social media platforms to tell stories about your brand. Engaging stories will promote value through the sense of a comfortable and trusted relationship before prospects even see a listed price. Use your stories to provide a sense of your expertise, your experiences, and the principles you want people to associate with your brand.
Storytelling works best when it's serialized. Don't unload the whole story at one time. Good stories capitalize on suspense and draw out or even manipulate the audience's experience for maximum emotional impact. Your stories should be woven into your marketing campaigns as a series of updates. This is ideal for social media where you want a sequence of concise, meaningful posts that tell a more complex or wider story.
Try to introduce relatable characters with distinct interests and values. This could be yourself, employees, associates, past customers, even a loveable mascot or imaginary figure. Your brand can be relatable all on its own. Think of your brand in deeper terms as having its own philosophy and character. Your social media stories should have basic, universal appeal to human sentiment. Odd or meaningless stories are unlikely to create the emotional connections you want.
Provide your audience an insider's view of what's really happening and the feelings and conclusions that result.
Marketing your brand through storytelling requires building meaning and purpose into what you do. While there's no particular way to measure the value of a story, you can measure the increases in traffic or sales that follow. With every story, invite feedback to learn from your mistakes and get new ideas. Revisit characters or stories that your followers seem to make a special connection to. These can become the spokespeople of your brand.
Different entrepreneurs will have different ideas about what branding is. To some it comes down to names and logos, while to others it's about slogans and advertising style. Branding is all of this and more. It's the total experience of how your company is perceived by audiences over your marketing channels. While visual cues like color schemes and logos are an important part of this, your business is much more.
Good branding is about building recognition. Even someone who's never visited your site or read a review will be more inclined to purchase your antiques if they're familiar with your brand and have a favorable reaction to it. Good branding is also about setting yourself apart from the competition, so followers know immediately who you are and what you have to offer. Your plan for developing your brand should start with those two questions.
Who you are is what your brand represents in a humanistic sense. Your brand, like any person, is the sum of your experiences. From your very start as a company, over the course of your challenges and successes to the operation you've become, your brand is your story.
Your brand is also your particular emotional appeal. You might use any number of approaches to connect with your audience in purely human terms. Some companies make it a point to not only support, but be part of, positive social movements like environmentalism, literacy, education, or medical research. Your brand will have greater value if it fulfills a real need. It becomes something that people will feel compelled to be a part of.
However, it's generally a good idea to steer clear of sensitive topics like politics or religion. While those can also be positive things that connect with large market segments, they naturally breed opposition in those who feel differently. Opposition breeds negative press, so controversy is not a good sales tactic, even if it does create some excitement and attention.
Decide what it is that your company should be known for in order to offer the greatest value. A particular product niche, special deals and savings, great customer service, high quality, and other positive business characteristics can be powerful promotional concepts for your brand. But you must live up to the promise by doing them well, or consumers will sense deception and you'll forfeit their trust. Company brands provide a sense of identity, and that identity should be consistent. Consumers will probably lose interest if your recognizable qualities vanish.
The way in which you share you company history with audiences has become known as"heritage branding". Since no two businesses share the same background, it can become another means of setting yourself apart from other antique dealers. Your company history can be an engaging and consistent story that connects emotionally with your audience, for instance, how and why you got started. This creates a personal interest in your brand.
Your company history may be fairly complicated, so it's important to find an element of it that best suits the brand you're developing. Consider not just your literal history but approaches that followers will relate to. Some ideas include classical values, nostalgia, experience, formal training, company milestones, or the provenance that suggests logical value to your traditions. These concepts are well suited to the antiques trade, and even complement one another if you would rather not focus on a single approach.
Marketing your history may also suggest your personality. If you've developed stories or ads that are edgy, quirky, or romantic, relate those to your company’s heritage. Your story and the way you present it become the essence of your brand. An interesting and engaging history can demonstrate to consumers your passion and eye for quality. These help to build consumer confidence.
Even a well-told story won't necessarily motivate people to purchase. The history you provide should in some way increase your value. False claims or wild stories may undermine that value if the truth is revealed. But if your brand's style is zany humor, you might be able to get away with making up any story you like. Just don't mislead audiences about what you offer or leave them confused about what you do.
Ultimately, a salable brand must be unique, appealing, and consistent. But the essence of your company should be something that's easy to express and to remember.
Getting started in the online antiques business requires determining the goals and business mission you hope to achieve, and doing some research into the marketplace and the competition. Then there are some legalities to take care of, such as licensing, taxes, and regulations regarding e-commerce.
As you move forward, you'll have to take a detailed approach to determining all of your financial needs, such as your startup costs, equipment, and interest rates. You need to work out a sound financial plan that includes the source of your funds and ongoing issues such as bookkeeping, sales forecasts, and risk management.
Setting up your online store involves producing a functional, visually attractive, and mobile-friendly website that provides a good user experience. Selling antiques on the Internet also requires properly photographing and describing your items. You also have to put some thought into standard e-commerce concerns such as predictive shopping, weights and measures, pricing, and organizing your product menus.
Before you begin buying and selling, you need to have a good understanding of where to find antiques and how to appraise their value. In the antiques business, you also need to learn some basic principles on haggling and negotiating.
Caring for antiques properly is essential to preserving their value. Depending on the nature of the item, humidity, temperature, and even bright light could cause accumulative damage. There are also correct practices to be observed when it comes to cleaning, packing, and shipping your items.
You also learned some useful information on online marketing. This is a large topic but you can progress as you master the essentials, such as SEO, blogging, email campaigns, and tracking customer behavior. To support your marketing efforts, you'll need to practice good customer service, online reviews, and collect and review customer feedback. Finally, you explored one of the most important aspects of modern marketing, which is managing your brand and your audiences through social media.
In a competitive digital environment, getting any business from an idea into a profitable enterprise takes some careful planning and hard work. However, there are some advantages to starting an online business. You can generally start for very little money. You're probably working from home, so you can skip the daily commute and get comfortable at your computer.
Digital marketing is generally easier and more affordable than traditional advertising. Once you learn some useful techniques, establish your brand, and come up with the occasional good idea, online marketing becomes a habit that continually drives more traffic to your site. Your website and marketing content is operating 24 hours a day, every day, to bring you more business even while you sleep.
There are some downsides to the antiques trade. There are a number of counterfeits out there, especially online where all you have to go by is a photo. As mentioned in Chapter 7, there will be antiques that were improperly cleaned, stored, or repaired so that they are unlikely to ever fetch the expected value. These issues can be hard to spot without a great deal of experience. Often, you're relying on the reputation of the seller or the whims of the marketplace. Dealing in antiques is an investment, not a fixed process or guarantee of profits, so there will always be some risk involved.
But for someone who truly enjoys the fascination and history of antiques, there is no better way to experience them than to start selling them online. If you like the idea of turning a passion into a home business, you can get started in the antiques industry today.