No New Posts for 3 Weeks, And This blog Will Be Moving
I wanted to apologize for the fact that I will be unable to write any new posts for the next 2-3 weeks. I feel that I owe all my regular and loyal readers an explanation for why I am having to delay my posts, so here goes.
When I started out as a stamp dealer and blogger, my intention was to focus all my attention and energy on building the best stamp stock that I could, writing top quality content and getting into a position to be able to service collectors from all over the world.
This is no easy task, as I have written about many times in the past. So, when it came to deciding how I wanted to build a business online, I thought that paying a company like e-bay to take care of all the information technology, transaction processing, marketing etc. would make sense. I really thought that e-bay would act like a business partner and help my business grow, in exchange for the $500-$700 I was paying them every month. I was wrong. Dead wrong.
E-bay is a member of a growing group of companies like Uber, Airbnb, Amazon, etc. whose stated mission is to offer cheaper and better products, but whose true mission is really to build unassailable monopolies that will eventually offer you less selection and much, much more expensive prices than you could ever possibly imagine. It is not far fetched. Not at all. What they are doing is sucking consumers in with the promise of low prices, and then once their monopoly power is absolute, they will cut back selection, cut quality and raise prices. They can promise cheap prices because they don't actually own the product they sell: their sellers do, which in Uber's case is their drivers, who own their vehicle, and in Airbnb's case it is the owners of the properties listed on their site. Sure, it is easy to promise to give someone something, when that something isn't yours to give. That is what E-bay does to it's sellers: they suck you in with some early, modest success, so you invest, and expand and commit. That's when the trouble starts. You see your sales growth stop, even while your listings are expanding. If you stop listing for a week because you want to focus on marketing, or doing your tax return - anything other than listing your sales drop. Why? Because E-bay controls the visibility of its listings. Just because something is listed there, doesn't mean that you the buyer can actually find it. Those of you who have been buying on e-bay for a long time will now recognize at least a few instances where you could have sworn that you cannot find a listing that you just saw a few minutes or hours before. Naturally, you assume it sold, only to find it again later. How many of you have scrolled systematically through all the new listings so as not to miss one, when you come across a listing that you already looked at before a page or two back?
These things happen because e-bay's search algorithm shows you only what it wants you to see, and what it wants you to buy. The reason they do this is to that they can suck as many sellers as possible into subscribing for stores and paying a monthly fee. They cannot do that if they have a few larger sellers doing very well. So they steal that prospect of success from those sellers, who would succeed because they offer a quality product and good service, by concealing their listings and bestow it upon the newbies who just signed up, by showing theirs first. It is a classic pyramid scheme.
I can hear many of you thinking: "Yeah so what? Why should I care? I love e-bay! I can buy my stamps cheap. Nobody owes you the right to make a living as a stamp dealer. Just sell cheaper."
But here is the problem with that line of reasoning: the prices on e-bay are NOT true indicators of market value, nor are they sustainable. I'll explain why. Remember how I said that being a stamp dealer is hard work? Well, there is so much work involved in identifying, grading and scanning stamps that the most I have been able to list working 12-16 hour days 5 days a week for 3 years is just over 11,000 listings. Think about that. In three years at approximately 70 hours a week for 50 weeks a year is 10,500 hours. Listings themselves take 10 minutes on average, but there are all the other aspects to running a business to consider. I have only been able to do this because I have a stable pricing structure that I follow. If I had to monitor what everybody else was selling every stamp for in every grade, I would never get anything else done without a team of employees. It would be impossible to make enough margin to pay them all.
The reason why prices on E-bay are low is because e-bay is CONSTANTLY pressuring sellers to lower prices. The biggest weapon at their disposal is to simply choke off a seller's sales until they do what e-bay wants. That is one reason, at least in the case of Buy it Now listings. The other, in the case of auctions is because they simply restrict the visibility of the listing once it receives 1 bid. Think of all the number of stamps that are really good that sell for the minimum bid and ask yourself if it is really possible that on a marketplace as large as e-bay, that NOBODY else wanted the stamp you want AT ALL that consistently. Does that really make sense to you? Of course not. E-bay is creating an environment where there are too-good-to-be-true bargains all the time at the expense of the seller. But a lot of sellers on e-bay are consignment sellers who are getting their material from the many estates that are coming on the market. So it is the spouses and heirs of those collectors who are really getting the short end of the stick.
It will be sustainable until it isn't, which will be when the supply of material from estates begins to slow down, or when sellers finally figure out en-masse that E-bay is not a profitable place to sell, and they leave.
Why and how does this concern you the collector? The answer is LIQUIDUTY, or lack thereof. Your stamps may be worth say, $100,000 after a lifetime of collecting. But it takes a tremendous amount of work to harvest that value and gain access to it. One of the most overlooked and underappreciated functions of stamp dealers has been to provide collectors with a quick and trusted way to gain access to a fair portion of that value quickly. Dealers before E-bay would buy collections on the spot for cash because they were confident that with time, they could get their money back. But most dealers since e-bay are almost exclusively involved now in running bid boards and unreserved auctions where they charge 15-25% for skimming off the top when your stuff sells. Do you know why that is? Because they aren't confident anymore that they can invest the money in inventory and get a reasonable return on their time and money.
This is why many of you find it very difficult to find that individual stamp that catalogues under $1: because there is nobody committed to offering it anymore. So it might as well be $5, or $10. You still won't find it. Not only that, but when the time comes to sell your collection, nobody wants to buy it for anywhere near what it should be worth. Your only options now, for the most part are auction houses that will strip out only items that they think will sell for $250 each and up, and will bulk list the rest, which is guaranteed to get you no more than 10-30% of catalogue before their commission, or to do all the work yourself and become an e-bay seller. It is brutal, and over the long term your collection actually winds up costing you more: less upfront, but more when you consider the lower proceeds on sale, that result from the market conditions that e-bay has created.
So what e-bay has done is to basically destroy the market for collectibles, by destabilizing it and forcing most professional retailers out of business. That in turn has destroyed the liquidity of most stamp collections that used to be very liquid and easy to sell.
So, one aspect of my mission is to try and turn this tide, by putting my money where my mouth is and throwing all my resources into promoting the hobby and doing my part to nurse it back into health. Contrary to what you might think there are A LOT of young collectors. I see them on Facebook all the time. This hobby does not have to die. It can actually thrive. I attempt to do my part by disseminating knowledge and ideas through my blog, by stocking all the stamps that I can and offering them to collectors and buying collections, no matter what the size, for a fair price. Before I did this I was a partner in a Toronto accounting firm making 6 figures. I was comfortable. I could have continued to do that and collect, and be just fine. But I wanted to make a difference. I saw the problem with what e-bay and many dealers were doing to the hobby and I wanted to fix it. But above all I saw all the unmet need from collectors who just want to build their collections a few stamps or sets at a time and want to actually learn about the stamps they already have.
It took me 2.5 years to finally figure out what e-bay was doing to my business, where I had actual evidence, and to decide to get out. But I knew I couldn't just leave without a website of my own. So, I turned to an e-commerce company, a company that I was already dealing with for my e-bay listings for a solution. The product for e-bay was amazing, and so without really doing a lot of due diligence, I assumed that their e-commerce product would be just as good. It wasn't, but it had a lot of good features, so I stuck with it and spent the past 6 months working in earnest to get a functioning website for 50% more $ per month than the top of the line product out there.
It has been a disaster: even though I created most of my listings on the e-bay product that the same company offered, there is no easy way to migrate them to the other product. It requires tons of editing and rudimentary knowledge of CODE to actually do it. So this is why my listings have been going up so slowly. There is no way to get e-bay listings that were created on e-bay onto this platform, so even if I could get all of the listings created with the related product onto the platform, I will lose about 1,500 of my e-bay listings, which represents about 9 months of full time work. There is no social media integration whatsoever, and no built in e-mail function, no ability to support language translation and no blogging function.
But even in the face of all that I continued to press on, getting to 1,920 listings last week. Then came the last straw. Up to that point I had done some rudimentary transaction testing and I knew checkout was working. But I had never really tested the speed that closely. I decided to run some Facebook ads to promote the website and I got something like 3,000 clicks. The bounce rate, i.e. the number of people who left the homepage without going any further was close to 100%, and there were no orders. Not only that, there were tons of abandoned shopping carts, where people had selected items only to abandon them at checkout. So I started to do some digging and I found out that:
- It was taking 6 seconds on average to load the pages. That is about 3-4 seconds longer than it takes nearly everyone else, including e-bay.
- It was taking 6-8 seconds to add an item to the cart, which was causing people to click the same item 2 or three times, resulting in errors.
- I will have all my e-bay listings up on my new website, all searchable.
- I will have both Paypal and Shopify checkout, which allows other payment options.
- This blog will move to my website and I will be able to finally add you to a mailing list, should you wish to be on one, with no restrictions.
- The website will be translatable into any language and will support most currencies.
- The web pages will be fast, uncluttered and visually appealing.
- You will be able to communicate with me instantly using Facebook messenger.
- You will be able to select variations in stamps from drop down menus so that I can cover all the varieties with just a few listings instead of hundreds, which will make it much easier to scroll through the listings.
- This means that I won't need as many store categories.
- You will have a "live search" function, which means that it is smart - it will be able to find items from what you type in, much more easily than a static search, where I have to define the search terms.