Merchandise: Recreational herbal products, such as powdered kratom (pictured)
Date of last eBay sale: Oct. 2007
Where he sells now: KratomCafe.com
Robert Tucker and his wife Anna run a classic "mom & pop" business: They handle all of the marketing, accounting, shipping and logistics for Kratom Cafe, the herbal products business he started three years ago.
"Some would call them 'legal highs,'" Tucker says about the uses of his powders, capsules and other products. But plants like kratom also have medicinal use - Tucker uses it to keep arthritis pain in check - and his business has built a loyal fan base.
Tucker decided last January to begin weaning away from eBay. The impetus was a round of fee hikes like those announced last month - something sellers complain has become an annual rite. He crunched the numbers and decided he'd save at least 20 percent by moving sales elsewhere - a projection since borne out by experience. Tucker took a full eight months to shut down his eBay selling, using the time to spread the word of his business's sales outpost on its own website.
"We were running sales simply to be able to tell customers we'd moved," he says. "Customers were writing to us personally to ask why we weren't running as many sales, and we'd direct them to the new site."
Tucker estimates that 500 customers followed him from eBay to KratomCafe.com. His customer list now numbers more than 7,000. By October, when he ran his last eBay auction, he was doing three times the sales volume on his website that he ever had on eBay. A typical day for his business now brings in at least $500 in revenue; on eBay, sales topped out at $100/day.
Word-of-mouth marketing has been key for Tucker: he asks satisfied clients to spread the word on Internet forums. He tried to find other outlets for sales, but couldn't find anything with a buyer pool even close to eBay's size. In the end, it didn't matter: his own site now generates enough sales to keep Kratom Cafe solidly in the black.
"EBay raised the cost to the point that it forced us to go out on our own, and in a way, I have to thank 'em," Tucker says. "It's been a wonderful thing."