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Cliff Ennico


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What People Really, Really Want When They Buy Online


"I'm in the process of setting up a Web site to sell antiques and collectibles. I'm not exactly sure what type of merchandise I should be carrying. Do you have any advice on what people are looking for when they shop online and what sort of content I should have on my Web site?"

Oh, boy, do I ever …

When people search online, there are four things they are looking for (some people look for all of these, others just one or two).

First, they are looking for information. The Internet is all about content and making it accessible to interested people free of charge. Your Web site should not just be a "store." It should be a source of information about certain types of antiques and collectibles that people are interested in knowing more about.

And not just any kind of information. I've said it before in this column and will do so again now: Everything that appears on your Web site should be cool, compelling content. People these days have short attention spans and expect to have a measure of fun, excitement or drama when they do stuff online. Your content must be interesting, captivating and entertaining — the sort of stuff people will e-mail their friends about, creating a positive buzz for your Web site.

Second, they are looking for stuff they can't find in their local stores. I have a Smith Corona typewriter that I bought in the early 1990s. Because I'm a fairly fast typist, I just find it a lot easier to use an old-fashioned typewriter to address envelopes and create mailing labels than to print them from Microsoft Outlook. Needless to say, I'm not able to find replacement parts, print wheels, ribbon cartridges and correction spools for a 1990s-era typewriter in my local Staples or Office Depot outlets.

So where do I get these typewriter supplies when I need them? EBay! There are several eBay Stores that actually specialize in typewriter parts, and I'm one of their best buyers.

If you're selling antiques and collectibles on eBay (or anywhere else online), do some research and find out whether there are any antique or collectible categories that are underrepresented on the Web. Online retailers generally do best when they focus on a niche and become known for their knowledge and expertise within that niche. So, for example, you might want to focus your Web site on "tobacciana" (tobacco-related paraphernalia, usually from the 1800s) or "hippie/counterculture artifacts" from the 1960s.

Third, people are looking online for stuff they CAN buy at their local stores but at deep, deep discounts.

To put it bluntly, a lot of people online are shopping for wholesale prices; they won't pay retail on eBay or anywhere else online if they can find the products locally at the same price.

If you've got a baby, you need diapers. Lots of diapers. You can always find them locally, and if you need to buy in bulk, there's a Wal-Mart, Costco or BJ's Wholesale Club within a short drive of your home (although no drive is short enough with a screaming infant in the back seat). If people are shopping for diapers online, they are looking for prices that beat even Wal-Mart's "regular low, low prices." If you can offer bulk lots of diapers for half the "big box retail" prices or less, you probably can find customers for them online. Otherwise, don't sell diapers online.

Fourth, and finally, people are shopping online for people with their same interests. Social network sites such as MySpace and Second Life are built on the principle that people are still interested in living in "villages" or communities, but no longer strictly geographical ones. Like it or not, the communities of the future are likely to be virtual ones — you will find you have more in common with someone in Timbuktu than you do with the person who lives on the other side of the privet hedge in your backyard.

Always have a space on your site where buyers and other visitors can interact with you and each other. This can take the form of a Weblog or "blog," a "community chat room," a "discussion board" or a series of "Webinars" on topics of interest to the people who buy from you. If you sell cast iron antiques from the 1800s, for example, you might want to post a request for tips from collectors on how to remove rust from these items without damaging them. Trust me, you will get responses, and the search engine "spiders" love stuff like that.

One more thing: Always be sure that everything on your Web site is what your customers want to see, not what you think they should see. I read a lot of blogs in my line of work, and far, far too many of them remind me of that old song from the movie "Midnight Cowboy": "Everybody's talkin' at me, I don't hear a word they're sayin', only the echoes of my mind …"

Cliff Ennico ( is a syndicated columnist, author and host of the PBS television series "Money Hunt." His latest books are "Small Business Survival Guide" (Adams Media, $12.95) and "The eBay Seller's Tax and Legal Answer Book" (AMACOM, $19.95). This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our Web page at




3 Comments | Post Comment
I just started a site and any input would be appreciated.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Ashley
Thu Mar 11, 2010 4:15 PM
Excellent opportunity close to Rio de Janeiro to buy 350.000 meters farm in a natural paradise with its own private beach and a colonial style house.
If you was interested in please e-mail me to receive a little presentation in pdf format.
This is a serious advertsement, not interested people are pleased do not apply for.
Thank you.
Comment: #2
Posted by: nelson harry
Sat Jul 16, 2011 1:17 PM
Thank for the information this was very help. My website is
Comment: #3
Posted by: alvin brown
Sun May 5, 2013 8:16 PM
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