Web sees growing breed of shopkeepers

More eBay sellers are considering early retirement or leaving their jobs to concentrate solely on their online business, according to surveys in Hong Kong and Singapore.
Written by Vivian Yeo, Contributor

For 10 months, Hong Kong resident Hades Kong sold gemstones on eBay as an additional source of income. Then, he took the plunge and left the IT profession to focus all his energy on selling online.

Kong, a full-time eBay seller since November 2005, receives about 2,000 enquiries about his gemstones and other jewelry products every month. At press time, the site listed over 2,000 sale items.

On average, he takes between one and three days to sell a piece of jewelry--the more expensive pieces take up to a week to sell.

A certain amount of effort is required to ensure the online business is a profitable one, Kong told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail, and that was why he decided to go full-time and channel all his focus on selling online.

There is "too much to handle", he said, adding that he not only has to attend to customer enquiries, he also has to spend time sourcing for products, taking pictures of the sales items and listing each product on the site. He also has to make time for invoicing and accounting, as well as fault handling.

The returns, though, can be encouraging. These days, the 35-year old can earn as much as around HK$20,000 (US$2,574) a month, after discounting his costs. This is a far cry from his early days of selling online, when "in the beginning, it could be as low as HK$1,500 (US$190.05)", Kong said.

There are unpleasant customer stories, such as when winning bidders change their minds about paying for the items. "eBay charges [sellers] commission on completed auctions, and in those cases, I lost money," Kong said. However, he gains satisfaction from building up his own business and receiving compliments from his customers.

Kong joins a growing number of people in Asia who are giving up their day jobs to sell full-time on the popular auction site, according to eBay-commissioned surveys conducted by ACNielsen in Hong Kong and Singapore earlier this year.

In Hong Kong, nearly 12,000 individuals depend on their takings from eBay as a primary or secondary source of income, according to a statement issued by eBay Hong Kong last month. An additional 15,600 sell on a part-time basis, and one in 10 eBay business owners said they were considering early retirement or leaving their jobs to sell full-time.

In Singapore, some 25 percent of the 3,000 eBay business owners indicated the possibility of early retirement or quitting their jobs to sell professionally on the site, eBay Singapore said, in a separate statement. The company added that over 4,000 sellers use eBay as their primary or secondary channel of income, and nearly 10,000 sell part-time on eBay to supplement their incomes.

eBay Hong Kong's managing director Kerry Wong noted that running a store online can help many achieve their desired work-life balance. "The nature of the work environment in Hong Kong is to invest long hours at the office. Our community members are choosing a richer quality of life," he said.

Kong added that the global eBay community--which encompasses about 200 million registered users--is an attractive customer base. "A local retail store would not create as much exposure as eBay does… eBay is [also] getting even more popular now, which means [there are] more business opportunities," he noted.

There is a catch, though. According to Kong, the e-commerce site raises its seller fees "from time to time", which add to his overall costs.

However, seller fees do not apply to all countries. For example, sellers on eBay Singapore do not have to pay to peddle their products on the local site.

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