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More Businesses Like the Bidding on Internet Auction Sites

July 21, 1999|LAWRENCE J. MAGID | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Thousands of entrepreneurs have found a way to make money on the Internet without having to create their own Web sites. They are selling products and services through online auction sites such as EBay.Com, Auctions.Yahoo.Com and Auctions.Amazon.Com.

I used to think of these auction sites mainly as a way for people trying to clean out their garages. But EBay Vice President Steve Westly says thousands of people use EBay and other auction sites to do more serious business.

"We have over 10,000 people that make some or even all of their living working on EBay," he said.

EBay, according to Westly, has even turned some work-at-home entrepreneurs' enterprises into larger operations, adding employees who handle shipping and other tasks.

Steven Meltzer, who owns Santa Monica Puppet & Magic Center, had a tough time after moving his store to a new location. But he's making up for it on EBay. Meltzer carries collectible puppets, which have found a small niche market. "I was at a point where I didn't know what to do, and I realized I had a backlog of collectible puppets which I posted for sale on EBay," he said.

Meltzer said he finds the process to be "quite easy" because he doesn't have to run ads, go to flea markets or hang around his store to sell his puppets.

Jason Rotgun, who sells cards and collectibles from his Sportscard Kingdom store in Brentwood, is also making money through EBay, selling Pokemon, Beanie Babies, rare collectibles and other items under the seller name jjtrading@earthlink.net.

He's been doing it for about two months and has held more than 400 auctions. Although Rotgun is happy with his experience on EBay, he cautions that it's far from a way to get rich quick.

"It definitely takes a lot of work to upload, download and answer all the e-mails," he said. "It's no different than someone answering phones all day."

Even online, says Rotgun, "customer service is huge." It would be a mistake, he says, "to think you can just put something out there and have it sell without any contact."

On each auction posting, Rotgun lists his e-mail address and store phone number along with the description and picture of each item, so that buyers know they have a place to go if they have questions or problems with a purchase. "Buyers feel more comfortable knowing that they're ordering from a retail business," he said.

Others use online auctioning in lieu of an actual store.

Laila Ansari and Gregory Jung used to operate a store in Washington, D.C., selling rare and antiquarian books. Business was good, Ansari said, but the couple wanted a change. "We packed up and moved to San Francisco, and after about four months Gregory started looking into ways to get back into the book business."

Rather than open a new store, they started selling through online auction sites. Online sales, according to Ansari, are going "very well."

"We can reach a large market, and it's easier than waiting for foot traffic to walk into a store," she said. An added benefit: Out-of-town and foreign customers are easier to reach.

Becoming a seller on any of the major online auction sites is an easy process. You register and agree to some basic rules of conducting business. You might need a digital camera to post pictures of your merchandise on EBay and other sites that allow photos. Auction sites all have their own ways of handling settlements between buyer and seller, but all sites charge a commission. EBay, for example, charges a commission of 1.25% to 5% depending on the item, as well as a posting fee of 25 cents to $2.

In addition to the major players, there are businesses running specialized auction sites such as SeriousCollector.Com, which charges $29 a month for professional dealers plus a small fee (it starts at 50 cents) per transaction. Other general auction sites include BoxLot and AuctionUniverse.Com.

You'll find an annotated listing of auction sites at http://www.itrack.com/links.html, a new Web site whose purpose is to help buyers find products on multiple auction sites. A couple of good places to learn more about auctions are AuctionWatch (http://www.auctionwatch.com/) and iTrack.Com.

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Technology reports by Lawrence J. Magid can be heard at 1:48 p.m. weekdays on KNX (1070). He can be reached at larry.magid@latimes.com. His Web site is at http://www.larrysworld.com. On AOL, use keyword "LarryMagid."

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