Starting An Online Sports Card Shop

While existing ‘old timer’ card shop owners might never venture over to the online side of the business, anyone just starting out  or planning on being in the sports trading card business for a long time should build an online presence.

The online marketplace website options online is consistently changing. Gone are the days where you need to spend lots of money, or list a ton of items. Many sellers are reaching buyers one-on-one via Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, and even collector forums. Many group breakers started with a live-streaming channel & used social media to sell spots.

If you’re just starting out, building your network of connections via free social media routes is fine. Strictly listing items for sale on sites like ebay, craigslist, or other free/pay-as-you-go type sites is fine for most sellers too. However, in order to really generate consistent revenues – I believe you need some kind of presence online, one of which that you own. Additionally, websites can draw customers into your store if you own a shop already. Not to mention, there are more ways to make money with website content … so your work building a webstore goes beyond just making sales.

What Marketplace Software?

All options are going to have pros & cons. The marketplace software options I’d avoid 100% of the time are one’s that take a percentage of the sale. You’re already going to pay payment processors & other website related fees, you don’t need your marketplace software taking a percentage of the sale along with it.

First I’m going to walk you through how I would setup an online store. There are lots of other ways to do this, but as you will read later on, there’s a reason why we’ll use a content based platform like WordPress to be the backbone of our e-commerce platform.

  • Register your domain at Godaddy
    Cost: $0.99 on sale or $14.99 full price

You can register your domain where you wish, but I’m used to Godaddy.

If this is your 1st website, they will install WordPress for free. There are other hosts, but from my experience Hostgator is fairly solid, cheap & they have a standard Cpanel interface, which either you or any of the programmers you hire will want to use.

  • Change The DNS Settings at Godaddy to point to Hostgator
    Basically you need to point the domain to the server at Hostgator that will be the home of your website’s files. Hostgator will send you an e-mail with the nameserver address (usually 2 of them) that you’ll need to change on Godaddy.
  • Buy an SSL Certificate & have Hostgator install it for you
    Hostgator I think has a free option for business account. Otherwise about $40 – $99/year

Don’t try to cut corners here. Also, it’s not that expensive. Let your host/domain provider handle the SSL process. Even if you plan on running all payments through PayPal – SSL is a must for any e-commerce site. Also, we will be collecting (and storing) customer data, such as addresses & orders – so the extra layer of security is needed.

That’s about it on the hard cost side.
$15 Domain
$150 Hosting
$99 SSL
= $264 all-in your 1st year.

Remember, $264 is with no coupon codes/discounts … ect. Compared to starting a brick & mortar card shop this is pennies. If you can’t afford the costs I have listed above – I don’t think you’re ready for your own e-commerce website, but you can read on if you wish.

Now things get a bit more technical. Getting to this point is fairly easy because your hosting company should do all/most of the initial install for no additional cost. The rest requires you to teach yourself the technical knowhow (recommended) or learn to outsource the technical aspects you don’t understand (also recommended, but requires some knowledge). Or you can just pay me to do it (highly recommended if you have the budget for it).

  • Install WooCommerce Plugin for WordPress.
  • Find a theme you like & customize it with your logo/color scheme.
  • Integrate PayPal, and other forms of payment processors.
  • Make sure you’re forcing SSL at checkout
  • Then make sure your website shows up when you type https://yoursite.com AND https://www.yoursite.com.
  • Start listing some test inventory.
  • Tweak your categories & menu structure based on inventory
  • Test order a product to make sure the order process & payments are going through
  • Tweak the order flow to meet your sites needs.
  • Explore all the WooCommerce add-ons as you grow your webstore.
  • Promote your store via a small ‘beta’ network of people
  • If all goes well, begin marketing to your target market

The above would take me about a day or two. For those that have no experience working with WordPress or developing sites. The above could honestly take weeks or even months. If you’re not ready to teach yourself the basics of WordPress design/implementation – you should probably outsource everything except listing the products. Outsourcing isn’t particularly difficult when done right – but you do have to know how to communicate with programmers who don’t speak English all that well. I recommend giving outsourced workers one specific job & that’s it. So using the above example – I would hire someone to do my logo. Then I’d hire someone just to style my WordPress site. Then I’d hire someone to integrate PayPal. Hire non-English speaking programmers for 1 job at a time, as it gets too messy if you try to explain multiple jobs.

The other thing you can do is contact me. The only problem with that is I’m not cheap. Even though it wouldn’t take long for me to help you setup your webstore – my time is extremely valuable to me. The time/effort I’d save you contracting or learning how to do all this yourself on YouTube or reading support blogs is worth a lot too. Basically I could setup your site to where all that was left to do is list your inventory (which is similar to ebay … or you can bulk upload inventory via excel). My starting price is $349 and it can go up from there depending on the complexity of your design requests. Please feel free to contact me if you’re interested.

ecommerce setup

An example of a basic WooCommerce store setup

Okay, so there are other webstore marketplace providers. However, I like using WordPress mainly because it does allow you to build out content portions of your website …. which I will get to in a little bit could be the most valuable (and profitable) portions of your website.

What to list?

Personally I’d avoid listing anything online where your margins are slim – such as un-opened boxes. Given the competition, and the fact that Blowout Cards & DA Cards are run by distributors themselves – you have no reason to compete in that marketplace. That should help alleviate any problems pricing boxes in your shop differently than you would online.

Start off specializing in a certain product/inventory

So we know that there’s absolutely no need to try and compete with DA Cards & Blowout Cards in the un-opened wax marketplace. If you’ve read our Group Breaking profit margin article, you’ll know that margins can be slim there too, and that’s breakers with a following already. But we can learn something from group breakers. Essentially they serve a very small niche market of sports collectibles …. and I believe that’s a really good strategy. What I think the best starting point for a new e-commerce store would be to specialize in one product.

Here are some examples:

  • Only 1/1 Cards
    One of One cards are interesting because you can often buy them on ebay for affordable prices. I could see having a standard markup (roughly 30-50%) and building out a webstore from there. You could also advertise that you are buying 1/1 cards which would bring in even more potential leads/customers.
  • Only “Green Bay Packers” Cards
    Insert whatever team you want, but teams like the Packers, Steelers, Cowboys, Yankees, Lakers, Bears, Cubs, SF Giants, Red Sox … ect have deep fan followings that love to collect their cards. Listing all one team is certainly going to impress a fan that visits your site.
  • Only ‘Vintage’ Cards
    The sales of what’s considered vintage baseball (and football/basketball) are in my experience, some of the fastest selling cards (if priced correctly).
  • Only “Golf” Cards
    Insert any one of the non-major sports like Soccer or MMA above since there’s far less websites that cater to those folks.
  • Only Complete/Team Sets
    Maybe you have a ton of base sitting around. That stuff does move on ebay, usually in complete set or team set form. Building out a webstore where you list sets is viable. I remember when I ran my card store – one of the most requested items were complete sets of Topps Baseball that dad’s wanted to give to their son each year. I could see targeting new fathers with some kind of advertisement & maybe getting them on a renewing subscription if you wanted to get real fancy.

Why You Want To Specialize

You might ask – why should I specialize? First is it’s easier for your store to stand out & look authoritative. You could have a store called “World’s Best Sports Card Shop” and have 20,000 items listed … which is a lot. Only problem is COMC, ebay, and Beckett have way more cards. However if you advertised yourself as the “World’s Best Green Bay Packers Shop” with 2,000 cards … you might actually be telling the truth. While ebay/COMC and others have more Packers cards – the casual buyer (who often isn’t price sensitive) will be more impressed with your store that caters to their needs. Second is targeting your customers becomes much easier & cheaper! Instead of trying to attract a wide range of collectors to your site; attracting a very specific buyer & having the inventory to meet their needs is more likely to increase your sales. Also, targeting those users on Google, Facebook and other places is easier & cheaper because you won’t be wasting a ton of money on ads that don’t target the right people. Someone searching for “Green Bay Packers” cards might be more inclined to buy off a site devoted to those cards than a site like ebay where that user would need to sort/search through thousands of items they aren’t interested in. It also allows you to tailor specific items to these fans, such as Green Bay Packers fan packs, grab bags or other grouping of items.

Remember, when you’re just starting out as an e-commerce website – it’s far easier to target a market with fewer sellers. Certainly if your webstore becomes successful you can branch out into other areas, but it’s critical you begin small & target a specific market first. Take group breakers websites for example. Some of them have been able to stick around mainly because they are providing a service to a specific niche customer that exists in this industry. Finding your own unique niche will mean you have less competition, and your site will stand out among the many that already exist.

When you are unique, you also get pricing power. In order to compete with Blowout Cards prices, you’d have to sell the product below costs. Since that’s a really dumb idea, creatively adding value to a product/cards is the way to make more money. Group breakers add value by breaking live on webcam. Team set and rip/flipper type sellers add value by grouping together collectible cards in quantities set builders/collectors are searching for. It’s not overly complicated, you just want to make sure you are looking for ways to add margin to your sales … not undercut someone already in the market.

Now we get to the point where I explain why we are using WordPress. One of the reasons I like using WordPress, even for e-commerce client setups is because it allows you to leverage the blogging platforms strength which is content display. To start your sports trading card e-commerce store, here are the 5 things you should include right away.

  • Pictures of your store
    Have as many pictures of your smiling face & shop as possible. This helps build trust & give a face to the business. If your family is involved, snap a few smiling photos with them at your shop even if you’re all pulling each others hair out most of the time.
  • Testimonials
    Having other people tell you you’re great is good for an e-commerce website. Assume every visitor to your website has no idea who you are – and it’s your job to get them to trust you.
  • Hobby shop/Collecting Tips!
    This website you’re reading right now wouldn’t exist if people weren’t out there searching for information on how to run a hobby shop. Why not provide your own tips? How about post some buying/selling tips? Maybe post some tips you’ve learned about selling on ebay! See some hobby trends based on what you see everyday – post those on your site too.
  • YouTube Videos
    I’ve been casually posting videos of opening packs, going to The National, and other sports card related stuff online for a while now. The interaction & value I see from YouTube is exceptional. If I was a retail/e-commerce shop today, I would focus primarily on YouTube and Facebook to drive traffic today.
  • Collector Data
    If we’re selling Green Bay Packers cards … put up downloadable/printable checklists for Green Bay Packers players. If you’re selling 1/1 cards – put up the top 10 selling 1/1 cards each month. You might find that putting up this data becomes some of the most popular parts of your webstore!

Why is content other than products for sale so important?? I actually learned first hand that free content is more profitable than selling cards! Back in 2006 I just started a card shop with my brother. While it seems like a really fun job, there are lots of time where you’re just sitting there by yourself in your card shop. I would pass the time by writing sports card collecting tips & put them up on my e-commerce website. After a while I started noticing the most popular pages on my website were the content pages & it was in-turn leading to more sales. After I closed my store I started working on a new sports card website called Sports Card Radio. Many of the tips I posted on my original e-commerce site are still on the site today.

The most interesting aspect of it all, was I found out that simply referring people to ebay via links on my website was more profitable than actually selling the cards themselves! I did so well referring customers to ebay that they invited me to Las Vegas several years in a row to an industry conference. Since then the program has cut back on its payouts (which is typical in the affiliate business) but I dug these stats out of my e-mail which show two of my better years. GMB = Sales …. so I was able to refer $1.182 MILLION dollars in sales to ebay, which in turn netted me $57,080 …. far more profit than I ever made running a card store!

ebay stats

Anyone interested in learning how you can make a living posting free content online can contact me here.

That’s why I recommend the WordPress/WooCommerce setup for an e-store. If your e-store idea flops, un-install WooCommerce with one click and you can easily turn it into a content only website, which as you can see can be wildly profitable. Also if your webstore really takes off and you need to migrate to a more robust platform – that’s not too difficult given the open source nature of WooCommerce – exporting your inventory might be easier than on a proprietary solution like SquareSpace, Weebly or Wix.

Driving Traffic To Your Store

You could have the best items & the best prices but don’t sell anything. So you need to drive traffic to your website.

  • Use ebay as a lead generation machine

Instead of trying to squeeze out profits on ebay, I’d try to squeeze out returning customers to your webstore. Simple things like ordering cheap business cards on VistaPrint and including them in every shipment. Also add each buyer to an e-mail list & send them an e-mail with links to your webstore … not ebay. Inside your e-mails, include some of the content you are working on above & include some photos, fun stuff … ect. Not every e-mail needs to be a sales pitch.

  • Get people to like you on Facebook

I use to not value Facebook all that much … but that was in 2008 when it was first starting. Thankfully I setup pages to all my key websites and have a nice base of fans and let them all kind of grow at a slow trickle over the years. The biggest reason to have fans is because Facebook allows you to “boost” posts you make to your page for not that much money. For example … a typical post to your Facebook page will likely only reach a small percentage of the people actually following your page. In my experience it can be around 10% – 30% of your actual fans will see your post. That’s because Facebook shows posts on users timelines based on some kind of internal algorithm. In other words … they make you pay to get closer to 50% – 80%+ views on your posts.

While in some cases it’s not worth paying to boosts your Facebook posts, keep in mind even a well crafted e-mail campaign isn’t going to be opened by all users. If there was a way to boost the opening of my e-mail newsletter I’d probably pay it … and that’s the beauty of Facebook. For a few dollars (usually $2 – $5 per boost) you can boost a post and get a large portion of your followers to see it. That’s why it’s important to get Facebook users to like your Facebook page. That way you can re-market those users with targeted Facebook posts you boost so they all can see it. Some examples of good things to boost are:

  • Contests
    Probably the best thing to boost. You’ll get likes/shares .. ect. Don’t expect too much reaction to your contests though if you’re just starting out. Someone with few followers could be giving away good stuff but no one will care. That’s why you should start small with your giveaways & try to reach as many people as possible. Single cards you can place in a plain white envelope are a good way to reach lots of people quickly. The goal is to build up a following of people who know you deliver on your contest promises … then cut it down to better prizes … but where you only need to ship one or two packages max. The ultimate goal is to gain Facebook fans so we can market them with stuff we make money on.
  • Sales/Discounts/Coupon Codes
    This is less effective if you’re contently discounting. Imagine if Apple had a 50% off sale on all of it’s products …. the internet might actually temporarily shut down because they rarely discount their items. However if Gap announces a 50% off sales, almost no one will notice because they discount all the time. If you rarely have sales – announcing that on Facebook & boosting the post is a great way to drive even more sales.
  • E-Mail Newsletter
    You should always be trying to get your Facebook fans to sign up for your newsletter and vise-versa. That way if Facebook bites the dust like Myspace … we at least have the users e-mail. Also, if you can boost a Facebook post where you can judge the cost against the amount of e-mail sign ups you get … it can be really easy way to judge the value of your Facebook ad campaigns.
  • Google Ads
    Recently Google has eliminated the side-bar ads that used to display on desktop computer search results with a Products Listing Ad (PLA) where it’s essentially photo’s of you products. Not sure you really need to step it up to this form of advertising in the early stages, however Google ads are really effective if you have a brick & mortar shop. Setup correctly, someone located in your region would type in ‘sports card shop’ and your result would appear #1 in the organic position & the paid position.
  • Card Shows
    Always be marketing your shop at shows. Have a tablet or signup sheet on your table too that allows people to sign up for your e-mail list. Maybe attach a contest to it to give people an incentive to sign up.

Why is it so important to capture your customer data (e-mail/interests/location)?? The obvious ones are you can send them an e-mail anytime you want! That can become very powerful as your list grows. Even small lists of 200 – 300 subscribers can yield big results, imagine when you get to 2,000 – 3,000 or more names in your e-mail list!! Only a small fraction … like 1% or 2% need to buy something from you for it to be a profitable day.

Additionally, just like I talked about earlier with web content being valuable – having a large list of e-mail addresses (and Facebook likes) is valuable in lots of ways. You can leverage that and charge other businesses to be included in your e-mail newsletter or Facebook post too!

Card Shop Pricing Dilemma

When I owned a card store, one of the the dilemmas I found with having both online/offline sales was pricing product at one price in my store, but in order to be competitive online, the pricing had to be much lower online. In those days I was selling more via ebay so it wasn’t a huge issue, however in today’s landscape, brick & mortar card shops really could use the extra income/cash flow an online store can bring.

First thing to do is know your customers. While ebay, COMC, Blowout Cards & others have gotten more popular over the years, I was always surprised how many of my sports card customers were not interested in buying cards online. Many simply just enjoyed getting out & shopping maybe with their kids as a bonding event. Most of my regular ‘big spenders’ would usually visit my shop on a lunch break, or after work. Opening packs for them was kind of like going to the saloon or bar, the guys didn’t care if they were paying 20 – 40% or more than online prices.

If that’s the case, I wouldn’t worry too much about having different prices online vs your store prices. Second, remember that you’re not setting up an online store to compete in the low 10% margin stuff. Trust me, it’s not worth your time. If you are a hobby shop owner already, just focus on listing items that you have good margin selling. Also, use your website as more of a testimonial to your business so when new customers located in your area are searching for shops – they end up coming into your store because you had a nice website. When I owned a store – my website advertised that we were buying …. as anyone that owns a card store knows, can often be some of the best deals if you’re willing to tell 9/10 people their 1990’s cards aren’t anything. My phone would often ring off the hook from people looking to sell cards – normally at prices where I could easily turn around and make money selling them.

In summary, if you have a card store, I understand you can price things at ‘internet prices’ online and be charging customers more in your store. Also, if you have employees or someone take over in the shop for a day or two … managing inventory can be somewhat difficult if it’s co-mingled. But I still think it’s important to build your online content & reputation online. Use your website more as a tool to convince people to come to your store location rather than buy online. For existing customers, use your website to get them to sign up for e-mail lists & to follow you on Facebook so you can expand your reach.

Patients Patients Patients

The list of people who started a website to only give up on it is longer than failed card shops. From my 13+ years building websites of all kinds – I can tell you that it takes time to see results. Those times have shrunk quite a bit if you pay for advertising on Google, Facebook and other mediums … but someone on a shoestring budget can expect to not see results for 6 – 12 months. It took me 2 years to build up Sports Card Radio to the point where it was earning nearly 6-Figures per year … if I had given up when my e-commerce site flopped – I would have never reaped the rewards.

So the key is to be patient. E-Commerce websites are all about testing, re-testing & adjusting. Things change quickly. What works today, won’t work tomorrow. However, someone not having success today can make a few small changes and see big results down the road. Invest just 10 – 15 mins per day over 6 – 12 months and you’ll be ready to leverage that work into something that can earn income for you.

Need More Help?

I give lots of information out for free. It’s my hope that my successes & failures can provide you with some insight into the hobby. My focus will always be on providing great free content. But sometimes people need more individual attention. If that’s the case, please contact me using the form on this page.

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Anonymous - March 9, 2016

Great advice!

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Adam - March 9, 2016

Stay away from HostGator. They are just recommended here, with an affiliate link, so the author collects a commission. Shady….

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Colin Tedards - March 9, 2016

I’ve had more issues with my $95 hosting account hosting 2 sites than my $10 hostgator account which has dozens of sites. That being said I have sites hosted on Godaddy, Bluehost & others. Every host has problems. The use of affiliate links & such keep the content free.

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WilliamGot - June 10, 2016

This is one awesome post.Thanks Again. Soter

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