Episode 48 – A 20+ Year Internet Marketing Veteran Shares Strategies for Getting Started Selling on Amazon
You might be familiar with one of the best-selling books on e-commerce and Amazon, “The Silent Selling Machine”. This episode welcomes, Jim Cockrum, the author of “The Silent Selling Machine” and a true grizzled e-commerce veteran. Jim and Bradley discuss the very early days of e-commerce and selling on Amazon.
Episode 48 covers:
- 01:12 – Ancient Times – Jim’s Story of an e-Commerce Life Before Amazon
- 02:20 – Microsoft Software Licensing was His Last Real Job
- 03:20 – Trying to Catch Those Loose $100 Bills Flying Around
- 05:30 – Is eBay Still a Viable Sales Model?
- 07:05 – Great One-Off Selling but Not Very Scalable
- 10:00 – Is There a Rule of Thumb about Sales on eBay Versus Amazon?
- 11:55 – Jim Has a Confession to Make
- 14:57 – 1st Edition of The Silent Sales Machine is “Published”
- 19:00 – Bradley – “What is Jim’s Secret in Being so Universally Respected?”
- 21:10 – Jim – How to Lead Your Community
- 24:40 – Both Bradley and Jim Can’t Stand Watching People be Misled
- 29:15 – Want to Get Started on Amazon? – First Sell Your Unopened Christmas Presents
- 31:15 – Rising from the Ashes – A Lightning Strike Reaffirms His Sense of Community
- 34:04 – How to Contact Jim
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Bradley Sutton: Today, we’ve got one of the OGs in the Amazon world. He has one of the most widely read books about selling on Amazon. He goes back so far in e-commerce that he was one of the very first-ever PayPal users. He’s going to bring us his experiences, success stories, and even tell us about how sometimes you don’t even need a tool like Helium 10 to sell online. Say whaaaaaaaat?
Bradley Sutton: How’s it going, guys? Welcome to the Serious Sellers Podcast. My name is Bradley Sutton, and I’m joined today by Jim Cockrum who I’m very pleased to have on here. Jim is the author of a book that’s probably been read more times than any other book that even has anything to do with Amazon at all in the history of books. I think over 1 million people have read this book, and you’ve just had tons and tons of history selling not just on Amazon but on other platforms and great insights on being an entrepreneur and a great story from what I hear. I’m going to learn about it for the first times here today. But Jim, welcome to the show. I’m happy to have you.
Jim Cockrum: It’s so great to be here, Bradley. It’s an honor to be invited. I’m looking forward to hanging out with you a little bit and the great listeners to this great show.
Bradley Sutton: Awesome. Thank you. Thank you again. So let’s hop right into it. I know you are not a new seller. You did not even start on Amazon. Can you let myself and the listeners know your story? What is the Jim Story here?
Jim Cockrum: Sure. I am one of those ancient dudes who started off on eBay back before Amazon was even in the picture. I remember very well the days, we’re coming up on 20 years ago now, where you’d sign in to eBay, and some days it would be working and some days it wouldn’t. And it was a real random experience back then. Very few people were actually doing it as a full-time living, and I got hooked early though. I had one of the first PayPal accounts ever set up, and I was all in on eBay, going to those eBay live events and just basically, sharing the journey.
Bradley Sutton: What year was this about?
Jim Cockrum: Oh, we’re coming up on 20 years now, man. I’ve been doing this full time. I haven’t had a real job in 17 years, and for three or four years before that I was goofing around pretty hard online and generating some nice income, just basically playing around on eBay at the time.
Bradley Sutton: What was your background? Did you have a business background?
Jim Cockrum: Yeah, the last real job I had was in sales. I worked for Microsoft and sold software licensing and was doing fairly well. And I won’t tell a whole lot of this story, because I don’t want to bore anyone. Plus, I dive a little bit deeper into it in the Silent Sales Machine book that you so graciously mentioned. I appreciate that. To make a long story short, yeah, I was doing well in sales and coming in on that six-figure number that everyone’s always going after. It was a solid career that I had, but I was having so much more fun online than I was in my real job, and it started kind of seeping its way into my real job to the point where my bosses were noticing, and we had some conversations and I ended up leaving kind of suddenly, and jumped in full time, like I said, 17 years ago into eCommerce.
Bradley Sutton: And were you doing arbitrage, or did you have your own private label brand? What kind of things were you selling on eBay?
Jim Cockrum: Yeah, a little bit of everything. I said back then and I say to this day, once you understand the landscape of the opportunities we have available to us, and it’s as true now as ever as it’s ever been, possibly even more true now than it’s ever been today, there’s hundred-dollar bills blowing around in the wind. Everywhere you look, it’s just a matter of wearing the right glasses. It’s just a matter of exposing yourself to the right information. Opportunity everywhere. So what did I sell? Everything. I’ll tell a brief version that I think may provide some insight and inspiration, hopefully. I started off selling event tickets.
Jim Cockrum: I would buy tickets to events around the United States. In the United States, some states allow you to flip tickets for a profit and other states don’t. I learned which states allow it and which don’t. I was doing really, really well. My customers kept asking me, “Hey, how are you getting these great tickets? What are you doing? Can you teach me some secrets?” So, I wrote it out on a PDF, 20-page document, started selling that, started growing my mailing list. You know, just rinse, repeat, and serve customers well. When they ask you questions, answer those questions and possibly turn that into your next product. And I’ve been doing that for 20 years, and that’s the path I’ve been on and stayed on. And we’ve built an incredible team around that. So, I sold event tickets; I sold shoes; I sold anything and everything arbitrage.
Jim Cockrum: I did yard selling. I did a lot of consignment stuff where people would bring me items. I’d say, “Hey, yeah, for 40% of the sale price, I’ll sell that for you.” There’s stuff everywhere. There are people to this day in your neighborhood – We had someone post, Bradley, just a few days ago of an idea that we dropped into our group about this. Just post in a local neighborhood or maybe a neighborhood Facebook group or even one of those neighborhood groups and just say, “Hey, I know how to sell stuff online. If anybody has stuff laying around that they want to sell, I know how to sell for a percent. Let me know.” You’ll have neighbors calling your phone like crazy; it works every time. Because there are people who have never sold online, they’re intimidated by it. Yeah, they’ll give you 30-40% of the sale price, zero inventory cost. I did a lot of that sort of thing getting started, and like I said, I just documented my journey, and that’s what led to the community that we now enjoy.
Bradley Sutton: Now sticking a little bit with the eBay, do you still see that as a viable marketplace in order to sell?
Jim Cockrum: Absolutely. Yeah. It’s just going by the raw numbers in case someone’s not familiar. I always find these entertaining, interested to reveal these to people who kind of think they have a feel for what the numbers are in this game, but they don’t really know. Unless you’ve looked at the data, 90% of all retail in the United States is still offline, meaning brick and mortar. Get in your car, go to the store, buy something off the shelf. 90% of all retail is there; 10% is online. I’ll talk about eBay specifically, but you got to set it up with the proper foundation to talk about eBay. So, of that 10% that’s online, Amazon obviously is the beast. They own half of that 10%.
Jim Cockrum: Stated differently. 5% of all retail in the United States is Amazon. That’s a beast, but it’s still just 5%, and that numbers heading up. Okay. So now what we’ve got left on the table is another 5% of retail in the US; that 5% of the total pie is shared by eBay and all the other marketplaces that are out there. eBay is the number two or number three at this point. They used to dominate. They used to be THE game in town. They’re not anymore. Are they viable still? Absolutely. Millions of transactions daily. Do they compare to Amazon in audience size? No, not really. But they’re very niche specific. They’re very collectible. If you’ve got one of an item, and it’s kind of damaged and maybe it’s collectible or you’re not sure what it’s worth, and you want to start a bidding war, yeah, throw it out on eBay.
Jim Cockrum: Absolutely. We sell on eBay still. A lot of people on our team sell on eBay still. It’s not nearly as scalable. It’s more for the weekend warrior, “I found this interesting baseball card, what’s it worth? I’m going to throw it out there and see;” you know, let the collectors fight over it. It’s a lot of fun. It works pretty much the same way it always did, but man, Amazon started kicking their butt about 12 years ago, and they haven’t let up since.
Bradley Sutton: Yeah. I imagine there’s a lot of product categories that work better. Actually, I turned pretty much everything over to my wife once I started working here at Helium 10 but I was running a small wholesale business on Amazon just for some cashflow. I was also actually selling on eBay. The reason why I was selling on eBay was what my dad had back in the day. 25 years ago, when Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokémon were just coming out, he would fly back and forth from Japan and buy up boxes and boxes of Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokémon cards from Japan and then selling them here to card dealers. And then, when the market kind of fell out, basically he was sitting on like $20,000-30,000 worth of Yu-Gi-Oh! and Pokémon cards. And then all of a sudden, a couple of years ago, Pokémon Go comes out and there’s this renewed interest, and he’s like, “Hey Bradley, can you sell some of this stuff for me?” I instantly was like, “You know what? eBay actually makes a little bit more sense here,” and I still listed this stuff on Amazon, but my eBay sales—these are not used. I’m just selling packs of unopened packs of cards. My sales are about three to one, I would say, eBay to Amazon. I’m assuming this is not the exception. There are certain kinds of products that actually make more sense or are more viable on eBay as opposed to Amazon. Right?
Jim Cockrum: Yeah, absolutely. And you hit on one of the generalities, and I don’t want to dwell here too, because it’s a small segment of people who are still interested in selling on eBay in our audiences in general. But if it’s one of those passion products like, “Ooh, I’ve been looking for that for months, I can’t believe I finally found it,” you’re going to make more money selling that stuff on eBay, but if it’s the UPC Barcode, you know, “Hey, I need this widget. Who has it cheaper: Walmart, Amazon, eBay, or should I just run to Target across the street?” This quick-shop convenience—that’s Amazon, all day, every day. Amazon owns that space, which is the bulk of retail buying. Most collectors