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If you think it’s hard being an ethical consumer, try being an ethical trader

Nick Booth
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  • Last updated: Friday, 11 January 2013 at 3:26 pm

EAG Combined 300x225 If you think its hard being an ethical consumer, try being an ethical trader If you resent giving money to corporations that avoid their taxes, the alternatives are painfully expensive. Especially in retail. As an experiment in ethics, I tried getting rid of assorted films, clothes, books and games using anyone but eBay, Amazon and Google. It cost me around £300 but, as we shall see, it was all worth it.

If you want to let the likes of Amazon, eBay and Facebook know what you think of their tax contribution there are plenty of alternatives, but they’re all pretty small and powerless.

Starting your own online shop is fairly easy. Systems like SellerDeck and Moonfruit give you templates for own etail outfits. Attracting an audience is another challenge entirely though. In which case markets like Gumtree, Preloved and Loot might be useful but all these relatively small sites give you access to small audiences. Amazon gives you an instant mass audience.

If you want the excitement of running an auction GoTradeLive is a free alternative to eBay. It’s designed for companies that want to shift stock to their usual buyers but anyone can use the system. Normally, an IT distributor might auction off some surplus printers or Nokia handsets by emailing its database of dealers and inviting them to bid. So you will have to drum up your audience first, by emailing your target audience.

If anyone selling online can build up their own audience, they won’t need eBay or Amazon, so they can hold on to more of their money, says Phil Rothwell, marketing director at www.Sellerdeck.co.uk, which offers would-be traders a ready-made online shop. “With Amazon and eBay now classified as persona non grata this might be a good time to capitalise,” says Rothwell.

But how easy are these systems? I personally found Moonfruit a bit too time consuming to make it worth persevering with. There’s always the option (with Moonfruit and another system called Ecwid) to take advantage of the user friendliness of Facebook to turn a page into an online shop.  Ecwid can be run on any customisable web site, even your own.

Oh, hang on, Facebook? Aren’t we boycotting them too? Facebook was great for reaching a mass market too, but other social media sites, like Vimeo, might give you an option. Vimeo is big in China and Europe, but you’re still left with the problem of building an audience.

There are endless other social media sites that can be used to create a shop but who knows what their tax regimes are like? It gets tricky being an ethical trader, because you spend all day trying to remember which companies you disapprove of most.

It would be nice if there was some sort of mass movement that could mobilise the ethical buyers and sellers. Surely there’s a gap in the market for someone to create an aggregator for all the smaller trading sites, making it easier for buyers and sellers to find each other.

Building your own shop brand is time consuming but a better long term prospect, since systems like Sellerdeck let you own your customer database. But you would have to launch very cunning online marketing campaigns, which would be easy, if you weren’t boycotting Google too.

Microsoft’s Bing is a good alternative and does everything Google does. Hang on though, wasn’t Google the company that rescued us from the hegemony of Bill Gates’ brutal empire? Are you still boycotting Microsoft on principal? If so, that rules out using Bing.

To compete with the big companies that have colonised the Cyber world you have to do something completely different. This is where YossarianLives.com, a metaphorical search engine, might be a handy tool for your alternative trading environment. It presents results just beyond a user’s knowledge and at a distance from the original term. When searching for “feminism”, the metaphorical search engine responded with pictures of fish. Not sure what the algorithm was thinking there. (Are you looking for a woman? Why not try a fish?) Maybe YossarianLives was giving us something more valuable: business advice. Abandon trading clothes and get into food retail.

On that note, if you want to set up as a grocery retailer, a new platform from Foodie.fm provides all the tools needed to run modern eCommerce operations and home deliveries. This is one area that Amazon and eBay have ignored. Foodie.fm is currently available on the web, Facebook, iPad, iPhone, Android and Nokia platforms.

Meanwhile, after considering all the alternatives to eBay, there’s too much work involved in selling your stuff online. The margins are minimal and selling your stuff creates a massive distraction that dampens your productivity. So in our house we rounded up all its books, clothes and toys and hoofed them into the British Heart Foundation Shop, who wrote and told us we’d donated £300 worth of goods. Money well spent, I’d say. Selling online is currently too much hassle.

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