/ 24 March 2008

Start a web business in a few minutes

When David Pangelinan isn’t logging 14-hour days driving a fuel tanker, he’s at his computer indulging his latest hobby: building a succession of online stores in minutes.

Pangelinan has built four online stores offering hundreds of products for sale, from Bulova watches to Betty Boop pillows, using the website Zlio.com.

”It was real easy,” says Pangelinan (43), who lives in Columbus, Georgia.

He says he’s still learning the finer points of e-commerce, and spends time browsing through thousands of products on Zlio.com‘s catalogue that he could sell.

”I just went in there and started jotting down the products that were interesting and caught my eye,” says Pangelinan, who spends six to 10 hours a week tending to his shops.

Zlio.com, which launched in France in 2006 and in January in the United States, allows people to form online stores for free. Users can choose a name, address and template for the store they want to create and then begin displaying wares — say an iPod or a T-shirt.

It’s a simple tool, with none of the typical hassle of designing a site, setting up a payment gateway and keeping stock of merchandise and shipping.

Once signed up, a new shopkeeper can choose from more than three million products offered by 120 merchants, including Barnes & Noble, Zappos, Gap and Apple. They can then invite friends and relatives to shop.

”It’s the Tupperware party concept gone online,” says Zlio.com founder and chief executive Jeremie Berrebi. ”But people are defining the concept of the shop.”

Berrebi, an internet journalist-turned-entrepreneur, says he meshed the idea of a Tupperware party with social recommendation features in which users turn to friends for shopping suggestions to create Zlio.

The notion of helping people create online stores is nearly as old as the commercial web itself. Major e-commerce players eBay and Amazon have helped web entrepreneurs set up hundreds of thousands of independent online stores.

Sites such as CafePress.com have been around since 1999, allowing web users to create stores to sell personalised accessories like coffee mugs. Zlio offers a far wider range of goods for sale and takes more of a social networking approach.

Zlio also provides some marketing help. Users can put a widget on their Facebook or other social networking page, or use Google’s AdSense software to direct traffic to their sites.

So far, people have created more than 250 000 stores, many organised around themes. One was devoted to all things red, another sold only hot sauce, a third focused on The Beatles.

John Holsen, who runs a small publishing business in Kansas City, Missouri, recently started a shop with his wife, a yoga teacher, to sell yoga gear. ”It started as an experiment to see if I could build an e-commerce site in five minutes,” he says. ”And you can.”

His site gets up to 5 000 hits a month and makes about $300 to $400 on monthly revenue of $3 000. ”You won’t get wealthy off of it, but if you built enough sites, you can probably make a decent income,” he says.

On average, shopkeepers make about $300 a month, but top sellers can make as much as $3 000, Zlio spokesperson Rachel Bremer says.

Merchants share the revenue with Zlio and the seller based on the number of clicks and sales. Shopkeepers display wares and can earn up to 10% commission through eBay’s PayPal online payment service, either on every sale or on every click generated. They don’t have to worry about shipping orders because the companies take care of it.

Last year, Zlio generated $12-million in sales for the companies with which it has tie-ups, Berrebi says — but he refuses to disclose how much money the site makes. He also has seen some business interest in the site. Mangrove Capital, which was an early investor in eBay’s popular Skype internet phone service, is backing Zlio, too.

As for the name Zlio itself, Berrebi says it doesn’t mean anything. ”It’s just a four-letter word.” — Reuters