Ebay Lessons

onlinead 150x150 Ebay LessonsI’ve done too much shopping on Ebay getting ready for the holidays. It’s not that I don’t patronize the big box stores or smaller shops around town – a few know me by name – but I’ve spent enough time trying to win auctions that I’ve become somewhat annoyed with a class of sellers.

A luxury Ebay has always enjoyed – part of the magic and supposed fun of using the site as a buyer or seller, in fact – is the creative aspect of the listings. I’m sure some sellers quickly find writing their own ads to be frustrating, especially when competing with half a dozen other sellers who are trying to unload the same stuff at similar prices. Spelling skills and some ability to put together a working sentence are a real plus along these lines, and I’ve seen some Ebayers who should be embarrassed over their shoddy narratives. They don’t need to be embarrassed for too long. Playing the game is completely voluntary, and they can close up shop whenever they like. The folks who don’t write enticing listings aren’t going to last too long, are they? I’ve talked to sellers who enjoy the process and creating their ads. Like other markets, honesty counts on Ebay, but so does the ability to spin a little excitement into your listing. I’ve seen some auction listings that may spin a little too much excitement — a stapler doesn’t deserve the same number of exclamation points as, for instance, discounted Super Bowl tickets, but ham-handed sellers will try to rope you in no matter how mundane their items. Most sellers are pretty honest and accurate in their descriptions. Ebay, itself, always has the distance of saying that the site is not responsible for the content of individual listings, though, and that buys the site out of a lot of headaches. I’d suppose that (short of missed shipments or, conversely, missed payments from auction winners) the biggest gripe most received at the Ebay headquarters conern the content of listings.

Let’s make a new rule for sellers right now. When you’re listing an item for sale, and twenty other sellers have listed forty other copies of exactly the same item, you can drop the word “rare” from the item’s description. We may want to introduce a sliding scale, perhaps taking into consideration the price point of the item, but if there’s more than ten of something (outside of an endangered species, I guess) it’s not all that rare, is it? I’ve seen forty of a particular toy listed, with half of them touted as being “rare.” Not so much….

Another pet peeve: Please make sure your photo is aligned properly. We can skip right past the idea that, even if you’re auctioning off something so common as a ream of printer paper, you can forget selling anything without a photo. If folks can’t see it, they’re not going to buy it. The strategy of Ebay selling being what it is, if you’re offering an item for auction, you want folks to get into a bidding war over it. Nobody is going to argue about an invisible item, if they bid on it at all. Marginally worse, sometimes, are those who send their listings “to print” with the photo upside-down, sideways, or otherwise misaligned. It’s just plain frustrating, even if you know exactly what the item is, to have to try to figure it out from that little photo when the seller has forgotten to display it properly. And – I’ve got news for you, Ebay sellers – it sometimes makes it look as if your clumsiness is meant to hide some flaw in the photo when it’s not oriented correctly. There are too many auctions, too many fish in the sea, for a serious bidder to entertain sloppy listings. I’ve paid a couple of dollars more for an item that was listed correctly with the matching photo.

Thinking of cutting some of your sellers’ costs by listing multiple items on the same auction and offering buyers the choice to pick one of them if they win? Bad idea. For one thing, the listing is bound to create confusion unless you construct it very carefully. I saw an ad once for one of six coats, of different colors, all the same style. The photo got my attention because it looked, at a glance, that you could snag all six in one auction. The eight or nine pages of diagrams, descriptions and disclaimers (to say nothing of the drop down menu for sizes) wiped away any notion of that. Wouldn’t it be simpler to list one of each color and let the bidders fight it out between sizes? For as many serious sellers as there might be on Ebay – and you can see the proud store owners who share photos of their stock or exterior of their businesses – there are part-time bidders who are looking for specific items. There are those who buy and/or sell casually, too, and that’s a market you can’t underestimate. If it takes more than thirty seconds to figure out the rules of your auction, you’re doing something wrong.

And a word, while we’re at it, for those of you who have an attorney on retainer to write your policies. Please, necessary as those policies might be to protect yourself and your business, try to keep in down to three or four pages or disclaimers and restrictions. I was just trying to buy an Ipod, not a house. I shouldn’t need to know that your hit squad will hunt me down if I crawfish on a bid. Experienced bidders know the rules and, I think, play by them. It doesn’t take too much to get kicked off the site if you forget to pay for one too many bids. The feedback alone will take care of that.

Question: Do Ebay sellers still use the “Reserve Price” cheat? See, to my way of thinking, if there’s a minimum you’ll accept for an item, you make that the lowest possible bid. That way, when the first bid comes in, you’ve earned what you need to make on that auction, and any other bids that increase the numbers are gravy. Pure profit. I understand that the asking prices can be intimidating, but either you’ll learn that folks are willing to pay an outrageous asking price for your item, or you learn that you need to reconsider the value. Or maybe you learn that you posted the item at the wrong time. If you get no nibbles, you’re not out anything. The minute I see a “reserve” auction, in which the seller has hidden some price above the minimum bid at which the offering prices start counting, I run the other way. What’s the point of working bidders up to reach your imaginary (and possibly wrong-minded) number? I’ve seen more reserve auctions go belly up without hitting the mark than I’ve seen ones cause bidding wars.

There are books that give tips on Ebay selling and countless sites that claim to know the secrets to success. Take some free advice from this customer.

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About Bob Manista

BBB of Oklahoma City.