Sunday, August 28, 2011

eBay (yes, that's how you spell it)

Weird huh? Little 'e', big 'B'; even at the beginning of a sentence. Pay no attention to your spellchecker, that's how it's done according to eBay's Trading Assistant Style Guide(the eBay Bible). That's not the only thing or two I know about eBay. Impressed? O.K., its not really that impressive, I know. Point is, this ain't rocket surgery.

Most of what I know about eBay and online auctions/sales is by experience, absorption and repetition.  I did once pop for an expensive "insider" ebook on the subject but honestly, it was huge and I was too bored with it to finish reading it.  I found the printout of it recently buried under my stack of bedside reading material and thought, "hmm, maybe there's something worthwhile still in there." So, I promise I will plow through it soon and let you know any tips that are of use if I haven't already covered them.  Most of it seems so obvious to me. "It's better if you add a picture to your auction." "It's better if your picture is good enough to actually see your item." "It's better if your dirty underwear are not showing in the background."

O.K., I just made those up. But, my point still remains. It's not hard. It's just using your common sense and moving forward despite your uncertainties.

That being said I will try to be sensitive to the fact that some people may be very new to the eBay experience.  So what is obvious to me (like don't show your hit counts on the actual listing) may not be at all obvious to you.  I have been an active member of eBay for 9 years (off and on). That's what you are called when you start your account; a "member".  You must have an account to buy or sell.  Usually, people buy first on eBay and that begins the learning process.  Completing a transaction from the buyer's point of view will give you an understanding that no advice really can. Also, it is a way to build up your feedback. On eBay your feedback is your reputation and universally your reputation is the core of your business.

This could easily turn into a step-by-step user guide as my mildly OCD nature kicks in.  But that isn't necessary.  eBay already has a getting started guide; even for buyers.  So go there like a good minion and the queen will not have to repeat definitions and basic how to's. I'll wait...

Good, you're back. In my last post I described this one as my "on-again, off-again, love/hate affair with eBay".  So here's a short (let's hope) explanation.  As I said, 9 years as a member.  That means that I've been around when eBay was a beloved  niche on the interwebs: imperfect, not universally known, but extremely useful and powerful when applied. It was my go-to place for finding my obsession of the moment.  Antiques, vintage clothing, collectables, that toy your parents never bought you when you were a poor kid and you knew that so you didn't even bother begging because you were so used to disappointment and...where was I?...oh yeah, eBay was a great single source for whatever pops up into your head. For the ADD crowd alone that is a tremendous service to provide.  Stuff pops into our heads at three times the speed of sound, I've clocked it.  That's why we interrupt you when you're talking...where was I?...oh yeah, eBay rawked!

Then came the,  "Hey, maybe I could sell stuff on here too." phase. I acted on that thought which was a good thing because it provided me the research time and small amount of selling experience that came in handy when I hit the next phase: the "I need money, NOW!" phase. 

Divorce happens. There is no motivation like an empty bank account, seriously behind mortgage payments, and unpaid utility bills with a special needs child in tow and no other way to earn income.  I had to become an expert, fast.

Around the same time, eBay was going through all kinds of management changes and the subsequent policy changes that led to their own divorce of sorts from many long-time sellers who were fed up with increasing fees and poor seller-eBay relations.  There are plenty of online blogging and forums that delve into the details so I won't expand on it here, but suffice it to say I was nervous. Yet had to do something so I continued to sell on eBay consistently for about a year during one of the most trying times of my life as that was my only source of income.

I came into selling in earnest and took the fee hits and other annoyances in stride as I didn't have the degree of experience selling in the previous version of eBay with which to compare.  I was pleased enough with the results to not dismiss eBay altogether despite the anti-eBay rhetoric still in my head from hours of discussion board absorption.  I still think "FeeBay" is funnay!

That being said I did withdraw from eBay for a while in search of alternative venues and other (non-retail) business opportunities.  The alternative auction site experience has been disappointing. They just do not yet have the traffic to bring people to your random garage sale type listings that eBay has. Some are better than others. I will save that for another post.

eBay continued making changes and continued ticking off the sellers, particularly the honest, small-time, mom and pop type sellers.  One of the recent changes that I will bother to complain about here is the new policy of charging the seller a percentage of the shipping charge in addition to the final value fee. This policy was obviously a result of the not so scrupulous sellers who would do auctions for a penny and jack up the shipping charges.  If eBay only got a percentage of the penny they would have gotten away with a serious reduction in their cost of selling on eBay. This was a miniscule percentage of sellers and it was generally frowned upon by the majority because the reputation of sellers on eBay is a touchy subject as your bad habits can harm the entire selling community.  (Hmm.. like life.)

But, eBay handled it poorly. Instead of implementing a way of curbing excessive shipping (and small auction prices) to recoup their losses they slapped a tax (of sorts) across the entire community.  Now we all have to pay a percentage of shipping.  The vast majority of sellers do not charge a handling fee and already have to take the loss of packaging, transporting and their time into account in the auction price.  eBay does not provide any service related to the cost or implementation of shipping. It is a service paid to and provided by USPS or UPS (or other services). They tried to market this change to sellers as a good thing for everyone, sort of like in my old computer programming days we would market a bug as a "feature".  Sellers aren't stupid.  This is a very very bad policy.

Another unsettling thing about eBay is that they own PayPal and only allow PayPal as a form of payment now. That is kind of creepy in and of itself, but it gets worse.  Many sellers have experienced mysterious account shut downs with PayPal and have had their funds held for months at a time while they desperately try to ascertain what is going on they have no access to their money and no way to sell; effectively putting them out of business. This happens to good sellers even those with great feedback that are truly attempting to keep within the rules (as they really need the income). No one is safe. This is a corporation, not your government. You have no rights, unless we are talking about lawsuits or the right to take your business elsewhere.

OTOH, since late April eBay has started to offer free listing and free "buy it now" upgrades for the first 50 auctions of the month (that includes relisting auctions that didn't sell during the allotted time and limit).  This is a good thing for small time operators in particular.  If you are at all serious about selling on eBay and you can't use up the 50 free listings, then you aren't at all serious about selling on eBay. 

So, my advice is to diversify. If you are in a niche market (which is probably the best way to sell online) then you can build a decent following on alternative auction and straight buy sites, on your own site, and with utilizing cross-marketing sites. eBay still remains the big dog for clearing out your house, selling off grandma's clutter, and to an extent reselling yard sale/thrift store finds.  But it's not the only dog and it's not as big as it used to be.  Also, work on diversifying your method of payment options.  PayPal does have competition (not on eBay) but competition none-the-less. Yes, you capitalize the second "p" in PayPal.  Impressed yet? No? Dern.

This was mostly an overview, more details and tips on the subject will follow in my subsequent posts.

"Hi folks!"


Sold this little 80's hand-puppet for $50 this week on eBay. Hope that he inspires you.
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