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Selling on eBay

How To Accumulate Positive Feedback - Fast!

by Craig Stark

#123, 16 June 2008

A bookseller who had been an eBay member since 1998 recently lamented in a bookseller's forum that, after receiving a single negative feedback (ostensibly undeserved), her feedback score plunged from a hard-won 99.9% (earned over 10 years) to a dismal 66.7% overnight! Wow.

How can this be? Easy. Since eBay now calculates feedback on the basis of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately - that is, your performance over the past 12 months - any seller whose activity has been minimal over the past year is unusually vulnerable to this same scenario. As, of course, is any new seller.

Several times over the past year I've discussed the concept of proactive bookselling in both the BookThinker and the Gold Edition, primarily as it applies to purchasing the kind of inventory that will produce robust profits. However, it also applies - or should - to other aspects of running a successful business. The word "proactive" was coined by psychiatrist Victor Frankl in a book I was required to read before entering college - Man's Search for Meaning. Frankl used the word to describe a person who, rather than seeking to ascribe blame for their problems to external circumstances or other people, instead assumes responsibility for his or her life and acts accordingly. Later, the word "proactive" gained currency in Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, where it evolved to mean, in Covey's words: "to act before a situation becomes a source of confrontation or crisis."

Which kind of bookseller are you? Reactive or proactive?

If you're new to eBay or are planning to either resume (after a hiatus) or perhaps ramp up a previously intermittent eBay selling activity, you're vulnerable. Essentially, you can do one of two things - go on about your business and hope that what happened to the above seller won't happen to you, or you can take charge of the situation and make darn sure it won't happen to you.

If it's the latter, what next? How do you go about accumulating a significant number of positive feedbacks quickly? The following was recommended in earthmom's Selling on Amazon column last week: "As a new seller, a good strategy for accumulating feedback quickly and insulating yourself against the effects of early negative feedback is to list absolutely flawless copies of low-value but sought after paperbacks (based on sales rankings) at whatever it takes to get them sold quickly, even if you have to price them at a penny. Package orders with exceptional care, ship them the same day you receive them, upgrade to First Class or Priority (if you can afford it), and, on your packing slip, politely ask the buyer to leave appropriate feedback."

Since eBay has recently changed its feedback system to more closely mirror Amazon's, what works for accumulating feedback at Amazon can now also work with eBay. What I'm going to do this week is offer a specific approach - one of a number of approaches you could take - to accomplishing this with minimal effort and expense. It's based in part on an eBay reality: Despite the fact that Amazon sells far more new books at typically lower prices than eBay, there's no shortage of eBay buyers who simply won't migrate to Amazon to take advantage of this; they'll continue to buy on eBay.

First, since we're looking for fast, fast, fast feedback, we'll need to acquire books that sell "yesterday" - every time we list them. The absolute best place to find these books in whatever quantity you need is Amazon's best seller's page.

At the time of this writing, Guy Finley's The Essential Laws of Fearless Living: Find the Power to Never Feel Powerless Again sits atop the heap. However, since this book won't actually be in stock until June 18 (its ranking is based on pre-orders), there's no eBay track record yet, and I'd hesitate to recommend this title to start with. But do keep it in mind for this one very important reason: Click into the catalog page, scroll down to Product Details, and note that the shipping weight is listed at 6.4 ounces. This means that you'll be able to ship this book quickly via First Class Mail anywhere in the US, including APOs, for $2.19 - $.04 cheaper than Media Mail. (To minimize your expenses, any book you choose from the bestseller list should be light enough to ship First Class.)

The next book that qualifies for First Class is the #4 book on the list, Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture, weighing in at 9.6 ounces. This book has been out for several months and does have an eBay track record - a good one. Closed auction sales on eBay have been averaging between $15-$17 (including shipping), and guess what? This book can be purchased new from Amazon for $12.07 and, as long as you order at least three copies (which launches you over the $25 qualifying minimum), you'll get free shipping.

Now, let's do some quick calculations.

Cost of acquisition: $12.07
Anticipated sales price on eBay (including shipping): $16.00
Difference: $3.93
USPS First Class shipping: $2.70 (higher if Delivery Confirmation is used)
eBay insertion fee: $.35
eBay final value fee (see explanation below): $1.14
Packaging materials (b-flute system with poly bags): $.15
Out of pocket expense: $4.34 - $3.93 = $.41

The final value fee is calculated on the basis of $2.99 quoted shipping and a final value of $13.01. Obviously, you could offer free shipping or higher shipping than $2.99 to reduce your fees, but closed auctions with free shipping trend to lower final values, and if you were to charge $4, $5 or more for shipping, you might get the same $16 outcome when all is said and done, but keep in mind that many buyers are more likely to leave positive feedback when shipping charges are more reasonable. Also note that auctions or fixed-priced listings of best sellers on average perform better that Store items - in other words, this method is likely to work best in the auction format.

So - assuming you package each book brilliantly, ship daily via First Class Mail, communicate immediately with your buyers, etc., and also assuming, conservatively, that every one out of two or three buyers will leave feedback, each positive feedback you receive using this system should cost you less than $1, possibly a lot less. At the very worst, the buyer who stands at 66.7% today could easily be back to 99% in a month or less for an outlay of less than $100.

Is it worth it? Feedback has become increasingly precious of late, so yes, if you seek to derive serious income from eBay, you'll absolutely have to establish a trusted presence. This simply can't be done without a good feedback rating. On this basis, $100 and a few hours of additional work seem cheap to me.

Note that this system can also help out in other situations. If you're just short of qualifying for PowerSeller status, for example, and would like to start enjoying the benefits this program now offers by way of raised search status and reduced fees, it might make perfect economic sense to both increase your selling activity and upgrade your feedback, and chances are you could do it for a lot less than $100.

Finally, the success of this system will inevitably depend on a careful investigation of eBay closed auctions. Some bestsellers are significantly more enduring than others. Pick your spots and check eBay often for trends; don't rely entirely on the Amazon best seller list.

I anticipate that some of you will object on principle to my suggestion that feedback-impacted booksellers consider "buying" feedback. Frankly, I'm not any more thrilled than anybody else that eBay has altered its policy to necessitate even thinking about things like this, especially since it increases both Amazon's and eBay's revenue at your expense, but ultimately, what works best is to take charge of your own destiny, be proactive. Sometimes this means fending off potentially damaging problems before they occur - a cost of doing business.

An addendum for booksellers too clever by half:

Just in case the idea occurred to you that, based on the price differential between Amazon and average eBay outcomes, you might be able to game the system by using Amazon to drop-ship your sales directly to your eBay buyers, thereby avoiding packaging materials and shipping costs (not to mention saving yourself the trouble of fulfilling orders) and pocketing the difference, it won't work. In order to qualify for free shipping, you must agree to have qualifying purchases (in this case multiple copies of the same book) shipped to a single US address. Also, there's this ominous policy statement from Amazon: "Eligible items fulfilled by may not be eligible if fulfilled by a third-party seller."

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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