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Selling on eBay

Using the Best Offer Feature to Your Advantage
Part I

by Craig Stark

#144 31 May 2010

I recall a discussion on the eBay booksellers forum not too long ago where the topic using the Best Offer feature came up. Somebody wrote (I'm paraphrasing), in what to many others surely felt like a fatal blow, "If you do this, you'll essentially guarantee that you'll almost never get your asking price."

Having used Best Offers for several years now, I can attest to the truth of this. For every Store sale I get on eBay that's at my asking price, there are perhaps 20 or 25 Best Offer sales, some of them at 50% to 60% of my asking price. Are you wincing?

In that same discussion, I recall somebody else noting that, "I tried Best Offers for awhile, but I got so many lowball offers that I got mad and quit."

I can attest to the truth of this as well: I get a lot of lowball offers.

So far, you might be thinking, this Best Offer jazz isn't looking so good.

But wait. I can also attest to the truth of this: Speaking now only of my eBay Stores, I can state with certainty that using Best Offers is one of the keys to making them work.

If you look at this first from the buyer's perspective, I think you'll agree that eBay is very unlike most other bookselling venues in that price fluidity is almost expected. Since eBay started out life as an auction venue and only in recent years has focused on fixed price sales, a user base developed over the years that was (and still is to a significant extent) populated with buyers who have been "trained" to treat it as a venue where buyers set the prices, not sellers.

If you look at this from the seller's perspective, there's a complimentary perspective - that is, sellers have been "trained" to more or less expect buyers to set the prices too, and the focus then becomes doing whatever you can do to help those buyers set higher prices. For longtime readers of the BookThinker, you'll recognize this as the oft-trotted out building-value-into-books principle.

Given this context, if you're a recent arrival at eBay and attempt to play the eBay game by the same rules you play, say, the Amazon game, there's a good chance you'll be disappointed with the results, not only because buyers' expectations are different but also because, over the years, eBay also "trained" its buyers to expect to encounter items that were difficult to find elsewhere. Another way to put this is, if you arrive at eBay with the intention of selling almost entirely commodity books (as opposed to antiquarian books), it's even more likely you'll be disappointed with the results.

Now, one can argue that, in recent years, eBay has been changing the game to one that resembles Amazon, but the transformation, as I see it, is far from complete, and excellent opportunities for what I think of as classic eBay bookselling still exist.

But let's get back to Best Offers - and this in the context of so-called fixed-price items. I'm guessing that most eBay Store booksellers approach things in much the same way they approach selling on other venues: The seller sets the price and waits for a buyer. But I invite you to look at this from a different perspective: Consider treating your fixed-price items as auction offerings instead. Don't fall in love with your prices, that is. View them as offers on the table that you will more than likely have to come down on. With this approach I can almost guarantee you that your sales will improve dramatically and you'll likely be satisfied with the prices you get. Not satisfied in the sense that you'll always get your price as you do on other venues; satisfied in the crucial sense that you cannot often be satisfied on other venues: You will establish steady cash flow.

If you don't know this already, one of the most compelling reasons eBay remains a powerful venue is that, if a seller needs some cash, it can be had quickly. List an item, let the bidders set the price, and a matter of days later you pocket the dough. If you keep listing items, you keep pocketing dough. Yes, it's important to maximize outcomes, to establish a stream of sales on other venues (where you do get your asking prices), but experience will teach you that it's also important to establish a much steadier stream of sales where you accept less than the maximum outcome, a smaller profit, because this gives you what you need to pay bills with month after month, buy new inventory, supplies, etc., day after day - and do whatever else is necessary to remain consistently solvent over time.

Anyway, what I'm suggesting here is to change your perspective on Store items - approach them, to the extent possible, as you would Auction items - to better accommodate eBay's selling environment. Next time I'll get into more detail about how to do this.

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