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Selling on eBay

Using the Best Offer Feature to Your Advantage
Part II

by Craig Stark

#144 14 June 2010

A question for you. The last time you got dinged with a neg, what was your response? Did it start with a thought, something like, "This is outrageously unfair!" And then near immediately did the thought manifest in your body as anger, perhaps a hot flash in your solar plexus? And then, did you ever do one of the following in the blinding moments or hours after: fire back with a neg of your own (on venues where it was still possible leave one), heatedly compose an angry email and send it off to the buyer or perhaps customer support, and/or come to a forum and vent?

I'm sure all of us have done this sort of thing at least once, but here's a more important question: When you finally cooled off, looked back objectively at what your response accomplished, was the result satisfactory or unsatisfactory? I'm guessing in almost all cases it was the latter - I mean, revenge is not the sort of thing that tends to produce happy outcomes. Chances are you only made things worse.

Another thing I'm sure of is that most sellers who have been doing this for years have learned to manage their responses better. Sometimes this will mean not responding at all until we've cooled off, then approaching things with enough objectivity to do what we can to repair the damage. But I also know that there are some of us who no longer get angry at all when that red number pops up, and then it's possible to respond immediately - and more effectively - because timely responses often produce better outcomes.

My own evolution has pretty much spanned the spectrum. Very early on in my bookselling days negs consistently angered me (not that there were that many!); then I passed into a second stage where I could usually muster enough patience to wait before responding; and now, well, they don't bug me at all. One thing that has really helped me to come to this place is a practice of looking at the reality of the situation. What really happens when you get a neg? I'll tell you what happens to me. I'm sitting in front of this monitor that's displaying miniscule dots that form patterns. I type some things on my keyboard that bring up, say, My eBay, and I notice that the number next to my user name is one less than it was yesterday. I click into that number and then see a red circle with a white dash in it and some words following it.

That's the reality of the situation, plain and simple. And what could be more harmless? You're probably ahead of me here. If there's going to be a problem with this feedback, I'm going to have to manufacture one. Me. Not the buyer who left it. I'm going to have to create a story about it - "This is unfair," for example - and then convince myself that the story is true. Once I believe it to be true, negative feelings will inevitably come up because there is absolutely no believed story that won't manifest in the body, and I'm fast headed for a fall.

I'm taking some time with this because I'm about to offer some suggestions regarding how to effectively use the Best Offer option on eBay. Not a single one of these suggestions will be of any use to you unless you're able to at least manage your responses to the many lowball offers you will inevitably receive, even if this only means waiting until you cool off before you respond to one that's "insultingly" low. I can almost guarantee you that, if you've never used Best Offer before, there are going to be occasions when you take a lowball offer personally and create a story about it.

Here's a good story to start with: "A $10 offer for a $50 book? Does this buyer think I'm stupid or something?" That'll get something percolating inside, no?

The first thing to acknowledge about lowball offers is that you don't know why they're low, and it's very, very unlikely they were submitted by a bidder who thinks you are stupid. It's far more likely that the he or she has researched prices going in and could have any number of valid reasons for lowballing it. Perhaps the bidder can't afford your price, for example; or perhaps the bidder is a bookseller looking for inventory (searches can be performed that will return only Best Offer listings); or perhaps the bidder likes to dicker and starts the first bid (of three potential) deliberately low with the expectation that you will settle on a higher price. Each of these reasons is perfectly neutral - nothing to get upset about.

The reason I think it's important not to get upset in this process is that, if you're successful in remaining calm, you'll be able to assess the situation objectively and do what's best for your business - instead of just popping the "Decline" button in a flash of annoyance. For one thing, you'll be far more likely to submit a counter offer, which could result in a sale. For another, the lowball offer might not be as low as you think it is. With price volatility what it is, a book's value can plunge in a matter weeks or even days, and unless you re-price often, a portion of your inventory will gradually become unsaleable because it's priced too high - in other words, it may make perfect sense to accept what you initially think is a low offer.

There's another situation where it might make sense as well. Suppose you have a $15 book that's price competitively, and you get an offer for $6. If it's a common, ISBN-era book with content that will very likely obsolesce soon and has been sitting on a shelf for some time, pull the trigger. This at least gives you something for it and stops the monthly listing fee bleeding. If you decline the offer, on the other hand, and a month or two passes, it may never sell. Look at this as a form of culling your low-dollar inventory. It's healthy for any business and kicks the door open to selling higher-dollar books and growing your business.

Offers on higher-dollar books that aren't unusually low require a somewhat different approach. Typically, my concluded Best Offer sales fall in the range of 65% to 80% of the asking price. As an example, if somebody comes in at $65 on a book you've priced at $100, my first step is to reassess the price and determine what I would list it for if I were listing it today - and then decide whether the offer is too low on the basis of that price. If this seems obvious, recall the opening discussion in this context. During the research process, it's possible that, if you discover your book has declined in value, you might fall into the trap of creating a story about its decline. Example story: "Damn, all of my books are fast losing their value, they're going to be worthless in no time, and my business is going to fail." Once you get this negative story into your system, you'll be less likely to make a good decision on the associated Best Offer.

Another possibility is a book that seems to have held its price pretty well but has been languishing in your inventory for a few years or more. Typically, these are less common books, some of which were initially priced by piggybacking on what other sellers were asking. Okay, so maybe all of the available copies are overpriced, and if you get an offer that's half of your asking price, again, it might make sense to accept it because it's more in line with what a buyer is willing to pay.

As I mentioned in Part I, your decision might also be based on cash flow. If you're having a slow month and need the cash, accepting a 50% or so offer might make sense. If it bothers you to do this, it might help to recall how much you paid for the book. If it was snagged for a buck and somebody is offering you $50 on your $100 book, well, a sale still feels good.

At the other end, there will be offers made on books that you not only have priced competitively but know will sell fairly quickly at your price. In this case, it's the work of a moment to decline it and move on. Generally, however, I counter-offer more often than not. It doesn't cost you anything, and it might buy you a sale. Also, a courteous comment can't hurt when submitting it, and there have been occasions when I've entered a price and told the bidder that that was as low as I could go, even if one more counteroffer was available. This helps speed up the process and makes sense for competitively priced books that will sell sooner or later but may be only slowly bleeding value.

One of the things I like best about the Best Offer option is that it allows you to evaluate the buyer ahead of accepting the offer. If the bidder's feedback is questionable or you discover that he lives in Albania and it's going to cost you too much to get it there, nobody gets hurt if you decline the offer, no matter what the reason is.

One final observation: It takes some time to get comfortable with this method of selling books, but once you do, I think you'll be very pleasantly surprised with a surge in sales.

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