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Special Supplement to The BookThinker, #73 Update
How to Beat The eBay Stores
15 Strategies to Consider
by Craig Stark
#73, 24 July 2006
Based on the email I've received and notes that have been posted in BookThink's forum and elsewhere over the last few days, it's clear that there aren't many booksellers who are happy about the recent eBay stores fees increase. What took many of us by surprise wasn't that there was an increase - we're accustomed to this - but that it was so punitive. Store items listed at $25 and over, for example, could previously be listed at $.02 a month. That fee will now skyrocket to $.10 - a 5-fold increase. Believe it or not, however, there are some of us who are ok this, and I'm one of them - at least tentatively.
The capitalist system is unerring in rewarding those who continuously strive to grow their businesses, also unerring in punishing those who don't. Further, if you're successfully growing your bookselling business and you depend on other businesses for assistance in buying, selling, facilitating payment, shipping your products, etc. - and who doesn't? - then it's just as important for those businesses to grow along with you or their poor performance will, sooner or later, impact you negatively.
eBay raised Stores fees to promote growth - period. No other reason. And there shouldn't be another reason. It's nothing personal against booksellers or any other group of sellers. Though the health of your business necessarily matters to them if for no other reason than it keeps you on board, eBay is not in the business of keeping you in business. You are. Whether or not the most recent fee increase will promote more growth is another question, but I suspect that it will have a positive impact. If it doesn't, you can bet the farm that the fee increases will be rolled back and something else will be tried. Because it's a pioneer in the online auction industry, eBay has a long history of experimentation to promote growth - after all, there are no other models to compare themselves to - and also a long history of cutting their losses on initiatives that flop. And if one initiative doesn't get it done, they'll keep trying until they get it right. In short, they're not shy about laying eggs. Case in point: I've lost track of the number of changes they've made to Stores over the past few years. Some of them have been proven to be large goose eggs. And yes, they're still trying to get it right. (By the way, I recommend that all booksellers lay eggs too; failure is the most dependable road to success.)
A few money matters. eBay is and has always been my biggest source of bookselling revenue. If it were to suddenly start going south, become less of a force in the marketplace, I know as I know nothing else that my sales would suffer. Things that don't grow die, and potential customers would begin leaving if this happened. I would too. Everybody wants to be where the action is, and say what you will about other venues (and, unlike many other types of vendors, booksellers do have some attractive competitors to choose from); eBay is still the powerhouse of online venues.
Also consider this: When eBay raises our cost of doing business, it forces us to make more money to pay for it, whether it's by increasing our revenue or decreasing our costs through, for example, increasing efficiency. These very conditions of forcing and being forced are what promote a healthy economy, and this is why some of us believe so strongly in the system. Healthy competition makes all of us who meet it in a positive frame of mind better for having done so because there's an urgent need to become more than we are to survive. And we usually do. Another positive point: Chatter in bookselling forums indicates that some sellers are already closing stores in response. More will no doubt follow, and this can only help those who remain.
Whether or not any of you agree with this, we booksellers still need to put our heads together and come up with an effective strategy or group of strategies for making up the difference and, preferably, more than making it up so as to insulate ourselves against the next increase. On a more personal note, I feel at least partly responsible for encouraging some of you to open eBay stores in the first place (during that heady but disappointingly brief interlude when store items were commingled with auction items in searches). Most of you who got there in time realized a nice windfall, and at least we have that to be grateful for.
Okay, off the top of my head, here are some possible strategies that have occurred to me. Some of them may work for you, some of them not, and who knows what combination of them will produce the best result?
- LOWER YOUR PRICES. Let's face it, eBay Stores have been deeply under-priced ever since store items began to show up in searches. Now that fees are more or less commensurate with competing venues (perhaps significantly higher if you have a low sales velocity) your lower value books should no longer inhabit your store unless you know you can move them quickly. There are serious time issues here because low-priced, underperforming books will take a big hit if you don't get them out the door in a month or so. One of the best methods of I know of for doing this is to adjust your prices downward. Keep in mind that I'm talking only about books on the low end.
- RAISE YOUR PRICES. One common strategy businesses use to offset increased costs is to pass them on to their customers. Raising your prices certainly will extend the time you can afford to keep your books in your store, but will this work for all books? Obviously not. But eBay remains the venue where collectors congregate most densely, and my guess is that all prices on uncommon, sought-after (collectible) books in your inventories can be safely raised. Raising a price on a $50 book to $51, for example, will buy you 10 months of free listing, and will $1 decrease the chances of this book selling in 10 months? Very unlikely.
- LOWER PRICES ON APPLICABLE INVENTORY TO $24.99. Doing this will put your books in the lower fee bracket of $.05 - that is, cut fees in half. Approximately, I think this should apply to books you have priced in the $25 to $35 range. Several distinctions: If you're a multiple-venue seller, it would make more sense to lower prices on books you now have priced between $25 and, say, $30 because your inventory still has exposure on other venues - in other words, the likelihood of moving your books is, generally speaking, greater than it is for eBay's one-venue sellers selling the same items. Dedicated eBay sellers, on the other hand, should strongly consider adjusting most if not all of their applicable $25 - $35 inventory to $24.99. Exceptions would be titles that are mostly likely to sell soon.
- USE THE "BEST OFFER" OPTION. If you suspect that ANY of your books might be priced too high to move quickly, consider using the "Best Offer" option. This will speed sales, and yet you'll retain the choice not to accept a lower price.
- ELIMINATE STORE ITEMS THAT HAVE PROVEN HISTORIES OF COLLECTING DUST. Literally. If you don't know how long you've had a given book listed, run your finger along the top edge of the text block and inspect it for dust. If you have books that have already sat and sat in your store, either slash prices or kick them out.
- ELIMINATE LOW-PRICED INVENTORY. This is related to #5. It's no longer going to make sense to populate your store with low-priced books unless you can get them sold quickly, and you'll have to be very focused now on assessing how fast new inventory is likely to move. For those needing assistance with this "computation," issue #28 of the Gold Edition offers some suggestions.
- CONVERT SOME ITEMS TO AUCTIONS. I have a bad habit sometimes of listing plainly eBayable books on fixed-priced venues simply because I don't have the time - and sometimes it's because I just don't feel like it - to create upgraded presentations for eBay auctions. Go through your inventory and see if you've done the same thing. You might discover that you own a number of books whose values could be maximized in auctions.
- CONVERT TO 30-DAY LISTINGS AND ROTATE INVENTORY. This applies only to those of you who currently use the "Good 'Til Cancelled" option. Let's say that you have 1,000 items in your store. If you remove 500 of them and convert the rest to 30-day listings, you can let them expire after 30 days and re-list the first 500 - and repeat the cycle continuously. This instantly cuts your store fees in half and still gives all of your books substantial exposure. Also, putting something aside for a month and re-listing it can have a financially beneficial freshening effect.
- MOVE SOME ITEMS TO HALF.COM. It's easy to do. Go
This is a great alternative for eBay-only sellers who need to dump low-priced inventories from their stores. It costs you nothing to list at Half, and, though sales won't be as brisk as they were in your store, at least you'll get some activity. If you aren't already multi-listing on major fixed-price venues, it might be time to make the move.
- GROUP RELATED STORE ITEMS INTO LOTS AND LIST AS AUCTIONS. If you have a large store, there are doubtless many books you could group into lots and move quickly. For more information on this strategy see issue #23 of the Gold Edition.
- UPGRADE YOUR LISTINGS. If you're using stores as an added venue for books that you also list on other venues - that is, if your presentations are plain vanilla - consider adding a photograph and/or some textual content to them.
- LIST IN ALL FORMATS. If you've previously been listing items in your store only, consider listing some of them as auctions and/or fixed price items (which receive considerably more exposure in searches). This will help drive more traffic to your store.
- OPTIMIZE YOUR STORE SETUP. Upgrade the appearance and operation of your store. Take advantage of the following options: cross promotion, item display, promotion boxes, and custom listing frames - and consider buying eBay keywords to drive off-site traffic to your store. Additionally, if you have an off-site presence that you can use to drive traffic to your store, you may qualify for a kickback in fees. IMPORTANT: If you haven't activated your listing feeds, do it! And a general piece of advice: Start branding your store!
There's more information on utilizing these options
- RAISE YOUR SHIPPING CHARGES. If you've been
charging $2 or $3 for shipping store items, bump it up
a buck. That gives you 10 to 20 free months of listing
for something that won't likely give your buyers
- SELL BETTER BOOKS. The booksellers most adversely affected by this fee increase and, for that matter, many other annoying, nickel-and-dime increases venues make from time to time, are those who sell at the low end. These sellers are doubly hurt by this recent increase because competition continues to heat up in the $10-and-under sector of the market and most are experiencing fewer profitable sales. However, here's a central bookselling truth: So many problems fade into near extinction once you begin to look for and sell better books. If you don't, almost every single negative change in the marketplace will be magnified in your business. Also, in the long run, it isn't just a matter of selling better books; it's important to continuously upgrade your inventories. Sell even better books next year. Even better the next. What this enables you to do is not only stay ahead of fee increases, etc., but also enjoy an increase in net income - and not feel as inclined to vent on forums every time, for example, USPS raises their Media Mail rates.
If you have any additional suggestions, I'd like to hear them. Write me at
Meanwhile, hang in there!
Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark
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