Selling on eBay

by Craig Stark

1 April 2013

Alive and Kicking or Left for Dead?

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At every month's end, I note what sold and where. "Where" is of special interest to me because it shows me how to best allocate time and energy going forward. In January, for example, based on my year-end stats, I decided to experiment with adding photos to my Abebooks listings. I'd crunched some numbers, and it was clear that my sales-to-fees ratio was significantly lower on Abebooks than it was on Amazon, Biblio and eBay (though dear Alibris continues to be the most punitive of the five venues I list on). Interestingly, my year-do-date sales on Abebooks are approximately double what they were during this period last year. Coincidence? Improving economy? Or are the photos making it happen? Anyway, this happy outcome has energized me to continue the photo-uploading process because I believe in it now, and I'll continue to monitor the numbers.

If there's anything slowing me down, however, it's the continued demands eBay makes on me. Few would disagree that eBay, with its creaky, hulking complexity, demands the most of us: The learning curve is sky high for sellers who succeed there, the interface is structurally inefficient, and the endless changes heaped upon sellers over time demand that they stay in a learning mode near continuously.

For many, it's no longer worth it. Many sellers have left for other venues. Many others, of course, have left the business period. Me? I've stayed and stayed and stayed, and here's what perhaps may be a surprising reason why: In March, 68.3% of my sales happened there. This 2-to-1 ratio - eBay sales comprising double my sales on all other venues combined - wasn't a surprise to me. It's consistently there almost every month. When I see polls taken on forums asking which are sellers' best venues, eBay invariably comes near the bottom or last, and I think to myself, wow, where would I be without eBay?

Here's another interesting fact: I now rarely use the auction format for listing books on eBay. This used to be routine, and the bulk of my sales derived from this, not my Stores. But many will agree with me here: If auctions aren't dead on eBay, they are least moribund. And speaking of allocating resources, I allocate almost all of mine to Stores these days and only occasionally put something up for auction - and even then it's often not a book.

Since the auction format was once what set eBay apart from other major bookselling venues and in recent times it has essentially morphed into a fixed-price venue like all of the others, why do my eBay sales continue to be so strong? Does eBay still attract the most traffic? Hardly. Are buyers for my books - I like to think of my books as collectible - more likely to be looking for them on eBay than other venues, that is, do collectors gravitate to eBay? Certainly to some extent, but I sell enough collectible books on other venues to know that this cannot fully explain my numbers.

Several other factors do come to mind, however, and it's these that have persuaded me to show those of you who don't sell on eBay a few strategies/tactics that might make it viable for you. Both of the following factors have a genesis in eBay's history as an auction venue and I think to a significant extent account for the auctions-are-where-bargains-can-be-had pull eBay enjoys to this day because of it.

The first factor is something eBay calls Markdown Manager. Simply put, this feature allows you to create a sale for all or a specified part of your listings. You can specify the length of the sale down to the minute and a discount based on either a fixed dollar amount subtracted or a percentage of the original asking price. This kind of control enables you to adjust things at any time so as to increase sales a little or a lot depending on your needs that month. Is June your worst month historically? Run a 25% off sale to greatly improve the outcome. Is January your best month? Maybe 10% off. Or no sale at all. And note how this mimics the auction format by creating price fluidity, also by promoting a sense for buyers that there is an opportunity for a bargain.

Another, perhaps more important factor that makes eBay work so well for me is the Best Offer feature. Use this in your listings, and potential buyers can make up to three offers for your items, and you have three options for responding - accept the offer, decline it, or submit a counteroffer. If you don't want to be bothered by lowball offers - and you will get them often - you can set a percentage below which these offers are auto-rejected immediately after an offer is submitted. There is also a box provided for notes to potential buyers. This can come in handy for explaining why (when necessary) you declined an offer, or offering an incentive - free shipping, for example - to accept a counteroffer and so on. Again, note how this mimics the auction format by creating price fluidity and also offers a buyer at least the potential for both scoring a book at a good price and buying it without having to wait for an auction to end.

The first month I used the Best Offer feature a few years back my sales increased over 50%. What I especially like about it is that it gives me an opportunity to liquidate any remaining commodity books in my inventory before they lose much or all of their value. It's a cleaning process, you could say. I also like how it forces me to review my pricing and adjust it, if necessary, on the fly.

So, if you have been pondering using eBay as a bookselling venue, consider this approach, and you might be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.

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