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Selling on eBay

Using Markdown Manager to Boost Sales

by Craig Stark

#147 9 August 2010

So - how's business? Based on what I'm hearing from some of you, it has certainly been better; and why is this any surprise? We're in the midst of one of the deepest, most stubborn economic downturns in our country's history, and as if this wasn't enough, we're also at the dawn of a digital revolution that's already adversely affecting the market for print publications.

At BookThink we've been encouraging you to at least consider moving away from commodity books (books purchased primarily for content) and instead focus on what has traditionally been called the antiquarian book trade - collected books, that is. Of course, you don't just change clothes to do this. It's a process of learning and applying what you learn over time, and if things at this moment in time are looking grim because your inventory is heavily weighted with commodity books, it might make sense to look for ways to buy yourself some time - specifically, boost sales of those very commodity books to both clear room for the books that will replace them and keep things going financially while you make a transition.

Speaking of commodity books, I have a few myself, and, with a mind toward getting more of them out the door, I recently completed another eBay experiment with the same block of inventory I've used for numerous other experiments over the years. As with all other experiments, my purpose was simple - attempt to boost sales. This time I experimented with a relatively new eBay marketing tool, Markdown Manger. Essentially, what this allows you to do is run a sale, and you'll need an active Store to do it.

You can specify the exact start and end times of the sale, run it for any length of time, discount your entire inventory by either a percentage or a fixed dollar amount, and apply it to either all of your items or the items in a specific category. If you run Auctions along with a Store, you can run a "free shipping" sale on them, though you can't discount opening bids. In any case, once a sale is launched, your original prices are displayed in black with a strike through, and immediately under this is the discount price in red in a much larger font. Above the "Buy It Now" button is "Sale ends [so many] in hours."

I ran my first sale for 7 days at 5% off. I noticed an uptick in viewing activity within the first hour and also made some sales the first day, but what became apparent by the final day was that most of the activity occurred on the 7th day, doubtless because buyers were more motivated to purchase before sale prices were no longer in effect. A light bulb went on at that point; it occurred to me that I might be able to increase outcomes by running much shorter sales in succession. Indeed, I then ran a series of 3-day sales, also experimenting with gradually deeper discounts (10% up to 25%), and this did have the effect of further increasing activity and sales.

Frankly, I wasn't expecting this to have a dramatic effect, but I was stunned when I looked at the monthly totals: I had nearly tripled my gross revenue over what I'd been averaging in recent months! Clearly, I "spent" a few hundred bucks in discounts to make this happen, but the big question is was this money well spent?

Let's look at some hypothetical numbers. Suppose you typically take in $1,000 a month in eBay Store sales. Let's say you then run a series of 10 3-day 15%-off sales over the course of a month and realize $3,000 in sales. Had those same books sold for full price, your take would have been $3,000 times 100% divided by 85% or $3,529. In effect, therefore, you've "spent" $529 to make that additional $2,000.

Would this be worth it to you? If your most of your inventory consists of low- to mid-dollar commodity books, it would be very much worth it because 6 months or so down the road you would almost certainly have to discount those same books to move them anyway - and maybe more than 15%. Also, meanwhile, you would an additional $2,000 to work with now.

EDITOR'S NOTE: For an in-depth discussion of the price erosion phenomenon see the following articles:

Bookselling in the 21st Century - Part XIV: Visualizing What You Need to Do to Make Bookselling Work: $5 Books

Bookselling in the 21st Century - Part XV: Visualizing What You Need to Do to Make Bookselling Work: $25 Books

Bookselling in the 21st Century - Part XVI: Visualizing What You Need to Do to Make Bookselling Work: $50 Books

I have no idea, of course, if this tactic will work for everybody, but if sales are down, it never hurts to experiment. If you don't have an eBay Store, you can open one, bulk upload inventory, and close it 30 days later if things don't work out. The investment in time would be minimal.

Whatever your tactics, it's important, in my opinion, to take a hard look at your inventory and estimate its likely value a year or more from now. If prices for most of your books are marching south, there's still time to make a transition to inventory that will perform much better over time. If you need some guidance with this, BookThink has recently launched two resources:

The New Gold Edition - a comprehensive guide to online bookselling in the 21st century. Chapters are issued monthly in PDF format. Chapter 1 will appear a week from tonight. To purchase a subscription to the complete guide (a projected 20 chapters) click here.

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