It’s so easy to start selling on eBay.com that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to do it right. eBay is open to just about anybody with something to sell, so the challenge for sellers is to differentiate their eBay business.
Fortunately for you, we’ve found two eBay entrepreneurs willing to share the advice that has helped them successfully stand out on eBay. Joe Schwab is the owner of Euclid Records, a St. Louis-based record and CD store. After selling via mail-order catalogues for more than fifteen years, Schwab switched over to eBay about five years ago, and has seen sales skyrocket. Last year, he sold over $300,000 worth of mostly out-of-print and rare records, and he expects to near $500,000 in 2006.
John Wendland, also from St. Louis, is a part-time eBay entrepreneur who sells collectibles for Twangfest, an annual music festival held in his hometown. He also sells used communications equipment for his full-time employer, CMS Communications, Inc. Wendland has almost ten years of experience with eBay.
John and Joe offered five pointers to help differentiate yourself and your products on eBay:
- Know your market
- Look good
- Branch out from an auction-only strategy
- Key in on keywords
- Be a professional
1. Know your market
“The most important thing you can do when starting an eBay business is to get to know your market,” says Schwab. “You’ve got to study what you’re selling. In my case, I have to know every little variation in record labels. You’d be surprised how much more money a record can fetch because the address of a label is their earliest, not their most recent.”
As you begin to tackle a market, research is vital. Pore over listings from successful sellers in your niche, and pick up on what product features and information they highlight. And use some of the available tools that allow you to research historical prices of items, such as SmartCollector (for collectibles and antiques) or eBay Marketplace Research.
Schwab also recommends establishing a name for yourself amongst the people who buy what you sell. “We’ve developed enough respect among members of the record-buying community (especially the jazz community) that we usually wind up getting 20% more per record than other dealers. That’s because people know who we are, and are more likely to bid with confidence on our records.”
No easy task, building a reputation takes some time – you’ll do it naturally by being a reputable and responsible seller in your eBay business, but there are other ways to build a name for yourself. Be aware of events focused on your market, and use them to build your credentials as a knowledgeable source for that product category. Contribute on discussion boards related to your market, or even create a blog through which you can dispense information and opinion about the product category on which you’re focused.
2. Look good
Schwab encourages sellers to create a consistent template for their sales in their eBay business. “Returning customers are vital to a business on eBay,” says Schwab. “They become accustomed to the way your auctions and product descriptions look. Use high quality photos and informative descriptions.”
Wendland also stresses the value of strong photos. “Your time is valuable, and it’s amazing how just having good photos can save you the trouble of having to answer the same questions about a product over and over from prospective customers. For example, when my company sells a phone, model numbers tell the potential buyer a whole lot, so I make sure to include a photo of the bottom or back of the phone with a clear picture of the model number.”
Take advantage of some of the optional add-ons as well: “The first photo you run with a listing is always free,” says Schwab, “but we like to run three photos per auction. Each additional photo costs $0.15, but it gives people a better idea of what we’re selling, so it’s well worth it. And we always choose the gallery option for another $0.35, which puts a photo on the search results listings.”
An additional tip – if you want to avoid having to pay the fees for additional photos, have your images hosted online somewhere. An eBay product description allows for HTML code, so you can point to a hosted image off of eBay at no cost.
3. Branch out from an auction-only strategy
In addition to auctions for his more valuable items, Schwab pays a monthly fee to maintain an eBay store to sell more garden-variety records. “Some people just don’t like dealing with auctions,” he says. “So we sell some records for a set price.” If you’re just using one method or the other, you’re probably missing out on a segment of eBay customers.
Since eBay gets a cut of everything you sell, remember to reserve some items to sell off-site, says Wendland. “In my description, I always let customers know that they can contact me at my e-mail address for additional information.” This causes him to get inquiries like, “I see you sell AT&T phones. Do you also sell the Merlin key systems?” Wendland concludes, “You don’t have to list everything you have on hand through your eBay business.”
4. Key in on key words
While many buyers on eBay browse through categories to view the latest items, it’s vital to have your items show up under relevant results from the eBay site search tool. Just as you would optimize your website to show up on an internet search engine, you want to make sure you’re maximizing your exposure in the vast realm of eBay site results.
“Remember that potential buyers don’t always think as straightforwardly as you do,” says Wendland. “Your posting subject needs to have as many keywords in it as possible. For example, don’t just put “Hank Williams Pen Knife.” Put “Hank Williams Grand Ole Opry Country Music Collectible Pen Knife,” so you can drive people searching for any of those phrases to your auction.”
5. Be a professional
Finally, Wendland stresses the value of professionalism. “Use proper English, make sure there are no misspellings, be clear in your descriptions, be accurate and fair in your shipping prices, spell out which states require you to collect sales tax,” he says. “If you get an inquiry, answer as quickly as possible. These little things add up in the eyes of buyers, and help bring them back to you again and again.”
The bottom line: understand your market, project a professional and attractive image, and elevate your products in your customer’s minds. Not surprisingly, the same rules that apply to a brick-and-mortar store translate to your eBay store as you strive to differentiate your eBay business.
Steve Pick is a StartupNation contributing writer.