EcommerceBytes-NewsFlash, Number 2670 - November 09, 2011     1 of 3

Survey Shows Marketplace Sellers Are Not Optimistic about Holiday Sales

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A majority of sellers surveyed predicted their holiday sales would be about the same or worse than last year, while 32 percent said they believed their holiday sales would be higher compared to last year. EcommerceBytes conducted the survey of readers in early November. Half of the sellers responding said their sales were down in October across all of the channels on which they sold compared to October of 2010. The majority of sellers responding to the survey sold up to $100,000 in goods online over the past 12 month; 85% of them sell on eBay and 29% sell on their own website.

EcommerceBytes conducted an online survey of readers in November 2011. A request to readers to complete the survey was made in the November 6, 2007 issue of EcommerceBytes-Update and in several issues of the EcommerceBytes Newflash newsletter. The online survey form was live from October 31 to November 8. A total of 2,550 people completed the survey.

Who Responded
Of the 2,550 people who completed the survey, the breakdown for the value of all items they sold online over the previous 12 months (in dollars) was as follows:

Up to $50,000: 62.2%
$50,001 - $100,000: 16.8%
$100,001 - $500,000: 14.7%
Greater than $500,000: 6.3%

Respondents were asked which one category best described the type of item that they most frequently listed to sell online - the top categories were:

Collectibles: 17.6%
Clothing, Shoes & Accessories: 12.8%
Home & Garden: 9.5%
Jewelry & Watches: 9.5%
Books: 5.4%
Crafts: 5.4%
"I always sell different stuff": 5.4%

The Results
Respondents were asked about their October sales compared to last year, and were asked how they felt about the 2011 Holiday shopping season based on their October 2011 sales.

Only 35% of respondents said their October sales were higher year-over-year, 15% said sales were about the same, while 50% said sales were lower. Predictions about how their holiday shopping sales fell along similar lines as seen in the tables below.

Respondents were then asked how their October sales were for each venue on which they sold, including their own website.

How were your online sales (dollars) in October of 2011 compared to October 2010 for each of the following venues?

Higher About the same Lower
Addoway 83% 0% 17%
Alibris 14% 29% 57% 41.5% 22% 36.5%
ArtFire 72% 14% 14%
Bonanzle (Bonanza) 13% 47% 40%
Craigslist 33% 40% 27%
eBay 31% 11% 58%
eBid 37.5% 37.5% 25%
eCrater 13% 39% 48%
Etsy 33% 28% 39%
Facebook 33% 25% 42%
RubyLane 60% 40% 0%
TIAS 11% 33% 56%

How were your online sales (dollars) in October of 2011 compared to October 2010 on your own ecommerce enabled website?

October 2011 sales higher: 33.3%
October 2011 sales about the same: 42.9%
October 2011 sales lower: 23.8%

Summary & Conclusions
The economy was a significant factor in October sales - it was the most cited factor by respondents, and sellers reported that buyers have changed their shopping behavior as a result of tougher economic conditions. As noted, 48% of respondents believe their holiday sales will be down this year compared to last year.

Although there was a general sense of pessimism about this year's sales as compared to last year's, there was one group of sellers who were doing better this year than last. The higher the respondent's annual sales volume, the more likely they were to report improved sales in October compared to last year - 31.5% of sellers with up to $50,000 in annual revenue reported higher year-over-year sales, while 56% of sellers with over $500,000 in annual revenue reported a better October compared to a year ago.

There could be a number of reasons for this ranging from a better business model, more advantaged in search, or more marketing activity than low-volume sellers. In addition, a number of sellers left comments indicating they had done the same amount of sales in October because they had double their inventory - in other words, they are working harder for the same amount of sales.

Very small marketplace sellers are seeing less growth and are more pessimistic about holiday sales. In general they may have less flexibility over their inventory and fewer resources to spend on marketing and for exploring multi-channel selling, also leading to less diversification.

Things were better on sellers' own websites - only 24% of respondents reported lower sales on their own website year-over-year in October; 43% said sales were the same; and 33% said sales were higher on their own site compared to October 2010.

The marketplaces who saw the biggest year-over-year boost in sales for the month of October were Addoway, Artfire and RubyLane. The marketplaces with the biggest year-over-year drop in sales for the month of October were TIAS, eBay, Alibris and eCrater. (Interestingly, some respondents said they would like to see Sears,, and NewEgg Marketplace added to the list of venues.)

Both Google and Facebook played a role in how marketplaces performed in October. The three best performing marketplaces actively facilitate sellers' engagement and promote sales on social networking sites such as Facebook. And the change in Google's algorithm that penalized sellers for duplicate content (called Panda) was cited by sellers as continuing to negatively impact exposure to their listings.

Sellers also cited deteriorating conditions on eBay and pricing wars on as negatively impacting sales.

You Speak Your Mind
Respondents were provided with opportunities to leave comments, and many shared information about what they were experiencing and some of the reasons for the their sales increase or decline.

One respondent said they were encountering more buyers who wanted to make deals, while another noted they had to list more inventory to keep up sales: "I think that the economy is going to depress overall holiday sales... my growth in inventory is fueling my overall increase in sales ... net result will be that I do as well as last year but not appreciably better."

Another seller said, "I sell patterns and think the poor economy has people making gifts and clothing, more than last year," while another wrote, "I am selling more fabric than I have in 12 years on eBay. Don't know if it is the economy but it is not just quilting fabric, but all kinds. It is outselling all of my other items by $400.00 per month."

A jewelry seller explained how she was impacted by the rising price of silver. "We sell silver jewelry and the price of silver has skyrocketed, so people have less money to spend and we had to raise our prices. We went from gross sales of $400,000 in 2008 to $280,000 in 2009 to $200,000 in 2010 and so far this year $51,000. There was actually one month this year that we made more money having a yardsale than what we made online."

Sellers who rely on visibility from Google's search engine also weighed in - one referenced the changes Google required clothing sellers make to product feeds, and wrote, "I sell vintage clothing.... they need a size and a label.... It seems as though every holiday there are editing demands coming from all of these places and that does make listing difficult... the past 2 months when I should have been introducing new items, I am EDITING!! What is wrong with these venues! and especially Google! Why can't more companies be like Apple!!"

"I think the new Google comparison is hurting," wrote another seller.

Said another seller, "I think both the economy and the Google Panda updates which make no differentiation between new. repro and vintage items in their search results is well as the favoring of certain sites due to financial agreements has dealt a double blow to small vintage dealers and most online sites. My customers say it is almost impossible to find antiques/collectibles on Google anymore...the results are skewed to new and many fewer results come up. Where we used to show #1 we are now 7 pages back."

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About the author:

Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to

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