EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 119 - May 23, 2004 - ISSN 1528-6703     2 of 7

Evaluating eBay Seller Software

By Andy Geldman

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Selling on eBay was a great novelty for a while, until the administration began to mount up. Had the checks cleared? Had I left feedback for everyone? Was I charging the right amount for shipping? Even with an Excel spreadsheet it become a real headache.

A couple of years back I was searching on eBay, looking for something that would help with this, when I typed "ebay software" into the search box and something unexpected happened. I was taken aback by the 200 relevant results covering auction management, feedback automation, ad design, sniping, and more. A quick Google search revealed that I had barely scratched the surface. eBay software wasn't an oddity, but a large, competitive, and innovative industry. I was looking in the right places for a solution, but I had opened Pandora's Box: there was so much out there I had lost sight of what I really needed, and didn't know how to tell good products from bad.

I tried many different tools over the next few months. Disappointments outweighed the successes, but I found a solid evaluation approach along the way. First, concentrate on your top priority. This helps ensure you don't lose focus and get fancy auction graphics instead of the auction management system that you desperately need.

Three Types of Software
eBay seller software can be broken down into three broad categories: market insight (to identify what and how to sell), auction management (to administer selling chores), and listing enhancements (to attract bids).

Market Insight products help you decide what, when and how to sell by analyzing completed auctions and generating statistics on timing, enhancements, sell-through rates and more. If you are considering selling in a new, unfamiliar category or are struggling to move your inventory, then market insight could improve your selling strategy.

Auction Management software brings sales administration under control by putting a framework around your eBay sales and automating repetitive tasks. Products vary in their breadth, but may include listing, payment, shipping and feedback features. If your products are selling well, but you are struggling to maintain a high level of service, an auction management system may be what you need.

Listing Enhancements cover a wide range of products and often appeal to sellers who already have a well-managed business. They include detailed bidder statistics (to fine-tune auction listing), interactive pictures or video (to showcase high-value products), and real-time chat (to provide instant customer service). If you sell expensive items or are looking for that extra edge over your competitors, then look into listing enhancements.

Once you have decided which type of product you need most, list out your requirements in detail. How much are you willing to pay? Do you require support for international eBay sites? Which features must you have? Which features would be nice to have? Take time to get all your requirements listed accurately because it is easy to lose sight of your goals later on.

Software versus Hosted Services
One important distinction is between software and hosted products. Most of us are familiar with software: you download a file to your computer (or buy a CD from a store), then run the installation program. Software can be used whenever you are at your computer, you don't need to stay connected to the Internet, and auction data is stored on your own hard drive.

Hosted (or online) products are accessed via the Web so you can use the service from any computer, but you need to stay connected to the Internet while using it. Your auction data is stored on the vendor's computers rather than your own, and improvements to the service are available immediately - there are no downloads. Choosing between software and a hosted service is partly a matter of personal preference, but if you have a slow Internet connection, a software-based tool may be the only practical option.

Evaluation Process
The first step in evaluating products is to compare each offering against your list of requirements. Try to find a solution that has all of your "must-have" features, and a few of the "nice-to-haves." Pricing is not always straightforward: it can vary from one-off registration fees and annual subscriptions to monthly and per-auction commissions. In addition, many services have different plans where certain feature sets are only available for a higher fee or as separately priced add-ons. Be sure to read all the pricing information to determine the total cost of the service.

Now you should have one or more products that match your needs. Many tools offer a free trial of some sort, but beware: trials require a time investment on your part. Make it the final step in your evaluation, when you have exhausted other sources of information. Try searching for the product name on the Web, and in news groups, to get background information. Next, see if the vendor has a user discussion forum and read the comments. If the forum allows non-members to post messages (many do) then get involved and ask questions of your own. Don't hesitate to contact the vendor to ask about the product directly. The speed and helpfulness of the reply is a good indicator of the support you would receive as a customer.

Most importantly, remember that getting the most out of eBay software requires not only a cash investment but also plenty of time. With good research and perseverance it can really help take your business forward.


About the author:

Andy Geldman is a freelance ecommerce and IT consultant, and webmaster of Web Retailer, a guide to eBay software and services Andy lives in London, England and can be emailed at andy.geldman @ salubritas.com


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