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Online Selling Trends 2014: Standing Out in the Crowd

Each January we ask a panel of industry experts to participate in our “Online Selling Trends” feature, asking them about the challenges and opportunities they see for online sellers in the New Year. This year, we also reached out directly to some sellers for their perspective, and turned to some regular posters on the EcommerceBytes Blog.

On Tuesday we kicked off Online Selling Trends 2014 with a small home-based seller who lists computer parts and upgrades on eBay, Bonanza and eCrater in Part 1, “Rising Cost of Shipping Presents Challenge. Today, we talk to a seller of craft patterns and fragrances who sells on eBay and Etsy.

This seller is looking for ways to automate some tasks and get better exposure for her products in highly competitive categories on eBay as she looks for additional venues on which to sell.

Describe your business in general terms (what you sell, where you sell/have sold and how big your business is).

Seller: I am a Silver PowerSeller as well as TRS Plus (Top Rated Seller) on eBay where I run about 2500 GTC (Good Til Cancelled) listings every month and throughout the month around 750 auctions. I also have about 150 listings on Etsy.

I have two distinct product lines I sell. I started selling on eBay about 12 or 13 years ago. From the start I sold Craft pattern books and leaflets with occasional supplies sprinkled in. I sell all kinds, all new, many are out of print. Crochet, knitting, painting, cross stitch, plastic canvas, beading etc. I carry my own inventory here in my home.

About 5 years ago I added fragrances to what I sell on eBay. I am a drop shipper of these products. In total for 2013 I had about 2400 US only transactions. I have international transactions especially to Canada, but I didn’t track those numbers.

What are the biggest challenges facing you going into the New Year?

Seller: I am my entire staff. My biggest challenge is getting the exposure I pay eBay for. When I get exposure, my sales do fine. But eBay is really only allowing about 1 in 3 months to be good or better. It gets exceedingly more difficult to function that way. For 2013 my Best months are as follows, in order from highest to lowest; December, August, July, and June.

Now something that I think needs to be noted is that in late April and early May, I was doing a whole lot of phone calls to eBay regarding my LACK of sales. They were really bad. Down by a full 50%. Then come July and August I had very good sales. In ALL my years of selling, these are typically my two worst months of the year. I thought that was pretty interesting that in 2013 they come in among my best months.

Early in this new year I need to get far more serious about finding other avenues in which I can sell my stuff better at. I’ve tried several other sites in the past 3 years and nothing even comes close to eBay. I don’t sell enough to even cover the phone bill on other sites.

Name one or two things that would make your life easier when it comes to your business.

Seller: I manually compare my supplier’s inventory exception list to what I carry on eBay on a daily basis to make sure I close items that are out of stock and adjust pricing as needed. This takes up a good couple hours daily and sometimes more. Finding a way to streamline this would be an enormous help.

Better exposure. With more sales comes more freedoms. Certainly more work too, but work with a big smile on my face. And more financial stability and less worries. eBay just has too many sellers in certain categories and they can’t and/or won’t treat them equally. So my sales resembles a saw blade with all the ups and downs. Unfortunately my financial requirements do not follow the same pattern.

What’s your most effective marketing tactic?

Seller: Good to exceptional customer service. Often times sellers do not respect how important repeat buyers are. To me, they are the best. Sometimes they even bring their friends. There is such huge value in repeat customers. So I treat everyone with the utmost respect and do the very best I can to make sure their needs are met.

Now this is not to say I let them steamroll over me. I don’t do that. When problems arise. I take them all on a case by case basis. I never assume anything and I don’t prejudge. I always write my communication in a completely professional manner and I never get down and dirty with them even if they are hostile to me.

However there has been a time or two on eBay that the buyer was really so rude it was almost beyond belief. I have been known to tell them off / give them a good piece of my mind. But ONLY after the timeframe for feedback has passed or I’m confident they can’t do anything negative to my account. I am only human after all. Sometimes they just get under your skin and you can’t shake them until you address it. But this is not something I do on a regular basis. It is pretty rare.

Free shipping or no free shipping?

Seller: I do both. It has been my experience that for my fragrances it works very well. I really like it and so do my customers. I also have all my fragrances set up to require immediate payment. Again it works very well. All my fragrance listings are GTC.

As for my craft books and supplies, Free Shipping does not work well and my buyers don’t like it. Plus it discourages multiple purchases which I thrive on with my craft stuff. It is far better to offer them deep discounts on the shipping for multiple purchases. Buyers are happier and they feel like they got a deal, so many return all the time.

What’s one thing online sellers may not know but should?

Seller: Stop taking things buyers say so personally. Some buyers are just out to get whatever they can for as little as possible. Bullying is just one method they may use to get what they want. It is so important to separate this. It is not personal, it is business. As soon as you can make that separation, the better off you will be. Be professional, defuse the situation and remember it is business, NOT personal.

Will you be selling online 5 years from now?

Seller: Probably. I have a couple kids to get through college. Dad’s income only goes so far. Besides, I actually like selling on the internet. For the most part I do enjoy my job and this is my full time job. Most people I meet are nice and I enjoy them. There will always be those that are unpleasant to deal with, but there are those in any type of business. Just deal and move on.

The income I generate from my online sales is a MUST HAVE just to meet the regular bills. If I don’t have it, some bills don’t get paid or the credit card balances go up. So hopefully very soon all this unwelcomed movement on sales gets worked out and I discover a better way in which to structure my business and/or where I do business.

Stay tuned as we hear from additional sellers and industry players in the days ahead as part of EcommerceBytes 2014 Online Selling Trends. Our thanks to participants for taking the time to share their perspective.

Ina Steiner on EmailIna Steiner on LinkedinIna Steiner on Twitter
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
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). She is a member of the Online News Association (Sep 2005 - present) and Investigative Reporters and Editors (Mar 2006 - present). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com. See disclosure at EcommerceBytes.com/disclosure/.