5 Business Mistakes You Might Be Making

Even experienced sellers find these bad habits can sneak into their operations.

by Brad and Debra Schepp
- May 16, 2011

Many years ago Dad was a pilot. He taught all of his teenagers to drive with an eye to detail. You never know which little detail you're overlooking that can lead to disaster. As we all aged out of new-driver territory, Dad would occasionally comment on and correct our now well entrenched driving skills. He reminded us not to take offense, since even experienced pilots must fly accompanied by a critic on a routine basis.

"You can't see the little mistakes and bad habits that sneak into your driving or piloting skills," he'd explain. "It takes another experienced party willing to speak up to you to keep your skills sharp."

We thought of Dad recently when we set out to take a look at some often overlooked mistakes experienced eBay sellers may be making. We asked some experts and now we've divided the results into two categories: mistakes people make with their business operations, and mistakes people make in their listings. Both can combine to cost you money, time and customer satisfaction, but this time we'll start with the business mistakes.

Some mistakes cover the overarching act of running your own business on eBay. So many eBay sellers spend years refining their inventories, sources and product descriptions they forget to look at the bigger picture. How would you describe your business and what do you want your customers to think about you? If you had a brick-and-mortar store, these decisions would be more in the forefront of your mind. You'd have to actually be creating a space to operate.

Still, the image you project and the business insight you bring to your e-commerce business can be the difference between watching your business sink and enjoying the ride as you sail along.

The secret for the little guy is to find a niche product with less competition

Mistake No. 1: Ignore the competition

Don't look over your shoulder, because someone might be gaining on you. Well, that might have been true for Satchel Paige, but it isn't true when you're selling on eBay. Ignoring your competition can kill your business, and that starts with correct product selection.

"Make the decision to compete with sellers of your own size and resources," says Skip McGrath, publisher of "The Online Sellers News" and author of "The Complete eBay Marketing System." You simply can't compete with the bigger sellers listing the hottest consumer products, unless of course, you have many thousands of dollars to invest in inventory, and then you better hope you've gotten that little detail right.

"All of the big sellers can cut their prices and make up the difference in volume. But if you try this, you will get killed," warns McGrath, who sells on eBay as mcgrrrrr. "The secret for the little guy is to find a niche product with less competition. Typically, the big guys leave these specialized niches alone."

Mistake No. 2: Pretend to be bigger than you are

It may seem tempting to puff yourself up and make it seem that you are the be-all and end-all in your own little niche market, but that can actually be an enormous mistake, and a hard one to overcome.

"If you're a one-person operation, put your unique, personal spin on it instead of trying to hide it," advises Jody Rogers of beachcombers! on eBay. "Make being a smaller seller work for you by making the buyer feel connected to you. As an added benefit, people tend to be more understanding of mistakes made by individuals rather than big companies."

In this economic climate, it may be especially satisfying to your customers to shop with the "little guy," who is keeping the family going, as opposed to the big successful businesses that seem to be getting a pass. If you're small, be proud of it!

Mistake No. 3: Overpromise, underdeliver

It's a common theme of sitcoms, but how many times have we signed on to a task by promising we can do it, only to retreat into our own realities where we don't have a clue about how to make it happen? We laughed at Lucille Ball when she did that, but it's not so funny if you're operating your business like this.

"Under promise—overdeliver," Rogers recommends. "In the rush to one-up every other seller, new sellers often promise more than they can deliver to get the sale. This leads to an unhappy buyer, who may leave poor feedback and, most importantly, won't buy from you again."

Rogers gives the example of promising delivery times. "Just because eBay and the USPS claim Priority Shipping will get from Florida to California in two days, doesn't mean you have to do the same. Set more realistic expectations that you will meet or exceed," she advises. "That goes for everything, not just shipping."

Mistake No. 4: Don't sweat the small stuff

On the contrary, you must sweat the small stuff. It's all small stuff. Your goal is to please your buyer and keep your customers coming back for more. You only have a very brief opportunity to do that, so you mustn't miss out on it.

Barbara Freundlish and her husband are auelox2 on eBay. The couple sells jewelry and, today, both partners work full-time on their eBay business.

When starting your eBay business, you should bend over backward to provide exceptional service

"You have to be very detail-oriented to sell on eBay. eBay runs on feedback and it is extremely important to make the customer happy from packaging to shipping to communicating," Freundlish advises. This couple even includes a small gift in every shipment to further delight customers.

McGrath agrees with this approach, especially in the beginning.

"When starting your eBay business, you should bend over backward to provide exceptional service," he says. "Remember, you're fishing for compliments. When you have a positive feedback rating over 50 to 100, bidders will look at your rating number and then make their decision on whether or not they like your product. If your feedback rating is less than 50, people tend to actually look back through your comments and read them. There's a big difference between 'Nice transaction—good seller' and 'FIVE*****SELLER, EXCELLENT PRODUCT-FAST SHIPPING.'"

Mistake No. 5: Mind your own business

Keeping your head down and sweeping your own doorstep can make you a good neighbor in the world of cubicle workers, but in operating your eBay business, you better keep an eye out for what's going on in your marketplace. If you don't, it's very easy to miss new announcements and changes from eBay that dramatically alter the way you run your business.

"eBay doesn't make it very easy to stay on top of announcements and changes," says Debbie Levitt of As Was. Levitt's company helps e-commerce sellers design their templates and manage their businesses. She also helps people keep up to date with what's happening on eBay.

"We rebroadcast announcements at the @rocketplace Twitter account," she says. Levitt also posts them on Facebook. You could find this information on eBay's official blog and seller discussion boards, but then you would have to make it a routine habit to check those so you don't miss out on things that have changed and will require you to change your operation, too.

Now you know five mistakes that you can avoid making as you build and operate your eBay business. If you saw yourself in one of these scenarios, remember Dad's words, and don't feel too bad. It's easy, in the rush to do everything, to develop bad habits and not so easy to spot them once they're there.

Next time, we'll look at a few listing mistakes even experienced sellers still make. We've uncovered some mistakes you might not have even realized qualify as mistakes, but they do.


About the Author

Brad and Debra Schepp are the authors of 20 books, including eBay PowerSeller Secrets and The Official Alibaba.com Success Guide: Insider Tips and Strategies for Sourcing Products from the World's Largest B2B Marketplace. Their most recent book, which Deb co-authored with John Lawson, is Kick Ass Social Commerce for E-preneurs: It's Not About Likes—It's About Sales.

For further information, visit Brad and Deb's website, bradanddeb.com.

Opinions expressed here may not be shared by Auctiva Corp. and/or its principals.

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