Fielding Bidders' Questions

Effective communication with potential buyers inspires trust—and bids.

by staff writer
- Apr 24, 2008

During the course of your online auction or sale, you will probably get at least one question from a potential buyer. If you have lots of listings or a really hot product, you might get tons of inquiries. Answering them all can be time consuming, but do it, and promptly—even the dumb questions.

When someone takes the time to submit a question by clicking the "Ask Seller a Question" link on your listing page, they are usually interested enough to bid, but want to know more—either about the product or about you—before committing to the deal.

People are more likely to buy things from a seller they trust. On eBay, apart from user IDs, transactions are fairly anonymous, so developing a rapport with potential customers is a must.

Remember this refrain from your school days? There are no stupid questions. Even if you're asked about something that is plainly spelled out in your description, don't treat the questioner as a nuisance. More than likely, your potential bidder is just trying to make sure you're a legitimate seller with a real product, not a sham.

Questions present an opening to market your other items. Consider including a link to related items in your responses

Respond politely and sign off with a thank you. Oh, and be sure your answer is to the point; don't just blow off the question with a pat response that doesn't really satisfy. "Item is as described." Are you sure about that? Go back and read your description; you may have left out an important nugget of information, or maybe the wording is unclear or doesn't reflect what's in the photo. And does "Item is as described" really project the kind of image you want?

Also try to learn what you can from the exchange. Questions from bidders can be a good opportunity to improve your item descriptions, adapt your marketing approach or discover interesting details about your product that only experts or collectors would know, or want to.

Questions also present an opening to market your other items. Consider including a link to related items in your responses.

Répondez s'il vous plait

The Ask Seller a Question form allows buyers to choose from five standard topics, including questions about the item, how to pay, shipping for the item, combined shipping on multiple items, and general questions. Occasionally buyers will make a special request, for instance, to ship to an address other than the one on their eBay account, or to use a payment method different from the ones you specify in your listing. You don't have to say "yes" to every request, but do say something. Just stick to the terms and conditions you are comfortable with—and definitely stay within the bounds of the law and eBay's rules.

When someone sends you a question about one of your listings, it will come to you through your My eBay page. There are a few ways to handle it. You can:

Respond privately. Reply directly to the e-mail through eBay's messaging system. Be sure to include the original question in the body of your message. The buyer might have left many different questions for many different sellers. If you reply with a terse "yes," you might leave them guessing about what it is you're agreeing to.

You should know that when you reply to a bidder's question, they will be able to see your e-mail address on the return message, unless you specify otherwise. If you wish to remain private and only display your eBay user ID, you can click "Hide my e-mail address" on the reply message form. If the buyer has a follow-up question, they will have to use Ask Seller a Question again.

Respond publicly. As long as there are more than 12 hours left on your listing, you can add the question with your answer to the item's description by clicking the link in the e-mail that says, "Post this question and response on my listing so all buyers can see it." This can save you a great deal of time fielding questions if it's one that other people are likely to ask. It's a good idea to also reply directly to the buyer's e-mail, just to make sure they see the answer.

Revise your description. If someone asks a question that isn't already answered by your description, and no one has bid yet, you can update the listing to provide additional information. If there are already bids, go in and manually add a note to the end of the description, or have eBay do it automatically by responding publicly as described above.

Automated customer service

If you have a lot of active listings, it can be tedious and time-consuming to answer every single inquiry by hand. Personalized customer service is usually the best bet, but for busy sellers it can become untenable to respond individually to redundant and, let's say, obvious questions.

When you have active listings, monitor your account regularly—at least once a day; more often near the end of an auction

Fortunately, eBay has made it easier to deal with the mundane by enabling canned automatic responses to repeat questions.

FAQs: Since you already know the most commonly-asked questions have to do with shipping and handling, payment options, refunds and returns, color, size and condition of the item, it can be useful to create a set of frequently asked questions, or FAQs—a list of questions that a lot of people might ask, along with your answers. You can create this document through My eBay Preferences, and it will be displayed anytime a buyer clicks Ask Seller a Question. Even if you have included the information in your description, it can't hurt to repeat it in your FAQs, in case a viewer missed it in your listing.

Self-service: If you run an online business with a high volume of transactions, it might be worth your while to set up a "self-service knowledge base," or automated response system that contains your FAQs. When a buyer submits a question, the system will search your FAQs for the most appropriate answer and send an automatic reply. If the system can't find the answer in your knowledge base, you will be alerted that you need to respond directly to the customer.

Some customer support software vendors are able to integrate their services with eBay's Ask Seller a Question feature. Monthly fees start at around $20 and are billed directly to you, not through your eBay account.

Be accessible

When you have active listings, monitor your account regularly—at least once a day; more often near the end of an auction. Aim to reply to inquiries by the end of the day, or at least within 24 hours. If you take too long to respond, you risk looking like an indifferent seller and you probably won't get a bid from the person posing the question.

In the final hours of your listing, try to stay by your computer so you can field any flurry of last-minute questions—and promptly notify and thank the winning bidder. Or look into adding e-mail service to your cell phone or PDA so you can stay in touch with customers anywhere, anytime. Better yet, use a service like Auctiva to automate the sending of customizable winning-bidder notifications.

Being responsive and answering questions to the best of your knowledge goes a long way toward establishing trust with customers—and promoting the kind of positive transactions that result in positive feedback for you.

About the Author

Auctiva staff writers constantly monitor trends and best practices of those selling on eBay and elsewhere online. They attend relevant training seminars and trade shows and regularly discuss the market with PowerSellers and other market experts.

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