Maintaining Your DSR Health

Best practices to ensure high DSR marks

by Dennis L. Prince
- Aug 27, 2008

eBay's recent introduction of Detailed Seller Ratings (DSRs) within the Feedback 2.0 launch called to mind the old adage that cites inverse responses to carrots and sticks. And it seemed the workhorses at eBay were being challenged yet again to decide which method was being employed.

Now, these "workhorses" don't work for eBay but they do make eBay work: They're the reliable sellers like you who have made eBay the ginormous e-commerce behemoth that it is. Once again, though, these trusty sellers were being herded in a new direction to the benefit of the auction giant.

Months later, DSR scoring is still a highly contested and controversial topic, and has become the impetus for many long-time sellers to reconsider whether eBay is still the small business enabler that it once was. Some have railed against eBay for instituting the controversial DSR methods, proclaiming them unfair to sellers who will be anonymously graded in their service and potentially punished with decreased visibility for low ratings.

It's a reasonable reaction, to be sure. Yet these same sellers might have forgotten the unshakable truth about selling on eBay and elsewhere: It's your business. Sellers have options, buyers have wants, and both come together to serve each other's needs. In all of this, eBay remains a "venue only" (remember?) and—when properly managed as such—sellers can reassert why eBay should be serving the seller and not the other way around.

But with fears of low DSR scores, some sellers wonder if they can maintain proper and profitable visibility to buyers. Yes, they can, and so can you.

With a firm focus upon buyers, and serving them through tried-and-true commerce techniques, sellers are still in control of their destiny

To make the point, here are five "dos" for sellers to act upon, plus one "don't" to carefully consider. As you'll see, good business basics still apply and any new programs or prodding from eBay don't necessarily relegate you to accepting live-with-it-or-leave-it propositions. With a firm focus upon buyers, and serving them through tried-and-true commerce techniques, sellers are still in control of their destiny. Here's what you should re-examine about your business and how you can remind yourself that you're still in control of your customers' satisfaction.

Do clearly state your sales and shipping policies

Right off the bat, be sure you're stating your sales and shipping policies up front. If you've been a bit lax in monitoring, or possibly modifying your policies, now's a good time to revisit and revise. While you definitely want to describe and detail the goods you're offering within every listing, you also want to follow that with a clear and comprehensive detailing of how you'll manage the transaction. Here's where customer-centric services come into play and where good sellers should continue to present policies that reasonably cater to and attract buyers.

Offer options to your buyers by including two or more shipping options. Since the shipping score of the DSR algorithm seems to be most concerning and contested, sellers should provide several options for shipping, each with a clear explanation of cost and transit time. Although sellers are fearful they're being coerced to offer free transit as a plea for a five-star shipping rating with their DSR scoring, buyers know that shipping costs are a reality—controlled by the carriers, not the sellers—and it still takes time for an item to get from Point A to Point B. Therefore, buyers are well served if they can fairly influence how much they'll pay for shipping as well as how long they'll need to wait for an item to arrive. When you offer several options, the buyer gets to choose.

Sellers should offer a reasonable selection of services (such as bulk rate, priority and rush delivery), and can also offer combined shipment of multiple items to save on costs to buyers. On occasion, reducing shipping costs as a temporary promotional tool is still highly effective. Therefore, keep a cool head amid the uproar about shipping charges, revisit and revamp how you communicate your sales and shipping policies, and offer choices and reasonable incentives to show the buyer you're eager to meet their specific needs.

Do continue to provide exceptional customer service

No matter what you sell, how you sell it is still tantamount to your business success. Despite the pressures you might feel eBay is applying, keep your focus on serving your customer, and not as much on appeasing the virtual landlord. Remember that buyers are still concerned about the safety and success of virtual person-to-person transactions with eBay. As a seller, this is your opportunity to ease that apprehension and garner a repeat customer based upon how you manage your transactions.

Quick and concise communication is as paramount in guiding a sale to success as is full and fair disclosure of item details and sales policies. Active post-sale engagement of a buyer usually guides a quick turnaround of payment received. Quick shipment of the goods will convince a buyer that you're a conscientious and committed seller who's ready to do good business—on eBay and even in direct transactions outside of the auction realm. Follow up to ensure goods are received satisfactorily and agree to exchange positive feedback (and encourage deserved DSR scores) after the transaction.

Do recognize that buyers seek reliable sellers

While eBay has significantly refocused its attention upon the buyers (some say at the cost of the all-important sellers), the fact is that buyers actively seek sellers with compelling goods, first and foremost. And although it's true that sellers who deal in the more common and utilitarian items might be fighting among a sea of peers to gain visibility (challenged by contestable DSR rankings), those sellers with the less-common, unique and collectible goods will surely be found by the astute buyer or treasure hunter. After the goods are found, buyers will review feedback rankings and actual comments posted to source out the best purveyor of goods.

Offering options shows you are working to provide the level of service that best suits your customers' wants and needs

Once more, customer service feeds into this, and sellers who have diligently been addressing this matter to ensure new buyers will feel safe—and even eager—to engage in a transaction will continue to prosper. Even if your best efforts can't gain you a purportedly valuable five-star DSR rating across the board, your goods, the presentation of those goods, your policies and your trading history will divulge the real details buyers are eager to know.

Again, following a successful transaction, encourage your buyers to post your deserved DSR rankings while you agree to post positive feedback for them and open the door for communication should the buyer feel any portion of the transaction was less than stellar. In this way, the collaborative and community-based interactions that Pierre Omidyar originally envisioned can and will still win out.

Do keep your costs low

Next, the tenet of lowering costs to increase profits always applies in business—yesterday, today, and forever more. Here, though, sellers need to recognize that the irresponsible passing along of out-of-control costs to buyers will likely result in a loss of business to the more cost-effective competitors. Be sure to quote accurate shipping costs and keep "packing and handling" adders to a minimum. All buyers can easily access carriers' Web sites to verify transit services and costs, and can usually spot a veritable "thumb on the scale" that inexplicably and unacceptably drive up a final sales price.

Of course, sellers do have handing and supplies costs and, as such, those should be explained in full within sales and shipping policies. However, if your fees seem to run on the high side when compared to other sellers offering the same sorts of goods and shipping methods, then the onus is on you to reel in your expenses, lest your bottom line suffer.

On the flipside of this advice, take care not to strip down your shipping and packing methods to such a low-cost level that the actual goods become damaged in transit, or end up taking an extremely long time to be delivered into your buyer's eager hands. Here again, offering options allows your buyer to make that decision and shows you are working to provide the level of service that best suits your customers' wants and needs and will garner you the praises of a satisfied customer.

Do pursue sales opportunities outside of eBay

As you've come this far, you're poised to maintain a well-intentioned and customer-centric business that can carry you outside the boundaries of a single sales channel. More to the point: There are more opportunities to sell online than simply within eBay alone. If the DSR changes have raised your concern—or ire—harness that angst or frustration and use the energy to further develop and diversify your business.

Others have found success within the Amazon Marketplace and also via Yahoo! Stores. Beyond this, creating your own Web site to better establish your unique business venture is practically a must. There are plenty of online tutorials, Web development tools, payment processors (not just PayPal), plus additional plug-ins and more that can help you create your business on the Internet, promote it through major search engines, and grow your income opportunity just the way you like it.

Take a weekend away from listing at eBay and use the time to develop a plan for your online presence. Utilize your customer list to announce your direct-sales offerings (allow the opt-out, of course) and parlay your previous eBay success to boost your business in its own right—many satisfied customers are happy to allow their comments to be used as posted testimonies for others to see. Don't abandon eBay or any other sales channels you may be using but, rather, add your individual Web presence to your business' reach, where you can truly offer more information, more goods and more opportunity for yourself to blossom, unfettered by the confines of the auction venue. This has been the path to autonomy that other sellers have taken and, in this day where buyers scour the entire Web for the items they crave, you're in the best position ever to take the next step beyond fee-based selling.

Don't forget that it's your business

Sellers need to define (or redefine) eBay as a sales channel, but not as sole venue for entrusting to an entrepreneurial endeavor

The bottom line is this is your business. Ironically, eBay was founded upon this very notion. Recall when sellers were actively courted and encouraged to trade at eBay, ensuring the site could continue to boast "millions of items for sale every day." Since eBay was built upon the "perfect store" premise—that it didn't maintain inventory, nor directly manage post-sale transactions—the site catered to the sellers' needs to ensure good business was taking place, day in and day out. Most sellers realize they are the backbone of the site and, despite the cajoling—and some say coercing—from eBay, successful sellers know they have built a business and a customer base upon the merits of their methods, not necessarily eBay's.

With this knowledge, sellers should realize that they control their own destinies and can reposition eBay itself as a serviceable springboard for launching or expanding a self-owned business. As they did during the earlier days of the site, sellers need to define (or redefine) eBay as a sales channel, but not as sole venue for entrusting to an entrepreneurial endeavor. When sellers utilize eBay as just one method to reach customers, they stand ready and aware that there are many additional tools and techniques to establish, maintain, and grow a loyal client list.

What this all boils down to is this good news: It's time to flex those entrepreneurial muscles once again and maximize all venues for doing business online. If ever a "sleeping giant" had been awakened, certainly the massive base of sellers—they who perpetuate the flow of goods on eBay—have been roused to respond.

Of course, eBay is still a great venue for reaching a worldwide audience, and should be regarded as such. But it's not the only sales channel available. And for that reason, sellers need to remember that the satisfaction of their customers truly comes from those buyers, directly, and is likely not accurately represented by a DSR score.

At the end of the day, nothing has changed since eBay's inception. It's still a place where people meet to do business, person to person. But the business, remember, is yours.

About the Author

Dennis L. Prince has been analyzing and advocating the e-commerce sector since 1996. He has published more than 12 books on the subject, including How to Sell Anything on eBay…and Make a Fortune, second edition (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and How to Make Money with MySpace (McGraw-Hill, 2008). His insight is actively sought within online, magazine, television and radio venues.

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

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