My Top 5 Tips for eBay Sellers

Increasing your competitive advantage in the online auction world

by Julia Wilkinson
- Apr 07, 2008

The eBay selling landscape is never static, but never has it changed so much as in recent weeks. The new policy of sellers not being able to leave negative feedback for buyers is a sea change in the way eBay handles its ratings system. And the new fee structure presents not only a challenge but also an opportunity in some tranches of final sales price levels and eBay Store items.

In this new world of eBay selling, what are some of the most important things for you to do as a seller to stay on top of the game—bearing in mind, of course, that the rules may change again very soon?

Some are the same meat-and-potatoes customer service-oriented things that were always true; others are tweaked for the recent changes.

1. Take a few ounces of prevention for bad feedback

With the new policy, it will be harder to avoid negative feedback now. Feedback is also more important than ever, as eBay is including Detailed Seller Ratings (DSRs) in the "Best Match" algorithm that is the new default for search. You can't completely protect yourself from "negs," but there are a lot of things you can do to lower your odds of getting them in the first place.

Make it very difficult for your buyers to be disappointed. Be up front about shipping costs, any flaws in your items, and anything else that needs disclosure. Go a little overboard if possible, while still stressing your products' good points.

One thing I do is write, "Please contact me if there is any problem" on the printed receipt I put in the box. Extra touches, like a thank you card, can go a long way in creating buyer goodwill. You may not have time to hand-write one out, but even a stock printed thank you is a nice plus.

If you do receive a bad feedback, you can still try to work it out with SquareTrade, according to eBay. (eBay's own mutual feedback removal system "will remain in place until the second half of 2008," according to the announcement Q&A). Also, the feedback may now automatically be removed if the buyer who left it gets suspended by eBay, or if he/she doesn't respond to the Unpaid Item process.

2. Shipping: Broaden your horizons

Shipping costs are a key factor for many buyers. They can see 'em now right in the search results. Granted, some care more than others about them. But, it's always nice to offer as many different shipping options as you can, in different price points.

If you are selling a book or printed matter that does not contain advertisements, be sure to offer the "media mail" or "book rate" option—it is much cheaper than priority mail.

With the dollar in its current weak state, many foreign buyers are snapping up bargains from our virtual stalls. Why not open yours up and offer worldwide shipping? I know, you may not be crazy about that customs form and subsequent epic post office wait, but some online services like Endicia can make that a lot easier.

I've sold to every continent except Antarctica, and it's always fun to see who buys an item—and sometimes even why.

And believe it or not, you can fit a lot of different types of things in the USPS Priority Mail flat rate envelope, which you can send pretty much anywhere in the world for $11 (and only $9 to Canada and Mexico).

3. Optimize for search

Among the foofaraw about feedback 'n' fees, the dark horse that may ultimately be a bigger influence on sellers' bottom lines is eBay's decision to make the "Best Match" option the default in search results.

That old saw, "don't put your eggs in one basket" still holds true. What better time to explore your options in selling in multiple venues?

OK, so what are the factors that make your listings a "Best Match"? Like Google's "secret sauce" search algorithm, which it keeps under wraps, eBay isn't exactly saying. It does say that two factors going forward will be that sellers with DSRs 4.6 and above and at least 95 percent customer satisfaction in the last 30 days will have increased exposure in the search results; also, sellers with low customer satisfaction or shipping & handling DSRs will have decreased exposure.

As to the other factors, one blogger tracked down eBay's Best Match patent application and found that most of it "describes the relationship between search terms, the text in the auction title and how relevance and desirability are determined." In other words, how well does your title match the buyer's search terms? Meaning: Choose your title words wisely and include as many relevant words as you can.

If you have more descriptive words you want to add but they aren't essential to the search, I suggest buying the subtitle feature and throwing them in there. I think a nicely worded (and preferably typo-free) subtitle really sets your listing apart.

The Best Match patent goes on to describe other factors that can influence search result rankings including: pictures available, seller ratings, price range, geographic proximity of searcher to seller, shipping prices, time left in an auction, number of bids, and Buy it Now.

I like to include as much information about the listing as I have time to fit in. For example, if I am listing a piece of art, I may put a bit about the artist's life in the description. You can cut and paste this from other sources. As long as you attribute it and it's relevant to the listing, eBay doesn't consider it "keyword spamming."

4. Sell in multiple channels

That old saw, "don't put your eggs in one basket" still holds true. What better time to explore your options in selling in multiple venues? This makes sense even if eBay's policies don't change. There are many benefits to having your own Web presence, such as creating your own mailing list of loyal customers. It's also a good idea to explore specialty selling sites that match up with your listings; for example, if you sell collectible books, you can also sell on AbeBooks, alibris, or

eBay sellers have been closely watching one link that shows different auction sites and their percentage changes in listings. Visit the page yourself here.

5. Sell the best stuff you can

This one may seem obvious. But with eBay's final value fees going up, does it make sense to look at your business model and either sell fewer, more expensive items, or group some inexpensive items into lots to make more money per transaction? Obviously, not every product lends itself to selling in lots. But as many bloggers and analysts are saying, it's the sellers with the tightest profit margins that will be negatively affected the most by these changes—and may stop selling on eBay altogether. If you had infinite time, and a crew of trained monkeys, you could make millions with $9.99 items. But you have neither.

If you don't have an eBay Store yet, it makes even more sense to get one now. Not only because it's a good, inexpensive place to store your items until that right buyer comes along, but insertion fees are even lower now: $0.03 down from $0.05 in the $1.00-$24.99 price range, and $0.05 down from $0.10 in the $25.00-$199.99 price range.

Moreover, with listing fees down overall, you can think about listing more with less risk, depending on your sell-through rate and profit margin.

And lastly: Don't forget to have fun. Remember fun? It's what brought a lot of us to eBay. The policies and fees have gotten ever more complicated, and the days of laughing over a human kidney for sale may be gone, but look for those simple joys. Who knows, maybe someday I'll even make a sale to Antarctica.

Reprinted from Julia's Blog, "bidbits," at

About the Author

Julia Wilkinson is the author of The eBay Price Guide (No Starch Press, 2006) and eBay Top 100 Simplified Tips & Tricks (Wiley, 2004-6). Her ebooks, including What $ells on eBay for What are available here, and her free newsletter, "Yard Salers," is available at

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

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