When we were in college, we can remember people saying, fairly or not, that once a professor gets tenure he can take it easy a bit. That's because the pressure is off (aside from all that "publish or perish" stuff), in that it's much more difficult for a university to dismiss a tenured professor than it is to fire one who hasn't gotten his or her tenure yet.
We bring this up because eBay has its own professor of sorts in Jim "Griff" Griffith. Since joining the company in 1996 as its first customer support representative, Griff has nearly 15 years of eBay experience, and now acts as an "eBay ambassador" to help teach others how to effectively use the site. With all that experience, there's no disputing that Griff is now "tenured." His current title is even dean of education. Yet, there's also no disputing that Griff is still teaching, still motivating and still offering sellers invaluable advice. He's certainly not sitting back now that he's tenured. In fact, he's as in touch with sellers as he's ever been.
We caught up with Griff recently to see what insights he could offer eBay sellers these days. We spoke in late April, during what Griff called "a major week for us." He was especially exuberant because for the first time eBay was offering zero insertion fees. Insertion fees have always represented a "speed bump," in Griff's view. With the new pricing for non-store owners, you can list 50 items a month without any insertion fees, he noted.
Buyers online will not shop in a marketplace where they get a different experience from seller to seller.
Then the dean turned to eBay's Top-rated seller program, which the company feels is a big success. For buyers, it's helped provide a more consistent buying experience on the site. Those earning the Top-rated seller badge are reaping the benefits also, as 38 percent of eBay's 2010 fourth-quarter gross merchandise value came from these sellers.
"Buyers go to, and give preference to, Top-rated sellers," Griff says. "Buyers online will not shop in a marketplace where they get a different experience from seller to seller." If there's one thing that e-commerce companies have learned over the past few years it's that buyers have to feel assured they will be treated consistently well, or they will flee en masse. "It's a major driving force of what we've done to change the marketplace," he adds.
Top-rated sellers get 20-percent discounts on final value fees, "which isn't chump-change for many large sellers," Griff says. "But they are also getting better customer loyalty, and their business sales and velocity are increasing. They are giving, at the least, industry-standard service to their customers."
Another fact of selling on the site, or anywhere online for that matter, is that buyers are drawn to free shipping like bees are drawn to flowers. So eBay is doing all it can to encourage sellers to offer free shipping whenever possible. Its efforts are paying off. More and more, eBay sellers are offering no- or low-cost shipping, according to Griff. What's more, "sellers who adopt that [approach] see the difference."
Tips for seller success
As eBay's "ambassador," Griff talks to a lot of sellers, especially smaller sellers who are sole proprietors. In the process, he's learned a great deal about how they run their businesses. What he's learned may not be easy to hear, but it's certainly important. Griff feels that too many sellers don't have a really good handle on business—both their own businesses and the industry in general. This realization came about through a lot of questions and conversations.
"Sellers are woefully deficient in their knowledge about their own businesses and the industry their businesses reside within. They are running their businesses on assumptions," he says. "I call this RYBWB [Running Your Business While Blindfolded]."
One way eBay has been helping sellers with these challenges is by offering more advanced courses at its eBay: On Location events. As we've previously reported, these local events have taken the place of the annual eBay Live confabs. For 2011 there's one more eBay: On Location event planned. It's coming up this fall, and most likely will be on the East Coast, according to Griff.
People have a shared purpose in succeeding as entrepreneurs. It's such a great facet of being human
It really is about community
Aside from encouraging and helping sellers to get down and dirty with the details of running their businesses, Griff also beats the drum about the importance and value of seller-to-seller communication.
"In talking to sellers who are really succeeding," Griff says, "they will put staying in touch with other sellers at the top of their list of reasons they're successful." Griff says that if you're a seller you have to be reading blogs, using Facebook and "socializing with other sellers in whatever format feels right for you."
"There's camaraderie among sellers," he continues. "As human beings we succeed better. You can get there faster if you're letting people in on your business and sharing. People have a shared purpose in succeeding as entrepreneurs. It's such a great facet of being human. 'I've succeeded, and I'm happy to share with you the ways that I did that.'"
Aside from social networking sites and eBay: On Location events, Griff recommends that sellers join eBay Meetup Groups. You can look for groups in your area through Meetup.com. "But if you can't find one, think about starting one for yourself," he advises. eBay Education Specialists and trading assistants also offer great opportunities to meet other sellers.
We can't leave the subject of seller communication without making a pitch for trade groups. Participation in a trade group offers a tremendous way for sellers to learn from one another, especially through their regular meetings and discussion boards. One of our favorite organizations is the Internet Merchants Association, which is currently offering free membership at the "bronze" level to all e-commerce sellers. The other prominent organization for eBay sellers is the Professional eBay Sellers Alliance, which according to its Web site, was founded in 2003 and "is the world's largest trade association dedicated to eBay's top sellers."
Note that both organizations have members with expertise selling on Amazon and other e-commerce sites, not just eBay.
So Griff may be tenured, but he's not tired, as he's still offering helpful advice to eBay sellers.