Times Are Changing. Are You?

Guidelines to help you adapt your online business to the shifting market

by Dennis L. Prince
- Jun 05, 2009

Without question, online sellers have recently struggled and strained to maintain a profitable livelihood in eBay's ever-changing marketplace. From the shrewdly shifting of fees to increased pressure to price lower and ship for free, eBay has presented sellers with significant challenges that have been deemed as "unfriendly" by some longtime merchants.

Add the unpredictable marketplace where buyers are often hesitant to purchase goods due to fickle moods or uncertainties about the economic climate and it becomes enough to make any experienced seller consider pulling out entirely.

Well, some sellers have taken action by looking squarely at their own business plans and reassessing their own goals and expectations. Since it's a periodic re-evaluation that keeps a business going strong amid the winds of change, here are the key elements you'll want to revisit to ensure you can meet change head on.

Reassess your goals

If you're like most sellers, you were drawn to eBay by a goal to make money. Perhaps you had a bunch of stuff you simply wanted to shed. Maybe you had an existing business (brick and mortar or online) and you were looking for a way to reach more customers. It's possible, too, you were eager to launch a new product, brand or service, and wanted to utilize eBay to test your idea, premise and approach.

Today, just as the auction climate has changed, it's possible your goals have also changed. This is a good time to take pause and decide what you want to achieve in this new chapter of your online endeavors.

Some folks decide it's time to refocus and reinvent their business (or product or brand), and use this temporary lull to think up a new approach. Others determine this is a good time to launch a new product or new service for a new time. Some decide they're a bit weary from all the past busyness and see this as a time to just slow down for a bit (maybe three to six months) and reset their perspective, monitor the trends, then jump back in with a renewed set of goals and a fully refreshed state of mind. Now is the perfect time to reassess, realign and reassert yourself with a revamped business plan.

Reassess your offerings

Wise sellers recognize the value in keeping their sales policies evolving with the market

Sometimes a drop in sales stems from a decline in demand for the goods you're selling. Consumer demand shifts at various times and within the changing seasons of the year. It also shifts along with a change in the overall mood, perception and outlook of the economic situation at hand. If you've been selling "indulgent" goods, a shift to a more practical market mindset might leave you wondering why people aren't enjoying your items like they used to.

This doesn't mean you're doomed in your business just that you need to realign yourself to your customers' situation. Offer goods that have a more practical value—and present them with a sales pitch that illuminates their practicality. Additionally, if you usually offer high-priced items, push those to the side for the time being and offer a greater volume of lower-priced—that is, more affordable—goods. If you have any inventory that seems to be collecting dust on your shelves, consider pricing those items for quick sale, and position them as attention-getting deals that will encourage folks to visit you to see what else you might have in store.

Even when buyers aren't opening their wallets as freely as before, they will still come upon a moment when they need to reward themselves for having been so frugal and faithful to practical economizing. Hopefully, they'll indulge among your offerings.

Reassess your policies

As the online marketplace continues to evolve, wise sellers recognize the value in keeping their sales policies evolving as well. If it's been a while since you've reviewed your terms of service, take this opportunity to make sure you're still in touch with your customers' needs. Check the following key elements of your sales policies:

  • Shipping and handling: Forget the pressure to offer free shipping (unless you can do so without eroding your well-deserved profits) and ensure the shipping fees you charge are reasonable. Forget trying to wiggle an extra dollar or two under the guise of "handling charges" or overcharged shipping fees. Be certain, of course, that you can recoup your shipping expenses and that you ship in a method that is safe and reliable for the item to arrive in good condition.

  • Payment methods: Again, here's where eBay has imposed a near-mandate that sellers only accept PayPal payments. Sellers know that not all buyers want to pay this way, so walk the fine line and include instructions such as "please contact me if you need to use an alternate payment method; most are gladly accepted."

  • Refunds and guarantees: More than ever, folks are looking for assurance somewhere in an uncertain economic landscape. Include reasonable refund and guarantee provisions that let your customers know you'll back their purchase 100 percent. This could be all they need to hear to begin a purchase with you.

Reassess your presence

Lastly, be sure to take another look at your presence within the marketplace. Now is a perfect time to determine if you're still entertaining the proper customer set, or even if you're still not reaching a larger audience that would be interested in your offerings. Have you built that Web store outside of eBay? Have you added enticing features and information that will complement what you sell? Have you ensured you've made it easy to find you and your goods online (through use of embedded meta-data on your site, active participation in social networks and so on)?

Perform the usual search-and-find methods you use when you're looking for something, but check to see if your business is showing up in the results. If it's not, there's no better time to make sure folks can find you when they're searching for the best value for their dollar.

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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