What Do Buyers Really Want?

Give customers every reason to rate you highly.

by Auctiva.com staff writer
- Mar 26, 2010

With so many recent changes at eBay focused on improving the "buyer experience," you might wonder exactly what it is that buyers want.

Certainly, a feedback history or Top-rated Seller badge that demonstrates trustworthiness is high on the list. But newer sellers may not have an established track record. And savvy eBayers know there is more to a good seller than feedback alone.

So what can you do to win over buyers' confidence and ensure they walk away satisfied? Outlined here are five key qualities eBay buyers hope to find in a seller.

Fast shipping

Of course they want it now. However, everyone (buyers included) knows sellers can't control the speed of the post office or package carrier. What you can do is offer at least two shipping options and let the buyer decide how long they're willing to wait for their item to arrive.

As a seller, you can also help make the wait seem less interminable by packing and shipping items as soon as possible after receiving payment. There's nothing more frustrating to a buyer than paying for an item instantly using PayPal, then waiting weeks for it to arrive—especially when they were promised priority shipping.

Now, maybe you have legitimate reasons for not shipping every day, or even every other day. In fact, many online merchants only ship on certain days of the week. The important thing is to make this policy explicit in your listing and let buyers decide if the wait is worth it. eBay now requires sellers to specify a handling time, so there won't be any question. But whenever possible, try to ship items within two days of confirmed payment to keep customers happy.

A quick note to the buyer to confirm their payment and the planned ship date is always a nice touch.

Fair shipping and handling charges

Pack and weigh items before you list to ensure that your shipping charges are in line with the actual cost

eBay's research shows buyers want free shipping. Call it the Amazon Effect. Online shoppers have come to expect free shipping on certain retail sites, and that expectation has carried over to eBay—never mind that it's not a typical retail site.

However, not all items lend themselves to free shipping. And, truthfully, not all buyers expect it. More often than not, they're happy to pay a reasonable overall price—that is, the total cost of the item, plus shipping.

But here's where a lot of sellers go wrong: pricing an item well below market value and setting an inflated shipping cost. This approach is an obvious attempt to skirt eBay's fees by undervaluing the item and, if caught, a seller can be expelled from eBay. At the very least, they will earn a reputation as a shady dealer.

Even worse, in buyers' eyes, is to advertise an expedited shipping method and then send the item using a cheaper, slower method. Now, maybe you envisioned being able to pack those dainty teacups and saucers into a Flat Rate Priority box, but in the end they just wouldn't fit securely. Going with a non-flat-rate priority service would cost significantly more; do you eat the cost or choose Parcel Post and hope your buyer doesn't notice? You'll have to decide, based on your profit margin, whether to absorb the additional cost. But minimally, if you opt for a cheaper method, refund the difference immediately along with a clear and honest explanation. It can't hurt to throw in a small gift as a token of good will.

And in the future, pack and weigh items before you list them to ensure that not only do you have adequate packaging but your shipping charges are in line with the actual cost. Taking the time to do this might not only save you money and anguish; it might save packing time after the sale, and let you get the item shipped out to the customer that much quicker.


Have you ever purchased something online and then heard nothing from the seller—no payment confirmation, no shipping notice, no tracking information—until the item actually arrived? Unsettling, isn't it?

A sure way to invite poor reviews as a seller is to ignore buyers after they've handed over their money. It takes very little time and effort to dash off an e-mail saying, "Thank you, you're item is scheduled to ship on…" This reassures your buyer that a person does exist at the other end of the transaction, and that they haven't been scammed.

Do you sell tons of items a day? Set up automated responses. Third-party listing services such as Auctiva allow sellers to create customized messages that can be sent out at various stages of the transaction—when a purchase is made, when payment is received, when payment has not been received and so on. But it is possible to over-communicate, so make sure any automated messages you send don't duplicate those already sent by eBay, your payment processor or your shipping courier. Automated e-mail settings can be found under the Sales tab when you log into your Auctiva account.

Overuse of visual gimmicks leaves listing pages cluttered and hard to read

Clear and accurate descriptions

Your listing is usually the first impression you will make on a potential buyer. Titles, descriptions and, yes, even images should always be clear and to the point, yet give the viewer enough pertinent information about the item to be able to bid or buy with confidence.

One thing that really irks buyers is visual gimmicks such as miXed CaSe and $ymb@!s to draw their attention. While sparing use of all caps to highlight keywords can be effective, overuse of these tricks leaves listing pages cluttered and hard to read—which is a real turn-off.

By the way, so are poor grammar and spelling. It's a good idea to compose the text of your listing in a word processing program that automatically checks these details. Once you're satisfied with your description, copy and paste the text into a clipboard program, such as Notepad, where you can ensure no unwanted formatting has crept in, then copy and paste the text into your listing generator.

Clear images are just as important. Blurred or dark photos can obscure important details about an item and may leave buyers with the impression that the seller is careless. If an item is worth taking the time to list on eBay, it's worth taking a few extra moments to get a decent product shot of it. You might even find you get higher bids.

Nix the negativity

It's true that eBay has toughened its selling standards. It's also true that these new rules will make it harder for some merchants to continue selling profitably on eBay. If you're among the disgruntled, do yourself and your buyers a favor and save negative remarks for the discussion forum. Don't let your listings reflect your animosity—whether it's directed at problem buyers you've encountered or the eBay powers-that-be.

Nothing screams "Don't buy from me" like a listing or About Me page that's seething with hostility or threats (i.e., "Don't bid if you don't intend to pay"). It's fine to include an instructive explanation of how DSRs work and express your desire to provide 5-star service, for instance; just try not to come across as whiny or resentful.

When you write out your descriptions and terms—and anytime you communicate with buyers—try this trick used by customer service agents everywhere: smile. When you're smiling, it's easier to maintain a positive attitude. And that positivity will come through in your words—and in your future sales.

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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