Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Problem with Ebay Express!

Is it possible the biggest problem facing eBay Express in getting traction with online commerce is its name? I often wonder if the association with eBay is what is keeping the site from reaching its potential. The eBay brand has taken some big hits over the last year. The stock is no longer the high flyer it once was, every day there is a new scam reported in the media or a celebrity is selling her hair and Judge Judy is now punishing scam sellers. As I have mentioned before, when I was running GlacierBayDVD, I often had a hard time explaining why I was selling on eBay. The questions I would hear, “Isn’t eBay a flea market or a huge garage sale? Or “why don’t you have your own site”?

Amazon recently announced their new vertical ecommerce site called Endless. As far as I can see the Amazon name is downplayed on the site. They didn't choose to call it Amazon's Endless or something else like that. eBay itself chooses not to rebrand a site when they buy it (,,, come to mind) and of course that makes complete sense. They paid for the Brand as well as the site and the users. I know it is very expensive to build a new brand but eBay was willing to spend millions on a failed TV ad campaign in September touting eBay Express as "eBay, but with new stuff". They could have spent the same amount of money advertising this great new ecommerce site caled Express - They wouldn't have even needed to bring up the "New" angle because that would have been assumed. Sure they are pulling inventory from but they could certainly have just called the site Express. The customers don't care where they are getting the product as long as it is in the condition they expect and at the right price. They certainly would have been able to bring more non-ebay shoppers to the site than they did.

Now it will be even more expensive to Re-Brand the site so they are stuck trudging along with the eBay albatross hanging around their necks. What do you think? Am I off-base here?

Monday, February 26, 2007

One-Year Anniversary of eBay’s SIS (Stores in Search)

I just realized we had recently passed the one-year Anniversary of the introduction of SIS, on Feb 13th 2006, and it got me thinking. If, as eBay stated, the reason management chose to remove Stores from Search in late March of 2006, was due to the effect it had on the buying experience, then the Year over Year CORE listing numbers should be fairly consistent. If, as Store Sellers believe, eBay removed Stores from Search because CORE listings dropped like a rock then we should see a huge Year over Year gain in CORE listings. Of course eBay ran 2 listings sales in March (One was actually started on Feb 28th) so that might mask some of the gains.

Here is the timeline:

Feb 13th, 2006 eBay launches SIS
Feb 28th - 10 cent Core listing sale.
March 15th - 10 cent Core listing sale.
March 28th, 2006
Chris Tsakalakis announces the plan to remove Stores from Search
April 6th, 2006 eBay begins to remove Stores from Search

It will be interesting to see the numbers. According to Bob Peck of Bear Stearns “In the eighth week of 1Q07 . . . U.S. Listings [were] Down 16% Wk/Wk Post-Promotion. We estimate that sellers listed 13.1 mn core items on the U.S. site last week, down 16% from the previous week, as the previous week’s listings were boosted by the 50% off listings promotion. Listings were down 27% Q/Q but flat YoY.”

The key will be to watch these numbers over the next 6 weeks. I’m sure it took a couple of weeks for sellers to realize the increase in store sales was related to SIS. In fact as I mentioned in the timeline above, eBay had a 10 cent Core listings sale on Feb 28th of 2006. (They don't do discounted listing days unless the metrics show there is a need) and then again on March 15th.

Here is my analysis: eBay started to notice the drop in CORE listings around the end of February, that is why they had to be propped up by the listing sale on the 28th then because the listings did not recover they had to have another sale; not more than a week after the items from the Feb 28th sale had closed. The items from the March 15th sale closed on March 22nd and I'm assuming the CORE listings did not recover so they had to make the announcement on March 28th that they were removing Stores from Search.

I’m looking forward to the next 6 weeks. The weeks they did not run listings sales should indicate the impact of SIS.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

eBay Sellers and the Email Counundrum!

This topic may not apply to sellers who sell someplace other than eBay but hopefully you can get something from this post. Also, for a great many small volume sellers eMail is not a problem. But, for many medium to high volume eBay sellers, just the mere mention of answering email sometimes causes loss of bodily function. Customer Service (answering emails) is possibly the most frustrating aspect of doing business on eBay (followed closely by the constant changes made on the platform and fees -- but that subject is for another day).

When I started to grow my business I brought on my first employees to package and ship product. I still answered all of the email and I remember being on vacation with my family for 1 week and still taking at least 2 hours a day to answer email. You should have seen the looks I got from family members.

You see, with eBay the number of emails can be overwhelming. Before you actually even sell an item you will receive numerous ASQ (Ask Seller a Question) emails that range from “Is this New? to “I saw this at Wal-Mart for $10 can you beat that and ship it for free?” Most sellers start out answering every email because they want to provide the best service possible but many quickly decide not to answer any questions submitted through the ASQ form because, to put it bluntly, many of those emails are Stupid! How many times can you answer the question “is this sealed” when you have the words ”new sealed” in the title of your listing. Remember you are answering these emails before you sell a single item and you will get an additional 2 – 3 emails for every item you sell. I always saved the ASQ emails for last and then depending on how frustrated I was I either deleted them in mass or browsed for legitimate questions.

So what do you do about all the emails? If you want to stay in business and keep your feedback pristine then you have to answer them. You can hire employees to do this and transfer the frustration onto them but that can be expensive not to mention burnout those employees. You can setup auto-responders that only seem to frustrate the buyer or you can change your thought process. Instead of saying to yourself, “I hate answering email” get used to saying “email makes me money and the more emails I answer the more money I make” Now, step away from the computer and say those words as if you mean them “email makes me money and the more emails I answer the more money I make” It’s amazing how this change in thinking changes your perspective.

So, how do emails make me money? Let’s take the ASQ emails first: you are probably not the only seller who received the same email. Many times, potential buyers will ask the same question of you and your competitor. The first seller to give them a satisfactory answer almost always gets the sale. Often customers are testing your communication skills so if you don’t answer their question they will just find a seller who will.

Consider each time you receive an email as another dollars worth of exposure and don’t be afraid to up sell them on other items in your store, give them the url to your store with the referral ID, alert them to any sales you are running (now that Markdown Manager is available) and assure them you are the seller to take care of their needs. This builds return business and may even reduce the amount of additional emails they send you. Some customers just want to feel comfortable and they don’t need to have their hand held through the rest of the process.

Remember each email you send or respond to is an exposure to your marketing message. It should contain the information the customer was asking for as well as encourage them to come back and purchase again.

Here are some key email rules:

  • Answer all emails as if you made money on each (the exposure is very valuable). You may also take business away from a competitor or encourage a future purchase
  • Answer the customers question joyfully even if it was stupid. (Change your perspective; don’t ask them why they can’t read).
  • Up sell and alert them of promotions also encourage return visits to your store for future purchases, do this in every email you respond to or send. Remember they are going to read your email because you are responding to a question they asked, take advantage of that.
  • Send “we received your payment” emails (This can be automated, just make it as personal as possible and sign a name not “customer service”) .
  • Send an email to let them know you left positive feedback. Again, this can be automated.
  • Mark the item as shipped in My eBay and send them notification along with any tracking information.
  • Send a follow-up email approximately 2 weeks after you shipped the product just to make sure it has arrived. (If transit time is longer; then adjust when you send the follow-up email) BTW nobody else does this so be the first. You may get customers for life.

Now when you see 50 – 100 emails in your in-box don’t despair just see dollar signs. When you change your way of thinking you will reap the rewards.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Why Adding Google Checkout to eBay is Good for Sellers!

I've written several articles on the PayPal - Google battles over online payments and won't go into those same issues again -- I will add some links to those articles at the end of this post. What I would like to discuss is the need for Google Checkout to be accepted on eBay from a seller's perspective. Remember, I'm The Seller Evangelist so I look at issues from the seller's perspective.

I came across another article on Google Checkout today and something struck me. According to eBay spokesman Hani Durzy "It's our responsibility to encourage payment systems that have a historical track record and desire by community to use it," Durzi said. "Google Checkout has very little historical track record ...we see a very low level of interest." The first part of that statement is funny. Google has had a year to fix the technical issues with Checkout and is now available on 100 of the top 500 shopping sites on the Web and Google itself has a tremendous track record as a company. So that argument is pointless but what about the statement “we see a very low level of interest." The idea that sellers don't have any interest in Google checkout is like saying “Jared, doesn’t like Subway sandwiches” Does eBay really expect us to believe there is little interest in offering this service?

When I was selling I spent close to 4% of Gross Sales -- including S&H -- on PayPal fees and I was getting PayPal’s best rate. The percentage was high because we had a low AOV (Average Order Value) so the 30-cent transaction fee hit us hard as a % of sales. In 2004, my best year on eBay, I spent close to $180,000 in PayPal fees; do you think I wouldn’t have any interest in adding Google Checkout and their no fees promotion?! You have to be kidding me! I would have jumped at adding a no fee option. So the idea that sellers don’t want Checkout is ridiculous but where eBay gets wiggle room is that eBay buyers have shown little interest in adding Checkout. Pardon me, but buyers aren’t interested because they don’t have the option. Give them the option and see how fast they adopt it.

I can tell you this; Google is not going away so at some point they will work out a deal with eBay to include PayPal in Google Checkout in exchange for allowing Checkout to be accepted on eBay. This would be beneficial to both buyer and seller and is inevitable.

Recent articles on the Google - PayPal battles:

And there's new guy coming into the payments area:

Friday, February 16, 2007

What the Heck is a TSE?

Is the TSE (Tailored Shopping Experience) the Wave of the Future!

It is evident that the Tailored Shopping Experience is here to stay. The TSE approach is what many of the big Internet Retailers are betting their future growth on. Amazon announced their own TSE - in January and here is a list of current eBay TSE marketplaces, according to the 3rd quarter 2006 earnings call: eBay Motors, eBay Express,, and Meg vaguely referred to their Classifieds portfolio as a TSE (Kijiji, MarketPlus and Gumtree, among others) One marketplace she did not mention was which has been eBay's Red-headed step-child. They can't seem to figure out what to do with, though sometime this spring they will be adding listings to Express. In January eBay announced they were buying to be their Tickets TSE. The StubHub deal closed this past week.

I’ve been very critical of eBay for the moves they made in 2006, so it surprises me that I see some positives in this march towards more TSE marketplaces. I have written about eBay’s vulnerability in Vertical marketplaces and this TSE approach seems to address that issue head on. Back in Oct. I wrote that I believed this new approach made the rumors of a StubHub purchase even more likely and look what happened.

If eBay can create TSE’s for Collectibles, Electronics, etc. they can re-invigorate the marketplace and keep the other TSE competition at bay. The best way to improve their relationship with sellers (if they care to) is to make a more successful marketplace. TSE marketplaces are the right move.

Wow, add this post to my article on the Stores Markdown Manager, that ran in Auctionbytes this weekend and you would think I was practically an eBay Cheerleader. Let me state for the record, my focus is on the success of online sellers not just eBay sellers. If I come across something I believe is positive for sellers, I will shout it from the rooftops. Even if that means I'm being positive about something eBay is doing.

Can EBay Be Used as a Customer Acquisition Tool?

Sellers! Change Your Thinking About EBay!

Let's talk about Customer Acquisition as a concept. Sellers who sell on eBay need to change their mindset, even sellers who are presently happy with the world of eBay. My suggestion is quit thinking of eBay as your home on the Internet and start thinking of it as a marketing tool. You are not "eBay sellers" you are online sellers who happen to sell on eBay. Repeat after me; I am an online seller and I sell on eBay -- I may need to start a 12-Step program for eBay sellers --remember, even if eBay is presently your only sales channel, you are using eBay to bring you customers. This change in thinking is crucial if you are to take control of your business. Change your mindset. You sell online! I know it can be difficult, but eBay is changing and right now we don't have a clue what it will ultimately look like. Look out for your business, eBay is looking out for theirs.

Ebay still brings tons of high value traffic to their site-after all they are the world's largest auction site, but the times "they are a changin" now that eBay has introduced Sponsored Links, purchased, and announced they are adding listings to CORE search, I believe it is becoming clear they want to become to shopping what Google has become to search-Google's recent innitiaves with GoogleBase and Google Checkout may hasten this change, but that is yet to be seen. Whether or not this actually happens sellers need to start looking at eBay as an acquisition tool rather than a destination. The key to this strategy is to open your own webstore/website for your product. Because of the lack of transparency in eBay's Store Referal credit, eBay stores should not be considered your webstore but a marketing tool just like CORE auctions. If eBay ever develops a transparent Store Referal system then sellers may be able to consider an eBay Store over their own independent website.

Pardon me for a brief diversion OT: In Oct. I wrote that eBay Stores should become a hosting solution that feeds listings to multiple marketplaces and should have it's own shopping cart. There are currently far more eBay Stores than they will ever hope to have with ProStores and eBay Stores are much easier to work with. eBay could charge sellers a tiered monthly hosting fee based on inventory in their store and let them list according to their own marketing plan. Each TSE would have its own listing profile and listing/FVF fees. If sellers choose not to list on these TSE's, that will be there decision, they can find some other way to get shoppers to their Store items (Google AdWords or possibly Yahoo Sponsored ads on eBay). Enable sellers to feed their listings to eBay CORE, Stores, Express,,, Motors, Classifieds etc.

Since there is no movement by eBay to implement an idea like I've detailed above and there is no business reason to market to a Store that charges 10% FVF I would suggest launching your own WebStore. There are many WebStore options at present and many more on the way that offer low cost entry. MonsterCommerce, Yahoo Stores, Amazon WebStores, and eBay's ProStores offer entry level WebStores. These stores will help you list your product and facilitate transactions but be aware they are not marketing tools. You will still need to do the work to bring shoppers to your listings.

So, how can you bring customers to your WebStore from eBay? Unfortunately, since the eBay marketplace is very unsettled at this time I'm not going to mention hard and fast rules for moving eBay customers to your website, but I will provide some basics. As the "New" and I hope improved eBay is unveiled I can get down to more specifics. If I read the tealeaves correctly, eBay might be facilitating customer acquisition in the future, so if you have your own webstore now you will be able to quickly make use of the new eBay (of course maybe I read those tealeaves in my dreams).

In 2005 we launched our own website at We had limited expectations for the first year, and we spent a great deal of money to develop the website and integrate it with our software, much more money then I expected or what I would suggest anyone else spend. My plan was to take the first year to grow sales at the website organically by reaching out to our existing customer base, through word of mouth, and through SEO (Search Engine Optimization). I was pleasantly surprised that we soon had regular sales. There wasn't a day that went by that we did not sell five or more items, not 900 to 1,000 a day like our eBay sales, but an acceptable start for a new website. Because we had been losing money since early 2004, we could not spend anything on paid search so growth was going to be limited. (I believe, had I made the decision to launch the website a year earlier I might still be in business selling media products today just probably not on eBay. What do they say? Hindsight is 20-20.) Unfortunately we also had some problems with SEO so all of our web business came from word-of-mouth or existing customers. At this time I didn't have a clue on how to move our eBay customers to our website other than the basic ideas of including our web address in every email, etc.

That experience, though, taught me some very important lessons and revealed some roadblocks in marketing to our existing customer base. Over our five years of selling on eBay we had built up a customer database of over 400,000 buyers, but we found it very difficult to move a large chunk of our eBay customers to the website. We had good success with eBay newbies and some longtime regular customers but the vast majority of our customers preferred eBay. We offered shipping incentives and lower prices on the website but not much worked, so I began to analyze the problem and came to the conclusion that the problem was the eBay buyer.

Ebay buyers are a unique crowd: They are very comfortable with the site and are generally not inclined to try something new like a website. EBay is the only real venue for auctions (I know this upsets some of you, but it is true), and the majority of eBay customer's purchase through auctions. EBay's feedback system also keeps those customers coming back to eBay because they want to see the unique feedback number increase. If you get a chance, look at some of your current customer's feedback and check their feedback received from sellers. You will more than likely see feedback from your competitors, which means those customers bought from your competitors too. This happens a lot in the Media Category. One other barrier to moving customers to your website is eBay's TOS (Terms of Service). Please read it carefully, so as not to violate any rules, though I suggest you get as close to the edge as possible.

Fortunately, for sellers listing on eBay today, some of these issues are changing. Today's EBay buyers are more willing to venture out to other sites because of a decrease in trust in the eBay marketplace. It may take several orders before they move completely but if you treat them well they will be more inclined to try you again over an unknown seller on eBay. New eBay customers are your best option, you can identify them by their low feedback. Often, low feedback buyers scare sellers; I would suggest these are the buyers you should target. Your regular customers should be easier to move as long as your WebStore/WebSite makes for a pleasant shopping experience.

So, now that you have changed your mindset you can look at eBay as you would Google Adwords, or Yahoo Paid Search or any other marketing tool. In fact with the introduction of sponsored links in search you can now send eBay customers to your webstore and away from eBay.