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Troubleshooting Your Listings, Revisited

Eight more questions to ask yourself when your listings are underperforming

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Troubleshooting Your Listings, Revisited

These days online shoppers don't want to have to think about shipping at all. If yours isn't free and easy, you may be losing bids and sales.

Photo: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Times change and eBay does, too. True, the basics of listing troubleshooting haven't changed much over the years, but at the same time, if you know that your listings aren't failing in any obvious ways according to conventional eBay wisdom, it may be time to ask yourself a new series of questions about your listings—one that's more appropriate to the eBay of today.

  • Are you sticking to fixed-price format listings? The world of ecommerce has changed, and the eBay shopping community has changed with it. While auction listings that start very low might be good for guaranteed quick sales, these days you'll generally find that auction prices underperform what you could have earned by listing at a fixed price. If there's no particular reason why you chose to list auctions, make the other choice and list fixed-price items based on sound market research instead.

  • Are you avoiding shipping and handling fees? The fact is that since eBay started promoting free shipping, it's become the new normal. Not only will your listings be penalized in search results if you charge an additional shipping fee; you'll also find that buyers now strongly prefer to bid on or buy items that offer it. Adjust your prices if you have to, but do what you can to get that "Free Shipping" badge on your listings (to offer it, just charge a shipping cost of $0.00 on the item listing form and eBay will automatically place the badge on the listing).

  • Are you using catalog details and item specifics? Use of the eBay catalog and item specifics aren't mandatory in all categories, but those little drop-down lists on the listing form aren't just extra fluff. When eBay gives you the chance to enter item specifics or to list using the catalog, do it—you're penalized in best match results for not having one or the other in place, and this can adversely affect results.

  • Are you doing sound pricing research? The growth of ecommerce and even eBay's own products like RedLaser have led to much smarter consumers that find the best prices on the net when they're ready to buy. When pricing your listings, be sure to check not only the competition in the eBay marketplace, but the competition at places like Amazon as well. Even if you're the lowest price on eBay, you may be losing sales to competitors that significantly cheaper on other platforms.

  • Do you have a buyer-friendly return policy? These days, eBay wants sellers to offer returns for most items, and most buyers expect that level of basic customer service as well, even on eBay. To make the case for returns even stroner, you may be penalized in search results for not offering returns relative to those that do offer them, and buyer protection generally makes the issue moot in most cases anyway, forcing you to accept returns when cases are decided against you even if you specified no returns in your listing (and suffered the consequences in terms of competitiveness).

  • Are you accepting offers? Opinions are mixed on the Best Offer option, but at least in some cases it seems to encourage buyer activity. It may be that buyer psychology has an effect here—people like to haggle and to think that they're getting the best possible deal. If in doubt, set your price a few dollars higher than you normally would, then enable offers on the listing form and tell eBay to automatically accept offers above your real desired price, letting you get any Best Offer advantage without sacrificing margins.

  • Are your photos large and detailed? Technology has changed in recent years, and so have images in ecommerce. These days, eBay allows buyers to zoom in on product photos and inspect the goods closely. Buyers want to see that detail, so if you're still shooting tiny photos or using a camera or lighting conditions that are below part, you may want to pick up your photo game to entice buyers once they've actually got your listing open.

  • Are you selling the right items with the right titles? You can use platforms like TeraPeak to get a handle on what's selling and what's not, but you can also do this yourself simply by including a free counter on your listings as you post them. If you get very few views, you know that eitehr your items simply aren't in demand or that you're not doing a good job with your titles and descriptions (look at your competitors' listings to be sure). If you've got lots of page views, then you know that your item is hot and your text is good, so it's time to look at other reasons for underperformance, like price, photos, feedback, or your return policy.

Keep in mind that even if you get everything right, the online commerce world isn't what it was a decade ago; the years of guaranteed profits and success are over. These days, it's more a long, hard slog and an actual business so be ready to concede in some cases that even if margins aren't what you'd like them to be, if you're turning a profit and doing everything right, they may be as good as you'll get without changing your sourcing or business model to find better ones.

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