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Holiday Cheer

The holidays mean big profit potential on eBay. Plan ahead to make your gift offerings stand out, and your sales are sure to shine.

Paula Deane Traynham (eBay User ID: pauladeane) didn't have as happy a Christmas in 2006 as she had hoped. The problem wasn't disappointment in the gifts under her own tree. Instead, it was the way she handled the holiday rush for her business on eBay, where she sells cake stands, plate hangers and related items in auction-style listings and an eBay Store. "Last year, I let [the holidays] sneak up on me," says Traynham, 52, founder of PromisedLandTexas in Fort Worth, Texas. "That's why I'm revamping my Store and reorganizing. I want to have everything set up and ready to go for people to find it. Last year, I was still trying to list things even through the rush. This year, I want to have my stuff listed [earlier]."

Traynham has the right idea about getting set for the holidays, according to Dennis L. Prince, author of 101 Ways to Boost Your Fortune on eBay. Prince, who spends several pages of his book on holiday selling, says, "It's really important. You have to anticipate the seasons."

eBay sellers who focus on executing during Christmastime and other year-end holidays aren't just expressing seasonal warm fuzzies. The holidays represent an outsize share of the revenue--and profit potential--for the entire year. It's not unusual for brick-and-mortar retailers to report doing 30 percent to 40 percent of their business in the final quarter--and that share may be even higher for eBay sellers. "I do 50 percent of my business from late September to early December," says Traynham, who projects $12,000 in sales this year. "That's the Christmas window."

The holidays are so big, in fact, that they represent more than just an opportunity. You almost have to make the most of them. "Christmas is crucial," says Traynham. "If you don't have a good Christmas, you're in trouble. Christmas is what pays for all the stuff you have to order the rest of the year."

Holiday High Jumps
You don't get holiday goodies without being a good boy or girl all year, however. Year-end selling on eBay can be demanding, and the fact that the stakes are higher can raise the pressure to a sometimes uncomfortable level. When you're trying to cram half a years' worth of business into a few months or weeks, time is in short supply--and that goes for buyers as well as sellers.

"One thing I find different over the holidays is the urgency," says Shelley Mitchell (eBay User ID: shelley-faye), 31, who sells dresses, other clothing and accessories from her Hollywood, Florida-based eBay Store, Addicted to Rockabilly and Punk. "People don't want to wait a long time for items to arrive anyway, but during the holidays I get a whole lot of e-mails from people asking me if [their order] is going to go out [that] day. There is an urgency with the time factor--[they want to know] when they are going to get it."

In addition to the urgency of shipping, other workday challenges intensify during the holidays. Selecting the right products becomes crucial when you know you may have more trouble moving unsold inventory if business slows down after New Year's Day. You must source reliably in spite of bad weather, traffic jams and other obstacles.

Competition often multiplies, too, as other eBay Sellers are also determined to make the most of the seasonal opportunity. You have to be better at pricing effectively when some sellers are holding sales and others are raising prices to take advantage of gift-givers' anxiety and sense of urgency. And despite all these distractions, service has to stay competitive.

As Traynham indicated by her springtime resolution to be ready for the far-off holidays, preparation is the key to a happy eBay holiday. Prince recommends that sellers start no later than three months ahead of time, researching products to sell, lining up sources, preparing listings, refining systems and policies, and if necessary, hiring help.

Actually, Traynham expects to start recording some holiday-related sales as early as late September. "When kids go back to school, people have time to sit down and start looking on the internet," she says. An early start is a good thing, in her view. "Sometimes you're unlucky and [the rush] doesn't start until mid-October or even around Halloween," she says. "That's when it gets really hectic because you're doing the same amount of volume [in less time]."

Well before you expect to make your first holiday sale, start boning up on products and customers in the categories you plan to serve. "The biggest thing is to understand your market," Prince says. During the holidays, categories can become crowded with opportunistic seasonal sellers.

One way to make yourself stand out is to demonstrate through listings that you know what you're selling and who you're selling to. As Prince says, "Especially during the holidays, you want to differentiate yourself." He suggests putting extra information into holiday listings. "Otherwise," he warns, "you're going to look like somebody who found something in a box [to sell]."

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