Holiday Cheer

Gearing Up for the Holidays

In addition to product details, be sure to give shoppers plenty of information about policies such as shipping--always a delicate point at that time of year. During last Christmas season, for example, Mitchell put up a schedule stating that if a customer paid for an order by December 22, the item would be delivered before December 25. Not only did the information help her customers feel comfortable about ordering, but it also made her job easier. "Once I put up that banner, I got a lot fewer e-mails," she says.

If you're going to have a blockbuster year-end, you must have products to sell. And sourcing is at the forefront of the challenges that eBay sellers face during this vital business period. Because of the short time span in which everything happens, any supply disruption can be come a major issue. There can definitely be surprises, as Traynham found out during December 2006. "My main suppliers had one of their ships from China get quarantined," she recalls. "So I had a heck of a time with my inventory, including some of my most popular items. I really sweated it until it came through at the last minute."

Other than lining up alternate suppliers for your most popular items, one way to handle unexpected disruptions is to be ready to change directions quickly and start selling products you can reliably source. Fortunately, flexibility is one of the benefits of selling on eBay. "If you are savvy in how to utilize the platform, you can shift gears and apply what you know about good selling tactics and timing and make the most of an opportunity that suddenly presents itself," Prince says. "You can alter your inventory and modify your offerings really quickly without printing signage or anything. And the nice thing is, if you do it well enough, you look like you were planning it the whole time."

Bear in mind, too, that the month of December may not be the high point for some items. Mitchell sells many of her fancy party dresses before serious gift-giving starts, as celebrants gear up for the holiday season. "It's a little before Christmas--Novemberish," she says, "because they are wearing them to parties."

The length of your listings should reflect the time crunch as well. Prince recommends five- and seven-day listings during the rest of the year. But at the holidays, he suggests three-day listings as a way to let some bidding take place without keeping gift-givers on the hook any longer than necessary. "When it comes to holiday stuff, folks want to get this thing checked off quickly and be confident it's going to be under the tree," he says.

Another factor to consider as you load up listings to present to harried shoppers is whether you are going to be too harried to actually box and ship their purchases before they are needed. Don't forget that you may have extra personal business of your own to attend to at that time of year. Avoid overcommitting with too many listings. "Don't sell more than you can ship," Prince warns, "or your feedback rating will definitely go down."

For many people, the holidays are a time for open-handed generosity, but that doesn't mean they are willing to pay sky-high prices. Many retailers compete for shoppers by saving their biggest sales for this time of year. The combination of lots of traffic, a mix of bargain-conscious and spendthrift shoppers, and sometimes feverish competition from discounters sends mixed messages to eBay sellers trying to set Reserve Prices and Buy It Now prices, and otherwise deal with pricing.

Prince says you must avoid being perceived as a price-gouger. If you've been able to source hard-to-find, in-demand items such as the latest video game console, it's tempting to set stratospheric prices and be confident that distressed parents will pay them. But Prince feels gouging is counterproductive because shoppers have become sensitized by abuses in the past. "Strike a midlevel price somewhere around the market level," he says. "Come down below the highest point and set a Buy It Now [price]. Let somebody buy it quickly rather than go through [a long listing]."

Setting prices too high also increases the risk that you'll be stuck with unsold inventory, cautions Prince. And as hot as the holidays can be for some items, the market for the same products can get positively frigid after the gifts have all been opened. As Prince says, "Come December 26, who cares?"

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