Jordy Geller, 31, was receiving thousands of e-mails a day from prospective buyers of the authentic Nike sneakers he sells on eBay, and most of the questions were the same. He knew he had to do something to manage the avalanche of e-mails. So he thought like a customer and drafted answers to customers' frequently asked questions, which he posted on his eBay "Me" page, then cut and pasted them into his e-mail responses. It worked like a charm, and it helped make this lawyer-turned-eBay seller's San Diego-based company, Sneak's Kicks, (eBay User ID: authentic_sneaker_powerseller) into a $1 million business.
Thinking like a customer, as Geller did, is the key to running a successful business on eBay. The marketplace is wide open for sellers of every-thing from iPods to Igloo coolers. But it's those sellers who consider what their customers want most, then strive to satisfy them without reservation, who will be most successful--and not just because of the payments that subsequently land in their PayPal accounts. Rather, providing good customer service generates repeat buyers and coveted word-of-mouth marketing that you can't buy at any price.
"What people say about the level of customer service and satisfaction you offer will determine how much success you have in the future," says Jim "Griff" Griffith, dean of eBay Education and the online giant's resident customer service guru. "There's an enormous stream of customers to your marketplace on eBay, but if you don't provide basic customer service and stand behind your merchandise, you're building failure into your business, and it will only be a matter of time before you're out of business."
Play the Angles
One of the easiest things you can do to ensure customers are satisfied with your merchandise is to describe items fully and note any flaws or broken parts, if applicable. If writing isn't your strong suit, get some help writing the copy, or create a simple bulleted list of points that touches on all the important information about your merchandise. This might include size, color, age, condition and so on. Think about what you'd want to know about the item if you were purchasing it yourself, and include all those points in your description.
It's also important to include as many photographs as possible in your listing. eBay gives you one free Gallery photo with each listing, but that's often not enough to depict the merchandise adequately. Showing the product from many angles is the best way to make sure your customers know exactly what they're getting and ensure that there won't be any surprises later.
One eBay seller who is passionate about full product disclosure is David Nichols, 43, co-owner with Monty Day, 51, of Dallas-based National Wholesale Autos (eBay User ID: dta76114). Nichols photographs every vehicle he lists, ranging from autos and trucks to commercial vehicles, snapping pictures from every conceivable angle and in minute detail. As a result, his listings typically have an average of 60 photos. He is so serious about keeping his prospective customers fully informed that when he broke both of his legs a few years ago, he continued snapping away from his motorized wheelchair.
Nichols is so confident that customers will be happy with their purchases that he offers what may seem like an astonishing satisfaction guarantee. "If customers fly into Dallas and find out the vehicle isn't what they were told it was, I'll buy their plane ticket home," he says. "I may not be the cheapest dealer on eBay, but my customers know they're buying a better product and that they're making an informed decision."
Obviously, his strategy works. National Wholesale Autos, which was founded in 2003, moves an average of 15 cars a month, in addition to other types of vehicles, and projects 2008 sales of $2.7 million. (For more on how to create great listings, see "Scene and Be Seen" on page 24.)
Give as Good as You Get
As a new seller on eBay, you may never have to go to those lengths to guarantee satisfaction, but at the very least you should offer a refund of the purchase price, less the shipping charge (a reasonable concession buyers can accept), or allow customers to exchange merchandise. If you adopt a no-returns policy, you're sending the wrong message to your customers--a message that can be very damaging to your business in the long run.
"A money-back guarantee differentiates good sellers from the others," Griff says. "When you don't offer a satisfaction guarantee, you're saying that even the person who owns the item now--that's you--doesn't have confidence in it. And if you're not confident about the product, how can you expect someone to shop with you?"
Adopting a no-returns policy can also cause you to lose repeat business, as the author of this article can personally attest to. I purchased a 1925-S Indian head nickel for my coin collection from a seller whose listing contained a photo only of the obverse, or front, of the coin. Because the "S" mint mark on the back of the coin was nothing more than a blob, I politely inquired about an exchange and was told that the $15 sale was final. By contrast, a different seller of Indian head nickels willingly, courteously and pleasantly refunded my money on a pair of nickels that didn't please. You can easily guess who I'll purchase from again in the future.
"You've spent money and time acquiring your buyers, so why would you so aggressively turn them away from your store and create your own personal detractors by refusing to refund the purchase price?" Griff asks. "That's not a smart move, businesswise."
Sometimes it pays to take this policy of complete customer satisfaction one step further, as Cindy Locke, 38, has done. The owner of My One Stop Bridal Shop (eBay User ID:zazasonestopbridalshop) in Ladera Ranch, California, which had 2007 sales of $240,000, has a 14-day return policy, but she frequently bends the rule for brides who put aside the merchandise they purchased from her eBay Store until just before the wedding, and then notice there's a problem.
"I cringe when something is not right for a bride, who can become panicked when she thinks she's stuck with the wrong thing," Locke says. "If something is wrong, I fix it, or she'll get her money back, period. I'd rather have a happy bride even if I have to eat some of the costs."
In addition, even though many traditional wedding product retailers view brides as one-time customers, Locke knows they're not. "We get a lot of referral business from our customers," she says. "Once they're happy with their purchase, they'll tell the other 50,000 people they know, [and they in turn will] look at our feedback and feel good about buying from us."
Nurture Your Incoming Feedback
Speaking of feedback, this is one of the most powerful tools you have at your disposal to create positive buzz. Your feedback is a direct reflection of the excellent customer service you offer, and it will help you build trust with both current and new customers. "You should consider every feedback a grade on your report card," Geller says. "You want customers to come back, and [to] tell their friends about you. So build up your feedback to create credibility. This is crucial. Having more than 22,000 positive feedbacks definitely separates me from someone just starting out."
It also helps to view negative feedback philosophically rather than lashing out at disgruntled customers. "The last negative feedback rating I received was from a buyer in Oregon who bought a big van around Christmastime," Nichols says. "It arrived late because of factors I couldn't control, like a snowstorm, plus I don't own the transportation company that was hired to deliver the vehicle. Unfortunately, the feedback is there on my record permanently, but I can say I did everything I could to make the customer happy."
Go the Extra Mile
When you're driving toward eBay success, you may discover that offering additional services will increase customer satisfaction and ultimately steer your business toward big sales. That's been the approach taken by Justin Eveloff, 25, co-owner with his brother, Josh, 29, of The Internet Car Lot (eBay User ID: theinternetcarlot), an Omaha, Nebraska-based seller of boats, motorcycles, classic cars, ATVs and other wheeled vehicles. "We have two sets of customers--buyers and sellers--and we cater to both," Justin says. "We pick up buyers at the airport or train station for free, book hotels, help find cheap flights and take them to the bank to wire money. We've done everything except put mints on their pillows and turn down their beds. We also chauffeur sellers around the city to make the deal, including taking them to work. Then we don't just hand over the keys to buyers; we also educate them about the vehicle so they're comfortable."
This extreme customer service strategy has been hugely successful for the Eveloffs, who say they didn't need to do "an ounce of advertising" to earn 2007 sales of $4.2 million, which included sales to customers as far away as the United Arab Emirates.
Love What You Sell
Although you can choose to sell practically anything on eBay, it's easier to stand behind a product you really love because you can tap into the knowledge you have about the product to promote it, and because your enthusiasm will communicate itself to customers. One of Geller's satisfied customers wrote in his feedback entry, "I love the shoes so much, I'm going to wear them to church." Geller can relate: The man who says he has "swooshes around my heart" got married in Nikes and had a Nike shoe-shaped cake at his wedding reception. "I love Nikes, and it shows," he says. "You don't have to jump through flaming hoops to satisfy your customers as long as they know you stand behind your products."