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Sharpest Tools In The Shed

Take your business on ebay to the next level with these advanced selling tools.

There is a whole universe of tools available to eBay sellers when they look beyond the "Sell Your Item" form. The "Sell Your Item" form is where most eBay sellers start, and it still has a place in the toolbox for those who need to post unique items. But as businesses grow and eBay entrepreneurs look for ways to streamline their work, more advanced seller tools become an important part of an eBay seller's operations. "We recognize that some of the more professional selling tools offer some significant efficiency advantages," says Nathan Etter, director of product management-eBay Seller Experience. "They're really appropriate for people to migrate to as they consider scaling their business."

Terry Gibbs, the founder of Mesa, Arizona-based Iwantcollectibles.com (eBay User ID: train99), has been selling collectible trains on eBay since the late '90s and spends a lot of time advising other eBay sellers on how to improve their businesses. "Just get in there and start doing it, and then identify the areas you're having problems with," says Gibbs, 45. "If your problem is image hosting, go out and find the tools to do that. Go to forums and ask for advice and gather information. If you go out to solve a problem, you're always going to be better off."

Here's a rundown of eBay's seller tools, with a look at what they are designed to do and what sort of eBay sellers they are helpful for:

  • Turbo Lister: Turbo Lister is a downloadable program for Windows OSes that lets you quickly create multiple listings, save templates, preview listings and access pre-filed item information and photos for books, music, movies and games. "Turbo Lister is one of our most popular tools for various reasons: It's free, and it's global," says Gui Bastos, group product manager-eBay Seller Experience for eBay-branded seller tools.

    Gibbs, a PowerSeller, uses Turbo Lister for his business on eBay. "It's very helpful," he says. "Most of the stuff I sell, I just list at a 99 cent starting bid because there's enough demand that I know I'll get good prices." He prepares listings for certain high-end collectible trains in Turbo Lister so he can easily take advantage of special offers like eBay's free listing days.

  • Selling Manager/Selling Manager Pro: The web-based tool Selling Manager is a natural next step for many sellers. It allows you to automatically relist items, track post-sales activities and keep tabs on your business through an overall snapshot view. Bulk e-mail capabilities and customizable templates can help streamline your business, as well. Bastos recommends Selling Manager for eBay entrepreneurs who are adding more volume to their listings and need to improve their order fulfillment and sales tracking. Selling Manager is free for Basic Store owners; otherwise it runs $4.99 per month.

    The main difference between Selling Manager and Selling Manager Pro is that Pro includes inventory management and reporting features. According to Bastos, "Selling Manager Pro is a little more advanced. You'd be ready to go to Pro when you've solved those problems of fulfillment and tracking, and your next step is to become more profitable and better manage your inventory."

  • Blackthorne Basic/Blackthorne Pro: Blackthorne is a downloadable program that can be a good fit for more advanced sellers who prefer to have client software on their computers instead of using web-based services. It has a lot of the bulk listing and management features of Selling Manager. "This makes sense for businesses that have their own database where they keep track of their inventory," says Bastos. "They tie that database into Blackthorne and use Blackthorne for its eBay-specific functions. I would recommend this for someone who is well-versed with and has been on eBay for a long time."
  • Sales Reports/sales reports Plus: Both Sales Reports and Sales Reports Plus are free for sellers. These powerful tools can give you high-level, in-depth views of your eBay activity. Users can monitor their sales, keep track of their eBay and PayPal fees, and view metrics by category, format, and ending day or time. This information helps sellers refine their strategies and make comparisons to evaluate the effectiveness of their eBay campaigns.
  • eBay Solutions Directory: Growing your eBay business means finding and using the right tools to solve any challenges you might be facing in your business. "Identify the problem, evaluate solutions and then constantly re-evaluate what you're doing to see if there are better solutions," says Gibbs. One way you can do this is by using the eBay Solutions Directory, a searchable portal that links eBay sellers to third-party solution providers. Bastos likens it to a big Yellow Pages directory. It covers everything from complete selling solutions and shipping aids to mobile solutions.
  • Certified Provider Hub: If the size of the eBay Solutions Directory feels overwhelming, you can turn to the Certified Provider Hub to find a solutions provider that has already been approved by eBay. "When you're picking a Certified Provider, you're choosing a company that maintains a certain level of certification with eBay," says Etter. "There's a level of dedication and interaction with eBay that you aren't guaranteed to have with other third-party providers." The Certified Provider Hub links you to tool providers as well as specialists that offer eBay business consulting.
  • Assistant: Accounting Assistant is an eBay tool designed specifically for QuickBooks accounting software users. "It is simply a bridge between eBay and QuickBooks to pass your data back and forth," says Bastos. "You don't have to manually upload and download." It ties in with your PayPal transaction data as well, making it a smart way to save time when you're handling accounting work for your business on eBay.
  • File Exchange: High-volume sellers who already have their own databases, inventory systems and IT staffs can look to File Exchange as a way to tie their businesses into eBay. "There is no user interface to it; it is simply a way for a seller who is somewhat technically savvy to upload a file, like a spreadsheet, to eBay and get those listings posted," says Bastos. The tool is free for qualified sellers--meaning you need to have been registered on eBay for at least 90 days and had an average of 50 or more active listings per month for the past two months.

Seller tools offer services and applications that can help you go from being a beginning seller to a business seller and then help that business grow. These tools will also help you improve and expand on the services you provide to your customers. And choosing the right tools will educate you, streamline your operations and save you time. "Run [your business on eBay] like a system," says Gibbs. "If you don't have a system, you're going to be chaotic and things won't get done."

Integrating a new tool into your business can seem like a big step, but the payoff is well worth the effort. "There are resources available that can get [eBay sellers] through challenges," says Etter. "We encourage sellers to keep an open mind and explore the options that are out there."
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