Let the Bidding Begin

Customer Service the eBay Way

Providing top-notch customer service is an essential element to successful eBay selling. "Everything on eBay is about total customer service," explains Ginsberg. He has three full-time employees who answer e-mail and phone calls from his customers.

"You can't just respond to an e-mail two days later or ship a week later," says Cunane. Whenever her customers ask a question about a garment or sizing, they want an answer fast-and if they don't get it, they probably won't bid on the item. But when your customers are happy with the service, they'll likely buy items from you again. "Make the buyer feel like they're involved in the whole process," Cunane advises. "Answer e-mail quickly, ship within two days of receiving payment and send them a tracking number."

Schultz agrees. "Customer service is your [top] priority, and it's going to take more time than you think," he explains. "For every auction you put up, you're probably going to get at least two e-mails that have to be answered personally."

If you see a pattern in the questions, consider addressing those issues in your listings or on your "About Me" page--a free service eBay offers to sellers to post information about themselves and their operations--or in your eBay store, if you have one. In addition, Schultz recommends developing standard responses that you can cut and paste into e-mails to speed up your answers.

If you don't stay on top of customer service, you risk getting negative feedback--and feedback is your eBay reputation. In every transaction, the buyer and seller have the opportunity to leave a comment, and you can check a user's feedback rating before you decide whether to do business with that person.

Unfortunately, notes Ginsberg, you will have customers who will threaten to leave negative feedback if you don't do what they want--even if they are being unreasonable. Most of the time, he meets their demands because "the customer is always right."

Life as an eBay Seller
eBay sellers agree that this is an exciting and fun way to do business. Cunane says a huge benefit to selling on eBay is that your image depends on how you present yourself and serve your customers--not on how large or small your company is. "It's a level playing field," she says.

Start off by buying a few things, then start selling, posting just one or two auctions at a time until you're comfortable with how the process works. You'll make mistakes, especially in the beginning, but if you learn from them, they'll be worth the cost.

Even when you do everything right, not all your auctions will be profitable. According to Schultz, "It's kind of like playing baseball. You don't hit them all."

Be prepared to take a loss on some transactions, especially on inventory that's been sitting around too long. "We don't always sell things for a profit," says Cunane. "Sometimes we move things for a loss just to get rid of them."

Keep in mind that eBay is ever-changing. As the economy cycles, you'll experience changes in pricing and demand. And as more and more people start operating on eBay, the competition will increase, and prices may decline slightly (which is great when you're buying, but not when you're selling). "Just like in the offline world, sellers have to adjust and make changes to stay in business and be successful," explains eBay's Kevin Pursglove.

If you plan to make selling on eBay a full-time business, expect to work hard. "Being a seller on eBay is not an easy job," Pursglove says. "Those first couple of years are very long hours, very few holidays, very few days off. But most people find the experience very rewarding."

Don't be intimated by the sheer size of the operation, and keep in mind that eBay has reached less than 4 percent of its potential market--which means there is plenty of room for you. So find your eBay niche, get online and watch your business grow.

The Shipping News
Before you put an item up for sale on eBay, know what is going to be involved in shipping it--how it needs to be packed, which carriers can handle it, and anything else that might affect the overall service you provide. Prompt shipping is an important part of good eBay customer service. Your goal should be to ship within two days of receiving payment. Let your customers know by e-mail when their merchandise has been shipped, and give them a tracking number.

Even though it's typical for eBay buyers to pay for shipping, you still need to accurately calculate shipping costs and add that to the total amount the buyer pays. Underestimating cuts into your profits; overestimating will irritate your customers. Invest in a good set of scales, and use the online rate calculators provided by the major carriers (FedEx, UPS and the United States Postal Service).

Be sure to pack the merchandise carefully, and include a copy of your shipping label or an invoice with the customer's name and address on the inside in case the outside label is damaged in transit. Additional shipping tips and sources of materials can be found on the eBay Web site.

To learn more about setting up your own shipping system, read "Shipping and Handling Essentials" and "Mailing Equipment."


Jacquelyn Lynn is a writer whose husband has threatened to nail down items he doesn't want her selling on eBay.

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This article was originally published in the September 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Let the Bidding Begin.

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