Everyone else may be getting out their sweaters, but on eBay, holiday time is the hottest season. For many brick-and-mortar retailers, November and December are the make-it-or-break-it months, when the offline world racks up as much as 50 percent of annual sales and an even larger percentage of profits. So it's not surprising that eBay sellers report that the holidays are important to them as well. "We probably do a little more than a third of our business in that period of time," says Jenanne Hassler (eBay User ID: jenanne), who, along with her husband, sells an average of $3,000 worth of video games and video-game books each month on eBay from Waynesville, North Carolina.
Many larger eBay sellers have similar experiences. Jeff Hess, 54, owner of Hess Fine Art in St. Petersburg, Florida, does close to $5 million annually on eBay, selling vintage watches, jewelry, art and antiques. About 25 percent are holiday sales, says Hess (eBay User ID: hessfine), who adds that since he began emphasizing eBay over his brick-and-mortar store several years ago, the holidays have become even more important. "In the past, like most vintage retailers, we didn't have a very active Christmas season," Hess says. "Our season was essentially over by November 15. With the advent of eBay, we found we were more like the standard Christmas holiday retailers, [which see an increase during the holiday season]."
There are a couple of reasons why the holidays are critical for eBay sellers. One is that eBay increases its advertising budget during the holidays, executing a wide array of marketing, advertising and promotional tactics to encourage buying holiday gifts on eBay. Every retailer should take advantage of the significant effort eBay makes to drive traffic to its site during this crucial time of year.
Another reason is that eBay is so mainstream, it can't help but be affected by society as a whole, says Debra Schepp, a writer in Middletown, Maryland, who co-authored eBay PowerSeller Secrets: Insider Tips From eBay's Most Successful Sellers. "It's becoming more and more true as people are more comfortable with shopping on eBay--and devoted to shopping on eBay," Schepp says. "Plus, there are lots of things that make it convenient [for buyers] to shop on eBay, like the fact that you can offer [them] gift-wrapping and direct shipping to recipients. That makes eBay competitive with any online shopping [destination]." The proof, Schepp says, is the fact that the biggest shopping day of the year--the day after Thanksgiving--is the same for both offline retailers and eBay sellers.
Since making the most of the holiday season is a priority for most businesses on eBay, where do you start? First and foremost, sell what people want to buy. So what are the hottest holiday items on eBay? "It all depends on what you're selling," says Marsha Collier, author of eBay Business All-in-One Desk Reference for Dummies. "That's the magic [of] eBay. People can come and buy just about anything, and people want just about anything."
The holiday hotties on eBay tend to mirror what's hot elsewhere (and often what you can't find elsewhere). As a marketplace of many small sellers rather than one dominated by a few mega-retailers, it's truly a democratic free-for-all, with the decision about what sells ultimately resting in the hands of the buyers. "Since what's for sale on eBay isn't dependent on a big corporation or a bunch of executives deciding what to sell this season, it's a reflection of what's happening [all over] America," Schepp says. "Anything that's popular somewhere else is going to be turning up on eBay."
With that in mind, eBay sellers who want to make the most of the holidays should make it a point to know what's selling well in society at large during the period. When an in-demand item is hard to find offline, buyers turn to eBay. For instance, notes Schepp, when the iPod was scarce in traditional brick-and-mortar channels last year, units were still available on eBay--and selling like hot cakes.
A few recurring themes outline what makes a product hot during the holidays. For instance, Hassler, 37, says higher-end rare books sell better during the holidays than at other times of the year. In other words, if you're selling products like watches during the holidays, think Rolex. Bundled products--items sold together at a special price--are also better sellers during that period, Hassler says: "It's a focus on items that may not sell during the [rest of the] year because you're not going to buy them for yourself, but you're going to put them on your wish list."
One-of-a-kind custom orders also move better during the holidays for Bob Kitchener, owner of Dangerous Threads, a Nashville, Tennessee, eBay retailer of leather goods and craft items (eBay User ID: bobkitchener). "Custom stuff is really good at Christmastime, along with customized things like [guitar] straps and belts with names on them," says Kitchener, 53.
The price tag is likewise a key indicator of what will sell for Hess. "It seems like everything expensive sells better during the holidays," he explains.
To know everything about what sells, you'd have to survey all eBay sellers, or at least a large sample of them. Luckily, you can use a variety of tools that track, analyze and report on the bestselling items instead. The "Hot Categories Report" is an eBay tool for sellers that lists Hot, Very Hot and Super Hot categories each month based on factors including month-over-month bid growth, bids-per-item and conversion rate. To view the report, go to Seller Central, click on "What's Hot," then click "Hot Items by Category." eBay Pulse gives you a sense in real time of what people are looking for. You can also find out what items are hot in a particular category by going to Seller Central, clicking on "Category Tips," and clicking on "In Demand" under any category.
There are also third-party sources for information on what's hot for the holidays. Terapeak Marketing Research licenses eBay transaction data and goes back as far as a year to provide its own "Hot List" reports. Andale is a third-party subscription service that includes detailed research tools, including information on hot-selling products.
Finally, don't neglect to place at least some trust in your own well-honed instincts, advises Jim Migdal, senior category manager for eBay Toys & Hobbies. He's been impressed and occasionally amazed at how eBay retailers seem to intuitively stay ahead of hot-item trends. "Our sellers just have a nose for that stuff," he says. "And they find it and get it on the site."