Tis the Season

Holiday Hurdles

Holiday selling isn't, in fact, all about having fun and making a bunch of money. The holidays present special challenges in addition to trickier sourcing and more frequent returns.

For instance, if you gift-wrap and send items directly to the recipients, you won't be protected by the PayPal Seller Protection Policy, because that applies only when items are sent to verified addresses. You'll need to decide how much your customers will appreciate being able to ship wrapped gifts directly to recipients, and balance that against the value of PayPal coverage. "It is very convenient to have items shipped directly to the recipient," says Collier, who adds that you don't have to advertise your gift-wrap policy, but can apply it on a case-by-case basis. "If you get a special request and the person has a good feedback rating and you're comfortable with the situation, you might want to do it," she says. If you do choose to offer gift services, practice your due diligence. It's a great strategy for the holidays that could lead to many more sales.

Another issue: Since every other holiday-savvy eBay seller is going to be tuned in and looking for the next hot product, it's going to be that much harder for you to be first. And if you do happen to find yourself with a garage full of hot-selling items, your holiday-happy rivals may realize it nearly as soon as you do and flood the market with their own similar items. "If you find something is selling really well, you can't be complacent with it," warns Schepp. "Ultimately, it's going to show up on the hot list, and everybody's going to see it. You can easily end up with an overstocked item when the bottom drops out." Use eBay resources such as the "Hot Categories Report" and Completed Items searches to keep tabs on the competition and avoid having too much "me, too" product on hand.

Remember, as eBay has grown into a global, multi-cultural phenomenon, the meaning of the holidays has gotten less clear in terms of the entire audience of buyers on eBay. So while you should certainly try to take advantage of the end-of-the-year gifting binge, it's also important to do it in a way that recognizes cultural differences. Many eBay buyers don't celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or other year-end holidays, or they celebrate differently.

For instance, in Canada, the biggest shopping day of the year is traditionally not the day after Thanksgiving, but the day after Christmas, a holiday known as Boxing Day and celebrated in Australia, Canada, Great Britain and New Zealand. Keep such differences in mind. Advertising only a "holiday sale" instead of a "Christmas sale" will help you remain inclusive. "You need to be selling for everybody," advises Collier, who suggests simply promoting a "sale" in your listing titles and saving the rest of the character count for important keywords.

If there's one overriding and enduring theme to the holidays, it may be that this is when you should keep an open mind, be creative and be willing to do things differently. While it's certainly nice to get some extra sales at the holidays, it can be even better to learn something new that will help sustain your sales throughout the year. "The holidays are a great time to experiment because there's a lot of traffic," says Sinclair. "If you want to experiment with what sells and what doesn't, what sells better on sale and off, you'll get better feedback during the holidays than at other times of year."

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