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Tis the Season

What Not To Sell

Experienced eBay sellers say there's not always an obvious reason why some items move better during nonholiday periods, but it does happen. Jeff Hess, owner of Hess Fine Art in St. Petersburg, Florida, says, "It's difficult to sell large diamonds on eBay [during the holiday season]. Not expensive diamond jewelry--[that's] easy to sell. But large solitaires, one carat and up, are difficult."

Likewise, holiday shoppers at Dangerous Threads, based in Nashville, Tennessee, snub the leather-craft supplies that are mainstays the rest of the year. Owner Bob Kitchener thinks he knows why. "It stands to reason," he says. "You don't want to hand somebody a gift of a pile of rivets." Generally, experts say, holiday-unfriendly items can be anything not usually regarded as a gift.

Celebrate All Year Long
Don't assume you've got it made because you nailed Christmas. The final quarter is the biggest for most eBay sellers, but it's not the only important holiday season. For some on eBay, it's not even the most important. "Halloween is a real good one," says online sales expert Debra Schepp. Valentine's Day and Mother's Day herald sales surges for flowers, perfume, candy and jewelry; themed decorations can be hot for Easter and the Fourth of July.

Make a List, Check it Twice...
You'll be in great shape to take advantage of the busy holiday season if you prepare in advance for the rush. This handy checklist will help you prioritize what needs to be done:

  • Get started early, as many consumers start their holiday shopping as early as October.
  • Sign up for PayPal, and offer it on all your listings.
  • Check your eBay preferences, and update your listing and shipping policies if necessary. You can also change your default template to give your pages a "holiday" theme.
  • Find reliable supply sources. Make sure they'll be able to deliver when they say they can.
  • If you sell custom-made items, stock up on bestsellers, and start your listings early.
  • Gather marketplace data via a Completed Listings search or other method.
  • Sell in-demand products to boost sales this holiday season. Check Seller Central for hot items.
  • For a useful merchandising and promotion calendar of important dates, visit http://pages.ebay.com/sellercentral/calendar.html.
  • Check third-party sources for the scoop on what's hot. Terapeak Marketing Research offers its own "Hot List" reports, based on eBay data going back as far as a year. The buzz on upcoming movies can be found at ComingSoon.net and Internet Movie Database. And check out "Hot Stuff" on page 48 for our preview of 2005's top sellers.
  • Assess staffing requirements, and hire temps if necessary.
  • Order ebay/usps co-branded shipping boxes from the U.S. Postal Service.
  • Order wrapping paper and gift enclosure cards. The eBay Shop sells eBay wrapping paper; type "paper" into the search box to find it.
  • Reconfigure your shipping assembly line to accommodate special requests, such as wrapping gifts and shipping directly to gift recipients.
  • Explain shipping prices and policies clearly to buyers. Consider offering free shipping on Buy It Now items.

Save the Dates
Your customers expect their purchases to arrive on time for the holidays, so it's critical you ensure every item ships when you say it will. These guidelines on shipping basics can help you stay on top of deadlines--and keep your customers happy:

  • Make sure last-minute shoppers know your terms and policies. Tell them clearly and in advance if what they're buying won't arrive in time, or if getting it there requires extra shipping fees.
  • Keep in mind that neither FedEx nor UPS delivers on Christmas Day; however, both offer one-day shipping services. An item shipped on December 23 will arrive the next day. The U.S. Postal Service does not deliver normal mail on Christmas Day. However, if an order is shipped using Express Mail, the USPS will attempt delivery on December 25, unless it's a Sunday.
  • Priority Mail from USPS, which usually takes two to three days to deliver, can take up to two weeks in the busy month of December, so plan accordingly. Guaranteed service by your carrier of choice is the best way to go.
  • Different deadlines apply when you're shipping internationally, so check with your carrier in advance for details.

Hot Stuff
Before making your list of products to stock this holiday season, make sure you check out the latest "Hot Categories Report". As you approach the high tide of holiday sales, the reports available here will tell you where both demand and bids for items are growing.

But why stop there? There's a lot more you can do to find out what is likely to sell well for the holidays. For instance, some categories are always in demand. Perennial holiday winners include cameras, cell phones, clothing, collectibles, dolls and bears, electronics, jewelry and watches, sporting goods and, of course, toy and hobby items.

Want to know which items will be especially hot this year? Check the roster of Hollywood films slated for holiday release, suggests Jim Migdal, senior category manager for eBay Toys & Hobbies. "Those always drive sales," he explains.

With that in mind, this December 9, Walt Disney Co. will release The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, based on the perpetually popular children's books by C.S. Lewis. You can find more info on upcoming movies at ComingSoon.net and Internet Movie Database.

You can also find information about the categories you specialize in. The scoop on hot toys, for instance, can be found in forecasts by Toy Wishes. In the spring and fall, this journal's editors list toys they think will be most in demand during the summer and holiday seasons. Another way to find forecasts for what will be hot this holiday season: Type "holiday watch 2005" into an internet search engine, and check out the results.

Sellers of dolls and collectibles can reliably predict increased demand for certain items during the holidays. Prewar Lionel trains, Hot Wheels cars from the 1960s, and bisque dolls from France and Germany are always scarce and in demand at the holidays, explains Migdal.

Climate also plays a role with holiday hot-sellers such as sporting goods and clothing. That's why ski jackets will tend to outsell bathing suits. And when it comes to popular categories such as electronics and jewelry, consider offering more expensive items than you might at other times of the year--shoppers' wallets are open, and they are, after all, in a giving mood.

Finally, keep an eye on current events, and stay alert for one-of-a-kind opportunities. One of these occurred when a manufacturer mistakenly made just 6,000 Polar Express trains. Says Migdal, "They sold out very quickly, and we saw them on eBay for two or three times the list price." For the latest hot sellers by category, go to Seller Central. Click on "Category Tips," then click on "In Demand" under the appropriate category.

Mark Henricks writes on business and technology for leading publications and is author of Not Just a Living.

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