eBay gives sellers a lot of freedom to design their stores and listings however they please. That freedom opens up many opportunities – for branding, up-selling, promotions and more.
But it also creates challenges. What should your brand be like? Should your design be minimal, or full of bells and whistles? Who’s going to create your design and what will it cost?
In this post, I take a look at the thriving area of eBay design. In particular, I’ll talk about what you need to know when looking for an eBay designer – so you can choose the one that’s right for you and your business.
Why Have a Design?
Sometimes eBay sellers get a design created just because it seems like the right thing to do – they’re selling as a business and want to look professional. That’s not a bad reason to get a design done, but it pays to think a little more deeply about it before diving in.
Getting a design should be treated like any business decision. Spend some time thinking about what you are trying to achieve with your design, so you can make good decisions about your supplier, the design itself, and how much you are willing to pay.
Here are some of the other reasons to get a store and listing design created.
Your brand is your business’s personality. All aspects of your design and content say something about who you are – whether you intend them to or not! By establishing a consistent brand, you can try to control the message you are giving out.
Every seller should want to appear trustworthy and efficient, but there’s much more you might want to put across. Do you want your business to seem playful or serious? A playful brand might work well if you sell toys, but would clash if you sell safety equipment. Do you want to be associated with a particular location, hobby or product category? You might want to present yourself as an expert in one area, but doing so could also restrict which products you sell.
Branding might sound like a good thing in itself, but it has a deeper purpose. Getting your brand right can help:
- Repeat business – customers remember who you are and what you sell, so come back more.
- Conversion rate and pricing – a seller who looks trustworthy and knowledgeable can make more sales, and set their prices a little higher.
- Cross-selling (getting buyers to add additional products to an order) – a good brand can communicate everything you sell much more quickly than words.
Note that branding and design are not the same thing. Branding runs through the whole of your business, even how you approach sourcing, customer support and fulfillment. Design is the visual appearance and functional use of anything your customers interact with – including your eBay store and listings.
eBay Stores (Shops in the UK) show all of a seller’s items, and have a basic search and category-driven navigation. That can be improved on with a custom design, to help buyers find your products more easily.
But many buyers will never see your store – they will search and find your listings, but are more likely to return to the search results than click the link to your store. A custom-designed listing template can make a big difference by making every listing look like part of your store, with consistent navigation to other categories and related products.
Offers such as sales, free gifts and bundles are a cornerstone of retail. Without a custom design, it’s hard to get the promotions you want in front of customers on eBay.
A custom design with dynamic elements (so they can be changed without having to edit every listing) can showcase whichever offers you choose. A design can also provide space for promoting related items such as accessories (cross-selling) and alternative products from more expensive brands (up-selling).
The Design Process
Great design is not a commodity you can buy off-the-shelf. It should be completely tailored to your business, showcasing your brand and supporting your business goals. You can’t get that without putting a great deal of your own thought and effort into it – as much as the company doing the creative and technical work.
But sellers aren’t designers (most of the time). Shouldn’t a designer make all the decisions about the design? Well they could do that, but a good designer won’t want to – they don’t know your business, your customers, your products and your goals like you do. They wouldn’t want to risk doing a bad job because they don’t understand your business!
So good design comes from a process, it doesn’t appear out of the blue. Sellers should look for a designer they can work with in a partnership, where each of them has responsibilities and an important role to play.
To give you a frame of reference when talking to designer, here’s a example process for a custom-made eBay store and listing template design. Note that there are many variations, so it’s not a cause for concern if a designer works a little differently. The important thing is that they have some kind of process, clearly defined, and that you fully understand and support it. Crucially, there should be plenty of back-and-forth communication and opportunities for you to give your input.
|Pre-project||Seller and Design Company||Agree price and date work will start.|
|Pre-project||Seller||Makes first payment.|
|Week 1||Seller||Completes questionnaire about their business, design preferences, competitors, goals etc.|
|Week 1||Design Company||Assigns a team (if applicable – some designers are sole traders, others have Project Managers, Designers, and Developers).|
|Week 1||Seller and Design Company||Conference call to talk through the questionnaire, raise questions and make sure it’s all understood.|
|Week 2||Project Manager||Creates specification for the designer.|
|Weeks 2-3||Designer||Creates a static mock-up of how the design will look.|
|Weeks 3-4||Seller||Gives feedback. The Designer revises the mock-up. There may be several rounds of revisions.|
|Week 4||Seller||Approves the mock-up design and makes a second payment.|
|Week 5||Developer||“Codes-up” an interactive design and installs it on a test listing or website.|
|Week 6||Seller||Gives feedback, asks questions, and tests the design. Revisions are made, and feedback given again.|
|Week 6||Seller and Design Company||Agree a go-live date. Training on using the design may be given.|
|Go-live date||Developer||Updates the seller’s store and listings. Configures seller’s listing software.|
|Go-live date||Seller||Tests again, asks questions and gives feedback. Changes might be made.|
|After go-live||Seller||Makes the final payment.|
|Post-project||Seller and Design Company||The project is now complete and any further work should be handled under a maintenance and support agreement.|
In this example, the design process takes six weeks. That might seem like a long time, but for the amount of work involved it is actually quite a tight time-scale. Some designers are faster or have “rush” services where they compress it into as little as two weeks. But it can also take much longer if communication is slow, or there are several rounds of revisions.
How to Choose a Designer
I can’t tell you which designer you should use, because different designers suit different businesses. Instead I’ll cover the main things to think about when talking to designers, so you know what to expect, what to ask, and what to look out for.
How to Choose: Portfolio and Experience
Look at a designer’s past work to discover two important things:
- Are their designs any good?
- How much do they know about eBay?
Ask the designer for URLs of their past designs, not just static images, and check them out. Is the design visually attractive? Is it easy to use – are products well organised and easy to find? Test the links and use the design elements as if you are a buyer – do they work flawlessly?
If the seller is not a competitor, try contacting them and ask how the designer was to work with, and if they are still satisfied with the design. If the seller is a competitor, or in a category close to yours, can you imagine a similar design working for you? Does it look like the designer understood the seller’s business?
Designing web pages and designing for eBay are very different, so make sure your designer is experienced specifically with eBay store and listing template design. Do they understand eBay’s development, design and content policies? Do they follow eBay changes and know about current issues, such as the Cassini search engine’s rumoured difficulty with HTML? Do they buy and sell on eBay themselves? Do they know how to design for eBay’s mobile sites and applications?
It’s also useful if a designer can provide general advice about what works best in an eBay design. That can come from a long history with eBay design, or from being a seller themselves, or from having a consultancy arm to their business. A good design philosophy is to “ask the client what they want, but give them what they need.” In other words, it’s important that the designer understands the seller’s business, but also that they know not just to give the seller whatever they ask for. Plenty of experience specifically with eBay design will help the designer do that.
How to Choose: Process
An eBay design is a project, not a boxed product, so it’s important to talk to designers about the process they use.
Take some time to understand the example process above. It’s unlikely that your designer will follow exactly the same process, but it still helps to provide a frame of reference for understanding what they do. Where does their process differ, and why is that? What do they expect of you in terms of availability for questions, and your speed of response?
Dig into the different parts of their process. How do they get to understand your business and design preferences? Do they ask what your business goals and challenges are? It’s a good sign if they do. If there’s a questionnaire, ask if you can see it.
Also ask if they can provide a typical time-line, or process diagram such as a swim-lane chart that shows who does what and when. Don’t assume they can start work immediately – ask about their queue of work and typical lead-time. If you need time to make a decision, ask if they have a big job coming up, or if there are times when they tend to get busier or quieter than normal.
If you are unclear about any part of their process, ask for clarification! Don’t assume it will all just work out – they need you to understand what happens and when. Allowing yourself to “muddle through” could lead to a lot of unnecessary confusion and delay.
Ask specifically about the testing part of the process. This isn’t about giving feedback on the design (which you also need to do) but making sure the design is bug-free. Testing can involve a lot of work, as multiple browsers, devices, apps and even international eBay sites (if you list directly to them) may need to be tested. Who does the testing, and which platforms and versions do they test?
How to Choose: Expertise
Many eBay designs are rich, dynamic and interactive – they’re not just pretty pictures! The evolution of web technology, with dynamic content and complex coding, makes even a humble eBay design more like a piece of software than a fixed web page.
Ask which technologies they use, and which technical standards they work to. Are they using HTML5? Responsive design? Which browser versions do they support? The latest standards are fast to work with, look good in modern web browsers, and should be supported for several years. But designs using the latest standards might look odd in older browsers that don’t support them. That doesn’t mean they should be avoided necessarily, but there may be trade-offs which should be understood.
If they provide their own listing application, has it been certified by eBay? If you think you will want to use it, ask for a demo. If you already use a third-party listing application, do they know how to make their designs compatible? If not, do they have contacts with your provider so they can work out the technical details without you being involved? Are their designs easy to use in eBay’s own Sell Your Item form?
It’s tempting for non-technical people to avoid asking about technology, because they don’t expect to understand the answers. But a good designer should be able to explain technical issues in plain English. If they blind you with science before you have signed up with them, what will they be like to work with?
There’s also softer skills in areas such as user experience and conversion optimization. When you are discussing the project do they talk about how buyers will use the design, or just what looks good? Do they have an opinion on which design options are more likely to result in sales? A pretty design that buyers can’t use will be worse for sales than no design at all.
If your products are complex in some way (auto parts for example) or you have a large category structure, ask how they would handle that in the design so buyers can easily find what they want.
How to Choose: Bells and Whistles
A custom eBay design isn’t just about branding and looking good, it’s also about opening up new marketing opportunities. Talk to designers about any “plug-ins” or “widgets” that they use. Common examples include:
- Cross-selling widgets, which showcase accessories and other items to compliment the product that the buyer is viewing.
- Up-selling widgets, which show buyers the benefits of more expensive alternatives (or just help buyers find the right product for them).
- Image viewing plug-ins, which make it easy to browse and enlarge product photos.
- Custom navigation, to provide fast access to complex products. For example, size and colour variations for clothes, or compatibility-driven navigation for parts or accessories.
It’s great if cross-selling and up-selling widgets are dynamically generated, so they are automatically populated with relevant products. But a manual override is also useful – there are times when automatic suggestions are off the mark, and the seller can make better selections themselves.Testing (both for bugs and usability) is particularly important with special widgets and plug-ins. Different browsers and devices can be temperamental with them, and buyers sometimes get in a tangle trying to use them if they aren’t very carefully designed.
How to Choose: Communication
The best designer in the world won’t be the right one for you, if you can’t find a quick and effective way to communicate. A good designer should be skilled at finding the right communication style for each client, but sometimes it never gets past being awkward and ineffective. A lot of confusion and stress can be caused just because you don’t easily “get” what each other are saying.
The person you talk to before signing up with a design company might not be involved once the project starts, so find out who you will be working with. Talk to them, ask plenty of questions and get a dialogue going before you commit. Do you like dealing with them? Are they quick to respond? Are they available over the phone? Do they seem to understand your business? Writing emails about design issues is very difficult and misunderstandings are commonplace, so make sure there’s another way to communicate.
Does the company outsource the design work? Outsourcing is not necessarily a bad thing, but you still need to communicate effectively with the design team. Will you have direct contact with them, or will there be a project manager on hand to help smooth communications? What’s the typical turnaround time for revisions? Will a difference in time zones be a problem for you?
Offshore teams sometimes have very high workloads and staff turnover, so knowledge can get lost mid-project. Of course, the same can happen with a local designer. Outsourcing can work fantastically, but the design company will need particularly good management and processes to keep it under control.
Finally, try not to have unrealistic expectations! A good designer will try to get it right without constant hand-holding, but they aren’t mind-readers. Make a big effort to communicate clearly, and don’t assume they know something you didn’t explicitly state. Spell out exactly what you think about the design! Also try to feedback on as much as possible at the same time, or make it clear that there is more to come.
How to Choose: Terms and Conditions
Nobody likes reading terms and conditions, but they do vary and can have a big impact on your business.
I advise you to grit your teeth and actually read the T&Cs, there’s no substitution for it. Here are some common issues to look out for along the way:
- What happens if you don’t like the design? Will they start afresh or let you cancel?
- Who owns the design? This means the “intellectual property” of the design – the original files and creative work that went into it, not just the code you put into eBay. Can you make alterations or adapt the design to use elsewhere, or are you tied to them for that?
- Is there any ongoing subscription? What happens if you cancel it?
- If they host images or other design elements, do they have an uptime guarantee? What happens if they don’t meet it? Can you use someone else for hosting?
If you find any restrictive terms and conditions, consider carefully if they are deal-breakers for you, or if you can live with them.
How to Choose: Price
Cost is always a big factor in a our decisions, and design is no different. So why have I left it until last?
Well, design is not a commodity, and every designer is different. Certainly price is a barrier if you simply can’t afford it, but otherwise it’s not a particularly useful way to compare designers with each other. Having said that, there are some important considerations when it comes to the cost of eBay design.
There are some very low cost designers around, but a $300 or £200 design is likely to be a basic “cookie-cutter” template and won’t include any expert advice. A more typical cost is at least $700 or £500 up to a few thousand. For that, you should expect a completely custom design, comprehensive eBay knowledge, and advice on what works best. Your eBay store and listing design is your business’s public face, so an important investment. Spending a thousand plus isn’t at all excessive.
Find out when you have to pay. Is it all upfront or on key milestones? Some payment upfront is to be expected, as the designer is committing themselves to the project. But it’s not common to pay all of the cost upfront, as you don’t get any benefit from the design until it’s finished and in use. Common payment schemes are 50% at the start, and 50% at the end; or 33% at the start, 33% when mock-ups are approved, and 33% at the end.
Exactly what does the cost include? If there’s a package price, which add-ons are in and out, and how much do they cost to add? Is there any ongoing maintenance, hosting or subscription cost? How long does the contract last, and can it be cancelled early?
Finally, consider what happens when the design is finished. Will the designer be available to enhance it or fix problems? What will that cost? If they made a mistake, will they fix it for free? How long is that “warranty” period?
To help provide a feel for the eBay design market, I’ve profiled seven eBay designers from around the world. The designers profiled spared the time to answer my questions, they are not endorsed or recommended by me or Web Retailer, and have not paid to be included. Take a look at our directory for more eBay designers and reviews.
Note that eBay also has a design directory, but many of those listed are hobby designers and a high proportion of the links are outdated or broken.
As Was started creating eBay designs in 2001, after several years building websites. Founder Debbie Levitt was eBay’s first Certified Consultant and first Education Specialist Trained by eBay. Today the company has a team of seven senior designers based in the US and UK. They have no junior staff – the senior designers do all the work. They provide a range of ecommerce, design and consulting services.
As Was designs differ from most in two respects: they do not design eBay stores other than a header image, and the design has no dynamic elements. This means the focus is on the eBay listing template, and their designs are not likely to break when eBay policies change. Extensive consultancy work is included, and all the original files are provided to the client at the end of the project. As Was have an image-based category navigation add-on called The Matrix.
As Was serves eBay sellers worldwide. The starting cost for a listing template is $2,000, whereas a package of listing template, store header and navigation matrix costs $3,150. There is no subscription or other ongoing costs. Consultancy work outside the design project is priced at $100 per hour.
dZine-Hub was formed in June 2009 in Manchester, England, and have focused on eBay design since they started. They have eighteen team members based in Manchester, Melbourne and India. They now also offer Magento store development.
dZine-Hub have created over a thousand eBay store and listing designs to date. They differ from most designers because they aim to complete projects within two weeks, turning around the initial design and revisions in 24 hours. Access is provided to team members by phone and a wide range of instant messaging applications.
dZine-Hub provides its services worldwide. An eBay store design with matching listing template starts at £399, but a typical project with various add-ons will come to £600 to £800.
eSeller Solutions CEO Andre Kruger started the company in 2009 after joining a company selling imported items on eBay and Amazon in 2002. They employ four staff in the UK and Spain, and partner with eSeller Technologies in India who have sixteen designers and developers. The company has created eBay designs since it started, and has expanded to Magento and other platforms as well as providing general ecommerce technology services.
eSeller Solutions concentrate on navigation, cross-selling, and promotional boxes in their designs. They provide their own management software to manage designs and upload listings to eBay. Their templates are also compatible with a range of third-party software, and Linnworks configuration is included in their package price. The customer owns the design and original PSD files are available.
Their process is initially driven by a questionnaire, followed by a discussion of the customer’s business, products, branding and use of social media. Most projects are completed in thirty working days, with a minimum of around two weeks. eSeller Solutions provide their services worldwide, and their typical price range is £525 to £995 plus VAT. Custom work is priced at £25 + VAT per hour, and the optional eSeller Manager software is £19.95 + VAT per month.
Frooition began in 2005 providing eBay training, support, inventory software and design services, later focusing solely on eBay design and software. They have thirty staff based in Stourbridge, England and in California, and are an eBay Certified Provider – the only one specialising in design. Frooition also creates designs for platforms including BigCommerce, Amazon Webstores and Magento Go.
Frooition’s service includes management software to help sellers update their designs and content. The software can list directly to eBay, apply the design to existing listings, or export it for use in third-party tools. All designs include dynamic categories and cross-promotion widgets.
Frooition provides its services worldwide, and offers three eBay design packages with differing levels of functionality.
KD Web Design
KD Web Design is the business name for Wyoming-based designer Diane Clark. Clark has been a designer since the 1970s and has been selling on eBay since 1999. She does all the work herself – design, installation and communication – with only occasional programming help from an external provider. Clark also designs static websites, logos, and banners, and templates for Zen Cart and WordPress.
Clark gives sellers advice on store optimization and marketing, particularly new sellers who she advises to start with eBay design before expanding to their own ecommerce site. She provides all original files to customers, along with training and detailed instructions. Templates can be marked up for a range of third-party listing solutions.
KD Web Design provides its services worldwide, with a set price of $699 for eBay store and listing design, plus $75 for dynamic categories and $150 for Flash welcome banners. As a sole trader Clark limits how much work she can take on, and can have a design done in one to weeks if there are no problems.
uBer eBay Shop Design
uBer eBay Shop Design was founded in Manchester, England in 2010, and has six team members today. They also work with freelancers to develop their custom eBay tools and third-party integrations.
uBer has developed a range of widgets which they use in their designs, including a widget showing feedback for related items, a manual cross-promotion tool, and a “smart gallery” widget that allows promoted items to be changed after the item is live on eBay. uBer can create dynamic search filters for eBay stores, and has its own eBay listing tool. Images and other design resources are hosted on their own dedicated server.
eBay design packages start from £349 and range up to £1,300 or more depending on the features required. Custom search filters are particularly labour-intensive.
Widshop is a brand of createyourtemplate, an ecommerce design agency founded in Berlin in 2005, now with a team of twelve based in Germany and the UK. In addition to eBay design, they also design Magento stores, Facebook pages and Amazon Webstores, and provide general ecommerce business consultancy.
Widshop’s eBay designs feature dynamic categories, navigation between international eBay stores, dynamic cross-selling by keywords such as brand name, and mobile optimization for iPads and other Apple devices. Their design process is consultancy-based, to identify the features which will have the best impact on sales.
Widshop primarily focus on the UK and Europe, but can work with sellers worldwide. Prices start at €2,500 plus a subscription of €39.90 per month. There is an additional cost for custom-developed features such as navigation between international stores.
In my recent interview with Australian seller Neil Waterhouse, he compared eBay design to the fit-out of a traditional bricks-and-mortar store. Owners of physical stores understand the importance of a visually appealing shop, which has been carefully laid out to help buyers find products and maximize spending.
eBay store and listing design fills exactly the same need. It communicates visually the kind of seller you are – your brand – and is one of the most effective tools to persuade buyers to shop from you, and not your competitors. If you are not taking advantage of the design freedom offered by eBay, the opportunities to market your business will be greatly limited.
But design is not an easy service to buy. In fact, it’s best not to think about it as buying at all but rather hiring a partner to work with. A successful design takes time and effort from you, the seller, as well as the creative and technical ability of a designer. A design project that fails is a waste of time and money, and can leave a bitter taste in the mouth. So be sure to understand what the process entails, and what’s required of you, as well as doing thorough research into potential suppliers. Good luck!
I’d like to thank ecommerce consultant Elizabeth Hitchins for her help with this article. Liz has over ten years’ experience in eBay design and works with a number of suppliers including ChannelAdvisor, As Was and Widshop.