This post is by Jonathan Pollard, CEO of eBay integration software company Codisto. Their products include Xpress Lister, a free eBay listing creation tool for spreadsheets, and Marketplace Connect, which provides full eBay catalog synchronization for Magento and WooCommerce.
eBay sellers generated $80 billion of revenue last year, from 17 million buyers who show up on the marketplace every month. For sellers, eBay is an incredible opportunity too good to miss.
But tackling eBay selling at scale can be a real challenge. Strategies and tools are needed to overcome the scaling difficulties. These will set yourself apart from competitors and allow you to make the most of the lucrative eBay marketplace. Let’s take a look at what’s involved.
#1. Choosing the Right Store Subscription
Once you are selling more than a handful of items it makes sense to subscribe to an eBay Store. Store benefits and costs vary depending on level of subscription – Basic, Featured/Premium or Anchor. But generally speaking, for a fixed monthly fee you can get free or reduced-cost listings and sometimes reduced Final Value Fees on sales made.
A store subscription also allows you to list items:
- Good ‘Til Cancelled (GTC) meaning the listings last 30 days and are automatically renewed each time they end.
- With “Out of Stock Control” enabled, meaning listings can remain on the site with a quantity available of zero, instead of automatically ending when they sell out.
These features are essential to build “social proof” on listings and boost how items appear in Best Match search results.
Interestingly, benefits and costs vary depending on which eBay marketplace you subscribe to your store on. For example there are no Final Value Fee discounts for UK sellers!
Tip: Check to see if your local eBay has any limited-time free store subscriptions offers – this can be a great way to list your entire catalog cheaply and really test the eBay marketplace.
#2. Getting Your Seller Limits Lifted
When you first sign up for a seller account, eBay will impose “seller limits”. These limit both the number of items you can sell and the value of those sales over a month.
Seller limits can be frustrating especially for established businesses already selling on other channels. The limits are designed to protect the eBay marketplace against bad buyer experiences that would stop buyers (and ultimately sellers) from using eBay. A bit like being issued with a credit card, the more you prove yourself as a responsible seller, the more limits are increased.
Typical initial seller limits are fairly low at around 10 items and $1,000 per month. You can request monthly reviews to your seller limits, but even if they are 30 times higher in 6 months it’s still very easy for large sellers to be held back. That’s because they limit potential sales rather than actual sales – they calculate how many items you have listed and multiply that by the listing price, and won’t let you list more than that.
Tip: To increase the number of products you can list on eBay, reduce the quantity of items available per listing – that creates more headroom within the seller limits. And if you are an existing business with a proven track record, contact eBay and request higher limits.
#3. Creating Listings
The process of creating listings is the biggest disappointment on eBay. There are a few options provided by eBay to create listings, but all of them fall way short of the requirements for volume sellers.
One shudders at the pain caused to sellers (and time wasted) creating the 800 million listings that exist on eBay now. How many items are not being sold simply because creating listings is too hard? Imagine how many billions of products could be listed, and how deep and rich eBay would become if listing was simple.
Here are eBay’s own listing creation options:
Sell Your Item
The standard free eBay “Sell Your Item” flow is painful and laborious. This approach requires sellers to list products one by one, and is simply too time consuming to list any more than a handful of items.
eBay announced a simplified flow as part of the new Seller Hub which will:
- Halve the number of pages to create listings.
- Allow photos to be uploaded in the background while listings are being edited.
- Allow entering and tracking of listings using sellers’ own SKUs.
Whilst this is a small improvement for casual sellers, the improvements are practically non-existent for sellers looking to list hundreds or thousands of items on eBay – it’s still not a feasible approach.
Turbo Lister is an old Windows desktop-based software tool designed to create eBay listings in bulk. It’s free, but eBay’s recommendations of Windows 2000, a Pentium II processor and Internet Explorer 5.5 are tell-tale signs that this is not cutting-edge technology.
With Turbo Lister, there are nearly 100 columns of unintuitive data that need completing for every listing to be created. Get the data incorrect and your listings won’t be created. Again, this is not a tool to attract lots of quality retailers and get them to list large product catalogs.
File Exchange allows sellers to create and manage listings in bulk by sending CSV files to eBay. A free service, it requires users to create and upload inventory data files based on prescribed templates. However, the templates are complicated and inconsistent in format, as they vary depending on the eBay category you are listing in.
Some sellers do use File Exchange successfully, but the 60-page “basic” instruction manual and 146-page advanced manual means that it is far from straightforward.
Selling Manager Pro
Selling Manager Pro is probably eBay’s best tool for listing creation and works OK for small eBay sellers looking for some efficiency. It has a monthly subscription fee, but is usually included free as part of a eBay Store subscription. It can be used to manage inventory, leave automated feedback and create reports.
Selling Manager Pro supports bulk listing creation, but only in a limited way: you can create multiple listings easily, but only after the unique data relating to each product is already in place. Getting that data into the system is still painful, so it’s not really a big advance on the other listing tools.
In summary, none of eBay’s own tools are good enough to sell on eBay at scale, so sellers are left searching for a third-party solution to help them. They vary dramatically in quality and functionality. For example, some only allow listings to be created whilst other allow for ongoing management of listings as well.
There are also solutions that offer integration into other sales channels such as Amazon and web stores to aid multi-channel selling, but again quality and functionality vary dramatically.
Tip: Volume sellers should avoid auctions that delay purchases and list “Fixed Price, Buy It Now”. This is how 85% of eBay sales are now generated. If you are outgrowing Selling Manager Pro, look for a third-party solution that tackles some of the headaches below.
#4. Choosing the Right Categories
The listing category is eBay-specific and unlikely to match a seller’s own product catalog taxonomy. Choosing the appropriate category can be very time consuming. eBay will suggest a category based on the title of an item, but it isn’t reliable enough to be used without review. With almost 18,000 categories to choose from, doing it at scale is a real chore.
With some listing solutions, it is possible to set up “profiles” to add products to the same category. Once this is done it allows you to create listings in bulk, but it only works for items in the same category, and still requires a product-by-product approach to allocate them to the appropriate profile.
Tip: To solve this problem at scale, look for third-party solutions that auto-categorize products for listing on eBay.
#5. Applying an eBay Sales Template
It’s obvious that eBay listings have to look good to drive sales. Describing items in Times New Roman italics won’t cut it. Instead, sellers need a professional HTML/CSS template that is mobile responsive.
eBay offers a WYSIWYG editor and an HTML listing editor. But there is another problem – the HTML editor combines the HTML elements and the text elements to create a nice-looking template and product description. This combined approach rules out applying templates in bulk, or making bulk changes at a later point, and is a real headache that wastes massive amounts of time for sellers.
Sellers not familiar with HTML can engage a third-party design service such as Frooition to create a uniquely-branded HTML eBay template.
Tip: To be able to to apply HTML templates in bulk (either when initially creating listings or when revising them later) use a third-party service that provides database-driven listings. That way, you are able to change the HTML or product descriptions and the listings will be changed accordingly and in bulk.
#6. Meeting the Image Requirements
eBay’s strict image requirements can cause big headaches for sellers. Images need to be a minimum 500px on the longest side, but at least 800px to enable the auto-magnifier. For good quality images you should aim for 1600px.
Also, eBay doesn’t like CMYK images (typically created for use in print) or transparent backgrounds – they turn black when listed and can display ugly etching.
Tip: There are some great image services out there like Pixc that put items on white backgrounds and provide multi-variant color images without having to photograph every option. Also, consider using third-party listing solutions that provide automated image upscaling, CMYK to RGB conversion and transparent background correction.
#7. Creating eBay Optimized Titles
Titles are an important component of eBay SEO, to ensure listings display well in Best Match. But one of the biggest headaches for multi-channel sellers is making sure product titles make sense in the context of global eBay searches.
Often website owners list items on eBay without the necessary context for eBay search. For example, on a website it may be obvious to a buyer that they have navigated from the home page to Women’s Clothing / Skirts & Dresses and are now looking at a Leopard Print skirt. In that scenario, the ecommerce catalog product title “Leopard Print” makes sense. But on eBay you must add “Women’s Mini Skirt” to the title or the item won’t be found by buyers and is unlikely to sell.
Tip: It’s worth taking a look at title optimization tools such as Title Builder to help generate good titles for SEO. They provide ideas for titles structures and context that you can apply in bulk using title creation tools available in some third-party solutions.
#8. Updating Listings
By listing items Good ‘Til Cancelled (GTC) sellers can continually build up sales history on listings. That adds vital social proof that your items are worth buying, and maximizes where listings appear in Best Match search. GTC also allows items to be revised to reflect product catalog changes without ending listings and losing sales history.
But managing listings at scale presents similar problems to creating listings in the first place. For example, what happens when one of your suppliers, representing 30% of your 10,000 listings, increases their prices forcing you to increase your eBay prices? It’s not just prices that change – inventory levels, descriptions, images, templates, shipping can be constantly changing. Without the correct tools, maintaining eBay listings is virtually impossible at scale.
Tip: Look for third-party solutions that allow management of listings in addition to just creating them. If you’re selling multi-channel and have a website, look for solutions that automatically update eBay listings as your ecommerce catalog changes.
#9. Managing Inventory
The usual inventory challenge is a balancing act between losing sales due to running out of stock, with having too much unsold stock tying up your working capital. For an eBay seller it’s imperative not to continue selling out-of-stock items. eBay buyers are unforgiving and will leave negative feedback if this happens, and that can mean eBay reducing your seller limits and ultimately closing your account.
To ensure you’re not selling what you don’t have, you need to closely monitor sales orders and inventory levels and make adjustments accordingly. If you are selling fast-moving items, consider listing on eBay with a quantity buffer – setting your stock level lower than it actually is to avoid overselling.
If you are selling multi-channel it’s easy to lose control of inventory, so the only practical way to sell on eBay and other channels at scale is with a third-party integrated solution. Be careful though that the solution offers bi-directional integration i.e. non-eBay sales decrement eBay stock and eBay sales decrement central stock. Also, check the frequency of the inventory synchronization – the better solutions are event driven and real-time versus a 15-minute, hourly or even daily synchronization process.
Tip: Require immediate payment. This means sellers only receive orders when a buyer has paid. Without immediate payment, a buyer “commits to buy” but doesn’t always complete the order and pay. As a seller you are left in a tricky position not knowing whether you should reserve stock. It’s safer to reserve, but annoying when orders fall through especially if stock is limited.
#10. Fulfilling Orders
To tackle eBay at scale you need a way of easily printing address labels for orders, booking consignments, uploading tracking numbers and leaving buyer feedback.
eBay offers basic tools for using standard postal services. But once your eBay business reaches scale you’ll want to use courier services. When you’re large enough you’ll be able to approach freight providers and negotiate your own rates, but there is an in-between size that can be challenging to deal with. At this stage, look at shipping integration solutions like Temando or ShippingEasy. Using these services you’ll be able to get real-time rates, print labels, book consignments, and get tracking data.
Tip: If you’re selling on your own website as well as eBay, you should look to fold eBay orders into your existing fulfillment process. To do this you need an integration solution to automatically push the eBay orders back into to your ecommerce platform.
Tracking & Feedback
As a seller you are required to submit shipment tracking data to eBay. You can also choose to leave either positive feedback for buyers or none at all (only buyers can leave negative feedback for sellers!).
Tip: If shipment tracking data is uploaded within the handling time specified on your listings, the seller is protected against any complaints from buyers about slow delivery. Uploading tracking data and feedback is a time-consuming manual process for each order, so look for a third-party integration solution to automate this.
There are many headaches when selling on eBay at scale, and using eBay’s own tools is unlikely to solve them.
But there is a healthy market of third-party solutions to help overcome the various challenges facing professional sellers. Quality varies and – as always – it pays to do your research before committing.
Codisto’s eBay listing and synchronization tools are listed in the Web Retailer directory: Xpress Lister for Excel spreadsheet integration and Codisto Marketplace Connect for Magento and WooCommerce integration.