Readers’ Questions are in partnership with Emanaged and Online Seller Consulting.
I’ve been selling on eBay since 2012 and opened my store in 2014, selling antiques and collectibles with a specialty in china, pottery and glass.
My biggest problem is the amount of time it takes me to list items, mainly because I sell many one-of-a-kind objects. With the listing tool I currently use, I run into a lot of snags such as inefficiencies in the template and problems uploading photos. It also shows listings and photos in groups of 25 and I usually want to see 250. It takes forever to upload photos and complete a listing.
Would I be better off listing directly on eBay? Or is there a better listing tool available that I don’t know about? I’m not a huge seller. I sell about 50 items a month, but I could do more if I could list more.
– Lydia, L., Maine
An OOAK problem
Oddly enough, I nearly got into the exact same model, selling one-of-a-kind items (OOAK for short). I was living in rural France at the time, where regular big village sales take place and a lot of old antiques and ornaments are available for bargain pricing.
At the time, a friend of mine had the opinion we should buy these in bulk, ship them to the US and list them for eBay US buyers. We very nearly did it… but we didn’t.
Still, the model is sound and I understand full well the plight you face.
A listing tool is there to create efficiencies around bulk operations, generate large consistent data sets, and wrap logical procedures around commonly faced challenges.
The tools out there are also increasingly focused on omni-channel expansion. They centralize data, operations and actions into one place with one set of steps to follow, which allow you to sell on numerous channels. So instead of having two procedures to update Amazon and eBay, you have one. And those tools keeps channel A updated based on sales done on channel B.
Tools cater to different data sources, different stock update frequencies from suppliers, and different data schemas that need mapping to different sales channels. They really cater best to bulk editing and large product catalogs…
… and sadly, you don’t need any of that! The issue you face is that your business model is at odds with what listing tools usually focus on. Oh dear.
I know listing directly on eBay can be cumbersome and slow. But having played around in Auctiva and the like years back, I can’t see how you would be much faster on those tools. The design template might be the only area they help speed up, but a few tricks in an Excel workbook, along with eBay File Exchange, would achieve a similar goal. File Exchange itself is a system on borrowed time, but that’s another story.
Let’s skip the tool topic for a second, and talk bigger picture.
Right now I assume you are a one-woman band. You are finding the items, taking the pictures, writing the listings, handling the customer support, shipping the orders… you are the operations of the company. You are the company.
Sadly, while you will likely be able to continue in this manner as long as your time and energy allows, you cannot scale up like this. You’ll go mad over time. You will also be exhausted after a few more years. You want to build, so work becomes more profitable, not just sustain.
You are the reason you are successful, but not for all the reasons you’re busy. That’s the problem we need to address. Too much of your time is bogged down in running day-to-day actions, when most of your time should be about growing the company.
You mentioned you could sell more if you could list more, and I completely agree. If more product is listed faster, it’s more time and cash flow to purchase even more product to list and sell.
The first step might not sound very fun or sexy, but it’s going to help: documenting all your procedures. The more you can develop an instruction manual, step-by-step processes based on X or Y, the more clear your operations will become. I am a big believer that if you document things, it not only makes things clearer in your mind but also helps identify areas where you could improve efficiency.
So we need to dig you out of your hole, by finding ways to support all your business operations. Essentially, if we can free up more of your time, you can drive the company forward faster.
Why so many images? That must take a huge chunk of your time. Do you really need that many? Images sell product online, but it sounds a little overkill to me in all honesty.
As a last step, after documenting all of this, try to attribute rough amounts of time to each section. Creating the title might take X minutes, the description Y minutes, and so forth. This will prove helpful later, but first let’s return full circle to…
I sadly think this is a rare situation where a seller like yourself is far less in need of IT infrastructure. At least, not if you’re only selling on eBay. But why is that?
If you follow my replies, you know I will annoyingly bang the “omni-channel” drum till the neighbors complain. Much like an itch in between your shoulder blades that you can’t scratch, I won’t go away easily until you’re selling in more places. But much like that itch, the moment you scramble to find a ruler and reach me, you’ll be happy you did. That semi-sedated “oh, that’s the spot” face will be a reward worth the scramble.
Use a tool if you are going to start selling on other channels. Second-hand or antique goods often do have their best presence on eBay. It’s where they naturally tend to “fit” from a buyer perspective, and indeed, antiques on eBay is a huge category so it’s the best place to reach your audience.
But why limit yourself? Ruby Lane is the largest marketplace focusing on antiques, collectibles, vintage, art and jewelry. Bonanza is very similar in model to eBay, and has been growing strongly for years. There are many more US marketplace channels too. My point is that you only really need tools if you want to sell on multiple channels.
If you only sell on eBay, and only plan to do so in the future, that’s fine. In that case, software is an extra expense and layer you can probably do without.
But Matthew, I have no time!
I hear you! I’m sure that’s the first issue that comes to mind. I have a plan for that.
Hire someone junior, cheap and keen. Or use an online services company, or freelancer networking site. You don’t need someone highly qualified. If they are earnest, fast learners, speak English and have time to spare, you need little else.
Why? Well, you already defined and documented all your step-by-step procedures! You even put estimated amounts of time to each area. It took a while, but you cleaned up the processes in your own mind, gained efficiencies, and now have a picture of all your core operations. You invested your time into foundations that you can now scale with.
How many of those processes can you now handover to someone else? How many hours does that add up to? Quite a lot, I’m sure. You know how long everything should take, which will help you set an hourly rate and track costs against profitability.
You need to consider this as an investment into growing your company. You likely only need part-time help, so don’t hire someone on a full salary. Get someone on a contract to support you part-time, throwing a few hours a day or week their way.
The time you gain back should be about getting more product lined up for this support person to work on. You want to slowly build up the time you need from them. All this should allow you to list more product, sell more product, and have less work to do as a result.
Summarizing the ideas
It depends on how serious you are Lydia. If this is a side business and a little spare cash, maybe I just wrote a ton of nonsense (or maybe I do anyways). I unfortunately don’t see a tool helping you enough to scale just on eBay, simply because of the one-of-a-kind nature of your business model.
If you want this to grow into a bigger, more powerful entity, you need to invest. This is primarily an investment of time in creating documentation, and measuring how long it takes to do things. Nike track manufacturing efficiency in decimals of seconds. You don’t need to go that far of course! But you do need to get a gauge on your operations, and their value and time.
From there, consider a tool if you expand into new channels. All that hard work put into creating a listing is used 2-3 times if you are selling on multiple channels. Every minute spent on a new listing is several times more valuable to you that way.
If you expand channels or just continue to focus on eBay, get some junior part-time help. This might operate at a loss for the first few weeks, and break even after a month. But, as it gets routine, you will have extra time to find more product and list more, faster. This will start to reward you back on the bottom line. Suddenly, you’ll be making more money without you logging any more time than you do already. The time you do log will be spread less and more focused on the area that counts – growth. Leave as many of the routine regular operations to someone else.
It’s all up to you and what you want to achieve of course. You are the reason you got this far. Make sure you value your own time.
I have searched for a quicker way to list individual items and you confirmed what I suspected all along! Thank you for being the first to explain it exactly they way my brain need to hear it. I totally thought I was missing a certain tool or i as just causing myself a lot of time. I should have hired a listing employee long ago!
Very glad to have validated your thoughts and helped. You know where to find me if anything else pops up!