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In This Chapter
* Making your auctions known
* Turning information and service into profits and repeat business
* Generating exposure with your Web site
* Making the after-sale stuff move faster
* Meeting the API
For some people, hours spent fiddling, tweaking, and generally adjusting some gee-whiz online gizmo is just a way of life. These folks love technology for the sake of the technology, regardless of whether the technology makes money for them. Although these people serve a wonderful purpose in the online world (they often come up with the incredibly cool things that other people ultimately use to make money), their "technology for the sake of technology" perspective doesn't put dineros in the wallet.
For busy eBay businesspeople, time is money. You need technology to do something useful and profitable rather than just sit in the corner and look massively cool.
With eBay, properly applied technology makes a huge difference in the following ways:
This chapter gives you a quick overview of the kinds of things that high tech can do for your auctions, your business, your customers, and your cramped schedule. It doesn't go into a lot of details-that's what the rest of the book does. For now, this chapter gives you a foundation, a groundwork, so you can build your own high-tech eBay dreams.
Welcome to the world of business-appropriate geeking. It's a blast in here!
Getting Noticed in the Vast eBay Marketplace
On eBay, image is everything. (Granted, the product and price thing comes into play too, but humor me on this for a moment.) When your prospective customers open up your auction for the first time, they see your product. They also get their first glimpse of your company. And based on what they see, they make some snap judgments about the whole package.
Like it or not, those customers make their initial decisions about your firm, your reputation, the quality of your product, and the level of your customer service based on what they see in your auction listing. If they take the time to go into your About Me page, you get a second shot at impressing them with your customer service skills, but that's an iffy proposition. Many buyers never dig that far. If your auction page doesn't convince them right then, they simply move on to the next auction on their search list.
Nope, the best thing you can do is to impress the living daylights out of customers during their first glance at your auction page. Sell them on the benefits of your product. Project your image as a valuable member of the eBay community. Convince them that you're a trustworthy seller who takes good care of buyers in the long run.
Your customers' first stop: The auction page
Shooting good pictures, writing solid text, and including the myriad little details that answer your customers' questions go a long way toward your initial success. But if you apply some technology in the right ways and places, you can build those simple techniques into unstoppable powerhouses of online sales. Your first technical steps toward all of that rest in the formatting and layout of your auction page.
If you need a quick run-through of the basic content of a good online auction (stuff like describing your product, getting a decent digital image of it, and establishing your selling policies), grab a copy of Starting an eBay Business For Dummies by the Queen of eBay, Marsha Collier (Wiley). Marsha covers those basics and a lot more. (Plus, she's just fun to read.)
eBay offers several built-in options for dressing up your auctions. On the plus side, these options require no programming on your part, so they make a great place to begin. (Better still, you can use them to inspire your own template designs.)
To add these options to your auction, just make a few selections from a handy menu. Suddenly, your auction looks awesome (at least from a layout perspective). What's the downside? All this convenience comes with a monetary price. Although the price stays low for just about everything, even those little amounts add up over time. Still, for a quick-and-dirty solution, it's tough to beat the built-in options that eBay provides.
Simple sprucing with Listing Designer
Chief among these options are the themes you can attach to your auctions with the Listing Designer. Each theme incorporates a full frame of graphics around your auction text as well as several options for photo layouts. Using the Listing Designer adds an extra dime to your auction listing fee. Although it isn't a lot on a per-auction basis, those dimes add up over time.
By itself, the Listing Designer reworks your auction with some really slick graphics. Figure 1-1 shows a rather bland and normal-looking auction. You see hundreds (if not thousands) of these every day on eBay. Figure 1-2 shows that same auction with an added boost from the Listing Designer. That's a nice bit of sprucing up for less than a minute's work!
Do a little sprucing of your own
Then again, why bother paying for those nifty dress-ups when, with a little bit of ingenuity, you can achieve most of the same effects on your own? eBay relies on HTML (short for Hypertext Markup Language, a term you never again need to read or remember) for all of its formatting. Luckily, you don't need any special degree (or even bizarre programming tools) to add your own HTML to the auction.
Start with some basic HTML codes that change the size of your auction headline or add color for the things you want to really jump out at the customer. Thanks to eBay's built-in text editor (shown in Figure 1-3), you can flip among fonts, sizes, colors, and settings like bold, italic, and underlined text. The standard text editor even helps you with alignment, bulleted lists, and indentions.
Like any do-it-yourself project, it's easy to get in further than you expected and spend a lot more time than you initially planned to invest. When building your auction layout, keep things simple. (Chapter 4 explains more about your first serious steps in adding HTML to an auction listing.)
To really stir things up with your formatting, fire up your own HTML program (such as Microsoft FrontPage) and design your auction page in that. Figure 1-4 shows my homegrown auction design, nearly ready for its trip into eBay.
By using a dedicated HTML editor, you gain access to all the special coding tricks available through HTML instead of limiting yourself to the basic set of tools built into the eBay system. Moving your sweetly designed auction page from one window to another involves merely copying and pasting. Because eBay understands HTML code, it handles all the important stuff on its own. Figure 1-5 shows the finished project, looking good and ready to start pulling in those bids.
Don't underestimate the About Me page
The same HTML tricks work in your About Me page, although customizing everything takes a little more effort. As a starting point, eBay helps you build a basic About Me page that includes a title, a couple of paragraphs about your eBay world, a photo (complete with caption), some of your favorite Web links, plus optional listings of your auction items and most recent feedback. eBay also offers three basic layout templates (cleverly named Layout A, Layout B, and Layout C) that organize your information on-screen:
Those ready-to-use layouts offer a good place to begin. Still, the most useful About Me pages go far beyond the limitations of those templates.
Creating a killer About Me page means spending some time with your HTML editor, working with everything from font sizes to tables. Thanks to its flexibility, the About Me page makes a great place to sharpen your budding HTML skills. eBay gives you plenty of online storage space to try new approaches, and (unlike auctions) the system never complains if you update the page once, twice, or even 20 times.
If you just started selling on eBay (leaving you with a feedback rating in the single or double digits), your About Me page might well make the difference between getting sales and getting ignored. People implicitly want to trust you and buy from you. Give them a reason to by telling your story. Why did you start this eBay business? How did you come by your expertise? What's special about you? Simple things like that soothe customer worries and entice them into buying from you, and that translates into more sales.
Simple tips on attracting customers
Okay, so HTML lets you do amazing things in both your auction text and About Me page, but what exactly qualifies as an "amazing thing?" What can you really do with HTML that enhances your money-making prospects? I'm glad you asked:
The first few of the preceding techniques work straight from the eBay formatting window when you enter your auction text. Start there to get a good feeling for how the formatting options work and how best to apply them. After that, get comfy with your HTML-editing program and dive into the deeper stuff, like image alignment and the wild world of tables.
HTML makes the perfect place for you to discover and develop your nascent technical skills. Chapter 4 walks you through the details of everything mentioned here. If you're ready, flip ahead and dive straight in.
Better still, all the skills you develop by enhancing your auction pages translate directly into your efforts to build add-on sales and enhance customer service by creating your own Web site. See Chapter 6 for more about that.
Spoiling Your Customers with Information and Service
We live in an information-driven world. People want everything at their fingertips, whether they really need it or not. Worse yet, if people don't get all the information they think they need right up front, they sometimes assume that you're hiding something because you didn't offer it!
Even the smallest omission spawns little feelings of doubt and distrust in the online economy. It's one thing to walk into a retail store where you can look around, get a feel for the place, and ask questions of someone standing right there. The online world demands a completely different level of trust based on information. Fulfilling your customers' informational needs and answering their questions in a complete and proactive way helps you earn their trust.
Trust through presentation
Your presentation says a lot about your professionalism. Your product might look great, with all the bells and whistles imaginable, but if your auction text says "I slapped this puppy together in ten minutes," the buyer might wonder about both you and the product. A more professional-looking auction automatically bestows a professional image onto your online business. That image translates into trust, which turns lookers into buyers.
Because establishing trust starts with providing information, give customers everything they could possibly want. Some easy HTML coding lets you go from providing ground-level information (typing everything into a big block of text somewhere in the auction) to easy-to-navigate pages with headings and menus, plus gizmos like shipping calculators and automated reminders. Although some of these might seem like toys or window dressing, from the customers' perspective they say that you care, that you're a pro, and that customers can place their trust in you to deliver a product and experience worthy of their time and money.
Figures 1-6 and 1-7 demonstrate what I mean. In addition to the product information, this auction listing addresses the kinds of things that turn lookers into buyers. How's the condition of the item? This listing not only tells you but also shows you. What kind of policies does the seller use? Big headings direct the buyer to everything from shipping information to return policies. The seller doesn't try to slip anything by, but instead makes all the information big, bold, and available.
Incidentally, your About Me page also is a great place to build your reputation as a solid eBay seller. The more customer-related information you put there-such as your policies, your feedback profile, your knowledge of the product line, and so on-the more comfort you add to your prospective client's decision. When I buy something from sellers who've been "in the business" for years, I feel more comfortable with the idea of buying. Even though I can't see them or haven't met them, the information they provide helps me judge their expertise and experience. But if the seller doesn't tell me those things in either the auction or the About Me page, then I probably won't ever find out. And the less I know about the seller, the less likely I am to buy from him. It's that simple.
When it comes to buying, people don't like surprises. When you flood your prospects with solid information that answers their questions and overcomes their built-in objections, you win their minds along with their hearts.
Communicating with the customer
A little bit of technology helps you with after-the-sale follow-up, too. How many times have you bought from someone who then seemed to disappear off the face of the earth? Every time it happens to me, I worry and fret and finish the transaction with a generally bad taste in my mouth. After-sale communication is almost as important-if not more important-than your product presentation when it comes to turning buyers into happy repeat customers.
Excerpted from Developing eBay Business Tools For Dummies by John Kaufeld Excerpted by permission.
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Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Part I: Peering Toward the Technical Side of eBay.
Chapter 1: Building Big Profits with Little Tools.
Chapter 2: Evaluating Your Technical Needs.
Chapter 3: Assembling Your Technical Toolbox.
Part II: Low-Tech Steps to High-Value Returns.
Chapter 4: Starting Simple and Cheap: Adding Auction Pizzazz with HTML.
Chapter 5: Using Templates to Create Listings Quickly.
Chapter 6: Driving Sales and Satisfaction with Your About Me Page and Web Site.
Chapter 7: Uncovering Your E-Mail Program’s Timesaving Powers.
Chapter 8: Building Some Basic Timesaving eBay Tools.
Part III: Stepping into Some Programming.
Chapter 9: Elementary Geeking for Advanced Profits.
Chapter 11: Formatting with Cascading Style Sheets.
Chapter 12: E-Mail Automation Makes Message Handling a Breeze.
Part IV: Going API with eBay and More.
Chapter 13: A Brief Introduction to API Programming.
Chapter 14: Diving into the eBay Developers Program.
Chapter 15: Exploring the eBay API.
Chapter 16: Building Custom eBay Applications with Microsoft Office and the eBay API.
Chapter 17: Visiting Other API Planets: PayPal, FedEx, UPS, and the U.S. Postal Service.
Part V: The Part of Tens.
Chapter 18: Ten Great Resources for New eBay Programmers.
Chapter 19: Ten Easy Enhancements for Every Auction.
Chapter 20: Ten Business-Building Additions for the About Me Page and Your Web Site.
Chapter 21: Ten Tricks for Troubleshooting Your Work.
Appendix: About the CD.