Roughly speaking, eBay sellers are divided into two groups. The first group is casual sellers, who make a few bucks with occasional, one-time sales of items like uncle Gary's old bowling shoes or aunt Mildred's old Elvis albums. No real work is involved.
The second group is serious sellers. They make more than a few bucks in some cases their entire living and find themselves constantly listing, selling, and packing.
Unlike the first group, this second group's workload is too large to handle manually. Serious sellers need software to help them manage the constant ebb and flow of their business.
But what kind of software should you use? What are the best packages, and, more important, which one is best suited for your particular eBay business?
To answer those questions, we spoke with Andy Geldman, editor of AuctionSoftwareReview. A resident of London, England, Geldman is as immersed in eBay-related software as anybody on either side of the Atlantic.
Geldman divides eBay software into three categories: overall auction management, market analysis and marketing, and he has tips on each.
But before people delve into the swirling sea of auction software, he advises them to answer one basic question.
What Are Your Specific Needs?
Geldman talks with a lot of eBay sellers who have a vague idea that they need some software tools, but they don't know where to begin. His advice:
"Look at your business and see what you're missing. Rather than looking at software and seeing what that software can do, start by figuring out your own requirements." In short, don't be seduced by fancy software ads.
The typical scenarios for eBay software needs:
- If a seller is generally keeping up with the business, but the competition is getting better prices for similar items, or if a seller feels he should be selling more items per week, he could make use of market analysis software.
- If a seller has attained a healthy sales level, but is having trouble leveraging sales to existing customers to create still more sales that is, he lacks repeat buyers or the ability to up-sell current customers, he could use a marketing program.
- If a seller finds herself to be selling so many items that she can't keep track of it all, and she's not sure of who should be sent what, or if her many buyers have paid (or if it's time to file a non-paying bidder report), she needs an overall auction management package.
eBay Market Analysis Programs
eBay market analysis software provides an overall portrait of shopper behavior in the eBay market.
For example, these programs show statistics indicating what time of the day, or day of the week, that sellers get the best price for an iPod. They also reveal which listing upgrades are most effective. So a market analysis program might show, for instance, that sellers who buy the Gallery Upgrade achieve a ten percent higher price.
"It can help people decide when to sell, how many to sell at one time, and what upgrades they should have," Geldman says.
Some market analysis programs are officially licensed by eBay, while others are not. Both approaches have pros and cons.
The officially licensed programs are limited in what data they can provide. For example, they don't tell merchants the sellers' user names, and merchants can't search the data by specific items, Geldman says. But the data from officially licensed eBay market analysis programs is fully reliable, and it stretches back over a complete year.
Unlicensed programs provide a wider array of data, though it's limited to just the last two weeks of transactions (but it can be used over months to create a longer data archive). An unlicensed market analysis tool automatically scans all available data in the list of eBay's completed transactions. "Because it's unofficial it can get all the data, including seller IDs and full item titles," he says.
The difficulty in using any market analysis program (licensed or unlicensed) is that a merchant can easily drown in the data - these tools pump out oceans of statistics.
To guard against this, "You have to use it with a very clear idea of what you're trying to find out," he says. Otherwise reams and reams of numbers might hypnotize you.
eBay Marketing Tools
There are zillions of marketing tools for online merchants, but the key to choosing one for an eBay business is finding one that integrates with the auction giant's platform.
For instance, Geldman notes that MyStoreCredit automatically sends out a newsletter to past customers with details of current eBay auctions. The software makes it easy to offer prior customers a discount if they come back and buy again. MyStoreCredit also allows merchants to display quantity discounts right on the seller's eBay page.
Another popular eBay marketing tool is the auction gallery, which allows sellers to list on one page all the items they're selling throughout eBay usually using a scrolling display with photos and prices. (There are quite a few new auction gallery tools popping up, Geldman says, though he's not sure why.)
These tools allow automatic updating; a seller simply inserts a snippet of HTML code into her eBay page, which changes to display new items as a seller adds them.
A similar new tool free at this point is Slide Player for eBay, made by Slide. Slide Player allows sellers to create snazzy slide shows of their various items.
To enhance the overall look of an auction page, many programs offer advanced templates (and in some cases image hosting as well). Examples include Seller Sourcebook, Auction Lizard, eBaitor, and Auction Dynamics.
eBay Auction Management Packages
A good auction management program is a seller's all-purpose toolbox. It helps with listing, inventory management, and post-sales tasks (labeling, packing, tracking who's paid); it integrates with accounting programs (or offers its own), and it includes e-mail templates, among other tools.
Where should a seller begin looking for auction management software? "People often start off with eBay's own solutions," Geldman says.
At the bottom end is eBay's free tool Turbolister but this just lists items, it's not a full management program. eBay's basic level management programs are Selling Manager ($4.99 a month) and Selling Manager Pro ($15.99 a month). These programs are Web-based, meaning merchants use them through their browser instead of downloading them.
This can be a limitation, Geldman says. "Web-based [software] is not normally great for entering lots of data, because you have to submit a page back to the server every time another you put in another number."
A step up from Selling Manager is eBay' seller management tool, Blackthorne, which is a desktop-based program, not Web-based. The basic version of Blackthorne ($9.99 a month) is designed for medium volume sellers (those who list 25-100 items per month) and lacks an inventory management feature. Blackthorne Pro ($24.99 a month) is a full-fledged program, with a tax reporting tool and support for multiple users.
Sellers can compare the features of all eBay's management tools here. "It's always worth trying eBay's own tools," Geldman says.
Among third party auction management tools, there are both licensed and unlicensed tools. The programs licensed by eBay use the auction giant's own API (application program interface), which eBay now lets developers use for free. (It used to charge for this, which is one reason some developers created software without it).
"What the unofficial developers have often found is that programs 'break,'" Geldman says, "because eBay will change something on the site, and it has no responsibility to tell unofficial developers that they've changed something. Only the most on-the-ball developers have been able to keep up with that."
Among the licensed management tools is Auctiva which is a free tool. "It's probably stretching a little to call it 'auction management,' but it's a good tool," Geldman says. It's geared mainly for smaller sellers.
MarketBlast, a licensed tool, charges a one-time fee (many auction management programs charge a recurring fee). Geldman tried it and found it "impressive," yet he says the software requires "quite a bit of learning," though of course all the advanced packages do.
For high volume sellers, some of the favorites are Channel Advisor Merchant, Marketworks, Infopia, Zoovy, and Vendio. These are full-featured, relatively expensive solutions. "If you're a big time seller, or a medium-sized seller aiming to be big time, any of those five should be able to look after you."
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