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eBay 101…It’s All in the Post

For some, eBay is a mystery. For others, it is a portal to some sweet added sales. Here are tips to hitting your target markets within eBay.

By Scott Ryan
Scott Ryan is a marketing analyst in the Hollander marketing department.

Hollander and eBay

This article was written for auto recyclers on behalf of Hollander LLC. Hollander is a leading software provider in the United States for automotive recycling. An exclusive relationship between Hollander and eBay Motors has now accounted for $45 million in sales in 20132 for automotive recyclers across North America. The relationship allows Hollander customers to list their inventories – which can include thousands of parts – to eBay. As part of the relationship, eBay motors runs targeted marketing campaigns to drive buyers to highlighted landing pages to buy recyclers’ “Second Life Parts.”

“Hollander’s collaboration with eBay has expanded the market for our customers’ product exponentially,” Anders Moeller, managing director of Hollander said. “It takes them from selling locally to their neighbors, to securing sales across the country, and even around the world to customers they otherwise would never have been able to reach.”

Automobiles are the most recycled item in the United States, with over 80 percent of materials by weight usually being recyclable1. With so much of a vehicle available to put back into production, auto recyclers can distribute thousands of parts at once out of their inventory.

In a digital world, such a marketplace exists to sell parts far, wide and in high volume. The problem is, not enough recyclers think they can make a splash in the water, or they don’t have time to figure out a new sales method.

The fact is eBay is loaded with opportunities for businesses of any size to tap into new and unexplored markets.

With eBay Motors, auto recyclers have finally found new hot spots for their parts, and buyers they’d never have known existed. As of Q2 2014 the sub-category of the wildly successful consumer-to-consumer online marketplace was responsible for 392 million part transactions, with an average of two parts being sold per second, and 46 million parts still waiting to be sold. The real beauty of the marketplace though, is that a seller doesn’t need size to sell a lot of parts, just the right sales model.

“I’m the mom and pop store trying to compete against WalMart,” Dale Bowman of Burnside Auto Repair and Electric in Portland, Ore. said. “It’s not just for the big boys, it’s for us too. It’s added an extra month to our year in (gross) sales.”

Selling parts isn’t as easy as tossing inventory online and getting the customer to bite. But it also isn’t a complex formula. Being successful on eBay is as simple as being patient with customers, paying attention to detail and putting the required amount of time and effort into making an aesthetically pleasing profile and listing.

Adhering to these sometimes minor but always important details helps boost eBay’s coveted metric: The seller rating. This is where users leave feedback on product quality and the efficiency of delivery and execution of the seller. Good feedback is an essential part of the eBay selling process as it helps build or degrade a seller profile, which is paramount for continued sales.

Using interviews from three small to mid-sized auto recyclers like Bowman, this article explores proven practices that can improve sales and seller ratings. These inventories and yards aren’t the biggest on the block, but it matters little when buyers head to their page and see they are a trusted, consistent seller who delivers the right part on time. While there is no equation for the perfect profile, there can certainly be guidelines, and these are simple guidelines every recycler should heed to online to increase sales.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Sales

Although adding images is by no means the first step to listing on eBay, it needs mentioning early and often that it is doubtless the most important aspect of converting a sale.

“People online like photos. They’re high touch consumers and will have questions,” Mary Hubbard, program manager at eBay said.

A picture (or 12) can resolve many of the issues customers can face with buying a specific part without first seeing it in person. Pictures should detail every possible angle of the part, as getting certain details such as cast number or model number help avoid customer confusion, and therefore prevent the buyer from having to ask the seller for it, or simply moving on to a seller that does provide the essential information.

Shane Rudd, internet marketer for Elite Auto in Long Lake, Minn. says that photos of the automobile, not just the part that came off it, can also aid in customer security. “You sell tons of parts if you have a picture of the donor car,” Rudd said.

And although it’s an established truth that images help sell online, knowing how many images to use for a particular part can help save time while still getting the correct amount of detail.

“Each part is different,” Bruce Zimmerly from Hi Tech Auto Body and Paint in Buda, Tex. said “If we’re selling a complete interior we’ll use as many pictures as we can utilize. An engine computer almost always has four pictures: Top, bottom, engine and plug. An alternator you can sell with one picture.”

Customer Still Comes First

Making sure a customer knows exactly what they’re buying is the most important rule for the seller. Images will help this the most, but effective and accurate communication creates clarity in listings and therefore purges doubts and questions about the particular part.

“I think one of the reasons we do well on eBay is because when customers click on the listing it’s accurate in describing what they’re looking at,” Zimmerly said.

Zimmerly started by doing handwritten ads for each item, and so treats every listing as if there could be human error. He is always double checking his listings to ensure factual accuracy. It takes a little more time, but can also be the difference between not just one part sale, but keeping or losing a customer.

And keeping customers online helps spur business offline. According to Hubbard, for every part sold online, yard owners can get extra sales in their store.

“People that have gotten good parts from me will contact me again before going online and buying,” Rudd said.

And despite being online, users still demand a high level of personal customer service, so staying on top of incoming questions via telephone and email can make or break a sale no matter how well-detailed the listing. Proactivity on the side of the seller also helps convert sales and produce trust.

“There’s always someone emailing you about something they see on there,” Bowman said. “Sometimes there’s more than one option and we want to make sure they’ve ordered the right one. I want to make sure I send the right thing.”

Be Clear on Policies

People like to know who they’re buying from. An eBay profile tells how satisfied other users are when they buy from a seller, but the seller can also provide information about their company to familiarize their customers and help build a reputation among users.

eBay recommends other techniques to keep policies simple. According to Hubbard, this is because, “The issue sellers run into most is not setting correct expectations.”

So in order to get realistic expectations set, eBay recommends: A generous return policy, including hassle-free returns and extended return windows; clearly specifying terms and conditions in the user template, such as shipping and handling information, shipping cost, forms of payment and relevant taxes; and giving realistic expectations on arrival times.

The shipping process is one of the most complex for the seller. It means factoring in costs, weight and distance for each individual item.

Bowman’s advice? Keep shipping free for customers and get a system. Flat rate boxes from the post office can fit many smaller parts, and have a fixed shipping rate; therefore he knows the markup of not the part, but the box it will be used to ship in. This helps him save time when getting his parts out the door. Bigger items can be trickier, but Bowman says, “It’s kind of a trial and error thing you’ve got to learn.” Once a certain amount of a larger item has shipped, the process can be done in a more timely fashion.

Creative users like Rudd have found ways to make more direct sales. His policy dictates that using the “Buy It Now” feature gives customers a better warranty. This means that instead of bantering back and forth on offers or waiting on an auction, customers can get a an extended warranty to buy the part instantly, saving Rudd time and giving the customer more security. Policy is individual, and finding ways to make life easier are not boxed in to one method.

Practice Makes Profit

Playing the game is the first and most important step towards benefitting from it. Taking the first step towards success online requires signing up, creating a template, structuring policies and staying consistent in maintaining a profile. The most successful yards are constantly updating listings to match their inventory, answering customer questions and tinkering with practices until they find their niche.

“The only ones I know that are (on eBay) are the larger yards,” Rudd said. “I’m smaller than those guys; I only do 200 cars a year. (But) I want this to be my primary ordeal; it’s 10 percent of my sales.”

Rudd’s persistence with customer questions and concerns along with a sky-high seller rating (99.2 percent positive) have helped him become a power seller – meaning sustaining a gross trading volume above a set cutoff for several months in a row.

Not only has Zimmerly’s sales increased, he now carries more inventory, and says that of all the online channels he utilizes, the platform provided by eBay just gives yard owners the best chance at making sales.

“eBay, because of reviews and feedback, is probably more efficient for the customer to buy something. (It’s) the most efficient platform.”

Being efficient on the platform doesn’t mean writing code or being a master salesperson, it just takes knowing the customer and knowing the products, and letting the simplicity of online shopping take care of the rest.

Footnotes:
1. http://oara.com/green-recycled-parts/good-for-the-earth/
2. Data according to 2013 Hollander sales records

eBay Best Practices, Top 10

1. Make sure the listing has the proper amount and right kind of images
2. Accurate and detailed Listings
3. Free or reasonable shipping
4. Perform follow-ups with customers to ensure they know what they’re getting
5. Develop relationships with consistent buyers
6. Have clear and detailed return and shipping policies
7. Maintain a high seller rating for increased sales
8. Find creative ways to customize your template and policies
9. Set realistic expectations with customers
10. Don’t let the size of the yard prevent you from taking advantage of the platform