Selling online is half art and half science. Experienced sellers know that in the world of cyber-clutter and short attention spans, it takes more than a great product to get buyers’ attention. After selling on eBay and other sites for nearly 15 years, I’ve learned a few hard lessons and refined my recipe for success down to seven key ingredients.
1. High-quality photos (and lots of them). It’s true—a picture really is worth a thousand words. High-quality photos that accurately represent the condition and features of an item are your best sales tools. Use different angles and views to focus on the unique features of what you’re selling, always making sure there’s no disparity between the photos and the description. Digitally correcting photos for color, lighting, and shadow is fine—just don’t remove dings and scratches.
2. Accurate descriptions. Ask yourself what buyers need to know, what are the key features, any drawbacks to the product (to avoid a return), and important details not shown in the photos. And don’t forget to write product titles and descriptions for SEO (search engine optimization) and keyword searches. Think like a shopper; include all words, terms, or phrases that buyers would reasonably use to find your product.
3. Well-written, informative copy. The best copy is brief but thorough, accurate and positive. Use marketing-speak sparingly, keep sentences short, and end on a positive note. For example, if you’re selling a pair of leather sandals, stress how great they look with dark-wash jeans or how perfect they are for summer vacations.
4. Clear selling policies. One of the biggest mistakes that new sellers make is not properly setting customer expectations. Take a few minutes to create some boilerplate language that outlines your preferred method of payment, international sales guidelines, shipment options/timing and return/refund policy. A few words up-front can save you loads of time later answering e-mails and calming disgruntled customers.
5. Strong communication and customer service. Communication immediately after a sale not only confirms the order, it helps reassure buyers. A quick thank you and order-status message is the first step in a smooth transaction and positive customer experience.
6. Careful packing and fair shipping. We may never know exactly what our items go through when they leave the safety of our own hands. The best bet is to pack sold merchandise with the assumption that it will be drop-kicked across the country. Err on the side of over-packaging, and be ready to invest in shipping insurance, bubble wrap, and packing peanuts. Also, it’s worth noting that some less-than-scrupulous sellers attempt to pad their profits by charging unreasonably high shipping fees. Avoid this temptation. Buyers might fall for it once, but in the end, it just erodes a seller’s reputation and leaves customers feeling cheated.
7. A brief follow-up and thank you. A quick follow-up e-mail 7-to-10 days after you ship an item is a quick and easy way to build good will. Thank your buyers for their patronage and include a link to your website or details on how customers can find your online store via eBay, Etsy and Amazon. It’s another chance keep your business top-of-mind and encourage consumers to bookmark your site.
The most successful sellers always try to combine the benefits of a traditional brick-and-mortar experience with value and convenience that comes with online shopping. And the old model of the face-to-face relationship between merchant and buyer is honored through prompt communication and stellar customer service.
What's your best tip for selling online?
Kentin Waits is a freelance writer and marketing specialist based in Portland, Oregon. His work has been featured in US Airways magazine and top-rated blogs such as Wise Bread, the Consumerist, and MSN SmartMoney. When he's not writing, Kentin runs a small online antiques business.
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