Wednesday

eBay Trends for 2007

Want to maximize the return on your eBay listings in the coming year? Here's what to expect in the marketplace and how to keep up with savvy eBay buyers.

It’s not too soon for sellers to be planning for 2007. As a matter of fact, as an experienced seller, you should all have your first-quarter business plan ready to go now. And while you probably feel you have your business under control, you should be prepared for plenty of unseen variables. Here are a few thoughts as to what you may see change in the marketplace and how you can make the most of your eBay listings over the coming year.

Expect Cost Increases
Sellers always seem to be caught unaware when eBay or PayPal changes a policy or when they (dare I even breathe the thought?) raise their fees. Like the changing of the weather, increased fees, in some form or another, should always be expected. Realize that it’s not because eBay's a big bad company that wants to pilfer from our pockets, but they're constantly attempting to improve the site to make it the ultimate marketplace for online shoppers, and they need to cover their costs.

UPS, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service also tend to raise their fees each year, plan to add that cost to your shipping fees. Last year the Postal Service increased the flat rate and one-pound priority rate to $4.05, bringing the amount we charge buyers for small-item shipping close to $5. Next year, you may have to exceed the $5 price point.

Market With Charity Listings
eBay Giving Works (through MissionFish) has raised more than $34 million for nonprofits to date. Many sellers have found that by participating in this program and contributing a portion of their sales to a charity, they've increased their bids and final sale prices. This marketing model makes a lot of sense based on my customer service theory: By donating to a charity, you build an image of being a caring business on eBay rather than just another seller. Remember these facts:

  • Listings stand out with a Giving Works ribbon icon.
  • Your chosen nonprofit’s mission statement is on every listing that benefits them.
  • Each donation is tax-deductible (MissionFish provides the receipt for you).
  • The eBay fee credit policy rewards your generosity.

Increase Seller-Buyer Communication
If you’ve been listing items for the holidays, you might notice a new option on the sell-your-item form: You have the opportunity to include a Skype link in your listings. Skype is eBay’s web communication arm. By using it, your buyers can either call you by using a microphone and their computer speakers or open a chat window to ask you questions. Although many sellers feel that communication with customers is a bother, by answering questions quickly, your sales will go up. Again, here's the theme of increased customer satisfaction in 2007.

Be a Savvy Merchandiser
I hear it all the time: “Oh woe is me! None of my items are selling anymore. eBay has ruined the market," or “The economy's down so no one's buying.” Yep, it's the American way--blame everyone else for the downturn. Why not look to yourself?

Just recently, I was looking for a cowboy-style Christmas stocking on the site, and I found close to 100 different listings for the very same item. The pricing wasn’t very different (but the shipping charges were), and the sellers were all clearly buying from the same source. Is this a vibrant marketplace? Did the sellers do their homework before buying this item to sell?

Before buying deep into an inventory item, do a little research. Check out the eBay site and see if the item is already listed. In a couple of days, check it again. Has the number of listings increased? Did anyone buy the item? Choose your items selectively. It’s a very competitive market.

Reconsider Collectibles
Many eBay sellers pooh-pooh the collectible arena and have stopped selling these one-of-a-kind items. But collectibles are the heart and soul of eBay--it's the primary online marketplace where shoppers can look to find a plethora of unique and vintage items. No local antiques or collectibles store can possibly carry the wide variety of items that buyers can find on eBay. If you can find unique items, this is the place to sell them.

Expand Business Overseas
Are you selling your products worldwide? You might consider it if you knew that eBay has more than 212 million registered users across the globe. Considering that there's a huge audience for Americana worldwide, you can easily find desirable items to build your sales. Visit outlet malls for current fashion, toys and home d├ęcor items. Just think: If you’re a U.S. expatriate living in Germany, the only way you’ll be able to buy your favorite products at a reasonable price is from an eBay seller. And foreign nationals also crave many of the items we take for granted.

Sell (or at Least Link) From Your Own Website
Do you have enough time and know-how to start your own e-commerce site? The most successful eBay sellers sell merchandise from independent websites. Your business can grow a good 30 to 40 percent by the simple addition of a website.

If a full-blown e-commerce site seems too much for you just now, install an eBay editor kit on your free ISP page. When people click on your store items and follow through with a purchase, you'll get a 75 percent store referral discount on your final value fees for bringing a buyer to eBay. Learn more about the tools eBay offers to promote your listings here.

Tuesday

CarMD: Tool for the Small businessperson

When I was at CES earlier this month, I saw a lot of great tools and toys. A very useful item caught my eye. Home businesses must have a reliable vehicle: whether it's for visiting the post office or picking up new merchandise. (Or even jetting off between tasks to pick up the kids from school). I found a new small electronic device called CarMD. that fits in the palm of your hand - you connect it to your car's computer. (The www.carmd.com website offers more information on where your post 1996 car's connector resides).

As we all know, lots of things can go wrong with your car, and since we're all not mechanics, we're often at the mercy of the man who looks under the hood to diagnose our car's problems. Your “Check Engine” light will light up when your vehicle’s On-Board Diagnostics computer finds a problem and we all race off to a mechanic. By using this device, you can find out exactly what is wrong with your car. It could be anything from low oil levels, to an engine misfire (which may cause permanent damage), or something as simple as a loose gas cap. By using this device, you can find out exactly what is wrong by reading the data from your car's internal computer. Once you have this great tool, you access a portion of the company's website, get custom diagnostic reports and an estimate of how much repairs should really cost - before you go to the mechanic. (You can register up to three vehicles for every hand held tester).

The website also has tools for using the CarMD before you buy a used vehicle. This way, you can check to be sure the car is in good condition, before you buy it! My car is an important part of my eBay business, so I thought I'd pass this information on to you. Its a handy gadget that everyone can use!

Friday

buySAFE expanding past eBay, Overstock

buySAFE certifies and monitors online merchants and identifies qualified merchants with their buySAFE Seal. The seal ensures buyers that their transaction is guaranteed through a surety bond. They've previously focused on the eBay seller, but they're now looking to become a staple for all online e-tailers. They began their expansion this past December by announcing a cart solution with the widely used MIVA. Now, furthering their reach, buySAFE will be integrated into Cart32 software versions 6.3 and higher, allowing sellers on these platforms to seamlessly add the buySAFE trust solution to their Websites in minutes. Once integrated, merchants will display the buySAFE Seal on their Websites (which boosts buyer confidence and improves site conversion rates) and will also be able to offer their customers the ability to bond their purchases at checkout.

Jeff Grass, buySAFE CEO says, “We are very excited to partner with Cart32 to provide their customers with a powerful, new way to build consumer trust and improve site conversion numbers. Cart32 has established itself as one of the premier e-commerce solutions providers, and the buySAFE trust solution is a perfect complement to their impressive suite of products. Together, we create a strong force to further buySAFE’s mission to make every online transaction reliable, trusted and virtually risk-free.”

buySAFE will be available to Cart32 customers beginning in March 2007. Current Cart32 customers interested in being considered as beta testers for buySAFE should send an e-mail to cart32@buysafe.com.

Monday

Protect Your eBay Business from Audits

By Marsha Collier
From Cool eBay Tools

You know that eBay's not exempt from government regulations, so get the lowdown on what you need to know to keep your business on the up and up.


I'm not going to waste this column space telling you to shred your old paperwork, clear up your shipping area or, better yet, get your inventory organized so it's no longer the hellacious mess it became soon after you started your eBay business. What I am going to tell you about are your government responsibilities.

When you have a small business, Uncle Sam and his state affiliate cousins knock at your door on a regular basis. Filing all your forms and paying your taxes correctly and on time will hopefully keep you off of the master audit list. But even more important is keeping good records for your business. When you keep your books current, filling out your tax forms takes a lot less time--and if you do get audited, you'll have everything at the ready.

Beyond keeping track of your gross sales and expenses for your end-of-year returns, there are a few other state-mandated responsibilities you need to take seriously: your state sales tax (if applicable), employee data recording and your quarterly payroll taxes.

State Sales Tax
First, know that you only have to charge sales tax if you're selling to a customer in the same state your business is located in and if your state has a sales tax to begin with. If you don't have to bother with this, consider yourself lucky. Otherwise, there's a simple step you can take to ease the burden.

My primary recommendation is that you keep the sales tax you collect in a separate bank account so the money's available when the time comes to send it in. The seller who collects sales tax gets another bonus--the tax ID number issued by the state is also usually a reseller or sales permit. This number will magically open the doors to buying wholesale merchandise to sell on eBay.

Since the state sales tax issue varies so much by state and I can't outline it all in detail here, check your state's official website to get more information.

Employee Data
Many small eBay sellers may only have one or two employees--others may have 15. In either case, the drill's the same. You can run your business with your own Social Security number, but once you get employees, you need to get an Employer Identification Number.

To obtain an EIN, call the IRS Business & Specialty Tax Line at (800) 829-4933. An IRS representative will take your information and assign you a number over the phone. Or if you're the online type (and what eBay seller isn't?), you can go to https://sa.www4.irs.gov/sa_vign/newFormSS4.do to access the application, IRS Form SS-4. You'll get your EIN as soon as your online form is successfully submitted.

When hiring a new employee, you must get their Social Security number and have them fill out a W-4 form to indicate the number of deductions to take from their paycheck. When you get an employee's Social Security number, it's always a good idea to go to Social Security Business Services Online to confirm that the number is valid.

Another important piece of paperwork to fill out is Form I-9. The Immigration Reform and Control Act requires employers to have their employees fill out this form to confirm that they're legally eligible to work in the U.S. A new employee must show you their Social Security or Green Card to confirm their eligibility--and you should make a copy of it. You don't file this form with the government, but you must keep it on file for three years after the hire or for one year after the employee is terminated. You can find out more about Form I-9 at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration website.

Automating Taxes
You don't want to make mistakes on your taxes, so using a program such as QuickBooks, and subscribing to their payroll updates, will give you all you need to keep up with the frequent changes to the U.S. tax code. For instance, I can automatically fill out and print my quarterly federal payroll reports (Form 941) right out of QuickBooks--the program calculates everything based on my posted payroll. Also, the program's sales tax report takes all the pain out of filing that form. You can generate a report that includes all the pertinent data you need for any period of time selected.

Forgetting the part Uncle Sam plays in your business can be an expensive mistake. Penalties add up quickly, and, not surprisingly, the government rarely accepts I didn't know� as a legitimate excuse.