Happy Halloween: If you can’t have good customer service, do this.
After you’ve started selling on eBay, you’ll discover a weird secret about sales: you now have customers. If you’ve never worked in a restaurant, retail or other direct-interaction-with-the-general-public type job, having customers is a strange new phenomenon. Here are a bunch of strangers who are suddenly asking you a lot of questions at once and a sale might depend on it. When a sale is completed, there are even more questions coming in and you have a few of your own: How do I handle this flood of requests? How do I deal with returns? How fast should I ship? Every successful eBay seller is different. But after having spoken with sellers whose volume ranges from $20,000/month to over $1 million/month, as well as handling my own much more modest sales volume, I’ve developed my own way of doing customer service on eBay. It’s unique to the platform and it’s focused on efficiency, because by its nature, an eBay business is less efficient than a normal retail sales operation. But with lower overhead and start-up costs, eBay is a great place to gain real world sales and customer service experience. My overall eBay customer service philosophy is: be as descriptive and honest as possible, always offer a refund or a way to correct any problems and work customer service tasks when they are convenient for you (you don’t have a 24-hour customer service number for a reason!).
Tips for Strong eBay Customer Service
1. Always describe items to the best of your knowledge with all flaws clearly described. It’s so much easier than dealing with returns. Jeans have a weird oil stain? Mention it and take a picture of it. Selling a Tiffany necklace with a loose clasp? You better describe it! I have found that it is better to disappoint people upfront and I am in the habit of describing items with plenty of detail, several pictures and an open, enthusiastic tone (some eBay sellers sound very unhappy in their product descriptions and make the buying process sound like a punishment. Make buying from you sound like a fun, positive experience). Sometimes I sell stuff I know nothing about and have no way of testing to see if it works, like computer components or SCUBA gear. I list those items for parts only/non-working or as is and with tons of pictures. Specialty items tend to find their buyers and get bid up to their value, even if the exact condition can’t be verified.
2. Offer a No Questions Asked refund policy. It’s easier and faster and most people won’t abuse it. Someone will probably take advantage of you at some point, but not enough to matter. Most customers are very impressed with an easy refund policy and will leave you glowing positive feedback despite not getting the product they were expecting.
3. Do Your eBay Work in Batches. Like any other online activity, eBay listing and management can become a time warp, and you can waste hours listing one item at a time, leaving one feedback at a time, or printing out shipping labels one by one. I do everything in batches: process orders twice a week (since my listings end twice a week), leave feedback for all paid transactions once a week, and account for all sales, refunds and fees once a week. Turbo Lister is a free eBay tool (but it’s only for PCs) and will save you time when you are listing multiple items.
4. Don’t Respond to Every Question. It feels counter-intuitive, but you don’t need to respond to every single question. I’m at the point where my feedback and my extremely detailed listings speak for themselves. In my case (but certainly not everyone’s) most people’s questions are irrelevant. They either ask me to ship to countries I don’t ship to, ask about a detail that is already in the listing or are requesting a product I don’t have. If I have something they request, I will list it and respond to them. But if I don’t and I have no plans to get it, I don’t respond. My eBay sales are not intended to become a big time commitment and I like it that way.
5. Ship items promptly and with tracking. As long as you ship out within one business day, your buyers will be impressed with your speedy shipping. An item could end on Thursday night, your buyer will pay on Friday, leaving you to ship on Monday and still meet the one business day window. Tracking is also vital in case buyers ever claim not to have received an item. USPS does lose mail and UPS is generally better but also more expensive. You will have to decide which carrier works best for your business.
6. Always be polite to a fault in messages and feedback. Since getting a lot more active in eBay in the past six months, I can tell you that some customers are going to be rude. It will be new and unexpected at first, but just know that no matter how detailed your listing and how easy your return policy is, you will never make everyone happy. Some people really enjoy complaining. Just offer them a refund and move along. Don’t get dragged into any fights and don’t defend your product (“What do you mean it’s broken? It was working fine when I shipped it!!”). Once you’ve offered a refund, you’ve done everything you need to do. You won’t change anyone’s mind trying to convince them that you’re right and they’re wrong. The customer’s always right, remember?
Are you interested in seeing more posts about eBay? I can talk about cutting down costs, the logistics of your operation, eBay stores and listing software. But I may look at some other small business ideas first as well as alternatives to eBay. Let me know what piques your interest…