Archive for November, 2008

Has Buying on eBay Changed?

Friday, November 21st, 2008

I'm a frequent eBay shopper. Bought 2 things this week given the PayPal coupons and Microsoft Live Cash Back programme. I've been shopping and buying on eBay since 1998.

This year has been hectic and often upsetting for eBay sellers. From rule changes to things that seemed to change with no announcement to your business being made or broken by Best Match, it's a whole new world. 2007's strategies and ways of treating shoppers and buyers don't work anymore.

So how is shopping and buying different? Well, as someone who has shopped and bought for 10+ years now, here is how I see it.

It's nearly the same. I search for 2G of RAM for my new laptop. I get search results. I look at people's feedback. I look at their location, and how long it'll take for them to ship. I make sure they take PayPal. I read their policies. I read the item to make sure it's as new or used as I think it is. And then I choose to buy.

Same thing I did in 1998. So with ALL of this shuffling and changing, has ANYTHING changed from the point of view of the buyer? I mean, it's not like items got MORE relevant. 2G of RAM is 2G of RAM!

What has changed is that the sellers on page 1 are not there because of the casino-style gamble of "time ending soonest." They are supposedly there because of their good reputation. eBay is trying to improve the trust and satisfaction factors by trying to show me the best sellers, not just relevant items.

But seller #1 on the page isn't necessarily the BEST seller on the page. The #1 item on the page MIGHT be the item other people have bought more than similar items… but that may not be the one I want or need. So I still have to "do my thing" and decide from whom I want to buy. I have my search results set to show the seller user ID, Store name, and feedback info. I DO use that to decide which item I want to see.

So what has changed? I think the only thing that has changed is that statistically speaking, the "bad" sellers are people I'd never see. In theory, they have been suspended or their items have been pushed down. So the items from which I'm choosing on page 1 are from the "best" people.

But is it really worth what we're putting the sellers through? Is it worth all the dolphins being caught in tuna nets? Is it really working when some of the best sellers I know, who have some of the best reputations I've seen, are missing from search results? Is it working when I keep hearing reports that eBay's sales growth is slower than that of other major shopping sites?

I once again call for Best Match to be greatly simplified. I think there is too much going into the algorithm, and eBay is making it too hard for good sellers to sell. They're making it very hard for new sellers to come on the site, understand what's going on, and NOT get themselves suspended or lowered in search. I think the idea of Best Match could make sense, but there are too many pieces in there. Let's look more at that in Monday's blog post. :)


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Lenovo X200 Tablet vs HP 6985SE – Reviews

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Hi. For those following with my sad saga, I now have two basically brand new laptops. I bought the HP in August to replace a Lenovo I had that had never really worked right. I now have a NEW Lenovo because Lenovo finally woke up and replaced my faulty laptop.

Here is what you would want to know, assume you're as geeky as I am.

HP 6985SE: Intel Core 2 Duo T5750 @ 2GHz, 4G RAM, Windows Vista Ultimate (I upgraded), 250GB hard drive. CD/DVD burner with LightScribe. Trackpad pointing device. 64-bit operating system (came that way). I chose it from Best Buy because I was tired of my faulty Lenovo. It was $999 at the time (plus the Vista upgrade software purchase, which was $70). I chose it because CNET seemed to love it, especially over the other computers in the same class/price range.

Lenovo X200 Tablet: Intel Core 2 Duo L9400 @ 1.86GH. 2G RAM (2 more on the way as I just bought them on eBay). Windows Vista Business, 32-bit. Touchpoint device (the nipple, as I call it) and buttons. No track pad because it's a touch screen tablet. I got the upgraded screen, and the extra Intel Turbo Memory. Lenovo's website will custom build this spec for you for around $2500. I chose it because Lenovo let me spec out a replacement up to my original purchase price on the bad laptop, and I had spent $2500. So I went for something really different than the HP to give Lenovo another chance!

And they're off!

The HP clearly wins for a few things. It seems to be faster, though I'm not sure if adding more RAM to the Lenovo will help there. The screen is BEAUTIFUL and awesome for movies. It has a huge battery, which adds to the weight, but it does get around 5 hrs from a full charge. It feels very nice to use… nice keyboard, nice styling over all. I also got the HP docking station thing, and that makes hooking and unhooking the computer to things like my monitor, keyboard, mouse, and other peripherals REALLY easy.

The Lenovo clearly wins for a few things. The size and weight are great. I doubt this weighs more than 3 pounds with the low-life battery. The screen is nice, the keyboard is your usual comfy keyboard. The ThinkVantage system has function buttons that quickly get me to utilities I use all the time like power manager, going into sleep mode, and presentation mode (telling it to show on my external monitor). I do NOT yet have the Lenovo dock for this model, so right now, hooking and unhooking to peripherals is time-consuming.

The Lenovo is a true laptop. It's on my lap, it's nice and flat, and it weighs NOTHING. The HP has a bulky, funny shaped battery that sort of acts as a stand to make the back higher than the front. But put that on your lap, and it's a ship on a stormy sea. But, the Lenovo's smaller 4-cell battery, which comes with it, only runs for just over 2 hrs on a full charge.

The Lenovo, being 32-bit, meant NO incompatibilities with apps I wanted to use. There are some apps I haven't been able to use on the HP because some companies haven't come out with 64-bit versions or drivers. That has sucked.

The Lenovo, being light and portable, has NO optical drive. If I want to use or burn CDs or DVDs, I have to get an external USB drive. Now that's not the end of the world. I find I DON'T very often use or burn CDs or DVDs. I guess I could always put stuff on my external drive, and have the HP burn it. But if I think I will need that, I've been finding "slim" portable DVD RW DL USB drives for around $80. Not so bad.

Will I use the tablet-ness a lot? I'm not sure yet. I like the touch screen, but am not sure how often I will tap the screen. I know the Lenovo is probably better for travelling as it's SO compact. It's the size of a letter-sized piece of paper, and maybe just over an inch thick when closed. So it really wins for great form and design. It had made me feel that I do NOT want a mini or micro PC. Anything smaller than this is probably really annoying for typing and trying to read words on a screen.

I think right now, it's a tie. I have to see how a movie looks on the Lenovo, but we know it's not a media machine the way they sell the HP laptop to be. The HP even has quick keys on it for media functions. Compare that to the Lenovo having quick keys built in for functionality and more business style things. I'd rather travel with the Lenovo, though I may have to stay close to electricity or get more external batteries.

Now that being said, I probably could have liked the $500 version of the smaller Lenovo without the touch screen if I wanted a compact, lighter, smaller, nearly mini PC. You don't have to spend $2500. My $2500 was already spent, so in replacing the bad laptop, I just decided to get something really unlike the HP. If I had that $2500 back in my pocket, I could have bought 4 laptops. :)

So I will keep using the Lenovo every day for now to see how it goes, especially once I get the extra RAM. I tend to be function over form, but I need to make sure that the Lenovo's function is excellent. I need to be impressed by that, especially after a bump in the road with a lemon.


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Matching eBay Design to Website Non-Design

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

I had an interesting call last Wednesday. A guy who knew very little about selling on eBay wanted someone to "wrap" an template around his items. He seemed to think this was done through the eBay Store.

I had to explain there is nothing on the eBay website that wraps custom templates around your items. I also had to explain that it's best to keep templates as templates… if you ever need a global change to policies and info, items that have the design built-in will ALL have to changed by hand. I know sellers hate this!

He then told me he wanted the listings to look like his website. His website looked like every eCommerce website on the internet right now. A logo on the top left that was mostly his name, not much design. Navigation along the top, categories down the left, big colourful squares in the main area pushing people to different items.

Well, it just looked like everything, and it really had no real design or mood. It just looked the same as so many sites I've seen… and he's telling me he wants something that looks like that on eBay. I told him I'd like to design something better than that for eBay because eBay shoppers are very visual, and need something interesting to keep them there. His website looks like everybody's else's, and for marketing, branding, and uniqueness, I'd like to see something that has more personality.

He basically hung up on me. :)

So let me say this to everybody. eBay announced in Jan 2007 that their internal research showed that a listing where a shopper felt a sense of fun, excitement, and personality was nearly TWICE as likely to get that shopper's bid or purchase. That means that the design CAN make your sale. We knew this, but eBay saying it was nice.

If you have a fairly plan or run-of-the-mill, looks like everybody else's website, I am happy to match things like colour scheme, fonts, and logo. But I will probably pretty much insist that your eBay design have more personality, more mood, maybe even a "theme" or story so that we can capitalise on how much design affects a shopper.

Don't hang up on me when I tell you this. I am trying to HELP. :) I could design something really bland, but why? You're overpaying me for bland! All the great strategies in the world won't help you if people get to a listing that turns them off. I'm just trying to HELP. Please take the help!


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You Don’t Read My Emails!

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

I have a problem. I am emailing clients and people on our mailing list important things like what's going on with eBay's changes. Hey, that's important, especially when they may not be getting that information anywhere else.

A bunch of people don't get it. The spam filter eats it. A bunch of people don't open the email from me no matter HOW urgent I've made some of those email titles. And a bunch of people unsubscribe.

What happens next? Clients ring my freaking phone off the hook wanting to know what is going on with eBay! Why are their listings not showing up in search? Did eBay just install some sort of change because sales are down? Or my favourite, what are DSRs?

HEY, if you'd read my freaking emails, you'd know! I am not keeping this information secret! I am TRYING to get this out there, and you don't want to take the time to read the emails. OK, don't read the emails.

My next attempt to get the word out is to run http://community.rocketplace.com. It will have fresh info nearly every work day on what is going on on eBay, and what we suggest you do in response to that. You don't have to read emails, but hey, at least make our site part of your morning papers. You will then be informed, and I won't have to worry that you didn't read my emails.

We'll also be putting a lot of our advice along with some other experts writing columns in the VIP area. So instead of having 20 30-min phone calls with 20 clients who want to know what just happened, we'll be pointing everybody to the VIP area of our new website, RocketPlace Community.

Get your answers there. Ignore my emails if you must! But you will need to get your eBay information SOMEWHERE!!!


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eBay Selling & Observing Shabbat

Monday, November 17th, 2008

I have a bunch of clients who are very religious Jews. Many are in NY. Many are Hasidic. Many observe Shabbat.

For those of you not familiar with Shabbat, the short version is that you are not supposed to work from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. So you don't travel or cook or do anything that might be seen as work. That certainly includes conducting businesses, which is why many of these businesses are closed from Friday afternoon, but may be open Sunday.

One of my clients said that his rabbi was concerned that having items on eBay through Shabbat was making him NOT observant of Shabbat. The rabbi felt that while people can see these things for sale and buy them, this is business being done. The rabbi suggested that my client end all of his eBay items on Friday afternoon, and list them again after Saturday's sunset.

Ugh. Imagine the effort. The fees. The death of Recent Sales. Ugh.

I asked another Hasidic client, knowing he's quite religious, how he keeps his items on eBay through Shabbat. He said he had to discuss this with his rabbi too, but his rabbi had a different opinion than the first rabbi. Here is how my client put it to me…

  • If you own stocks, do you have to sell your stocks before Friday sunset and then buy those stocks again?
    Your money might make money in after-hours trading.
  • If you own a business that supplies nurses to hospitals, you might have to send a nurse to a hospital on a Saturday. Your business generated revenue on Shabbat even if you did no work.
  • If you go to the store and you take milk out of the case, do you own the milk yet? He says you don't own the milk until you go to the counter, pay for it, he puts it in a bag, and you leave with the bag.
  • My client who lists through Shabbat says he doesn't feel the item is sold until he is working again, sees the money in the account, puts the item in the box, and sends it out.

Which makes me ask this. If you ship an item to someone, and they open it Saturday because the post office delivers it on Saturday, does this go against Shabbat?

Sure, it's a touchy thing, and different rabbis and people will see it differently. But I liked the way my 2nd client put it. You don't sell your stocks for Shabbat! :)


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Fixing Windows Mobile Sync Problems

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

I just had an issue trying to connect my Windows Mobile phone with my new laptop, which is Windows Vista Business. I had different but weird issues under Windows Vista Ultimate on my other laptop.

The problem this time was that I plugged in my mobile phone, which is an HTC Mogul aka the 6800 for Sprint, and for some wacky reason, Vista saw the device as an MP3 player. It only wanted to sync it with Windows Media Player. It kept telling me it was a media device. It was frustrating.

I searched and couldn't find an answer. Once I had a stinky interaction trying to get support from Microsoft, I ended up in a Google search that dumped me into forums.microsoft.com. So here is the answer:

http://www.microsoft.com/windowsmobile/devicecenter.mspx

That is the answer to any problem you are having with Vista and Windows Mobile phones evidently. :) You have to reinstall the Windows Mobile Device Center aka WMDC, and THEN your computer is ready to see your phone as a phone.

Whew! It's working now. I'm mucho happy. From time to time, I've put Windows Mobile Phone solutions here, and I get emails nearly weekly from people who stumble on my solutions when searching. I hope I've been able to help more people!


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Prediction: eBay Education Dept Next To Go

Friday, November 14th, 2008

This is a prediction. I have no inside info. Nobody has said anything to me. This is a total guess. But it makes sense.

eBay's Community team is gone. Either fired or reassigned. Even Griff is now part of "Seller Experience." The Events team is evidently mostly or totally gone. eBay Live was cancelled for 2009, and the "regional events" have not really materialised.

My prediction is that the Education department will go next. I'm not saying I want it to! I'm just saying I think that is the next logical change the current eBay administration is likely to make.

The problem is that eBay is changing weekly. Materials printed on paper for the Education Specialists who teach these classes are basically outdated by the time they're approved for printing. :)

The EdSpecs are mostly good people doing their best, but I've found that some are not always up on what's going on on eBay. Are they up on this stuff enough to be able to tell their audience about all the factors that go into Best Match? Why to list FP 30 with free shipping and multiple quantity?

You can't go old school here. You can't teach a class that says HEY! Just take a picture of your watch and list it on eBay! Those students may quickly kill their DSRs… or they might not list correctly, end up with NO visibility in search, and end up with few to no sales. I am not sure how the EdSpecs would be up on this info… I'm an EdSpec, and I didn't see any emails nor was I mailed anything that made sure I knew about these more advanced strategies and eBay changes.

I think eBay will realise that really new people really can't be taught, at least not like this. eBay selling is no longer easy for newbies. It's way too complicated. Many people pick the eBay Store format because it's cheapest, not realising that they'll basically never be found.

Seminars go out of date as soon as they're given. Books go out of date by the time the publisher approves them. Conferences go out of date by the time I'm standing up to give you info. You think the Video Professor's eBay CD understands the Best Match algorithm and explains that?!?!?! I think that eBay education is going to have to really evolve.

We're going to evolve it. We're starting with a website for daily eBay education and advice, which is at http://community.rocketplace.com. We'll be running more webinars and call-in talk shows. And we'll be running fairly frequent completely online virtual conferences. No more spending piles of money to travel to something that will offer info that's out of date a month later.

Keep watching for our announcements. And sorry to the eBay Education department if I should be right that a lot of old-style eBay education just isn't viable anymore. :(


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Is This a Depression?

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

I am surveying the carnage, and I am wondering if this is a depression. People on TV make it sound like MAYBE we're in a recession or "correction." But I think this is a depression. Wikipedia defines an economic depression as follows:

Considered a rare but extreme form of recession, a depression is characterized by abnormal increases in unemployment, restriction of credit, shrinking output and investment, numerous bankruptcies, reduced amounts of trade and commerce, as well as highly volatile relative currency value fluctuations, mostly devaluations. Price deflation or hyperinflation are also common elements of a depression.

Well hey, I think that sounds just about right. Lots of unemployment. Credit restrictions, oh yeah. Credit freeze was what I heard on CNN for days. Shrinking investment? Yeah, I've seen the stock market.

Bankruptcies? Sure, we're losing banks! Of course, Bush must have seen this coming, and signed a tougher bankruptcy law. It's evidently harder to go through bankruptcy now than a few years ago, which I guess means more people stuck with debts they have no chance of paying.

Reduced commerce? Oh yeah! Even in the holiday season, shopping seems to be down. PayPal recently ran a survey that, among other things, pointed at people spending less for the holidays AND fewer people choosing to travel.

Volatile currency? I'll say yes to that. Over the past 12 months, one Euro has cost between $1.23 and $1.60, which is 30% higher than $1.23. The British Pound has ranged from $1.52 to $2.12, which is nearly 40% higher. Those are pretty big fluctuations. When I was in England in May 2008, it was just about $2 to £1. Now, it's around $1.56, which is nearly IDENTICAL to the exchange rates I paid on my last 2 UK trips in October 2002 and summer 1995. That's currency stability… nearly the same exchange rate in 1995 and 2002.

Price deflation, yes. Gas prices are dropping, luckily. Vacation prices are dropping because they can't get anybody to go anywhere. Most mall stores I see are running HUGE sales. Not the usual small percent off. I've seen sales like something that might normally be priced $20 each on sale for 2 for $15. People want to turn their inventory into some sort of cash, even if they're losing some money.

So how are we NOT in a depression? If the TV pundits say we're not, does that mean we're not? I think we are, and want to know how regular people are going to get the help they need. If you can't pay your mortgage or afford to send your kid to a decent school, then a few hundred dollars tax credit won't help.


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Webinar on eBay’s Changes and What To Do

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

Free Webinar on eBay's Changes, What They Made Public This Week, and What To Do About It!

The
headline above says it all! This is just a quick email to let everybody
know we're holding a webinar on Friday. eBay is publicly announcing
some things on Thursday, and as they released it as a webinar just for
Titanium and Diamond PowerSellers, not everybody will get the news.

We want to make sure you know!

Come hear what's going on, and what we think you should be doing about it!

https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/486538658

Also,
to stay on top of eBay's changes, check out our new site JUST about
eBay's changes… we will be updating it just about daily.
http://community.rocketplace.com.


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Dropping Property Values

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

I was trying to figure out the other day how some properties' values have just tanked, leaving people owing more on mortgages than their property is worth. I am sure there are many reasons for this, but as I drove around my area, I thought of one odd reason.

There is a neighbourhood near me that's just lovely. It had an amazing view of the mountains. Pretty much every house in that neighbourhood had a great mountain view. The neighbourhood is like a mile from the foothils of the mountains, and there was nothing in between but State Road 77, which was set kind of low in the landscape.

Until the town decided to build a million square foot mall in the space in between the neighbourhood and Route 77. You read that right. These people now have all kinds of giant buildings in front of their mountain view. Many of the stores are off to the left, but there is one thing the planning people surely didn't think of or care about:

Parking lot lights.

Part of the reason things are so scenic here in Oro Valley, AZ, especially as it gets dark, is that we have very few street lights. Many neighbourhoods don't have street lights. And with little to no ambient light, the landscape and sky are really vivid, even at night. You can see not just the biggest stars, and not just the major constellations. You can see thousands of tiny stars in between the brighter stars. And the mountain at night is amazing and dramatic.

Except for this great neighbourhood, which now sees parking lot lights from their formerly-million-dollar homes. I can't imagine these homes are worth anywhere close to what they had been. I looked at buying a house there, and most of the value was the view, and the things the homeowner had done to maximise it, like a 2nd floor deck. Now? That deck has a GREAT view of parking lot lights. Hundreds of them. And they seem to be on ALL NIGHT. I drove by at 1am on a Monday morning (Sunday night)… lights on.

This was within someone's control. This wasn't just the housing market starting to tumble. Someone controlled this, and out of greed, decided to build this mall here. I can't imagine what it's done to the people who were trying to sell, just bought there, or wanted to just live and enjoy their mountain view.


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