Archive for March, 2009

Don’t Get A ProStore

Friday, March 20th, 2009

With ProStores offering something for free to some sellers (in response to Vendio's new Stores, I think), some clients are asking me if they should just get a ProStore. Some are thinking about shutting of their other eCommerce sites to get a ProStore. I think I need to say something out loud here. Sorry if anybody's offended, but you know me. :)

Don't get a ProStore. Just don't. They're not ready for eBay sellers. If you do NOT sell on eBay, a ProStore may be fine. If you sell on eBay, a ProStore is not what you probably think it is.

  1. ProStores won't list to other marketplaces. If you are looking for a multi-channel solution that will take your items, list them to eBay, put them on an eCommerce site, and list them to other marketplaces, that's unlikely to be a ProStore any time soon. When do YOU think eBay will build in the feature of listing your items to Amazon? :) So if you're looking for multi-channel, as most sellers are right now, ProStores won't be your solution.
  2. ProStores can't take custom HTML templates for eBay listings. Yes, you can design a ProStore, but you cannot take an item in your ProStore, and send it to eBay with one of our templates wrapped around it. Many of our clients are used to doing this with their Vendio, Inkfrog, ChannelAdvisor, Marketworks, Kyozou, Auctiva, Infopia, Blackthorne, etc… ProStores does NOT do templates for eBay, so if you are our client, there is no good way to deal with our HTML templates inside ProStores.
  3. Last I heard, eBay thinks you should list with Blackthorne, manage things with Selling Manager Pro, and then also use ProStores. So eBay suggests three tools where I suggest ONE tool (like Vendio, Inkfrog, ChannelAdvisor's Marketplace Advisor Premium). I think that the more tools you use, the more likely you are to work inefficiently.
  4. ProStores is not an eBay listing tool. It's just really not. 3 years ago, ProStores was a company called Kurant who build their eCommerce system. eBay bought it, renamed it ProStores, and has confused people ever since. eBay never built this to seamlessly integrate with all that is eBay. They've been adding these features over time, though don't get too excited by the word "adding" since I haven't seen that much added in 3 years.
  5. ProStores says hey, don't worry. We'll import your items from eBay, and you won't have to work too hard putting in your inventory. I say hey, don't totally believe that. Yes, they can import from eBay, but your items will come in from eBay EXACTLY as they look now. If you use a listing border, that will come in. If you use one of our templates, that will come in. If your listing has links to your eBay Store, About Me, or other areas of eBay, that will come in too. That means someone shopping your ProStore might see a designed listing dropped inside a designed eCommerce site (ugh) with links OFF your eCommerce site back to eBay. I'm going to call that not a good idea!
  6. Don't rush to shut off another site. What many sellers don't realise is that each eCommerce site is a different experience for your shopper. Some are awesome, easy, and more likely to make sales. Some are clunky. Some eCommerce systems go REALLY well and naturally into search engines like Google, helping your items show up more and higher. Some eCommerce systems stink at this. Don't just go by the price of a system. There is more to think about when it comes to a successful shopping cart website. Best to let multiple systems run at the same time, and test them. When you searched Google, what came up higher? Which had people staying on the site longer? Which had people making more sales or higher $ of sales? These are the sites to keep. :)

Sorry I'm not towing the eBay line on this one, but I just can't in good conscience recommend this tool for anybody who sells on eBay or is looking to do the multi-channel thing. If you are looking for JUST a website with NO other marketplaces, maybe ProStores could be a solution for you. I'd still want you to compare it to BuyItSellIt.com, Vendio, epages, etailcomplete, and maybe a few others.

But if you sell on eBay and especially if you sell on multiple marketplaces, a ProStore is just not the right solution, even for free.


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Beware of Hippies with Guns

Monday, March 16th, 2009

Something really interesting happened recently in my yourppl Twitter account. Normally, that account tweets about music business news as well as concert and touring news and updates. I also have an RSS feed sending some tickets for sale on eBay to that Twitter account. Around 3 post to the account each hour, so it's not overwhelmed with tickets.

My idea is that people interested in concert and touring news and updates might be interested in concert tickets. I've seen all kinds of tickets go by from Jonas Brothers to Jimmy Buffet to Springsteen, Allman Brothers, Billy and Elton, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, etc… Tickets for just about every popular act drop into my Twitter account.

A few weeks ago, Phish tickets started getting posted through that RSS feed. I only know this because I got a reply tweet calling me an asshole. Huh?

A Phish fans twittered to tell me I was an asshole, and followed that up with, "Sorry man, I know that
isn't your auction, but it hurts like crazy to know that I may not
attend bc I don't have $k for a ticket."
I had no idea some links to concert tickets would get me called an asshole, but I REALLY had no idea that someone would tell me I deserved to DIE.

A tweet said, "it's too bad that you're making a quick buck off of good people. people like you deserve to be shot." A stranger thinks I deserve to be shot. A Phish fan who, according to his Twitter bio, likes to ski and do .NET software development wants me dead. I wonder what the members of Phish would think of a fan saying this to another human being, a total stranger, and most importantly, THE PERSON WHO WAS NOT SELLING THE PHISH TICKETS.

That's right, I have no tickets for Phish. I'm not going to see them. I've bought no tickets, and I don't like the band (sorry — don't shoot me!). The links in my tweets were just random items from eBay. I got a death threat for something I wasn't even DOING. Classy! Is this guy going up to scalpers outside of the venue and beating them with baseball bats? Is he mouthing off to these people in person? Probably not. Another case of the anonymity of the internet giving people some extra courage.

I've now set the eBay RSS feed to "-phish," which means no Phish tickets will be posted. I hope this will keep my life safe. In February, there were 6000 clicks on those ticket links. I think people are interested in them! I'd just like to NOT have my life threatened, please.


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How Sprint Can Fix Things

Friday, March 13th, 2009

This blog post last week talked about how Sprint lost 1.3 million customers in Q4 2008 while Verizon gained 1.4 million and AT&T gained 2.1 million. The post suggests that the main issue is customer service, and Sprint Nextel ranking near the bottom of a survey.

I've had Sprint for many years, and I've actually been really happy. I'm just that rare person who is really happy with their service, and how much lower their prices are than other carriers.

Now that being said, when I DO need customer service, and I call in, I get an Asian support team (Philippines I think) who has messed up what I needed 100% of the time I've called them. But when I get the American team, like when we turn on the international Blackberry data plan when my husband travels to Europe, they've been GREAT.

I think Sprint lost a lot of people to AT&T in pursuit of the iPhone. In that case, the customer service and pricing wasn't enough to keep them because of the choice in equipment. Considering how people feel about the iPhone, I'm not sure Sprint could have done much to keep those people. Millions of iPhones have been sold, and I saw a graph recently that claimed that iPhones had 66% of the market share.

I would think Verizon would be down from people jumping ship to get an iPhone. But I wonder if Verizon is counting Alltel subscribers as theirs now, which would probably make numbers go up for them.

So I say to Sprint what I want to say to just about every company out there. Americans are out of work. Many Americans are willing to work for lower wages than they got before just to have a steady job where they get paid. I remember back in Tucson, people thought that a $10.50/hr call center job for AOL or Intuit was a GOOD job.

Stop sending the work overseas. Bring it back here. We customers will get better service from friendly people who will be happy to be working again and making money. We're worth it, right? We paying customers are worth getting friendly Americans on the phone. That's the change I want to see Sprint make. And release the damn Palm Pre already. :)


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Vonage Visual Voicemail

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

I have been playing with Vonage's Visual Voicemail feature for a couple of weeks now, and wanted to give my review. Firstly, I should mention that it currently costs extra. You can pay per Visual Voicemail message, or get a bunch as part of the "Vonage Companion" upgraded service with more features. I'm trying the whole Companion thing.

Visual Voicemail uses technology that tries to transcribe your voice mail. It can then text your phone and/or email it to you. I have it doing both. My emails look lovely. The SMS texts tend to come in a bit slowly and out of order… like a long message might take 4 texts, and I might get 3 of 4, then 1 of 4, then 2 of 4, then 4 of 4. Eek.

But here is a sample of how well it transcribes things. This is a message I got from AAA about renewing my roadside assistance (and it IS time to renew so this was not spam):

"Hi, I'm calling from Triple A Arizona with an important monthly saving message. It's time to renew your membership but I'd like to remind you that there is more to Triple A than our world class 24 hour emergency road service. Triple A show your part and send you program can save you up to 20% on everything from automotive repair, entertainment and dining to hotels, flowers and eye wear. Triple A's exclusive discount provide (??) savings with just a few purchases your savings could easily (??) of your membership. For more information or to renew today call us at 1-800-564-6222 or visit us online at www.aaa.com and thank you for choosing Triple A to be added to our do not call list, please call 1-866-786-3394."

Anything the system isn't sure of comes with parentheses and question marks. Sometimes it's a whole missing word they're not sure of. Sometimes they shoot for the word, and they're not too sure. For example, one transcribed message I got said, "(Tusan Newspapers?)" when they really meant Tucson Newspapers. One message I got started with, "Hi, daddy." It was actually, "Hi, Debbie." So they must have been darn sure he said Daddy to not give it the (??) treatment. Still, I got the message.

This feature has been GREAT. I have been able to sit at a meeting or on a plane or in bed :) and get the message in without having to dial in, listen to the message, write down what people said, etc… I have seen the message come in, and then just responded… like shooting someone an email that I'm on a plane about to take off, or seeing the message come in, and then calling them right back. I think it's making me respond faster, and that can only be good for customer service! :)

Each email comes with links at the bottom that ask you to rate the transcription as "good" or "needs improvement." I haven't clicked yet since I only just noticed the links!

So far, I have to give Vonage Visual Voicemail (and Vonage Companion) a thumbs up. I currently have no plans to downgrade or cancel. I'm liking it!

By the way, if you want to sign up to Vonage and give it a try, we both get some perks if I have referred you as a "friend." Just go to www.vonage.com/friend, and when it asks what phone number sent you, please say 617-996-9020. :) Thanks.


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eBay Fee Calculation Tool

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

Last year, we took down our eBay fee calculation spreadsheet when it just became too hard to keep current. Sorry!

Recently, a client emailed me a link to another eBay fee calculation tool. I didn't build it, so I can't say anything about how correct or current it is. But hey, it's something!


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What If eBay’s View Item Page Looked Like This?

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

I've been thinking about eBay's View Item page, and I think it's possibly one of the most important things eBay can "decide" this year. To me, it's simple. If the page is really effective, sellers should see sales go up and "stupid" questions go down. If the page is not effective, sellers might see more questions, fewer sales, and who knows what else. So it's a big thing. Huge, if you ask me.

And this is my realm. As someone who runs a company specialising in eBay template design to make listings more effective and more likely to make the sale, this is close to my heart. So I decided to mock up the "top" of an eBay View Item page.

The only thing to ignore is my icons. I decided to stop trying to find icons for what I wanted sections to say, so I just used my ? icon everywhere. Imagine that other icons would have an appropriate symbol, as in a ? would NOT be next to "item description." :)

My goals? People don't like to read or think, so we have to make this really obvious. And to me, a new View Item page needs to SOLVE problems, and create ZERO problems.

  • To give shoppers the info that makes or breaks sales, DSRs, and trust RIGHT at the top.
  • Make it really obvious and clear.
  • Remove things eBay has scattered or repeated. Consolidate, and make it a no-brainer! I consolidated Watch This Item, SMS updates, and email to a friend.
  • I tried to make the most important policies DARN obvious so sellers can
    stop being asked, "What does shipping cost" or "when will you ship
    this?"
  • I got rid of icons that won't mean anything to shoppers so that they don't wonder what they mean. This will mostly be newbies, but hey, let's face it, the shooting star is nice, but means nothing and could confuse a newbie. Yes, I can put it back. :)
  • Get the bidding/buying right up top, including the quantity.
  • I made some things bigger and bolder, and some things smaller. I think that the current design has nearly all the info in the same size and plain with just a few bold things. I think that's not "enough" to draw people's eyes to important areas.
  • I used phrases like "your seller" and "your item" to plant the seed in the shopper's mind that this item is HIS OR HERS. :) Go, psychology!
  • I know eBay is designing tabs for detailed policies. I didn't get to that yet. But you can be SURE that my tabs will not be grey with grey writing on white! My tabs will be NOTICEABLE. Un-miss-able. :)
  • I didn't design/mock-up down this far, but I AM against any right or left columns that have the potential to distract. Just about everything, especially towards the top of the page, should work toward encouraging THIS sale rather than trying to drive people to individual, other items.

So please click on this to enlarge it (full size is 1200 pixels wide, so this is nearly 1/3 the size), and comment to let me know where you think this would be a better or worse eBay View Item concept! Thanks. :)

ViewItem-by-AsWas


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eBay and Adults Only Items

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

I've noticed a few interesting things happen recently, and I don't think they're by accident. :) I promise I am trying my best to make NO puns in this post, but it's not so easy. Every word sounds rude! OK, here we go…

eBay sellers who list in Adults Only (formerly "Mature Audiences") used to NOT be allowed to have an eBay Store. I was recently told that these sellers can now have eBay Stores. So there's some new revenue for eBay.

On a side note, I have always found it very bizarre how many overtly sexual devices are listed under Massagers: Other, which means they're outside of Adults Only. Anybody can see them. I know this is the biggest euphemism ever, but some of these titles have words that make me blush! No, I'm not buying these. We have a new potential client who sells such things, and evidently, I needed to freshen up on what's going on in Adults Only. I didn't even know the category had changed names… not like eBay put that in their Announcement Board! :)

For what seemed like forever, eBay sellers were not allowed to accept PayPal for Adults Only items. PayPal seemed to be staying mostly or completely out of anything porn-related. Very recently, eBay changed that policy. Adults Only items can now be paid for with PayPal. We all know that online sales of "devices" and sexual materials is always a big business, and now PayPal will get a piece of that.

I went to PayPal's "help" area, and tried to type in relevant words. I wanted to see if PayPal was going to allow people to use them for any website that might be pornographic or sell adult devices. Every word I put in gave me no search results.

I tried PayPal's automated help chat person, "Sarah." Luckily, she was NOT offended when I asked if PayPal can be used to pay for pornography. She directed me to PayPal's acceptable use policy. That page says that PayPal cannot be accepted when selling, "certain sexually oriented materials or services." I guess "certain" means that some will be allowed and some won't. The page said nothing else about what will or won't.

So I'm guessing that eBay will relax this rule for PayPal so that they can get a cut from all the Adult items being sold out there. Maybe in this economy, any revenue is good revenue.


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How eBay Can Fix Things

Monday, March 9th, 2009

I still have hope that eBay can fix things. But they're going to have to do things differently, and not just talk about making changes. I think it was in November that we saw Pierre tweet that he was stepping in to fix things. It's March. I'm trying to keep my hopes up, but I'm not really seeing the change I wanted to see by now.

I think the best way for eBay to fix things is just turn back the clock roughly to 2007. I had a very good year in 2007, as did most of our clients! :)

  • Get rid of Best Match. If we got 100 eBay buyers in a room, and asked them about their experiences, I doubt many (if any) would say it was hard to find what they wanted. Finding wasn't a problem. Real problems on eBay include fraud, slow shipping, sellers who don't follow through on promises, etc… Finding is not the problem, so why are we working SO hard on it. Jeez, even the guy who had something to do with the origins of Best Match blogged that he didn't like where it had gone!
  • So get rid of Best Match. It's gone. Sellers no longer have to scramble to change listings and strategies for unannounced reasons. Shoppers won't be shown sellers whose greatest quality (as of how Best Match is currently tweaked) is that they have a lot of inventory. DSRs are no longer the most important part of the algorithm, which leads me to….
  • Forget about DSRs. DSRs are a binary system of good/bad. 5 stars= good, everything else = so bad eBay could stop you from listing ever again and shut down your business. I still shop by feedback percentage on the assumption that bad sellers will get bad feedbacks. Which leads me to…
  • Let sellers leave negatives OR get rid of feedback completely. If you want to be more Amazon-like, remember that Amazon doesn't encourage conversation between buyer and seller, which means the buyer doesn't really get the chance to threaten the seller. If eBay wants to stop buyer blackmail, just follow through on all communication going through My Messages. Then, if you get a threatening email, you can click a report button, and the buyer won't be allowed to leave feedback at all. DONE. Nobody blackmailed or extorted. Feedback system can stay meaningful and honest.
  • Advertise to bring buyers to the site. In 2008, I saw no ads on TV from eBay while I saw zillions from Walmart, capturing feelings about the economy. eBay could have jumped on that and didn't. Fewer buyers. Sales down.
  • Get back in Google. Ever since eBay and Google broke up, I am seeing very few eBay items come up in Google searches. eBay says they are sending fixed price and Store format items to Google, but when I search, I am mostly seeing Amazon items in search results. eBay needs to fix that because that drop in traffic will help that drop in sales (while Amazon is up in sales).
  • Don't change the View Item page the way eBay is saying that it plans to. Based on the incarnations I have seen of the View Item page, I believe that it will inspire fewer sales. There are too many distractions on it. The only thing that was wrong with the old one was that people didn't scroll down to see shipping pricing. SO FIX THAT and you're done. Don't re-lay out everything. Don't make designers design for a NARROWER space when the whole world is buying bigger screens. Our templates now look like bacon strips on huge monitors.
  • Go back to the old fee structure. eBay is now taking too much of a % of sales. Most sellers can't afford it. In this economy, you need more sellers making more money, or you're putting them out of business. And what do sellers get for their fees? Right now, lots of scrambling and changes and trouble. Insertion fees aren't the problem. Stop lowering those. Insertion fees are a good barrier to entry for people who think they should put 50,000 items from drop shippers on eBay. It's the FVF that needs to come down.
  • Stop with the self-fulfilling prophecies and junk science already. At this point, you have to offer free shipping or you'll be pushed down in search. You have to list things certain ways or you won't be placed higher than page 8 of search results. Whatever eBay wants to hand shoppers they float to the top of search. Then they can say, hey, that's what buyers want because that's what they buy! Well, if you hadn't put it at the top, maybe they wouldn't buy it.
  • Get rid of off-site ads. You used to have one banner ad at the top that we could all ignore. Now, you have ads all over the pages. My question to any website owner looking to put ads everywhere is: which is more important? Keeping people on your site, or giving them lots of easy ways to leave your site? These ads are making it easy to leave eBay, which according to the numbers… people are doing, and in some cases, these ads are competing with sellers. Get rid of AdCommerce (for the third time), and get rid of all the other ads. Here is a good page to take from Amazon… every link on the site should keep you on the site!

eBay was better in 2007. Sure, it still had problems. Seller fraud and fakes needed to be fixed. An imbalance of power in feedback, and how meaningless feedback had become, needed to be fixed. VeRO needed to be fixed. And guess what. These are all still true. But things WERE better because you didn't have Best Match or DSRs making things difficult for good sellers, while being mostly meaningless to shoppers. Now is not the time to play Daily Deal or discussion forum upgrade.
Now is not the time to fix things that aren't broken. Now is the time
to fix what has been broken all along, and in some cases, is now worse. So we have the old, inherited Meg things to fix, plus the new John things to fix. It's a lot to fix, but it can be done.

I still shop on eBay. A lot. :) I always try buying there first when I
am shopping online. And I still have the same % of bad transactions
that I did before Best Match and DSRs. So to the buyer, this hasn't
helped. These sellers are still frustrating. Clearly, DSRs and Best
Match aren't keeping them away from me, so if that was the point,
that's failing.

I do NOT want to see eBay try to become Amazon. I think Amazon and Zappos will handle that area quite well. eBay should be the eBay that millions of people loved and were passionate about. Shopping on eBay was fun and exciting! It can be that again.

I believe in Pierre, even if I didn't believe in anybody else at
eBay. I believe in Pierre because people are basically good, and you
can't be that into caring and charity, and not want to see this fixed.
You can't watch your stock price drop below IPO price and be less than
1/3 of what it was in late 2007, and not want to do a lot to change it.


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How To Uninstall a Custom eBay Store

Friday, March 6th, 2009

We've heard from some Frooition customers in our blog and via email who decided they didn't want to pay to have their eBay Stores "upgraded" (aka fixed). Since those Stores are going to break in a few weeks when eBay moves everybody over, some sellers have asked us to show them how to just uninstall these Stores.

http://www.viddler.com/explore/aswas/videos/19/

I shot a video explaining how to undo custom Store designs and custom Store home pages. This should answer everybody's questions, and help them uninstall what they have now.

Good luck!


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Handling Time: 1 Biz Day

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

I was recently tweeting with other eBay users, and told them that I was wondering when is the right time to email a seller and check on a purchase I had made.

Monday night, pretty close to midnight, I decided to take my own advice and buy a spare laptop battery. :) The seller promised "1 business day" handling time. I wanted to get it by this coming Monday because I leave early on Tuesday for another biz trip. So I upgraded to UPS 2nd Day shipping.

Someone tweeted that I should ask for a refund of my shipping upgrade because it should have been shipped Tuesday. I disagree, but as this is something that probably affects "shipping time" DSRs, let's talk about it!

I bought and paid late Monday night. The seller was probably sleeping. He wouldn't have seen the order until Tuesday, assuming he was all caught up and ready for Monday purchases! To me, Monday doesn't count as a business day since he wouldn't have seen my order that day.

I didn't expect him to ship on Tuesday. That would have been nice, but I didn't EXPECT it. He did NOT say, "We ship the same day that your payment clears our account." If he had said that, I'd have assumed a Tuesday shipment.

I expect him to ship Wednesday since that would be within 1 business day of getting my order and payment. I would expect him to ship it UPS 2nd Day, and if he doesn't, I'd expect him to refund the upgrade charge for that shipping. And I'd expect to get it Thursday or Friday since it's going UPS 2nd Day from New York to the Boston area.

If all goes as planned, there is no reason I wouldn't give this guy all 5 stars and a positive feedback. So please, think about what "1 business day" means, and when the seller is likely to see your order. After business hours? Pretend you ordered it the next day, and give the seller that extra day. According to PayPal, I paid for it Monday night at 11:13pm east coast time. There is NO good reason to treat this guy like his first day of "1 business day" was Monday!

Be patient and understanding with your seller. :)


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