What’s the value of questions from buyers?

By Glenn June 20, 2012 - 1:44 pm

Glenn is one of Tamebay’s regular commenters and has been contributing to the site for many years. Today he runs through different types of questions buyers submit and asks the question “Do I want to trade with these customers?”.

With the automatic five star DSR rating for communication if a buyer doesn’t contact the seller pre or post sale there’s a school of thought which says the perfect customer doesn’t ask a question and if they do add them to your .

There also comes a stage when your business grows to the extent that answering questions takes up too much resource in comparison to sales generated. Many a time I’ve researched and answered a question for the potential buyer not to place a bid.

Several years ago a friend experimented with two eBay accounts answering all questions on on and deleting all pre-sales questions on the other and only dealing with post sales issues and he found at that time it made no difference to actual sales!

Here are Glenn’s thoughts on the issue:

Any seller who thinks all their listings are perfect with all pertinent information contained within their listings is very probably wrong. Over the last 9 years trading I have made some dreadful mistakes and have been grateful to potential customers bringing listing errors to my attention. However the proportion of useful (relevant) messages from potential customers against the volume of unwanted (nonsense) messages in the form of questions from buyers makes me question the value of questions.

If I could block all questions I would, indeed if I could automate the adding of the questioner to my blocked buyers list I would.

Proportionally 1 out of 50 questions is a reasonable question and warrants a reply, and perhaps 1 in 10 of the answered reasonable questions results in a sale. Not a high return rate, but I’m still happy to answer reasonable questions and if appropriate update or amend a listing with the requested information.

This leaves 49 out of 50 questions which are complete and utter nonsense and the questioner tend to fall within one of the categories listed.

The Conditional buyer – Those buyers who ask about returns before they make a purchase set off alarm bells = BLOCKED

The Feedback monster – regardless of the relevancy of the question, those buyers with a history of leaving negative feedback = BLOCKED

The idiot buyer – “Is this black long sleeved T shirt a T shirt with long sleeves and is it black? = BLOCKED

The subjective buyer – do you think the shoes will match my pink handbag? = BLOCKED

The I want a different colour or size to the ones listed buyer = BLOCKED

The demanding buyer – I need this item by. (Sorry, but I don’t have any influence over Royal Mail) = BLOCKED

The wheeler, dealer buyer – I want to buy your product but I’m not going to pay the asking price, would you accept £xx = BLOCKED

The collect buyer – On the few occasions I have relented and accepted callers they have never turned up at the time agreed and I do not want dodgy cheques or £20 notes, or haggling over the price after the sale on my doorstep = BLOCKED

Will you accept cash buyer = BLOCKED

The Blocked buyer seeking absolution – I know I have strikes against me for non payment, but please, please let me buy = BLOCKED for ever

But worse, much worse than all the emailed questions are the @#XXZ#!$’s who telephone me at all hours of the night with any of the above stupid questions. These people are more annoying than PPI sales reps.

Don’t forget that if you answer that question the DSR for communication comes into play.

Bottom line – Asking me a question is probably going to result in your addition to my blocked buyers list, and I was wondering why my sales were down.

Editors Note:

Best practice if you don’t want questions from buyers is to use – dynamic answers that eBay generates based on the information you provided within the item listing. e.g. “Is international postage offered?” would give the answer “Yes, the seller offers international postage. This seller posts to the following countries:” followed by a list of the countries you specified you ship to when you listed the product.

Once you’ve set your Auto Answers you also have the option to . They can still send you a message from other eBay pages when ever they see the “Contact Seller” link, but not directly from a listing.

  • paddy
    8 years ago

    Is this meant to be ironic? Maybe I have too much time but I tend to answer all questions that are sent to me, no matter how inane. From memory the only one I deleted and blocked without replying was a prospective buyer whose question involved copying paragraphs from the Sale of Goods Act.

    • 8 years ago

      It may be a little tongue in cheek, but whether questions result in sales or problems is an interesting question.

      Certainly on websites/Amazon you can get the same sales for a tiny fraction of the questions…

  • 8 years ago

    I am always astonished whenever anybody goes on about buyers questions. I know I sell Specialist Books and on the whole my customers are great people(one exception recently who was exactly the opposite) but my experience is that they ask questions because they have something that they would like to know the answer to.

    Often I find that it is a question that had not occurred to me previously and often I alter my listing to put in the answer in case others might also be interested. So I shall continue to answer questions and I will not block potential customers just for asking a(usually) very sensible question.

    • 8 years ago

      Completely agree with this, in more niche markets people often need more information to help them purchase from you. The vast majority of our questions result in sales.

  • St Georges Dragon
    8 years ago

    hurrah hurrah hip hip hooray
    a real normal and sensible ebay seller
    Glenn you say it all were 1000% with you

    in our opinion anyone who has time to piddle about with questions is either part time paranoid, or amatuer ! or lonely

  • Glenn
    8 years ago

    The article was meant to be light-hearted and I say good luck to any sellers who wish to answer questions. But let me give you an example of a recent question.

    “…..I live in Germany but can I still buy your (details removed by me). I would buy 2 size at once to be sure to get the right one…”

    Firstly I only sell to the UK market
    Secondly I wonder what the potential buyer intended doing with the item which didn’t fit?

    I get a lot just like this one

    • 8 years ago

      Perhaps the gentleman with the 2 x Sizes is like me. My body shape is amoebic. I can fit into several sizes. Some may be a bit loose but as my body seems to flow into the space allowed it does not really matter. I usually quote my weight as 23 stone but recently(for the first time in several years I stood on a weighbridge) I am now 21.5stone. So I have several sizes(especially of trousers) on the go at any one time.

  • Hereford United fan
    8 years ago

    I was excited when I read this and rushed to turn my questions off. I have already had 3 phone calls in about 2 hours. Including the most recent one at 6:30pm.

    So now instead of being able to answer the stupid questions in my own time I have to answer them when the phone rings.

    I have turned them back on now.

    • st georges dragon
      8 years ago

      we have our phone switched off to ,

  • st georges dragon
    8 years ago

    if a buyer needs to ask a question we dont want them ,we want those that know what they buy, who are confident in there own judgment,

  • 8 years ago

    I’ve never read so much rubbish in all my life.

  • 8 years ago

    “in our opinion anyone who has time to piddle about with questions is either part time paranoid, or amatuer ! or lonely”

    What a load of tripe.

    It’s called a Customer Service department.

      8 years ago

      its called some poor sod in his shed at the bottom of the garden who has no time to eat or sleep because they are inundated by fools who cant read or look at pictures,

      customer service departments are for big companies or little companies that think they are big

    • st georges dragon
      8 years ago

      Due to the high level of questions
      our customer service dept has decided to mow the lawn ,then bugger off down the pub

      would be one of our auto answers lol

  • 8 years ago

    It may differ depending on the product type but most of our questions seem to relate to the way ebay works i.e. “do you ship to..” when ebay should automatically show the international postage price. “do you offer combined postage” when the global setting should highlight this more clearly etc etc.

    If ebay spent more time promoting things like this and less time dicking around with adverts we would all be in a better place!

  • John Pemberton
    8 years ago

    The best question I had was “I just bought the item, and I see it says out of stock on ebay – what do I do – do I wait for you to get more stock in?” [note they bought the last item I had!]

    • 8 years ago

      Surely this is a very sensible question. They have bought one and they like it and want more. You are now showing it as being out of stock. So what do they do?

      If I had just sold them my last copy of a Book and they wanted more what would my answer be?

      Well obviously if I was ordering more it is simple. But a lot of my stock is no longer available from the Publishers or Warehouse. So it is possible I know a colleague that has a few in which case I suggest the customer contacts them. But otherwise I apologise and explain the situation. After all I want them to buy sometyhing else off me in the future.

  • 8 years ago

    I have tested a powerseller account blocking all presales queries. This went on for at least a year and did not make any difference in sales. Actually save quite a lot of early morning time to do order processing.

  • St Georges Dragon
    8 years ago

    we are platinum TRS we dont answer questions at all, £150k sales in the last 90 days,
    Communication DSRs a big fat zero. though like just about everyone were
    sailing close to the wind on postage costs,
    so our customer service dept has got the boot and were passing on the saving in postage reductions LOL LOL LOL

  • 8 years ago

    I think this has some merits. I tried it on one account and tried to ask myself a question from another!

    This is the message…


  • st georges dragon
    8 years ago

    what really annoys is that some manage to ask questions even if you have them turned off,
    and on the customer service subject, we dont think we are giving good service to our customers by wasting our time answering idiots,
    we dont delude ourselves that by answering a telephone or an email we have good customer service

    • 8 years ago

      I found myself imagining st georges dragon. He has switched off every means for customers contacting him and goes on Tamebay to discover that the customers have discovered his weakness and he finds a dozen questions all awaiting him. He next pulls out his hair and throws himself off the battlements of his Castle(landing of course on his Aston Martin parked on the drive below).

    • 8 years ago

      You’re assuming that our dear Dragon has any hair left after a decade and a half of online selling! 😛

    • 8 years ago

      Hair? Surely “Dragons” have scales. When I posted the earlier item I thought about st georges dragon. All Green Scales and billowing smoke and flame. I could almost imagine him trying to answer a potential customers phone query. I thought of the advert on the TV where everything the bloke touches turns to sweets. I could imaging an annoying query and a blast of flame and the phone turning to dust in his scaly hands(claws?)

  • john
    8 years ago

    It Dependant on what you are selling. Some products attract more numpties than others.

    I agree with the author. We are in a niche market and do not need too chase after numpties for sales.

    90% of questions are carp. The other 10% only result in 5% extra sales. And half the questions i answer can be answered by using google or reading the auction.

  • Debs
    8 years ago

    I answer all questions….not because I am lonely or want a penfriend, but because I feel ignorant if I don’t. It plays on my mind that just because they are challenged in the brain cell department doesn’t mean I have to be rude.

    Having said that I don’t suffer fools gladly and approx 50% of ‘questioners’ end up on my BBL….LOL

    Can I just clarify this point though – In the opening post Glenn put…

    “Don’t forget that if you answer that question the DSR for communication comes into play”.

    Does this mean that if you don’t answer it they can not leave a star rating for Communication?

    That can’t be right surely – or have I misunderstood?

    • Tony Cutty
      8 years ago

      Agreed. Sometimes people need to ask – I know I do on the odd occasion.

      Also, didn’t know you could turn off questions, how do you do that; and how did John get that eBay auto-answer about being busy? That’s really neat….

  • JohnC
    8 years ago

    But how would you feel about buying from ebay generally if you had heard that most (all) sellers couldn’t be bothered to answer questions?

    Surely as a site policy, it’s a terrible one, whatever the effect on a single seller?

    • 8 years ago

      About the same as when I deal with practically any other ecommerce site out there…

      I buy, they ship, I don’t have pre-sales questions, they’re available to help with post-sales questions…

      I still buy plenty online though and a company can’t generally afford to have a question asked every time they sell a simple product.

    • JohnC
      8 years ago

      Yes, for standard products, most items don’t require questions. But would you be happy knowing that you could never ask a question?

    • 8 years ago

      I can… it’s just a little harder to put me off asking a question and encouraging me to read the listing details and auto answers first 😉

      Business sellers have contact details on listings so I can email/telephone direct. Most have an about me page with further details and I can pull any eBay members details that I’m involved in a transaction with.

      Most ecommerce sites do have contact details (or I wouldn’t be happy to trade with them). However most ecommerce sites don’t have a big “Ask us a question via email” link prominently displayed next to every product page on their website.

      I’m not saying never communicate with customers, just don’t make it easier for them to communicate than to read the listing and delivery/returns policies that you’ve spent hours to craft

    • JohnC
      8 years ago

      If Ebay want to persist in an Amazon-like experience, then maybe faceless automated catalogue-style slick selling is the way to go.

      Personally, I don’t like it. Sure, I use Amazon, but it’s functional, not fun, and I never browse on the offchance of finding something interesting.

      Ebay could retain the quirkiness it started off with, and that includes seller eccentricity. Making talking to sellers more difficult is, IMO, a retrograde step.

    • st georges dragon
      8 years ago

      Making talking to sellers more difficult is, IMO, a retrograde step.
      not to me its not !its a big advantage to buyers being unable to contact me !it saves them all sorts of insulting and stress LOL LOL LOL

Featured in this article from the Tamebay Guide – companies that can help you grow and manage your business.

See More Companies >

Recent Comments

15 mins ago
Jonah: We don’t get any invites to any of these promotions? All we get are hoops...
21 mins ago
NorthCrystal: So what do you do when you want to buy electric socket from Screwfix, or...
4 hours ago
Erwyn: Why only 700 small business? Why not all small business? Never had an opportunity to...
5 hours ago
JoeB: Your link to the full list of businesses shows me 4 items....