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“Help! My sales are down” – 5 things to consider

By Dan Wilson December 4, 2012 - 6:48 am

We’ve received quite a number of emails from despairing sellers over the past few weeks. At what should be a bumper time of year for most ecommerce SMEs, these emails start along similar lines: “Help. My sales are down dramatically. What has eBay changed?”*

The answer is, to be honest, that eBay haven’t changed anything. There were some changes to Search a little while back, which will be changed back, but that won’t have had a widespread effect.

We’ve taken a deepdive with several of the sellers who have written in and I thought it might be useful to share some reflections. The sands are constantly shifting and an eBay seller must always be tweaking and optimising. Very often, in our experience, when the sales are down (or seem to be down) there is a rational reason staring you in the face.

Are your numbers sound?

Firstly, make sure you’re keeping track. And then be sober and analytical when you make judgments. Comparing week on week isn’t necessarily that useful. Fluctuations in the short term are inevitable and a longer term view is vital. One seller who contacted us in a panic at a sudden dip in sales had been spooked by a rogue bad week in what was an otherwise healthy trend. Another, suddenly concerned about a sudden drop, had actually been presiding over decline unawares since the beginning of the year.

There are lots of ways to approach measuring the health of your business, and many books and blogs aout there with advice on best practice. The key point is to do it and be meticulous.

Check out the competition

Keeping an eye on your competitors serves lots of purposes. Two leap to mind for the purposes of this post: 1) Benchmark against your competitors so you can judge whether a downtick is also affecting them. 2) If a competitor selling similar stock is doing better than you on conversion or sell through, you know you have improvements to make.

Terapeak is enormously valuable here. It’s vital, in fact. And if you’re making a living on eBay and not plugged in to Terapeak then I think you’re bonkers.

Oh, and always keep an eye out for new competitors. The new kid on the block with great stock and low prices could be the cause of a dip. They may crash and burn before long but even a Mayfly competitor can cause havoc with your business.

Events, dear boy, events.

Outside factors will impact eBay and net usage in general. For instance, Tamebay traffic was significantly down in June. The combination of bank holidays, the Jubilee, atrocious weather and the like all combined to bring the numbers down. Funnily, the Olympics didn’t have a similar impact. When look at the numbers, remember that half term affects sales, so does the weather, big national events and the like all matter. You may be affected by events further afield too: Thanksgiving, stateside, for example. There isn’t much to be done about these things. But it can help understand if a dip is just a blip or part of a downward trend.

And don’t forget the effects of seasonality. Swim suits sell better in June and there isn’t much demand for Christmas cards in February. And things do just go out of fashion. Pity the poor wig powder merchant.

How good is your stock?

I recently dealt with a seller who was convinced his business was on the slide. Looking back over the past three months, we saw that the first few weeks were stellar but from that peak, each week had been worse than the one before. He was at his wit’s end. We sussed it in the end. The peak weeks coincided with a stock delivery. This had sold well and then sold out. For the remainder of the quarter he had been flogging the less attractive stock. Thus the dip.

And, here’s another obvious point to make, make sure you’ve got everything you want to sell listed on eBay or Amazon. I have been often astonished to learn sellers hold masses of stock but haven’t got it listed for sale. One thing we can all agree on: if it ain’t available for sale, it won’t shift.

Are you being honest with yourself?

Are your DSRs up to snuff? Are you sending out items ASAP? Are your listings long overdue an overhaul? Are your listings looking fab on mobile devices? Would some spiffier snaps show off your wares better? You probably know exactly what you need to do to make sure your sales improve. But it can be easier to blame eBay.

* In all my years as an eBay watcher I’ve never heard a seller say “Hurrah, my sales are up. What have eBay changed?” Increases are thanks to a seller’s hard work. Decreases must be someone else’s fault. 😉

  • 6 years ago

    In all my years as an eBay watcher I’ve never heard a seller say “Hurrah, my sales are up. What have eBay changed?”

    You must not have been around .com in 2006 (yes, I’m aware you were employed at eBay that year) when stores briefly went into core in the US. That sales increase was purely eBay’s doing and most of us acknowledged that. If we didn’t then we wouldn’t have had anything to complain about when they rolled it back.

    • 6 years ago

      ebuyerfb,

      Well done. You once made a positive comment about eBay way back in 2006. Is that what you’re saying? 😉

      dw

    • 6 years ago

      Not just me. I couldn’t figure out why my sales were so much higher than expected so I sought out answers and found them in the forums and AuctionBytes. I’m not sure if I’d ever visited either before that.

  • 6 years ago

    That line is right out of Richard Ambrose’s book of platitudes. Good sales = something good the seller did, bad sales = something eBay changed.

    While I agree with much of this article, it has to be said that sometimes eBay do change things that cause sales to plummet. For example, EVERY time they’ve changed the category structure in the last few years, they’ve sent 100s of 1000s of listings into ‘other’ categories, meaning nobody can find anything, causing massive drops in sales for a few days before sellers realise and start revising their listings.

    At this time of year what sellers really need is stability, and eBay don’t give that, with their constant tinkering, testing and bugs.

    • 6 years ago

      Joe,

      I taught Richard Ambrose everything he knows about pissing off eBay sellers. He just sometimes had a better turn of phrase, or less to lose. He’s of the ‘Dan Wilson School’, not vice versa. 🙂

      I like this comment: “At this time of year what sellers really need is stability, and eBay don’t give that, with their constant tinkering, testing and bugs.”

      Actually sellers need this all year round. But I am interested. What has eBay changed or tested or tinkered since Noveember 1st that has negatively dented your Xmas sales?

      Examples. Concrete examples welcome.

      Best,

      dw

    • 6 years ago

      Dan

      As it happens, my sales have been consistently good, but maybe not as ‘up’ as I’d expect at this time of year.

      The biggie that’s had an impact is the changes to MVLs. There’s been an ongoing glitch that is pre-selecting one of the variations and presenting this to the buyer, sometimes as if this is the only option, even if it’s out of stock. There’s also anecdotal evidence from reading the forums that buyers are not getting the choice they ordered, EG – ordering pink slippers, size 6, but getting blue, size 8, with the buyer seeing one thing on the order screen, the seller seeing another, both right to their eyes, but wrong for each other.

      I’ve also sold a variation from a listing that I definitely set to zero, so eBay are also screwing up stock levels on MVLs.

      There have also been some definite changes to search, including something to do with word order. Nicked from a fellow seller – but try searching for ‘jelly mould’, then ‘mould jelly’ and be astounded at the 1000s difference in search results.

    • 6 years ago

      @ Joe

      Do you mind linking to the listing that you sold the 0 quantity variation? I’m very curious about this since I deal with MVLs and their quantities daily. The worst I’ve seen is a listing with 0 quantity available yet it was still running. When I contacted eBay they just set their quantity back to 2 even though they were technically sold out (at least according to eBay, I had the true inventory count which was more than 2 so everything was actually OK).

    • 6 years ago

      Interesting on the Jelly Mould vs Mould Jelly search term.

      It knocks around 5,000 search results out of Collectables.

      Accusations that it’s the sellers’ fault probably aren’t welcome, but it is striking that 4,769 Jelly Moulds in collectables haven’t had the item specific “Moulds/ Jelly Moulds” checked. That might explain where they go missing.

    • puddleglums rest
      6 years ago

      could be to do with “jello mold” being the defalt,
      not the jolly spiffing English term, seriously
      as a collectables seller of one offs we dont have time to click every option possible we need to get the stuff in the shop window

    • 6 years ago

      Lines of ours that are MVL listings but arent in the traditional sense (i.e. not clothing/colour/size) have fallen sharply since the change was made to those, we have reacted and recovered somewhat from that but it was a very unwelcome change at such a sensitive time of year.

      Overall sales across all channels have been excellent this year however I am left with a bit of a sour taste with the MVL fiasco, we get told to put products onto MVL’s then get screwed for doing so! Promotions to gain rank before Xmas for these lines/listings were wasted but thankfully sales elsewhere have been smashing records left right and centre.

    • 6 years ago

      Clarky!

      How’s it hanging dude? Long time no speak.

    • Clarky
      6 years ago

      Darthy?

      It has been a while!

      Manic at the moment, Xmas came early and is still very much with us! I feel like I could sleep for a week at the moment.

      Hows tricks with you?

    • Joe
      6 years ago

      Yup, going OK, can’t really complain, sales are decent, limbs are all still attached etc

  • Steve Garry
    6 years ago

    Ebay has changed, and not for the better. The search engine is crippled at the moment, as wildcards are no longer working on the front line system, though there is an avoidance. That’s made items a LOT harder to find,

    There is also an increasing problem with sellers in the States and China listing identical items with only fractional differences in the description, like computer screens, and every model it fits is a separate listing. When I get 6 or 7 pages of these items, with 100 items per page, I start losing interest very rapidly, and either do a different search, or more likely now, go elsewhere.

    I am not spending as much as I used to, and I could spend more on Ebay, IF, and it’s a big IF, I can find the items I want, and get rid of the items that Ebay thinks I want, which 99% of the time, I don’t. A seller with under 200 sales in 6 years and 500,000 items on the board is no help either, I reckon they have about 30 unique items. I have neither the time nor the interest to scroll through 800 of their items to find the 3 or 4 that I am interested in.

    The beancounters at Ebay have won the battle, but they are in danger of losing the war. They may have reduced costs with the new search engine, but if buyers like me can’t find the item wanted, then I go somewhere else. Ebay needs to recognise that a search for Acer 75* is NOT the same as a search for Acer 75, in that 75* does NOT give me hundreds of extra items like 3750, or 4075, and the like. BAD INCOMPLETE FLAWED RESEARCH, and the end result is bad also.

    That’s one reason why sales are down.

    • 6 years ago

      Steve,

      “That’s one reason why sales are down.”

      I’m certain sales aren’t down across the board. Indeed, indicators are that eBay is having its best Xmas in 5 years.

      If you are having bothers, some of my suggestions above may help you ascertain where you’re not optimising or performing as well as your competitors. 🙂

      As for search being “crippled”, I’d appreciate a more analytical comment on that to understand your sweeping point better.

      Cheers,

      dw

  • Henrietta
    6 years ago

    ” In all my years as an eBay watcher I’ve never heard a seller say “Hurrah, my sales are up. What have eBay changed?” Increases are thanks to a seller’s hard work. Decreases must be someone else’s fault. ;)”

    Then you haven’t been paying attention. This 2010 article encapsulates the issue – http://200westmain.com/redinkdiary/?p=4028

  • Mike
    6 years ago

    I told my accountant this time last year that my new collectables company (selling 95% on eBay) would probably turnover around £60,000 in the first year, so we wouldn’t have to worry about VAT and stuff…

    …11 months later I’m now VAT registered and have a turnover well over £100,000.

    I’ve explored other selling websites worldwide and set-up my own too, but eBay consistently delivers the traffic I need – and it’s global which is crucial when you’re selling material of interest to very few people.

    One thing I now know is that selling on-line is hard work, you can’t just put-up a few pretty pictures and expect the cash to flood-in, it has to be carefully managed – and that’s time-consuming.

    I don’t like paying 15% of my turnover in eBay/PayPal fees (and that’s after discounts), but eBay does work for me, sorry!

    • 6 years ago

      Mike,

      How refreshing to hear good news! I like optimism and upbeat sellers. And especially from the collectables/curios end of the market. Selling one unique item always takes more time and effort than 15 different shirts.

      Sounds like you’re going great guns and reaping the rewards of playing the eBay game right. You make a good point. It ain’t easy: it never was. (Whatever some grumpy old-timers may say.)

      With 15% in eBay/PayPal expenses I’d say that you’re in the zone there. Thanks for commenting.

      And stay in touch,

      Best,

      Dan Wilson

  • Gerry007
    6 years ago

    .
    Many of our gallery Pics are back in search……

    • Gerry007
      6 years ago

      .
      However, if I attempt to edit/amend a listing on the 1st page in, I am being told I have add a variation….

      So there a bug in there somewhere!!.

  • puddleglums rest
    6 years ago

    DAN !

    we ask do you make your living doing it, or talking about doing it?

  • 6 years ago

    I work with clients that make their living doing it and for 90% of them sales are up this Christmas. The other 10% are not typically busy at Christmas.

    Some clients have been noticing that certain brands/items are flying out the door at an alarming rate and some that you would think should be good sellers are dead. Last year all products generally preformed well but we are seeing definitive splits this year.

    Social has a lot to answer for in creating specific trends.

    Notice trends, collect data, plan 2013!

  • board_surfer
    6 years ago

    Well just to annoy the grumpy people, we have had to close our Ebay shop as we are swamped with orders.We will be lucky if we open it again before xmas.

    • 6 years ago

      haha love it. Good stuff.

  • only-dreemin
    6 years ago

    Folks. If I still had things to sell on a grand scale like I did 10 years ago I would definetly use Ebay. It is still the first place I look for something that I need.

    Sometimes I even dream of finding lots of something, just to sell on Ebay again.I see that Paypal send money next day now and I have even got a card that I could use to withdraw cash.

    It does seem that 15 percent of turnover is a small price to pay for a stable selling platform like the ‘bay.

    Someone sell me lots of somethings so that I can sell lots of somethings again!

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