Why I See eCommerce Differently. I see Data & Lots of It Too!

Introduction

When I look at a website, an eBay item, an Amazon item or pretty much anywhere now, what “I see” when looking at such products is starkly different to most. In this article, I share with you what I see and also why you should be thinking along the same lines also.

I would class myself as one of the lucky few that see the world of eCommerce differently. I see beyond the pair of boots, shoes, phone or dress and see a multi-tiered inventory structure that sits behind it. I also see beyond a single businesses perspective and have a unique view of many and can combine this into a single view, that’s not distorted by a single viewpoint.

In this article I share with you what I see, to help you understand the data that is sat behind the inventory that you interact with daily and why I strongly feel and know that data is the lifeblood of an eCommerce business.

What I See When I look at an eBay Item

eBay Item Data Points BreakdownWorking from the top down, I have highlighted the data points that I see in an eBay listing in the image to the right (to help the full version is here) and I’ve broken these down in the bullet points below:

  • eBay Categorisation
    But not just that, two eBay categories, the category numbers and the listing requirements for the categories being used.
  • The main image
    This isn’t just ‘an’ image, its an image that meets the requirements to cause the highlighted bar beneath it for zoom and enlargement which can only occur when the primary image is over certain dimensions. Also, the main image has been worked on to show the variations in the listing and also watermarked too.
  • Additional Images
    The images in this example have also been sent to eBay and using their hosting services, plus they have been worked on externally to get them to an excellent level (eg backgrounds removed)
  • Listing Title
    A keyword rich title that has been created to maximise the exposure from users searching. It’s also worth noting another data point here would have been the subtitle, but this listing is missing it.
  • Item Condition
    The condition of products has become mandatory in numerous categories now and there are several options for this.
  • Variations
    These require a special mention and the data structure sat behind this cannot be comprehensively covered in this article (and I am working on an article specifically dedicated to this alone). However for now, understand that what we are looking at is a master/container inventory record that has the core details about the inventory line, however its variations (and associated stock levels & pricing) are shown in both the “Exact Colour” and “Size” variation boxes. Some categories require for these variations to be labelled precisely, however other categorise the inventory data can be more flexible.
  • Quantity
    As this is a listing with variations, each variant has its own stock level, for example a small sized item may only have 2 in stock, whereas medium and large of a specific colour will most likely have different stock levels as sized/colour/variations all tend to sell in differing velocities.
  • Price
    This listings price is straight forwards, there is only one price for the entire style of products being shown. However, each variant may have a different price associated with it and attached to the data structure sat behind it.
  • Postage Variations
    I don’t see just £2.99, I see a tiered pricing structure that is likely to have come either a business rule for a templating system of some kind, that is displaying the default shipping method (as an eBay internal code) and a value. Plus the potential for 2 more domestic options to be selected, up to 3 more options for international and additional rules or specifics attached to them (eg a rate that is set specifically for Ireland). I also see either the postcode requirement or sellers location, along with the despatching country from a table of options, so that such an ETA of delivery can be made effectively.
  • Delivery ETA
    With each listing a data field needs to be set so that eBay are able to show the estimated delivery time based upon the sum of the sellers handling time and the default handling/delivery time of the shipping service selected as the primary shipping option by the merchant. This is why we see 2-3 working days as an ETA, not 3-4 if the merchant had included an extra day for their internal handling.
  • Payments
    Again I don’t only see the option that has been set to “true” to accept PayPal, I also see two more options, the first is that the merchant has added in the additional payment option of postal order/bankers draft, but also there is an account wide setting in their account that is set to “true” and thus displays PayPal as their preferred payment method.
  • Revisions
    This listing is handy as it shows that the merchant has also included revisions to the listing. This could have been manual edits or the entire reposting of the listing data itself from a 3rd party application and eBay have kept a record of this.
  • Item Specifics
    The item specifics being shown in this eBay listing are relatively light compared to what could have been filled out. Looking at these I see additional fields that can have either fixed options to variable options completed for them. Taking brand for example, eBay suggest a list of common brands to use, however in this case the merchant has selected to use “Unbranded” as their data point.
  • Listing Template
    This is hard to explain if you’ve had no interactions with templating based system. Looking at the eBay listing below the item specifics line where the bulk of the inventory data is displayed, the logo and all the stuff that makes it pretty, I see a HTML template that is most likely laced with keywords that are populated when the listing is sent to eBay from multiple data points.For example the description is pulled from data field, the smaller item specifics table from multiple data points, the image, even the description from another source and the about us/payment/shipping/returns tabs of data all being brought in from multiple locations, combined together and posted to eBay as the final finished product we’re now looking at.The same goes for the eBay categories down the left, I don’t see categories, I see a table of category names and eBay shop category ID’s that have just been spilled out into a human usable interface. Depending upon the 3rd party application that is being used to create the actual listing, I also see post listing logic. For example in more complex listings there may be IF/NOT logic that defines what is and what is not being displayed. Such functionality can completely change the entire way the data is displayed in the template and the final listing we’re looking at.
  • 3rd Party Attributes
    This listing has two, the first from the team at DZine-Hub and the second from eBay’s Selling Manager Pro.  Its not uncommon for several 3rd parties to be attributed at this part of the listing.
  • Business Seller Information
    While not posted with the entire eBay listing. I see this data coming from the settings that the merchant has specified in their eBay account. Again this is just data fields that have made it to the final version of the listing we’re looking at.
  • Returns Policy
    Having a different view from is also highlighted here, this data could have been sourced from an eBay default in Selling Manager Pro or its come from a 3rd party tool that has stored this data also as a default, most likely with the other template data.

You should now have an idea on how I see eBay listings and I can assure you its not in the same manner you have been thinking about it. I glaze over the product actually being sold and look at the use (or abuse) of the data that actually made the presented item(s) we’re looking at right now.

Ready for the next one? Lets continue…

What I See When I look at an Amazon Item

Amazon is special, well different when directly compared to eBay inventory data. Its different because the inventory data could have come from multiple sources, Amazon directly, that of merchants, a combination of both Amazon and multiple merchants and also user data as well.

To break up an Amazon listing into a more clearly defined image for you to understand, I have used two colours for this image and again the full version can be found here.

  • Red is merchant or Amazon product data
  • Blue is user generated data

Amazon Inventory Data BreakdownMerchant / Amazon Inventory Data

For this item specifically, because its already been created, then it could be looked at much more simply. What I mean by this is that due to the nature of how Amazon’s product database works, the merchant doesn’t need to know all the attributes about the inventory record, just the essentials to enable it to be sold.

These essentials are:

  • ASIN
  • Merchants SKU
  • Inventory Count
  • Selling Price

This makes selling on Amazon for merchants exceptionally easy. If they can match their data to an existing inventory record then listing a single or many thousands of items is very straight forwards.

However for completeness for this article, I’m going to assume that this item has been created by a single merchant so that we can explore the data sat behind what we’re looking at in full.

Merchant / Amazon Inventory Data

This section relates to all the red highlighted content in the image to the right.

Running with the idea that we (as a merchant) need to create this record from the beginning, when I see this listing, I see the following:

  • Root Categorisation
    Amazon works slightly differently when it comes to inventory data creation. Each root category (Apparel in this instance) has its own data requirements and then below that something called “Browse Nodes” which can be compared to eBay’s category structure.By the very nature of this item (being a shoe) its in Apparel category and is actually a sub version just for Shoes. The “Browse Nodes” don’t actually appear in this listing, but they’re there stored in the background.
  • Product Title & Search Keywords
    The product title is just one factor in the items being found in Amazon’s search, underneath this are up to 5 search keywords that essentially extend the title further. So just looking at the products title, I not only see a listing title, I see 5 data fields that are sat with this, they’re just not shown in the front interface.
  • Pricing
    I’ve purposefully chosen this record because there is a variation in not only the products (size and colour) but also because there is a variation in pricing from the numerous merchants that are offering this product for sale on Amazon.Unlike the eBay example where it was just a single merchants product being shown, we are looking at the cumulative of multiple data sets and multiple merchants all hijacking the same record to sell the variants of this product. As such we can see there is a price range from £23.50 to £86.84.While on the topic of pricing, I see much further. I see a minimum price and I see a maximum price, I also see that there is likely to be repricing software running in the background that also needs these and maybe extra data points to move the pricing around to achieve a higher, but profitable number of sales for each merchant. I also see such 3rd party applications with large data sets and complex rules, all in the aim of profitability for such merchants.
  • Variations
    With regards to Amazon there are four variation types, none, size, colour and size & colour. We’re looking at the latter and we have both size and colour variants being shown.However it doesn’t just stop are text fields from defined lists,  if you look at the colour options, you’ll see that some of these have smaller images, these are called swatches. When I see these I see additional data that has been processed by one or more merchants to improve the visibility for the user when making a selection.
  • Main Image(s)
    Again assuming that the merchant is to be posting this entire product and its variants from scratch, I see numerous images all held in data cells, but not just images of black shoes, I see rows and rows of data, each with their own sets of images and hopefully swatch images (for the variant) with them as well.
  • Attributes /Product Specifications
    Different Amazon root categories (not browse nodes) have their own requirements and available options for specification extra data that appears in both the product specifications section, but over-spills to the product details  as well, weight is a good example of this along with the item model number.
  • Bullet Points (missing from this example)
    Missing from this item are the display of upto 10 bullet points that describe this product further. Most merchants include just 5, however its possible to include many more than this via the API. Again all I see is cells of data that are being posted by a merchant and in this case not being displayed back to the user interface.
  • Product Description
    Amazon by far as the most primitive (or restricted depends on how you look at it) method of accepting descriptions. Again this is just a chunk of data that may just be a wedge of plain text or it could be the combination of multiple data fields being joined together to make a description. This product is quite boring in this respect as there are some fabulous examples of merchants that I have worked with to bring in numerous data points to the description to make the product more effective.

User Generated Data

This section relates to all the blue highlighted content in the image above.

Amazon is again special when it comes to product data because as shown by the sheer amount of blue in the image I’ve included there is an awful lot of user generated data that while not pure to the merchant side of inventory data, is when it comes to when the product data is displayed back to the user (especially after time, as more and more user data gets added to the original inventory data).

  • Reviews & Likes
    I’ve joined these together, although they are separate parts. Likes is just a counter of users hitting a like button, however reviews… they’re special. This is user generated content that can be absolutely lethal in the conversion of products shown on the marketplace. Personally I have bought expensive goods on the reviews of people I have not and will not ever meet. However if they’re bad then that’s pretty much sealed the fate of the product.
  • Customer Images & Videos
    The example above is actually a semi-decent one, as beneath the main image there is a link to 6 user generated images, these are images that users/customers have uploaded and have been added to this product. You can also add video content to products too.
  • Tags / Lists
    Lists aren’t really shown in the example, however an additional component to an Amazon inventory record is in the inclusion of customer generated wish lists, however tags are shown and these are again generated by users to help others locate similar products.
  • Purchase/View Driven Data
    Now this is where Amazon excels. Using the viewing and sales data (probably other sources too), they manipulate this data back to add several key features to a products detail page, the most obvious is the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought”, however bundles can also be automatically created and shown to the user (not shown in this example), along with numerous other sections such as “What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item?” and other related products.
    The data that is driving this may not entirely driven by the actual product data a merchant(s) first created the record with, but multiple other data points to make the final detail page more productive to the conversion of the viewer.

What You Should See

It doesn’t matter if I’m browsing for a book on Amazon or in a “real” retail store, I can’t help it, I just see data. That can of beans, its a SKU and it has attributes (shelf quantity, store quantity, warehouse quantity, distributor quantities, variation, container size, price, cost, margin to name but a few) . That book I just downloaded to the kindle, its a SKU and it has attributes. The parcels that arrived this morning, just a by-product of inventory data.

This is only inventory related and only the tip of the iceberg. When you mix in multiple data sources, the complexities of data that needs to be ported to not just one marketplace, but many and then the order related data that then is obtained by making inventory data visible, business processes, supply & distribution chains let alone the countless other messes of data such activities creates. It gets deep and fast.

The way I look at the world of eCommerce and product driven commerce, looks completely different to most and I hope I have given you a glimpse of what I see when I see a lonely product shown on a website or just a tin of beans on a shelf. What do you see?

How To Get on eBay Daily Deals

How To Get on eBay Daily Deals” and its deviations appear to be a common question that are driving people here, but I’ve never actually answered the question directly, only indicated in an earlier article that you can create your own using the eBay shops tags in the article called How to Make Your Own eBay Daily Deals & Weekly Deals.

In this article, I cover the ground around daily deals and try and be constructive as possible around helping you try and obtain a daily deal on eBay.

What Are eBay Daily Deals?

Today OnlyeBay daily deals have been around for a number of years now, there was a slight pause in these just before Christmas 2010 and they’ve been on the site since their re-introduction.

They’re focused towards amazing deals on products that also have a depth and desirability towards eBay users, whether you like it or not, most top spots are taken by larger outlet sellers who can deal with large volumes of transactions and have the inventory depth & buying power to deliver such deals.

Typically there are only two deals per day and are subsidised by weekly deals, that last funnily enough for a week. This is an important note to make, when we get to the pivotal question later, there are daily and weekly deals. One of these formats can be more productive than the other and it’s not the one you immediately suspect.

When we look at some of the recent daily deals further on in this article, you’ll notice that some of the numbers are quite attractive, to give you a wider picture, the volume of sales created by eBay are often dwarfed by that of sites that are wholly dedicated to daily deals, such as Groupon and LivingSocial.

Over 170 SoldCurious question, as what’s been featured in an eBay daily deal has been varied to say the least. From bikes to shorts, wellies to TV’s, XBOX’s to perfumes, it’s all been on a daily deal.

It’s not very well known, but there is an RSS feed of the eBay daily deals that can be found here: http://deals.ebay.co.uk/DailyDeal.rss this feed is very handy, especially if you keep track of it in a RSS reader such as Google Reader, as it’ll keep a history all the deals, so you can go back over them and see what’s sold and what’s not.

Note: Its not unknown that several companies keep track of the daily deals on a daily basis to leverage the sales information that they find through this channel and for other reasons.

Looking at the last couple of daily deals, there have been some real flops and some winners. I’ve put these into a table to make displaying the data a little easier on the eye.

Recent eBay Daily Deals

eBay Title Value # Sold Total
DGM ETV-2493WHC 24″ Ultra Thin LED TV DVD FULL HD 1080p USB PVR Freeview  £139.99  461 £64,535.39
E4 MENS STONE ROCK AND REVIVAL DESIGNER DROP CROTCH CHINOS ALL SIZES UK RRP £55
(2 Listings)
 £17.99 288 +
207
£8,905.05
Women’s Nike Revolutionary Support Sports Bra 226015 ***3 Colors Available***  £7.99 3312 £26,462.88
Smith & Jones Marques Hoody
(6 listings)
 £14.99 624 + 427 + 370 + 284 + 242 + 232 £32,663.21
Kylie Minogue Sweet Darling Eau de Toilette Spray 15ml  £6.99  95 £664.05
South Double Breasted Duffle Coat In Mustard  £9.99  184 £1,838.16
BUSBI BOLT 32GB USB 3.0 SILVER MEMORY STICK FLASH PEN KEY DRIVE HIGH SPEED NEW  £24.99  18 £449.82
Xbox 360 250GB Console – Matte Black Finish  £179.99  418 £75,235.82
Fujitsu AH530 15.6″ Intel Pentium Win7 Laptop  £299.96  970 £290,961.2
Intempo Retro DAB/FM Radio with iPod/iPhone Dock in  £44.99  91 £4,229.06
Christmas Bumper Collection Book Pack – x6 Childrens Christmas Books  £8.99  44 £395.56
G-Star Raw Laundry Shooting Jacket  £39.99 143 £5,718.57
French Vintage Rustic Kitchen Set – Mug Mugs Chopping Board Magnets Shabby Chic  £9.99  48 £479.52
HIGH QUALITY EASY STORAGE BAMBOO CHOPPING BOARD WITH INTEGRATED PESTLE & MORTAR  £11.99  34 £407.66
HALO COMBAT EVOLVED ANNIVERSARY XBOX 360 MICROSOFT VIDEO GAME NEW SEALED PAL  £25.85  225 £5,816.25

As you can see its been a real mixed bag, the chopping boards were a complete flop, along with a few others, however in transactional volume, the laptops came out on tops with close to £300,000 of sales in a day or so.

This is the general theme of eBay daily deals, they tend to either flop or do “OK”, however there are always a few exceptions and when they do go, they will go deep in either the value or number of transactions (like the laptop’s v’s the bra’s).

The Issues With Daily Deals (as a Merchant)

The transactional volume of sales is an issue, as the volume of orders that a daily deal has been proven to produce and with the deal sporting an uncertain outcome.

Take the bra’s for example, that’s over 3,000 pairs to get out, ideally in under a day and that kind of spike can wreak havoc in a business if they’re not prepared (and even if they are!).

Daily deals don’t happen overnight, they’re scheduled with plenty of time lag to prepare for them and of course there is a negotiation period between the merchant and eBay. Even still the companies that I’ve worked with that have had both daily and weekly deals, have in some cases still struggled with the volume of orders that such offers can produce.

Preparation is key, the obvious one is packing as many lines as products as possible before hand, the second not so obvious is having a tool that can cope with a potential large volume of orders and of course the custom service requirement, as you know full well, this is eBay and for every sale, you’re likely to get at least one question ;-)

How Can You Get an eBay Daily Deal?

So we’re finally at the pivotal question “How Can You Get an eBay Daily Deal?” and sadly the answer is not straightforward.

Looking from side of eBay you’re going to have to check a few boxes, these could be:

  • Proven sales history on eBay
    You’ve got a long history of selling on eBay and that you’re capable of dealing with the style of buyers found on eBay (demanding).
  • Ideally at Strategic or Enterprise account status
    eBay Outlets tend to fall into the “Enterprise” bracket of account management, however there is a layer below this level and you’d be surprised at the number of eBay businesses that are covered by these account management levels. Instead of one account manager to several hundred accounts, we’re talking one account manager to less than 10 accounts. Now that’s some focus ;-)
  • Be sat on or have access to a product or range of products that can be offered an unbelievable value
    Its not unheard of for multiple offers for daily or weekly deals to be rejected, this is actually the hardest step to get through as the eBay daily deals staff are exceptionally picky in what makes it through to the final deals that are shown on the site.
  • Have the ability to process a very large spike in sales volume logistically
    Having back-end software tools that can cope with “volume” are almost absolutely required. While some merchants have used SMP (Selling Manager Pro) successfully, dealing with such volumes with this kind of tool isn’t really going to stand up to the job. Instead, if I was sat in the place of the person(s) that are calling which eBay daily deals to let through and which ones to not, I’d probably choose a slightly more uncompetitive one where the merchant has software that can cope with huge volumes and staff & processes in place to deal with them, over another merchant that I’d have doubts in.

Also an interesting dynamic that you may have not considered is that eBay account managers are likely to have sales targets to hit, this is an entry point you may not have considered as with just a few or even just one daily deal “in the bag” for them, could easily allow them to reach those targets and thus provide a motivation point for you to explore.

Now before you even consider hitting the ‘contact Matt’ page and asking whom to approach, the response you’re likely to get back isn’t likely to be particularly constructive. Instead, think about what internal channels you can leverage, such as the eBay account manager route and also what external channels such as LinkedIn to locate the people you need to contact.

Summary

In this article, I’ve covered what eBay daily deals are, what kind of volumes in both sales and item counts you can expect and perspectives you’ve probably not considered and this article should at least make you think of a couple of action points:

  • How can your business deal with +3000 in a single day
  • How can your business create a deal that is of exceptional value to eBay customers
  • How can you make your business & offers attractive to eBay

Now with that said, you should ignore daily deals, the deals you want to go for are eBay’s Weekly Deals and I explain these in one of my next articles.

Data is the Life Blood of an eCommerce Business

Introduction

Firstly let’s quickly identify whom this article aimed at and why on earth you should even consider reading the rest of this article.

I’ve personally spent over four years at 3rd party software providers working with businesses that have got themselves into operational & data issues that could have been avoided when it comes to marketplaces such as eBay & Amazon.

Some businesses have had no tool prior to moving into them and some have done but have made fatal mistakes along the way. Such mistakes have cost them untold amounts of wasted resources. This article is is aimed at helping you identify such issues as early on in the process as possible and to help you understand that data is the lifeblood of an eCommerce business.

New Businesses / Proof of Concept
This article is aimed at a brand new business that has just started exploiting the marketplaces for the first time, after all you need to have proof that the channels work and you need to start from somewhere.

Manual processes at this stage are a “good thing”, there is so much to be learned and as such the ‘manual’ entry experience is absolutely required, so that the people in the business understand the requirement for a tool as soon as possible and that they’re able to scale their operation.

Take the points on board now regarding data and look to the future of your business.

Businesses that have proven the marketplaces work for them.
This article is also aimed at businesses that have already proved that the marketplace channels are viable for them and are paying attention to them each day to manually load on products to the channels and most importantly processing orders from them too.

There is one exception to this, this is a business that has carried out substantial intelligence on the marketplaces and needs to leapfrog the basics and move straight to a large scale model as quickly as possible. If this is the case for your business, then you need to know how valuable data is and why you should retain it when it comes to the popular marketplaces.

As Your Business Grows

As the business grows bigger and bigger, normally by working (harder) on achieving one or all of these factors:

  • More inventory
  • Better priced inventory
  • More staff within the team
  • Adding more sales channels
  • Higher quality descriptions
  • Better order management
  • Lower operational costs
  • More profit
  • etc…

The cracks within the starting phase start to show very quickly, some identify this early on, some never identify it at all. Some unknowingly start to tackle this issue, but don’t actually realise why.

These could be through micro-management of staff & processes, after all most small businesses are rarely started & run by highly experienced managers, but by normal people and haven’t had the training or experience in dealing with such issues and I know personally that when I ran my own business, this is a trap that I got myself stuck in (and one that I’ve done my darn hardest to help others realise).

Putting internal management part aside and the other points above, what a small business owner(s) rarely tend to recognise is that “data” is one of core the reasons why they’re able to operate a business at all.

Data in a Business is Like Blood in a Human

Without blood, we’re pretty much screwed. The same as data within a business. Data is the lifeblood of the business.

This also ports to non-eCommerce businesses too, however is amplified by the very nature of the “e” part in eCommerce.

This article is entirely aimed at helping you understand that when you’re processing your orders in say eBay’s Selling Manager Pro, loading inventory to Amazon via spreadsheets or Seller Desktop, you are dealing with data. Your businesses data.

So when you’re ticking the boxes to print the orders out in SMP, using the sell your item form on eBay or adding items manually into Amazon using the add a product link. You are working with data, data that you should have absolute control over. It is after all the blood of the business.

Also the data that you are creating is exceptionally valuable to the business, the most obvious data is inventory data, however the not so obvious is the order data, that provides a unique history and insight to what the business has done.

So the moment you manually add inventory data into a marketplace like eBay or Amazon or process one or more orders in their web interfaces, you are potentially giving away the largest asset of the business to a process that you do not fully control or own and in the case of Amazon, you cannot get that data back out easily either.

An Example of Bad Data – Amazon

Let’s take Amazon as an example. It’s not unheard of for a business to have spent hundreds of hours loading thousand upon thousand of inventory records onto Amazon manually. And of course, this most likely had some huge positive effect to the business, namely orders & profit.

However what has been happening is that the business has been building Amazon a superb product database, that the business no longer has ready access to. You’re unable (either easily and certainly not officially) to export the product data that was originally created. While at the same time, Amazon are using that data to market not only your businesses data more effectively to more customers, but to other businesses too.

If you are manually creating products on Amazon using the web interface, stop immediately.

(More on this later in this article)

An Example of Bad Data – eBay

eBay UK LogoThe data requirements of eBay are huge. Lets taking the clothing categories for example. In recent updates the pressure to include attribute data as part of the listing process has become mandatory (along with many other categories too).

This compared to Amazon has positive effects, eBay are then able to leverage this data and then allow customers to drill down on their searches and ultimately makes a better buying experience and ultimately more sales for the business.

However, those attributes are now locked into eBay’s platform and getting them out again is painful and will cause a massive mop-up job of cleaning the junk out to make it “portable” later.

If you are manually creating products on eBay using the web interface, stop immediately.

(More on this later in this article)

Ironically in both examples it’s your data. Once it’s been entered into the said platforms, getting it out again in a format that is reusable is in some cases just not possible.

I’ve only ever worked with one company that elected to completely ditch all their product data to start again afresh. What they did make of it a second time around with a structured approach was truly amazing, but out of the hundreds of businesses I’ve worked with, this was the exception, rather than the rule.

What is more common is for businesses to try and do is to extract their product data and bring it into a 3rd party tool. In doing so (as I mentioned above) causes an absolute mess to try and sort out. The descriptions that come back from eBay are the full descriptions, so the data held within them is difficult to impossible to extract. Item specifics can be lost completely and any attribute data that formed variations can also be lost too.

In a recent conversation, it was mentioned that a business had tried using an import tool from a 3rd party software provider and the mess that was left over, not only went wrong multiple times, but was in such a state they were forced into abandoning it completely.

This is exactly the situation that you should avoid.

Step in the Saviours

It does not matter what software tool you use and this could of course be a combination of tools. The critical factor is that you have access to both the inventory data and sales data externally, outside of the marketplaces themselves.

To spell it out very clearly:

The moment you suspect the business is going to work long term, employ 3rd party software that is not created by the marketplaces as soon as possible or if it is, you can easily gain access to the original data.

Frankly I do not care what software it is and neither should you (to a point, that point normally being cost), as long as it allows you to enter the product data outside of the marketplaces and retain this data.

As far as sales orders go, having the ability to process them externally is normally a huge positive to the business, however in the case of Amazon, you are able export the sales data for current or later use, where as eBay, no real export and sales data can be lost after 45 days or so.

There are providers that can cost several thousand pounds over a year are not suited towards smaller businesses, however there are plenty of options out there and again the core criteria outside of cost, is:

  • Access to the raw product data
  • Access to sales data

Other requirements such as stock control, order management in the case of this article are either assumed or luxuries.

Free Examples

We all like free and here are two free options for both eBay & Amazon.

Amazon
If we take the Amazon marketplace as an example here, if you stop entering data manually and start using the import sheets they provide for the inventory data, because you’re storing this on one of the computers you have access to, after sending it to Amazon to create the product, keep the sheets, because you can use it at a later date, either to update the records that were in the file or to transfer the data to another marketplace/sales channel.

eBay
If you’re looking for a free option for eBay, then for product data eBay’s File Exchange this covers both product creation, updates and also order data too. However can be clunky and in massive accounts, can take several hours to process requests (I tried this on an account with over 10,000 live listings, it took 5 hours even for a basic export, on a smaller scale it would be adequate though).

Other Providers
There are a multitude of providers that can offer superior options outside of this, they are not all SaaS models (where you pay them a commission on sales) and if your requirements are low, then community extensions to popular website open-source products can be free or very inexpensive (covering these is not a concern for this article, just that they exist).

Ultimate Goal For Your Data

However the ultimate goal in regards to your sales and inventory data is that you have access to them and you can then re-use the data. I call this “portable data”, data that you can use as you need to, where ever that may be.

Sticking with the example approach of this article:

Lets say you start a business on eBay or Amazon, you see the signs that its going to go well and do put some form of software in place to maintain control and ownership of your data, you can then grow and grow as the business dictates. You can move software providers relatively easily and if you want to add in new sales channels, such as a website or another marketplace, with a few tweaks to the data you already have access to, you can do. The other option of not doing this, is frankly nasty.

Summary

Data either product or sales related is the life blood of an eCommerce business.

It needs to be “clean“, it needs to be “yours” and it needs to be “portable“.

If you keep bashing data into marketplaces and don’t retain a copy, then you’re basically capping the potential of you and your business. And that’s something neither of us desire.

What Does Online Gaming Have To Do With Marketplaces like eBay & Amazon?

In this article I pose the following question with an aim to draw a comparison between features found in gaming, to that found on marketplaces like eBay & Amazon.

What Does Online Gaming Have To Do With Marketplaces like eBay & Amazon?

Before I can attempt to draw a comparison, I need to identify some of the core components of online gaming. Being a self-confessed hardcore gamer, I feel I’m at least semi-qualified to attempt to document some of the qualities that online games have to offer, as for the marketplaces comparison I also feel I’m semi-qualified there too.

 

Understanding Online Gaming

Team Fortress 2

Team Fortress 2

My history of gaming goes back to the original days of WON, which was the system that Valve used for multi-player games using the Halflife 1 (HL1) engine before it was migrated to Steam. This now includes games such as CounterStrike & TeamFortress Classic & the variations that spun from these, like FortressForever.

My online gaming has taken a specific slant, multi-player. I’ve never really been a fan of single player games, HalfLife 1 & 2 are prime examples, I’ve not played more than a few minutes with these two, but I must be into the realms of years now of the hours put in for the multi-player versions. Also it’s worth pointing out that I took several days off on the release of TeamFortress 2, so that I could sit down and enjoy the newly released game.

To give an indication of the extent of my lust for multi-player, I’ve dabbled with MMOG’s (Massive Multiplayer Online Games), however because I know my personal weakness for them, I’ve steered away from the likes of Guild wars & World of Warcraft, because I know I’ll have no life after them. I’ve recently been hooked on World of Tanks (WoT) and my gaming community lost me for over 8 months to a web based MMOG called Tribal Wars.

It’s also a good time to indicate that I am not a fan of football, this may explain in part my obsession with online gaming, as I miss the key elements I detail later in this article from bot being a “fan” that can readily port to the game of football as well, not just selling marketplaces like eBay & Amazon.

Tribal Wars is an interesting game to consider, as its not the normal type of game that you would consider as online gaming, as its all based in the browser & is highly focused towards strategy. Starting with a single village, you go plundering other villages to get more resources, the aim is to increase your buildings & troops to a level, where you can educate a nobleman, then go off and over 4-5 attempts, win over another village. This is all done in a web browser, while fending attacks from other villages, attacking other players,  joining tribes and plotting the demise of other tribes in the world that you’re playing.

Tribal Wars ignoring the core requirements that make an experience (XP) MMOG based game, also sunk into another passion of mine, coding & mathematics. Now this is where I seal my fate for that game as I’m now willing to admit that I wrote a masterpiece of over 52,000 lines of code to automate that game and this was the reason why I ended up dominating an entire continent (or K as they’re known). Naughty I know…

Flipping back to some current games, these being TeamFortress 2, CounterStrike Source and World of Tanks. While these games being in a different format (employing role play, first-person shooter, real-time strategy etc…) where you play an humanoid or tank object, rather than being focused on an image in a browser, the cross-comparisons are exceptionally similar.

Core Elements of an Online Game (for me)

Each of these games employ the following features:

  1. Ease of play, even for new players (called n00bs)
  2. Social interaction
  3. A scoring mechanism
  4. Team play, with real people (see note on AI later)
  5. An experience mechanism & Achievements
  6. A token mechanism (this is another form of Economics)
  7. A single or set of characters that you can improve over time
  8. Ability to be totally random
  9. Respawn events or never-ending

It’s critically important that new players are able to join and understand the game quickly, then to build a lust for gaining experience & achieve some or all of the other core attributes. Some games do this by having tiered levels of games, taking WoT (World of Tanks) for example, there are 10 tiers and players only play with other players in tiers up toa  maximum of 4 above them, to keep the game enjoyable for them.

Social interaction is huge for online games, it’s been known for people to get married in games! A really nice story to add here is that out of the gaming community I created a few years back, we now have our first real life baby that would not have entered this world without it. Now that’s the power of social interaction, forget the rest of the normal stuff, chatting, plotting, team work etc… Social can go to real world too and we’ve had some amazing nights out with the lads when we’ve all met up from all around Europe to a single place and take the virtual to the real-world (Big Chief looked pregnant, but he was a bloke).

Team play and the interaction of other real players is absolutely key, they’re needed to keep the game random and also to allow team work. Now this teamwork may be in dual units or as entire tribes of hundreds of people, but its this co-operation that can truly make a simple game, hugely addictive.

Now this is a good time to cover artificial intelligence (AI) and I’ll be back to the core elements shortly.

Artificial Intelligence In Games

You may also be wondering why I have spent a couple of hundred words with this topic, when you get to the marketplaces comparison later, AI has its direct comparison to “automation” and it’s critical you understand AI and how it’s linked to together.

Now this is where I’m going to slate one of my favourite game providers, Valve. Although to be fair they had a brilliant stab at it & I just prefer playing with real people.

Left 4 Dead Characters In two recent releases, Left for Dead and Left for Dead 2, this game is based upon a AI engine that works out the skills of the players and adapts the game to suit. The problem is, the more you play, it doesn’t take much to work out the trigger events and when you’re likely to find a witch (she’s lost a child& sits there crying and goes ape if you have your flash light on, then proceeds to attempt to kill either you or one of your 3 team mates) or a rank (a whopping great big zombie that can rip the floor up & lob it at you, you gotta burn that one with a petrol bomb and it takes some kill I can assure you).

The original incarnation was just a team of 4 players, this was an immediate fail for me, as I need at least 10 people each side to consider it worth my while, any less, the game dynamics start to suck. In later updates a “verses” game appeared, so instead of just 4 players, 8 could play and the first team, the survivors take on the opposite team, who play one of 5 roles as zombie-fied creatures. With random hoardes of zombies appearing, or not so random as you figure out as you play more and more. Yes, there was an hack to allow more players, but the amount of server load caused by the AI engine, made it unplayable.

So, for me AI sucks. I’d rather play with humans, you can never tell what they’ll do next and no game is exactly like the one before, ever.

Economics & the Other Factors

Economics are a curious addition to online gaming, not only can this provide an amazing gaming experience, but it can also allow game creators to find extra sources of revenue or even make it their sole revenue stream.

World of Tanks - American TreeTo focus on the gamers side of this equation, lets take WoT’s, in this game you start with a level 1 tank and you gain experience (XP) with each battle you fight, you get more if your team wins and less if your team fails. You also gain credits for each battle and they follow the same path as the XP, if you win, you get more coins. Its the combination of the XP to unlock higher tier tanks and you need coins (lots of) to buy the tanks. So the more you play, the more XP & coins you get.

Now while this game does not have sharing abilities that I’ll cover in a moment, this game does have the ability to buy gold coins that can be used for several purposes, such as having a premium account that allows you gain 50% more XP & coins each battle, or they can be traded to buy special tanks or ironically even to convert XP or buy normal coins.

world-of-tanks-gold-1As you can tell this can could get expensive, I did a few quick sums and with a small group of us, we’ve easily ploughed £1500-2000 in this game alone in the past few months.

Now flipping this to the game makers, this is where freemium kicks in and the best example is the TeamFortress 2 game I referenced earlier. In this game you play one of 8/9 characters in teams of up to 16 per side and battle it out in one several game formats capture the flag/point, attack defend or death match.

Bots (AI/fake players) were added, these were a feature in the original game Team Fortress Classic (by their modding community, as the game has an API), however again they’re actions are relatively poor compared to humans (although the way-pointing has come on quite a way since the original), however as per my earlier note on AI, these generally suck and the general community of players tend to keep away from BOT servers.

This is where it becomes interesting because this game originally started as a typical game, buy it and play as much as you like, however Valve at the time had started to implement a drop mechanism for extras in the games, such as weapons or items you can wear. These items could be stored and new items could be built, but in a stroke of genius, they allowed the items to be traded and then that’s where the whole game changed. TF2 turned into a free game and the revenue stream is now made from the massive user base sporting customised items, that new players want and can buy from the in game store.

Modding Engine (API)

In the case of Valve games, they have for a number of years now allowed 3rd parties to leverage the gaming engine, either to create new games or to change the way the current games are played.

This has been done via a link to the game engine on the server and communities like SourceMod that sports over 450 plugins that can completely change the way the games work and have allowed longevity to the gaming engine, because of the hundreds, if not thousands of addon’s & extensions that have been created by 3rd parties to the original games.

Achievements

In all the games I’ve covered above, they all sport the feature of experience & ability to improve from what they originally started from, this can be with time input or via paid for addons. Another important factor I have not covered up until now is the ability to “respawn”, this is where the player at the end of a round or game, starts again at the beginning, to play another challenge against the players.

In TF2, its normally a round based game, this could be to capture a flag or point(s), counter strike source is similar where a bomb needs to be planted or hostages need to be saved (or inversely,  a bomb site or the hostages need to be defended) and for WoT all the enemy tanks are destroyed or the cap point is taken.

In almost all the games I’ve mentioned there is the ability to be awarded achievements from the actions taken in the games. For WoT this may be sniper or a medal, for TF2, this could be the number of kills scored with a weapon or other combinations, some are obscenely hard to get, in fact one of the spy achievements due to a bug that was introduced a year ago, cannot be completed.

The most competitive of players will aim to unlock ALL the achievements for one or more player classes, the same as one of the players that I play with on WoT, he’s unlocked every tank & upgrade for an entire country tree.

This has literally taken him months and by his own admission that country tree (USA) & the tanks contained with in it, are crap compared to Germany, to the point that the highest tier tank in that tree is being removed and replaced with another, because its so under powered.

But he knew this & still continued, the game play itself was only one part of the game, unlocking the boxes on the screen was more important to him, than how the tanks actually played and invested months obtaining this level. That I hope demonstrates the power of achievements.

How Does Online Gaming Dynamics Relate to Marketplaces?

I’ve pretty much covered the basics of online gaming in ~1900 words, however how does this relate to marketplaces like eBay & Amazon?

 ebay-feedback-profile-1

Well the most obvious is feedback, when you first start selling on either Amazon or eBay (the game), you start from 0 and work upwards. The feedback system is incremental and ports directly to the experience (XP) model found in games, the more you sell (the game) the more feedback you’re likely to obtain.

Now this is where the game gets interesting, as Feedback is not entirely incremental, it can decrement too. So if you have a dissatisfied customer, they can leave you a neutral or negative feedback, this can be directly compared to the World of Tanks game, because even though you lost a battle, you still got something from it, albeit a negative and because you want more XP & coins (think feedback score & profit) then you do your best [as a business] to ensure that the feedback is positive.

Marketplace Achievements

When we mix in other dynamics of the marketplaces, lets take the eBay PowerSeller status, that has multiple tiers, Bronze, Silver/Gold, Platinum & Titanium and now the ultimate of being a “eBay Top Rated Seller” (eTRS). So that when you reach this level, you are allowed to leverage discounts on your eBay fees and gain extra exposure. This is very similar to the premium model found in MMOG’s and has distinct correlations to the items found in TF2, an item is worn, the same as the eTRS badge is worn.

Now chuck in the eBay “Detailed Seller Ratings” (DSR’s) where sellers (the gamer) can be scored on more than just feedback that had just three levels, buyers can rate sellers on a scale of 1 to 5 for their experience, this absolutely wreaks gaming levels, especially when you consider the business (or gamer) can electively choose to lower its risk to specific DSR ratings by tacking tactical/strategic decisions on the way they list (play the game) on eBay.

Flipping over to Amazon, Amazon is a slightly different game (or business), Amazon is a longer term game where you don’t gain access to the converted buy box for at least 3 months and in most cases is 4-5 months, after proving that you are a worthy gamer, I mean business, as you can see the line is now becoming blurred between business & gamer.

Amazon also leverage the feedback game, with ratings from 1 to 5 and with eBay too, you can play the feedback game by leaving follow up comments or attesting feedback that has been left by buyers. In a gaming scernio this is similar to appealing to the server admin or game providers for a cheat or foul play (think those scummy buyers that try it on) or appealing directly to your eBay or Amazon account manager.

The reviews & guides that is found on eBay is also an interesting gaming feature. As a business you’re able to write reviews for other gamers, sorry I mean eBay members to rate on how well the review is written / its usefulness. You can also sport an extra logo next to your eBay ID (player name) if the sum of your reviews meet specific requirement levels (think XP).

Administration

You can also make complaints about cheaters to the powers that be, this maybe someone stealing your images or breaking one of the marketplace policies or this could be a player with suspect game play.

This can also take an automated approach by either the markeplaces or the game providers, for example listing items that are under the VeRO protection on eBay or by a cheat being picked up by the anti-cheat VAC system that is used by Valve.

What Does AI & Marketplace Automation Have In Common?

I spent a good few hundred words explaining the AI (Artificial Intelligence)  system found in games and I did air a dislike for AI in gaming, this can be directly compared to automation of business processes for the marketplaces. Somewhat ironic that I’ve spent years working on tools to automate marketplaces, however just like AI it has its place, the same goes for automation.

In a recent article I released titled “The Top 8 Pitfalls of Using 3rd Party Software To Manage Your Business” I cover the common issues found when using such tools as eSellerPro, ChannelAdvisor, Linnworks, ChannelGrabber and so on, these are all caused by being removed from the games or businesses processes at ground level. The ultimate failure here is when the 3rd party provider goes down, this is the same as the AI engine failing and no-one can play the game, the business almost stops without it.

Don’t get me wrong, AI has its place, the same as automation tools, but if you rely too heavily on them and don’t report on them effectively, then the game or business is pretty much over.

API Access & Longevity

Another striking comparison between HalfLife engine games & the online marketplaces is the API access abilities. Having access to the core engine of the game/marketplace allows 3rd parties to expand on it further.

This could be as simple as feedback automation or it could go exceptionally deep as examples such as eSellerPro & ChannelAdvisor demonstrate exceptionally well.

The eBay API has to be one of the most comprehensive API’s out there and comes in numerous forms. Amazon Web Services rely heavily on API’s also and this has spawned numerous connected businesses, you only need to look at the eBay solutions directory to see the full scale of what can be achieved and its no wonder eBay Inc went for a new platform called X.Commerce, they know full well, without the integrations that millions of 3rd parties can provide will extend their core marketplace & associated companies offerings.

In all cases, because of API access, this has allowed 3rd parties to take extensions to the original platforms into areas that were not even conceived by the original creators, increasing customisation & longevity of the platforms.

Summary

All marketplaces whether knowingly or unwittingly employ several key features found in on-line gaming to keep businesses & users entertained with the marketplaces.

eBay probably have most of the bases covered, all though the XP model could be leveraged more, the feedback stars are nice, but multi tiered achievements could also prove lethal for competitiveness. A wild idea would be to have achievements for selling X value in one day, week or year, dominating sales for a category, badges based upon time, the options are endless.

Amazon have a few areas covered, but could leverage so much more from the core elements of online gaming to their advantage. In both cases, the marketplaces can be quick to leverage and as more experience is gamed (or did I mean gained?) and more automation is put into place, more coins, achievements or profit can be leveraged from them.

Yes, eBay & Amazon are different marketplaces or games, however the most starkest comparison that can ever be made between gaming & marketplaces is this:

Whether its a game or a business, if you take away focus, that is either working on despatching your orders (amongst other key business tasks) or playing the game, the game is going to cease to be played.

Did you enjoy this article? Did I miss out an element or a factor that you feel is important or have you spotted something I’ve completely over looked? Post your comments in the box below

5 Tips for Preparing Your Business for January Not Christmas

It’s now late November and we’ve seen a good couple of press releases from supporting companies on how to increase and keep your Christmas period sane. However, it’s all too late as preparations for Christmas really should have been in place at or before August.

If you’ve not trained seasonal staff, arranged stock transfers, deliveries, put automation software in place, heck everything that gets amplified due to typical higher sales volume, then the next 3 weeks are going to be “fun time” for the business.

 

I Forgot January Once & Only Once!

However… below I’m sharing a short story on why you should not forget January and learn from a mistake I made a couple of years back.

After having a pretty hectic Christmas period, I had decided that on the 1st of January I was going to have a week or two off. Oh boy did we need it. We had been flat out for the past few months preparing for Christmas sales and had thought we had done everything right, sales were good and were very much looking forwards to the break and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

On our return, we started talking to our suppliers and that’s where it hit home, it turned out that our two main competitors had been busy & done their homework. They had an amazing 3 weeks after Christmas. They had been negotiating special deals and jumping on the clearance lines that were abundant. They’re January had rocked to the point that they had cleared more stock in those 3 weeks after Christmas, than in the entire month of December.

I cannot tell you how sick I felt, I had missed one of the oldest tricks in the book.

No Slacking in January!

January has the potential to bigger for sales volumes that December, the reason is simple people are in “sales mode”. What happens just after Christmas or even just before, 99.9% of all high-street retailers go into sales mode. People queue & even camp out on shop doorsteps to grab bargains and ironically this is really straight forwards for you to hijack.

So instead of making the mistake I made, here are five tips for preparing for the first few weeks of January or before:

Tip #1 – Delay Moving Software Providers

Shelve any idea that moving software providers, that can wait until the middle or later in January, if they got you through Christmas, then a few weeks delay won’t make much difference. If it’s not completely broken, don’t fix it (yet).

Tip #2 – Speak to Your Suppliers in Advance

Ask them explicitly what is going on sale after Christmas, suggest that you’ll be able to take larger volumes or stock that didn’t do well at a discounted rate. Spell it out on them, you have extra buying power after Christmas and you can help your sales rep hit his bonus for January.

Tip #3 – Prepare Several Lines to go into “Sale Mode” Now

By using tip #2, you will have an idea on what product you may have at better rates for a sale, as such prepare any data around these in advance, it’ll only take a few minutes per SKU as you can easily create duplicates or variations of the SKU in advance, with new details and perhaps use a different listing template to go with them.

Also a slightly different method would be to consider products that you would feel comfortable sitting on for 9 months, that you know will do next year and scoop extra discounts now and take a punt on higher returns next year?

Tip #4 – Do the Artwork Now

Designers are typically not very busy at this time of the year and it could be a good time to grab a saving on a mild branding redesign for a sale period. Such as adding sale logo’s to an existing template and preparing the design aspect in advance, so that its a click & go event, rather than a rush job when it’s too late.

You might also want to look at the two articles I wrote earlier this year on How to Make Your Own eBay Daily Deals & Weekly Deals and another on How To: Using eBay Shop Keywords to Leverage the Extra eBay Shop Pages, as you can prepare these in advance and hide the pages in the shop, then when it comes to sales time, swap them over in your eBay shop.

Tip #5 – Email Marketing

The same as the visual aspect, if you’ve worked and have obtained a couple of product ranges that will be worthy of a sale, then combine in the updated artwork to your email marketing campaigns and prepare the notifications in advance, so when the time comes, it’s a quick check over and off you go.

As an idea, if you have multiple products, you could make an event of it, explain which products you have going on sale and when (a delayed sale) and notify customers on say a daily or bi-daily basis of the latest sale item (you’ll need to be careful with this not to spam, just make your offering exceptionally compelling).

Summary

Don’t make the mistake I made, prepare for January, what products can you clear, what products can you buy to clear and how can you leverage the “sales mode” that most buyers go into at or before January?

If you do this now, before competitors have started having the conversations, then you can be first in and negotiate the best deals in advance, prepare a campaign and take January easy, knowing that you’ve worked extra hard now and actually have a plan for the month, rather than just “seeing what happens”.

Import Duty Calculator For eBay Items (as a Buyer)

After receiving an eBay item I ordered from abroad, having to take a trip to the Royal Mail collection point & send ni-on a tenner in charges from Royal Mail, I wondered if there was a tool that work out the import taxes in advance. And there is!

Import Duty Calculator

At DutyCalculator.com you can work out in advance how much import duty you’re likely to be charged for an item, as a bonus, they have a tool for working out the likely duty to be paid for eBay items.

In the example images below, ironically the eBay item I picked as an example, incurred no import duties and most annoyingly used up the 3 free trials of the tool on the very same item.

I had a look around a couple of them and categories and sub-categories offered and the categorisation was relatively straight forward to work out which classification the items would fall under, as it’s not the simplest of jobs for one off items and varied orders,  as the import duty classifications are rather deep on the HMRC site and they change the exchange rates often too.

I’m not sure it’s worth the $19.90 a year for the basic version, it would really depend on the level of your buying habits from foreign sites, if its high and varied, this could be an excellent forewarning for items being received for which the contents are properly declared.

Import duty calculator eBay

import duty calculator eBay

eBay Import duty calculator

eBay Import duty calculator

Global / International eBay Site List

The following is the list of the global eBay sites, their links, country codes, site ID’s, currencies & whether you’re able to list with them directly.

Site Name/Country
SiteID
Abbr
Currency
Can List On?
(Via the API) 
Argentina AR ARS
Australia 15 AU AUD Yes
Austria 16 AT EUR Yes
Belgium (Dutch) 123 BENL EUR Yes
Belgium (French) 23 BEFR EUR
Brazil BR BRL
Canada 2 CA CAD & USD Yes
Canada (French) 210 CAFR CAD & USD Yes
China CN CNY
Czech Republic CZ CZK
Denmark DK DKK
eBayMotors (US) 100 N/A USD Yes
Finland FI EUR
France 71 FR EUR Yes
Germany 77 DE EUR Yes
Greece GR EUR
HongKong 201 HK HKD Yes
Hungary HUF
India 203 IN INR Yes
Ireland 205 IE EUR Yes
Italy 101 IT EUR
Korea KR KRW
Malaysia 207 MY MYR Yes
Mexico MX MXN
Netherlands 146 NL EUR Yes
New Zealand NZ NZD
Norway NOK
Philippines 211 PH PHP Yes
Poland 212 PL PLN Yes
Portugal PT EUR
Russia RU RUB
Singapore 216 SG SGD Yes
Spain 186 ES EUR Yes
Sweden 218 SE SEK Yes
Switzerland 193 CH CHF Yes
Taiwan TW TWD
Thailand TH TBH
Turkey TR TRY
United Kingdom 3 UK or GB GBP Yes
United States 0 US USD Yes
Vietnam VN VND

You are also able to add international site visibility from your UK & US eBay listings to gain access to a wider customer base & if US based, specifying the international shipping rates to Australia, Canada and the UK will enable the items to be shown natively on those sites (see here for more info).

The Four Standard Physical Product Business Models

The following two video’s are part of the UnderstandingE project I have been working on & I’m sharing them here for any feedback you may have.

This hasn’t been clearly defined before (that I know of) and will be an immense help if you are considering an eCommerce product business for eBay, Amazon, transactional websites, the other channels etc… Or as I’ve found, to help realise that you’re actually using one or more of these and why you’re actually using more than one of them.

Four Standard Product Business Models

There are four standard product models that a business can use when it comes to physical based products which are intended for resale, this applies to almost all incarnations of an eCommerce product based business.

These are:

  1. Stocked
    This is like a retail shop, where the items are pre-purchased, then used as the inventory to drive data for the online channels and to fulfil orders. I cover the advantages in the video, however this has one major disadvantage, the outlay of cash to fund it.
  2. Manufacture
    This doesn’t have to be as hardcore as making glass, where you take sand (silica) and add other additives such as lime (calcium oxide) and then adding immense heat & other processes, it can be the combination of two or more products to make a unique third product. In the second video I use the example of the lighting in my office, taking stands, plugins, blurbs & softboxes and combining them into a kit, which is a unique product offering.
  3. Virtual / Just-in-Time
    I personally hate the phrase “drop shipping”, a more apt description would be “virtual” or “just in time”.
    This is typically where stock is made available virtually and then put on offer by the business, when an order is taken, the stock items are ordered and then fulfilled. This may be directed to the customer, but also to the business for sorting and then sending out (as I learned two days ago, the correct term for the latter part is called “Cross Match”).
  4. Asset Recovery
    We can also include refurbished products under this model, as essentially they have gone through the asset recovery process and been re-manufactured. This model can enable the highest returns, but also some major downsides, such as availability and quality.

In their Purest Form

In the video below I cover each of them in the purest forms, you’ll need to watch this one before moving to the second as without the explanation of them in this form, the hybrid models won’t make sense.

Hybrid Business Models

However, in reality, there are very few business that use only one of these, instead in this video, I explain how and why you would want to use a hybrid of these standard models for your business.

I also cover a model that I have not included in the four standard models called “Flipping”, as I explain in the video, this is not a scalable model and if you do find a product base that you can scale with, then I would suspect that it falls under the asset recovery hat.

Summary

Documenting these have been exceptionally useful for me & I’m sure for you also.

I’ve found when talking with business owners about these, this has helped them realise why they’re doing what they are with their businesses. It also makes it a pick & mix exercise, however you can now see why you would want some elements of each, but to limit as much as the negatives as you can by combining them together.

Stop - Take Action!Which models are you using?

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eBay Sales Count/History Does Impact Sales

In this article I’d like to share an observation of my own buying habits and it actually surprised me afterwards once I had analysed my own buying activity and spotted something I had glazed over in the past when purchasing from eBay.

Picking Processes Apart

My online buying experiences are far from the norm, typically I analyse each & every step, work out what processes are being actioned and how they appear to the user. It’s an annoying habit I have, as I’m used to working those processes from the backend to the customer, so I’m always ultra curious on what the “I” as the “customer” sees of them.

I needed some professional lighting for my office, as the lamps were just not cutting it and had decided upon two softboxes as a kit from eBay. You would have thought my first choice would have been a seller that had an ultra clear description, in a professional template with superb product images and all the bell’s & whistles that I have become to expect…

But No!

I ended up buying from one of the worst combinations of font sizes, text colours and from a listing that had only one image. Pretty poor when you consider that the kit had numerous parts and didn’t show them individually, plus was out of the normal “comfort zone” for buying at £50.

A screen shot of the listing is below, I’d smirk, but it was actually effective for one reason which I’ll show you in a moment:

Softboxes-listing-1

And That Reason Was…

Sales history! Simply put, if +300 people had bought this kit and the sellers feedback was not trashed, then it had to be better than just “OK”.

eBay Sales History Affects Buying Decisions

There were 5 different sellers I was considering during the process and the one that won my business was the one that had the highest sales history count on the listing. Yes, there were cheaper options and this option was not the cheapest by any-means and some of the others on offer were described to a superior level, but they just could not compete with a sales history like that.

Yes, the best match is carried over when using 3rd party tools that reference the previous listing or by using the “relist” button at the top of an ended listing, however, if you do end the listing, then you’ll be loosing the visible sales history count on the listing and from my own personal experience, this can make the difference between making and not making a sale.

Stop - Take Action!Have you consciously bought from a listing because of the sales history on the item too?

Updated Amazon Seller Pages & How To Update Yours

Amazon have updated the Seller Details pages, from the old tabbed style to a new universal page.

To show this more graphically to you, I’ve made a quick video that shows the updated page and how you can edit yours.

Updated Amazon Seller Page Video

All the links used in this video are in the resources section below and its also worth noting that you may find this page more product for referring customers to over the category list pages on Amazon, as there are less “exit” points for the customer to follow.

Resources

Below are the links to the pages shown in the video and the links you need to update your seller information on Amazon.co.uk.

If you sell on Amazon.com the URL’s will alter differently and you can locate the section you need by using the “Your Information & Policies” from your Amazon Seller Central dashboard.

400,000 Businesses Choose eBay UK to Setup Shop

I’ve been working on a collection of articles for the new project around eBay shops, one curious question while I was half way through was “how many eBay shops actually exist?“, I didn’t know, so I counted them.

But I didn’t stop there, I put the numbers against them as well, which made for some very interesting reading and I’m sharing my findings in the table you’ll find below.

Running the Numbers

But before we get to the cool £81.4M worth of fees per annum and the approximate 400,000 shops that are on eBay UK, the numbers need a little explaining.

There are 3 shop levels, anchor at £350, featured at £50 and basic at £15 per month. Also I wanted to have a truer representation of actual numbers so for the basic shops. For the rough count of eBay shops (I counted the number of shops per page (25) and then times it by the number of pages). I deducted the featured & basic shops and then took off a 30% margin of error, because its possible for an eBay shop to appear in more than one category and also it took me ages to count them, so needed to factor in some human error too.

The total number of basic shops came in at 554,975, however with the other factors removed, I felt happy with the number of 377,037 for the basic shop count (yes I’ve rounded the total up for this article).

The Number of eBay UK Shops

SHOP SUBSCRIPTION LEVELNUMBERVALUETOTAL (PER MONTH)
Anchor1,075*£349.99***£376,239
Featured15,175£49.99***£758,598
Basic377,037**£14.99***£5,651,792

Notes:

  • * Some anchor shops are free for Outlet stores, so this number is distorted by 100 official outlets, so the number used is 1175 – 100 = 1075
  • ** The number of basic shops were calculated as a rough estimate of the total number of shops (found here), minus the number of anchor shops, minus the number of featured shops, minus a further 30% for duplication (as a shop can appear in one or more categories & 30% felt about “right”)
  • *** The prices quoted are from here and do not take into consideration any discounts that maybe given to sellers (such as VAT). its also worth noting that this is a monthly fee.

400,000 eBay Shops!

WooooHaaaaa that’s an obscene number (so is the amount of revenue this creates, but that’s besides the point) I don’t know of any other platform that can boast that number shops. Shopify can only boast a tiny number in comparison.

And the kicker, we’re not even accounting for the audience that eBay commands, some 17 million visitors per month (Nielsen / Netratings, August 2010), the 30 million items that are on offer on the UK site alone and an exceptionally interesting comparison is that out of this number, less than half (180,000) are registered as business sellers.

If you want to set up shop… Go eBay!

The Latest eBay Outlets Being Launched (Inc JohnLewis, Sony & ASDA)

eBay-OutletsThe following list includes accounts that even I didn’t know were being planned, some are almost ready to launch on eBay and some have gone live. Brace yourselves, there are some massive names included in this list.

The eBay Outlet Program

eBay have been on a huge push for well over a year now to bring high street names to the marketplace and the list that follows shortly clearly shows that while the fashion outlet has been a huge success (and was also duplicated in the USA recently, see article here that gives a complete run down), that they’re[eBay] beavering away in the background to bring even more retailers to the channel.

New eBay Outlets

This list is a run-down of eBay Outlet stores I personally didn’t know existed. Such as JohnLewis, Sony, My Protein & ASDA and if you look closely, some of these have not even launched yet. If I didn’t know about these, then you probably didn’t know either.

And ironically these are the ones I found in a few minutes, there are about a dozen in this list that I found elsewhere. I am sure there are more being launched that I’ve not found yet either. Not bad for a quick hunt around on eBay.

The question is, do you think this is approach is good for the eBay marketplace? Comments below!