A year in the wilderness

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Sue writes: I can’t believe it’s a more than a year since I first spoke to Stuart about his suspension from eBay. You might recall the sorry tale of several thriving eBay accounts suspended in March 2008 because they were associated with a NARUed account belonging to an ex-business partner of Stuart’s. A classic tale of “computer says” no, I caught up with Stuart recently to see how his year off had been treating him, and what he might do if and when his eBay accounts were reinstated.

How difficult was it to get your website going without eBay traffic? what did you do?

At first, I just thought the world had ended as 90% of sales came from eBay. But having no real choice but to get on with it, I picked myself up and started to get all the stock listed on the websites (two at the time). Within less than a week, our gardening site had tripled its turnover. Within a month, we had taken more than the past year’s worth of sales we had done from the site. It just shows what can be achieved when you stop relying on eBay for sales.

I then started to learn about SEO, site design, Google Adwords, newsletters and more. There is so much to learn and it’s always changing and evolving which I love. You can try anything and most of the time, it costs very little. The design and look of the site is very important: photos, graphics, colours all make a massive difference. I have learnt so much it surprises me sometimes when I talk to people just how much I now know.

I also applied to sell on Amazon which gave us an immediate uplift in sales. It was easier to list and sell on Amazon, although the jewellery side of the business its quite expensive at 25% commisson. We find however it’s a great way to gain regular customers for our website as we give each one a discount code for it.

We now have six trading websites and also six blogs as well: these really push customers to the site. We have plans for at least six more and will approch each one better and quicker than the last as we learn more. It does take about six to twelve months to really get them going so we have a sort of production line going to keep the flow of sites running.

How do you find off-eBay trading differs from on-eBay? which do you prefer?

I found off-eBay easier in fact: no stupid emails from customers asking questions about the listings. It’s easier to display what you want on a website, where you want it, in the form you want it. We are always changing the sites as we learn, so if we have customers keeping asking the same questions, we add it the site. For example customers on the gardening site kept asking about delivery charges, so we displayed it in the item listing and they stopped asking.

Trading through a website is much easier than eBay as there is no changing the goal posts all the time. And just look at the amount of traffic directed to your eBay store from eBay: that could be traffic going to your site!

What do you know now that you wish you’d known then?

I know now not to put all my eggs in one basket. It nearly ended our business and our income in one go and I worry just how many other people could get caught out like that and not be able to turn it around.

I also wish I had know just how much money we could take from our websites with no selling fees, for example Jan 09 website trading was five times the sales of Jan 08 on eBay!

How do you advise other eBay traders to ensure against what happened to you? is it possible to prepare for eBay suspension?

Yes I think its possible to prepare for a suspension by having other sales avenues to. eBay is easy just put the product there and they come (I know its not quite that easy but you know what I mean) and it feels like easy money. We never thought this could happen to us so it could happen to anyone. Just think about the amount of time you spend each week on ebay and put half to a full day down to your own site, or another sales avenue like Amazon.

And the $64,000 question – will you be going back when your suspension is lifted?

Well we are in the process of sorting the account suspensions out at the moment; two of them have already been reinstated, and we’re now sorting the rest. If I’m honest I feel left out by not being on there, if nothing else than picking up a bargin for myself. The plan for the business is just to sell a few key lines on there to have a presence for the business, and to hopefully push more traffic to the sites by promoting the brands through eBay. Rather than 90% of our business, it will be more like 10% if that.

Since I talked to Stuart, he’s told me that he’s back trading on eBay. Though I wouldn’t wish a suspension on anyone, I can’t help thinking that eBay did Stuart and his business a huge favour, and that both have grown stronger through becoming so much more self-reliant. I still hear plenty of eBay traders saying that they neither want nor need a website, and I wonder what would happen to them if they were in Stuart’s position? I hope they never have to find out.

22 Responses

  1. Firstly congrats to Stuart for taking what would floor most people and turn it around.
    The sites look amazing, and you deserve every success,

    Not everything is forever, and what Stuart has done to turn it around is fantastic.

    I think its a lesson for us all, to rely solely on one selling platform and not have a contingency plan, is risky to say the least ,

    Suz xxx

  2. no stupid emails from customers

    If this is Stuart’s attitude as a seller towards his customers, maybe it’s a good thing that eBay booted him off.

  3. #2 It does also strike me that customers must hate asking stupid questions as well. They must think we sellers are so frustrating to deal with when the information isn’t to hand.

    Personally I think it’s nothing to do with attitude towards customers, simply that it would be stupid to keep answering stupid questions because the seller was too stupid to avoid them 😉 Stuarts tips for avoiding them are pretty good which I’m sure you will agree once you have read the rest of the paragraph that you quoted from.

  4. Customers do ask stupid questions, for example when the listing is for a blue hat and they send a message asking what colour the hat is?!? It happens all the time, usually AFTER having clicked the BIN button 😉

  5. Hey Guys

    Thanks Suz for your comments it wasn’t easy picking ourselves up from what happened but we did and ebay did do us the biggest favour ever, although I still believe you need to be on there as a seller, I will never be spending the amount on fees that we used to on there.

    Jon thanks also for your comments but you may of picked out the part with out taking it into context, what I was refering to was constant emails from customers asking questions where it is plain to see in the listing, so you can end up spending half your day answering them rather than getting on with other work that will make you money! It is certainly not an attitude at all!

    Also would just like to add a thanks to Sue for her support over this period, Tamebay is a really great place to be!


  6. Thanks for revisiting this Sue, Stu was handed lemons and made lemonade which should be both inspiring and cautionary for those who read what was written.
    Stu also illustrates very clearly what US seller Gary from GogglesandGlasses wrote on my blog last year, that very often if the seller is not careful, by developing your entire business on one venue you are not allowing your business to grow as much as it could, in effect handicapping yourself. Gary found his profits increased sixfold 2008 over 2007.

    Good article!

  7. Sometimes sellers think something is as clear as a bell in their auction — when it’s not. Different people have different browsers and different monitors and photos that seem clear to one person can be dark or muddy looking to others. If an item’s color might matter, the color should always be mentioned in the text. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to email and ask what color a glass dish is because the seller forgot to mention the color in their ad, and in the photo it looks pink or blue, when usually it is clear glass. I don’t want to ASSUME it’s the color that it looks to me, because then I’d pay all that shipping money and get it and find out it was a different color than it appeared in the photo.

    I’d say that 99% of “stupid questions” from potential buyers are not stupid at all! If you don’t want questioins of this type from customers, then you’d better be double-sure to include all of the information in your ad, so that buyers are not left guessing and having to ask.

  8. No.8 – Lianne


    Depends on area you sell in, we sell in home and garden

    we get lots of ‘ stupid Q’s on EBAY none on AMAZON !!!!!

    Like does this bbq actually BBQ
    or does a cat repeller really repel cats –
    no we just say it does

    Says alot about Ebay customers!!!!

  9. I’ve been known to get lots of requests for the “best” product in the line I’m selling. The thing is that they are all new so they are all the same. And if they weren’t all the same I’d have to open and inspect everything meaning they wouldn’t be considered new anymore. I’d consider that a “stupid” question but I’m forced to answer because by that time they are a paying customer.

  10. I think maybe the wrong point has come out of this article, I was trying to get accross to people that you shouldn’t out all your eggs in one basket with regards to your business, it needs to be multi channel in its approach.

    I will never disagree that Ebay is a good place to sell on, even after what they did to me, but if you just sell on Ebay then you could be in trouble if something happens no matter how safe you are.

    And you do get stupid questions on ebay, we have hardly any stock on there at the moment and had some right corkers of questions over the weekend….customers buys something on saturday nite for £1.99 emails sunday lunch time “has it been sent yet?” if thats not a stupid question I don’t know what is, even Tesco’s are closed on Easter sunday!

  11. Pete, you are correct — except put that in the past tense. I rarely buy on Ebay now. I am a glass collector. Except for collectible glass, I didn’t buy new items on Ebay. I can count on one hand the number of new (non-glass) things I’ve purchased on Ebay in the past 10 years. But when I ask, I don’t ask questions just to be asking. I ask because an important piece of information is missing.

    I have worked in retail, and know what good customer service is. Many people feel more comfortable handing over their money if they’ve made the personal connection (i.e. talked to somebody about the product). It helps them feel you can be trusted, and that you are not a [scammer: edited by Sue].

    There may be a few people who ask questions just because they have nothing better to do. But most people are not asking stupid questions. They are asking because they need to know, or need reassurance, or want to be sure there’s a real person on the other end. I am not convinced that Amazon passes customer questions on to the sellers. Two or three times I have asked important questions of Amazon sellers but never got a response. It’s really simple: You don’t answer my question(s) = I don’t buy from you. I take my money to somebody who actually wants my business.

    Mark, Many big claims are made for products. They aren’t necessarily true. Your questioner on the cat repellant was likely hoping you had used the product and could reassure them that, yes, you had used the product and it actually worked as claimed.

    Getting back to the main topic, I am very glad to read that Stuart is doing as well or better off Ebay than he was on Ebay! That’s good news! 🙂

  12. I accept that occasionally potential buyers might want clarity about an item and ask a question or two. I have no problem with that. However I estimate that at least 75% of answered questions do not result in a sale. A quick look at Feedback left by the potential buyer will often identify post purchase complainers. They quickly join my BBL. So it boils down to approx 10 % of questions asked resulting in a sale. I still welcome that 10% of sales and will occasionally update a listing with info I really should have included, but generally questions are received with trepidation

  13. Well Done – it is great to hear someone really turn a business round when the future did not look good! Hard work is clearly what makes any business actually work! Good for you…..

  14. Hi can anyone recommend a package to set up a shop? Has anyone tried ekmpowershop?


  15. Hey we have been using EKM for all our websites, they offer a good service at a reasonable cost to get started. We are moving away from them now but that is only because the sites have got bigger and we can afford our own instead of EKM.

    But to get you started they are good and easy to use.


  16. I was a powerseller on eBay until August of last year. I used to list on eBay.com as most of my customers are in the USA. eBay refused to give me the discount on my fees altho’ I had excellect DSRs. They said I could not have any discount as I did not live in the USA.
    I closed my eBay store and opened an EKM Powershop and it was the best thing I ever did. Instead of paying eBay around £2,000.- a month in fees, I pay £24.99. No feedback, no threatening buyers, no non-payers.
    I would NEVER go back to eBay even if it was free.
    Take the plunge!

  17. We have hired our own full time web designer to work for us, this way we have a better control over whats going on.

    Hope that answers your question?If you are looking for a designer I have a few that I can recommend just let me know



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