What I’ve Learned On eBay

February 7, 2010 § 2 Comments

Selling lemonade on eBay?

photo by New York Public Library

I got my 50th positive feedback on eBay recently. Geeky as it sounds, I’ve decided to pause and think about what I’ve learnt about doing business online during my short but sweet experience on eBay.

“Well Hidden Cash”

In The Big Moo, the authors talked about pushing a little further and more in you business, which would make you stand out from others. I had a vague idea of what he was refferring to, but couldn’t really get around to a specific example of how I could do it.

I’ve been on eBay since 2002. I had a fascination for buying stuff from around the world that wasn’t readily available here in Singapore. I’ve since learnt to cut down on needless spending, learning to be a minimalist.

Back in 2002, I had no credit nor debit card, and the very mention of asking my mom to use her credit card on the Internet would raise hell.

“Are you crazy??” she stared at me with disbelief. “The Internets not safe you know?? What if someone steals the information??”

That might have sounded like paranoia, but it is a concern that can be taken of these days with additional precaution and smarts.

A friend gave me a method to get around not having a digital means for payment.

Varun was an avid record collector. He digs heavy-death-metal. He faced the problem of not having access to all the rare recordings in Germany or Norway. But he knew people on IRC and forums that would sell him these things.

Method of transaction? Well-hidden cash.

“You put your cash in between two pieces of wrapped blank papers. So that they won’t show up under the light. Then into the envelope it goes.”

That gave me access to my first “buy” on eBay.

Lesson learned: Sometimes constraints force you to find creative solutions, you just gotta read between the lines.

How I Found The Big Moo

Jason Fried of 37Signals has a saying that “making money is like playing the piano, it just takes practice”. I’d like to think that I’m on that journey.

My first thirty transactions on eBay were of me being the consumer. But those transactions gave me an insight into different sellers online, what made me happy and what pissed me off.

The best  eBay sellers made you feel that they were human, and they cared. Christmas season nearly five years ago, I bought a 7″ 1970 extended play recording of Santana’s Black Magic Woman / Oye Como Va / Jingo / Evil Ways, and when the package arrived, the seller slipped in a note saying “Thanks for buying! Happy Holidays.”

It was refreshing to see that. A handwritten thank-you note.

All the while my buying experience on eBay sometimes left me wondering if a bot had put these auctions up, and possibly a fulfillment company packed and shipped these to me.

I wasn’t complaining about the nicely packed, sturdy packages the others sent, but it seemed mechanical. Out of all my purchases on eBay the last five years, I remembered the only one that left me a noteAnd  when I decided to become a seller on eBay, I thought if this made my purchasing experience special, my customers would appreciate something like this too.

Sure enough they did.

Last month, in an effort to declutter and raise extra cash for travel, I sold a bunch of records during Christmastime. While most of the buyers were from the U.S, a few were from Eastern Europe and East Asia. Along with the packages I sent, I wrote thank you notes too, and relevant holiday greetings in the customer’s own language. All were pleasantly surprised, and mentioned this in the feedback they gave me.

Sounds trivial, I know. But I finally understood what Seth Godin meant by a Big Moo. Everyone’s doing the same, selling stuff online, but it takes only a little effort to go to greater lengths to provide a better experience for your customers. And when you do, customers find you special, a cut above the rest.

What would happen if your company focused soley on giving customers this “cut above the rest” experience? You get a company like Zappos.

I love eBay.


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