September 29, 2009, 12:00 AM

All smiles

(Page 2 of 2)

“Communication to me is crucial. I know that from my own experience as a customer. I want to know the merchant has my money and they are on it,” says Inge, who has processed about 12,000 eBay orders over the past 10 years.

Lutwak stresses projecting a positive, friendly tone in e-mail messages. He recommends using phrases like: “If you have any other questions, let me know,” “Your satisfaction is very important to us,” and “We take your feedback seriously.”

And, he says, merchants shouldn’t be afraid to point out the service they provided, that they gave positive feedback to the buyer and to ask the customer to leave 5’s in all categories.

Inge goes so far as to include a printout in every package she sends that explains eBay’s DSR scores. And, she peppers her e-mails with references to ratings. “In every single e-mail I say I am a five-star seller and I strive to give five-star service,” Inge says. “It’s up to the sellers to educate the buyers on how important ratings are.”

Another way merchants can avoid low marks is to under-promise and over-deliver, experts say. For example, a merchant may want to advertise that a buyer will receive his package in five days, even if it is fairly certain to arrive in three. Or, go the extra mile by including a thank you note or a small gift. A car parts merchant, for example, might include an air freshener in each package.

Help wanted

EBay took a step over the summer to help sellers manage their businesses and provide prompt customer care. It began enabling outside developers to sell their applications that work with eBay’s Selling Manager and Selling Manager Pro platforms. Tools being offered include HostedSupport, which helps sellers answer questions from shoppers, and ahTEXT, which sends sellers text messages when buyers ask a question, make an offer, buy an item, leave feedback or file a dispute.

Lutwak also suggests merchants use eBay’s Dashboard system to look for trends in low feedback scores and find ways to solve problems. This fall, the tool will also help sellers see how they are performing in search results. For example, a merchant might see the same item from another seller is appearing higher in search results because it comes with free shipping.

Shipping has long been a point of contention for eBay merchants. Many buyers expect free shipping and give low scores to sellers for not offering it, merchants say. What’s more, eBay’s search results favor items that offer free shipping.

Inge, who currently passes shipping fees on to buyers plus a $2 handling charge, recommends placing the indicia, a label that shows the actual amount it costs to ship a package, on shipments so shoppers can see they aren’t getting ripped off. Still, Inge says she may be forced to cover shipping fees soon. Her lowest DSR score, a 4.6, is in the shipping cost category.

Think positive

Despite merchant frustrations over a new set of more stringent rules, Wingo points out some aspects of the new system that work in merchants’ favor.

Unlike the old discount program, which counted all feedback, in the new system, eBay will consider only feedback from U.S. buyers. This is a plus for merchants because foreign shoppers often gave low grades because they were unhappy about paying duties and customs fees, Wingo says. “For sellers with a large percentage of international buyers, we’ve found that international buyers score generally .2 lower than U.S. buyers,” Wingo says.

Additionally, the Top-rated seller program is based on the number of 1’s or 2’s left by U.S. buyers divided by the total number of transactions, including those in which the buyer did not leave feedback. In the PowerSeller program, scores were based only on transactions in which the buyer had left feedback.

Those changes will help retailers meet the new requirements. But it’s still a brand new ballgame, and many eBay sellers will be spending the next several months learning the rules.

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