Awards recognize top online selling platforms

From the very first televised Academy Awards show on March 19, 1953, Americans have been enthralled by awards shows. The Academy Awards brouhaha has completed its 87th presentation and still draws a huge audience. This year we will further be exposed to award shows for film, television, theatre, several genres of music and a relative newcomer, the “Webbies.” Corporations, professional and media organizations have jumped on the “awards” bandwagon and hold annual dinner events to praise their own.

I stopped watching such shows more than two decades ago; I became weary of all the mutual glorification that occurs.

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Photo courtesy EcomerceBytes.com

There is one annual award presentation that I look forward to every year, though. This particular awards presentation helps me run my business better and puts dollars in my pocket. It can put dollars in your pocket, too: it’s the annual Sellers Choice Awards presented by EcommerceBytes.com (http://bit.ly/1AwGM4Q). The Sellers Choice Awards recognize the top online selling platforms, and the winners are chosen by folks like you and me who actually sell online.

EcommerceBytes, an informational resource devoted to online sellers, debuted the award in 2010. The website simply oversees the award process; nominees and winners are chosen by EcommerceBytes readers. In 2015, more than 12,000 online sellers participated in the awards survey, almost double the 6,124 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences who chose this year’s Oscar© winners.

Readers chose 12 finalists from the available online selling channels, and rated each on a scale of 1-10 in four areas: profitability, customer service, communication and ease of use. The finalists were (in the order of overall score): Etsy 6.63, Amazon 6.41, Bonanza 6.32, Ruby Lane 6.23, eBay 5.91, Craigslist 5.18, eBid 5.12, 11Main.com 5.01, Pinterest 4.88, eCrater 4.72, Zibbet 4.32, and Facebook 3.97.Etsy scored best overall in two categories: customer service and ease of use; they were also the site “most likely to be recommended to other sellers.” Bonanza scored highest in communication.

The most telling result was that eBay, placing fifth-place overall, was chosen as the most profitable online selling channel, followed by Etsy and Amazon. In the profitability category, only about two-thirds of a point separated first place eBay from sixth place craigslist. That’s not much of a separation, so if average scores mean anything, then the top six finalists are roughly equivalent in profitability.

Of course, “profitability” differs from “sales.” High sales on any venue are meaningless unless the dealers get to keep most of the profits. Online selling fees, payment processing fees and the cost of returns can suck the profits right out of an online sale. A real profit killer is shipping costs. Whenever a venue’s fee structure adds shipping and handling charges to an item’s commissionable final value, profitability “goes south” in a hurry. Craigslist, which scored poorly in most areas, did well vis-a-vis profitability because listings are free and items are sold with “local pickup only,” so shipping charges are not even a consideration. About a half-dozen channels were considered to be profitable for dealers simply because they had low fees. Although fees were low and profitability high on such sites, sales volume was generally low. High gross sales came from the high-volume sites like eBay and Amazon, as one would expect.

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Photo courtesy EcomerceBytes.com

More telling than the statistics compiled by EcommercyBytes were the comments attached to the surveys by the participants. The experiences of independent sellers varied widely. I found some of the same complaints (high fees, favoritism toward large sellers and seemingly arbitrary rule changes) running through most of the comment threads. Almost all sellers were concerned with getting traffic to their listings, regardless of the venue. Not general website traffic mind you, but the number of “eyes” viewing their listings. EBay’s traffic was down in 2014 vs. 2013, and eBay’s default listing placement rules left many sellers’ products with no views at all. That situation was even worse over at Amazon, where an overwhelming number of low-priced competitive products and Amazon’s “lowest-price-first” placement pushed some sellers’ listings to the back of the queue.

Other seller concerns included:
• Cumbersome listing process
• Bargain-basement buyers
• Lack of seller support in resolving customer problems
• Waiting too long to get paid
• Lack of “policing” fraudulent items: third-world knockoffs sold as genuine
• Weak or non-existent discussion forums
• Lack of seller control over shipping fees.

Each selling venue had its fans and its detractors. But reading through the thread of comments for each of the 12 selling channels gives one a sense of what sellers’ experiences with the venues are, regardless of the average ratings presented in the EcommerceBytes survey. When average ratings show a half-dozen venues very close in profitability, it’s time to ditch the averages and look specifically at what you’re selling, where your target customers shop, a site’s ease of use (including the time you spend meeting listing requirements and dealing with problems) and the level of customer service.

In my opinion, the EcommerceBytes survey is “must” reading for any dealer who sells online. Not because of the statistics offered, but because of the comments of the participating dealers. Although there are plenty of online meeting places for antique and collectibles dealers, forum readers often have to sort through a lot of nonsense to get answers to their problems. I’ve seen forum discussions break down over things as irrelevant as the grammar used in comments. Sellers’ comments attached to the Sellers Choice Awards were concise and to-the-point.

I give the Sellers Choice Awards a 9.8 in communication, and a hearty recommendation.

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