Thursday, 23 October 2008

Can you sell on Specialist Auctions?

I am Robert Forsythe and in this blog I hope to describe the practical ways by which I have made selling on Specialist Auctions work. There will be comparisons with the inevitable market leader but I hope they will be realistic and invective free. My online trading uses the nick robertatforsythe. Every vendor will have their own rationale but I want my buyers to easily find and recognise me in the areas in which I trade.

I joined ebay on the 4th February 2000 and Specialist Auctions on 29th June 2006. October 22nd 2008 was a significant date in my Specialist Auctions relationship. I recorded my 400th sale and 275th piece of positive feedback. By that date we had 1324 items live. The ebay feedback comparison was 4168 on feedback, all positives on both sites.

The number crunching is significant. ebay set out to be a market place where niche traders would flourish and for a long time I found that to be so. I think however that that ground has shifted. The litmus test is simple: could I afford to keep 1300+ lots live on ebay until they sold. The answer must be pretty obvious: no way. In itself that is not ebay's "fault". It is a consequence of what I sell and this is the education bit. What do you want to sell? And how long does it need in the market place before it will find a buyer? In my case, I have a good supply of highly Specialist material for which there are a limited number of buyers but those buyers are themselves usually dedicated and determined people who know their subject. They may want to spread their spending. I am active in a low cost collecting field. Have I ever sold any individual lot on Specialist for more than £10? No and I don't think any of my individual lots on ebay have fetched more than £100. We are not high value sellers but we are selling material that in the main cost nothing to obtain and usually ends up in the bin (draw a comparison to Reginald Perrin and grot). The point is because most of the time it ends up in the bin, used and abused, the items that survive gain interest.

We explained a lot about this in a blog for Ephemera . Very roughly speaking for every four items I have uploaded onto Specialist, one has sold. Apart from my time (which is the major cost), uploading items onto Specialist has been free. When there is a sale, the fee structure is straightforward at 3%. Failure to sell has not incurred a penalty. The logic says Specialist Auctions is playing a long game. Build up what you have to offer so that your lists show plenty of choice. The chance is someone interested will always then find something that connects to them. It has taken time. The growth to 1300 lots has taken over two years because we do have a life outside on line auctions! Given time, we guess we could quite easily reach a figure of 5000 lots. It is having that rich realm of choice that has grown business. The feedback will show many of the buyers keep on coming back to more. Inevitably positive relationships with individuals who bought from my other listings have been established. ebay cannot stop its vendors getting to know their own customers directly! Those individuals have had the confidence to move their business. But like all good business this revolves around trust and communication. Generally, when I upload lots I have one or two potential buyers in mind. I will often send them a positive alert. I will ask a regular buyer to tell me about their collecting interests and their requests so that when material surfaces I can think of them.

Words about start prices are important. Elsewhere the urge is on setting a low start price. If your lot does not sell, you will be financially penalised and the hope is that a low start attracts buyers. But if the item is a niche item and the buyers are simply not there that week or miss your lot in the sheer bulk of choice, what is the point in listing at 99p start? Specialist Auctions is offering a more measured and less frenetic model.

This is my pricing philosophy. On the criteria of time spent, time listing, time packing and posting, it is not really comfortable to sell a lot for a £1-£1.50. My rough rule of thumb is that a lot needs to realise £3 for me to think that was worth the effort. With Specialist Auctions you can do this. You can set a range of pricing from a realistic, not necessarily bargain basement start price and end at a higher snap it up. Usually my lots show a price range this way between the minimum price that I am comfortable with and what on a good day I do think a lot can achieve. After all, the joy of Specialist Auctions is the sheer flexibility. If the buyer thinks differently and if you have clicked the right box, a haggle can develop. Some people are uncomfortable with this, but there is no obligation to participate and no obligation for the vendor to agree. Many of my sales have been haggles and often in the median range between the two prices shown on the listing. Sometimes I have been persuaded to settle for less than the start price. It can happen. Not often, I usually resist. But if the low haggle is in the context of someone placing a considerable order over a number of lots, it may be considered. Where you decide to end a haggle is often a question of the business context that you have with the other party.

If you are reading this and wondering whether to start listing with Specialist Auctions my summary advice: are you prepared to give the task time? Be patient, be prepared to keep on uploading to build up presence, it will not cost you money. Do you have other outlets where you can draw attention to what you are doing? Do you have an already existing customer base who you know and with whom you communicate? Remember that Specialist Auctions offers a good number of real people keen to help. Nosing around the forum discussions will show that.
Accompanying the blog will be several illustrations which give chapter and verse for actual realisations over the last few months on Specialist Auctions from our material.

Left is sale no 400, sold for £2.95 on 22nd October 2008 as Specialist Auctions no. 1066403.