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Make eBay Work For You Instead Of You Working For It

Volume Number: 22 (2006)
Issue Number: 1
Column Tag: Tools of The Trade

Make eBay Work For You Instead Of You Working For It

MacTech's guide to eBay listing tools on the Mac

by Neil Ticktin, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief

eBay ... The Myth, The Pain, The Solution

We've all heard the stories, how someone made a bunch of money selling on eBay, or the eBay version of the stereotypical "fish story" that starts "I can't believe how much this guy paid for ...". eBay is part of our ecosystem today, like it or not. You can find some great stuff on it, and it's the tech way of going about doing a "garage sale" ... and you can make a bunch of money selling-off the stuff that you didn't think anyone would want.

The problem is that eBay is a pain. It's a lot of work. It takes time to get a good set of pictures, pull together the best descriptions, answer all the shipping information and other logistical questions up front, choose categories, choose pricing, the list goes on and on. Add to it that eBay is not a great customer support organization ... if you want to call them, you can't. If you want to ask a question, plan on doing it several times, as they try to answer with canned answers, which often are not the answer to your question.

This is where 3rd party tools come in. They are necessary if you are going to do anything beyond a listing or two on eBay. They will help prevent you from doing the wrong thing, and can help you understand what you are doing before you commit. And, for those who have a higher volume of items to sell, they give you a structure to work within and reduce redundant work.

Types of eBay Sellers

There are a few types of eBay sellers, and before you choose a third party listing tool, you need to identify the type you are ... or you will almost definitely choose the wrong solution. Be honest with yourself. It's easy to get caught up in wanting the most capable product, only to realize that you are selling 3 items and you are about to kill a fly with a bazooka.

    Power Seller: If you're a power seller, you're the type of person that is working on eBay sales with some level of frequency ... from everyday to every couple of weeks. You may be selling lots of different items, or the same items over and over. In short, you're the kind of person that needs a process in place to keep from confusing things.

    Burst Seller: If you periodically gather up all the things you have around the office or around the house, and do a "spring cleaning," you may have a number of items every few months that you want to sell. In this case, you need a piece of software that will help you build listings quickly, but you don't need as much of a process.

    Experimenter: If you are just experimenting with eBay, have only a handful items to sell, or are more the type to see what kind of "junk" you find around the house you can turn into gold on eBay, then you are in our "experimenter" category. You might want to look at one of the really low cost solutions, or no solution at all (i.e., you may want to use the eBay interface to do all of your listing).

MarketBlast

MarketBlast is a high-end product published by 4D ... the database people. In short, if you are a Power Seller, then take a look at MarketBlast. If not, then this is not the product for you.

The good news about MarketBlast is that it's designed to give you a process. It's meant for the kind of person who needs to create inventories, profiles, and track not only a lot of sales and interactions, but also monitor how your marketing efforts are working. When you invest the time into the profiles, you'll find them to be flexible, capable, and allow you to control many different aspects of a sale.

Furthermore, as you would expect from a company that makes databases, you have the underlying power of a fully relational database. That means communications and payments can be associated with listed items, and listed items with inventory, and buyer histories across items. For the Power Seller, this is critical to keeping your sales efforts efficient in nature.

We started with an earlier version of MarketBlast, v1.11b. We had some trouble in that we corrupted the database on this version, but 4D did a good job of tech support, and repairing the database quickly. This product will get better over time. Things like having unusual file name characters (quotes and such) caused it to fire off erroneous error messages. But, these are bugs that we expect 4D will fix. Since then v1.12 was released and fixed some problems, as well as made refinements (like associating a picture with the inventory instead of the listing).

The one thing that you need to realize about MarketBlast is that it has a learning curve to it. You need to learn the process that it expects, and that you can use to make your selling efforts more efficient. You also need to learn what some of the interface items mean. For example, at one point I wanted to change the title of an active listed item. I made the edit, and then pressed the "Publish" button. That had the unfortunate result of ending the active sale, and awarded it to the highest bidder of the time ... even though it was a week before the sale was complete, and the bid was nowhere near its value.

MarketBlast will benefit from continued refinement (like moving product weights to inventory items instead of needing to a profile, speeding entry of inventory items, etc...), but if you are a serious seller, moving a volume of products, and can put in the learning curve time, then it's your choice on the Mac (or Windows).


Figure 1. MarketBlast Inventory Window

It would be impossible to tell you all that MarketBlast can do in an article like this, but to give you a glimpse. It's a fully integrated solution that allows you to do multiple actions, in bulk, across eBay, eBay Motors, and eBay Stores. It helps you track inventory, and auto-updates quantities, and will alert you when the quantities reach certain levels.

You can manage vendor details, multiple sources per item, and group inventory in a variety of different ways. There are global profiles, and the sub-profiles ... and these are at the heart of customizing how you list products.


Figure 2. MarketBlast Edit Item Window

If you move between computers (say a laptop and a desktop), MarketBlast can be copied easily from one workstation to another. You can handle consignment, mailing labels, write scripts, automate emails, and send out alerts to consignors all automatically. There is an HTML editor, although their displaying of the page in a pseudo-browser is limited and somewhat flaky.

You can preview your eBay fees, and they do a solid job of supporting both ftp and Flickr (free limited, or low-cost unlimited storage of pictures). You can even watermark your images. There are tools for automatic relists, selling strategies, list reports, recurring listings, and auto price/quantity adjustments.

There's a full CRM (Customer Relationship Management) set of tools. For example, you can group your customers, do emails and newsletters, and more. And, with any volume business, there's going to be issues with deadbeat customers ... MarketBlast highlights them for you. Finally, you can do trending reports, show built-in ledgers, and analyze cash flow.

Again, if you are a Power Seller, take a good look at this product, but be prepared for a time investment to learn its ins and outs ... so that you can make the most of what it can do for you. If you are not a Power Seller, this is not the product for you.

For more information, see www.marketblast.com, Price: Regular: $149.99 Discount: $99.99, System Requirements: High-speed Internet connection, Macintosh, G3 or better processor, Mac OS X 10.3 or higher, 256mb RAM; Windows: Pentium II or better processor, Windows 2000, XP, 256mb RAM

iSale

The folks at equinox position iSale as the eBay component of Apple's iLife suite of applications. In a lot of ways, they are right. If you are a Burst Seller, or even an Experimenter, iSale is a great solution for you. As a Power Seller, you could use iSale, and it will do fine at what it does, but it's nowhere near the complete business solution that MarketBlast is.

First, I should tell you that I really like this product. It worked as I expected it to, and the nits that I have are only here to help you understand how minor my criticism is, and to make it a better product.

iSale's strength is that it really does behave as you would expect it would. It integrates well with iPhoto, and you can even use an iSight to take product shots. For Tiger users, there's a dashboard widget to watch your auctions (although it's relatively slow, and you can't grow the window to watch a larger list more easily). You can even use it with Automator, and create RSS feeds for your auctions.


Figure 3. iSale Main Window

Categories are very easy to assign, you can see the listing fees, and you can even schedule things in iCal so you can manage your auction ending dates. They do a great job of using your .Mac account, or an ftp server. Auction status seems a bit slow at times, but that could easily be eBay as well. And, while it's not really a process work-horse, you can keep track of the after sales items like is something paid, sent and feedback status.

In the text editing, the application does a pretty good job of mixing both HTML and regular text, and still have it display well ... this makes life really nice for much quicker description creation.

iSale has several easy to use preferences that apply to new items created after you set the preferences. So, it's worthwhile to think them through before you start creating a lot of items. There's a number of settings, and the signature settings allow you to take care of anything that doesn't fit elsewhere.


Figure 4. iSale Preferences

My nits

By far, the most irritating thing about this product is its registration. It's not a good experience and you have to jump through a lot of hoops just to get the software installed. Once it is installed, it's fine, but boy, it's almost bad enough to make you not want to do it. Contrary to what you might expect, it is not representative of the rest of the experience and you should drive on through it.

As part of equinox's desire to limit software piracy, they've made it difficult to move the software from one machine to another. For example, if you want to do a bunch of work on your desktop, and then move everything to your laptop to monitor the sales ... you may want to just buy a second copy. iSale has to be in the user's Application Support folder. It cannot be in the System's App Support folder, and the preferences for the app are not stored in the App Support folder, so if you go between machines, be careful.

I found that I really could use a flag to help sort based on certain status, and an internal number for identifying like units would also be useful. Both of these would be unpublished information, and simply for use by the user (not on eBay). For example, I was creating my own "workflow" and had to resort to using their Smart Lists based on the name of the item.

Dragging up and down in an editable text field is something that I'm use to doing on the Mac, but iSale forces me to use the scroll bars instead. I would like to see some sort of template that helped with descriptions. And, I would also like to see templates, or profiles, be applicable to items after they are created. Right now, it seems that many preferences only apply when you are first creating an item, and once it's created, changes in preferences would need to be manually applied.

I would like to be able to add picture slots prior to the last one being used ... so that if I know that I have 3 pictures, I can add two slots first, and then drop and drag them in without having to go back and forth to the item.

For more information, see www.equinux.com, Price: Single License - $39.95, "Double Pack - for two machines - $59.95. System Requirements: Macintosh Only, Mac OS X 10.3 or higher, Active Internet connection.

GarageSale

I had the least amount of "real life" time with GarageSale, but that shouldn't discourage you from this product. Like iSale, it has a very intuitive user interface, although unlike iSale which has a lot in one main window, GarageSale breaks things up a bit more and gives you ways to see things at a high level.


Figure 5. GarageSale Overview

And, GarageSale allows you to host pictures on both ftp or .Mac. You can do specialized listing designs, work offline, import directly from your camera, or work with iPhoto and iSight. There's a good integrated auction preview, and you can share templates with other GarageSale users if you'd like.

The heart of any eBay listing tool is its item editing. Here, GarageSale shines again ... a picture is worth a thousand words...


Figure 6. GarageSale Item Editing Window

For Tiger users, there's Automator, Dashboard, Core Image and Spotlight support as you would expect. And, you can use GarageSale for multiple eBay accounts, which will be important to some people.

For more information, see www.iwascoding.com/GarageSale/, Price: Single License: $24.99 Family - Up To 5 : $44.99. System Requirements: Macintosh only, Mac OS X 10.3.9 or better, Internet Connection.

CALC

CALC is an auction seller's productivity tool that's been around for a while now. The company's site claims it was the first Mac auction software for OS X. As an auction utility it combines listing creation with auction tracking in one neat interface. A notable feature is it allows you to create functional HTML auction listings without knowing HTML These ease of use makes this a good tool for beginners but it also has features that will appeal to more experienced users - you can add your descriptions, choose colors, select pictures and backgrounds, insert tables, style your text and preview your listing in your web browser before you list it. You can save and reopen listings for frequently listed items, which is great for items that are listed more than once.

For more information, see www.cycline3.com/calc/, Price: DVD Version - $19.99, CD Version - $14.99, Download Reg. - $9.99. System Requirements: Macintosh: Mac OS 8.5 - 9.2 or OS 10.2 or newer (Carbon application and PPC versions in .sit file); Windows: Pentium 150 or better and works with Windows 98 or newer.

eSeller

If you are just interesting in some of the back end duties of selling on eBay, there's eSeller - a shareware FileMaker template for keeping track of sales and generating packing slips for shipping your packages. According to its author Robert Hofemann. Version 3.3 and 3.4 combined have had almost a thousand downloads from Version Tracker. Bob asks only for a $5 shareware fee, so, if you're going to use it, please don't forget to register your software! Listed on Version Tracker are references to the developer's site and a short paragraph on the features of the actual template. There is a Mac and Windows version on the Developer's site along with a tutorial on how to use it. You can view the template by going to Version Tracker and looking up eSeller 3.4 at:

http://www.versiontracker.com/dyn/moreinfo/macosx/25787

Which for you?

We started off the article talking about the different types of eBay sellers there are. You really do need to start there, and then your decisions are relatively easy as to what tools you should use to make money on eBay.

If you are a Power Seller, definitely take a look at MarketBlast. If you are someone that wants a solid tool, but not a full process management tool, then take a good look at iSale and GarageSale and see which fits you best. And, if you want a tool that will give you some help, but at a dirt cheap cost, check out CALC and eSeller.

All of these tools will give you a much better experience than trying to list directly on eBay using the web interface.


Neil Ticktin is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of MacTech Magazine. Neil has been in the Mac industry since 1985. When Neil writes a review, he likes to put solutions into a real-life scenario and then write about that experience from the user point of view. That said, Neil has a reputation around the office for pushing software to its limits and crashing software/finding bugs.

 
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