Secrets of eBay Will Be Revealed in Chicago

CHICAGO – We all know there’s money to be made on eBay, but with so much user competition, we all don’t know how to be that choice listing that buyers end up buying.
In about a week’s time, it’ll be the charge of Jim Griffith (known in eBay’s inner circles just as “Griff”) to impart the esoteric ingredients of that formula onto sellers across Chicago.

As part of a three-day road show from March 13 through March 15, Griffith and crew will be putting on an educational event to teach Chicagoans the tricks of the virtual trade.

Through a program called eBay University, Griffith, who is its dean of education and one of its instructors, says the goal is to “give back to the community” and help newbie and veteran sellers become standout auctioneers. He added: “We don’t do it to make money directly on the event. People have asked us to do it.”

Giving back to the community is another way of saying that eBay loses money on the deal.

Griffith says eBay “doesn’t even come close to breaking even” through its eBay University program, which travels across the nation and costs $25 to attend. The fee includes registration, course handouts and coffee. Griffith says the attendance cost shouldn’t be so pricey that it’s prohibitive, but on the other hand, free was too cheap.

“We tried giving it away in the beginning,” Griffith said, adding that eBay University began in June 2000 in San Diego. “People didn’t come. They thought it was worthless. They needed an exchange of value for value. Since we began charging, we’ve had overcapacity crowds of 1,000 or so attendees at our two previous events in Chicago.”

This year’s session marks the first time eBay University will try a multi-day format. Griffith said: “We will be in three locations in Chicagoland on three different days (Rosemont, Lisle and downtown Chicago). We’ve realized that the expense of getting out to Chicago and being in different locations has warranted a longer stay.”

[Attendees] typically aren’t tech savvy and are neophytes of the computer. They need confidence to boldly go on the Net and sell.
– Jim Griffith, eBay University dean of education and instructor
Griffith says he will be flying to Chicago by airplane and will be renting a van. He says the expense of a cross-country eBay van may come to fruition down the road, especially if the trend of reciprocal value and increased sales continues.

“We track productivity after the courses and have found a marked increase in bidding specifically from sellers who have attended our seminars,” he said. “Our eyes bulged wide open after our first seminar. We found that there really is value.”

Griffith declined to offer any specifics on his tracking methodologies but does say the process is a random selection of attendees, whose activity in gross merchandise sales is watched prior and following attendance. As for who attends, Griffith says the crowd can be stereotyped.

“Attendees are usually middle-aged or over and are overwhelmed with the computer experience. They need plain English to get started or to grow their business on eBay,” he said. “They typically aren’t tech savvy and are neophytes of the computer. They need confidence to boldly go on the Net and sell.”

eBay University courses are taught by a stable of instructors. Though most teachers work directly for eBay, some are contractors. Instructors include Marsha Collier (who wrote “eBay For Dummies”), Michael Kaiser (who wrote eBay’s first sanctioned guide book), Christopher Spencer (a full-time eBay seller) and, of course, Griffith (who just finished authoring the official eBay bible).

Tricks of the Virtual Trade

As for the selling gems in that bible, Griffith says the first tip a seller must master is the art of research. Know the current market value of the item you’re selling, he says. Griffith added: “Always check out your competitors and outdo them at their own game.” One way to garner that figure is to learn the price of an analogous item on eBay.
The second trick is mastering the art of skilled picture taking. Make sure your photograph is well lit, in focus, appropriately cropped and isolated from the rest of the room, Griffith says, adding that an item shouldn’t be seen sitting on a living room table.

Finally, make sure to craft a comprehensive description of your product. Whenever and wherever possible, Griffith advises sellers to answer a buyer’s questions in their product descriptions before they’re asked.

The biggest turnoffs for eBay buyers, according to Griffith, are bad pictures or a lack of pictures, incomplete descriptions and no payment options. More no-nos are inflated starting prices and restrictive terms. Nothing turns off an eBay buyer faster than lots of negative language (“don’t do this”), he says. “Buyers often feel like they are being punished for previous bad customers,” he added.

There’s just more enthusiasm from Chicago sellers. We consistently get a huge response.
– Jim Griffith
Griffith declined to comment on the specific sales numbers produced by Chicago buyers and sellers. He says buying is typically consistent no matter where you are (with the qualification that Chicagoans typically buy more Chicago Bears memorabilia, for example).

He was also rather nondescript about enhancements coming to eBay itself. So as not to upset eBay’s PR agenda, Griffith could only say to watch for “lots of nifty features” that make the site more efficient and (even more) expansion across planet Earth.

Griffith says the notion of an uncluttered Yahoo! look is still in the air and may become a preference that users could turn on or off. He says the most common misnomer about eBay is that it’s a place that exists in auction format only. Many people are shocked, he says, to learn that they can use a fixed-price format (called “Buy It Now”) as well.

As for the turnout at the two previous eBay University seminars in Chicago, Griffith says he has been amazed.

“More Chicagoans have come than in most of our other metropolitan areas. There’s just more enthusiasm from Chicago sellers. We consistently get a huge response,” he said. “We’ve had to turn people away. Chicagoans are friendly and are eager to have a good time. There’s just something special about Chicago that is disarming and casual. I always look forward to going back.”