The stiff competition on eBay can easily run a business into the ground. Incursions from top sellers and vicious price wars can make your entire inventory seem worthless. But if you know the secrets of how to compete on eBay, you can flip the tables and leave the other guy struggling to keep his business afloat instead.
Last updated 5/25/2021.
1. Outrank Your Competitors’ Listings
If a competitor offers a price you can’t match, they will dominate you in searches filtered by price. But odds are they can’t afford to optimize the other aspects of their listings. That means you can conquer them in all other searches.
Learn how eBay SEO works. While not every aspect of the Cassini search engine’s algorithm has been made public, eBay has openly stated quite a bit about what it looks for. Optimize according to best practices and you will outdo most sellers in the majority of searches, meaning some buyers will purchase from you without even seeing a lower-priced option.
2. Poach Keywords and Ideas
Copying and pasting someone else’s eBay listing will land you in very hot water. Stealing little bits and pieces from competitors, on the other hand, is likely to help you crush them. In the words of Wilson Mizner, “If you steal from one author it’s plagiarism; if you steal from many it’s research.”
Look at your competitors’ listings, especially the titles. See if the listings that are outselling yours are using keywords you haven’t bothered with. It may well be that people are searching for things that you haven’t thought to mention. Just don't use synonyms, as not only do they not help, they're actually forbidden when creating eBay catalog listing titles.
Some of the keyword phrases these sellers are using include brand names like "Girvin," descriptive terms like "dark brown," and broad terms like "living room" and "furniture."
Likewise, you can see how they’ve handled the listing differently. Maybe your most successful competitors provide a lot more info and buyers need to know that much to make a decision. Or maybe they start with quick bullet points about the top benefits while you dive into the technical manual.
Remember, don’t copy anything word for word. Use the same sort of keywords and format as your top competitors, but write everything in your own words—and do a better job than they did. Hire a professional writer on a site like Upwork if necessary.
3. Offer Exceptional Service
A seller with great service can become an eBay Top Rated Seller (a.k.a. TRS), and those with good return policies and fast handling can get Top Rated Plus badges on their listings.
A Top Rated Plus badge makes a huge difference to experienced buyers. They instantly know you’re trustworthy and that you’ll ship the product as fast as possible. Becoming a TRS and using the Top Rated Plus badge will help you win over buyers even when your price is higher than the competition’s.
Finally, virtually every customer will look at your eBay feedback score before deciding whether to buy. They may abandon you for the competition if your score is too low. Ratchet up your feedback score with these tips.
4. Be the Fastest at Everything
Don’t just check your messages once a day—check them as often as your schedule and sanity allow, and reply as soon as you have a good answer. The longer potential buyers have to wait for a response, the more likely they’ll wander off and buy from someone else. Slow communications about problems are also more likely to result in negative feedback.
Of course, answering quickly is hard when eBay provides fewer messaging tools than the average email client. Integrating eBay with a helpdesk lets you respond in a fraction of the normal time so you can close more deals and keep your feedback score high.
Offering the fastest handling time and shipping options will also set you apart from the competition. Same-day handling goes above and beyond the call of duty of even a TRS and can help you outdo sellers who offer the same shipping options as you.
5. Take the Best Photos
Knowing how to take photos for eBay is perhaps even more important than providing great customer service.
In the article I just linked to, you’ll see two virtually identical scarf listings uploaded within an hour of each other: one Top Rated Plus listing at $20 with an okay photo, and a regular listing selling a set of two for $50 with a great photo.
Guess which one sold? No, not the cheaper one that was Top Rated Plus. The one with the better photo.
You’ll never outdo your competitors with mediocre photography. Take exceptional photos and buyers will pay more for the exact same product.
6. Negotiate Better Deals with Suppliers
If a competitor is pricing so low that matching them would put you at a loss before labor costs, there are a few possibilities:
- You’re competing directly with the manufacturer, in which case you should find a different place to sell.
- Your supplier is really a con artist who’s giving you retail prices.
- Your competitor is selling at a loss as well, either to rapidly build up their feedback score or with the hopes that you will abandon the niche and they can then raise their prices.
- Your competitors are getting better prices for the same goods.
The last one is the most likely. Your competitor may have the same supplier as you, but they’re paying $12 per widget while you’re paying $16.
Wholesale prices are negotiable. Most suppliers give better prices to sellers who buy in larger quantities or with whom they have built good relationships. But if you learn the art of negotiating with a supplier, you can sometimes skip the giant orders and years of relationship-building and get straight to making a great deal.
7. Don’t Just Ask How to Compete on eBay…
…ask how to compete across the Internet! Competitors who consistently outdo you probably have large, streamlined operations. They’re selling on Amazon, Walmart, and all the other best places to sell online to move inventory fast and negotiate great prices with suppliers. They’re also using multi-channel software to manage massive amounts of shipping and customer service with barely any effort.
In other words, they’re competing on the strength of their operational efficiency.
Once you understand how to compete on eBay and start seeing success, don’t limit yourself to that one marketplace. Expand your operation and improve your efficiency constantly. You’ll become an ever-deadlier competitor and leave everyone else struggling to keep up.