John “ColderICE” Lawson is a bona fide e-commerce expert. Now, folks toss around that term pretty freely these days, but Lawson is the real deal, as genuine as they come. Not only has he been operating a successful eBay business since 1999, but he also thrives on Amazon and has his own successful store on the Web.
But Lawson isn’t one to rest on his past successes. He has also devoted himself to learning how to effectively use social media to build a following and create a base of customers who not only value his products, but also his expertise. Today he travels around the county giving seminars and consulting with others about how to make the most of social media to build their businesses.
His presentations are sellouts and, after speaking with him, we understand why. He generously shared with us wisdom and advice sellers of all types can put into place today to get their businesses moving. In this article, the first of a three-part series, we’ll take a look at what Lawson has to say to get eBay sellers re-energized for the new year.
Resolve to get better at what you do
Lawson talked to us about how Internet shopping and shoppers have matured. We all remember the days when just about anything would sell on eBay and auctions could conceivably run wild, surpassing all expectations a seller may have had to begin with. We all also know those days are gone, and they aren’t coming back. Shoppers now are far savvier, and sellers need to step up their games to keep pace.“The buyer on the Web is looking for selection, so if you can get deeper in some of your new products that would be a way to go”
“I really think when it comes to e-commerce in general, inventory and selection are important,” Lawson says. “The buyer on the Web is looking for selection, so if you can get a little bit deeper in some of your new products that would be a way to go. If you’re doing used products, think about accessories that will go with those used items.”
Now, Lawson’s route to success has been much like many early adopters to the eBay market. He started by selling books. He then moved on to printers, ink cartridges and computers. Now he and his partner have settled on urban clothing and accessories.
“I found a niche walking through a wholesale show,” he recalls. “They had bandanas, and my partner suggested we try to sell bandanas. We were running out of space. Those bandanas started selling well, and we ended up in a niche for urban fashion.”
Take a look at Lawson’s eBay business and you’ll see not only bandanas, but also a huge variety of hats, shoelaces, flags and other accessories.
“I’m getting a little bit of sales in each area,” he says, “and I have more revenue streams.”
Take a good, hard look at your listings
Lawson also recommends sellers be honest with themselves, and take a cold, hard look at their listings.
“Clean up your listings,” he advises. “If you’ve got legacy listings, remove all the negatives. Instead of saying ‘We won’t take returns after 30 days,’ say ‘We accept returns up to 30 days.’ eBay has the Description tab, so describe the product. Use that for only the description. Most of the shipment and payment policy is happening through eBay anyway. We don’t need all that other language from old eBay.”
As an example, Lawson points to eBay’s efforts to give advantages to sellers offering faster shipping.
“eBay offered a discount to sellers who had a one-day shipping and also a return policy, but you had to have that information in the right place to get the discount. eBay is looking at those details and using it, putting the guy who ships in one day ahead of the guy who ships in two days.”
Take a good, hard look at your policies
But that’s not all. “Clean up your pictures, too,” Lawson says. “If you’re still taking pictures on your kitchen table on a linen napkin, 2012 should be the year you learn how to use Photoshop.
“Amazon is training everyone on how to buy on the Internet,” he explains. “The expectation of buyers on the Web is being set by Amazon. The consumer is thinking that when they purchase on the Web they should get fast shipping, easy returns, good descriptions and clear pictures.”“People want to feel comfortable shopping. You can’t hate your customers, yet lots of sellers seem to feel that way”
To that end, Lawson advises that eBay sellers take a hard look at their customer service policies.
“Your differentiation is service,” he says. “The product itself is not going to be unique.” So, what are people looking for?
“Easy returns, shipping deals, pricing deals and warranties,” he continues. “What is it that’s going to make me feel comfortable buying from you as opposed to your competition?”
Lawson spoke to us about how most sellers go right to competing on price, but that’s a mistake, in his opinion. “That’s just a race to the bottom,” he says. Instead, highlight the fact that you’re going to offer the service.
“People want to feel comfortable shopping. You can’t hate your customers, yet lots of sellers seem to feel that way,” Lawson notes. “I changed our policy to 90-day returns, and I’ve seen zero increase in returns, but I’ve increased dramatically in love.”
Lawson went on to explain that the genuinely disappointed customer will return your item within seven days. However, most customers, given 90 days to return an item, will set it aside with no sense of urgency. By the time they remember they’ve had 90 days to return it, they’ve moved on to other issues in their lives, and they never get around to processing your return at all.
Take a good, hard look at yourself
“Every complaint we receive is returned with ‘I’m sorry to hear that,'” he says. “Then (we) do the right thing. I don’t tell people to do anything to please a customer, but I want to do the right thing.”
Lawson admits it’s not always possible to please each customer, but no matter what the issue is, saying “I’m sorry to hear that” is effective. Even if you’re not going to be able to appease the customer, you can still be genuinely sorry he or she is upset and disappointed.
What keeps sellers from doing the “right thing?” “Oftentimes we’re not willing to do that because we’re taking this personally,” Lawson notes. “It’s not personal. They can call me anything they want, but they don’t know me.”
Extending this into the subject of feedback, Lawson offers old and sage advice: “When it comes to feedback do not defend yourself, ever,” he says. “Any response in feedback is not for the unhappy customer, it’s for the next customer. Give up on the disgruntled person, but think of the next 100 people who will see that response.”
Our next article, Rev Up Sales in Your Web Store in 2012, will share Lawson’s thoughts about how e-commerce sellers can ramp up their sales on Amazon and the Web in general. In the meantime, turn to his ColderIce blog for more insights on starting 2012, and your eBay business, with some sizzle.