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Appealing to Your Buyers’ Senses

Use sensory cues to set your merchandise apart.

Sometimes, the best angle to differentiate your goods from those of the competition is right at your fingertips, right within earshot, right in front of your eyes, right under your nose and on the tip of your tongue. If you begin to look wildly around you for some ethereal clue of what we’re talking about, you’ll discover the answer you seek has always been with you.

Too often, sellers have disregarded the importance of appealing to their buyers’ senses—that is, the innate physical cues that might lead them to discover that your goods are the most satisfying in all senses of the word. In all the flurry of listing goods, managing transactions and maintaining customer relationships, sellers have been prone to overlook these seemingly subtle yet significant sensory characteristics of the items being offered, and how, upon receipt, said items communicate their actual value vis-a-vis the buyer’s five human senses.

If you think this seems like a stretch, think again. Sure, those pictures of your items might be worth a thousand words but hearing is believing, high-tech requires higher touch, the nose knows, and the proof is in the pudding. That said, here’s a look (so to speak) at how selling to senses will help you improve your customers’ impressions of you based upon how they humanly experience all facets of the goods they purchase from you. Depending upon what their collective senses tell them, buyers will quickly decide how inclined they might be to purchase additional items from you, all within a split second of the firing of a synapse.


Clean when it makes sense—when there’s no risk of devaluing the item—to give the item a best possible appearance

There’s no getting around it: first impressions are lasting ones. If an item you have to offer is dusty, dingy, or generally just a bit disheveled in appearance, see if you can clean it up a bit. Beware, though. While brushing off the dust and wiping away unwanted soil is typically a good idea, take care that your cleaning doesn’t have value-diminishing effects.

Some sellers have damaged items in their efforts to add a bit of polish (such as attempting to remove old price tags, stains, or other blemishes) and some buyers proclaim that removing an item’s natural “patina” is a definite no-no, they who value the hand-to-hand history that tells the story of an item’s provenance.

Therefore, clean only when it makes sense—when there’s no risk of devaluing the item—to give the item a best possible appearance (find out how other sellers and collectors shine up similar articles). If you’re not sure, provide a full disclosure of the item’s present state and the potential for polishing, and leave it to the buyer to decide if a bit of cleaning up is worth their pursuing after they become the rightful new owner.


Said again, sometimes it’s the nose that knows long before the eyes ever get a glimpse of what’s inside a package. Take special care to please this sense of “scents” as buyers are often more than disappointed when an item brings along a stench that wasn’t bargained for. If an item has a musty odor from moisture exposure, let it be known when you offer it up for sale or bid. If you’re a smoker and your items have absorbed the odor, let that be known, too (and even if you can’t detect the presence of second-hand smoke odor, know full well that non-smokers can detect the tinge of tobacco the moment they hold a package in their hands). Whatever the situation, if your goods have a certain “air” about them that could be potentially offensive and long lasting, be certain to state that at the outset.


Usually, touch isn’t a sensation that proves too troublesome for buyers, yet many let their fingers do the walking—and talking—as they assess the textural truth about their newly purchased treasure. If any items you sell are rough, sticky or whatever—and shouldn’t be—be sure to disclose this.

The same holds for furniture or other items that might have been worn smooth over years of use or could have the telltale rippling or warping that comes from moisture damage; these situations should also be properly explained at the outset. If you think this doesn’t matter to buyers, know that many persnickety purveyors of goods will close their eyes and run their hands over an item to detect variations or imperfections that their eyes might miss.


It’s your duty to present this crucial sensory information as accurately as possible when listing your goods

Naturally, when you’re selling audio-related items (such as old records, tapes, radios and so on), you want to fully describe the aural qualities of the goods. But, beyond these obvious sound-related items, give consideration to any sounds any of your items might make. If something rattles, is it broken? If something squeaks, is it in need of lubrication

Tell your prospective customers what you hear and recognize that sometimes, the sounds you describe might be a good omen to buyers, they who want to know if a vintage doll still talks, if a classic instrument still has a pleasing resonance, and whether an old Beatles record still sounds as fresh as it did the day it came off the vinyl press.


O.K., this is the one sense that you might not need to cater to as carefully as the previous four. Still, some rock, gem and coin collectors have stated that their taste buds can offer the final determination about an item’s authenticity and lineage. Enough said.

Making sense of it all

Appealing to your buyer’s senses is an important consideration to be given as you market your online goods and strive to bolster your customer base. Because it’s still true that online sales prevents buyers from fully experiencing an item as they would if they were to inspect it in person, it’s your duty to present this crucial sensory information as accurately as possible when listing your goods, and then be doubly certain that there will be no sensory surprises when the goods arrive.

About the author

Dennis L. Prince
Dennis L. Prince has been analyzing and advocating the e-commerce sector since 1996. He has published more than 12 books on the subject, including How to Sell Anything on eBay...and Make a Fortune, second edition (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and How to Make Money with MySpace (McGraw-Hill, 2008). His insight is actively sought within online, magazine, television and radio venues. Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

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