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Top 10 Issues for Online Businesses in 2012

Readers share what events, policies impacted them the most.

eBay requiring longer return policies for Top-rated Sellers to earn the 20-percent discount on final value fees that all Top-rated Sellers used to get had the biggest impact on online merchants this year.

Free shipping had the second biggest impact and trying to decide whether to sell on eBay had the third biggest impact. That’s what readers like you told The Online Seller in a recent survey that asked merchants to vote on all the events of 2012 that affected them and their online businesses.

In addition to these top three issues, readers voted on topics including mobile shopping, Thanksgiving becoming a popular buying day, Pinterest emerging as a marketing tool, the retirement of Google Merchant Center in favor of a paid model and several eBay policy changes.

Here are the top 10 issues or events online sellers say had the greatest impact on them in 2012:

    1. eBay requiring Top-rated Sellers to have a 14-day or longer return policy to earn the 20-percent discount on final value fees
    2. Free shipping
    3. Trying to decide whether to sell on eBay or somewhere else
    4. eBay requiring merchants who accept returns to choose between 14-, 30- or 60-day return windows
    5. eBay retiring the three- and seven-day return options
    6. Online sales tax
    7. eBay requiring sellers who accept returns to offer either money back, or money back or exchange options
    8. Mobile shopping
    9. Google retiring Google Merchant Center in favor of a paid model
    10. eBay’s new Managed Returns Center

Sellers feel changes to Top-rated Seller program the most

eBay requiring longer return policies for sellers to qualify for the 20-percent discount on final value fees made a big splash when it was initially announced in the spring. Several merchants voiced their concerns.

One reader even wrote a letter to the editor, in which he tells The Online Seller he’s sure to lose his Top-rated Seller status, and the discount that comes with it.

“There’s no way I’m going to offer a return policy,” the merchant says. “I buy and sell Lionel trains, and it is way too easy for someone to tamper with one, then return it for a refund.”

I have worked long and hard to get my Top-rated status and, yet, because I cannot dispatch within one day, I am to be penalized

He says buyers could easily switch out one of his trains’ motors, or another part without leaving a trace. He was “pretty sad” about losing his status.

eBay also requires Top-rated Sellers offer a money-back option and a one-day handling time to earn the discount. That handling time has been a source of contention as well, readers tell us.

“I am really furious about losing my Top-rated Seller status and, more importantly, my 20-percent discount,” reports Sheilaho. “I have worked long and hard to get my Top-rated status and, yet, because I cannot dispatch within one day, I am to be penalized… [I cannot] simply take an item off a shelf, shove it in an envelope and post it! I sell customized, hand painted items, which take at least two days to complete. How on earth can I possibly dispatch such items within one day?”

Another merchant says eBay’s requirement for Top-rated Sellers to accept returns could “adversely” affect several online businesses, including lingerie merchants.

“In effect, those sellers will never be able to reach Top[-rated] Seller status,” he says.

Free shipping debate continues

Free shipping, a promotion buyers seem to love, also got merchants talking this year. While some say free shipping attracts consumers, others say it hurts their bottom line, and that there is no such thing as free shipping. Still others say the promotion doesn’t make a difference when it comes to sales.

One reader says free shipping “takes the guess work out of the sales.”

“Buyers love the word ‘free’ in anything,” he reports. “I even offer free gift wrapping.”

Bridie Sacharides says offering free shipping made no difference in her sales. The owner of From Diapers 2 Divas had a similar experience.

“[I] saw no difference in sales, either, and I have three stores offering free shipping,” the merchant notes.

Still, some authorities say free shipping is a major buyer incentive.

“Experts agree shipping costs are the No.1 reason shoppers choose not to go through with an order,” reports Luke Knowles, the founder of Free Shipping Day, in his article on free shipping. “In fact, 44 percent of online buyers indicated high shipping costs were the reason they ditched their order pre-checkout, according to Invesp. As further proof, Internet Retailer reported last year’s Free Shipping Day had the lowest shopping cart abandonment rate during the final six months of 2011.”

I’ve been selling on eBay since it started. [The] fact is there is no better place, not even one that is close [to eBay]

To eBay or not to eBay?

Finally, with the policy changes eBay made this year, several online businesses were left wondering if they should sell on eBay, or look for greener pastures.

Seller Starbrite says, “I see eBay sellers going to Bonanza. That’s where I went. No fee to list and a moderate fee for items sold.”

JosephK adds, “I’m trying to find a new selling venue. eBay has just gone too far—because they can—and I cannot sell just to sell. I need profit… It appears that Bay is trying to push out the small seller and the collectible seller with their latest round of fees.”

Still, there are plenty of merchants who say they’ll stay on eBay.

“I’ve been selling on eBay since it started,” writes one reader. “[The] fact is there is no better place, not even one that is close [to eBay]. I also sell on Webstore, eBid, Craigslist and Amazon. I sell 50 items per day on eBay, and a handful per month on the others. I do this for a living, and it’s either eBay or Amazon.”

The reader says merchants should accept the eBay fees and be happy about the traffic eBay drives to their listings. “It will take many years for someone to compete with eBay and actually be competitive,” the seller notes.

Paulanna12 echoes that sentiment.

“I’ve been using the Webstore and eBid auctions since 2009,” she writes. “Although I almost don’t pay any fees between both of them, at the same time, in all these years I’ve sold through both [sites] as many items as I sell in two days using eBay. I am still using both [auction sites]; however, the traffic there is much, much less than on eBay.”

What events affected you and your business the most this year? Tell us in the comments below, and see a video of this story below.

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About the author

Olga Munoz
Olga Munoz is editor of In addition to writing news and feature articles about e-commerce, selling trends, online marketing and other topics of interest to online sellers, Olga manages the site's social media efforts. A journalism graduate of Chico State, Olga says her favorite part of being a journalist is learning interesting facts that help put stories into perspective, attending industry events and meeting interesting people "that leave you smiling, even in tough situations." Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

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