Book Review: eBay Rescue: Problem Solver

Kevin Boyd follows up his last eBay epic with another aimed at solving any and every problem for buyers and sellers. Does he deliver?

eBay Rescue, Problem Solver
eBay Rescue: Problem Solver
Kevin W. Boyd
Alpha/Penguin Books Group, 2009
240 pages, $16.95

Following his book, eBay Rescue: Profit Maker, (which showed how to find profitable merchandise to sell on eBay,) the prolific Mr. Boyd is at it again. He bills eBay Rescue Problem Solver as a “complete troubleshooting guide,” that solves “every imaginable problem” with selling and buying on eBay.

In fulfilling this tall order, Boyd uses a Q&A format to pose questions that arise in the eBay selling and buying experience. He then answers them in varying amounts of detail, with the several hundred questions helpfully coded to the books 14 chapters (i.e., see question 1.22) making the book easier to navigate). Though touted for buyers and sellers, the book slants heavily toward sellers with only three chapters devoted to buying.

Being an active eBay Power Seller, Boyd’s advice is battlefield tested and welcome given that outside help in navigating eBay may be needed more today because the site is in a state of transition. EBay now accrues a full third of its profit from PayPal, its online payment service subsidiary, and its foundation auction format is under challenge from Amazon’s ever-expanding fixed price listings.

It May Be New to You

Boyd starts right at the beginning with the most rudimentary tips regarding registering for eBay and PayPal, selecting a user ID, withdrawing PayPal money and the like. But even within the ‘newbie’ issues, there is solid, concise advice. For instance, under differentiating legit eBay and PayPal e-mails from phishing attempts Boyd offers:

“Check the greeting. If it is addressed ‘Dear eBay Customer’ (or member), it is a spoof. The sender doesn’t even know your name or User ID. Legitimate e-mails will greet you with your first and last name or your registered username.”

Other criteria follows, but this example is all you need to identify fraudulent e-mail, and the concise style is typical of his work.

Boyd sees buying on eBay as a form of warfare.  He astutely advises buyers to misspell words and names in product searches because many sellers can’t spell, and a misspelled product name will attract less bidding competition. Under “Power Buying” we’re advised to bid in odd amounts; if your maximum bid is $21.50, make it $21.57 instead.

“You would not believe how many items I have won by a few cents,” Boyd tells us. As for when to bid the answer is, “with two seconds to go in the auction.” He unabashedly recommends sniping software that enters bids after it is manually impossible to respond.

Fixed Pricing

On eBay, the Fixed Price or “buy it now” format is so hot it’s made the radio. NPR (National Public Radio,) recently ran a feature saying that eBay buyers are shying away from the auction venue in favor of fixed price listings where they can quickly “get in and out” with a purchase rather than having to wait days to discover if they’ve won in the auction format. 

Responding mainly to competitive pressure from Amazon, eBay has helped the trend along by lowering the listing fees for fixed price to as little as 15 cents a category for up to 30 days, regardless of item price, inducing many sellers--yours truly included, to switch listings to a fixed price with very good results.

Boyd suggests sellers raise the fixed price 10-15 percent above the average selling price (ASP,) of the same item in the auction format. Buyers will pay more for the privilege of buying outright. However, the percentage depends on what your selling (fix priced collectibles routinely sell well at prices multiples above auction style minimum bids and ASPs).

Boyd points out that who is buying men is perhaps more important. Men favor fixed-price listings while woman tend to be better shoppers, have more patience and enjoy winning  auctions more than men.

Boyd also provides a polite “buzz-off” letter to international buyers who want sellers to falsify customs forms, he and lists Indonesia, Nigeria and Romania as hotbeds of fraud, which hardly covers the issue.

In 10 years on eBay I have never received a winning bid or order from any of these countries, while numerous sources name Russia, Eastern Europe in general and even Spain, Germany, and China (where I have had trouble,) as problem destinations. You’re better off reviewing bidders’ track records on a case-by-case basis with geography as just one of many criteria.

Ship It, Ship It Good

As usual, Boyd provides detailed and excellent advice on the critical issue of photography (22 questions answered,) and even greater detail on domestic and international shipping (42 questions.)

Boyd debates the pros and cons of the main domestic carriers including UPS, FedEx, DHL and USPS and arrives a the same decision as did this seller: if the package weighs less than 20 pounds, the U.S. Post Office wins hands down in terms of cost and, in my opinion, reliability. The same applies for international shipping where a $34 shipping tab via the Post Office jumps to $85-$100 and more with UPS or FedEx.

There are lengthy chapters on research, product sourcing, licensing and liabilities and general problems such as waning sales, high maintenance and problem buyers. Few of the answers are more than a half-page in length, and most come grounded in common sense. A few, such as the entire chapter on eBay Stores, make little sense in today’s market. EBay stores, used mainly by mega-listers, have long been considered a weak sister to the auction format. The advent of lower listing fees for fixed pricing make the Stores even less of a fit for most sellers.

Boyd rightly notes that price gouging on shipping is pure poison to any buyer. It’s best to keep shipping charges at or as near cost as possible; the resulting good will and trust is priceless. Boyd occasionally sounds like an eBay net nanny when, for example, he suggests reporting any seller who offers a $35 item for $1 then charges $35 shipping fee when it should be $5. “The seller is trying to avoid eBay’s closing fees,” he huffs righteously.

It comes as no surprise that Boyd supports eBay’s point of view on nearly all issues. He’s an eBay education specialist, teaches seminars on the site, and he’s the author of three books on the subject. While his adherence to the party line and plethora of basic topics may prove irritating to advanced eBayers, it offers value even to them

Some veteran eBay sellers develop tunnel vision on the site. They run along the same worn grooves of their selling routine without investigating even simple adjustments that might make a difference in their bottom line. For sellers in a rut, Boyd’s book may well be worth a look. If you’re about to venture into eBay selling, this book is as good a beginner’s primer as any.

Frank Fortunato is a seasoned online book seller and frequent contributor to ECommerce-Guide.com.

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