Diplomacy 101: Answer Dumb Questions

Handle communications with seemingly lazy or dimwitted bidders.

No matter what you do, you’ll never get all your bidders to read your auction descriptions, shipping terms, or payment instructions as carefully as you’d like them to, if at all. As a result, you’ll occasionally get a bidder who looks at an auction entitled “Antique Royal Blue Vase,” sees the large photo of a royal blue vase, and then writes you to ask what color the vase is.

OK, it’s not usually that bad, but sometimes it seems like it is. The first thing to remember is how easy it can be to miss even the most obvious piece of information. Instead of antagonizing your bidder with the all-too-familiar, “It’s blue, like it says in the description,” try one of the following:

  • “The vase is a deep royal blue that looks almost purple in low light. The glaze seems a little darker at the bottom.” Not only does this answer the bidder’s question respectfully, it presumes that the bidder was looking for more information than simply, “it’s blue.”

  • “The vase is royal blue. The photo in the auction actually has a pretty good reproduction of the color, so please let me know if it doesn’t come through.” This not only (kindly) reminds the bidder that there is a photo, but it helps inspire trust that the photo is accurate, a fact the bidder may not have wanted to take for granted. It also suggests a legitimate reason for the bidder asking the question in the first place; namely, that the photo might not have loaded properly on the bidder’s computer.

Instead of driving your customers away, you’ll be sending them the message, so to speak, that a transaction with you will be a pleasant one, that you’re trustworthy, and that your item is as you’ve described it. Keep in mind, also, that your customers may be contacting you simply to see that you really have the item and are not trying to rip them off [Hack #25] .

Next, remember that for every bidder who writes you with a question, there will be 10 potential bidders who don’t bother. Either they bid without asking, only to be disappointed later, or they move on and bid on someone else’s auction instead. Since neither scenario is desirable, it pays to be a little proactive.

When someone contacts you via the “Ask seller a question” link in one of your currently running listings, you’ll have three different ways to respond:

Revise the description.

If a bidder asks a question that isn’t answered in your description, and no bids have been placed, go ahead and revise the listing [Hack #65] to include the extra information. If the listing has received bids, you can either add a note to the end of the description or respond publicly , described next.

Respond publicly.

In each of those “Question for item #…” email messages, there will be a link immediately following the bidder’s question. Click the link to go to eBay’s web site and write your reply. At this point, you’ll have the option of adding the bidder’s question and your reply to the item description, the result of which is shown in Figure 4-26.

Respond privately.

Use your email program’s Reply feature to respond to the message directly. Make sure the customer’s original question appears in your message; that way, the bidder doesn’t receive an email that simply says “Yes,” with no further clue as to what question you’re answering. (Strangely, this simple bit of “netiquette” is basically ignored by even the most experienced sellers—don’t be one of them.)

In most cases, there’s no reason you can’t do all three. In fact, if you send your response both publicly and privately, you’ll increase the odds that the recipient will actually receive your message [Hack #9] .

You can have eBay show customers’ questions and your replies at the bottom of your item description, which can help reduce the number of subsequent questions your customers will have

Figure 4-26. You can have eBay show customers’ questions and your replies at the bottom of your item description, which can help reduce the number of subsequent questions your customers will have

Finally, as a seller on eBay, it’s often your job to act as a teacher, instructing your bidders on basic bidding concepts, your payment terms, and some of the more confusing eBay policies. After all, a bidder’s first dumb question is not likely to be the last.

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