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Article: Getting That First Bid

Tips for eBay Sellers: Getting That First Bid

November 2008
eBay sellers of all experience levels are at one time or another particularly challenged to get that first bid on their auction-style listing, let alone turn a profit when the bidding closes. Breaking through that obstacle of the first bid can sometimes act as a form of lubrication to the bidding process, opening the door to visitor interest and subsequent bidding that would've otherwise been postponed or deterred by that dreary "Bids: 0" initial stage we're all required to start our auction's journey at. Here are some easy tips we've learned that can help a seller overcome that sometimes formidable hurdle.

First and foremost, one must address listing visibility issues. This topic is relatively expansive and beyond the scope of this article, so we'll just mention some of the most important and long-standing factors to tend to. Aside from having a professional looking listing (that need not be necessarily ornate or embellished), using properly researched title keywords is probably the most important factor in making your listing easily found by eBay shoppers. After that "über-critical" factor has been dealt with, several others quickly rise to the top of the to-do list: inclusion of quality photographs, proper category selection, maintaining a history of high DSR's and positive feedback ranking, catering to the latest alleged Best Match criteria, and so forth. We won't elaborate on these oft' discussed issues here; many an eBay strategist have expounded on this wide-ranging theme, and worthwhile strategies to that effect abound elsewhere on the internet.

Moving on, a technique we've used time and again to fan the flames of interest and enthusiasm and to incite that first bid is to offer a special "First Bidder's Bonus". We'll include a well-highlighted paragraph in the listing that offers a bonus item if the first bidder is the also the winning bidder (using the same eBay user ID) of the listed item. This can often give the listing a much needed jump start early on in the listing's duration. Since only the first bidder can obtain the bonus, a certain psychology comes in to play both before that first bid is made, and throughout the bidding process. There's suddenly value in being the first bidder.

Who's likely to spring for the bonus? We like to target the shopper who'd normally place their bid in the end-stages of listing (someone with genuine interest in the listed product) but is now enticed to get their bid in early to procure the bonus. Others who might make that initial leap might even be more interested in the bonus than the original item! Oddly, there's even the occasional bidder who has no intention of winning the auction at all, but slaps down a bid to prevent others from obtaining the bonus (yes, there are people out there of that ilk).

In selecting a product to be this "First Bidder's Bonus", while you do want an item valuable enough to reel in that important first bid, it's also important the bonus be "small enough" not to discourage subsequent bidding. When potential bidders approach the listing and see that they are already locked out of winning the bonus because Bidder #1 already has their foot in the door, we want the subsequent dialog in their head to be along the lines of "Oh well, the bonus isn't worth that much anyway", and to proceed placing their follow-up bid. For the bonus we usually offer a faster shipping upgrade at no charge or an second item related to the auctioned item that could be interesting to the buyer while not being too valuable. If relevant and related in any way to the auctioned item, consider the bonus being a paper discount coupon or article clipping of some kind from a recent newspaper. Generally speaking, paper products (with interesting/valuable information printed on them!) are great bonuses because they're often easy to obtain and ship.

Be sure to consider, though, if the product being auctioned is valuable enough, the bonus item should also follow suit. If you're auctioning a Bon Jovi collector's once-used backstage pass, a Bon Jovi newspaper clipping might not quite cut it as a bonus (or maybe it will), but perhaps a Bon Jovi CD might. An interesting and unique bonus, possibly good for a broad range of products (at least for US-based sales) is a simple US $2 bill. You may not know that a $2 bill is easily obtained at most US banks, worth exactly $2, but with a higher perceived value with historical and sentimental value that can make a fantastic kick-starter to your listing. As you might imagine, cold hard cash will always have a certain unique appeal, even more so when offered for free.

If you're confident in the value of your item, it behooves you to start the bidding as low as possible, perhaps even at $0.01. Know your product and your audience so you can be sure you don't get stuck selling the item below cost, should the item not get bid up to market value. With a $0.01 starting bid, for example, when you are sure of the market value of your item, you can witness bidders throwing their hats in the ring just to get in early while things are quiet. They may be hoping for the chance to scoop up a sacrificial low bid, or they're testing the waters to see who's laid down proxy bids before them. In any case they've initiated some momentum for your benefit early on in the game.

Often recommended alongside the above tip is to abstain from setting a Reserve Price on your listing. Reserves often play the role of "anti-lubrication" in the bidding process, as the urge to pledge a bid is quickly deflated when the shopper knows there's a hidden barrier that may never get crossed in the fight for ownership of the prized item.

Now here's a clever technique we learned from well-known eBay PowerSeller, Avril Harper. Sometimes a product for auction can entertain interest from more than 1 market. A Victorian painting of a train, for example, might draw the attention of art collectors, train hobbyists, as well as purveyors of the artist him/herself. That old Starbucks Card you have laying around that has a picture of an Alaskan Husky on it may be in demand to both Starbucks Card collectors and Alaskan Husky lovers! If you can anticipate this possibility, consider listing the item in multiple appropriate categories to siphon interest from various angles, pressuring that first bid to erupt sooner rather than later — and potentially driving a bidding war toward the end. (Don't forget to do your keyword research, too, when writing the title; you want buyers from the different target markets to locate your item via their searches.) Similarly, there's the idea of bundling 2 or more items that are related in theme, but that appeal to distinctly different audiences. With greater and more diverse interest descending upon the item-pair, a first bid is that much more likely to happen.

Naturally we can mix and match these, and other, techniques, applying whatever suits the item and its speculative level of demand. Once the ball gets rolling, inertia becomes our friend, and hopefully we can enjoy accelerated bidding as the listing progresses and a zero Bid Count is a statistic long in the past.




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