Just starting out on marketplaces? A five star rating awaits

Reputation is king in online marketplaces. Journalist Isabel Dexter looks at how to avoid teething troubles and gain positive ratings.

First, the good news. Online marketplaces – ranging from giants like eBay, Amazon, and Rakuten to smaller operations such as Etsy and Not On The High Street – are more popular than ever. According to Delivery Matters 2014, a report by Hall & Partners, 83% of online shoppers buy from marketplaces. They’re used by shoppers from all demographics, although women and the 35-54s are slightly more likely to shop on marketplaces. So if you’re just starting out as a marketplace seller, these are exciting times.

Now, the not so good news – you’re entering a fiercely competitive environment where customer ratings rule. If your products or services come up short in any way, customers will not only take their business elsewhere. They might leave you negative feedback, and that could have serious ramifications for your business.

“you’re entering a fiercely competitive environment where customer ratings rule”

So, how can you make sure this doesn’t happen? How do you go about gaining (and maintaining) a rock-solid reputation as a marketplace seller?

Trust is the word

Research from Lithium suggests that a meagre 10% of consumers actually trust brands, preferring them to first be endorsed by friends, family, word of mouth recommendations or social media. The same study also shows that 70% of consumers view online customer reviews first when considering a brand.

Clearly, feedback matters. Which makes it essential to maximise your positive reviews and seller ratings on your chosen online marketplace. Amazon reviews and eBay feedback reassure customers of quality and serve as word of mouth recommendations. A good seller rating can convince customers to buy your products over alternatives and it can nudge on-the-fence buyers into making a purchase. So it's worth taking the time to build up your seller ratings slowly and carefully.

Social proof is some powerful stuff. The more proof you have, the more potent it becomes. For example, a 4 star rating based on 250 reviews has more credibility than a 4.5 star rating based on 8 reviews. In general, more reviews look better, are more convincing, and boost your visibility when someone searches for your product on Amazon, eBay or your chosen marketplace.

Building your eBay reputation

Initially, try buying and selling some low value items. This will allow you to get used to how eBay works, see how other sellers do things, and – crucially – enable you to start collecting some feedback. The quicker you can build up feedback the better, as potential customers are generally reassured by a number of people having already bought things from you. Once you become more established as a trusted seller, people will also be more comfortable buying higher value items from you.

Make sure your descriptions are detailed and accurate and if you’re selling used items, be sure to highlight any defects or damage. This will reassure customers that you’re trustworthy, and make them more likely to purchase. It might encourage them to leave some positive feedback too.

“the more trusted you are, the more comfortable people are buying higher value items from you”

You should also take time to create or invest in great photography. Clear, high quality images are key – well edited, clean and presented in a uniform way. The more polished and professional your listing appears, the more viewers will want to watch it, buy it, or click to see your other items.

Finally, try to respond to any customer emails as quickly, politely and thoroughly as possible. Being open and friendly could be the difference between a good rating and a great one.

Essentially, be the seller you would want to buy from – professional, communicative, honest and trustworthy. No one wants to buy from someone who doesn’t care about his or her customer.

Does your delivery process deliver?

Fast, efficient delivery is one of the most common reasons for positive feedback, so it pays to get it right. When buying items from online marketplace sellers, 66% of online shoppers say delivery ratings are highly or quite influential on their purchase decision

Try to offer a range of convenient delivery options, from a premium guaranteed service to a low-cost option, and be upfront about delivery costs. If you only reveal this sort of information right at the end of the checkout process, you risk frustrating your customers. They might even abandon their shopping carts and look elsewhere.

It's also worth including a professionally printed, handwritten compliments slip inside the parcel, thanking your customer for their business and asking them to email you if they have any questions. You could even ask for positive feedback or a review at this stage too.

Finally, be sure to use a trusted delivery partner. Because once that parcel leaves your premises, your reputation is in their hands.

Many happy returns

Whether it’s shoes that don’t fit or a toy train track that doesn’t match, with online shopping, returns are inevitable – and how you handle them is crucial to the success of your business. According to Delivery Matters 2014, a whopping 72% of online shoppers said they’d be unlikely to shop again with a retailer if they had a difficult returns experience. Meanwhile, 78% said they’d be unlikely to shop again if they had to pay for returns.

In contrast, a positive returns experience will create a bond of trust and make customers more likely to shop with you again. So if you want to garner positive feedback and reviews, and enhance customer loyalty, you need to make the returns process as straightforward, inexpensive, and painless as possible.

5 star service

Ultimately, there is no great secret to earning a 5 star reputation as a marketplace seller: you simply have to provide a 5 star service. From the way you present your sale items to the speed at which you pack and despatch orders, set yourself high standards in everything you do, put the customer first, and the positive feedback will follow.

Remember too that gaining a 5 star reputation is only the beginning. Maintaining it is the real challenge, so you should constantly monitor your performance and processes and strive to improve them. And if problems do arise – as they inevitably will – be sure to address them promptly and thoroughly. After all, you’re only as good as your last review.

Isabel Dexter is a freelance journalist who has written for a variety of newspapers and magazines including The Times, The Times Magazine and The Guardian.

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