By Kris Kopicki
There’s a very good chance, that somewhere in the last fifteen years you’ve heard the name eBay. That’s right, eBay has been around for fifteen years! If you are not familiar with eBay, it’s an internet auction website. It’s the digital equivalent to the TradingPost, only a lot more sophisticated.
eBay has become a very useful tool for selling orchids by offering you a national, or potentially international market. While eBay has made it’s name as an auction site, other formats are available, such as fixed price. eBay provides all the infrastructure necessary to conduct online business, such as communicating with buyers, notification of purchases and most importantly the running of auctions or item listings. Through PayPal, a company purchased by eBay in 2002, you can even accept credit card payments. But most importantly, eBay tends to achieve higher than average prices for sellers.
As a seller, generally your goal is to get the highest possible price for your orchid. In an auction, the best way to achieve this is get as many bidders as possible. This article will give you a good overview of various strategies you can use when creating auctions.
Be Visible: Titles
To reach as many buyers as possible, you have to get your orchids noticed. People won’t bid on your orchids if they can’t find them. First you need to understand the way buyers search for items. Typically, buyers will use the quick search field, always visible at the top of the eBay site. It’s very fast and convenient, but has some caveats for the seller. This type of search only searches within an item’s title, and not the item’s description. The search only matches whole words, so for example a search for ‘Tuber’ would not find items containing ‘Tubers’. Titles are currently limited to 55 characters, this makes every word vitally important. You should put a lot of thought into it.
Knowing what people are likely to search for can be a bit of an art form, but there are some very obvious cases. Someone that is interested in Thelymitra is almost certainly going to try a search for ‘Thelymitra’. So if you are selling Thelymitra’s, it would be wise to include the full species name in the title. For example, ‘Thelymitra rubra’ would be much more appropriate than ‘T. rubra’, or ‘Thel. rubra’. It is unlikely people will search for abbreviations, as they are not specific enough. Remember people don’t just sell orchids on eBay, a search for ‘T‘ is likely to bring up thousands of items. While it’s true there are advanced searches that will help people find obscure names, if your items can’t be found easily in a quick search, you are likely to lose bidders. Sometimes less specific words can be good, such as ‘Orchid’. It’s reasonable to assume there will be many searches for that word. Be careful not to include words that are not related to you orchid though, as you may be in breach of eBay’s terms and conditions for inaccurately describing an item.
Using the previous example of Thelymitra rubra, a good title to use might be ‘Thelymitra rubra native terrestrial orchid tubers’. These are all good search terms that people may use to find your item, with the exception of ‘rubra’. Species names aren’t usually useful search terms, as there are simply too many of them. That said, they can be useful for highly desirable species that people may search for by species name. So why include details in the title that are not useful for searching?
Be Visible: Listings
When your orchid comes up in a search, it’s very unlikely it will be the only one listed. By default, items are listed with a small picture and title. So the title now has another purpose, it needs to distinguish your orchid from other people’s orchids. Continuing the Thelymitra example, lets assume for a moment that Thelymitra are very popular on eBay. If you omitted the species name, your item would be listed as ‘Thelymitra native terrestrial orchid tubers’. Its not very specific, and so it’s quite possible some people may not click on your item to read more about it, hence losing a potential bidder. You need to find the right balance between terms that people will search for, and words that will encourage people to click on your item for more information.
A golden rule when selling anything is to make your orchid stand out from the crowd. A photo is an excellent way to do this. The nicer the photo, the more people are going to view your orchid, it really is that simple. A professional looking photo is not the only consideration though. When your orchid appears in search listings, only a very small preview of the photo is shown. 80 pixels by 80 pixels to be precise. You want to make sure that your photo has an impact at this very small size. Perhaps try tighter cropping of your photos to get that little bit of extra detail. Needless to say though, image editing is well outside of the scope of this article, so if you didn’t understand a word, find someone that can show you what to do.
Be Visible: Timing
Unlike traditional auctions that finish when bidding stops, eBay auctions end at a specific time. The time of day is determined by when you created the item listing. It’s a good idea for your auctions to end when most people are likely to be on the internet. This is typically between 6pm and 9pm. Keep in mind that not all buyers will be in your time zone, so you may want to target the time zone that most of your buyers will come from.
The length of the auction is another important aspect. You can choose from 1 to 10 days. Typically the longer the auction, the more likely additional buyers are to discover your orchid. The downside to a long auction is that the entire process from listing to receiving payment can take up to two weeks. There is also a danger that someone selling the same orchid may create a shorter auction in that time frame, taking the highest bidder out of the market. You will find that once you become known to regular buyers, your items will be discovered quite quickly, so even quite short auction times of 2-3 days will still receive a lot of interest.
When dealing with live plants, you need to be mindful of postage. Typically Mondays and Tuesdays are the best days to send parcels, so it may be helpful to have your auctions end either just before or on a weekend. This way, orchids can be posted safely within a few days of payment being received. Ensuring your orchids arrive healthy is definitely a good thing if you want repeat business. It is a good idea to plan your auctions around holidays, as people may be away during those periods, and they can be a nuisance for parcel deliveries.
Probably the most important and overlooked aspect of timing is when to list your orchid in relation to other auctions. If you’re wanting to sell Sarcochilus falcatus, but there are currently 3 other sellers offering this species, then the bidders will likely be spread out across the auctions, and so the overall price each receives will be less. Therefore the best strategy is to be the only one offering a particular orchid. There are a lot of advantages in being aware of what others are selling. It will give you a good indication of what price you can expect for your item. You can use the ‘buzz’ created around another sellers orchid to your advantage by selling your orchid just after their auction ends, since the buyers that missed out will likely be searching for the same orchid a short time after the auction.
Listing Options: Categories
When you list your orchid, you will be asked to choose a category to display it in. In my view, categories are not all that useful, since they are not specific enough for orchids. The majority of buyers use searches rather than browsing categories. The ‘Home > Gardening > Plants, Seeds, Bulbs > Flowers > Plants’ category will be fine for the majority of your items.
Listing Options: Descriptions
Since the entire transaction is conducted online, your item description is the only information buyers have to base their purchasing decision on. For this reason, your description must be clear and concise. Try to preempt the things that you think buyers would want to ask you, and include that information in your description. For example if provenance information is known, include it. Try not to make assumptions about the knowledge of your buyers. If you are selling a plant that has won an award, don’t just use cryptic abbreviations with the assumption that the buyer knows what they are. Knowledgeable enthusiasts will understand, but remember the goal is to get as many bidders as possible, so you need to appeal to a wider audience. A short explanation of the award would take no time at all and be meaningful to someone that is unfamiliar with them. The majority of listings I come across do not provide enough information, and tend to alienate less experienced growers. Some details that people might want to know are; provenance (i.e where the plants originally came from in the wild) or clonal name; details of parentage if it’s a hybrid; brief description of cultivation requirements to help buyers determine if it is suitable for their climate; if the plant/s are flowering size or not, and if not, how far off; will the plant be sent bare root or in pot; an accurate description of the orchid and its characteristics; are cultivation instructions included with the plant; what is your policy on damaged or lost goods; do you have permits to send plants to WA, Tas, or Internationally.
Finally, you need to differentiate your orchids from others. Don’t just list Sarcochilus falcatus with a standard description. Almost all forms of orchids have some unique characteristics that set them apart from other forms. Tell people what they are. You’ll be surprised how many people collect different forms of the same species, as long as they are unique and interesting. If you don’t tell them, they won’t know.
Listing Options: Pictures
We’ve covered a number of the important aspects of pictures already, but here are a few useful tips. When you list an item on eBay, the first picture you add is free, but subsequent pictures cost a small fee. One photo is usually not enough to give the buyer an idea of what they are buying. You need at the very least a close-up photo of the flower and a photo of the whole plant. If you are selling terrestrial tubers, a photo of the tuber/s is also advisable. When taking photos of the whole plant or tuber, be sure to include a ruler in your photos so that people can get an idea of the size.
Using simple image editing software, you can easily combine 2 photos into one picture, which will only count for one picture, hence saving you a little bit of money. Do not be tempted to do this for close-ups of flowers. The reason for this is the ‘Gallery picture’ option. This determines if a picture is displayed in search results or not. You most definitely want to do this, as omitting a picture makes your item very easy to overlook. When you enable this option, you can choose which picture you want to use. Whichever photo you choose, make sure it looks good at 80 x 80 pixels. In most cases, the best photo to choose is of the orchid flower.
Listing Options: The Reserve
Choosing an appropriate reserve price is very important, and will depend upon a few factors. A low reserve price will attract less fees and can sometimes peak more interesting in your orchid. However if there are few bidders, you run the risk of getting a low price. My advice is to set the reserve at the minimum you are prepared to accept for your orchid, even if you are sure that the orchid will sell well. Just as an auctioneer selling a house will try to start the bidding off high, so should you. It generally does result in a better price. Don’t forget to factor in eBay and PayPal fees into your reserve price.
Armed with this knowledge, it should be possible to get some good results on eBay. This is of course just the tip of the iceberg, since there is no substitute for experience. So get out there and give it a go.