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Top EBay sellers have some advice for GM

The experts say General Motors dealers should post a lot of pictures of their vehicles and be quick to respond to e-mail inquiries. And pushy sales tactics probably won't work.

August 20, 2009|W.J. Hennigan

When it comes to online auto sales, there are no smiling, smooth-talking salespeople to help seal a deal.

So how can General Motors Co. sell more cars on EBay?

It may be as simple as running a lot of photos, having short, spiffy descriptions and responding to e-mails quickly, according to EBay "power sellers" who earned their title by selling at least $1,000 worth of merchandise each month.

"The most successful sellers create great listings, with clear, concise titles and lots of quality pictures," said Brad Schepp, coauthor of several books about selling on EBay, including "EBay PowerSeller Secrets."

In a monthlong experiment that started last week, about 225 GM dealers in California are teaming up with the auction site to sell new vehicles. Buyers can check it out at gm.ebay.com.

EBay Inc. and GM are not releasing preliminary sales figures until the experimental period ends Sept. 8. But the auto manufacturer said Wednesday that dealers received 2,400 offers to buy new vehicles in the first week of a pilot program. GM is considering rolling out the program nationwide if it's successful.

To do well on EBay, dealers must first know their audience, experts said. Online buyers are not tire-kickers. They have done their research, weighed their financial options and are looking for deals.

EBay buyers are "suspicious by nature, and some will test a seller by sending messages to gauge response time, friendliness, eagerness and willingness to bargain," Schepp said.

Responding to these sorts of inquiries might seem annoying and time-consuming, but it is a big part of doing business on EBay, said Debbie Imlay, who sells about $100,000 in merchandise a year. She said dealers need to call potential buyers back or send them an e-mail within an hour or two, just to let the buyers know that their requests aren't falling into a black hole.

"It's important to get back to your customers. It says, 'I'm here and I value your business,' " Imlay said. "It gives your business a personal touch."

Imlay runs Debs Couture in Chatsworth, selling designer lingerie and clothing. Imlay also teaches adults how to sell on EBay at Canoga Park High School once a month. She stresses that online customers want to feel as though they have more control of their purchases.

"People don't want that pushy salesperson in their face," she said. "They want things on their own terms. That's why they're online."

Clayton Stanfield, manager of auto dealer training at EBay, agrees. Stanfield travels around the country and holds classes twice a week, teaching dealers how to sell cars on EBay. In each city he visits, Stanfield's class attracts about 30 managers from local dealerships.

"The puzzle to selling online isn't that difficult," Stanfield said.

It begins by giving buyers what he calls a "virtual test-drive." Stanfield said dealers should post 20 to 30 pictures of the vehicle so that someone can get to know the car inside and out.

But do not just put up stock photos, he said. Take pictures of the car that is being offered.

Stanfield said most dealers are putting up stock photos, which customers are less inclined to click.

A person's emotional connection with a car is important, Stanfield said. If the dealer doesn't do a good job of conveying the vehicle to a buyer, an emotional attachment won't be made.

"Buyers online know what they're looking for," Stanfield said. "As a dealer, your responsibility is to show them that car. Bring it to life through the pictures."

Some pictures may seem obvious, but buyers want to see them. "If it has a sunroof, take a picture of it. If it has a leather interior, take a picture of it," he said.

Linda Lightman agrees that photos are essential but says text can make or break a deal.

Lightman expects to do about $6 million in sales this year on EBay through her Linda's Stuff store. She sells designer items that can cost about $50,000, including products by Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Fendi.

"Any information that can help buyers visualize the product is important because they can't inspect it personally," she said.

Lightman urges dealers to write a paragraph describing the vehicle, shading in whatever features the pictures can't cover.

But dealers need to fight the compulsion to use age-old phrases in their listings, such as "All sales are final," Schepp said. This turns EBay buyers off, he said.

Listening to customer feedback is also crucial, said Nicole Easton, Internet director at Foothill Ranch Chevrolet in Orange County.

Foothill Ranch began selling cars on EBay more than a year ago, but sales didn't start picking up until after the dealer's customers began posting positive comments, Easton said.

As word of mouth spread, the dealer started getting more interest from a wider audience, she said.

With the new EBay-GM partnership, Foothill Ranch has sold several cars and has seen a 20% jump in leads, Easton said.

"People are calling up and coming in from all over," Easton said.

"We haven't been this busy in a long time."

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william.hennigan@latimes.com

twitter.com/wjhenn

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