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Experiment Your Way to Success This Holiday Season

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News Team
News Team
Last Edited 10:51:40 AM

070717_BlogHeader_620x400.jpgIs a "lifestyle" shot better than a product pic? Run a test to find out.

Every website on the planet is testing SOMETHING to help it reach its goals.


Testing, in internet and e-commerce parlance, means creating a few scenarios, putting it in front of users, and seeing which one performs better. There’s a bazillion things to test on the internet: marketing messages, imagery, site experience, offers, and on and on. In this blog, we’ll share some testing strategies that can help you optimize for velocity before the busy holiday selling season. Let’s figure that out now so you can cruise into holiday confident that you’ve done your homework. Don’t let those fancy “optimize for velocity” words put you off. I simply mean, how can testing offer you insight to help you sell more?


We spoke to some eBay sellers about their testing strategies. Here are their tests and what they learned. Disclaimer: what worked for them may not work for you. Don’t take their learnings and blindly apply it your business. Every business is different, and you’ll need to do the work to determine what works for you.


1. Free shipping vs paid shipping.

Susan P. sells home goods, bedding, and décor in two different eBay stores, here and here. She did a test to determine if her buyers preferred free or paid shipping. Here’s what she did:

“I use free shipping storewide in both stores, with shipping costs included in the price. To see if that was the best option, I took one popular product line, lowered the price, and added calculated shipping. Sales of that line dropped dramatically.” Susan concluded that free shipping in a benefit to her buyer and helps differentiate her from competitors. She now offers it on all her items.


2. Offers

eBay’s Promotions Manager allows sellers to create special offers and promotions like “Buy One, Get One” or “Free Shipping When You Spend $50”. While the tool is terrific for creating offers, it also represents an opportunity to test, test, test your way into increased sales.


For example, if your Average Order Value (AOV) is lower than you’d like, consider testing a promotion to boost it. Let’s use a real-world example: For the first half of 2017, the AOV in my eBay store was $15. To boost that, I ran a “Free Shipping on orders over $20” promotion, and guess what? Sales increased, AOV increased, and now it’s just north of $21. Boom. If you’re an eBay stores subscriber, check out the offer types within Promotions Manager and start thinking creatively about how you can test offers to boost sales.


3. Promoted Listings

Promoted Listings is an eBay tool that allows store subscribers to get more exposure for their listings in search results. Promoted Listings works on a bidding system, meaning you set the price you are willing to pay should your promoted item sell via the ad placement. Unlike traditional “pay-per-click” advertising, you only pay the ad fee if the item sells as a result of being promoted.


While eBay offers guidance on how to set your ad rate, we also recommend you test to find the optimal rate for you: just enough to drive the sales you want, without overpaying. Here’s how to test with Promoted Listings.


  1. Find the going ad rate for your category here. Set your campaign with the trending ad rate and let it run for a month.
  2. After a month, review your results. Did you see an increase in sales? You might say:
    • “Yes, and I’m happy with the results.” If this is the case, congratulations, you’re done testing. Set your ad rate, sit back and let your campaign ride. But check in periodically to make sure to tweak the ad rate if needed.
    • “Yes, but I’d still like more sales.” Or “No, and I want to keep testing.” In this case, go back into your campaign settings in increase your ad rate by 0.5% to 1% and let it run for another month. Rinse and repeat until you either achieve the velocity you desire or you see sales being to flatten out. (That means you’ve hit the point of diminishing returns where incremental ad spend does not translate to incremental sales).


I consider the three ideas above “formal” testing in that you are changing a few specific elements of your listing to optimize sales. You may want to also consider what I call “casual” testing, defined as small tweaks to boost velocity, including:


  • Changing up keywords or the order in which they appear
  • Refreshing stale listings with new photos, titles, or descriptions
  • Using a "lifestyle" image (like the photo at the top of this article) versus a product shot on a plain background
  • Adding a second or third shipping option like overnight or express shipping (buyer pays for shipping upgrades, of course)
  • Adding your eligible listings to the Global Shipping Program to see if you can boost velocity through selling internationally.


eBay seller Robbin L. tweaks her listings almost daily to see what works for her business: “I have been doing all kinds of tests. I tweak and change my titles. I have even been using my title real estate to test branding my eBay store name by adding it to my title. I have cleaned up my item specifics to see if that boosts sales. I offer free shipping but occasionally add paid shipping to see if my sales fluctuate. I use the social media buttons and the Promoted Listing tools. I have found varied results, some things work, some don’t. But overall, my sales have picked up.”


Testing may not be intuitive for some people (like me—why do you think I write for a living?) so here’s some testing tips from fellow sellers and eBay staffers.

  • Testing takes time. Let your tests run for a long time, ideally a month or more. It’s tough to develop insights based on short time frames because some unforeseen factors like weather, consumer behavior or current affairs can impact short-term sales. Run your test for as much time as you can to eliminate the short-term factors.
  • Testing takes volume. If you only sell a few things per week, you may not have enough test results to draw conclusions. Ideally, you are testing high-velocity items that sell well so that you can have enough data to analyze. Results based on 1000 sales offer much more insight than results based on 3 sales.
  • Isolate the variable, just like my algebra teacher said. When testing, be careful not to test too many factors at once. For example, if you design a test that tests price, keywords and free shipping and find that sales go up, how do you know which factor drove the boost?


Testing on eBay is a big topic and this blog just scratches the surface. If you are looking to go deeper, I recommend these in-depth articles (here, here, and here).


Tell us, sellers, what sort of testing have you done on eBay and what were the results?

by vintagecraze50 · Guide

One major thing we do when re listings come up currently is check the mobily friendly checker. I was amazed, and I mean amazed at how much easier to read my descriptions were on my mobile device once this was done. PEOPLE BUY ALOT on mobile phones, so this can increase your sales dramatically. Another thing we do is go back and check our pics when we relist. Again, amazed at how **bleep** some of those pics looked when we first took them and immediately replace them with much much better ones. Nothing that drastic but wow can that make a big difference.  Check your price points throughout the year--Christmas time people spend a heck of a lot more for stuff than other times of the year. They need it bad for a gift and they are going to want it fast right before the holiday so offer 1 day or overnight shipping options.  Use the big banner that Ebay let's us do now. Your home page will look FABULOUS. More to say, maybe later. Thanks for the awesome advise in this blog.

by my-cottage-books-and-antiques · Guide | Updated

Audrey, Thanks for the article. One question: You advise trying: 

  • Using a "lifestyle" image (like the photo at the top of this article) versus a product shot on a plain background

Hasn't ebay's advice been to use product shots on a white background? Is this a change in "best practices" advice?  I sell mostly vintage/used type stuff, and usually take photos with a plain background, but I do think SOME of my things might do better shown in a "setting"....for example, an old barn rake leaning against a weathered barn wall rather than isolated on a white background.


Are you saying ebay no longer prefers "plain background" photos? 

by vintagecraze50 · Guide

In reply to my-cottage-books-and-antiques. Yes a barn rake would look much more appealing in a outdoor country like setting than a blank white background.

by vintagecraze50 · Guide

One thing about the banner. We used a beautiful shutterstock Christmas scene last year and I think it rally amped up the sales.

by vintagecraze50 · Guide

Question about these promoted listings. Where do these appear and do you actually have a quarentee that they will appear in a better search position. I used this once a year or so or more and my adds were popping up on the side bar. Do they still do that?


Thanks, and I agree. But I'm still hoping Audrey will address my question, which is not really "Will it look better? It is: has eBay changed its position on photos? At one time, they were basically saying everything should have a white background (at least for the gallery pic). I'm trying to find out if that official viewpoint has changed.

News Team
News Team

Hi @my-cottage-books-and-antiques

Great question! We have not changed our position on photos, and definitely recommend using detailed product shots on plain backgrounds for all listings (use all 12 of your photos to really show all details and any flaws). That said, some categories benefit from a "lifestyle" shot in which the product is shown being used. Think of a handbag: I love to see it worn by a person, so I can see its size and proportion compared to the body.  The idea mentioned about showing a barn rake in "its natural habitat" is also a great idea (just make sure that there are no other items in the shot that a buyer may think is included in the price. My advice: if you have 12 photos, use 11 as clean product shots on a plain background and one lifestyle shot.  Hope that clarifies and thanks for the question. ~A

News Team
News Team

Hi @vintagecraze50 - According to this page, http://pages.ebay.com/seller-center/stores/promoted-listings/benefits.html#m22_tb_a11__3 Promoted Listings will appear in the 4th or 5th search placement, and can appear in other places, like the sidebar. No guarantee though as that depends on your ad rate. From the article: "Placement is influenced by the ad rate you set and  its relevance, among other factors." Smiley Happy ~A

thanks, @audrey_tracy   Would you suggest using the Lifestyle shot as the gallery photo, or sticking with a product shot?

News Team
News Team


Another great question. In the spirit of this article, I recommend you test that Smiley Happy. I would bet that a good quality lifestyle image would stand out on a search results page, so long as the product is clearly seen in the small real estate of those photos. Make sense? Smiley Happy 

by haranch · Adventurer

I used to offer free shipping and do better with calculated shipping.  I take best offers on most stuff.  People would try to make offers less than it cost to ship.  Also for overseas sales it works out better because I am not including domestic shipping in the prices.  I sell mostly collectibles.  I only offer free shipping on items I do not take best offer on.

Rising Star

My question is why do I keep getting messages to start auctions at prices that do not cover the postage.  You want us to using tracking services and offer free shipping on everything.  I feel like you are giving poor advise to us merchants who use fast and free and try and tell us we should be loosing money, when you give us price ranges to compete with merchants who charge for shipping.  When you publish these recommendations is it comparing apples to oranges.  I work hard to keep my top seller status and you reward years of hostirically top service, by cutting out discounts. As a result I now have 75% of my sales on Facebook, Amazon and Craig's list.  Hopefully EBay will get the message- when you screw the top sellers who have been using EBay since 1998- you see a dip in your huge bonuses.  Word to the wise Ebay is rightfully dealing with public distain.  As my neighbors and friends all switch to Amazon prime.  It confirms karma is hard at work.


Having been a Program and Project Manager for 25+ years, my strategy is to stay on top of what major and minor competitors are providing online customers as copy and pics.  I am fortunate to have support with pics when needed for detail.  The pics detail is a great asset.  I am now going to test ~ implement? my lovely early-twenties daughter as my lifetime model in my photos to "test the sales waters".  Will keep you posted. 

News Team
News Team

Great plan @tanylanzilott0 and please let us know how it goes Smiley Happy ~Audrey