When selling on eBay ceases to be a hobby and starts to become a career, the site may honor you with its vaunted PowerSeller status—a designation reserved only for those with high sales volume and exceptional customer service. It’s an exclusive club with a lot of benefits and more than a few headaches: a seller’s policies, after all, may not always mesh with eBay’s.
So what happens when you become a member of the elite? We asked e-commerce experts and a bonafide PowerSeller for the inside scoop on the perks (and perils) of being a professional eBayer.
1. You’ll Get Bumped to the Top of Searches.
eBay’s search engine is a proprietary tool that considers a lot of things when you type “Spider-Man body pillow” into its prompt. The company doesn’t reveal all the factors of turning out a results page, but according to Ina Steiner, co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes.com, PowerSeller items are usually among the first to be seen.
Since PowerSellers are grouped based on volume—lower-tier accounts must have a minimum of 100 transactions a year, while Gold, Platinum, and Titanium sellers can graduate into international powerhouses with thousands of items sold—preferred search engine placement can make a radical difference in bottom lines. (So can listing discounts, which can be as much as 20 percent off Final Value Fees.)
“It gives you more visibility on the site,” says Dave Knittel, a Silver PowerSeller who runs TygaToys. “People are usually just looking at the first page. They’re not scrolling.”
2. Buyers Won’t Necessarily Know You’re A Big Shot.
eBay no longer displays a PowerSeller logo next to a seller’s user name for buyers to see. Their other badge for providing exceptional customer service, Top Rated Seller, is also invisible to everyone but the seller and the site. In order to humble-brag to consumers in listings, sellers need to qualify for Top Rated Plus status, offering same or next-day shipping and a generous 14 day return policy.
That little icon does matter, according to Marsha Collier, author of eBay for Dummies. “If the price is close, generally people will go with the Top Rated Seller,” she says. “It makes a huge difference.”
3. You’re Five Stars or You’re Nothing.
Ever go into a department store and have a cashier ask (or plead) to call the number on your receipt and award five stars for great service? The same is true on eBay, where buyers can fill out Detailed Seller Ratings, a star system evaluating their shopping experience. The totals are counted toward an Order Defect Rate, eBay’s way of measuring customer satisfaction. If more than two percent of your total transactions have a “defect,” you could lose your PowerSeller/Top Rated Seller perks. As a result, Knittel and other sellers often explain to buyers that they aim for five-star service; some slip notes into packaging encouraging high marks.
4. You Can Sell Too Much.
In late 2013, Steiner profiled “John Doe,” a Titanium PowerSeller who had planned on hiring more employees in order to grow his substantial eBay business. He was surprised to learn the site had throttled his account, putting a cap on the volume of items he could sell. Feedback from eBay indicated they look at a seller’s tenure with the site in order to place caps. (Letting an unproven seller run wild could, in theory, hurt eBay when buyers come looking for refunds.)
The problem? Mr. Doe did not know he had a selling limit. That could mean investing in an online presence without knowing if you’ll be able to recoup inventory costs. You can call eBay to try and get your limits raised, but there’s no guarantee they’ll say yes.
5. Buyers May Try to Extort You.
If you haven’t logged in to eBay recently, you may be surprised to learn that sellers can no longer leave negative feedback for buyers. But sellers depend highly on received feedback—specifically, a lack of negative comments. Buyers know this, Steiner says, and some purposely angle for discounts before leaving positive marks.
“Each seller has to make a determination whether it’s worth it,” she says. “But you need those sales in order to stay at the top of search results.”
6. One Size Doesn’t Fit All.
eBay’s preferred return policy for sellers is fairly clear: anything should be returnable for any reason. But certain categories aren’t quite so black and white. Used clothing, for example, lends itself to frequent returns; antique collectibles can be more weathered-looking than expected. And once a buyer returns something through eBay’s system, it’s considered a “defect” that goes against a seller’s two percent margin for error—even if the item wasn’t defective or misrepresented.
“Sellers say eBay is trying to use one set of guidelines across different types of products,” Steiner says. “Used clothing has a high return rate, but you still get penalized for returns. It’s the same set of requirements as someone who might sell iPod cables.”
7. You Can Beat Bad Feedback.
It’s likely easier to get a criminal record expunged than it is to get negative feedback removed from eBay. That’s why sellers who get hit with poor marks sometimes enter a new category and ring up a slew of transactions in order to dilute the harm of a sale gone wrong.
8. China Will Undercut You.
The United States Postal Service’s deal to subsidize Chinese suppliers can actually make it cheaper for them to ship small items to American buyers than if they were in the U.S. “There are things you can’t sell on eBay as a U.S. seller,” Knittel says. “These guys are selling for a nickel with free shipping. They might only make pennies, but it’s volume.”
9. Health insurance? They Thought About It.
In 2002, former CEO Meg Whitman announced PowerSellers would be eligible for health insurance via the site. It was premature, and slightly confusing. What if sellers failed to meet sales goals in a given month? “The program ultimately provided only catastrophic coverage,” Steiner says, “and was never widely adopted by sellers.”
10. First Rule of Diamond Sellers: You Never Talk About Diamond Sellers.
In 2008, eBay partnered with Buy.com and allowed the retailer to sell DVDs and books without paying listing fees as part of their newest and highest-tier PowerSeller status: Diamond. Exact qualifications to attain that rank have never been disclosed; Steiner believes it might be due to the fact that perks are different for everyone. Benefits like personalized account managers are often rumored but never confirmed. It wouldn’t be too hard to arrange concierge services: at one time, as few as 10 Diamond sellers were thought to exist.