Most of us are keen to get a good deal when we’re shopping for stuff, even in the good times. When it’s the worst of times, economically speaking (and if it’s not that now, this is as close as we want to come, thank you very much), we’re seriously committed to finding hot deals — or not spending at all. Thank goodness we’ve got Trade Me!
Normally, around two-thirds of visitors to Trade Me are looking for a bargain (the remainder are looking for something unique, either a collectable or some other one-of-a-kind offering). However, in the midst of a recession, expect nine out of ten Trade Me visitors to be in bargain-hunting mode.
So the first part of your mission is to take the path less travelled (i.e. go to the sections on Trade Me least populated by other members), lest spontaneous bidding should break out around you.
Avoiding Bidding Wars
So where should you go on Trade Me, to minimise human contact (and thus reduce your chances of squabbling with another keen hunter over some enticing goodie)? Some statistics to the rescue.
Last month on Trade Me, the 20 least popular categories (those which achieved the lowest sell-through rates — the site average was 23%) were:
- Business, farming & industry: Businesses for sale (just 4% of listings sold)
- Art: Photographs 6% sold
- Art: Drawings 9%
- Art: Other 9%
- Crafts: Greeting cards & envelopes 9%
- Electronics & photography: Memory cards 9%
- Antiques & collectables: Phonecards 10%
- Clothing: Wedding 10%
- Electronics & photography: Camera accessories 10%
- Gaming: PC games 10%
- Home & living: Lifestyle 10%
- Sports: Waterskiing & wakeboarding 10%
- Antiques & collectables: Food & drink 11%
- Books: Rare & collectable 11%
- Computers: Blank discs & cases 11%
- Crafts: Painting & drawing 11%
- Crafts: Woodcraft 11%
- Health & beauty: Naturopathy 11%
- Music & instruments: Music DVDs 11%
- Toys & models: Magic tricks & sets 11%
NB We excluded Carbon Credits, which topped our list of Trade Me’s worst, attracting a big fat 0% sales in July. Our research indicates that in tough times consumers prefer to save their families first, before they get around to saving the planet.
If you’re in the market to buy any of these items, head over to the relevant category and browse away. Don’t mind the empty halls — that echoing sound you hear is the sound of the savings you’re likely to make when nobody else bids.
Plan B: Less Likely To Buy
On the other hand, none of those categories might look particularly compelling. Plan B involves taking a look at consumer buying intentions in recessionary times.
Relax, we’ve already done the heavy lifting. A US study conducted in July by BigResearch.com tells us that fewer people in the land of hope and glory are planning to spend in these categories in the next three months:
- Sporting Goods
- Home Improvement
- Lawn & Garden Furniture
- Home Decor
Our own research suggests similar trends in New Zealand, as Kiwis cut back (though not perhaps to the same extent as their American or UK counterparts). So if you’re looking for a sharp deal in one of these categories, now would be a good time to let your keyboard do the walking.
General Trade Me Buying Advice
Apart from these current trends, there are also a number of tricks and techniques to use when searching for hot deals on Trade Me. Here they are, excerpted from our Trade Me Success Secrets book: a dozen of the best types of auction listings to peruse when you don’t want to spend much:
1. POOR IMAGES OR NO IMAGES
Many people simply won’t bid on an auction if it doesn’t include an image, or if the image is so small or fuzzy that you can’t distinguish the product from the background. That’s why such listings can be great bargains. Yes, there are obviously risks. But if you’re bidding for an item like brand new single sheets, with a reasonably comprehensive description of what’s on offer, from a seller with more than a hundred positive feedbacks, the risk is minimal. On the other hand, if you’re tempted to bid on an unillustrated diamond ring from a brand new seller, we might encourage you to get seriously acquainted with Chapter Three of TRADE ME SUCCESS SECRETS, which shares some useful perspectives on fraud.
You won’t find image-less listings on Trade Me by searching, alas – you’ll have to browse through the categories that interest you, looking for something that isn’t there. Once you find a listing without images, you’ve still got to decide whether it’s worth taking a risk. If it’s a listing placed by a local seller, you may be able to arrange to pick up the item, giving you the chance to inspect it properly before you pay over any cash. If it’s an out-of-town seller, chances are reasonable (seven degrees of separation theory applies here) that you or a friend know someone nearby who can check the item out on your behalf before handing over the cash. Don’t be put off by a little thing like location.
2. NIGHT OWLS & DAWN CHORUSES
Trade Me operates around the clock, attracting buyers and sellers twenty-four hours a day. Some of those sellers, however, perhaps not quite completely aware of Trade Me’s automated listing processes, add new listings either very late at night or very early in the morning. There’s nothing wrong with doing that if you pay a premium to choose a suitable closing time (i.e. when there are people around to bid). If you don’t set such a closing time then the auction will close at the same time as you listed it, an appropriate number of days later. Such auctions are fair game for the dedicated buyer willing to stay up late or rise a little earlier than usual.
High-volume sellers are particularly likely to be offering products through auctions that finish at odd times. Not because they don’t understand the Trade Me system, but because (if you’re selling multiple copies of the same product) Trade Me’s automated relisting system automatically relists the product to close in increments of 24 hours since the last sale. In other words, if some insomniac buys your widget at 3.27am, your next widget will be relisted to close at 3.27am a (user-specified) certain number of days later.
Canny Trade Me buyers can and do exploit this systemic weakness by adding high-volume sellers to their ‘Favourite Sellers’ list and watching for timing anomalies.
3. ON HOLIDAY OR AT THE GAME
Our political masters don’t plan an Election Day during the school holidays or when there’s a big rugby game scheduled. No-one would show up to vote. For the same reason, you should never end an auction on a public holiday, in the middle of a big sporting event or when it’s going to clash with a major television show like the final of Dancing With The Stars or Outrageous Fortune.
Fortunately for us, sellers don’t always have an event calendar at their fingertips when they’re listing their auctions, so auction closing times seldom take account of what’s happening out there in the real world. Sure, most sellers avoid Christmas Day and the more obvious public holidays, but even so there are often times to snap up bargains because the rest of the population are cheering on the All Blacks or fighting with their tentpegs in some sodden holiday paradise.
4. MISSPELLED WORDS
Lousy spelling can be the kiss of death for Trade Me sellers – but a glowing beacon for buyers in search of a bargain. How do you find such auctions? Try looking at popular Trade Me search terms in your desired category and predicting what mangled variants might exist out there – do a search and prepare to be horrified. Alternatively, browse through the auction listings keeping your eyes peeled for almost familiar brands and keywords.
5. POOR DESCRIPTIONS
Even when they do the other things right, sellers who say little about the items on offer – or who describe them badly – are likely to scare away potential bidders. A collectable Anchor Tea Towel, listed in the Antiques & Collectables category under the headline “Tea towel”, could only attract a $2 bid. The not exactly riveting description that kept the price low: “Anchor butter,in very good condition with no tears or stains,highly decorative and nostalgic item.” Bargain hunters who can see past such descriptions stand to make a killing.
How do you find such gems? It’s not difficult – just browse through a category and look for items that seem good value but haven’t attracted many if any bids. Some sellers seem unable to find words to describe their products satisfactorily. If you’re one of those sellers, read Chapter Fourteen of TRADE ME SUCCESS SECRETS – Second Edition (Chapter Twelve of the First Edition) before you list another item.
6. OBSCURE HEADLINES & HEADLINES WITHOUT KEYWORDS
Auction headlines should be treated like gold – every word should be a potential keyword someone will be searching for. And those odd characters that populate the top row of the keyboard are a definite no-no, if more than sixty percent of Trade Me users find listings by searching.
Have you ever searched for the keyword “l@@k”? We just did, and the Trade Me search engine just came back and told us “No results for ‘l@@k’ in New Zealand”. Yet sellers keep using such symbols in their headlines, trying to attract the attention of casual browsers. It’s a mug’s game.
The other common headline mistake: not using keywords. We searched for Tupperware and found 460 listings. The first 422 listings displayed had Tupperware in the headline – the last 38 only had a mention within the main body of the listing. The most popular of the 460 auctions had the headline “Tupperware Modular Mates x 4”, had attracted 573 pageviews and bidding stood at $41.50. The least popular was burdened with the headline “Jelly Molds x2 :o)”, had no mention of Tupperware, three pageviews and no bids.
- Want to find bargains when you’re browsing? Look for the headlines with the funny symbols. These listings are less likely to show up for searchers, reducing your competition come bidding time.
- Looking for bargains when searching? Start by searching for your desired keyword – but then go through the listings in reverse (go to the last page of the listings and work your way back to the front). The items at the end of the listing results will attract a lot less viewers than those at the front, thanks to keywords not included (in the headlines).
7. LISTINGS IN THE WRONG CATEGORIES
Trade Me has a great many misplaced listings thanks to the joys of self-classification. Not all the listings are wrong – the Lord Of The Rings movies, for example, can be found listed under various DVD categories, including Action, Adventure, Scifi, New Zealand,Boxed Sets and Collectors. Arguably, they’re all valid categories – yet most of the LOTR DVDs have been listed under Action or Adventure and that’s where fans would be most likely to turn first. If you find The Two Towers under Scifi, it’s likely to have attracted fewer pageviews – and probably not as many bids.
Misplaced items aren’t particularly easy to find deliberately. But if an item shows up during a search that appears undiscovered by others, check out the category in which it’s listed. If it’s wildly out of place, you could be in luck.
8. MARKET KNOWLEDGE
All those wonderful TV programmes where innocent consumers parade their home treasures in front of experts, to be told that they have a $500,000 Rembrandt hanging in their smallest room, are great entertainment – and a wonderful fantasy for Trade Me buyers. Reality seldom delivers on the dream but, if you specialise in a particular product category and know it well, you will have a definite advantage over casual sellers. As more and more new traders set up shop, your specialist knowledge could just come in handy.
9. FADING FASHION
We live in an instant gratification society. When it’s hot we want it now. That’s why cinema chains can charge blockbuster pricing when a movie is first released – and why some patient (and thrifty) souls are willing to wait a few weeks until the price drops. The same dynamic applies to online auctions – when a hot new DVD or CD is just released, you’ll end up paying about the same to buy it on Trade Me as you would through a retail store. If you’re prepared to wait, however, the price will drop. How long should you wait? Check on the final sale price of similar items on a regular basis. When the price drops to a level that seems acceptable, get ready to bid.
In the same vein: buy off season. Buy your Christmas ornaments after Boxing Day and your swimming accessories at the end of summer.
10. BROWSING RATHER THAN SEARCHING
If you only use the Search facility on Trade Me, you could be missing out on bargains listed by sellers who (either through some of the poor practices already outlined here or through other misadventures of their own) have done a lousy job of listing their offerings online. It’s worth taking a bit of time to browse through categories of interest – like a jumble sale or a lucky dip, you never know what surprises are in store.
11. OVER-PRICED LISTINGS
Every once in a while you’ll see a product that you want that’s overpriced – either the starting price is too high or, even if there’s been some spirited bidding, the reserve still hasn’t been reached. Don’t do anything rash – just add the product to your watchlist and wait until the auction closes. Unless the bidding gets out of hand, the auction is likely to finish unsuccessfully. Once that happens, you can use the Trade Me system to get in touch, asking them either to relist the item or make a fixed price offer – hopefully this time their expectations will be more realistic.
NB Some sellers simply refuse to make their products available via fixed offer — something about “gannets” and “scavenging”. Their loss.
12. ATTITUDE THAT OFFENDS
Some sellers, presumably as a result of previous problems, seem determined to drive away potential buyers by tough talking in their listings: “payment within three days or the item will be relisted and negative feedback will be posted.” It’s OK to have a bad hair day every once in a while but if you’re the public face for your organisation (as Trade Me listings are) then it’s not a good career move to operate on a customer-is-always-wrong model.
If you’re willing to take the risk of offending these somewhat prickly traders, go ahead and bid. Other more delicate souls may be put off, lessening the competitive pressure. Just make certain that your actions after the auction are squeaky clean.
To List Is Human, To Sell Divine
Just before we leave the topic of recessionary trading, some advice for sellers (who’re also trying to survive and thrive in the economic downturn):
The Seven Things Every Trade Me Seller Should Know About Consumers In 2009
1. Conspicuous Consumption is out of fashion (for now). We don’t want to be seen to be over-indulging while others are suffering. Bling is out, dowdy is in. Subtlety and decorum, please. We will allow ourselves small indulgences — but with discretion. So — even if you have ostentatious items to sell, a little bit of taste, please.
2. Climate Change has been postponed until we can afford it again. Yes, products still need green credentials but they’re just not the most important attribute right now. So mention any sustainable attributes your products might boast, but price your stuff competitively.
3. Security Really, Really Matters. So many finance companies and other institutions, supposedly safe, have fallen into the abyss. We won’t be nearly so trusting anymore. It also means we’ll look more closely at your feedback and your past history, so behave already.
4. Country of Origin is now a significant issue. The melamine-tainted milk powder scandal really brought it home to us — we’ve now started checking labels to see exactly where products are made. Good news for Kiwi Made, not so good for importers. Be open about the source of your products.
5. Staying In is the new Going Out. We’re eating out less, spending more on our little home nests. It’ll take a compelling offer to lure us out in 2009. Focus on selling items that improve quality of life in our homes.
6. We’re Slower To Spend. In tough times, we procrastinate more about when, where and how we spend. We spend more time searching for information before we commit to purchase (and look further around for the best deals). And we negotiate harder when we do decide to buy. So make those listing details as comprehensive as possible and add lots of pictures.
In the US BigResearch study mentioned earlier, consumers told researchers that their new order of priorities – what they look for first when they shop — is:
- 71% Price
- 54% Selection
- 39% Quality
- 34% Location
- 13% Service
You know what you have to do.
7. We have new Spending Priorities. A September 2008 European Study on Discretionary Spending by Execution Primary Research (“what would you cut back if you had to make savings?”) saw Broadband Internet, Fixed-Line Phone Calls, Toiletries and Cosmetics and Mobile Phones as the least likely to be cut back in tough times. Most vulnerable (in order): New furniture or floor coverings, Gambling, Going Out, Electronics, Music, DVDs, Books & Games and Home Improvements.
The implication: that thrifty consumers could be interested in second-hand goods or maintenance products (e.g. “keep that carpet alive for longer …”) in the most vulnerable categories; or in upgrades, accessories and supporting products in categories such as mobile phones (“you’ll have to pry the handset from my cold, dead hand”).
It’s The Economy, Stupid
If you’re trying to sell stuff, Trade Me is still the place to be. In fact, online auction sites typically blossom in a recession precisely because they’re the ideal place to find a bargain. Just be aware that value is the single most important attribute right now. One last collection of statistics from that July 2009 BigResearch study, this time capturing the parsimonious attitudes of recession-conscious consumers:
- 52% say they’re now considering purchases more carefully
- 49% are more price-conscious
- 47% are (gasp!) sticking to their budgets
- 45% are dining out less
- and 42% are racking up less credit card debt
Finally, just to complete the set (and so you can know what items you should be selling), here’s a list of the Top 20 Items selling most on Trade Me (July 2009) despite the recession:
- Electronics & photography: iPods (67% of listings sold)
- Baby gear: Walkers 62%
- Music & instruments: Concert tickets 59%
- Mobile phones: Telecom network 58%
- Sports: Event tickets 56%
- Baby gear: Bouncers & jolly jumpers 53%
- Home & living: Laundry 53%
- Baby gear: Monitors 52%
- Home & living: Heating & cooling 47%
- Baby gear: Safety 45%
- Electronics & photography: DVD players & VCRs 45%
- Sports: Gym memberships 44%
- Computers: Computer furniture 43%
- Art: Tattoos 42%
- Baby gear: Cots & bassinets 42%
- Home & living: Beds & bedroom furniture 41%
- Mobile phones: Vodafone network 41%
- Health & beauty: Shaving & hair removal 39%
- Baby gear: Sleep aids 38%
- Electronics & photography: GPS 38%
PS We would be remiss if we didn’t sneak in one last plug for our book, TRADE ME SUCCESS SECRETS. Its subtitle is “How to buy for less and sell more profitably on New Zealand’s most popular auction site” — and that’s what we all need, especially in tough times. See our listings on Trade Me.