Feb. 6, 2011, 8:41 a.m.
posted by aryx
Diplomacy 101: Answering Dumb Questions
Good and bad ways to handle communications with seemingly lazy or dim-witted bidders.
No matter what you do, you'll never get all your bidders to read your auction descriptions, shipping terms, or payment instructions as carefully as you'd like them to, if at all. As a result, you'll occasionally get a bidder who looks at an auction entitled "Antique Royal-Blue Vase," sees the large photo of a royal-blue vase, and then writes you to ask what color the vase is.
OK, it's not usually that bad, but sometimes it seems like it is. The first thing to remember is how easy it is to miss even the most obvious piece of information. Instead of antagonizing your bidder with the all-too-familiar, "It's blue, like it says in the description," try one of the following:
"The vase is a deep royal blue that almost looks purple in low light. The glaze seems a little darker at the bottom." Not only does this answer the bidder's question respectfully, it presumes that the bidder was looking for more information than simply, "it's blue."
"The vase is royal blue. The photo in the auction actually has a pretty good reproduction of the color, so please let me know if it doesn't come through." This not only (kindly) reminds the bidder that there is a photo, but it helps inspire trust that the photo is accurate, a fact the bidder may not have wanted to take for granted. It also suggests a legitimate reason for the bidder asking the question in the first place; namely, that the photo might not have loaded properly on the bidder's computer.
Instead of driving your bidders away, you'll be sending them the message, so to speak, that a transaction with you will be a pleasant one, that you're trustworthy, and that your item is as you've described it. See [Hack #20] for some of the tactics that your bidders might be using.
Next, remember that for every bidder who writes you with a question, there will be 10 potential bidders who don't bother. Either they bid without asking, only to be disappointed later, or they move on and bid on someone else's auction instead. For this reason, it's best to be a little proactive. If a bidder asks a question that isn't answered in your auction description, go ahead and revise the auction to include the extra information, as described in [Hack #50]. And if you find that several bidders are asking a question that you feel is already addressed, there must be something unclear about it. There's certainly no harm in going back to the auction and trying to clarify.
Finally, as a seller on eBay, it's often your job to act as a teacher, instructing your bidders on basic bidding concepts, your payment terms, and some of the more confusing eBay policies. After all, a bidder's first dumb question is not likely the the last.
1 Check Out Your Bidders
When an unfamiliar eBay user makes contact, you may want to take a moment to figure out who he or she is before you reply. For example, if your auction states that you won't ship internationally, and someone from Iceland is inquiring about your item, you'll want to let him know that you can't ship to him. But how do you know where these bidders are located? Well, you'll have a pretty good clue if someone asks, "How much to ship to Iceland?" but otherwise you'll have to do a little investigating.
 For my beloved readers in Iceland, please substitute Greenland here.
Start by going to Search Find Members, type the bidder's user ID into the Feedback Profile box, and click Submit. (For a shortcut, just open any member's feedback page and replace the user ID in the URL with that of the member you're investigating. See Chapter 1 for more information on feedback.) The country where the member is registered is shown right in the summary box at the top of the page.
The country specified on the Feedback page is not foolproof, however. If you're suspicious, just look at the bidder's email address, which will appear at the top of the email they've sent you. Unless the bidder's domain is .com, .net, .org, or .edu, the TLD (top-level domain) will contain a country code (such as .uk for the United Kingdom, .de for Germany, or .ca for Canada).
Finally, if you want to be as thorough as possible, go to Search Find Members and look at the User ID History box. If the bidder has ever changed his or her user ID, the change will show up here. If nothing else, one of the past user IDs may be another email address, which could provide another clue as to the bidder's country of origin.