As a seller, it can be tempting to treat fulfillment mechanically, an afterthought. The purchase and payment are the "important" parts of the transaction. Once those are done, what's left is to get the shipment out the door in workman-like fashion—a task to be checked off of a to-do list.
Pause for a moment and realize: this is a seller-centric perspective, not a buyer-centric one. From the buyer's perspective, once payment has been made, the single most important part of the transaction is still to come—when the parcel actually arrives on their doorstep.
I remember many of the best shopper experiences I've had on eBay. In fact, I still have many seller IDs bookmarked (and have shopped many of them since) as a result of fulfillment experiences. Here are some of my favorites:
The ribbon treatment. This jewelry purchase arrived in a white shipping carton branded with the seller's logo, sealed with impeccable order and care. Inside were bright white, new, biodegradable peanuts. Sitting deeply in those, the manufacturer's gift box. But around it was wrapped a wide velvet ribbon, neatly trimmed and bowed, threaded through a small linen card bearing the seller's logo, eBay ID, and a hand-signed note that said simply, "Hope you love it!" The ribbon and the logo on the card were color-coordinated, and the handwritten note was signed by the business owner in graceful strokes. None of these details is particularly remarkable—but as a group, with the care that had been taken in each step, they took my breath away.
The kid-friendly treatment. This children's' game came in a carton with a large, colorful decal that said "FOR THE KIDS AT:" next to its destination address. Upon opening the package, we found not just the game but a superhero card wishing the kids fun while playing the game. And there were three small Halloween-style packets of jelly beans and three stickers included as well. Now, kids love getting mail. They love it even more if it's a toy. And they love it especially if the toy is accompanied by candy and stickers. The box-opening moment was a massive, unexpected hit.
The accessories treatment. This purchase of a small tool included several accessories for the tool's care that weren't included in the manufacturer's packaging. Instead, this seller had taken the time to source each of the inexpensive care items required for long-term preservation and use. They were each worth just a few cents, but by including them in the shipment, the seller had saved me the trouble of finding, buying, and waiting each of these things separately on eBay at a cost of a dollar or two each.
The tutorial treatment. This purchase of camera equipment came with a laser-printed thank-you note that included links to two YouTube videos, recorded by the seller—one that described how to set up and configure the item, and another that detailed proper use as well as a number of tips and tricks. The videos were engaging, concise, fun, and informative. They made it far easier to begin to use my purchase effectively and I was quite grateful.
Thankfully, in nearly 20 years of eBay shopping and thousands of purchases, I've only had a handful of these. They are, however, good cautionary tales.
The long delay. Years ago I made a moderately-priced purchase during the summer months, intending to use it over a coming holiday. After back-and-forth messaging and several missed promises it was finally shipped twelve days later—via ground. The item, just one state away from me, took more than two weeks after purchase to arrive. By then, I'd already bought another locally.
The rugged item. Also years ago, a small but somewhat heavy purchase arrived in a flat-rate box without any packaging whatsoever. It simply thudded around awkwardly in the box, which had suffered quite a bit as a result during transportation. When I sent a message to the seller suggesting that this didn't leave a good impression, they responded that the item was "rugged" and no packaging was needed.
The packaging recycler. This year I made a purchase from a seller that appears to do a moderate amount of business. When I opened the box, I found what appeared to be garbage—used shopping bags and empty soda bottles. I ultimately found my purchase nestled in amongst these. The seller explained that this was recycling—using cast-off paper and plastic to protect goods rather than other materials. I appreciated the intent, but still couldn't help but wonder who'd drank from those bottles and carried what groceries in those bags.
What these stories should suggest to you as a seller is that rather a lot can happen to shape a buyer's experience once they've already paid for their purchase.
In fact, your ability to influence their experience—to smooth wrinkles and to inspire future repeat purchases—is at its greatest not when you're crafting your listings or responding to messages, but when your product reaches their hands.
There was nothing catastrophically wrong in any of my "cautionary tale" purchases—all of the items arrived, were intact, and functioned. In fact, in all these years I've never had to return an eBay purchase or to request a refund as a result of a transaction problem on eBay. But the sellers in question missed an opportunity to wow me and to earn me as a customer forever.
You have this opportunity every time you make a sale. If you're an astute seller, you should start asking yourself today what you're doing to seize it.
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