Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Our eBay Business: Auctiva/Inkfrog

Holy buckets.  I've gotta write something about this.

For over 2 years now we've used "Auctiva" to create our eBay listings.  Auctiva is a separate company, it has some very nice features, it was easy to use once you got the hang of it, and best of all it was free.  So we used it to create our listings, and we'd schedule them to post on eBay from there.

The original reason we started with Auctiva was because of the pictures.  At that time if you listed directly on eBay, you got one free picture with the listing, and they charged 15 cents for every picture after that.  With Auctiva, you got 24 free pictures, and you could supersize them for free (at that time eBay charged 75 cents!).  We sell mostly postcards and photographs, and always have a minimum of two pictures with each listing.  We've saved hundreds of dollars, literally, since 2007 in picture fees alone.  

That was our sole interest in Auctiva.  Pictures.  Multiple, supersizable pictures.  We didn't care about their templates, we didn't want to buy their shipping insurance, we didn't want an Auctiva store, we certainly didn't want any of our customers having to go through an "Auctiva Checkout" when they bought something from us. We didn't really want any of their services besides the ability to include multiple pictures in our listings.  And that's what we did.

Auctiva presented the listing quite decently, and we were generally happy with it.

But strange things began to happen.  A few months ago, there was the virus incident.  Auctiva was the means by which my computer and many others were infected with a virus called Trojan.Refpron.  Not good - and our understanding is it had to do with the images.  My computer was infected because I would supersize an image to get a good look at it.  Patti Anne, more cerebral and less visual than me, did not, and her computer was fine. 

Then a few weeks ago, they made a change, and something went haywire with the editing.   Fonts changed randomly.  Whole blocks of text were inverted.  Stuff down at the bottom was suddenly at the top.  The page jerked around when you were working.  Sometimes it'd look fine in Auctiva, but when it was listed in eBay, it was totally screwed up.  I have no idea how many listings I may have out in eBay that look weird because of this.

And then just a couple of weeks ago, a bombshell.  Without any warning and just the scantest of explanations, Auctiva announced they were going to start charging for their services beginning July 1 - and not just a little, but a lot.   It was a much more complicated pricing structure than it needed to be (I reckon, really how would I know), based on the amount of listings.  In addition, they were going to charge a listing fee, then a final value fee if your item sold, and charge for image storage (the first 1MB was free - which isn't much).  We figure out that at a minimum, we'd have to pay $30-40 a month, beginning in July, for a service which had been free for us up to this point. 

Auctiva said eBay had changed the structure of the "Affiliate Program", and they needed to charge for the services now in order to stay in business.  But as time drug on, words, rumors and such leak out - and I'll gladly pass on anything I know nothing about, because I don't have that much else to do right now.  

Most likely Auctiva was exploiting a loop-hole, or a weakness or something in eBay's affilliate program that allowed them to get credit (and money) for people who weren't really finding their way to eBay via Auctiva.  It could be that someone logged on to eBay, saw a listing that someone posted via Auctiva, clicked on an image to supersize it, was, without their knowledge taken to another location to view the supersized image, where, somehow, a cookie or some other info was attached to their session, and when they closed the picture and returned to eBay, it looked like they had accessed eBay directly from Auctiva, which may have entitled Auctiva to a referral credit (which translates to money).   

I have no idea, really, but that's pretty swift, if that's the way it worked.  I wish I'd thought of it, and knew how to do it.   Whatever was going on, eBay probably caught on and decided that it wasn't going to allow it.  Thus Auctiva's predicament.  

Anyway, many of our items are lower priced, and we did not want to absorb $40 or so (maybe more) extra expense.  eBay is expensive enough, as it is.  

And the eBay world has changed a bit - in the categories we list in most, they now allow up to 12 pictures.  That's plenty for me.   So beginning June 1st, we quit using Auctiva and listed directly from eBay.   It wasn't hard, the listings look better than they used to, but it had some short comings.  

But we still had the  issue of all those pictures we had on Auctiva - if we didn't sign up for a pricing plan with them, we were going to lose them all at the end of the month, and we weren't sure what would happen to the images in our eBay listings.  We assumed they'd go away. 

So we looked around.  Sellersource, Vendio, InkFrog and a couple of others.  Auctiva, as you can imagine, is in upheaval, and these other organizations, which provide much the same services, were hovering about like sharks with wings, a bird of prey-like fish, making pitches for Auctiva customers.  Well, we were listening. 

As of yesterday, we are now with InkFrog.  They seemed to have the quickest and easiest method for converting our eBay listings and pictures.  It took a couple of hours, but it seems to have worked fine.  Its a paid service, about $10.00 a month, and 1GB of image space (I hope that's enough, we use a LOT of pictures).  Patti Anne formally closed the Auctiva account today, and when she did, we got an email offering us a plan for $10.00 a month and 1 GB of image space at no extra charge, if we'd stay.  The irony is, if Auctiva had made that offer up front, we would have stayed with them.  

In reality, I think Auctiva's future is probably shaky.  Maybe not, I don't know.  But this whole thing was not handled well.   It's like they had no idea what their competition charged, or didn't think their customers knew.   The organization seemed in a panic mode, and there was no need for it.  Things came out in bits and pieces, nothing about it was handled well.   As as customer, I don't really need to know about the nuts and bolts of their business issues.  I don't need to feel like a company I'm depending on is in crisis mode.  

A simple announcement saying that in order to keep in business they were going to have to charge for their services would have sufficed, with plans and charges being in line with their competition.  Why would I pay $40 or more for a service when I can get a very similar service, as robust if not more, for $10?   People would have complained, but NOTHING like the uproar and wholesale abandonment that is going on now would have happened.   

By the way, I hate using the word "robust" the way I used it in the last paragraph.  It's a hold over from my system engineering days, when the word was used that way to describe programs. I hated it then, and still don't like it.   To me robust has to do with the physical health of a person, not the abilities of software.

InkFrog provides pretty much the same type of service as Auctiva.  It takes some getting used to.  The listings look nice & professional so we're happy, we just have to get accustomed to it.   It's been a busy few days.


Patti Anne said...

The Bastards!

A Valdese Blogger said...

Now, Patti Anne....

Patti Anne said...

'Scuse my French. But, well, they shouldn't oughta mess with folks that way. That Auctiva bunch is a bunch of skeesters.