Q: "I'm thinking about using an auction management software tool to help manage my business on eBay. Where can I find good information about the pros and cons of the software that's currently available?"

A: First, a quick definition: Unlike listing software, which helps you create, post, and update auction and fixed-price listings on eBay, auction management software actually helps you run your business. A good auction management program not only manages your listings, it also helps you manage your inventory, customer data, consignment plans, shipping with multiple carriers, marketing, the e-commerce functions on your website, accounting, and finances.

Two auction management programs are offered on eBay's website:

• eBay Selling Manager is an online tool that helps you manage your listings throughout the sales cycle, providing customizable e-mail templates, relisting tools, and professional label and invoice printing ($4.99 per month, free with an eBay Store subscription; a more advanced version, Selling Manager Pro, is available for $15.99 per month).

• eBay Blackthorne allows sellers to list and relist in bulk, track sales, and send bulk e-mail and feedback, and costs $9.99 per month. An advanced version, called eBay Blackthorne Pro, adds bulk printing and editing, inventory management, consignment and supplier modules, multiple-user support, and more, for $24.99 per month.

A useful website that compares the various auction management software programs currently on the market, with user reviews and ratings in a Consumer Reports-type format, is auctionsoftwarereview.com, based in the United Kingdom.

Generally, the following rules apply when selecting an auction management software program:

• Integration with eBay is key. Your eBay fees, costs, shipping and handling charges, and other economic data for each eBay listing should be uploaded automatically to the software as each listing closes, so you don't have to track these and manually input them into the program.

• A specific program is (usually) better than an all-purpose program. If you are selling only books on eBay and you find an auction management program just for book dealers, you probably should select that one over a more general program, even if it costs a little more or has slightly lower feedback ratings than a comparable all-purpose program.

• Ease of use is extremely important, especially for smaller sellers. Many early-stage eBay sellers are not familiar with accounting concepts such as cost of goods sold. Software that takes this into account and simplifies things for less experienced retailers is preferable over software that presumes you've got a master's degree in financial management, a CPA license, and ten years' experience in retail management.

Q: "I'm starting to build a serious business on eBay, and I am thinking about buying an auction management software tool to help me keep track of my listings and costs. I know eBay has two products—Selling Manager Pro and Blackthorne Pro—but I can't decide which is right for my business. Do you have any suggestions?"

A: Before deciding, you certainly should explore the features and benefits of both tools and their potential fit with your specific business needs. I recommend that you take advantage of the thirty-day free trial offered with both products.

Even though Blackthorne Pro is considered an excellent tool for scaling your eBay business, eBay Certified Business Consultant Jack Waddick, of Chicago, Illinois (oakviewtraining.com), has found the eBay Selling Manager Pro product to be a better fit for him and several of his eBay business clients.

Waddick says, "Selling Manager Pro is a terrific tool for managing post-sale activities and inventory, but the main reason I started using it is to automate communication. Anyone who has found themselves leaving eBay buyers email or feedback at midnight will love Selling Manager Pro's automatic 'payment reminder email,' 'payment received email,' 'item shipped email,' 'automatic feedback,' and 'feedback reminder email' features."

If, like many eBay sellers, you use the PayPal shipping labels feature to create your USPS and UPS domestic and international shipping labels, you will appreciate the fact that the PayPal system talks to Selling Manager Pro. Since Selling Manager Pro is also integrated in to your My eBay page, you can view your To Dos, Alerts, and Quick Stats on the fly.

Other advantages of Selling Manager Pro, according to Waddick, are that the software tools help you:

• Automatically list and relist items

• Create and schedule listings in bulk

• Create more professional-looking listings using the product's built-in listing designer

• Automatically increase or decrease inventory when listings close

• Schedule listings that you want to automatically recur or relist

• Create monthly profit and loss reports

• Find out your products' success ratio and average selling price

• Export sales data to QuickBooks using eBay's Accounting Assistant software

• Alert you when your inventory of certain items goes below certain pre-specified levels

Selling Manager Pro costs $15.99 per month, and eBay offers it free to sellers who purchase an eBay Store in the Featured or Premium category (see Chapter 15). According to Waddick, "It's a small price to pay for the tremendous functionality of this product and, as a bonus, your eBay buyers receive better service, which usually translates into repeat customers as you grow your business."

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