This article originally appeared in the December/January 2020 issue of Canadian Music Trade magazine.
By Michael Raine
Over his last four years at music products e-commerce website Reverb.com, Sebastian Fabal has learned a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to boosting retailers’ online sales. Through a series of roles all related to seller engagement, culminating in his promotion earlier in 2019 to the job of senior director of operations and outreach, Fabal has worked closely with Reverb’s top sellers, teaching them what works and, in turn, learning from their examples.
“It’s been really great to just watch sellers look at Reverb a little skeptically at first, then see it become maybe be their third-best online sales channel, and finally getting to a point where we are a lot of these dealers’ main retail channel, even beating out in-store [sales]. So, I can definitely say that what I will share with you now has been tested,” Fabal tells Canadian Music Trade before revealing some advice he has planned for his NAMM University session, “7 Hacks to Boost Your Online Sales,” at The 2020 NAMM Show.
And note that while these seven “hacks” are conceived with Reverb in mind, Fabal says that most are applicable to any online sales platform.
#1 – You Get One First Impression; Show Why Someone Should Choose to Buy from You
“Do you have a shop banner at the top of your page? If a potential buyer is going to land on your shop page, are you giving an appropriate amount of information as to who you are as a store? Are you establishing that you are an authority within the MI space? Do you have any uniqueness of inventory?” Fabal asks rhetorically. “At the end of the day, it’s up to every retailer to make themselves stand out versus their competitors. For example, we have one great retailer who is the number one Bourgeois [Guitars] dealer in the United States and they love to call that out loud and clear. They love to talk about how they specifically deal with used and vintage acoustic guitars. So, anyone who stumbles upon that site looking for a used Collings or a used Bourgeois, they know that they are going to be dealing with an expert and they don’t have to guess by looking at their inventory what things they may or may not have expertise in.”
Most potential online customers are beginning their shopping journey by searching for a specific item, but if they click through to the seller’s page on the platform, it’s important to keep them there and browsing. That is part of the overall goal and much of Fabal’s advice is aimed towards achieving it.
#2 – The Quality of the Listing Is What Sells the Instrument
Obviously, an online customer can’t hold the instrument in their hands and examine it. As such, they will have a natural hesitancy to pull the trigger on a big-ticket purchase. The only way to counter that is to ensure the item’s listing is as clear, honest, and thorough as possible.
“The more transparent you can be with the actual listing, the further you’ll go towards actually selling that product. Specifically, we talk a whole lot about pictures; pictures are your sales person,” Fabal emphasizes. “A big reason we advocate for that is it often mitigates any need for returns. So, the more questions your pictures can answer, the better off anyone selling on the platform is going to be.”
For retailers, as opposed to individuals selling an instrument they personally own, there is an added expectation that the listing outlines the instrument’s specs and history. As well, the listing should be written or presented clearly. Fabal recommends bullet points as they’re easier for the potential buyer to scan and find the info that is important to them. As well, he adds, “Make sure the most important information is at the top of the description; frankly, it’s Writing 101, which everyone could use a refresher in.”
#3 – Good Customer Service Extends to Online Sales
“If I could tattoo this on our retailers’ eyelids, I would say make sure that you’re answering your messages as quickly as humanly possible,” Fabal laughs. “The analogy that I often use is, you’re not going to let someone walk into your store and play a guitar for eight hours without having a salesperson ask them if they’re interested in buying that guitar. Messages and communicating in-store function the same exact way.”
For its part, Reverb has an app that makes it quicker and easier for sellers to monitor and respond to messages. The longer the seller waits to answer a question, the likelier it is the potential buyer will go searching elsewhere or change their mind.
He also advises that you not get discouraged if you get a lot of annoying questions or seemingly non-serious inquiries; remember, there are tire-kickers in the brick-and-mortar world, too – the internet just amplifies everything.
“If you sell on Reverb, you get millions of potential buyers coming to the website,” Fabal says, “so you have to take the good with the bad and make sure that you’re remaining professional and consistent in your correspondence.”
#4 – List All of Your Inventory
“Are you actually providing a browsable experience for the buyer? To use a real-world example, would any retailer open up a brand-new music shop with only three guitars in it and expect to make money?” Fabal says. “The reality is if you only have three items in your shop as a retailer, if you don’t have what the buyer is looking for, they’re going to go look elsewhere on the site. The best thing any retailer can do is list all their inventory and make sure they continue to list any new inventory they acquire as quickly as possible.”
#5 – Incorporate Used Inventory
Here is an interesting stat from Reverb: For the website’s top sellers, used and vintage instruments make up only about 10 to 15 per cent of their listed inventory, but account for 60 to 90 per cent of their sales.
“You need to incorporate used inventory. This is, I would say, probably the most important one, particularly for online,” Fabal stresses. “Reverb is a website that rewards unique inventory and used inventory is the best way to have a one-of-a-kind item that will always act as a calling card to your particular shop. Frankly, selling brand new [items] – between MAP pricing and everyone using the same stock photos – it is very hard to differentiate yourself.”
#6 – Promote Your Items Everywhere
There are 1.5 million instruments for sale on Reverb.com alone, so it can be very hard to differentiate yourself online, particularly if you’re selling commonly-found items. A key is capturing customers wherever they are and then sending them to the e-commerce platform to complete the sale.
“In the case for used inventory, again, Reverb is a site that rewards unique inventory, but we do have a lot of used mid-2000s Fender Strats out there. So, it is worth promoting inventory that is in a particularly crowded subset of the used market as well,” says Fabal. “It wouldn’t surprise you that the best sellers out there are sending out newsletters once or twice a month and during big sales times, they’re driving traffic towards Reverb.”
Wherever your customers are – on social media, for example, or even in-store – promote online inventory and drive them there to shop at their convenience. It’s worth noting that Reverb also has a paid-for “Bump” feature to help boost exposure for a listing.
#7 – Improve Operational
Efficiency “This is not an easy or quick fix, but we are advocating for operational efficiency with a lot of our retailers. In the early years of Reverb, a big part of our job was actually teaching retailers how to sell in the 21st century. We’re telling people, for example, that you need to upgrade your POS,” Fabal says.
He notes that when presenting at The NAMM Show or elsewhere, he often asks how many retailers in the audience have purchased any new software for their business within the last two years. “It is literally crickets,” Fabal shares.
The biggest thing for efficiency, he says, is ensuring point-of-sale and other relevant software is current. The second most important thing when selling in high volume online is having a person dedicated to that task – someone specifically responsible for getting new inventory listed, ensuring the quality of the listings and photos, promoting items, and getting sold items shipped promptly, etc.
Retailers who sell in high volumes online are also advised to have dedicated photo and packaging stations in-store – a small, simple spot with good lighting and a nice background to take good product photos and a station for boxing up sold items and getting them out the door promptly.