Review: MarketBlast for eBay � Part 1

by Frank Fortunato

Designed for Power Sellers, MarketBlast is the latest entrant in the bulging field of eBay auction management software.

MarketBlast is the latest entrant in the bulging field of eBay auction management software. Produced by 4D Inc, a 21-year-old maker of database software, MarketBlast is touted as a second generation, soup-to-nuts tool designed to cover every aspect of eBay auction and Store management — without monthly fees.

MarketBlast is certainly entering a crowded field. A cursory search nets 34 competitors offering hosted or desktop Windows/Mac platforms exclusively for eBay sale listing and management. These products range from freeware such as Auctiva, Auction Submit and eBay Turbo Lister (without image hosting,) up to $229.95 a month for 1,100-hosted auction posts on Andale. Most are ala carte, pay-as-you-go sites with monthly fees based on the size of the package. This makes MarketBlast's one-time fee of $99.95 attractively priced for a software product at this level of functionality that, indeed, covers all aspects of basic eBay auction and store management.

Software vs. Hosted Service
Software such as MarketBlast has certain advantages and disadvantages relative to hosted listing products. Hosted auction listing can be accessed from any Internet connected computer rather than just your own. Should you lose your PC's contents, there is at least a partial backup in the data stored with a hosted service. On the other hand, you must be connected to the Internet to transfer the data from your hard drive to the hosting service's server. If you are in a non-broadband connected area or simply trapped with a slow Internet connection, software-based tools may be the only practical option.

Many eBay sellers, including yours truly, have been victimized by hosting service outages, crashes and downtime; this can paralyze your business until they're resolved, whereas you can continue working (as long as eBay doesn't crash) if your data is stored on your PC.

MarketBlast is not designed for the mom-and-pop or small-fry eBay seller. Its 113-page user guide with its complex array of features (4D terms it "comprehensive,") would prove daunting to all but the most determined novice sellers — not to mention that it would constitute overkill capacity and a waste of time for any eBay seller who posts just a few sales a week.

Though it is fully functional for the consignment seller or auction drop-off store (with "Consignments" being one of its primary categories), a 4D spokesperson commented "the jury's still out on consignment stores," and the product was neither designed for, nor is it being promoted into, the drop-off store market. According to 4D, it is also not designed for large corporations with divisions devoted to unloading merchandise on eBay.

Rather, MarketBlast is aimed exclusively at Power Sellers who post from 100 sales a week up to 100 listings a day or more on eBay — and those who aspire to grow their eBay business to these numbers. This leaves quite a sizable potential market in today's eBay — a market that should appreciate a tool that appears to offer great bang for the buck.

For all its myriad functions and complexity, the user guide is basically straightforward and clearly written. Most procedures can be done in two-to-six steps and there are alternative methods of use for all of the product's features. MarketBlast lets you import existing data into or manage inventory inside Market Blast itself. MarketBlast supports Tab delineated (txt), Comma Delineated (csv), Excel XML spreadsheets and XML OBDC Data Source. Files in incompatible formats can be quickly converted for import.

The product also lets you set general preferences in a Navigator with eight Primary Groups: Inventory, Listings, Transactions, Contacts,Consignments, Questions, Feedback and Disputes. All are accessible from the Navigator or independent windows. Entering records into the Navigator, for instance, is a six-step process accomplished in two ways: basic and advanced — a choice offered in all eight groups.

Listing Tools
All the bells and whistles of bulk listing to eBay are covered, from ad templates, creation and automatically or manually launching an auction, to adding eBay enhancements, figuring ad costs, generating reports and reordering reminders when outside vendor stock runs low.

Image Hosting, or exporting product images from your computer to eBay's server, is a critical, often time consuming and rarely-to-never cost-free part of the eBay auction process. MarketBlast offers three alternatives you can use:

  1. Your own Web hosting service.
  2. An alternate fee-based hosting or ftp service.
  3. Flickr, which offers free basic image hosting (non-archival,) of up to 20MB a month. (Though Flickr image hosting still incurs a 25-cent "slide show" charge from eBay for uploading more than one image to a listing.)

Flickr is accessible via Market Blast after registration on Flickr's site and offers archival storage of sales in a pro edition at an annual charge. An advisory in the MarketBlast users guide notes that Flickr image hosting is currently free, but cannot guarantee that this will always be the case. Last March, Flickr announced its acquisition by Yahoo, and that its image hosting would remain separate from Yahoo Photos for the "immediate future." Flickr has said they will always offer a free service. Only time will tell.

Another useful feature is that images in Marketblast may be tagged or watermarked to protect the images from being pirated.

Automation by Events: Global or Custom
For eBay Power Sellers, one of the most compelling features of MarketBlast should be the number of eBay listing tasks that can be automated either by events or scripts.

Global Event automation kicks in when a set of conditions known as "Rules" have been met, such as receiving bids, when items are sold or unsold, new questions, and when receiving positive/neutral/negative feedback When an event criteria has been reached the software automatically performs a series of actions. Default settings are provided, as is the ability to program your own actions — such as when receiving specific questions or neutral or negative feedback, which cannot be generically reciprocated.

MarketBlast's e-mail feature is designed to cut down on time-consuming correspondence for large volume sellers.

There are two types of events: Global and Custom. Global applies throughout MarketBlast and is activated when the conditions or rules have been fulfilled. Custom Events apply to individual listings and can only be set through a Global event template.

Automation by Scripts
Script automation is triggered by a passage of time rather than an event. This allows actions set to cause and effect — programming a certain sequence of events and having the software perform them in chronological order, such as re listing a duplicate of a sold item in an eBay Store or the updating of transaction details. This seems particularly useful to eBay Store or auction vendors who continually sell the same merchandise.

4D claims to have collaborated with veteran eBay Power sellers in the development of MarketBlast. One of the main complaints is that they see e-mails as time vampires — sucking productivity out of the day due to the time required to promptly respond to questions. In a worldwide, 24/7 marketplace, dealing with e-mails in a timely manner is a critical management issue for all eBay sellers. For bulk-listing Power Sellers who routinely receive a hundred or more e-mails a day — it poses a challenge.

MarketBlast provides a General E-mail Manager that allows the user to deal with e-mails from individual listings, transactions, or contact records. MarketBlast can be set to limit incoming e-mail to new messages that contain eBay ID numbers in their headers or body that match existing MarketBlast listings only; these are stored in an Incoming E-mail Folder. However, inadvertent deletions can hurt: if you delete an eBay listing from MarketBlast you will never receive an e-mail on that listing again.

Outgoing e-mail can be composed new or from existing e-mail templates. The software comes with 'complimentary' templates and lets you compose and save your own. It also allows for adding snippets or e-mail postscripts providing information about the business, the seller or promotions following the body of the message. These can be easily composed, stored and accessed.

Tomorrow, we'll look at how MarketBlast works for a real-world eBay seller.

Adapted from ECommerce-Guide.com, part of Internet.com's Small Business Channel.

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This article was originally published on Monday Aug 22nd 2005
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