If it’s true that one man’s junk is another man’s treasure, who in the world knows this better than the good folks at eBay? Founded in 1995 in San Jose, California, eBay began as the hobby of a French-born Iranian-American computer programmer named Pierre Omidyar. He dubbed it AuctionWeb.
Reportedly, the first thing he ever sold was a broken laser pointer for around $15. The story goes that Mr. Omidyar contacted the buyer to make sure he knew that the device was broken. The buyer responded that he collected broken laser pointers.
Which proves the point: something of little to no value to you may very possibly be someone else’s raison d’être. This proposition would be proven over and over, millions of times, such that eBay would go on to be a massive business.
In 2000, just five years after it was founded, eBay reported $134 million in revenues with $30 million in net income. Thirteen years later, in 2013, the online auctioneer reported revenues of $16 billion with net income of $2.85 billion, and over 137 million registered users.
That’s a lot of broken laser pointers.
When you do one thing very well, better perhaps than anyone else, you are going to be successful. For eBay, 137 million users can’t be wrong.
Consumers ‘r us
For better or worse, America is a consumer society. Consumption more than anything else is what drives the economy. When consumption falls, the economy stagnates.
We’re also a fickle population. What was a must-have for us last year is this year’s dust collector. But there’s value in those dust collectors.
If only there was an easy way to tap that value… Actually, there’s an app for that. It’s called eBay.
But there are a few important things to keep in mind if you want to sell your item successfully and at a good price.
I’ve been an eBay user since 1999, and have racked up over 600 transactions in that time, both sales and purchases. I thought it might be interesting to share what I’ve learned buying and selling on eBay over the years.
The next few sections describe how to prepare to be an eBay seller. After that, we’ll describe how to create your listing, monitor your auction, and complete the sale.
Become an eBay member
To sell something on eBay, you must register. If you’ve used the Internet much, this is a familiar requirement. To register, go to www.ebay.com, and click the register link.
After you register, you’re under no obligation. You can come and go at eBay as you please.
One thing that’s a little different now from when I registered many years ago is that eBay assigns you a default handle, like mic.c3sgb. Obviously, you’re going to want to change that to something more meaningful for you, something like rockindaddy or righteouslady, but with eBay’s 137 million users, you might find that your preferred handle is already taken. Of course, you can always add a number to your handle, for example, righteouslady222.
Create a PayPal account
First, if you want to sell your item, this is the payment method of choice for most eBay transactions. Second, PayPal offers an extremely safe way to do business.
There are documented cases of buyers paying with counterfeit money orders, and ultimately the seller is left holding the bag. Either the bank or post office will recognize that the money order is counterfeit and refuse to cash it. Or, they’ll cash it, and come back to you later to get their money back when they figure it out.
You’ll ultimately be responsible either way. PayPal helps you avoid this. To register at PayPal, go to www.paypal.com.
You can associate a credit card and/or your bank account with PayPal. When a buyer pays you, the money (minus the PayPal fee) is deposited in your PayPal account. You can leave it there or transfer it to your bank at no additional charge.
Note that it may take up to a week initially to get everything set up in PayPal. You have to provide ample evidence that you are who you say you are, and that your provided bank accounts and credit cards are valid.
Over the years, I’ve been very happy to have a PayPal account. Not only have I used it extensively on eBay, but more and more Internet commerce sites are accepting PayPal as a payment method, as well. As mentioned, it’s a very safe way to pay without having to enter a credit card number.
As you know, more and more sites are getting hacked, exposing credit cards and other key information to identity thieves. To the best of my knowledge, PayPal itself has never been hacked.
Take digital photos of your item
To sell successfully on eBay, it’s very important to post multiple high-resolution photos of your item with the auction listing. Nowadays, with smartphones, it’s pretty easy to take digital photos, edit them if necessary, and upload them wherever.
The best photos typically are taken outdoors, during the daylight, without too much sunshine. You’ll want them to be all of the same size and aspect ratio for best results, although this isn’t absolutely mandatory.
Most importantly, you’ll want to make sure that you show the item at every possible angle that your buyers are likely to want to see. In terms of resolution, you’ll want the pics to be fairly high-quality, but typically no larger than about one megabyte each.
Most smartphones and digital cameras provide very good quality photos, so this shouldn’t be much of an issue.
If you have Photoshop or some other image-editing software on your computer, you can transfer the images there and edit and crop them to ensure that they’re the right size and show your item in its best light.
Research the value of your item
Also, browse through eBay listings of similar items and see what they have sold for. It’s important to be realistic, but there are ways to maximize what your item will sell for.
Factor in your costs
Remember to factor in your costs to sell an item on eBay. Usually eBay doesn’t charge you to list an item, but they take about 9% of the final auction price. PayPal also takes a cut, typically about 3% of the amount the buyer pays.
Packing materials and shipping/insurance will add up as well. Typically, the buyer will be responsible for the shipping/insurance costs, but an overly-high shipping quote in your auction listing can turn off potential buyers.
Also, the onus is on you to pack the item appropriately for shipping, so you’ll need to make sure that you have good quality packing materials so the item is not damaged during shipment.
Write a killer description
One thing I see time and again are badly written descriptions of items that are for sale on eBay. I’ve watched badly described items either not sell at all, or sell for considerably less than their actual value. I’ve seen the same items sell for much more because the seller took the time to write a very concise and carefully worded description of the item, describing flaws honestly, and including pictures that not only showed the beauty of the item, but also the flaws.
Your description should include the item’s age, color, condition, and provenance. But, most importantly, be concise. People don’t like to read War and Peace when they’re checking out items on eBay.
Also, be firm about your terms and conditions. You can state that potential bidders must have a history on eBay and a good eBay reputation. You can state that the item must be paid for immediately or within a certain time period after the auction ends. You can encourage potential bidders to email you with questions before bidding. Be willing to accept returns, but only if the item is not as described in the listing.
An auction listing, like anything else you do in life, is a reflection of you as a person. If the listing makes a good impression and seems reasonable, potential buyers will feel more comfortable dealing with you.
Now you’re ready to list your item
Go to the eBay site, and click the Sell link. The eBay site walks you through all the steps necessary to list your item. If you’ve done your homework, it’s pretty straightforward.
After you’ve entered everything, you can preview the listing before posting it. Even after posting your auction, you can revise it at anytime while the auction is still live. The typical duration is 7 days, although you can choose other durations (up to 28 days).
After posting your item, check out the listing on both your computer and smartphone. If you have a tablet, check it out there, too. You’ll want to make sure that the listing looks good on any medium, and more and more these days, people are surfing eBay on their smartphones and tablets.
If your item doesn’t sell
If your item doesn’t sell, you can very easily relist it. I sometimes relist an item two or three times before it sells. Buying on eBay is cyclical for most people, and it’s entirely possible that the person who ends up buying your item does so during the second or third listing.
So it’s important to be patient. It’s also important to be realistic. There just might not be a market for your item, or other people may not value it as highly as you do. That’s ok. You can relist the item at a lower price, or take a step back and consider whether there’s anything else you could include in the listing to improve it and make the item more enticing.
Maybe you need to shoot better pictures, or spruce up the language in your description. Depending the value of the item, if you expect to get several hundred dollars or more for it, it’s worth it to make sure you’ve done everything possible to market it correctly.
The other thing to take into consideration is the time of year you’re trying to sell an item. For example, I’ve bought and sold a lot of golf clubs on eBay. I’ve found the best time to sell golf clubs is in the early spring when golfers who’ve been holed up all winter are thinking about the upcoming season and want to upgrade what’s in their bags.
Depending on your item, a month or two before Christmas is also a good time to list. There are typically a lot more potential buyers scouring the web for that perfect gift.
Occasionally, a buyer will have buyer’s remorse and will want to return an item. I’ve encountered a few such people over the years. I’ve used eBay’s conflict resolution service and resolved conflicts on my own.
Ultimately, here’s what I found: It’s critical to always be professional and courteous; if buyer is accusatory or angry, keep the volume down, try to resolve things amicably.
If there’s no other way to resolve the issue, accept the return and refund the person’s money. Life is too short.
Over time, if you plan to sell frequently on eBay, it’s great to be able to build up a good feedback score. The higher your feedback, the more likely people will be to want to buy items from you. Buyers can leave negative feedback, and from my point of view, it’s better to resolve the issue with the buyer rather than forcing them to leave negative feedback.
Buying on eBay
Over the years, eBay has become a huge marketplace. It competes with the likes of Amazon, Target, and other eCommerce sites. Regardless of what you’re looking to buy, it’s worth taking a look to see if the item you want is on eBay. You might find a dealer selling showroom items that are still in great shape, but cost a fraction of what you’d pay at retail.
But even if you find an item on eBay, don’t stop there. Look on Amazon and other sites for comparison. Because eBay members include a lot of retailers, oftentimes the prices on eBay are not the lowest.
If after reading this, you have questions, use the Post a reply link. I’ll be happy to try and answer any questions you might have.