Daily Obsession: Everything That I Told You I’d Eventually Tell You About eBay, Part the First

Apologies to Weird Al, but buying stuff on eBay is so mid-90s. The buzz these days is turning the crap that you’ve got accumulating in your house into some quick cash (by turning it into crap sitting in someone else’s house).

I sell a lot of stuff on eBay. And, while I enjoy being the “eBay Guy” to all my friends; family; occasional acquaintances; distant cousins; this guy, who knows this girl, who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night…

What was I saying? Oh yeah, I sell a ton of stuff, which means I get a lot of people asking me how they should sell their stuff. So here’s the first of 10 guidelines to keep in mind so that you make the most money and don’t get screwed.

10. Do Your Research!!!!

There is one thing that separates a succesful seller from a mediocre one: research. Now, as soon as I mention this, most people glaze over and start thinking about the house in Barbados they’ll buy with their new eBay millions. The fact is, if you don’t know the market you want to sell to, you will either price yourself out of it or lose out on profits by underpricing your items. Open an eBay account and start searching for the stuff you want to sell. Now, select the Completed Items option and search again. Here’s how to interpret what you find:

  • What’s the average regular auction sale price? Subtract 5% from this to get what your likely take would be on a similar auction (Always trend low. The markets are deeply fickle).
  • Do a lot of things go for a certain Buy It Now (BIN) price? You can safely knock a few bucks off this price, set that as a BIN, and turn your item around quickly. Chances are, though, you’ll be able to get a better price by not setting a BIN (more on this later).
  • Are there a lot of unsold items? If so, is the average asking price a reasonable one? If you see a ton of red, then it’s likely that buyers aren’t interested (or aren’t interested in it at that price); either be willing to sell your item for less or wait it out a few months.

9. Establish Yourself

Now that you know what you’re going to sell, it’s time to buy some stuff! The best way to show your market that you’re not some fly-by-night scam artist is to participate in auctions. You don’t have to go nuts, just a few low-cost auctions in categories similar to the one you want to sell in (I started out buying Transformers for my collection). Those Feedback ratings next to your user name are no joke. They’re the quickest, easiest way for people to get an idea of if they want to buy from you. There are plenty of times I’ve ignored fantastic deals because the buyer had too many negative comments. Also, if there is an online community dedicated to the item you want to sell, join it and maybe post a comment or two. This is key to the next step which is…

8. Advertise!

Remember all those new bestest friends you made in the previous step? Great – they’re now your customer base, go exploit them for all they’re worth. Most fan sites have a message forum of some sort and most of those have a Marketplace area. Use this to your advantage. Don’t worry about being the newbie; if you post items that are valuable to the community (and maybe offer them a break on shipping), they will gladly accept you.

7. Nice Package

The step that a lot of people forget is the most crucial – the part where that shiny auction on their end magically transforms into a box at their front door. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Know what shipping method you’re going to use before you post anything. You want it to get there fast, so USPS Priority Mail is often the quickest (and has other advantages that we’ll get to in a second). However, if your items are bulky, you’ll want to use USPS Parcel Post, UPS, or FedEx. Research to find the best value.
  • Do you have enough boxes? Are they the right size? This is where choosing USPS really pays off. You know those nice white boxes that the Post Office ships Priority Mail packages in? Did you know you can get them for free? Yup – as many as your garage can hold! The catch is you can only use them for Priority Mail (and no flipping them inside-out, they’re printed on the inside w/ USPS branding).
  • What about packing materials? Hopefully this won’t be an issue – just about everyone has a box full of packing materials somewhere in their house. But if you need extra, remember that newspaper holds on to odors and weighs a bunch, whereas bubble wrap, well, doesn’t. This is a simple, cheap way that you can improve your buyer’s opinion of you (and make sure you earn some good feedback)
  • What if you can’t fit 52 boxes of “novelty” ball gags on the back of your Vespa? USPS has a great Carrier Pickup service where you leave the boxes outside your front door and they take care of the rest. They also offer a discount on postage when you purchase online. It’s just a matter of setting up an account on the USPS Web site. I’d discuss other options – but out of approximately 1,000 packages I’ve sent in the past few years, only two have been with another carrier. Go w/ USPS, it’s just easier.

6. Take Good Pictures

It pains me to say this; but no one likes your pretty text. Seriously, you could put a story in the description about how giant inflatable beavers stole your baby brother when you were nine and that’s why the closing ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics drove you to go on a five-state balloon-killing rampage; and no one would care. People look at the pictures, maybe the first line of text, and nothing else. So take well-lit pictures with an actual camera (not your cameraphone).

There is a caveat – Buyers do care if they get the item and there’s damage to it that wasn’t disclosed in the description. If something is non-standard about your item, you must make sure it’s well-documented (even if they don’t read it, you still did your job and disclosed it). Otherwise, you’ll end up eating the shipping charges and having to issue refunds. Never fun.

Oh, and those stock photos that eBay offers? Don’t use them. Ever. It screams “I just bought a bunch of wholesale/counterfeit/scratch-and-dent crap and am ditching it before the cops/my parole officer/my bookie find me.”

Tune in tomorrow for the thrilling conclusion! Same TWDT Time! Same TWDT Channel!

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