As I approach my 10-year anniversary of having an eBay account, let me share some tips on how to buy, sell, and make some pocket money in the process. As an on-again and off-again PowerSeller and avid buyer, I understand the intricacies of the primarily auction formatted site. During a transition between jobs, I had to rely solely on eBay income to keep afloat for a few months. You get out of it what you put in, so understand if you want to increase your loot, your time dedication should correlate. Even though you might not have ever purchased or sold something on one of the web’s most popular sites, here are a few tips to gain some familiarity with it.
photography by liewcf
1. Buy it Now – Feedback rating is the most important statistic. Whether it be for $1 or $100, you gain one point for every positive transaction you make. Start off with buying a couple small things, like a DVD set you haven’t seen [since who really watches DVD series of TV shows that they’ve seen over and over? This is precisely why I don’t have any Saved by the Bell DVD sets]. The goal is to familiarize yourself with the process. eBay is the biggest garage sale on the planet, so you’re due to find something you want that you don’t have to break the bank for.
2. Invest in a digital camera, photo-editing software, and a PayPal account – Chances are you might already have all 3 prerequisites. And opening a PayPal account is free. I recommended paying for each purchase with a credit card as their protection rights are significantly better than if you were to use your PayPal balance. For potential future reference, http://www.paypalsucks.com is an actual website. Since most buyers have these accounts, it is almost a necessary evil. Google Checkout may have been a better alternative, but apparently eBay doesn’t like competition.
3. Scavenger Hunt – Now that you’ve established some feedback, you can start selling. No one wants to buy something off a zero-rated seller. Go around your house and find items you no longer have use for. For instance, I had a bag of clothes [fresh clothes I might add, just no longer my steez] that I was planning on donating, but I decided to try to put them on the auction block. And I ended up netting $100 off dead money. Anything from used electronics to old shoes can have salvage value. I sold my old cell phone with a cracked LCD screen for over $100. This idea follows the adage “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Keep in mind that you still have zero invested, so think of this money as your startup capital. Just don’t sell your ex-girlfriend’s used panties.
4. Keep your ear to the street – eBay users consist of hobbyists and enthusiasts for specialized categories. I mean the site started first as a way for PEZ collectors to buy and sell their various dispensers. You and I probably have no interest in these collectibles, but there’s something we enjoy that can have an eBay influence. Say you’re into photography, and you have access to equipment for cost. Barring anything illegal, you can support your hobby while having pocket money on the side. Remember a fisherman rarely reveals his spots, so finding a cash cow most likely is your biggest obstacle. Many sellers of apparel visit outlet and discount stores frequently and even buy wholesale. Buying something for 80% off retail and selling for 40% of retail is 100% profit. Granted those margins are rare, but are obtainable provided you hawk the right product. Despite being hard to enforce, eBay has no tolerance for bootleg items. So if your source is some factory from Southeast Asia, you should look elsewhere. Stay away from premium brands like Gucci or Lacoste, since diligent buyers only buy from reputable sellers.
5. Listing tips – There are a few guidelines that I abide by that I’m surprised more sellers don’t adhere to. For one, pictures are IMPERATIVE. Take good, clean and detailed pictures. Having a watermark shows the item is indeed yours. It also adds a layer of security for your potential bidders while also protecting your images from other lazy sellers. You can advertise your other current auctions within an auction. You can provide discounts to multiple item winners. Also your templates should be consistent to breed familiarity with your auctions. Another thing is to pay attention to when the item is ending. If you know your demographic is in the US, you should schedule the item to end during a waking hour. It’s been proven most people are home on Monday evenings, so generally I have all my auctions end anywhere from 6pm to 9pm PST. Conversely as a buyer, often you will find deals on auctions ending in the wee hours or even on holidays as auctions typically end 3-10 days after an auction starts.
6. The Fine Print [but a bigger font] – Each of my auctions have detailed terms regarding payment [usually due within 72 hours], shipping [item shipped within 24 hours of payment, return policy [depending on the issue] and other terms I would like potential bidders to adhere to. Browse around to look at similar items you plan on selling and customize a set of rules that you would like. These details should be highlighted on each of your auctions to minimize questions and show your audience your professionalism.
7. Where the 3rd party at? – Potential merchants may use a third party such as Vendio for help organizing their sales, pictures, and other facets regarding their auctions. For example, say you have 5 of the same product. You don’t want to list them all at the same time, since you do not want to compete with yourself. A site such as Vendio can help you automate the relisting as soon as an auction finishes. Having a third party account definitely can help for a single person operation.
8. It adds up – There’s a multitude of fees associated with a sale of any one auction—the listing fee, commission fee, hosting fee, PayPal fee and any other potential service used. Often times you’ll see a seller charge $10 to ship something that costs $5, and while it sucks for the buyer, it’s almost necessary for the seller to help cover overhead. Keeping detailed records can indicate your profit margin as well as show you what items you should sell more of and what items you should cease. Once you achieve certain sales marks, eBay can generate customized sales reports tailored to your needs.
9. Shipping – As your transactions start to ramp up, you might want to start automating your shipping methodology. In pre-millenium, I used to scavenge recycling bins for that perfect box, write out the name and address with my doctor-like penmanship and wait in line at the post office hoping the buyer would receive it. However when I want to ship something now, I simply use a box that I got for free at The Postal Service [not the music group], fill out and pay for postage at the same site, affix the self-printed label and finally drop off at the kiosk. I often sneer at the people in line waiting to mail something as I stroll up to drop off my packages, and its no fun being mocked at. Opening a personal account with USPS or UPS is simple and they can even pick up packages for you. You don’t even have to leave your house and anything can get delivered around the world. The one crucial thing is to have a tracking number. Shady buyers can say they never received their package, and other than the tracking, there’s no other way to verify that. And leave the insurance at the buyers discretion.
10. Branding – Congrats, you have made it as a PowerSeller! Now if you have a sole focus, you might want to consider changing your eBay ID from your old college handle to something more appropriate. For example, if you sell golf clubs you should have a correlating name. Branching out also can create another revenue stream. Take a peek at the eBay Top 500 Sellers and you can probably figure out what most of them sell just by their ID. It’s also not a bad idea to maintain multiple seller accounts if you want to differentiate your product, but this entails sacrificing some feedback earned. Repeat customers are a key driver in any successful business where the customers like familiarity. You can post in message boards or other forums to promote your products as well.
So there you have my basic tips for starting out on eBay, which aren’t much different from what most retailers do. Unless you’re doing this for a living, you should remember to have fun in the whole process. Here is your chance to be CEO [but also mail clerk, and no offense to the mail clerks out there] of your own operation. You select the products, choose the marketing and set the prices. All in all it’s a pretty simple process once you are established. Good luck and happy selling!