About a year ago, I was looking at some of the stuff we had laying around the house that didn’t sell after a garage sale. I was thinking to myself what a metric crap-ton of work holding a garage sale is, and surely there must be an easier way to get rid of stuff and still make money at it, when it dawned on me…
I started doing a bit of research, and since then have sold quite a few things on the site. I didn’t find a lot of helpful info on eBay’s site, nor did I stumble on a blog like this one so much of what I’ve learned has been through trial and error. So I thought I’d put down some of my lessons learned, and hopefully a few folks will find them helpful.
- Do Your Homework on Pricing. When I say this, I absolutely DO NOT mean just find out what items like yours are listed for. You need to find items that are a) identical to yours (or as close to it as possible), b) compare what condition they are in, c) check the box on the left side of the page that says SOLD and d) be aware if the seller offered free shipping or not. Why are all of these important? Well, first you need to compare like to like, and find out if the site is oversaturated with items like yours. If so, you might have a tougher time selling. And it really doesn’t matter if someone is asking $49.95 for something just like yours, when all the others are selling for $15.00, and they’re in better condition than the item you have, or if everyone else offered free shipping. These are things you’ll need to factor into setting your price point.
- Be Honest With Yourself (And Your Buyers) About the Condition of the Item. If everyone else is selling something that is in an original box, and yours isn’t, you won’t get the same price. The same goes for scratches, tears, chips, etc.
- Take Excellent Photographs. For the love of God, I can’t stress this enough. I’ve seen people put items up for sale with out of focus photos. You can see an example of one on the right that I copied from eBay (with all apologies to the photo owner). What’s that supposed to show me? The background competes with the item, so that’s the first problem, and the camera focused on the background so the watch is blurred. If I’m going to ask a complete and total stranger to put their faith in me, and buy something they can only see in photos, the least I can do is take decent ones for them to see what they are getting. What works best for me, is that I set up a small area in my house when I’m getting things ready for sale, and depending on what they are, or how much detail is needed, I might even set up some studio type lighting or put a macro lens and ring flash on my camera so that I can take really good close ups. Here is one of mine: Notice how you can see all the detail on the back of the watch, including that there are minimal scractches? I realize not everyone has the capabilities for the same set up I do, but everyone should be able to find a way to take a photo that is sharp and clear. Also, remember to take pictures from different perspectives: front and back, sides, underside, etc. Show brand names, model numbers, anything that shows specifics about your item.
- Give Details in the Description. Tell folks what you’re selling – provide sizes, measurements, colors, even year it was made. I bought an inexpensive digital calipers from Harbor Freight, and have used that to measure things like case depth and lug width on watches. Think about what makes your item different or stand out, and include that in the listing.
- Consider Shipping Options. Are you offering free shipping? If so, that means you’re paying the postage for the item, which means depending on which option you select for shipping for them could be costly. I knew I wasn’t going to do this full time, and was only going to sell a little bit, so free shipping wasn’t a good option for me. I elected to have my buyers pay, but I offer them 2 options. The first is USPS Parcel Select, which is the cheapest, and the second is UPS Ground. In order to do this, however, you need to have your item pre-packaged and weighed BEFORE you list it for sale. I’m lucky in that my husband has access to boxes in a wide variety of sizes that would be otherwise tossed out, so we recycle them for shipping. He also has access to bubble wrap that would be recycled as well. Both of those have allowed us to not have to purchase shipping containers. If you do, you either need to know that cuts into what you make on your sales, or you’ll have to estimate those costs and add to the sale of your item as a fee. NOTE: When I weigh my items, I just use a kitchen/food scale. I enter the weight into the eBay listing tool as a range, so if something weighs 2 lb 4 oz, I enter it as 2-3 lb. You also need to know the dimensions of your box as you’ll have to put that in as well. If you don’t, the system puts in a default and if your item is larger, then you’ll eat the cost when you get to the post office.
- Auction vs Buy It Now. It depends. I go back and forth, and it just depends on what other items like mine have been when they sold. If most were Buy It Now, then I list mine like that. If you decide to do Auction, you have several options for the length of time to leave your auction open. If you set up items as Buy It Now, and you notice they aren’t selling, you can always drop the price.
- Offering Returns. I generally don’t for a couple of reasons. First, I want the darn thing out of my house and don’t want it back. Second, I know that what I’ve sold will work as I have stated it will, and I know that I pack things to not break during shipping. That being said, there have been a few times I have offered it, and when I do I add a disclaimer that says “If you wish to return an item, please reach out to me directly first and let me know the reason for the return. All items must be returned in the same condition in which they were shipped out in order to receive a refund. Return shipping to be paid by buyer.”
- Don’t Wait to Ship. I try to ship orders out within 24 hours of purchase, and have a 100% satisfaction rating from my buyers. They trusted me enough to buy from me and send me money, the least I can do is to ship out their purchase timely.
- Watch Your Messages. If you’re selling lots of things you’ll find that the 30 free listings that eBay allows you each month can go quickly, however they will periodically send out a time limited offer with additional free listings. If you don’t respond to the email fast enough to claim the offer, it’s gone. So far I haven’t figured out how to auto forward messages from my eBay inbox to my regular email provider, so I need to just log into eBay and look there.
- eBay vs Goodwill. Einstein’s definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The challenge with eBay is figuring out when to stop relisting items that didn’t sell, and just give it to Goodwill (or some other appropriate charitable organization.) Just because it didn’t sell the first time, doesn’t mean it won’t. I just sold something after about the 4th or 5th relist…yes, I had to drop the price a few times on it, but it did finally sell. On the other hand, I have stoneware dishes that aren’t selling after 5 relists. It’s probably time to quit relisting those, take them to Goodwill and get the tax deduction instead.
- Documentation. I didn’t make a spreadsheet initially, and discovered that once the listing is done after a short period of time you can’t go back and find it if you wanted to copy the info you had in it, like a really clever description. So now I have everything on a spreadsheet including descriptions, and what the size and weight of the boxes are as I keep my items stored in a crawl space until they sell. It’s a lot easier to reference the spreadsheet to relist items than it is to crawl around in the crawl space. I also have a regular document that includes statements like the return items disclaimer that I can copy and paste into listings, such as a statement to link listings with similar items.
A couple of final thoughts…most of us aren’t going to get rich selling things on eBay. If you go into this thinking you will, you’ll get frustrated very quickly. What you will get is a little pocket change, and a cleaner house as you get rid of that stuff that’s been hanging around forever, for God knows what reason. Have fun with it, but stay realistic.