This is part 2 of my eBay blog post series. See Part 1: “How to Win Auctions Efficiently on eBay”, here.
So, you want to get rid of your old crap, or even perhaps want to try to flip items for some decent profit? You’ve decided that Craigslist is too shady, yard sales are too ghetto, and classified ads are…so last century? What else is there? Well, for better or worse, there’s eBay. There are really few other alternatives to being able to sell your “stuff” anywhere else (Amazon is a decent alternative, but not for everything). And on eBay, you can literally sell almost *anything*.
OK, you’ve decided that’s your best bet, and are going to pursue selling on eBay. So, now what? Well, I’m by no means a mega-seller, but I have been able to achieve “Power Seller” status, and have maintained perfect feedback throughout on eBay, so I’m in a decent position to comment. Make no mistake, eBay is still not an ideal seller’s paradise. Expect about 15% to be taken from anything you sell. Add in shipping, and…well, who knows. Shipping can destroy profit margins, but we’ll get into shipping later.
Let’s focus on the critical aspects of the selling experience. These are in no particular order, but they’re all a part of what you’ll go through / need to know when selling an item.
By far, the most important aspect of anything you can do as a seller: you have to have a good product. Good condition, in working order, and clean. The more unique, fun, cool, stylish it is doesn’t hurt. Also, it should be sought after / popular. If it’s not, the way you sell things needs to change. Let’s look at two use cases:
- Item 1
Very popular, high demand, lots of previous comps (similar items have sold in the last few months)
- Item 2
Not in high demand, but not junk. Either a niche item or something that has only “hardcore” enthusiasts are excited about it; not a lot of recent sales
Depending on which spectrum the item lays on, changes the way you should market it and sell it. For Item 1, I would consider focusing on “what makes your item better than the average case”. I’ll go into this more in the Description section, but in terms of pricing, these types of items can probably have very low starting bids, and this may be advantageous to you in the long-run. The lower a starting price, the more interest you’ll get. The more interest you get, the more emotional people can become after an item. Your goal for Item 1 is to get people into bidding wars with each other. The more people you can get to bid on the item, the more chances you have for this to happen. This sounds like, “well, duh”, but it’s important to note. Keep in mind, the only way you can get a high price is to have at least TWO people interested. This shouldn’t be a problem if the item is popular.
For Item 2, I would consider setting either high selling prices and / or Buy It Now prices. The problem with these items is that it doesn’t have mass appeal, and it can take a long time for the right person to come along and buy it from you. I deal in a lot of niche items, so I’m very familiar with this bucket. With Buy It Now, you only need ONE person interested, and if there aren’t a lot of other people selling the item, you have supply on your side! Don’t underestimate what people will pay for things if they’re unavailable… But, be reasonable. If something has a market value of $15-20, trying to sell it for $40-50 is not going to work. Don’t be that guy.
The more “watchers” you have on an item should give you an indication on what will happen at auction’s end. Having 3 or more watchers on an item will almost always yield a bid. If you end up having something priced too high, keep dropping it a few dollars until you get some “watchers” (people who “save” your item to look at later).
Next to having a good product, which should be able to sell itself, is marketing your product. This is what eBay is, it’s a forum to market your goods. DO NOT SKIMP HERE! This is absolutely the #1, best thing you can do to increase sale price.
Luckily for you, you’re either mainly dealing with small-time sellers, who just want to offload their junk, and don’t bother to say more than four words and one picture to describe their item or you’re dealing with the mega-corporation, who is so detached, they can’t be bothered to give you anything but a stock photo and what the condition of the item “may” be in.
What are some specific things you can say to increase the final sale price (well, only if they’re true!)?
- Comes from a Smoke-free / Pet-free home
- Personally owned / Only one owner
- The item is unique and / or rare (if it’s really rare, mention how many were made)
- The item is out-of-print
- Mention MSRP, if you got a good deal on something and you’re selling it, mentioning MSRP implies *they’re* getting a good deal (never ever reveal your cost basis!)
- Mention that you don’t want to part with the item, and if it doesn’t sell, it won’t be offered again (this may be a little untrue! =D)
- Mention how well you pack your items, specifically mention how and what it will be shipped in
- Give FREE shipping
What are some things you can do to enhance your listing?
- Describe the condition to every possible detail; note damage / problems, don’t hide anything (you could argue that this will *decrease* the value, but I’m assuming you’re a reputable seller, not an ass)
- Show lots and lots of pictures (you get 12 free!)
- Mention the other items you have for sale; not that you just have items for sale, mention the specific items
I cannot stress this enough. You must spend a significant amount of time talking about your item. Take good pictures. Write your description like you’re sad to see it go / proud of the item. Use templates to save you time, but you must write something unique about the item; it really, truly helps.
You are able to modify the description at any point in time, don’t forget that!
Here’s the section that most people care about the most: how much money can I make?? This is a really important section because SO MANY sellers just don’t understand market dynamics. I see too many sellers selling things for outrageous prices. If that’s your game, then I have nothing to suggest for you. If your hope is to dupe one crazy guy into paying a ridiculous amount for an item, then go for it. Keep in mind, the more you go over “market value” for something, the more of a chance you have for: returns, negative feedback (AKA the eBay seller killer), and just general dissatisfaction. I’m always *terrified* if I end up selling something to another person for much higher than I believe to be market value, because as price increases, expectations increase.
I think I got off-topic, where I was I…? Oh right. Pricing your item. Don’t go to the other extreme and list all your items for 99 cents. That’s a really bad idea, as you are almost guaranteed to leave money on the table / screw yourself if only one person bids. No, the best thing you can do is, do your research. Find out what the items have sold for previously, and if you have a higher quality item, try to sell it for 10-20% more. It’s that simple. My basic strategy is to list items generally for *around* average price (higher or lower), and have a Buy It Now available for someone who doesn’t want to deal with an auction. Don’t underestimate Buy It Now! For some, money is no object (or they’re just impatient). These people are your friends!
One last thing to note on price. You have the option to “Accept a Best Offer”. Use this with caution. Sometimes this can be advantageous, but most likely, you won’t like what you get. The only reason I would ever use this if the item I’m selling is so rare, I have no idea what’s market value, and I’d just like to gauge market sentiment, and I like an offer, I’ll accept it. This implies that the Buy It Now price is very high. Again, use this with caution as there’s just too much downside to using “Best Offer”. It borders on the “Craigslist” realm, and you don’t want that. Oh heavens, you do not want that…
Like the description, you can also modify the price at any point in time while the auction is running, with the following caveats: no one must have already bid yet, and more than 12 hours must remain on the auction.
What do I mean by this? I mean the relationship that you have with your clientele. Strive to answer any questions you receive on items as QUICKLY as possible. Definitely within a day, hopefully within the hour. You should have eBay’s mobile app, so that if you get a question, you’ll get an alert, and you should be able to respond almost immediately.
It probably won’t yield repeat business (it’s just so rare for one person to buy multiple items on separate occasions), but should generate a bid if what they’re asking about is answered satisfactorily.
If you paid attention to the “Description” section, you shouldn’t expect a lot of questions, but if you get them, do your best to answer them as quickly as possible.
First thing’s first, you need a scale. Here’s one similar to what I use. Why do you need a scale? Simple, because you need to be able to print shipping labels from home. If you’re going to sell any decent amount of stuff, it’s absolutely critical. The last thing you want to be doing is going to the post office and shipping from there. In addition to lost time (which is not trivial), you’re actually getting *worse shipping rates* than if you bought them online; it’s about 10%, if I recall correctly. Don’t be stupid. Don’t waste your time and money. Print from home.
OK, next, you’re going to need to something to print from! Hopefully you have a printer already at home; honestly, anything will suffice. But here’s the one I use. I would suggest a laser printer if you can afford it, but if not, go for a *wireless* inkjet printer at the very least (decent ones can be had for $50-70). If you end up getting an inkjet printer, for the love of all that’s holy, don’t waste money on brand-name ink. You are getting royally ripped off. Find a reputable ink seller on Amazon, here is a 5-pack ink set for my Brother printer for $6. Yeah, Brother wants $20 a cartridge. No thanks!
Now, once an item is sold, you will then:
- Package up the item.
Depending on what you’ve sold will determine what you do in this step. You either need a box or an envelope, most likely. Hopefully, you buy a moderate amount of stuff online, so you should have a stockpile of used shipping boxes to pool from (including packaging materials). If you don’t, start! Depending on what / where you’re shipping, if may even be cost-effective to use a priority mail flat-rate shipping box. The most useful one I’ve found is an $11 Medium flat-rate box from USPS. It can hold 20-30 magazines, which end up weighing 20-30 lbs. That’s just an example, but it’s good for very heavy items.
Most likely though, you will just need a box or an envelope. So, like I mentioned, try to pool from existing resources. Otherwise, if you can fit your items into a bubble mailer, I would highly suggest doing that. It should save you on tape (which is something that’s hard for me to recommend, $1 for 10 yards seems to be about the going rate…I cannot find good tape on sale, ever, but I digress…), make packaging easier, and it looks nicer. I would recommend trying to spend 20 cents or less on a bubble mailer (don’t spend $1-1.50 at the store!!). Buy in bulk, here’s a 100-count set that I buy regularly.
- Weigh your item(s)
Simple enough. If you have a decent scale, this should be easy. Remember, you should round UP, so if something weighs 7.6 oz, ship it as 8 oz. If you’re on the bubble and it’s something like 7.9 or 8.0 on the dot, it might be wise to play it safe and ship it as 9.0 oz (because the tape / label will add some weight).
- Create / Print the shipping label
Cut it out with some scissors, and adhere it to your package with tape or glue (I would recommend tape). I don’t recommend the “sticky labels”, as they’re very expensive. Remember, you’re trying to make money on this endeavor, and if you end up wasting money on frivolous packaging, you’re losing money.
- Ship your item
That’s it! If you want to be a highly respected seller, you should ship it out the same day as the order arrives (see “Discounts” for a bonus reason). You have the option of scheduling a pickup through USPS (though I’ve never done it), or just drop it off at the post office. I assume you’re using USPS, as I’ve never found FedEx or UPS to have cheaper rates. Fun fact: that “13 oz rule” in the “drop bin” at the post office isn’t enforced. I wouldn’t recommend putting something that weighs 10 lbs in there, but if it’s a 1lb or 2lb item, you’ll be fine. Don’t wait in line.
If you *have* to wait in line, simply go up to the counter and say you want to drop off (because you’re not buying anything). They should accommodate.
There you have it! That’s shipping. Get into a good rhythm, and you can normally package up an item in less than 5 minutes. I’m lucky to have a post office on my way to work, so it’s never “out of the way” for me. If you have to go far out of your way to ship…well, you might want to consider some alternatives because, as you know, gas isn’t cheap!
In this section, I’ll break down what fees you should expect, and even some tips on how to avoid certain fees. Here are the fees, that you should expect to pay, whether to eBay or those that you’ll incur in the process:
- Listing Fees
The dreaded listing fee. Also known as: eBay’s nickel and dime operation. I hate this fee. Everyone hates this fee. In my opinion, this is the fee that prevents a lot of people from selling. I HATE THIS FEE!
This fee is applied when you “list” an item for sale. It’s normally 15-50 cents an item. eBay is charging you for the privilege of making your item visible, whether it sells or not. Did I mention that I hate this fee?
In 2013, eBay seems to have finally, finally, FINALLY (!!!), made this fee more bearable for small-time sellers. Given eBay’s track record, this is subject to change, but right now, eBay gives you 50 free listing fee insertions per month. Yay! As I’ve mentioned, I’m not a mega-seller, so that is more than enough to get me to avoid this fee. If I end up getting close to it at the end of the month, I’ll simply just wait until a new month begins. I’m not that impatient. Take advantage of this while it lasts, who knows when eBay will get rid of this.
eBay also has a concept of “stores”, where you pay a monthly fee and get some additional tools available to you. I bought a store once, I didn’t find it was worth it, basic ones are $20/mo. Make your own judgments, check out eBay’s store info, do the math, and see if it’ll save you money. It might, but I don’t think it’s worth it.
- Listing Enhancement Fees
You shouldn’t pay a single dime here, ever. eBay gives you the option of bolding, highlighting, or promoting your item. Giving you more pictures, or adding a subtitle. Letting you list in more than one category.
These aren’t worth it, and you should never use these…unless eBay has a promotion when they’re free (it happens).
- Final Value Fees
Right now, as of May, 2013, eBay has changed Final Value fees to be a flat 10% on most all categories. It used to be variable on many different factors. I greatly applaud this simplification (hey, when do you think the government will do this?), and I think a lot of other people do too. I still think it’s OUTRAGEOUS, but at least it’s simple. Again though, this is subject to change. See eBay’s fee page for more information on what fees they charge at any moment in time.
- PayPal Fees
OK, I probably should have covered this earlier, but you have to have a PayPal account if you’re selling on eBay. It’s not “technically” a requirement, but it essentially is, there’s no way you will sell anything if you don’t accept PayPal.
That said, PayPal charges a fee to handle payment transactions. Of course they do! What are these fees? Right now it’s 30 cents + 2.9%. Doesn’t seem like a lot, but that’s a lot. Especially if you’re selling items that don’t cost a lot. What’s 30 cents off a $100 sale? That’s 0.3%. Not too unreasonable. What’s 30 cents off a $5 sale? That’s 6%! That said, that 30 cents can be a real killer if you’re selling stuff under $10. It wipes away a lot of profit. Beware this fee. There is no way to avoid this fee, that I know of. Maybe this will go down if they ever end up stop being a monopoly (doubt it). But to view what PayPal’s fees are, go to their fee page here.
- Packaging Fees
This shouldn’t be ignored, even if it’s not a fee paid to eBay directly. These are the costs that you incur when you package up an item. I don’t recommend EVER charging your customer for “handling” fees, so this is a cost you’ll just need to eat. Things that I would include here are: cost of packaging materials (hopefully free if you’re reusing items, otherwise, aim for 20 cents or less), binding materials (tape, glue, etc), ink, paper, and fixed cost fees toward things like the printer and scale (which should “go to zero” over time).
This is one of the few areas where you can “control” costs. So, focus on lowering this overhead as best you can.
- Shipping Fees
So this is sort of a fundamental debate. Do you charge your customers for shipping fees or do you just offer FREE shipping and bake it in to the price? It really depends. If something is extremely heavy and will be exponentially more expensive to ship the farther away the destination is, I would strongly encourage you to leverage eBay’s automatic shipping calculations. What you’ll need to do is weigh the item, add a few ounces (in case you screwed up / factor in packaging), and put that on eBay. eBay’s tools will tell the customer how much they would need to pay for shipping.
For things that weigh less than 13 ounces or things that can be shipped via media mail, you should offer FREE shipping to your customers (because they appreciate that more). Ugh…small note on media mail: it’s extremely limited in what you can ship via “Media Mail” (USPS’ cheapest form of mail; zone independent). When in doubt, don’t do it…media mail is slow, subject to postal inspections, and…it makes you feel dirty for shipping that way. USPS’ definition on “what” you can ship is so vague, you can make a case to ship different items, but different post masters have different interpretations, sigh. Use Media Mail with caution.
Do not ship International. It’s not worth the trouble. eBay allows you to set rules to only ship to the continental U.S. Take advantage of this.
Shipping is one of the most complicated fees you’ll have to deal with. It ends up being one of the biggest drains of profit, by far. Offer local pickup, especially for heavy things. If you get lucky, you won’t have to ship, and you’ll save yourself some money (a good reason to bake shipping into the price by offering it FREE; you get to keep the implied shipping cost).
Sold Item Example:
OK, it might be good to go through a hypothetical example. Let’s say you sold an item for $100. How much would you lose in fees? Here’s a “best case” scenario:
Let us assume you paid nothing here. Otherwise, this will probably be ~50 cents.
- Listing Enhancement
Let us assume you paid nothing here. There should be no reason why you would need to buy these “enhancements”.
- Final Value
While there are certain exceptions, most categories fall under the 10% bucket. Congrats, you just gave eBay $10!
2.9% * 100 + .30 = 3.20 (which is effectively 3.2% in this case). So, in this relatively best-case scenario, you ended up paying eBay 13.2% in fees (eBay owns PayPal, in case you were unaware).
If you followed my advice above, your packaging costs should be around 50 cents an item. That’s another 0.5%.
Ruh-roh. Here’s the big variable. Let’s take the “average” case and say it’s $5. Unless you’re selling extremely low-weight items, this will always end up being, at minimum, $3. So, yes, that’s another 5%. Add more depending on gasoline costs.
TOTAL DAMAGE = 18.7% in total fees, conservatively. Do the same calculations for an item that sells for $20, and it ends up being closer to 40% (with shipping being the real killer).
The take home point here is, be aware of your fees. They add up, and they’re shocking. As long as you know this and are OK with it, you can do your best to take advantage of your options. Here’s an interesting article that talks about, “what’s the best place to sell videogames”. eBay comes out on top (keep in mind, they don’t count shipping fees…which is, kind of important, but…). In general, eBay is the place where you can sell your items for the most money. If you can sell it somewhere else after accounting for all the fee overhead, by all means, do it! But, I’ve found it pretty difficult to do. I am in no means a loyal eBay supporter, don’t misunderstand, it just is what it is.
Next, let’s talk about discounts. Discounts to both *you* and your customers. First, let’s discuss discounts that eBay offers sellers. You’re probably not going to be able to get any significant discounts selling early on, but the more you sell, the more opportunities open up.
To get a 20% discount on final value fees (essentially dropping 2% from your costs), you have to: sell $3000 and 100 items in a 12-month period, have good feedback, and offer next day and free shipping. Those offers will qualify for discounts. I was able to achieve this fairly easily after a few months. Check out discounts you can obtain here.
UPS offers discounts on services they offer to Power Seller members. I’m investigating this now to see if it’s cost-effective, I can’t comment on it too much at the moment.
But, other than those those big ones, you should be able to take advantage of eBay’s “50 free item listings” a month. That should be more than enough to get you started.
Sometimes eBay has random promotions, so be on the lookout for promo emails.
The other type of “discounts” pertains to your buyers. Offer some sort of incentive for purchasing multiple items: combine shipping, give some percentage off the purchase price, etc. This will encourage more bids, and you’d be amazed at how often multiple people end up *not* winning multiple things, so in that regard, you probably won’t end up even needing to give a discount.
Well, that’s all I have. That was lengthy, but that’s my strategy. Hope that was of some benefit. If so, let me know in the comments section below!