Henry’s Random Thoughts
There are four basic types of listings: pure auctions, reserve auctions, auctions with buy-it-now option, and fixed price listings. All of the types have their benefits and drawbacks. Which one you choose depends on the nature of your goods and the situation you are in.
Pure auctions set a low starting bid like one cent or some other nominal amount. The main benefit of a pure auction is that you know your item will sell. The main drawback is that you are not sure how much money you will end up getting. But while you might stay up at night worrying about someone “stealing” your lot for a bargain price, there is an upside to the uncertainty. You are not putting a ceiling on how much it can fetch. You might have something that is more desirable than you think, and you can let the buyers do the dirty work of driving up the price. Also, the low starting price can tempt a lot of people to flag your auction as a potential bargain. Once they become interested, they might get tunnel vision and bid more on your goods than the price available from other sellers. This desire to win the object of their attention is the auction mentality, and it is very helpful to Christie’s and Sotheby’s, so it might as well be helpful to you. My advice is to use pure auctions for high-end collectibles or other unique items that do not appear on ebay often. If you do it right, you might see 20 or 30 bids before the end. A high number of bids catches the attention of those searching the listings.
Reserve auctions put no ceiling on the price, but there is a floor. You have the option of starting an auction with a high minimum that all can see or a low starting bid and a secret reserve that will not be known until it is met. Some people like secret reserves because the bid count can build as people try to meet the reserve. My experience is that reserves scare a lot of people off. My personal preference, when I need to have a price floor, is to just start the bidding at that level. It doesn’t waste people’s time that way. The major drawback to listings with a price floor is that people who see your listing might just pass on it immediately because it doesn’t look like a bargain. As I mentioned above, bargains can get people interested in your item, and there is a very real chance they will put in a competitive bid due to the psychological attachment that has built over a few days. I would recommend reserve auctions for an item that you would truly would rather keep if you can’t get a certain price out of it. Also, if you sell on consignment, someone might insist on a minimum. Finally, there might be an item that has a very thin market. If there are only a handful of buyers out there that want your item, some of them might miss your item and some of them might not have the money to buy it. If there is only one bidder willing to pay a fair price, look out because he is going to “steal” it. You need at least two serious bidders, since the hammer price is just a small increment above the second-highest bid.
Auctions with Buy It Now are an interesting hybrid of auction and sale. There are two major advantages to offering the Buy It Now option. First of all, it will serve buyers who can’t or don’t want to wait for the listing to end. You get a good price and turn your inventory over faster. The second reason is that it forces a decision from a buyer before the end. Anyone who wants to wait will run the risk of another buyer taking the item away at a bargain price. If you choose this option, don’t start the bidding at a penny. The Buy It Now option goes away when someone places a bid, so someone who wants to think about it can kill off the risk of losing it by putting in an initial bid of one cent. Set your starting bid at a low but significant price. Set the BIN at a level that is a little high but not completely overpriced. If experience shows that a video game is fetching $40, start the bidding at $30 with a BIN of $45, for example. Types of items for this kind of listing are somewhat distinctive but common enough for you to have a good idea of the market value.
The final way to sell on ebay is the fixed price listing consisting of nothing but a BIN price with no auction feature. This is best for items where the market value is well-known and you have a lot of the item to sell. You can sell an item one at a time or list the total quantity available in a single listing. This leaves open the chance that someone will buy more than one at a time. Just be sure to price it right or you will either leave money on the table or never sell anything.
Ebay has an “a la carte” system of charging for the insertion of listings. A basic listing is fairly cheap, especially if the starting bid is low. But if you want multiple photos, fancy wallpaper, bold titles, and other bells & whistles, the cost will rise quickly to several multiples of the original charge. There are even options that let you feature the item in the category (item will show up first in searches) or make the item show up on the home page. The last option can cost triple digits. While the feature in category and home page options are powerful tools, they should not be used by beginners. Wait until you have some experience and are sure you have items that will make such options pay before throwing hundreds of dollars around.
The options that focus on the layout of the listing are much more affordable. They are usually less than a dollar. Personally, I don’t like the listing designer. I don’t want my listings cluttered, and the “great gift” icons and such seem pretty useless to me. One thing I do like is The Gallery, a 35 cent add-on that allows a small photo to be shown on the search results. This is very good for grabbing buyers’ attention.
When writing the title, use words that people would use in search queries to find your item. You get something like 80 characters, and you should try to use almost all of them. Personally, I use all caps on titles. When writing the body, you should try to describe the item as best you can and explain your terms. However, you don’t want to drone on too long. If there are lots of details you feel you should mention, put the main points at the top in large font and all the details near the bottom, after the pictures if possible. It helps if you know a few HTML tags so you can do your own headings, font colors and font sizes. But if you want to wait to learn that, there is an option to use an editor with a “what you see is what you get” philosophy.
Pictures are unbelievably important for most items up for sale. Ebay offers one free picture to be uploaded to be shown at a moderate size near the bottom of the listing. I would take advantage of this at the very least. This one picture is required to use the Gallery feature, anyway. This bare minimum is good if the appearance of your item isn’t that important. If it is a book or a common CD or a copy of a video game, people don’t need a huge image to get an idea of what you are selling. If you are selling a collectible or decorative item, one or more large photos will be well worth the trouble. When I want to insert photos, I will use the one free one offered by ebay, then insert more into the text of a listing using an HTML link to a website I have. This takes a little bit of tech savvy, although I don’t consider myself an IT expert. If you don’t want to learn to do this right away, you can pay a little extra to upload more images into the ebay system and also use the feature that allows buyers to supersize images.
It goes without saying that you should do a good job taking the pictures. You don’t need a whole lot of megapixels in your camera, since the images will be compressed anyway. Just make sure it takes clear pictures with good lighting. A flatbed scanner may also be used for flat items. It is good to have a program that lets you crop and reduce the size of photos. If you will be using the photos over and over again, you might want to insert a text box that goes over part of the item in an unobtrusive way. This will keep your competitors from lifting you image and using it in their listings. This might not bother some people, but I consider my photos a competitive advantage, and I don’t want to just hand my work over to someone else.
Remember, you can get ideas for listings by looking at the listings of others and using things that you like. You can even look at what kind of prices things are fetching to see if you can figure out what gets more bids. I’m not suggesting that you rip off the listings entirely, but there is nothing wrong with looking for general ideas. Ebay is an open system, so you can bet people will be looking for ideas in your listings.
Once you have all the photos and information ready, go to my.ebay.com, sign in, click on the “Sell” icon at the top, and begin filling out the form. It is fairly user-friendly. You fill everything out, then go to a confirmation screen where you can preview your listing and make changes. Give yourself plenty of time early on, as you might have to keep tweaking your listing to get it where you want it. Once you have a listing out there, you will have an option to sell a similar item. Everything will be filled in from your prior listing, but often times, changing the information over to suit the new item is easier than starting from scratch. You may also save a listing as a template so you will have it as a starting point in the future.
Don’t panic if items are sitting at low prices all the way up to the end of a listing. The bulk of bidding comes at the end. It is not unusual for ten day listing to double or triple in price on the last day. If other listings sold for similar amounts, you did a good job describing the item, and your reputation is good, then you should expect the ending price to be close to that amount.
Log into the “My ebay” page daily. Not only can you see the bids on your item, you can see how many watchers your item has. But most importantly, you can check your messages. The ebay messaging system is an email-like system that operates completely within ebay. It is better to use this messaging than standard email because it is more reliable. You don’t have to worry about whether your communication will get through spam filters, and you can avoid many of the phishing/spoofing scams that infest your email. You can always try email if the ebay system doesn’t get a response.
Questions will be about all topics, but will mostly be about the condition of your item and shipping terms, and other payment terms. Answer these as truthfully as you can. Don’t brush off questions about your items. Do your homework. Many bidders will know more about the item you are selling than you do. If you find out that your listing is inaccurate, remove it. Just make sure everything makes sense. It is not unheard of for someone to try to yank your chain for whatever reason. If someone accuses you of a misleading listing, ask for specifics and make sure the argument makes sense.
You might also get requests to pull your listing and make an immediate sale to someone. While it might be tempting to speed up the selling process this way, I always politely decline these requests. Think about the motivation of a buyer: to pay as little as possible for something, not to help the seller out. Odds are you will get more if you let the auctions run their course. Also, bidders who watch specific sellers might get tired of checking your listings if they constantly disappear before they are supposed to end. But again, this decision is yours. Ebay will let you pull a listing before it ends for almost any reason, even if it has bids on it.
If you list in batches, it is probably best to wait until all the listings in a batch are over to begin invoicing. On the My ebay page, go to “Items I’ve Sold.” Next to each one will be a drop-down menu with “Send Invoice” as an option. When you click on it, an invoice form will appear. If your shipping total is correct, and the bidder has only bid on one listing, it will be good to go. Just press the send button and the bidder will be sent the total. If a bidder has won more than one item, the other items will appear on the invoice unchecked. You should check all boxes and click recalculate. Then, look at the shipping charges and make sure you enter the proper amount for the combined package. Then send it off.
Pack your items well. If you work in a place that receives a lot of goods, you might be able to get shipping materials for free that would otherwise have been thrown out. Any chance to economize on shipping supplies is money in your pocket. Ebay and Paypal have an option for printing shipping labels with prepaid postage. You should get set up for this. All you need is a good printer, a scale, and paper that has labels that fit two to one sheet of letter paper. You can buy the scale and labels on ebay.
Written by Henry Grimmelsman starting in 2007. Please do not use without citation and linking to my website.