Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Beginners' Tips for Selling (and Making a Profit) on eBay

I've noticed that most people, for some reason, think selling on eBay is complicated and more trouble than it's worth. This is most assuredly untrue. With some dedication, focus, and - most importantly - desirable items that fall into a decent price range, it's not difficult to start a small business from home that easily has the potential to be more profitable than a minimum-wage part-time job. 

Start out by following this simple instructions and tips and you might be surprised by how enjoyable it can be, too. :D

Step One: Figure Out What to Sell

Sounds basic, I know, but many people don't have any kind of an eye for what's valuable and what isn't. Even if you do, sometimes there is no apparent rhyme or reason to the Internet and its highly variable swarms of bargain-savvy office chair shoppers. Not setting yourself up for disappointment and non-profit is something I'll cover a couple of steps from now.

What you want to do is cruise eBay for a while, searching for everything you can conceive of wanting to sell, and see how much said things are selling for. Remember not to sell things just because you like them unless they're in demand. Where you acquire your stock is also at your discretion: your attic, basement, thrift stores,  estate and garage sales, other online auctions and clearance racks are all good bets.

List prices aren't important; the number of bids on similar items and their final sale prices are the true indicators of how desirable and valuable they are. The number of feedback ratings a seller has is also telling: how successful have they been at moving items like these?

Finally, you may want to try selling an assortment of different items at first just to test the waters, but if you're choosing what to list (as opposed to just getting rid of what you've already got), it's better to specialize in one type of thing or a few similar things. That way, people will remember you for a certain product and come back knowing what to expect.

Step Two: How Not To Lose Your Ass

This is probably the most important part: the most basic ways to avoid losing money.

Before you even price your item or calculate the cost of shipping it, there are a few things of which you should be aware. eBay collects a number of different fees from listings in addition to a commission on the final sale price of your item. Be sure to list your item under only one category, the most accurate one possible. 

Listing a sweater, for example, under "Women's Clothing >> Tops and Blouses" and "Clothing and Accessories >> Vintage >> Punk, New Wave 1979 - 1989" is completely unnecessary and  redundant and will cost you something like 15 cents. 

Each picture you add in addition to the first one will also cost 15 cents. Only add additional pictures for higher-quality and more expensive items you want to present in a more professional manner and on which you want to show more details. When I want to show multiple angles I've deemed necessary on something like a basic vintage article of clothing I just smash two or three photos together using MS Paint. That's right, nothing fancy here! Just be sure they're nice, clear images - more on that later.

Adding something like a subheading to your item listing also costs money, so avoid this frivolities altogether. Everyone gets 50 free listings per month and I take full advantage of mine. After that, the insertion fee is 25 cents. If you're listing, say, 30 items beyond the free ones and you have 3 pictures for each of them (none of which are on special and free), you'll pay $21.00 just to put them up without any guarantee they'll sell. Totally unnecessary. Only do this if one dollar per item is irrelevant to your anticipated profit margin. Always consider the final commission eBay will take and even the small fees PayPal collects from your transactions when listing and pricing smaller items.

Lastly, beware Free Shipping and the $0.99 Auction. Don't assume something is going to sell for close to what you want for it if you list it for a starting price of only 99 cents. In some cases people will scramble for the item and bid it higher than the normal price you might have listed it for originally because many more people will see it and get more competitive when bidding, but this definitely isn't something on which you can rely. Don't list your item at an unrealistically high price but don't be afraid to list it for a retail-level value, either.

Also, only offer to ship something for free if you know it's hardly going to cost anything. Jewelry, for example, is the epitome of this tactic. Even when I see something with no additional shipping cost I instantly find it more appealing.

Step Three: How to Ship Things

I've noticed that people feel the same way about the post office not only as they do about eBay, but also about how things like computers and jet engines work: it's some sort of complicated, magic infrastructure, process or technology beyond their capacity to understand. Well, that's obviously not true. It's not intimidating, it's just mailing stuff.

First and foremost is the issue of shipping supplies. I sell a wide variety of items online and I therefore need boxes and bubble mailers of all different sizes. I also do a considerable amount of my very limited shopping online, so I just recycle almost all of the packaging that stuff comes in. No one cares as long as the old information is covered up. Just peel off the stickers that will come off fairly easily and and tape a piece of paper with the address written on it over the others , or put the sticker available for you to instantly print over them in the same fashion. Buying envelopes and things isn't necessary, and it's far from environmentally sound when they're only being used once. Stalk places such as your office for them instead. And yes, I do condone taking things - especially from abstract and/or corporate entities - that no one will miss. Packing tape is kind of expensive. No, ma'am, I have no idea where those extra rolls of it went.

You can also use the Flat Rate Priority Mail boxes and envelopes available at the post office to ship things. In the case of a coat, for example, the flat, long, $11 (the prices fluctuate a bit) Medium-Sized Box is definitely the cheapest way to ship it anyhow because of its bulk and weight. 

I simply guess how much things will be to ship - even items I'm shipping internationally - because I now have a good idea of how much it will cost after selling online regularly for over 4 years. I've only ever screwed up and underestimated cost a few times, though doing things willy-nilly like that is obviously bad business sense in the first place, if you're taking this seriously. Just remember to ship everything in the most secure, compact way possible. For example, I recently folded up a vintage romper and wrapped it in brown paper (also a wonderful, readily-available type of free packaging material) to ship it because I'd made no profit on it. I wouldn't call that winning, per se, but the fact that is was the size of a fat drink coaster did help.

 Step Four: Creating Appealing Listings

Now that you've stocked your items and shipping supplies, you'll want to make sure your listings look good. Why even bother if you're going to take crappy pictures? Find a way to take pictures with an all-white or otherwise empty and clean-looking background. Don't always use a camera's flash as it can look bad and misrepresent an item's colours. Do use image editing programs such as Picasa to brighten up your picture and generally make it look better, even if you're just hitting the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button and Instagrammifying it. This portion of the guide is easier for those with good aesthetic senses, of course, but it's still pretty simple and essential.

And, last but not least, don't give your item a stupid name no one's going to see. Cram as many (accurate) key search words into the title as possible. I've seen items with sentences for titles. What is that? I don't even. Just stick to the essentials! If you run out of room, decide which words are the most important and substitute lesser ones, even if the title makes a little less sense grammatically.

So there you have it.

Selling online is really pretty easy and straightforward. Probably the hardest part of all this is figuring how much it costs to ship things, and even then you can go to the post office and ask them hypothetical questions using various zip codes and items of different sizes and weights in different types of packaging. But don't be annoying and ask too many questions, in case your local postal workers are the famously disgruntled kind. Happy selling!

(Originally published 2.23.12)

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