“EBAY IS THE BEST THING ever to happen to the used book business,” a fellow in that business confided recently. “I pick any old book out of the stacks, put it on display with some information that makes it sound important, and guaranteed someone is going to buy it to try to get more money for it on an online auction.”
People spend their time doing little but selling stuff on eBay; I know people who seem to do little but browse the site. And I’ve been sucked into it, too, keeping track of auctions of things I really have no business pursuing, but there they are, I know I can raise the money by the end of the week, and if I just sit tight and watch the listing. . . .
That’s why there’s a new rule in my house. If you (meaning me) want to buy something, you have to raise the money by selling stuff first. And the experience I’ve gained during my past many months of doing so has helped me decide what’s worth selling and how I should list it.
After picking out a few things to sell, before writing or photographing anything, I check in to see how much each item has fetched recently. Do a search for your item, and when the listing screen comes up, look in the left-hand column for the box headed with the word “Display,” and choose “Completed Items.” You’ll probably see a fairly wide range of prices.
An old monkey wrench, for example – the kind of thing that turns up in my basement. Here’s a vintage Winchester wrench that sold for $51; on the other hand, an old Ford Model T wrench went for $5.50. A copy of Nabokov’s Poems and Problems, similar to the one I bought 25 years ago for $8, sold for $100 – so valuable stuff may be on your own shelf, if you’re willing to part with it.
You’ll note that items with lower starting prices tend to win higher selling prices. Unless you’re selling something highly desirable with a known market price, consider taking a deep breath and starting it out cheap. As a note of personal preference, I’ve never run a “reserve bid” auction, in which you start the item at one price but secretly note a higher price below which you won’t sell. I like all the info out in front.
You know what you’re selling and you have a good idea what it sells for. There’s no question that a photo helps sales, and the Internet is filled with photos. If your item is commonly available, like a book or compact disc, you can borrow an acceptable image from an online retailer – but if it’s a rare book, you need to offer a photo of the exact item so the buyer can judge its condition. Likewise, avoid canned images that look too much like publicity shots. Buy and use a decent digital camera and you’ll make back the investment in fairly short order.
I’m not one of those power sellers with auxiliary software and fancy graphics. I type in rudimentary HTML coding for different type sizes, boldface and italics, horizontal lines and bulleted lists. There’s a good help system within eBay’s system that shows how; you can also read the source code of existing pages if you’re ambitious.
But the text itself is what sells the product. You’re pitching to an anonymous customer base that has, typically, a week to think about it. Be as honest as you can – the buyer ultimately will be holding the thing, so you can’t really hide the flaws. And you’ll be praised for your honesty in the feedback ratings, which is eBay’s system of thinning the deadwood. Buyers and sellers are encouraged to leave feedback about their trading partners, and the number of feedback listings displays in parentheses after each user’s screen name.
Because the buyer typically pays the shipping charge, calculate something that’s fair. I have a five-pound postage scale on my desk and a stamps.com account that allows me to print postage from my computer, which allows me to dispatch items quickly.
With your photo prepared and your text written, proceed to eBay’s “Sell” screen, enter your username and password, and navigate the screens the follow. Choose a selling category, craft a brief headline (make sure the most plausible search terms for your item are included), cut and paste your text, upload your photo, choose a starting price and auction length. Add postage info and you’re finished. I ignore the second category, featured item, auction counter and other such add-ons. My profit margins are low enough without incurring additional fees.
Once your item sells, pack it and ship it promptly. I’ve fallen into the common policy of not even waiting for checks to clear if the buyer has a good enough feedback rating.
It’s an addictive process that allows you clear a lot of shelf space, but you can’t sell everything. In fact, I think there’s a new definition for junk: It’s stuff you can’t even sell on eBay.
– Metroland Magazine, 22 May 2003