What’s the most valuable thing you can sell on eBay? Your Uncle Max’s leather jacket in your walk-in closet? That box of Pokemon cards from your childhood? Or a 1950s Fender Telecaster that belonged to your dad, and now could fetch at least $100,000?
The answer: None of the above — at least if you hope to make a habit of selling regularly on the auction site started by Pierre Omidyar in the mid-1990s. To be sure, eBay has come a long way since Omidyar brokered its very first item, a broken laser pointer (to a guy who collected broken laser pointers, no less). You can make quite a bit of extra cash navigating the site, as I have over the years. But it helps to know something about how to get started…and how to earn the most from the items you sell online.
I used to be AOL’s “Savings Experiment” columnist before the company paid too much for the Huffington Post and laid off writers left and right. So I laughed when I read this overly-simplified eBay advice on AOL.com recently. The advice is fine, but it doesn’t go far enough. For one, no longer is eBay the only game in town, so sometimes it pays to sell via other online sites, which I’ll cover here.
To begin with, let’s answer the question that started this piece: What’s the most valuable thing on eBay? (Hint: It’s not for sale.)
1. Your most valuable eBay asset: “100% positive feedback”
Perhaps you’ve wondered why anyone selling anything on eBay can be trusted. The answer lies in a “positive feedback” score, based on the accuracy of product descriptions, and how efficiently sellers move to solve problems. My 100 percent score means that over the last decade-plus, no one has ever companied about my sales items, and everyone who left feedback had nice things to say. That’s crucial, because it means that when I describe a sales item as “mint condition” or “this will be packaged like a tank,” people can trust me every time. And trust definitely has a positive effect on sales.
If you’re new to eBay, don’t put your most valuable item up for auction before you have feedback. Instead, sell a a few inexpensive widgets first to accumulate a few pieces of positive feedback, after which potential buyers will be more likely to bid on your higher-value auctions.
2. Research your item before you sell it
Look around eBay and see what items similar to yours sell for. Can you offer a competitive price? Is the site glutted with that item? Can you offer an edge over your competitors, such as free shipping? Shipping for free might seem like a loss, but folks love it, and it you might allow you to ask for a slightly higher item price (either in a reserve auction, where bids have to pass a hidden threshold, or a “buy it now” price).
3. Sell your items in the best condition possible
Common sense, right? But you’d be surprised how many eBay items go up for bids in less-than-stellar shape. Ask yourself if you’d buy an item with a broken knob or a seam rip from someone you didn’t know. Didn’t think so. If you can repair of fix items before selling, so much the better; if you’re selling something for parts or the like, be very specific in your description that it’s “as is.”
4. Take and post great photographs
People want to see what they’re getting, especially since they’re looking online instead of in person. Make sure your photo gallery offers at least six clear views of the sale item, including any minor dings or distinguishing marks. This reinforces the message that you’re thorough and honest, and answers questions before a buyer has to ask them.
5. Write your description clearly, free of hype (and spelling errors)
If you can’t craft a complete, error-free sentence, you might as well make your pitch with a glob of spinach in your teeth. Proofread your announcement before posting — twice. Avoid used-car salesman harangue (“This baby will go fast!”) and stick to concrete details. (“Mint condition. Not a scratch on this 50-year old item.”)
6. Answer questions right away, cheerfully
If a prospective buyer asks a question, respond within 24 hours, or sooner if possible. Be cheerful, even if someone tries to act pushy or asks what you view as a dumb question. They may still buy from you in the end, so you never know.
7. Service after the sale
Pack and ship items with care. Let the buyer right away know when it should arrive. Ask them to respond in kind with feedback that reflects the attention and respect you’ve offered them. And if you’re a repeat seller, encourage them to follow your other sale items on eBay via email notices.
8. Consider eBay’s competitors
A new musical instrument site called Reverb.com offers two distinct advantages: First, its audience is tailored to people looking for music gear, and second, it only takes 3.5 percent of your sales price, compared to eBay, whose fees now run into the 9 percent range (not counting what it costs to list your item).
Also, eBay will hold your payment for up to 21 days, which is a long time to wait. For items close to home, consider whether craigslist will work for you. An ad on craigslist is usually free, meaning that you’ll make far more profit on any item you want to sell than on eBay, and without shipping costs if you’re selling in your metropolitan area.
If you’re ready to sell, great: I’ll see you on eBay and the like. And if you want to wait, that’s fine too; remember that certain times of year are great for selling items online, including back-to-school time, the holiday shopping season, and even January, when people are itching to spend cash gifts from the holidays. With a little bit of organization and planning, you can pad your bottom line nicely getting rid of stuff you don’t need (or selling products you obtain at a wholesale price). There’s no hard sell, and the cash is easy: What could be better?