Think of eBay as the ultimate return policy. No matter where or when you bought an item (or from which crazy relative you received it as a gift), you can turn around and sell it, sometimes for more than what you paid. The eBay marketplace is no longer a phenomenon; it's a hobby, a livelihood, and even a way of life for millions of addicts around the globe. But no matter how much you sell on eBay, odds are you're missing a few opportunities to maximize your bottom line. Here are some tips that can help.
Look before you list. The most effective way to get the most money is to know your market. Before you list your item, perform a quick, title-only search on eBay for items similar to yours. Then, click on Completed items (under the Display heading) and sort the results by price (highest-priced first). Keep in mind that any given item on eBay is worth only what others are willing to pay for it, so ignore any listings that never received bids. Scrutinize the most successful sales and see how the sellers have described and promoted their items in order to earn top dollar.
Price to sell. When you're ready to list, set your Buy-It-Now price in the neighborhood of what you expect your item is worth; raise it a little for particularly in-demand or scarce objects, or take a few dollars off if you want to move your merchandise fast. Set the starting price (the opening bid) much lower, though, anywhere from a single dollar to no more than half your item's value; this will encourage healthy bidding, thus raising the perceived value and the final price. If you've done your research, you won't have to worry about your item selling for too little.
Reserve judgment. If you're considering a reserve price for your listings—don't. The reserve price is a secret dollar amount below which you're under no obligation to sell, and it is useful only if you don't know the value of your item. Reserves tend to scare away bidders and accomplish nothing more than lowering the closing price unnecessarily. Even worse is the use of a Buy-It-Now price alongside a reserve price, as bidders easily confuse the two and give up any hope of getting a bargain.
Spelling counts. The success of any auction item relies almost entirely on the likelihood of its being found in searches and—to a lesser extent—eBay's category listings. eBay searches are seeded by the words you place in your auction titles, so include as many relevant keywords as possible without wasting space with unnecessary punctuation, nonsense such as "@@ Look! @@," or any other terms for which your customers won't be searching. Since eBay uses exact-match (as opposed to fuzzy) searches, the words in your titles must be spelled correctly in order to show up in search results. But if you have the space, be sure to include some intentional misspellings (Delorean, Delorian, or Delorion, for example) to accommodate your more spelling-challenged customers; just make sure the correct spelling is also there.
With only a scant 45 characters in which to work, there's rarely room to spare in an auction title. If you're inclined to highlight the condition, scarcity, or other special aspects of your item, do so in the subtitle. Although subtitles are indexed only in title-and-description searches (not the more common title-only searches), they do appear in all search results and category listings and are effective in getting extra attention. A subtitle costs 50 cents, so don't bother for any item worth less than about $25.
Dress for success. A little color and spice in your auction will not only make it more inviting and more professional-looking, it will help emphasize important details in the auction description. Among the most vital are the payment and shipping details, both of which are unfortunately buried far beneath the photos in eBay's new auction page design. The clearer, simpler, and easier to find your terms are, the less likely you are to be hassled by confused or disappointed customers or deadbeat bidders.
Easy payment plan. The easier you make payment for customers, the more likely they'll be to give you their business. The most popular payment method these days is PayPal, which lets members send money to anyone with an e-mail address. The only cost is assessed to sellers, on the order of about 3 percent of the amount a seller receives. But don't be put off; the extra bids you'll get with that PayPal logo in your auction will more than make up for the measly 3 percent fee.
Although PayPal goes to some lengths to safeguard its members, you'll want to take a few extra steps to protect yourself. As a seller, refuse any payments from buyers who don't provide confirmed addresses (meaning that PayPal has verified them through their credit card records). Otherwise, you'll be forced to forfeit any money later found to be from a stolen credit card. And as a buyer, always fund your payments with a credit card for an extra layer of protection from your credit card company's charge-dispute department.
Worth a thousand bids. Nothing sells your auction better than a good photo, and you can improve your auction photo– taking skills with a few simple tricks. Shoot your item at an angle to exaggerate its depth and to make it look like it's about to jump out of the screen. Light your item from two different sources (including your camera's flash) to reduce shadows and enhance detail. Finally, make sure it's in focus! Move farther away from your item to help your camera focus on the whole thing, and crop out excess background later.
Open communication. Everyone hates junk e-mail, but your attempts to curb it may be costing you more than you realize. Overly aggressive spam filters are probably the biggest cause of negative feedback on eBay, as sellers' payment instructions often don't get to their customers' in-boxes. And bidders frequently retract bids after receiving no replies to questions sent to sellers, usually because of spam filters on both ends. Start by disabling any spam-blocking services you (or your ISP) may be employing and replacing them with a more passive spam scanner. I recommend Norton AntiSpam 2004 or SpamCatcher , which mark suspected spam so that your e-mail program can trash the messages—but only after you've had a chance to inspect them.
If you suspect that your e-mail isn't reaching its destination, there are a number of back doors you can use. First, use eBay's Contact Member form whenever possible, as e-mail originating directly from eBay's servers is less likely to be trapped by an errant junk filter. If that doesn't work, send your message from an alternate account just in case your return address is what's causing the problem. If you're a seller, put a note in your auction and payment instructions that tells customers to disable their spam filters if they don't get e-mail from you. Finally, try to answer your bidders' questions right in the auction description to educate—as well as reassure—all your potential customers.
Tools to use. Creating new eBay listings can be cumbersome and time-consuming, especially if you're listing a dozen or more items at once. Automated listing software lets you create templates into which you can insert item-specific information. You can save the listings on your hard drive, which makes selling similar items or relisting the same item easy.
You can also use listing tools to schedule your listings without additional fees (a service for which eBay otherwise charges a dime per listing). You can also take your time to compose your listings at 1:00 A.M. and then upload them to eBay the next day at work. Auctions that begin and end during the daytime (by your customers' clocks) fetch higher prices than those that close while your customers are asleep.
eBay's own very capable Turbo Lister application for Windows is available for free. (although normal listing fees still apply). Another worthy and free tool is Auction Submit, which adds post-auction record keeping, such as the final price and high bidder of each successful auction. Both tools help you list more items in less time and fund your own binge shopping at the world's largest flea market.
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