Top 10 Tips for How to Start Selling Coins on eBay

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Top 10 (or 11...) Tips for How to Start Selling Coins on eBay

This guide is a compendium of tips I have picked up from research, observation, and experience that have proven especially helpful in starting to sell coins on eBay.  I have grouped ten tips (well, really 11) into categories for "Before Listing," "Listing," and "After You Sell;"  all with a focus on practical things that will help you provide a professional experience for the buyer and get the good feedback that it merits.   I also will begin to link to additional, more detailed guides for each of the tips below. 

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A little Background...

I have spent most of my life as a coin collector; a few were purchased on eBay, but most were bought from fellow collectors, estate sales, auctions, and locals in the community who knew of my interest.  Like most collectors, I eventually began to upgrade and focus my collection and soon found myself with numerous duplicates in different grade levels as well as items that were part of potential type sets I had decided not to complete.  Although I  thought of myself as a collector/investor, I had mastered the collector part- I had a discerning eye, I knew what I wanted, and I had a lot, well, collected!-  but "investor" side also implied that I also had the potential to sell when appropriate.  I would occasionally trade and sell to fellow collectors in town, but I learned early that selling to the local coin shop (if \there was one) was a route I was wary to take with certain coins (but not all- see Tip #1 below!).   In many ways EBay seemed like a great option; I had pleasant experiences as a buyer there, but had also run into many auctions that left me feeling a little uncomfortable as a bidder; vague or inaccurate descriptions, altered or fuzzy photographs (if there were photographs at all), and unclear seller policies could equally be signs of a new seller or a con-artist.  Even if I trusted a lister entirely, I might still be unclear as to what I was actually buying.  This led me to believe that actually SELLING on something on EBay must be prohibitively difficult for a novice to master.  Having rounded the corner on my own journey as a seller, I am glad to report that it CAN be done, and while I won be blindly optimistic and say that is it is *Easy,* it is in many ways *Simple*.  In the 10 Tips below I will attempt to be more brief than my introduction, with the goal of expanding in new pages later.  They represent the sum of a great deal of internet research on my own part, before and since I began, as well as some tweaks picked up along the way, but the clearest summary, a Golden (or Silver or Copper or Nickel-clad...) Rule if you will, is simply this:

-Always Strive to Provide the Buyer Experience That YOU, the Collector, Would Want to Experience if YOU Were the Buyer


Tip #1: Think Realistically About What You Can and SHOULD Sell ON EBAY

This one has a couple of levels.  a) If you are a collector yourself, don't sell coins you will be sorry to lose even for a reasonable sale price if you can avoid it- it will taint the whole experience for you.  b) If you have coins you want to sell, that doesn't mean you should sell them on eBay!  Remember that, no matter what, you HAVE to pay shipping.  If the local coin shop only pays 50 cents, perhaps you can sell the coin on eBay for a dollar, but remember that shipping costs and materials can run around 1.04 alone even for low value coins, not including things like delivery confirmation and insurance.  Often after shipping, you may end up LOSING money on an especially low value purchase.  This isn't to say that collectors aren't looking for lower grade coins- I remember as a young collector always searching for low grade coins in scarcer dates and was glad to get a coin with discoloration if it had more details- but you'll need to think like a collector before you post!  Similarly, you also need to think like an eBayer- you might not feel comfortable buying a $1,000 coin from a seller with no feedback, but you might be more inclined to take the risk with a $1-2 dollar coin.  Start small with items where the potential lost-profit margin is low and build a reputation for your honesty and service before you post big-ticket items.

Tip #2: Take Large *Accurate* Photos of Your Coins:

There is no way to overstate this; any real collector needs to see a coin in person in natural light, possibly under magnification, before they can make a solid buying decision.  Absent that, the closest you can come is a large honest photo of the coin, in natural lighting.  Most modern digital cameras can do this just fine; here are some things to consider: a) Use a macro lens so you can take close-up shots b) if an option, adjust the white balance so that photos look like what you actually see c) if possible, take the photos outdoors in natural light;  otherwise by a window with good indoor lighting can work well d) choose a simple background; a sheet of sulfer-free white paper or a black piece of cloth can work wonders d) experiment until you get it right!  The goal is to be as honest as possible; if you can see a scratch or discoloration, the buyer should see it;  you won't do ANYone any favors by trying to edit photos or use tricks of lighting.

To actually POST those high quality accurate photos, you will either need to pay extra fees for eBay to host them (extra fees are charged to host larger photos and to post more than one photo hosted on eBay) I definitely recommend embedding externally hosted photos in your description- its a lot easier than it sounds and there are several options you can use to make it happen- check out my other guide on this particular topic here: How to Post Multiple High-Quality Auction Photos FREE

Tip #3: Write Clear Accurate Descriptions and Titles. If you know the lingo, use it; if you don't, try to learn it.

Don't toss around words like "Fine" or "Very Good" unless you mean them in the ANA grading sense;  more helpful is being thoughtful and pointing out areas where detailing in strong, or where problems are present but perhaps not immediately clear.  If a coin looks cleaned to you, don't say it looks AU!  If you see discoloration, no matter how obvious, note the discoloration.  If this is indeed your coin, there was probably some reason that you thought it was worth acquiring- let the buyer know it. 

Tip #4: Determine Your Seller Policies (Shipping, Returns, Etc) and STATE THEM CLEARLY. 

Any buyer should be able to read a single listing and know what to expect when they make their purchase- how long it will take for the coin to arrive, whether insurance will be provided, whether they can make returns; A buyer who already knows that you take 7 days after payment to ship a coin (which I don't suggest!) will be a lot happier than one who is surprised by this information!

Tip #5: Put Some Thought Into Your "My eBay" Page.

A lot of folks see a person selling a coin with just 1 or 2 (or 0) feedbacks, and they immediately think either a) new guy who doesn't know what they're doing or b) counterfeiter from China.  If you know about coins but are just starting to sell make that clear and let folks know that you know what you are doing and are dedicated to a top-notch customer service experience.  If you think you might need it, have someone you trust proof-read it for grammar and then for tone.  A good command of English and a friendly phrasing can help put a tentative buyer at ease.  See later Tips for getting feedback so this becomes less of an issue!

Tip #6: Familiarize Yourself with Ebay Selling Practices, Including Charging Reasonable Shipping.

This is a WHOLE CATEGORY on the feedback page for a reason.  It's not uncommon for new sellers frustrated with the 9% eBay charge to experiment with juking up their shipping price to protect their profits from some of those fees.  First, this is violation of eBay policy; ( shipping charges can only include the costs of packaging materials, actual shipping cost, insurance (if you provide it) and delivery confirmation (if you provide it).  Second, and most importantly, it's a huge turnoff to buyers; likely this is just an issue of psychology, but there is something about it such that the same buyer will gladly pay a 6 dollar bid with 99 cents shipping, but will be frustrated to no end over a one dollar bid with $5 shipping.  If the item ships in a stamped envelope, your shipping should be about 99 cents.  If you charge $5, buyers have a right to expect $5 worth of packaging and some quality shipping- priority mail, insurance perhaps.  When shipping expensive items, it may be well worth it to you AND the buyer to include these charges.  If you are selling a coin that will likely sell for a smaller sum, the "up to $300" insurance charged by the post office and fancy packaging can make up and unnecessarily high percentage of total sale cost that will be frustrating to you AND the buyer. 

Tip #7: Offer a Reasonable Return Policy. 

Many First-Time seller have initial hesitation about offering a return policy.  Perhaps they need the money, or are afraid of a dishonest buyer replacing or damaging the coin before returning it.  In reality, the mitigating factors are so great here that as long as it is done correctly, any seller would be wise to offer a return policy.  Consider the following: a) Coins are an item that, as mentioned before, are typically purchased by collectors only after seeing them in person-if you are expecting them to pay the prices they would pay for coins they have held, giving them that opportunity is your responsibility b) 98% of the time buyers will not return a coin if it has been listed well; if you have provided large pictures of both sides of the coin and pointed out its weaknesses, then there should be few surprises for the buyer unless there was an unintentional error in the listing c) Of the 2% who do return a coin, 98% are honest folks who either misread your listing or you have indeed made an unintentional error in the listing d) If coins are shipped in a holder, as they should be (see Tip 9!), simply ask that coins be returned in unopened holders if they are returned; this is standard policy in the blind sales that often occur between dealers e) Although I have yet to need to take advantage of it, I have heard that the new eBay Buyer/Seller Protection Policy has made this a smother process all around.


Once you have your inventory, descriptions, photos, my eBay profile, and policies ready to go- it's time to LIST!

Tip #8: Put Some Thought into WHEN (at what time) You Post.

I personally don't ascribe to the theory that Sunday afternoon or Monday morning are the ONLY good times to post; you could just as easily argue that the "market" is so flooded at those times that your coins may not get the attention they deserve.  That said, remember that many buyers are located on the coasts, so an "after-work" 6 PM weekday listing in the Midwest may still be a decidedly "during work hours" listing for buyers on the West Coast! 

Tip #9: Take Advantage of Tools That Will Help You Manage Your Listings. 

Especially as you move towards larger numbers of listings, it will get increasingly difficult to remember when you posted, what sold and what didn't, who you have left feedback for, what has shipped, and (most importantly) whether you are actually at least breaking even!  TurboLister, Selling Manager, and Outright have proved great tools for posting listings, monitoring customer service, and tracking sales respectively.  These free tools can automate feedback and emails, track inventory, and even inform what you might change to become a better seller.  Also, with a note towards tip #2, consider an photo hosting site for your coin photos that can then be embedded into your descriptions- the first photo on eBay is free, but zoom capabilities and additional photos cost more than it may be worth when you're working within a thin profit margin; off-site hosting allows you to put very large pictures within your description (although this may not always be obvious with a quick scan; you can check some of my auctions for examples- I note early that "additional large pictures" are available by scrolling down.)


Tip #10:  Shipping Matters at LOT.  

This is for several reasons.  I've already noted the importance of shipping charges to feedback; now lets get to the shipping itself.  First and foremost, shipping is how you get what you showed in the ad to the customer, and it needs to get there in the way you showed it!  For me, that means at MINIMUM, a windowed cardboard holder, taped securely to an invoice, with two sheets of paper (to provide a little sturdiness), and shipping with a first class stamp in a business envelope.  I have received coins jingling around in an envelope, and once even a few tapes directly to paper, with the tape actually on the ACTUAL COIN.  This may be acceptable for bullion, but if you purport to sell to collectors then even when dealing with circulated specimens, direct adhesive or friction in mailing is no way to treat a coin!  Windowed holders are also a security backup (see Tip #7- on return policies).  Second, in addition to security of mailing, try to do it FAST;  No one expects a 24 hour turnaround from an individual without a 24 hour staff, but 3 days is reasonable in most folks' books, and I try to do it in less if I can.  Finally, remember that the shipment is likely the last contact/impression you will have on the buyer before they leave feedback (see Final Tip!), so make it a good one; a coin securely and quickly shipped, perhaps with a personal note, even a kind reminder to leave feedback and to please follow-up with questions, can go a long way- I know it does for me as a buyer.

Final (Bonus?) Tip: Feedback Matters for a REASON- Make it Meaningful on Both Ends. 

I didn't want to write an article on "How to Get Good Feedback," because feedback is just a symbol, not the goal.  However, as anyone who has ever worked hard and learned a great deal in a class only to get a C on the final because they messed up on the answer key knows that, whatever the benefit, the symbol can matter.  Although eBay's new protection policies seem impressive, eBay was built on a user enforced system of feedback- your feedback was (and still is, to a degree) your resume.  Any user is likely to avoid a low percentage of positive feedback, and any user is more likely to be wary of a seller with few feedbacks; they have yet to prove themselves!  For this reason, you should expect to take a bit of a loss (or at least not make top dollar) on some of your first posts; don't blame the buyers- they're factoring in the risk of purchasing from an unproven seller into their purchase price!  Instead, start small and serve big- when you list a wheat cent worth $1.50, treat it with the diligence you would treat a coin worth $500.  And, hey, if it sells for $1.25, give that customer the service they would get with a $500, let them enjoy the deal (after all, they took the risk on you!) and give them reason to reward you with feedback you have earned- and give them positive feedback (first!) in-kind.  If a buyer doesn't leave feedback, there's nothing wrong with a friendly follow-up email to make sure they got the item and kindly ask them to leave feedback (perhaps noting its importance to you as a just-starting seller) but remember that overall only about 50% of buyers on eBay leave feedback.  I've been lucky/blessed in that more than 90% of my buyers have been kind enough to leave feedback, and I like to think that it represents the hard work I put into every listing, whether or not they sell and whether or not they are followed up with formal feedback.   At the end of the day, you'll feel better about yourself as a person, and, in the honor-based world of eBay, you may just be on your way to higher selling prices and (with enough volume) Top-Seller discounts for your efforts. 

I hope you have found at least parts of this guide helpful; please feel free to check out my auctions for my struggling attempts to practice what I preach (or just to look at some of my coins!), and any comments, suggestions, or questions on this guide are gladly received.  If you have found at least parts of this guide helpful, or think it might be helpful to others, please note it below.  If I can save anyone some of the hours I spent poring over websites to get the information and confidence to get started, I'll consider that a happy victory!

Happy eBaying!

R. (userid: cannoncoins)

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