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Frugal Family: So You Want to Sell on eBay?

Online marketplace eBay has become so popular that folks are enrolling in classes that teach them how to sell on the site. There’s no need to pay for a course if you’re willing to follow some simple advice.

Do you have a friend who brags about making money selling on eBay? Do you want to do the same?

Selling on eBay is appealing for many reasons. One advantage is that the “work” involved can be done at any time, from home. It’s safer than using craigslist or local newspaper ads that will bring strangers to your door. Lastly, the pool of potential buyers is enormous. That’s the reason Adam Cohen’s book about the ins and outs of eBay is titled The Perfect Store.

Three years ago, right before Christmas, I made several hundred dollars selling children’s items on eBay. I didn’t set out to do this, but two chance happenings inspired me to begin listing for a profit. 

First, my son outgrew all the jeans I had just bought him while back-to-school shopping. Not wanting to replace them at full price so soon, I turned to eBay. There I found numerous listings for the same style and color jeans, one size up. Most were, in eBay lingo, in EUC, or Excellent Used Condition. I paid less than half of what brand-new pairs cost.

Realizing that the outgrown pants were likely being sought by moms like me with smaller boys, I promptly posted them. They all sold.

Next, while shopping online for American Girl gifts for my nieces, I spied some doll clothing that had just been marked down. Not 20% off, but clearance priced at 60% off. After placing a few outfits for the girls in my virtual cart, I realized that I could likely buy more and sell them at a profit. I added a few dozen nightgowns and dresses to my order.

These, too, all sold. When I returned to the American Girl website to buy more, they were, predictably, gone.

These opportunities inspired me to list additional pieces of gently-used kid clothing and some nearly-new toys and books. All but a few were snapped up by eBay buyers.

Since that time, I have taken advantage of the site’s great deals as well as offered bargains to others. When The Thymes discontinued my favorite scent, I didn’t panic. I found it on eBay. When I forgot to bring back items within stores’ return time frame, onto eBay they went.

For those who are new to eBay, there is lots of advice out there. One excellent resource is Skip McGrath’s Online Seller’s Resource. It’s got great recommendations, but there are 77 of them. That’s a bit overwhelming for the uninitiated.

Frugal Dad lists five suggestions. That’s a bit more manageable.

I suggest starting with these tips:

Become an eBay customer. This is the single best way to understand how the site works. If you can think like a customer when you become a seller, you will be at a huge advantage. Even if you don’t bid on every item, put a few dozen on a watch list and follow the auction process. But I guarantee you’ll find something you want to buy!

Setting up an account is pretty simple. You’ll need a unique username and a credit or debit card from which eBay can withdraw any fees assigned to your account.

Search for identical items. With the sophisticated search engine on eBay, buyers can easily find all sellers’ listings of a particular item. It’s therefore foolish to list something if there are already dozens just like it on the site. Time your auction accordingly. Use the “advanced search” feature on eBay to learn the final prices of closed auctions. Then you’ll know what price to expect.

Learn to write great titles and descriptions. The site has good advice about this. There are also cautions about misrepresenting features of a product and using “like new” in its title.

Take photos of your items. Without photos, your listing will be overlooked by many potential buyers. Get an inexpensive digital camera and start a file with images of the things you plan to list.

Do not use photos of items that you do not take yourself unless their “stock photos" are acceptable. Copying images from other sellers’ listings is prohibited.

Start the auction price low. Most eBay “power sellers” start their auctions at $0.01. This may seem risky, and sometimes the strategy backfires. But more often than not, low starting prices generate more competitive bidding.

The listing price charged by eBay is lower for items that begin with modest initial bids.

Learn the lingo and abbreviations. Familiarize yourself with the most-used terms you’ll encounter on eBay. Reserve Price, Buy It Now, and NIP—New in the Package—are unfamiliar terms to most of us.

Time your auctions well. Research has shown that listing items whose auctions will close late in the day and/or on weekends is most effective. The goal is to have more people bidding up your item toward the close, and those customers need to be available.

Set up a PayPal account. Yes, you will be charged fees. But accepting PayPal is efficient and safe. The majority of sellers specify that it’s the only acceptable method of payment; the days of mailing cashier’s checks are over.

Know the fees you’ll be required to pay. Each item will generate a listing fee, a selling fee (refunded if no sale occurs) and a PayPal payment fee. There are charts on eBay to help with this. For most lower-priced items, figure about 7% for the final-value fee, 7% for PayPal, and a modest amount for the initial listing fee.

Learn about shipping. Most sellers pass mailing costs along to buyers. But the actual packaging can be costly. One option is to order free Priority Mail boxes from the US Postal Service, and ship items that way.

Getting a postal scale is another good idea. Knowing the weight of an item is helpful when assigning its shipping fee.

Take advantage of incentives. Often, new sellers are offered fee-free listings to get started. The items are still subject to commissions if they sell, but the risk is eliminated. Similarly, established eBayers who have been inactive of late are sometimes offered monetary incentives to return to selling.

Are you an eBay seller with additional advice to share? Or did you find a great deal on the site? Share your success with Patch readers!

Karla Vallance November 30, 2011 at 12:17 PM
This is a great piece. I hired an eBay consultant a few years ago to sell a slew of stuff that I had. She was worth every penny, but this piece outlines good ways to DIY.

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