How to make money on eBay

Here is what I do to make the most money for my items on eBay:

  • Use the 10 day auction. For only $0.20 more, it’s worth it to give buyers a few more days to bid on your auction.
  • Start the auction at $0.01. Starting low means you’ll get more bids as initial bidders nickel and dime the auction up to a reasonable starting amount. An auction with more bids appears exciting and attracts more visits. Do not worry about the final price: if your item is really worth anything, and you described it well, it will garner a fair price by auction close. Only use a higher starting price if your item is truly one of a kind, prospective buyers are rare, and final selling prices on prior auctions are inconsistent. (Chances are exceedingly high that nothing sold by a reader of this blog is “one of a kind.”) A preferable alternative to a high starting price is a reserve price. What this means is that if the final auction value does not meet or exceed the reserve price, the auction is not binding.
  • Only charge actual shipping costs. Sellers who pad shipping expenses are dishonest. Furthermore, buyers will gravitate towards sellers who have cheap shipping. (If you don’t believe that, consider that does not charge shipping on orders above $25. What effect does that have on their sales?) Charge only what it costs to ship the item, and do not charge any “handling” costs unless this item’s shipping procedure is unusual. Provide shipping materials gratis. (This requires prior planning on your part: grab discarded boxes from work, save packing materials, buy when the are on sale, etc.) eBay has a handy feature where if you provide the dimensions and weight of the item beforehand, buyers can see the exact cost to ship the item to their door. This leads me to…
  • Package the item beforehand. First, this gives you an opportunity to weigh the item. That way you can really know what it will cost to mail the item. Packaging adds weight; I’ve lost money on more than one auction when I failed to consider this. Second, what happens if you sell the item, receive payment, need to ship it the next day, but have no packaging? You have to make an expensive trip to the local office supply place and purchase packaging at full retail. What a great way to eliminate your profits! Had you prepared in advance, you may have been able to acquire boxes and packaging for free or cheap.
  • Give a detailed, concise, and straightforward description. List all technical details about the item, accurately describe its condition, and be honest and open about defects. Do not use lots of fonts, colors, graphics, or other distracting junk. Keep the auction plain and readable. Your item will sell itself if you described it accurately.
  • Do not be a used car salesman. Do not pad your description with chintzy text, graphics, or other crap. For example, “one of a kind,” “extra special,” “can’t miss,” etc. Give me a break. Do you want to make yourself look like a used car salesman?
  • Lots and lots of good pictures. Include many detailed photos. Give close-ups of problem spots and good spots. Do not use fuzzy shots or ambiguous shots (for example, poor lighting that prevents the user from seeing the item properly). I can’t tell you how many car listings I have seen that probably would have gotten higher final auction values if the photos weren’t horrible. If you screwed up the shot, 1. get off your lazy ass and retake it, and 2. learn how not to make the same mistake in the future.
  • Have a good feedback rating. I recommend a rating of at least 15 positives with no neutrals or negatives. Otherwise you will have a puny track record. Sellers with minimal, zero, or negative feedback often get horrible final auction values. You may need to make some purchases to get positive feedback.
  • Be honest, be honest, be honest. Dishonesty will hurt your feedback rating, and long-term it will just cause more headaches than it’s worth. Don’t be like eDrop of Wichita  (additional link).
  • Use PayPal. PayPal has steep fees, but it’s much easier for buyers to pay you if you use PayPal. Look at it this way: if you didn’t use PayPal and eBay, would you have been able to sell the item in the first place? And if you were able to sell the item (probably at a garage sale), would you have gotten this much?

With these tactics, I have had many surprisingly lucrative auctions. I’ve sold a broken Holley carburetor for $150 (the problem was accurately described), a Testors model for $80, and two new PDAs at a slight profit.

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