Tips for eBay: Buying and Selling, Shipping and Handling and Feedback

So you’ve got a few things around the house that you’d like to get rid of but can’t bear to see them thrown in the trash? You’ve heard about this great website, eBay, but you’re not quite sure how it works? Selling items on eBay can be a daunting task, but here are several points to think about in order to make the process smoother:

Learn the system from a buyer’s perspective. Before you go listing everything you own to sell on eBay, try purchasing a few things (you could always resell them later!). Pay close attention to the types of descriptions and details that each seller offers for items. Notice how much shipping is and decide for yourself how reasonable the price was once you receive the item. When you understand eBay as a buyer, it is much easier to make the transition to seller.

Is it worth it? While it’s hard to speak to the actual value of the item you’re selling, there are several measures to help you decide whether putting the item on eBay is your best choice. One quick way to determine whether there is a market for your item is to hit the eBay site itself and do a search for what you would be selling. How many items just like yours are listed? How many bids are these items receiving? What seems to be the going rate for prices and shipping? If your search returns hundreds of items, it may not be the best time to sell, or eBay might not be the right place.

Be careful not to nickel-and-dime yourself. It’s not necessarily a secret, but it’s also not all that well-known: it costs money to sell items on eBay. Typically, the fancier the listing page for your auction, the more expensive. On average, I estimate a cost of around $1 for my listings, which include at least one picture and a plain print description. The more pictures added, though, the higher the cost. If you are considering selling an item that may not be worth all of the listing fees, one of the few ways to gain back your money is through a higher shipping and handling fee, which could deter bidders altogether.

To play the “shipping and handling” game or not? A quick trip to the United States Postal Service or a commercial store like UPS is enough to know that many packages can be shipped relatively cheap at flat rates or via media mail. Then why is there such a variety of shipping costs on eBay? Many sellers have learned to make back some extra pennies by charging extra on shipping. Some will explain that the extra fees are “handling” fees, indicating that the seller had to package up the item for save travel. With no explanation, we can often only assume that the seller was simply trying to break even.

Estimating shipping charges. It is up to you whether or not to charge exact shipping or a little extra to cover your packaging and listing fees. Because the shipping charge stays constant and there is no guarantee how much the item will sell for, it can be tempting to overcharge. It’s often better to be at least moderately on the safe side, but until you get the hang of it, shipping calculators can be a helpful tool.

Be honest with your buyers. Here is a major “DO” in the world of eBay: honesty is always the best policy. If there is a slight scuff or discoloration – anything out of the ordinary, really – zoom in with your camera and mention it specifically in your auction. By describing flaws explicitly in your auction, it allows buyers to see that you aren’t trying to scam them, and will help you get positive feedback.

Don’t use feedback for bargaining or retaliation. Many sellers purposefully hold their feedback until the buyer has left feedback, when in fact, it isn’t necessary at all. The buyer’s only requirements are that s/he pays in a timely manner and appropriate format – once the buyer has completed these tasks, it is courteous for the seller to leave feedback saying how well the buyer did. However, many sellers wait for the buyer to leave feedback first so that if the feedback left is negative the seller can retaliate by also leaving negative feedback. Even if the feedback left is positive, these actions send the message to the buyer that you, as a seller, are more interested in positive feedback than in good customer service.

Re-listing. If your item didn’t sell on the first try, don’t despair! You can re-list the auction, usually at a discounted price. Also, take a few things into consideration: did your auction end at an awkward time? Was your item listed over a major holiday? Is your item out-of-season? (It can be hard to sell Christmas lights if your auction is up during Memorial Day weekend and ends at 2 o’clock in the morning!) You might try a two re-list rule of thumb and decide that the third time the item doesn’t sell, it maybe just wasn’t meant to be.

Donate, freecycle, and recycle. While eBay is, at first glance, the world’s largest marketplace, it can also sometimes be the world’s largest garage sale. Remember that one person’s treasure is another person’s trash, and sometimes no one is in the market to purchase your specific item. Before you throw your things in the garbage, consider donating, freecycling, or recycling. Your items might be perfect for a local shelter or organization, or if not, can easily be recycled in your town’s recycling center. You could also consider checking out Freecycle.org to see if anyone in your community is interested in taking the item off your hands.

Above all, remember that selling on eBay should be fun and a little lucrative. If you find yourself getting snarled up in all of the stressful details or losing money, then it should be an easy call that selling on eBay was not for you. However, by keeping these ideas on mind, you should be well on your way to a successful start in eBay selling.

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