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How to Win at eBay:
Selling
© 2011 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

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August 2011     top of How to Win at eBay     Index of detail pages

NEW: Easy Selling on eBay.

 

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Buying is easy over eBay. A few clicks, and stuff shows up at your door.

Selling well is very difficult. You have to do a lot more homework and live up to very high expectations.

I'm not an eBay seller. The only time I've tried to sell something on eBay, the buyer evaporated. I haven't bothered again.

Even better, here is advice based from a buyer's point of view, which along with my own decades spent as a professional sales manager and marketing person in multi-billion dollar companies. Any seller who does all this will do very well.

This is tactical advice. See How to Make a Million on eBay for strategic advice.

 

Show us the item!

We want to see big, clear photos. If you can show us what we're getting, we'll pay a lot more. Few people are as crazy as I am to bid hundreds of dollars on mystery items.

Never hold an item in your bare hands. Unless you're a professional hand model, your hands won't look good in pictures, and more importantly, when I buy an item, I want to think it's as clean as possible. It sounds funny, but I don't want to be reminded that you've had your grubby little hands on it.

This sounds ever weirder, but it's true: if you must hold something in your hand in pictures, be sure to use white gloves. This shows buyers that you are a first-class seller who takes great care with your items, and also lets us know your sticky little fingers haven't touched it. Silly, I know, but these are very powerful things subconsciously.

Never, ever, ever take something apart to show us inside. At first glance, I might like to see inside out of curiosity, but after three seconds, it sinks in that you've taken the item apart. I'm never going to bid on something that some stranger has taken apart. No matter how competent you are, as a potential buyer I have no idea who you are, so you'd better realize that I'm not bidding on anything that you've dismantled and screwed with.

It's OK to open something that's supposed to open (like a camera's back or a book), but never, ever take a screwdriver to anything.

eBay now gives us 12 photos posted free. Use them all! I use my Fuji X100S because of its great macro mode (or use your iPhone), and show every possible view of the item, and select the best 12 shots since we get 12 shots free in the listing (use them all!). I crop each as tight as I can so the item will be as big as possible, and resized each with the longest dimension at 1,600 pixels, since that seems to be eBay's default when they host them.

Back in 2011 you needed to figure out how to write HTML and have a place to host your images and code your pages to show us your images in your listing description, but today, eBay's default 12 image viewer seems like the best idea, especially when you realize people will seeing your listing very differently on their computers, on the iPhone app and on the iPad app, all of which make pictures look different — but all of which work great when eBay hosts the images.

Taking us off-site to a new window for pictures is unprofessional. I want to see your pictures on the same page as your listing. It's OK to take us to new pages if we click BIGGER and get the original files direct for your digital camera, but not OK just to get wimpy little 640 x 480 images.

Want to learn how to shoot clear product shots? See my page on Product Photography.

 

Never Copy Other People's Text or Images

This isn't just a good idea, it's the law.

Unless you have written (on paper) permission, presume everything you see or read on the Internet is copyrighted, as is this site and this article.

People often copy text or images from my reviews. We readers usually catch these, I notify eBay, the listings are removed almost immediately, and the bidders are notified as well.

Not only is it criminal infringement to copy anything from most other websites, it's usually fraud. If you use photos of someone else's item in your listing, but aren't selling that lens, that's a misrepresentation.

If you want to refer readers to other websites (like this one) for more background information on your item, provide links so they can get there. Never, ever copy anything from other people's web sites.

 

Shipping

You need to tell us exactly what it's going to cost us to ship before you list the item.

Maybe shipping to different locations will cost you different amounts. Tough, pick a number with which you're comfortable regardless of location, and use that. (I wouldn't ship internationally.)

Never expect buyers to have to guess; if you won't tell us the shipping cost up front, we'll bid more on someone else's item.

You're going to have to weigh, pack and get the shipping cost in any case, so pack, measure and weigh the item before listing so you'll both know the exact shipping cost, and have it ready to go the moment the auction closes. You'll also know that you have all the parts; you will be in big legal trouble if you list an item, and then can't find all its pieces when the auction closes!

Never, ever list a large item as "local pickup only" on eBay. eBay gets buyers from all over the world, and certainly all over the USA. Listing an item as "pickup" is stupid and annoying. If you have an item only for pickup, use the local classifieds, not eBay.

 

Always Overdeliver and Underpromise

An eBay listing is not like a used car ad, where every old beater is a "cream puff," "pristine," "mint" and "like new."

You usually can get away with those words in a newspaper ad, because an ad is not a legal offer made as part of a contract, unless maybe someone actually pays exactly your asking price.

An eBay listing is an offer made as part of a binding, and enforceable, legal contract. When a buyer pays you the winning bid amount, you're obligated to deliver at least what you've promised in your description.

God help you if you used the word "new" and it isn't, or used words like "like new" or "mint," since you've now obligated yourself to delivering something in absolutely perfect condition. Never make any other overly enthusiastic statements, because you're now going to have to deliver.

The best sellers always say "almost" or "nearly," even if the item is perfect, because this way they're OK even if there are the slightest defects which they didn't see.

Always show every possible flaw in the best detail you can.

Always understate condition; always be sure you can deliver at least what the buyer is expecting. If you can't deliver on the buyer's expectation, you may have to refund him — or more.

Even if you don't have to take it back, you'll have cranky buyers, you'll get bad feedback, and no one will bid on your future items.

Never say something is new, unless it is, and unless you're an authorized dealer. Even if you bought it new, and never opened it, legally it's a used item.

 

Closing Times

End your items early Monday morning (Pacific), or late morning (Eastern).

eBay says they are busiest on Sunday night, but that's simply because so many pro sellers choose to end their auctions then. These sellers lack the web statistics I have, which show me that the busiest time online for people buying photo gear is Monday, during their work day.

Old people (born before 1980) confuse the Internet with television. Back in the 1950s, whole families sat around and watched Lawrence Welk. "Prime Time" was Sunday night at 8PM. The Internet has nothing to do with TV. Prime selling time on the Internet is Monday during office hours.

The slowest time on the internet, as far as researching and buying cameras goes, is Sunday. Women know that anytime their man in on the computer he's probably looking at porn, so he's always guilty, and avoids doing it when the woman is around. That's why men do most Internet viewing at work, when the boss doesn't take it as personally as does the woman.

eBay probably tries to trick people into closing on Sunday night because the rest of Internet is quietest, so people are less likely to have traffic issues.

If you close Sunday night, guess what: I'm probably busy trying to sneak away from my family trying to bid on someone else's auction, not yours. Why close your auction in competition with a zillion others, when you can have my undivided attention during my work day?

eBay is busiest Sunday night because that's when most auctions close, not because that's the smartest time to close auctions for photo gear.

Why is Monday busiest? Because people haven't been on it all weekend.

People, at least those with jobs who are most likely to be the winning bidder on your item, spend the least amount of time on the Internet on their weekends when they can be doing something fun, and the most amount of time on the Internet doing personal business when they get into work on Monday morning.

Other online organizations concur: their busiest online sales days are Mondays.

Pick a time when your buyers in every US time zone can be at their computers to place their wining highest bids.

People have meetings which start on the hour, so have your listing close a few minutes before the hour.

Pick about 0:54, and choose an hour where people in Pacific and Eastern times are around.

I'd choose 9:54 AM Pacific, which is 12:54 PM Eastern. This lets everyone in California get into work, and bid on your listing before their first 10 AM meeting. Likewise, people in the Eastern and Central Time zones can do it over lunch.

Any earlier, and Californians aren't at work yet.

Any later, and Californians are in their 10 AM meetings, while New Yorkers are in their afternoon meetings.

Never, ever have an item close at some time that is convenient for you, but not for your bidders. The best way to get the worst price is to close a listing at 8AM Eastern, when your bidders are still walking into their offices, and no one in California has gotten up yet.

Never end listings on weekends. Sure, people could get to their computers, but they are more likely to be busy with family. Remember, the guys with the bucks and who will bid highest probably have families, fun and other obligations on their weekends. eBay sellers enjoy spending time with their computers, but not buyers. Guys living with their parents may be free at all hours, but for photo gear, they probably aren't your highest bidders.

Do what you want, but years of statistics show me that office hours on Mondays is when most people are researching and making their photo purchases from their offices.

Don't worry too much. As one full-time pro seller pointed out to me, you can't analyze too much, because a lot of this is just chance for any given listing. Just make sure the auction closes at a time people can be at their computers, not 3AM.

 

Spread out Your Close Times

If you're selling multiple items, never let your automated software close everything at the same second. That makes it tougher for winning bidders to bid on as many items of yours as we'd like.

Guess what: if it's tough for me, I won't bid. I'd never bid early; I just won't bother.

Be sure you can space every auction at least a few seconds apart.

 

Close Listings in the Correct Order

Be sure accessories close after the major item to which they correspond.

This way the winner of the big item just became another bidder for the accessory. The rarer the item, the more critical this is.

Never, ever close a listing for an accessories before, or at the same time as, the major item to which it corresponds.

I've seen very good sellers make this very big mistake. I won a 50-year old lens, but they closed the very rare hood for it a minute before the lens closed.

I didn't bid on the hood, since I didn't own the lens when the hood closed. It sold for a few bucks as an oddity.

If they had closed the hood 5 seconds after the lens closed, I would have bid a zillion times more for it than the give-away price for which it closed.

Ditto if you're parting out a camera body, lens, manual, filters, flash and etc. When I bid on an item, I've looked at your other items for sale. If you have other parts for the system, and if I buy the body, I'm probably going to buy your other accessories — but only after I've won the big item first.

 

Ship it Now

Ship it today, not tomorrow.

When you sell, be sure that you know where the item is, and have it all boxed and ready to go. God help you if your listing promised some accessory, and you can't find it after the listing closes.

Be ready to drop it at FedEx or UPS today, not tomorrow.

A great way to have unhappy buyers who'll dump crummy feedback on you is to wait a couple of days to get around to packing and shipping.

As I said, it's tough being a seller. We all expect the best from you, exactly as we expect from Amazon.

Be sure to include a packing list, which is as simple as printing out a PayPal summary page of what you're sending, its eBay item number, and who you are.

Don't send us a box without a packing list, since you should never presume we'll have any idea what it is or who you are when it arrives. For all you know, we've also ordered a lot of other stuff from other people, and we don't want to have to guess what this is.

If you fail to include packing slips, when the box arrives, the buyer may not realize which it is, and may not realize he got your shipment, and then harass you wondering where it is.

 

Communications

Email me the tracking info for every item I order. That's what I need to know when it's coming, and when it's going to get here.

That's all I want or need to hear.

Be sure to turn off the spam mail from those bogus Square Trade warranties.

Never send me any unsolicited communications, like promotions for your other items, unless I've asked for it. If you do, the laws may vary, but sending Unsolicited Commercial Email (UCE) is a crime in most areas.

 

Packing

I have a whole article on how to pack.

Always use new boxes and packing material, unless you want to look like a clown.

 

Shipping

Ship via FedEx or UPS in the USA. To ship to the USA from Japan, use EMS.

Sellers who use the post office have few problems with lost packages, but it's a pain for the people looking forward to their packages.

When you ship using a real carrier, their tracking info, which they will send me automatically if you click the right buttons, makes you look like a pro, and more importantly, lets me know exactly when it will arrive.

Avoid using the post office to send gear. The post office has no real tracking information, and their "delivery conformation" isn't.

I'm serious: every time someone sends me "tracking numbers" from the USPS, the USPS has no real idea where the package is, and certainly no predicted arrival time. UPS and FedEx know, and tell me so. Use FedEx ground (as I do), and you get to-notch tracking info, and FedEx sends all the information to the recipient. All I get from the USPS is excuses, not information I can use.

Sure, you may get a free box from USPS, but you don't look like a pro seller.

Worse, what you think is "delivery confirmation" from the USPS isn't. DC from the USPS is just the USPS claiming the mailman dropped it in my box. Guess what: dropping it in my box isn't delivering it to me.

My mail box is a mile down a private road, just outside a locked gate next to an armed guard shack. All because it's in my mailbox doesn't mean I'll ever get it.

If you send it insured, the mailman has to give it to me and get a signature, which is great, unless he misses me. If I'm not around, the USPS holds my package hostage at the post office, and I have to make an errand and spend 45 minutes getting it. That just cost me more than the value of what you sent me. Don't do it.

By comparison, FedEx and UPS always find me (not my mail box), and if not, they come back again tomorrow. You may not mind waiting on line at the post office, but I won't do it.

I've had people use EMS to ship from Japan, and it's gotten here in a few days, cheap. EMS' tracking information knows where it is, until it hits the USPS, who delivers it inside the USA.

I've used FedEx to ship to Australia. It was fast, taking just a few days to get there and clear customs, but it wasn't cheap.

 

Next: How to Make Millions on eBay

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