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Beginner’s Guide to Selling on eBay For Profit

Are you looking for some extra income to fund your next luxury purchase, getaway, or even holiday gifts? Maybe you’re looking for some extra cash for this month’s bills, or just some play money and a way to unload some junk.

While transactions through local sales pages like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist can seem appealing, you’re missing out on a more global audience and possibly a higher profit margin. Plus, you can avoid the potential creep factor of having to set up meets in person.

“But selling online is so complicated!” “The fees!” “I don’t know how to ship!” “…but what about scammers?”

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I know. I’ve heard it all.

Honestly, it’s not nearly as daunting as it all seems. You just need to get organized and do a little bit of homework. And really, it sure beats hauling your tired self over to the the back of the shady K-mart parking lot to meet JaneandJohnsharedfacebookaccount Doe on a Saturday morning for yet another no-show.

As a seller of almost 16 years I often see so many online sales listings that had the potential to generate significant cash, but they crash and burn, and end up selling at a loss.

I’ve compiled this list of tips and tricks to get you started, so that you can feel comfortable branching out into online sales with a focus on eBay. While this post is geared toward eBay sales, many of these tips and principals can easily apply to other sales venues like Mercari, Poshmark, and Bonanza.

1. Set up your accounts

Allow me to have a Captain Obvious moment. If you haven’t already signed up for an eBay account, now would be a great time to do so. If you already have an established buying account, you should consider whether or not you want to use the same account for selling on eBay.

One of the benefits to using an already established account is the fact that you presumably already have an established feedback score. Feedback on eBay is pretty important and a good way to gauge whether or not you are a fly by night scammer or a regular Joe hawking their wares.

If you are new to the scene and don’t have an established feedback score, fear not. Everyone has to start somewhere. The best way to gain your buyers’ trust when you are starting out is with a quality listing and good communication.

If you don’t already have an existing PayPal account I strongly suggest opening one to associate with your eBay account for accepting payments. While it is no longer required, you may end up alienating a significant portion of your customer pool by not having a PayPal option at checkout.

Make sure you complete the set up process for your PayPal account BEFORE making your first eBay listing. This will avoid buyer and seller frustration, and make sure the buyer’s payment lands in your account right away instead of cyber limbo.

2. Know your item’s approximate value

Ok, you’ve got last seasons handbag or a box of Grandma’s tchotchkes and you’re rearing to go. Please keep in mind that unless you sourced your item for peanuts, if you are selling your own stuff, you will almost never be able to recoup anywhere near the original price of the item unless it’s a rare antique, fancy sold out sneakers, or a specific high end luxury bag (looking at you, Hermès).

“But the interwebs said my 1995 Black Diamond Disney VHS is worth $3,000!”

Slow your roll, Karen. Anyone can sell their stuff at whatever delusional price they would like. What matters is the SOLD listings.

Before you waste a half an hour (or more) of your life setting up your listing, it’s a good idea to use the search filter feature to check the sold listings for the item you intend to sell. You’ll know you’re browsing sold listings when you see the final price in green.

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You will probably see a range of prices, but if you want to be competitive and sell your item faster, it’s a good idea to price your item at the middle to lower end of the range. Got time on your hands? Don’t be afraid to wait for a slightly higher price. There’s a buyer for (almost) everything.

Do you see an over saturation of your item with very low sale prices? You may want to consider selling something else, or keeping it for a marketplace sale since it may not be worth your efforts after selling fees are applied.

Ah yes, selling fees. We all grumble and groan about relinquishing a portion of our sales to “the man.” But in reality, where else are you going to get the global exposure, convenience, and security you can get on a long established site like eBay? (No, I have no personal affiliation with eBay other than selling. Just having a realistic moment.)

Ebay will take approximately 10% in final value fees including the final shipping price charge (more about that later). Add that to the approximate 3% charged by PayPal, and you’re looking at about 13% of your final selling price right off the top.

Take note, PayPal fees are taken out immediately as soon as the payment hits your account. EBay, however, bills final value fees on a monthly basis. BE CAREFUL! Make sure you set aside part of your earnings right away so that you aren’t blindsided with a final value fee bill at the end of the month.

Don’t despair, if your item doesn’t seem worth the effort it may still work well when sold in a larger lot of similar items (ie. maternity clothes lot, 2t jeans lot, children’s book lot, etc.).

3. Take good photos

This may seem Iike a no-brainer, but I can’t tell you the amount of listings I’ve seen with one or two out of focus, grainy photos where you see more of the sellers feet and/or unmade bed than the actual item.

You don’t need to be a professional to take good, clear photos. Your phone will do just fine. You’re allowed to list twelve photos. Please, for the love of Pete, Use. Them. All.

If a listing has only one photo of an obviously used item, most buyers will very likely scroll on.

Unless your item is new in the package, buyers want to see every nook and cranny, including any possible wear. Even if you think it is just a minor flaw, show a detailed photo. Put yourself in the buyer’s shoes. What details do you want to see before committing to purchase?

Cropping is your best friend. Clean up that background. Nobody wants to see leftover breakfast on the counter, your messy sheets, or chipped toenail polish. (Yes, I see all of these regularly.) Focus on your product.

Most novice sellers don’t have a professional light box or photo studio. After sixteen years, I still don’t. One easy hack that I use for photographing small to medium items is two cardboard display boards that I acquired for a whopping two bucks at the dollar store.

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No one has to know there’s a sink full of dishes behind this handbag. 😉

Use proper lighting. Daylight is best, and will best represent the actual color of the item.

4. Describe your item

“Describe your item as if you have no photographs, and photograph your item as if you have no description.”

I’ve heard this phrase, or some variation, many times in my days scrolling The Purse Forum boards, and these are wise words to sell by.

Give a detailed description of your item, it’s function, condition of the interior/exterior (if applicable). Describe in detail ANY signs of wear, no matter now minor. Use only manufacturer color names if applicable (I’ll explain why later). Honestly, it’s better to slightly overstate any flaws than to end up with a disappointed buyer and a return on the back end.

Also include these same relevant and accurate details in the “About this item” section. Yes, this may seem redundant, but the reality is that many people, especially on the mobile app, do not read the entire listing. Gasp. I know. So, it’s important to cover your bases and avoid a lot of dumb questions from buyers later.

PLEASE. Do not use phrases such as “normal wear,” “signs of normal use,” “used condition, etc.” without further elaboration. Seriously, please define “normal wear.”

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My normal is not your normal. Be specific. And please BE HONEST. If your item was used, even just once, DO NOT list it as “New” or “New Without Tags.”

Your buyer will know. Trust me. And they won’t be happy.

5. Don’t neglect your title

Coach Bag.

If you’re okay with half a dozen clicks and a pittance for a final sale price, then by all means, stick with your uninspired title. If you want to drive buyers to your sale, then we need to add some important, relevant information.

What? The title seems straightforward. After all, it is a Coach bag.
Wrong.

Key details to consider adding to your title:

  1. Item brand and official name (if applicable)
  2. Manufacturer color
  3. Key word description of materials (plastic, metal, leather, vinyl, wood, etc.)
  4. New, used, vintage, etc.
  5. Size (if applicable)
  6. Category keyword

Suddenly “Coach Bag” has become “New Coach Legacy Navy Perforated Leather Candace Tote Bag 22390.” The new title not only gives your buyer way more detailed information, but it shows them you are a serious seller who knows what they are talking about.

“But I don’t know that much information about my item!”

No problem. You’d be surprised what a few strategic keywords plugged into Google will turn up.

6. The big question: Auction or Buy it Now?

Hooray! You’ve completed your detailed description, uploaded awesome footless photos, and you’re rocking that eye catching title. Now it’s time to wrap up just a few more pesky selling details before going live.

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The decision between listing as an auction where buyers bid incrementally over a predetermined number of days or a “Buy it Now” where the buyers can purchase your item immediately is ultimately up to you and may depend on a number of factors. These might include the rarity of the item, how quickly you would like to sell, and how much of a risk you are willing to take (regarding how you set your auction price).

You can start your auction price at whatever amount you want, but keep in mind, the higher you start, the less interest you may have (watchers/potential bidders) in the long run.

Auctions with a starting bid of $.99 can often be appealing to buyers and drum up a lot of initial interest in the form of early bidders and/or watchers. However, this can be risky as a seller if you aren’t reasonably sure your item will end at a price you are happy with.

Remember, you are obligated as a seller to honor the final price, no matter how unhappy you might be.

If you renege on the transaction, especially after the buyer has completed payment, you run the risk of a very unhappy buyer and negative feedback.

Negative feedback can quickly ruin a seller’s reputation. No one wants to bid or buy from a seller who won’t fulfill their end of the deal. Remember, your listing is a contract between you and the seller. You are obligated to fulfill the terms presented in your listing including accepting the sale price.

That said, I have had some great selling success with $.99 starting bid auctions on certain high end luxury items in the past. It was a great way to drum up initial watchers and bidders who would have otherwise passed a high price auction by in the early stages.

You’re also capitalizing on buyer emotions as bidding can get very competitive in the closing minutes of an auction. This sometimes causes buyers to spend more than they might have considered with a static “Buy it Now” price.

Despite my successes that doesn’t mean I haven’t had a few dud auctions in my time. There’s a lot of factors that might influence a low ending bid including the auction start/end time and date, misconceptions about item popularity, the season (yes, really), missing listing details or poor photos, etc.

Honestly, sometimes there is just no rhyme or reason.

If you’re not comfortable with the possibility of taking a loss, you have an ordinary or utilitarian product, or you just don’t want to deal with the uncertainty of an auction, then “Buy it Now” may be the way to go.

With “Buy it Now” you set your most comfortable price. You will also have the option of allowing buyers to negotiate and send you their best offer. Be aware, eBay can be sneaky when re-listing your item, and the “best offer” check box is often automatically turned on whether you want it or not.

7. Shipping and handling

It would be really easy to write an entire post on this topic, but I will try to stick with just the basics for now.

I highly recommend an initial investment of about $20 to purchase a postal scale. I purchased mine on eBay several years ago for about $18. It has a 50 lb. limit and has served me well since none of my parcels have ever been over 15 lb.

With your very own postal scale you can pack, measure, and weigh your parcels at home. This allows you to print your own labels, and even get a free USPS pick up.

Essentially, you never have to leave your house!

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The other awesome benefit to printing your own USPS labels at home is the internet discount you get on Priority services vs. paying retail price at the postal counter.

In order to make sure that you aren’t stuck eating a ton of money for postage, you need to make sure to properly pack, measure and weigh your item before setting up your shipping specifications. Decide which shipping service you prefer (you can offer more than one). Then, enter your dimensions and final packed weight.

You can choose to offer free shipping, a flat price for everyone, or calculated based on the buyers location. If you offer free shipping, keep in mind the highest price you may end up paying (ie. shipping across the country). Then, adjust your item selling price accordingly.

The USPS also offers Flat Rate boxes. You pay the same price no matter the shipping weight (up to 70lbs) or location. Be sure to check the prices for these boxes. Calculated shipping can often work out to be a better deal for the buyer.

No buyer wants to pay nearly $7 flat rate Priority shipping for a lightweight item that could have been shipped first class for $3.

A signature ($2.50 to add) is not required for items with a final price under $750. It will not benefit you in any way to add this feature unless your item sells for $750 or more.

You are fully responsible to make sure your item is delivered to your buyer in the condition described. USPS offers built in insurance up to $50 with Priority packages. If your item is worth more you may want to consider adding additional insurance since you are liable for loss or damages.

If a package is lost in transit (not scanned as delivered), you are on the hook to refund the buyer. It is then up to you to pursue an insurance claim with the USPS to recover your loss.

In the event an item is damaged in shipment and the buyer has provided sufficient proof, you are also on the hook for a a refund. You would then open a USPS Insurance claim providing evidence of loss or damages.

Several years ago eBay started charging final value fees on the total shipping charge as well as the item ending price. Say you sold an item for $10 with a shipping price of $5. EBay would charge a final value fee of roughly $1 for your item and $.50 for the shipping for a total final value fee of $1.50.

Does this stink? Absolutely.

Why?

Way back in the eBay olden days many sellers tried to circumvent selling fees by charging a nominal price for their item (often $1) and charging ridiculous “shipping fees.” Ebay only charged final value fees on the item price ($1) so they made out like bandits.

Well, these Sheisty McSheistersons ruined it for the whole class. Ebay got wise and started charging final value fees on everything to discourage this practice.

8. Choose your listing duration and start time.

You’re almost there!

Once you’ve wrapped up your listing details and shipping info, it’s time to decide two more important details.

You will have the option of selecting how many days to run your auction and what time to start. It’s important to consider what days you are starting as well as the timing.

In the categories I mainly frequent, I choose to start and end my auctions in the evening, around 8:30 pm EST. There is consistently more luxury buying traffic during these times. Also be mindful of your auction end day. Some times the beginning of the week can be quite slow, and often results in less traffic/interest and lower final prices.

Sadly, I’ve been burned by holidays. My most recent folly was Super Bowl Sunday, right smack in the middle of the half time show. *facepalm*

When setting up my auction listing the previous week I totally missed the fact that my auction would be set to end at a most inopportune time, and it cost me dearly.

Oops.

As of the date this post was published eBay has changed the duration of all “Buy it Now” listings to “Good Until Cancelled.” This just means there is no longer an option to list a fixed price item for a specific amount of time. Your auction will remain live until the item sells or you decide to end the listing.

9. After the sale

Congratulations! You’ve made it!

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You’ve sold your first item, and it’s time to pack and ship! EBay will send you an email after the payment processes successfully notifying you that it is time to ship.

FYI: If you are a new(ish) seller, haven’t sold in a while, or are just starting out selling in high value category, PayPal automatically places a hold on your funds until tracking indicates the buyer has received their item. The buyer is not withholding your money. It’s out of their hands the moment they complete the checkout process.

The sooner you ship, the sooner your funds will be released. After a number of successful transactions PayPal will no longer hold your funds, and the money will be available immediately following the sale.

Please pack carefully with tissue and fillers even if your item is not seemingly fragile. Stuff floppy items to maintain their shape. And whatever you do, please don’t mail an expensive handbag in a bubble mailer. (I’ve been on the receiving end several times)

I prefer to use air pillows and bubble wrap because it keeps shipping weights down vs. using paper fillers. Make sure your box is big enough that the item is not crushed or mutilated in any way to fit.

Shipping glassware is a whole ‘nother animal and not for the faint of heart. Bubbles, bubbles, and more bubbles. Make sure you have plenty of space, but not so much that items are knocking around. Double boxes and packing peanuts will give extra protection and stability.

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Once you’ve finished packing, print and secure your label. Go to usps.com to schedule a package pick up or drop it off at your P.O., and you’re good to go! It’s imperative for your protection as a seller that you upload your tracking number if you don’t use an eBay shipping label.

10. The elephant in the room

The ugly stuff.

Honestly, you’ll hear a lot of horror stories. However, if you do your job as a seller, dot your Ts and cross your Is, you can avoid a lot of headaches.

I would be remiss if I didn’t go there.

Returns. You have the option of accepting returns or not. However, in the end, pretty much everyone can be forced into accepting a return.

I don’t accept returns. This is mainly due to the nature of the items I sell. I don’t want anyone “renting” my luxury items to use for an event and then returning.

The way I avoid eBay forcing me to accept a buyer return is to make sure my item is listed as accurately as humanly possible. There will always be rare cases of buyers remorse, but if everything is as described, they won’t have a leg to stand on when opening a return case.

Remember when I recommended only using manufacturer color names?

I mention this because color can be very subjective. What’s teal to you might be blue to someone else, and this tiny subjective detail could be enough for a cranky, remorseful buyer to force (and win) a return case.

In sixteen years of selling I have only had two returns.

Both cases, I suspect, were buyers remorse. I might have been able to fight my case with eBay, but due to the relatively low price of the items and my accurate descriptions, I accepted the returns to avoid further irritation.

The other naughty word: Scammers.

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Can I be real for a minute?

It’s not as ugly as everyone makes it out to be. Common sense, folks.

The best way to avoid scammy weirdos is to do your job as a seller, and create the best listing possible. This includes (at the risk of sounding repetitive) your honest, detailed description and clear, abundant photos. EBay and PayPal both offer seller protection as well as buyer protection.

Certain selling categories might attract more nefarious activity. Luxury listings as well as high end electronics can be an easy target. As with any other sketchy emails, you may want to skip the reply to the Nigerian prince who’s asking for a Western Union transfer via eBay messages.

In all seriousness, DO NOT respond to buyers who solicit dealings outside of the eBay selling platform. It may be a tempting way to circumvent selling fees, but it’s a sure fire way to get yourself banned from the platform.

EBay big brother sees all. Knows all.

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Seriously.

Not to mention you would forfeit any seller protection, which makes you a great scam target.

If you receive any type of communication from a buyer prior to a sale that makes you even vaguely uncomfortable you can add their ID to your blocked bidders list. Trust your gut. Sometimes a very difficult, complicated buyer can turn out to be a nightmare on the back end. It’s best to avoid a potentially ugly transaction altogether.

There’s other fish in the sea to buy your junk.

Happy selling!

This list is basically a bare bones whirlwind tour of eBay selling basics. I hope that it will be of some assistance when you begin setting up your first listings. Please make sure you check out the fine print on both PayPal and eBay so you know for sure what you’re up against regarding fees, prohibited items, and general expectations for selling practices.

Be on the look out for an upcoming companion post with tips on how to score big as an eBay buyer!


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