Defining eBay “Best Practices” For Dollar-Conscious Non-Professional Sellers

eBay Jaded Assistance / Trading Assistants ParodyOver several years as a regular but non-professional eBay seller and buyer, I’ve been accumulating a set of “best practices” for online auctioneering as a seller. eBay has regularly published such lists, but these lists are often skewed towards choosing “best” practices for maximizing your profits only when they overlap with eBay’s utility and profits. As for me, eBay and other online auction sites are a tool that enable me to turn over used items that might have value to others while putting some cash in my pocket – and thus I want to maximize that cash while minimizing the risk.

I’ve come to find the following twelve points to be the best practices for an eBay seller looking to maintain a stellar reputation while minimizing eBay fees and thus maximizing personal profits.

Search carefully for any and all comparable listings before you list. Pay attention only to the items that are selling; people who have initial prices that exceed the late auction selling prices are simply handing money to eBay to list items that will fail to sell. By doing your research beforehand, you can get a firm grasp on what you can expect an item to sell for and thus determine before you ever list it whether or not you should invest the money in listing the item.

If the sale prices of identical or highly similar items are highly variable from auction to auction, use a “Buy it Now” price; otherwise, don’t waste the money. If I notice a difference in final sale price of more than 25% between two essentially identical items, I will invest the extra money and put a “Buy it Now” price on the auction equal to the highest bid. If the variation isn’t as large, I find that the investment in a “Buy it Now” listing isn’t worth the price, because with or without it, the market will bear the same approximate price.

If the item is listed with some frequency and seems to be constantly selling in an approximate price range, open the bidding very low. Many people feel that they will be “ripped off” if they don’t list an item starting at a price that covers most of their risk. However, if the market is repeatedly showing that it will always sell an item at a certain price, a higher opening price simply means that you’re giving money to eBay, as the market is showing there is minimal risk in a very low opening price.

For virtually all non-commodity items, a fixed price sale on an online auction site is a money-loser for the seller compared to other options. Obviously, if you are selling a quantity of very common and often purchased items that you require a specific amount for regardless of what the market is bearing, a fixed price sale might work for you. However, for most non-professional sellers, this is not the case and a fixed-price auction works against you.

Your auction title should simply maximize potential keywords; don’t waste characters on extra information. Your goal should be to fill out the maximum (or close to maximum) number of characters using as many matching search terms as possible while still clearly describing the item. Let’s say I am selling a Mickey Mantle baseball card. Rather than just listing “1967 Topps Mickey Mantle” as an auction title, I want to maximize my keyword matches within a 55 character limit, so I use “1967 Topps Mickey Mantle NM #150 Yankees baseball card”. Using this technique, I enable people searching for “Yankees” memorabilia to find the card, as well as people searching using a variety of combination terms.

A well-written description is almost always money in the bank. On many items, I’ll even go so far as to say why I’m selling it and some of my personal history with the item. These touches not only clarify your item – reducing liability that you are misrepresenting the item – but they also make your auction more memorable to the buyer and make the buyer more prone to “watching” the item, which means that there’s a good likelihood that they’ll keep an eye on it and eventually bid on it.

On almost all auctions, “auction upgrade” options just waste the seller’s money. The vast majority of buyers on eBay are bargain hunters, which means that they’ll look through several pages of listings to find the one that has the lowest prices on the items or item type that they’re seeking. This means that for virtually all items, “auction upgrades” such as bolding, feature placement, and so on won’t help you. They are only useful for highly specialized or “unique” items.

Be liberal in determining your overall shipping cost. This is especially true for less-expensive items. Be sure that the shipping costs included in your auction will at the very least cover your material costs in shipping the item. I usually estimate liberally what it will cost, including the shipping cost and the costs of packaging, then round up to the next even dollar; this rule of thumb has served me well time and time again.

Always make insurance available as an option – but make it very clear. Make a point of stating in your auctions that shipping insurance is available at the discretion of the buyer and indicate this preference in your auction setup. Then, if they don’t pay for the insurance, don’t provide it, and if damage occurs and the auction is disputed, you have evidence that you indicated that insurance was an option and the buyer declined it. This has been sufficient evidence for me to avoid liability when bad things have happened in shipping. It has only occurred twice in several years, but both times I was saved by my clear indication that insurance is available at the buyer’s discretion.

Bubble wrap and other leftover containers are your friends. Bubble wrap seems to consistently be the best option for wrapping items of all kinds, from hardback books to fragile items. I keep bubble wrap whenever I get it and I also have a huge roll of it that I keep in the closet for shipping items. I also use paper grocery sacks for the external covering on packages; I stow them under the sink until I am ready to ship auction items. Quite often, a double or triple layer of bubble wrap and a brown paper covering is all the packaging you need for shipment. For other items, I keep boxes (and those useful large bubbles) from shipments and diaper boxes; these often provide more than enough padding for safe shipment.

Never ship an item without being able to track it. If you use USPS, make sure you have delivery confirmation on your package; if you use UPS, make sure you have a tracking number. These are your proof that the item was shipped and delivered. Without them, unethical buyers can revoke payment by claiming the item was never shipped and you have no evidence to the contrary.

When delivery is confirmed, request feedback from the buyer. Once you’ve verified through tracking that the shipment has indeed arrived, send a message to the buyer requesting feedback, promising to leave positive feedback in exchange. The best chance for obtaining positive feedback is shortly after the safe arrival of an item – if you wait around, you’ll likely get no feedback at all.

Following these guidelines has led me to a 100% feedback rating after more than 300 auctions over the last several years and has also put more money in my pocket as I reduced risk and also reduced my eBay fees.

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