Updated on 11.02.06

The Secret Art of EBay Sales

Trent Hamm

Here are some unorthodox tips for selling stuff on eBay while minimizing your own cost. Not only do the tips minimize the money one has to spend on an auction, but they generate sales on par with other items in the same category (and often higher) and create very happy customers. I have been selling items on eBay for years with a 100% feedback rating using this strategy and I feel it is rock-solid.

Here are the prongs to the strategy:

No matter what the item (unless it is extremely unusual), list it for $0.01 to start bidding. “WHAT?” you shout, “I’LL GET RIPPED OFF IF I DO THIS!” No, you won’t. Have you ever noticed that pretty much any common item listed is bidded up to roughly the same price? That’s the average price the market will bear on the item. Thus, it doesn’t really matter what you list it for to begin with; all you’re doing is giving money to eBay via higher fees because you’re spending more per listing.

Even better: if you start it at such a low price, you will get a lot of active bidders and watchers on your items. Lots of active bidders means lots of competition, and sometimes you’ll get someone to bid something up really high because they just can’t stand to lose. I used to put starting prices near the average of what they might get on eBay, but I wouldn’t get many people bidding or watching the auctions. Now, I save money on the initial cost and on most items the final sale is actually higher than I expected. I win both ways!

Unless your item is extremely unusual, don’t put any “extras” on your listing. Again, on regular items like used music, DVDs, books, etc., don’t waste your money on bolding it or highlighting it. This is only useful if you have a very unique item that might otherwise be overlooked.

Add the “human aspect” when you describe what you’re selling. Tell a bit about yourself and why you’re selling the item. This makes the situation seem more “real” to the buyer; I tend to inherently trust individuals who are trying to sell old textbooks or a DVD in order to buy a crib for their new son than an individual who brags about the good deal they’re offering you. That means I’m more willing to bid up the item from the expectant parent.

Get a tracking number when you ship. This is your proof the item was delivered in case they try to claim that it was not and attempt to revoke payment. This little trick has saved me tons of grief (and lost income) over the years.

My estimate of the net gain of using these tips over the years is about $2 per auction compared to my earlier, supposedly “saner” methods.

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  1. teddy says:

    I’m still not really sure about starting the bid with 1cent though. Is it really working?

  2. Darren M. Cary says:

    Most things I’ve sold started at a penny (or was it 99 cents?).

    With this technique, I sold a dictionary for around $200. I sold textbooks and other books for good money, too, but never started at over a dollar.

    There’s always a risk, but as long as you see that your item is being sold successfully by others, or that it’s indeed worth something, you can be sure you won’t get burnt.

  3. Amy says:

    My ex has had real success with padding the S&H charge by a few extra dollars.

  4. Amy says:

    Another way to strike it rich — become a re-seller. Go to auctions and find some incredibly awesome bargains, and then simply turn around and resell them.

    Also – consider buying from yard sales and then getting rid of the stuff on e-bay :)

  5. Michelle says:

    I agree with Amy, but I also look through the clearance racks at stores and often the craft sections. Movies and books go really well for me!

  6. Carolyne says:

    padding the shipping ensures I will never purchase from them again!

  7. Tyler Norwood says:

    Listed three items recently, all at $0.01. Two sold for $0.01 (No Reserve), and one for $5.50. Needless to say, they are worth far more than that.

    They were 5 day listings, with a brief description of the item along with a detailed picture.

    Now I would like to convince them that they would like a refund…

  8. FIRE Finance says:

    Our two cents: From real life experience we’ve found that selling books at half.com or amazon.com has been much more profitable than ebay.

  9. Moolah says:

    These are some great practical tips to save moolah when selling on ebay. I have to admit I feel very nervous at the idea of listing something for 1 cent with no reserve.

    I think this is probably practical for items that sell well overall rather than for categories that have a ton of listings and not enough buyers.

  10. Jihan says:

    I don’t sell on ebay normally because I have to ship and stuff. I sold a lot of things on Craigslist. I sold about 40 shirts (name brands and non-namebrands), some bags, and two pairs of shoes for $100. That, I consider a lot more than what I could get out of Buffalo Exchange (they took NONE of my items, and if they do, they only give you 30% back in cash or 50% store credit)

    I also sold tons of n64 games which I didn’t even know people still buy, but I was wrong, I got a lot of offers for my n64 and PS1 games. I sold almost $80 worth and I still have a quite a few more.

  11. tentaculistic says:

    Re Amy’s “My ex has had real success with padding the S&H charge by a few extra dollars.”

    I HATE when people do that!! It’s dishonest and against eBay policy. I bust people like that as often as I can. All someone who knows eBay rules has to do is report the item, and it is almost always removed from the site.

  12. tentaculistic says:

    Here are my tips for selling on Craigslist (I’m the Craigslist queen in my circle):

    1) Get an idea of what people are buying your same item for (preferably in your Craigslist city but also on other city Craigslist boards if you need to), so you’re not expecting too much.

    2) Find out what the item costs new. Find and include in your listing a URL for a reputable seller (like Amazon) with a price more than what you’re asking, if possible (if not, you’re probably charging too much).

    3) Clean your item! Very very well! If it’s something big like a sofa, clean the area around it as well… people judge the likely cleanliness of the item by the clues they pick up in the background.

    4) Take a good photo, with good lighting. Nothing perfect or fancy, but take a bit of pride. Even use a sheet or pretty cloth as a background if that will make it look nicer.

    5) Use stock photos from the Internet (you’ll need the item number if applicable).

    6) Provide detail about the item, including being honest about any faults (and discount the price accordingly). Nothing pisses people off like coming all the way out to buy an item and finding it’s dirty or doesn’t work or is damaged.

    7) Be safe about where you meet people, but also know that most Craigslist people will not actually show up. Be clear in your listing that it is first come, first serve.

    8) Watch for scams. Never mail anything, ever. Don’t accept anything – anything, including PayPal – other than cash. For heavy items, they have to bring help to get it down.

    In general, what can you make money from on Craigslist? Fairly recently released electronics and sofas/couches. I’ve made $200 easily on a sofa I bought a deployed boyfriend but he didn’t like, and I then relisted. Put in enough detail, with a bit of enthusiasm, in the listing and people will buy. So long as it’s not plaid or ugly.

  13. Sister Luke says:

    The advise to start auctions at $.01 was actually good in 2006 when ebay was up, but now you will lose your shirt if you do. The auction addicts that you could count on bidding the items up are mostly gone, leaving behind cheap bargain hunters. If you give them what they want and your shipping charges are honest, you can still do fine on ebay. No, it sure isn’t like 2006, but it will get better again.

  14. Kelly says:

    How do you judge if an item is unusual or not? This seems like a key part of many ebay strategies and I haven’t seen any good explanations on how to really judge if something is sold less often.

  15. CaroleM says:

    Speaking as an 11 year ebay seller -it doesn’t matter what you try to sell. Any item that “unusual” will only remain so for a day or so, particularily if it sells for a large amount.
    Within days, and sometime hours, duplicate items will appear out of the woodwork from all over the country. There are software programs available that sniff out the high bids, and the matching items -nothing remains rare for more than a couple days (unless it is a one-of-a-kind that’s autographed, or toast with a religious icon on it). Ebay is a chancy game now, mostly rigged to make money for ebay.

  16. Daniel says:

    Good tip on starting auctions at $0.01 – I learned this trick the same way you did. I just sold my iPhone for $350 after starting it at $0.01. You didn’t mention it here, so I’ll share another tip: set the auction with no reserve price, and always set a BIN (buy-it-now price for those who do not want to bid and want to buy the item immediately). eBayers seem to not like to bid on items with a reserve, even if you state the reserve price within the auction. Secondly, a BIN price seems to set a psychological value in the bidders’ minds of what the item is worth – I can’t lie, I tend to inflate my BINs a bit beyond the amount I know I’ll reasonably receive. These strategies have helped me out quite a bit.

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