A Minimalist's Guide to eBay: The Least You Need to Know to Get Started
‘There must be more to life than having everything.' ~Maurice Sendak
Editor's Note: This is a guest post from Baker of Man Vs. Debt. Follow him on Twitter here.
There are dozens upon dozens of guides to eBay on the internet. There a thousands of tips and tricks scattered across hundreds of websites. I know, because I've read 90% of them over the last few years.
You see, back in 2008, my wife and I hatched a crazy plan. We were burnt out and beaten from our recent addiction to consumerism and the compounding stress of our consumer debt. We were tired of the constant pressure to work jobs we weren't passionate about to pay for stuff that didn't bring us lasting value or joy.
So we sold it. We sold everything. If it didn't get sold, it was donated or thrown out. Over the course of the next year, we purged all of our possessions, paid off $18,000 in debt, and jumped on a plane for Australia with our 1-year-old daughter. We each took one backpack and whatever we could fit inside of it.
In the massive purge of our excess stuff, eBay was invaluable. I venture we sold at least 70% of all our possessions on the website. At first, we flew by the seat of our pants, but over time we taught ourselves the ins and outs of the eBay process. We slowly figured out how to maximize the money we received, while minimizing the amount of time we spent doing it.
We aren't professional eBay sellers, but Courtney and I learned a lot through our year of trial and error … through our research and reading. In the spirit our adopted minimalist lifestyle, I want to share what we believe is the least you need to know to get started listing your excess stuff on eBay.
At the start, no step is more important than a clear mindset. When I approach any excess clutter, I do it with the following prioritizes:
- Purge it from my life. First and foremost, I want it gone. It's important to remove the emotional attachment, as well as the inflated value you have linked to the item. If I receive an above average price for it, great. This happens most of the time. If not, I lose no sleep. It's still gone.
- Sell it. Donate it. Recycle it. Once I decide to purge something from my life, I first will try to extract value out of it. If I can't sell it, I immediately attempt to donate it. If neither is possible, I'll try to recycle or re-purpose as much as possible.
- Minimize time and stress invested. Obviously, I'm not looking to invest a large block of time or stress into the selling process. I want to get a fair price, but I have no interest in maximizing profit if it requires high levels of time or energy.
eBay has an enormous amount of volume each and every day. Luckily, we can leverage this to get an estimate of how much our item is likely to fetch in an auction.
In order to save time, you'll want to batch your research together. As you go through your clutter, place any potential items in a pile, box, or designated area. Once they are separated, sit down and do all your research during the same session, one item at a time.
Here's the least you need to keep in mind when researching:
- Start specific. When using eBay's search bar, start specific. Try to find as close as match as possible to the item you want to sell. If your search returns less than 10 results, you can broaden or drop your keywords to expand the search.
- Search completed listings first. After running a search, make sure you check "completed listings" in the left sidebar. Alternatively, this is available under advanced search. Look first for items that have successfully sold through a basic auction format.
- Estimated price. If you can find between 5-10 sold items that are exact matches or comparable to your own item, quickly estimate a price based on the final bids on those auctions. Ensure that the price is high enough to warrant the time you'll invest listing the item. For example, you may set a benchmark of $10 or $20. If it's currently averaging higher, place it in a pile to list. If not, place it in a pile to donate or sell locally.
- Study great examples. If you decide to list an item, open up the 2-3 similar listings that have received the highest winning bids. Study their titles, pictures, and descriptions. Take note of why they received top dollar. Never copy or steal. Instead, study the examples to improve your own listings … in your own words.
Pictures sell. Once you are done researching the items, batch your picture taking, too.
One at a time, go through the pile of items you will be listing a take photos. Take clear photos on plain, neutral backgrounds. Remove any other clutter and have your item fill the majority of the frame. When in doubt, take extra pictures from different angles. You can quickly sort out the best ones later.
Once you are finished, upload the pictures to your computer. Sort them into folders by the listing they feature.
Upload the highest-quality, front view image as the primary image on your listing. For extra images, you have two options. You can upload these to Flickr, and insert the HTML in the description of your listing for free (preferred). Alternatively, you can pay a small fee to upload more photos directly into eBay. This is one of the rare times when the upgrade is usually worth the cost.
The title of your listing is extremely important. Always write your titles for search engines, first. Humans, second. Increasing the number of eBay searches you appear in is the number one factor in how much money you'll ultimately receive. Use keywords that you think a buyer will use when searching for your item.
Use all the characters that you can (eBay allows 55 characters in titles). Be specific and include as many details, such as Brand, Model, Make, Artists, and Year.
Avoid buying subtitles. Information in subtitles do not appear in searches by default. They are rarely worth the extra cost.
Once a bidder finds your item and clicks your title, the description you provide will determine whether they stick around or move on. Great descriptions are more of an art than a science, but here is the formula I follow:
- Restate the exact item. Expand on the title and/or subtitle and restate the exact item that is being sold at the very top of the description. Include thorough detail on the make, model, condition, serial number, age, and similar details.
- Personality and history. Take time to show your personality. Make yourself seem approachable and real. Often you can do this by including details such as how you got the item, some background into its history, or why you are selling. This is one of the most overlooked and valuable parts of making a bidder comfortable with your listing.
- Benefits. Directly state how the item has benefited your life and/or how it will benefit the buyer.
- List everything included. Be specific and thorough. List every accessory, add-on, manual, and battery (or lack thereof).
- Fully disclose any flaws. Not only is this ethical, it'll also save you countless time and energy on returns and unsatisfied buyers. State the flaws bluntly and include pictures if needed.
- Additional images. If you know how to embed additional images via HTML, you can include as many as you'd like for free. I normally embed these back-to-back at this point in the description.
- Shipping, payment, and return details. Reiterate your shipping and payment details in the description. To save energy and headaches, I normally only ship to North America, only accept PayPal to process payments, and do not accept returns. I lose potential exposure to some buyers, but eliminated the far majority of problems and stress with these tactics. I ship 95% of items through the USPS Priority Mail. Exceptions are media items, which ship Media Mail, and packages under 13 ounces, which ship First Class Mail.
For the far majority of items, a standard auction format will yield the best results.
No reserve price. This costs extra, limits potential bidders, and should only be employed on unique or rare items with no comparables or little market.
Set your starting price at $0.99. The most important bid is the first one. The lower you set the starting price, the more watchers and bidders you will attract early on. The higher the number of bids you've received, the more eBay's search engine will reward your listing in search results. As a bonus, your first 100 listings per month are free at this starting price.
Remember, this is the least you need to know to get started. There's much more depth to the process, but the tips and strategy outlined above will enable you to sell the majority of items for above average prices in a fraction of the time.
Baker writes about clutter, money, travel, and passion over at Man Vs. Debt. His brand new guide, Sell Your Crap, helps people attack and sell their clutter. It includes a step-by-step eBay module and video interview with Leo Babauta.