50 degrees and sunny
(75+ degrees in front of my space heater)
Note: I started writing this article like 2 years ago and never finished it and now I’m posting whatever incomplete prose is here. Maybe I’ll complete it later. Enjoy.
Here it is… the “How to Sell Your Stuff on eBay” post. I know you’re stoked for this one… just think of the riches you’ll be swimming in after downing this article.
(Olive Garden – here I come baby…)
I’ll preface this article by saying that I’ve got a fair amount of experience selling stuff on eBay… the oldest transaction on my account is dated Aug-27-98 19:19 (which means I’ve been eBaying for almost 13 year now… damn I’m getting old) and my feedback rating is a perfect 100% from over 500 transactions.
My eBay account was actually my dad’s account at one point then I took it over after he passed, so that 1998 sale may have been his, but I do remember that the first thing I ever sold was a counterfeit royal blue Peanut the Elephant Beanie Baby.
If you were a part of you Beanie Baby craze of the 90’s, then you’d probably remember royal blue Peanut as being the Holy Grail of Beanie Babies. They were valued at like $5,000 back at their peak… pretty insane.
I was lucky enough to have an Uncle Pete that travelled to China for business… more specifically Hong Kong – aka the counterfeit capital of the world. Uncle Pete knew I was a Beanie Baby bonehead back then, so he brought back some of the pellet-filled plushies to add to my collection.
Now you have to picture me being like as stoked as humanly possible when as an 11 year old I’ve got my hands on not just 1 royal blue Peanut, but 3 of them plus other rare Beanies like a wingless Quackers that would be valued together at like $15,000… if they were real.
(I prayed so hard that they might be real… but coming from Hong Kong there was no chance.)
Anyway since we had a surplus of the Peanuts and eBay was this new thing at the time, I told my dad I wanted to try selling one. I knew it was fake, so we worded the item description to say it was a “reproduction,” which didn’t sound nearly as bad as calling it a “counterfeit” or “fake.”
We also offered free shipping because we thought that would help it sell for more. Genius.
So we threw the auction up, and I eagerly awaited some rich, crazed, Beanie Baby buffoons to have a bidding war over the fake toy. I remember it like it was yesterday…
It was such a rush seeing the auction price climb every few hours until it finally settled to a winning bid of over $200. It was just incredible… it required such little work on my part to make that much money at only 11 years old. Sweet victory, man.
Things didn’t work out so well though once the winning bidder said they lived in Nigeria and we’d have to pay like 100 dollars just to ship it there because of our “free shipping” clause.
And then I think somebody else reported us to eBay for selling a fake item. Bummer.
But it was still a great first sell because I learned a lot of the lessons!
This step is extremely important. You need to make sure it’s going to be worth your time to sell whatever it is you want to sell, otherwise you’re better off just throwing it out (or donating if you aren’t lazy like me).
First off, make sure you register an account on eBay. You’re then going to want to search for items similar to the one you have in mind that you want to sell. If you find a match, then awesome! You may need to play around with different search terms until you find the same item you’re planning on putting up for auction.
Now you are going to want to filter the search results to show only “completed auctions.” This will show you all the recent auctions that have sold already, so you can see what the final values were. This is a pretty good tell for how much your item will sell for in the marketplace.
My general rule of thumb is that the easier the item is to ship, the lower dollar value I’m willing to accept. If the item is a bitch to ship, then it needs to be worth more.
If you want some specific dollar values… then I usually won’t waste my time listing an item if I don’t think it will sell for at least $10, no matter how simple it is to ship. If an item takes extensive packaging, then I’m expecting it to sell for at least $50, if not $100 or more.
The reason for this is the old adage that time equals money. If I’m selling a $10 baseball card that I plop in a white envelope and throw in the mailbox, then that took me almost no time to ship. That $10 I made really only took me as long as the auction listing took to create.
However if the item you’re selling is big or fragile, you’re going to have to take considerably more time to dedicate to shipping preparation. That time gets factored into your hourly rate, so you need to keep that in mind.
It’s way more profitable to sell a baseball card for $10 than to sell a bicycle for $10 on eBay… you catch my drift?
(I don’t even know how to package a bicycle… but I’m guessing it sucks.)
Of course if you are desperate for cash, then you might choose to ignore these suggestions, but for normal people I’d say these guidelines are pretty solid. Craigslist is really your go-to marketplace for unwieldy items.
After you’ve picked your sure-fire winner, take lots of pictures of it during a sunny day. “Sunny day” being the important keywords there… sunlight is important for capturing high quality pics with your digital camera.
You don’t even need an expensive camera… a cheapo will work fine if you take the pics in adequate lighting.
A bonus tip to snapping professional looking photos is to use a white bedsheet as the background behind/underneath your item. You don’t want the background behind your item to be your messy room or dirty floor… people WILL notice.
Make sure to get enough angles to encompass a 360 degree view of your item… when you’re selling something online, the buyer can’t touch it and pick it up themselves to inspect, so you need to do that for them.
And if you’re a real go-getter, you could even take a video of the item to complement the still pictures.
You can type this in Notepad or TextEdit (or write on a piece of paper if you’re old fashioned like me). Simply describe the CONDITION of the item to the prospective buyer…
… and here’s the key:
Be brutally honest.
I usually downplay the condition of my items because the buyer will not be a happy hombre if your widget has a dent or scratch and you didn’t tell them about it.
However, if the buyer receives your item and it’s in better condition then they were expecting, they will be super stoked and leave you great feedback.
I don’t care if you think you’ll make an extra couple bucks by playing up the condition of your item… it’s not worth it. It’s much better to ere on the side of caution here.
Another key is to be SPECIFIC.
Like when I used to sell Pokemon cards on eBay, here’s an example description I might use:
There are faint scratches on the holographic portion of the card which are visible only in bright light. The corner edges of the back of the card show some wear from play. The card has no bends or creases and is in perfectly acceptable condition for a player, but a collector may seek a card in more mint condition.
Notice how specific I was in grading the card… I didn’t just say it’s in “near-mint” condition. I described it in full detail, and that’s what you should do for all your items.
Act like you know what you’re talking about… pretend to be an expert on your item even if you aren’t.
Again… this goes in hand with taking a bunch of pictures: The online buyer can’t physical touch your items and inspect it for themselves, so you need to be theirs eyes and their ears.
(Pretend you’re selling to Helen Keller or something…)
You now want to describe the FEATURES of your item (we’ve covered the CONDITION in step 3). You should describe specific features, just like you described the condition very specifically.
Examples of features would include things like size, dimensions, weight, make or model, year it was produced, does it come with its box, color, etc… basically anything that could describe the item aside from its condition.
If you want to go the extra step, you could describe the benefits that go along with the features. For example, let’s say that you’re selling a pair of jeans. A feature would be the brand/company, so let’s say they are Levis 501s. A benefit you could mention is that chicks dig Levi 501s.
At this point, you’ve basically gotten your item’s listing description completed! You can now package it up so we can give the bidders an accurate shipping estimate.
This is usually the step that throws most people off because they don’t know where to start, but thankfully it’s gotten easier over the years thanks to USPS.
USPS gives away free Priority Mail supplies, so either go to your local post office and pick up some boxes, or you can order them online. If you order online, they’ll deliver straight to your door which is pretty awesome, and you can order as many supplies as you want.
Their free boxes should house most items you’d typically sell on eBay… but you may have to get bigger boxes from a place like Staples on occasion. Or try looking in your attic or garage for old cardboard boxes you don’t need anymore.
I also recommend getting a scale so you can weigh your packages accurately. USPS does offer some flat rate Priority Mail boxes so you don’t need to weigh those, but sometimes you’ll want to use Priority Mail boxes that aren’t flat rate… and you’ll need a scale for those.
I’ve owned this scale for several years now and it does its job.
As far as packaging materials, a tape gun is indispensable. (Hah… get it?)
You might need bubble wrap if you’re shipping fragile items, but forget packaging peanuts… here’s my secret weapon:
My basic strategy for packaging an item is to stick it in the smallest box it will fit in, then wrap and surround it with crumpled newspaper. You want the item to be really tight and secure… if you shake the package and you feel the item moving around, you need more newspaper!
I always plan for the worst case scenario… I assume that once I ship the package that it’ll probably be thrown half way across a mailroom and smack the concrete floor. I’ve never had a single issue with items being damaged (or lost) during shipping, so I really recommend following my methods.
(If you have bubble wrap or peanuts you could use those instead of newspaper, but I like old newspaper because you can get it for free. Old paper grocery bags work well too.)
And one advanced tip for packaging large items is that you can use the free USPS boxes to fill empty space in large boxes. Like take the USPS box and place it inside the large package to fill space, just like you would fill the space inside a smaller box with newspaper.
I’m sure USPS doesn’t intend for you to use their boxes that way, but I’ve done it in the past and they worked AWESOME. I felt so smart when I figured this method out.
To recap this section:
- Get free shipping boxes from the post office
- Use the smallest sized box that will fit your item
- Fill the empty space in the box really tightly with crumpled up newspaper or grocery bags
But don’t tape it up yet!
Wait to tape until after the auction is over so you can include a hand written note for the winner.
The package should be pretty much ready to be shipped at this point, so set her on the scale and see what she weighs…
If you’re shipping with a flat rate box, then you don’t need to weigh, but for all other packages here’s my tip for recording the weight:
USPS shipping rates go up in increments for every pound the package weighs. If your package is coming in around at X pounds and 13 to 15 ounces, then I’d round up to the next whole pound. Some weight will be added to the package after you include the invoice and tape up the package, so I like to play things safe and round up.
If you don’t round up and your packages ends up weighing in at the next whole pound, you will have not charged the winning bidder enough for shipping. Also, if you choose to purchase shipping online rather than the post office, you will have not purchased adequate shipping and USPS may mail the package back to you. Which would suck.
So always round up if it’s close… you might even make an extra buck from overcharging on shipping a little bit.
Now go to eBay and look for a link at the top to sell an item. I’ll trust you to figure this part out… go through all the fields and complete them. A few key things to take note of:
- Make sure to be very clear in your item description about your shipping methods and times.
- You may or may not want to ship internationally. I personally haven’t had any issues (aside from Peanut), but it might not be worth the hassle for you. The benefit of shipping worldwide is that you will attract more potential buyers and possibly receive a higher winning bid.
- I recommend offering a 7 day money-back guarantee (sans shipping). I think there is ample evidence showing buyers feel more confident when there is a friendly refund policy.
- If you took a lot of pictures and eBay won’t host all of them for free, you could upload them to Flickr and embed a slideshow album into your listing.
- Save your item template after you finish so that next time you have less stuff to fill out!
I try to have my auctions end on Sunday evenings around 9 PM EST because on most other nights of the week I feel like people are busy. Sunday night is usually that one time where not much is going on besides huddling up for the new episode of The Simpsons (well, if you’re living in the 90’s).
eBay will let you schedule your listing (for a small fee), so you don’t have to sit around waiting until 9 PM to post your auction (unless you really want to save 10 cents, then go for it). You can either schedule a 7 day auction (Sunday to Sunday) or a 5 day auction (Tuesday to Sunday). I wouldn’t go any less or more than 5 to 7 days aside from extenuating circumstances.
After all your hard work, you deserve a cold beverage. I like room temperature water.
After the auction concludes, the winning bidder will usually know they’re supposed to pay you, but I will often send them a quick message through eBay as a reminder just incase.
Once you get the dough, print a packing receipt from PayPal and write a small thank you message to the buyer on it. Throw that in the package, seal it up with tape, then print the shipping label and bring the package to the post office.