Recently, while unpacking after a move, I came to a not-so-startling revelation: I had a lot of things that I did not really need. I still had boxes that I never unpacked from my previous move, which was two years ago. Now, I know I have a habit of keeping things for too long and taking frugal living too far, especially when it comes to electronics. I always think I may suddenly need them (or have the ability to fix them) one day. Two years of unpacked boxes, however, is borderline hoarding.
I got out a new box, drew a huge dollar sign on it, and tossed in anything worth selling. Over the next few weeks, I sold 25 different items on Craigslist, and made enough money to replenish the savings I spent for the move.
Anyone can sell anything on Craigslist, but I’ve learned that making money on Craigslist really is an art form. To get the most out of your old stuff, you need a smart plan, a mix of great photos, a fair price, and a clever advertisement.
How to Sell on Craigslist
1. Plan and Research
Don’t just jump into your advertisement without some careful planning and investigating. You’ll need to do some research to find the best price and write the best description, especially if you don’t know the technical specifications of your item.
During my unpacking fiasco, for example, I realized I had two digital cameras. I didn’t know much about either one, except that they were both cameras and I wanted one of them to be dollars. I researched both of the cameras on technology sites, figured out which one I’d keep, and posted the other one using the published specs and pricing as a guideline.
Remember that Craigslist is a very competitive marketplace, and other people are probably selling items that are very similar to yours. If you’re the one with more information, potential buyers are more likely to find you and more likely to do business with you.
Unless you have a rare collectible or antique, you can get all your research done in three quick steps:
- Look up your item on popular review or pricing websites. For instance, you can research most electronics on CNET or the manufacturer’s website. Both sources will provide you with technical specs and features. You can then use this information to provide the necessary detail for potential buyers.
- Find the current price of the product selling new. A quick Google search will give you a decent gauge, and you should do some comparison shopping on a few sites specific to your type of item or other big online stores. Of course you won’t be able to sell your used item for as much money as a new product would command, but this price will give you a ceiling and help you figure out your asking price.
- Compare what you have to other products listed on Craigslist and eBay. You’ll want to charge somewhere in the range of your fellow sellers on the two most popular online marketplaces, or you won’t get many offers.
Pro Tip: Take notes. It may sound like basic advice from your third-grade teacher, but when you’re looking around at current prices, write down the numbers you’re seeing, or take online notes. If you’re selling a few items, you don’t want to rely on your memory to keep all of the price ranges together. Organized notes will make it a lot easier to settle on a final price.
2. Price Your Item
Research may sound like a big time commitment, but at least it’s not the tricky part. It’s time to price your item. Ask for too much money, and you won’t get legitimate response. Set the price too low, and you’ll leave money on the table.
In looking at other Craigslist sellers and eBay listings, you have a decent idea of a price range. Now, take a hard look at the condition of your item. If it’s missing parts, doesn’t quite work right, or just has seen better days, then you need to err on the low side of that range. On the other hand, if it’s in great condition or like-new, then you can head to the top of your range.
Be realistic. You might think that your stuff is worth more to someone else than it truly is. If you lose control, you’ll end up wasting time. Sure, that DVD player was a high-end gadget when you got it as a graduation present five years ago, but since then you’ve spilled your drink on it twice, and newer Blu-ray players came out. No one is going to pay you $200 for it now.
Pro Tip: When pricing your item, decide whether you want to run your ad at a firm price, or as a “best offer” price. A firm price will get you exactly what you want, but you need to attract the right buyer. When you run a best offer ad, you might not make as much money as you thought you could, but you’ll get a lot of interest from potential customers.
3. Take Photos
When it comes to buying things online, a good image is a seller’s best friend. In fact, a good picture can be the key to drawing a buyer in.
Craigslist lets you post up to four photos per ad. While you might not need to use all four, you should always upload a least one clear picture showing the entire item. For the other three spots, consider closeups on key features or shots from other angles.
To get the most out of Craigslist’s photo allotment, take several photos and upload the four best. Staging your photos will help them turn out clearer and more attractive, and it’s easy to do a good job right at home.
Here are some basic tips for staging your photos:
- Clean up the item. For example, if you’re selling a used bicycle, give it a good wash to remove any dirt before taking a photo.
- Include any extras in the photo. Gadgets and other electronics typically come with accessories, software, or manuals. Include anything you’re selling with the item in the photo.
- Create a background. You can go all out and use a white or black sheet as the backdrop for your photo. A solid contrasting color will help the item stand out. Realistically, I usually just find an area of my house free of clutter to take the photo. You want to make it clear what you’re selling; don’t let anything else show up in the photo.
- Find the best lighting. Try to take your pictures in natural light. In a dark room, the photo won’t show clearly, and artificial light can change the color of the item.
- Take several shots. Take at least one shot from every angle.
Pro Tip: If your item is particularly large or small, take a picture of it next to a universally known object, like a coin or a baseball, so that potential buyers can get a feel for the scale. Especially for electronics and tech gadgets, where smaller is often better, you’ll want to give your audience a good idea of your item’s size. Think like an advertiser when you’re snapping photos, and try to tell an enticing story with your images.
4. Write a Clear Headline
You don’t have to be a master copywriter to create an engaging and attractive headline. Just remember to devote some creative time and thoughtfulness when you’re coming up with a title, because the title serves two important functions:
- It’s the first thing people see on your ad.
- It’s how buyers search for items they want.
Using good keywords, therefore, is the secret to an effective, searchable title. Include as many searchable terms as you can, without making your title confusing.
Do your best to use the name of the item, the brand, and the condition. For example, if you’re selling a HTC Evo smart phone, your title might be, Mint condition HTC Evo Android Smartphone, Sprint PCS. BEST OFFER. If you don’t have the right keywords, people searching for products within Craigslist will never even have an opportunity to view your listing.
Pro Tip: You do not need to include the price or your location in the title. Craigslist adds that information in other sections.
5. Write a Good Description
Once you get prospective buyers to see your ad with a catchy headline, it’s time to seal the deal with an effective description. Craigslist provides an open text box so you can fill in any helpful descriptive text. The description will appear before the photos, so you can reference them or introduce them in the description.
Prospective buyers will read your description before contacting you, so include all the relevant information you can think of. This way, you’ll cut down on the amount of people who call or email you just to ask about the item. You’ll save time and attract more buyers with a clear description.
Include the following in your description:
- What you’re selling. Start every ad by explaining what your item is.
- Item’s condition. Briefly explain the condition of the item after the general description. Make a note of any damages, no matter how small. Honesty is your best policy here.
- Technical specs. If you’re selling any electronic gadget, include the technical specs from the manufacturer’s website.
- Price check. Use the description to remind readers about the price. While Craigslist has a separate section for pricing, it’s a good idea to include it in the ad as well. Be sure to include whether you’re willing to take the best offer.
- Your contact information. Add your preferred method of contact at the bottom of your ad. For example, if you prefer to have buyers email you, include a note asking anyone to email the address given on the ad for questions or to make an offer on the item. If you don’t mind phone calls, include your cell phone or home number as well.
Pro Tip: If you don’t want to make your personal email address public, take advantage of Craigslist’s anonymous email feature. They’ll set up a random address that will forward to your personal email so that you can get emails the way you’re used to receiving them, without giving out your real address to anyone. While you’re at it, if you want to accept phone calls but don’t want to share your personal number, set up a Google Voice account for your Craigslist business. Their settings make it easy to block unwanted calls, and you can keep your home or cell phone number private.
Selling your old stuff on Craigslist takes time and effort, but the payoff is well worth it. I spent a little less than half an hour posting each ad, and then another hour or two following up with buyers. In the end, I made over $500 on stuff I had laying around the house unused. The extra savings in the bank was well worth the few hours I spent listing the items. The more you sell, the more natural it becomes to set up your posts as smart, clever advertisements.
What has your experience with Craigslist been? Do you have any additional selling tips or strategies to add to the mix?
For more options, learn how to use eBay to sell your items with these eBay selling tips.