If you’ve got a house full of clutter and no money in your wallet, it’s probably occurred to you that you could kill two birds with one stone by selling some of this stuff on eBay for extra cash. However, turning your grandma’s silverware and your old baseball card collection into dollars isn’t as simple as slapping up a listing and waiting for the money to roll in. It takes time and effort to list, photograph, package, and ship your items. And the fees you pay to eBay can cut into your profits.
To get the most from your eBay sales, it pays to be strategic. By taking care with what you list, how you list it, and how you deal with your customers, you can you get the best return on the time and effort you invest. Whether you’re new to eBay selling or a long-time seller looking to boost your profits, these tips can give a lift to your bottom line.
1. Choose the Right Items
The first question to ask yourself before listing your items on eBay is whether this is really the best way to sell them. There are many other places to turn clutter into cash, including Amazon, Craigslist, consignment shops, garage sales, and even tax-deductible charitable donations.
The best items to sell on eBay are:
- Permitted Under eBay Policies. There are many types of items that you aren’t allowed to sell on eBay, including weapons, live animals, fireworks, drugs, and any type of alcohol other than wine. Some of these items are banned for safety reasons, others to comply with local laws. Before listing any item on eBay, check the site’s selling policies page to make sure it’s allowed.
- Easy to Ship. Books, clothing, and knickknacks are all easy to pack and ship. Bulky items, like furniture, are not. A large set of delicate china, which requires each piece to be wrapped by hand, could also be more trouble than it’s worth. If you want to find buyers for items like these, consider using the “local pickup only” option. This limits your pool of buyers to people who live close enough to come to you, but it will save both you and your buyer a huge amount of hassle and expense.
- Rare. People don’t tend to shop on eBay for everyday items like socks or school supplies, which are easy to buy in a store. They visit this site when they’re looking for a specific item that’s hard to find elsewhere. Items that will appeal to collectors, like rare books, vintage clothing, and sports memorabilia, are all good bets.
- Popular. The best items to list on eBay are hot-ticket items that will attract multiple bids. According to Good Housekeeping UK, perennial bestsellers on eBay include home decor items, garden accessories, electronics, fitness gear, collectibles, books, and high-fashion clothing. You can check eBay’s trending products page to see what items are particularly popular with buyers right now.
- Worth Buying Online. Experts say there are some items you should always buy online to get the best price, such as books, electronics, and exercise gear. However, there are other items you should never buy online according to experts, such as furniture, mattresses, and musical instruments. These are products that you really have to see and test out in person to decide if you like them or not. If you’re not sure whether your goods fall into this category, here’s a good rule of thumb: If you would hesitate to buy this product online, other buyers probably will too.
2. Create Standout Listings
Deciding what to sell on eBay is only the first step. According to eBay’s own statistics, there are currently 1.1 billion live listings on the site, and many of those are sure to be for items similar to yours. If you want buyers to choose your items out of all the others on the site, you need a way to make your listings stand out.
Use the Right Keywords
The most important thing you can do to help buyers find your items is to use the right keywords in your listing. The title is especially important. The more descriptive terms it includes, the better the chances are that it will show up in searches.
Failing to include the right terms can cost you big money. David Seideman, writing for Forbes, tells the story of an eBay dealer who sold a vintage baseball glove for $180, a good $80 less than it was worth. The problem was that the title of his listing — “RARE Vintage HOH Ken Boyer Personal Model TG 15 Trapeze Glove OH BABY!” — did not include the word “baseball.” Since most sports fans were searching for a vintage baseball glove rather than just a vintage glove, they never found his listing.
To make sure this doesn’t happen to you, keep these pointers in mind:
- Research Keywords. A good starting point is to write down all the terms you might use to describe your item. For instance, instead of just “Xbox 360,” write down “Xbox 360 Video Game Console System Controllers.” However, don’t limit yourself to your own imagination. Search listings on eBay for items similar to yours, especially listings that are attracting a lot of activity, and see what terms they include. Another good way to find search terms is to take advantage of Google’s autocomplete feature. Type a basic description of your item — say, “Xbox 360” — into Google’s search bar and see what popular search terms pop up related to that description. This will tell you what people are searching for and help you steer them toward your listing.
- Craft Your Title Carefully. Once you’ve decided what keywords to use, don’t just string them all together at random. You need to include keywords so that search algorithms can find your listing, but you also need to create a title that human beings will want to click on. To do that, put your keywords together in a way that flows naturally. “New Xbox 360 Video Game Console System Controllers” sounds much better than “Xbox 360 Controllers Console System Video Game New.”
- Include Keywords in the Description. The title is what gets people to click on your listing, but if the description itself doesn’t hold their attention, they’ll click away within seconds. To catch and hold a buyer’s attention, make sure to include all the most important keywords right at the beginning of your listing. However, don’t make the text just a long list of keywords. Organize the terms into complete sentences that fit together in a way that’s easy to read.
3. Make Listings Look Professional
Using the right keywords will attract attention to your description, but it takes more than that to convince people to buy. To do that, you need to look like the kind of seller they want to deal with. The more professional you can make your listing, the more likely people are to trust you as a seller.
Here are a few tips for creating a professional listing:
- Write a Complete Description. As noted above, your description should include all the details about the item that buyers are likely to want to know, such as the product type, brand name, model, size, color, and condition. However, a truly compelling description goes beyond the bare facts. Focus on the specific benefits of your product — the reasons a buyer would choose it over a competing product. For instance, if you’re selling a sweater, talk about its comfort, warmth, and fit. Also, if the item has an interesting back story, make sure to include it. For instance, you could say, “Pictures show my grandmother wearing this hat to parties back in the 1940s. I found it years later in a trunk in her attic, still in great condition.”
- Include Good Photos. A professional listing includes good, clear photos. It’s crucial to include real photos of your specific item, not just pictures of a similar item taken from a catalog. Savvy buyers can spot this trick, and it will make them wonder what you have to hide. Consider also including a video, or a link to one, if it’s useful to show buyers how the product works.
- Break Up Text. A big block of text is hard to read and will put buyers off. To improve readability and make your listing more eye-catching, break up that text with bulleted lists that include bite-sized chunks of information on each line. You can also use boldface or italics to highlight important words and vary the text size where appropriate to add visual interest.
Creating professional listings doesn’t have to be a lot of work. You can use eBay’s selling templates feature to create and save templates that include your formatting, photos, and other details. Then you can simply reuse these templates for all your listings, changing the text each time.
4. Take Good Photos
Photos are key to selling an item online. Since buyers can’t physically handle the item, the photos are their best clue to what to expect from it. Here are some tips for taking professional-looking photos:
- Take Shots From Several Angles. This gives buyers a more complete picture of how the item looks. However, don’t overwhelm your buyer with images. For most items, three pictures are enough to do the job.
- Get a Clear Image. Use only sharp, clear pictures in your listing, and discard any blurry ones. One trick Forbes recommends for getting clear images is to use the flash all the time, even when you’re shooting in full sunlight. This guarantees that the entire image is lit up, instead of partly lit and partly in shadow.
- Use a Neutral Background. If you shoot your picture in your messy kitchen, all the clutter in the background will distract viewers from the item you’re trying to sell. Put the focus on the item itself by shooting it against a plain, neutral background. A white sheet usually works well, but black or brown can be better for light-colored items.
- Show Scale. When a photo shows an item all by itself, it can be difficult to tell how big it is. In cases like these, it’s helpful to include another item for scale. For instance, you can photograph a smartphone in your hand to show its size. You can also photograph the item next to a ruler or, for very small items, a coin.
- Show Any Flaws. If there are any flaws in the item, such as a crack in a piece of china, be sure to show them in the photos as well as including them in the description. That way, buyers can decide for themselves if the flaw is serious enough to be a deal breaker. It also reassures them that you’re being honest about the item’s condition.
5. Time It Right
Your success on eBay can depend on not only how you list your items, but also when. For example, seasonal items are more likely to find buyers at the appropriate time of year, such as Christmas decorations in December and swimming or diving gear in the summertime. Likewise, if you’re selling sports memorabilia, the best time to do it is right before the team in question has a big game. Lots of people will be paying attention to the team at that time, so demand will be higher.
However, even for items that don’t seem time-sensitive, your listings are likely to do better if you start them at a time when lots of people are browsing. For just $0.10 per listing, you can schedule your listing to start at the exact time you want, up to 21 days ahead of time. That way, you don’t have to be at your computer at a specific time to create your listing and activate it.
According to PC Magazine, studies have found that Sunday evening is usually the best time to start and end your listings since lots of people are shopping online at that time. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings can also be good choices. Avoid ending an auction on Friday or Saturday when many people are out.
Setting the exact hour for your auction is a bit trickier, especially if you want to attract buyers across multiple time zones. In general, though, experts say it’s better to have your auction start and end in the evening when people are at home. Whatever you do, don’t end your auction in the middle of a weeknight — say, 3am on a Tuesday — when most people are asleep. If you do, you’ll miss out on the flurry of last-minute bids that hot-ticket items often get.
6. Price It Right
If you’re selling your item in an auction, it’s a good idea to set the starting price low. Even if you expect your item to sell for $100, setting the initial price at $50 will cause many buyers to lose interest right away. Start low and let the demand drive the price up. If it ends up not getting to the $100 you expected, you probably wouldn’t have gotten that price anyway.
Setting the right price for a “Buy It Now” listing is trickier. However, a little homework can help. Search eBay for completed listings of items similar to yours, and see how much other buyers have been willing to pay.
If you’re still not confident you’ve set the right price, you can hedge your best by accepting counteroffers. Under the “Buy It Now” price in your listing, click the check box marked “Let buyers make offers.” If a buyer comes along who isn’t willing to pay the $100 you’re asking but would be willing to pay $80, they can offer you that price, and you can decide whether to take it.
You can even tell eBay to automatically accept any offer above, say, $75 or to automatically decline offers below $50. That way, you won’t have to respond to every offer individually.
7. Use Free Listing Offers
One way to maximize your profits on eBay is to minimize the fees you have to pay for listing your items. If you’re a fairly small-scale seller, this is no problem, since your first 50 listings each month are free. However, each category you sell an item in counts as a separate listing, so if many of your listings go into multiple categories, you can burn through those 50 free listings pretty quickly. After that, you start paying an “insertion fee” of $0.35 per item per category.
However, there’s a way around this problem. From time to time, eBay offers promotions that give you a certain number of free listings over a fixed period — sometimes a couple of days, sometimes as long as a week. If you sign up for eBay’s free listing email alerts, you can get notified whenever one of these promotional periods comes up. By saving up your listings for these times, you can avoid listing fees that cut into your profits.
8. Maintain a High Seller Rating
Whenever you sell an item on eBay, you pay a percentage of the sale price to the site. For most items, this fee is a flat 10%. However, eBay charges an additional 4% on every sale to sellers who don’t get good ratings from buyers. If a significant number of buyers give you poor ratings, or if a lot of them return items because they’re “not as described,” you could get hit with this fee.
Thus, one of the most important things you can do to minimize fees on eBay is to maintain a “Top Rated” ranking as a seller. As a bonus, being a Top Rated seller will also make your listings more appealing to customers and help you make more sales. Here are a few tips on how to keep your ratings high.
The No. 1 way to avoid dissatisfied customers is to be 100% honest with them about each item you sell. If there are any flaws in its condition, like a scratch or a dent, mention them in the description and include a photo of the damage. True, this will mean that some buyers will reject the item, but there’s always someone out there who’s willing to overlook the flaws.
In fact, Seideman says that selling a damaged item in as-is condition is often better than trying to fix it yourself. He relates the story of a collector who found a rare baseball glove he’d been seeking for years, but by the time he showed up to buy it, the store owner had ruined it by soaking it in neatsfoot oil in an attempt to repair some minor damage. He also recommends against attempting to “restore” vintage baseball cards, since this actually reduces their value.
In any case, if a buyer will be turned off by an item that’s in less-than-perfect condition, it’s much better for them to know about it before they buy. Having them click away from your listing does much less damage than having them return the item or leave a negative review.
Have Clear Policies
Another way to improve your reputation with buyers is to have clear, written policies on shipping and returns. By being open about your policies up front, you’ll avoid wasting time dealing with upset customers. Buyers will know exactly what to expect ahead of time, so they’ll have nothing to complain about.
It’s a good idea to make your return policy generous. Customers are more likely to take a chance on your item when they know they can return it if there’s a problem. In addition, your return policy is one of the factors in eBay’s Best Match algorithm, which it uses to rank search results. That means having a generous return policy will increase the chance that buyers will see your listings.
However, there is such a thing as making your return policy too generous. For instance, if you allow buyers to return items at any time and cover their full cost for return shipping, people could pick up your products on a whim and easily return them if they later decide they don’t like them. That will cost you a lot of money and time. A good compromise is to accept returns within a week after purchase and cover half the return shipping costs.
9. Keep Shipping Costs Down
Speaking of shipping, there’s nothing that puts buyers off so much as inflated shipping costs. Some eBay sellers try to make their auction prices look low by charging a dollar or less for the item, then tacking on a ridiculous amount for shipping. The site has attempted to put a stop to this practice by setting limits on how much sellers are allowed to charge for shipping for different types of products. However, you’ll still see some people abusing this policy by charging right up to the limit for shipping when they don’t need to.
A good way to avoid running afoul of eBay’s policy is to charge your customers exactly what you pay for shipping — no more and no less. To calculate this amount, weigh your item in the box you intend to use for shipping, complete with any packing materials that could add to the weight. You can then provide a shipping calculator in your listing to show buyers the exact shipping cost for their area. Just select “Calculated: Cost varies by buyer location” in the “Shipping” section when setting up your listing.
Another good option is to offer free shipping, especially for small items. Covering the shipping cost yourself will eat into your profit a little, but chances are, you’ll still come out ahead because people will be willing to pay more for your items. Everyone loves a bargain, and numerous studies have shown that people spend more when they think they’re getting something for free. For instance, when Amazon started offering free shipping on orders worth $49 or more, its total sales went up.
10. Ship Items Promptly
Buyers don’t only care about the cost of shipping; they also care about how long it takes. Amazon has made two-day delivery the new standard, and buyers will click away from your listings if they see that they’ll have to wait much longer than that for their items.
Federal Express, UPS, and the U.S. Postal Service all offer shipping services that can get your products to buyers in two days or less. If you use one of these services, and you’re a high-volume seller with a turnaround time of one day or less, you can qualify for eBay Guaranteed Delivery, which makes your listings more visible and more appealing to shoppers.
11. Pack Items Securely
Even if your buyers pay nothing for shipping and get the item within two days, if it arrives broken or damaged, they’ll be unhappy. You’ll have to deal with the hassle of a return, and your seller rating could suffer.
To avoid this problem, make sure you pack all items securely, especially fragile ones. Small items can go in a padded mailing envelope; large ones should go in a box with plenty of packing material. Bubble wrap, styrofoam peanuts, crumpled newspaper, or shredded paper can all work.
Also, don’t forget that packages can get wet in the rain during shipping. Items like plastic toys will come through all right, but books, clothing, and electronics can all suffer damage. If there’s any chance moisture will harm your item, wrap it securely in plastic to protect it before putting it in the box.
An extra touch customers appreciate is including a packing slip listing the contents of the package. It reassures customers that they’ve received the right item, and it keeps any small items in a larger package from getting discarded by accident. Include your contact information on the slip in case customers have any problems or questions.
12. Treat Customers Right
Even if the items you have to sell aren’t unusual or special, you can make yourself a standout seller by providing top-notch customer service. Here’s what that means:
- Be Polite. Treat your customers with the same courtesy you’d expect when shopping at your favorite store. Even if customers are rude to you, don’t respond in kind; stay calm and professional. Remember the old sales slogan, “The customer is always right,” even when you privately think they’re wrong.
- Be Flexible. Try to accommodate any reasonable request from your customers. For instance, suppose a customer is buying several items from you and wants to know if you can combine them into one shipment and reduce the shipping cost. Saying yes to this request doesn’t cost you anything, and the buyer will appreciate it. However, one thing you shouldn’t negotiate about is receiving payment promptly and securely. Make sure all your transactions go through eBay’s system so you aren’t at risk of fraud.
- Keep Customers Informed. As much as you can, keep customers in the loop about what’s going on with their orders. Send an invoice as soon as possible after the auction ends, and let them know when you’ve received their payment and when the item is on its way. If you can, provide a tracking number and a link so they can keep an eye on their shipment’s progress. And if you don’t hear from them again, follow up after a few days to make sure they received the item and were satisfied with it.
- Be Responsive. Whenever a bidder contacts you with questions, make a point of replying as quickly as possible. Even if you don’t have an answer for them yet, let them know you received the message and you’ll get back to them with an answer as soon as you can. Sometimes buyers contact multiple sellers at once and order from the first one who gets back to them, so being prompt can help you make the sale.
- Provide Details. When you respond to queries from customers, give them as much information as you can, even if it’s more than they asked for. For instance, if a customer writes to ask you about the size of an item, don’t just repeat the information that’s already in the listing; measure it and give exact specifications. Giving customers more information than they asked for shows them you’re engaged and will make them more willing to trust you as a seller.
- Ask for Feedback — And Act on It. Always ask your customers for feedback on their shopping experience and how satisfied they are with the product. If their feedback is negative, or if they contact you with complaints, don’t get mad; look at it as an opportunity to improve. Seideman shares two stories about customers who contacted him with rude comments about the quality of the photos in his listings. Instead of snapping back at them, he thanked them for their feedback and posted better photos, and bidding prices for both items promptly shot up.
- Show Appreciation. Finally, let your customers know you appreciate their business. Always leave positive feedback for buyers you’ve had a good interaction with; chances are they’ll return the favor. If someone has purchased a high-ticket item, consider adding a handwritten note to the package thanking them for their business and urging them to contact you with any questions. Little touches like this mean a lot.
Getting started on eBay is easy, and many people spend years using the site to sell items on a casual basis. The tips listed here will help you get the most profit out of these occasional sales.
However, if you want to ramp up your online sales and turn them into a side business, eBay has additional tools you can use to make it a success. For instance, if you have lots of copies of the same item to sell, you can use eBay’s bulk listings tool to put them all up for sale at once. As your sales volume climbs, you can consider opening an eBay store, paying a monthly subscription fee in exchange for lower listing and final value sales fees.
Are you a new eBay seller or an experienced user? What are some of the most profitable items you’ve ever sold through the site?