Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ms. Amy's Guide to eBay

It's no secret that I enjoy eBay. A member since 2000, I have bought and sold a variety of items, and never cease to be amazed at what you can find on eBay. While I am by no means an expert, I have learned a few things along the way. Take this for what it is - the experience of a novice eBayer. If you have things to add, I'd love to hear your advice/ perspective.

  1. Start Slow: It's easy to get overwhelmed by everything available. I can spend hours searching for all manner of random items - from children's clothing to antique jewelry to craft items to vintage books, etc. If you want it, it's likely that you CAN find it on eBay - for a variety of prices. And if you don't see it, keep checking back.
  2. Do Your Research: Start reading listings, and note the following: quality of pictures, thoroughness of description, starting price, seller feedback, shipping costs. I am leery of listings which have fuzzy pictures, a lack of description, spelling errors, high starting price, less than 98% positive feedback, and exorbitant shipping costs. I often go with my gut instinct as to whether the seller is sincere in the listing. If you are looking for something "designer" - especially handbags - there are SO MANY fakes out there. Look long & hard before you bid. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Ex: We bought some PlayMobil toys which were a huge disappointment. We knew they were in used condition, but didn't expect them to be broken & dirty. The description was very vague, and the pictures were angled to hide some of the broken pieces. Lesson Learned: Just because I would not sell a broken, filthy item doesn't mean that others have any second thoughts about trying it.
  3. Impulse Control: DO NOT BID on the first things you see! I can't stress this enough. It's easy to get into a trap of "look at how cheap this is!". You may end up purchasing 6 of the same item - and who wants that? Or you may end up purchasing the wrong size of something because you didn't read the description carefully.
  4. Q & A: Not enough information in the description? Ask a question! Most sellers are prompt and responsive to your questions.
  5. Patience: Can't find what you want? Item selling for more than you want to pay? Check back in a few days. Because eBay is always live, you have an increased likelihood of finding what you want..... eventually.
  6. Bidding Wars: I can't tell you how often I have bid on an item, thinking I have it locked up - and I get swooped in the last 5 minutes of an auction. I believe that some sellers are dishonest enough to have shill bidders to drive up the price. But I also believe that there are buyers out there who get a thrill out of trying to swoop an item at the last minute. It is SO EASY to get into the mindset of "Oh no they don't!" - and that's fine as long as you are prepared to pay the price. But most of the time, it's best to set an absolute maximum and stick to it.
  7. Know What You're Dealing With: As cool as eBay is, it is still an online garage sale. There are people who will misrepresent their items, who won't ship on time, who won't ship at all, who take 2 weeks to ship. Don't let a bad experience taint your overall feelings about the site. It can be lots of fun - when you go in with eyes wide open. And PS - sellers deserve a little leeway, too.
  8. Paying: Open a Paypal account. It's the gold standard of eBay payment methods, and doesn't cost you anything. I've never had a problem with them.
  9. Shipping: Shipping costs are not cheap, but that is no reason to pay too much. I get really upset when someone tries to charge $12.00 to ship a DVD (it shouldn't be more than $4.00 - MAX). Be willing to accept a reasonable shipping charge, and know that it can take a week+ to get to you. Patience!
  10. No Takesies-Backsies: eBay is the perfect example of Caveat Emptor. Bottom line is that what you get is what you get. Most sellers have a no returns policy, with few exceptions. A bid is a binding contract, and you need to be an adult about that. You can't cancel a bid or try to return an item because you changed your mind.
  1. Be Thorough: I take pains to ensure that my pictures are clear, my descriptions are complete, and my terms are fair. eBay is not my "business", but I think presenting oneself in a professional way indicates that you value the business model, the customer, and the item you are presenting for consideration.
  2. Be Reasonable: Don't set a starting price that is too high - you'll scare off bidders. On the flip side, don't set a starting price that is so low that you'll be irritated when your item sells for the minimum. Also, be fair in shipping costs. You have to bear the cost of supplies & time to ship, but this is not the place to try and rip off your buyers. Offer to combine shipping!
  3. Terms: You have to spell things out. If you won't ship internationally, say so. If you expect payment in 24 hours or you will cancel the listing, say so. If you don't spell it out, it's unfair to make demands after the end of auction.
  4. eBay Backs The Buyer: It is unfortunate, but eBay's bottom line is that it supports the buyers, not the sellers. Only buyers can leave negative feedback. If a buyer reports a problem, eBay's stance is that a seller is guilty until they prove themselves innocent. For the most part, this is not a problem. But there are buyers who will threaten you with negative feedback, open baseless cases against you (suspending your Paypal account) & otherwise whine & complain in an effort to get their way. Don't let the bad apples get to you - and don't take it personally. {I am still working on this one}
  5. Nutbar Alert: Most buyers are great. They ask clear questions, pay promptly, and leave positive feedback. But there are others who will email you a dozen times because they think they should have paid less in shipping, been provided a tracking number or delivery confirmation for free, and had their package sent for overnight delivery because they felt entitled to those things. As with any customer service experience, you have to be objective and just let it roll off your back.
  6. Communication: I think this is so important. If something has changed, let the buyer know. Be sure to thank them for prompt payment, or let them know that you're still waiting for payment. If you can't ship in the time stated, tell them & then let them know exactly when you will ship the item. Poor communication leads to negative feedback!
  7. Feedback: Sellers live & die on the feedback system, but it seems to be increasingly rare for buyers to leave feedback. If a transaction is smooth & within terms, there's no reason to not leave positive feedback. Even just a "thank you".
  8. Listing Times: I have found the optimal time to list is Sunday evening. I also prefer to list for 7 days, which allows for maximum exposure of the item. Try not to list too close to a holiday (not enough time to ship your item), or over a long weekend (many people go out of town).
  9. Fees: eBay is not free. There is a cost to list an item, a cost for extra pictures, a cost to re-list if it doesn't sell, shipping costs, supply costs, Paypal fees.... it can feel like you're being nickel & dimed to death. Be willing to accept the fees & time needed to create and complete a successful auction listing. If you don't want to put in the time & investment, you should probably just take your stuff to Goodwill & be done with it.
  10. Let It Go: eBay is a fickle mistress. Your item didn't sell? Maybe it was the wrong season or month. Maybe it was tax time. Maybe it was a holiday weekend. Maybe it was priced too high. I recommend trying again, and if you're still not successful, it's time to rethink your strategy & desired outcome.
eBay really can be a lot of work, but I enjoy it. I buy because I like to shop from the comfort of my own couch & because I love a bargain. I like to sell because it's a great way to make a little extra money (hello Christmas presents!), and it can be a big rush to watch a bidding war in the last 10 minutes of your auction. It's not for everyone, but I give it two thumbs up.

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