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Be a Big Deal on eBay

Making it big on eBay is all about your listings. Give your products the selling power they need with these 10 tips.

Imagine eBay as a giant shopping mall. Your buyers are only one step--or one click--away from moving to the next store for lower prices, better customer service, a wider selection or perhaps better ambience. A number of things can make your competitors more appealing to potential buyers, especially on eBay, where it's simple for buyers to sort through the millions of listings for a given product. Establishing a successful business on eBay starts with mastering the listing process--the umbrella term for the practice of researching, writing descriptions, taking photographs, setting prices, answering questions, shipping items and generally selling products. It may take a few attempts before you discover exactly how to sculpt your listings to fit your products and customers, but there are a number of steps you can take right away to succeed in the eBay marketplace.

1. Do your research. As senior manager of eBay Education Programs, Sharon Guldner has been educating eBay members for almost five years. But it took her only a few weeks to discover the common mistakes that hamper eBay startups from the beginning. A major one is lack of research. "Research is important because it helps you determine if there is a demand for your product," says Guldner. "And by researching starting prices, you'll see whether you can make the money you want. You can also take note of the best practices of other sellers."

Browse active and completed listings, and look at how other eBay sellers in your category are selling. What keywords make up their titles? Which listings brought the highest bids? How do sellers in your category describe a product's features?

Do a keyword search for the item you plan to sell, and examine active listings. Then check completed listings to see what similar items have sold for in the past two weeks. "You need to know what the market wants," says Guldner.

If you plan to sell in volume or want to begin sourcing products for your business on eBay, Guldner recommends using eBay Marketplace Research. Available in three subscription levels, Marketplace Research enables you to gather critical information on selling trends in the eBay market-place for up to 90 days.

2. Set your price and determine your listing format. Part of the fun of eBay is that you and the buyer determine the price; the same item could yield $50 in one listing and $120 in the next. But eBay's flexible pricing can be both beneficial and detrimental. Again, research is key--looking at previous sales for similar items should determine your pricing and listing strategy. Testing a variety of techniques is the best way to determine what works well for your items.

Guldner sees many eBay sellers start bids at one cent as a technique to attract buyers and drive the selling price above market value. But she warns against using a penny starting bid if the product is niche or demand for it is low. For this technique to work well, you need products that are in demand and hard to find elsewhere.

To jump-start business, you can begin with a no-reserve auction-style listing, meaning you don't set a minimum dollar amount for the sale. "Getting that first bid is critical to a successful listing," says Lisa Rosato-Donahue, senior manager of eBay Seller Marketing. And since buyers are more likely to bid if there are already other bids on the item, having no reserve price encourages people to jump right in and often pushes bids higher than the intended reserve price anyway. "It's about generating excitement for your item," Rosato-Donahue says.

Another common listing format is Buy It Now, which can be used with or without bidding. Buy It Now lets buyers choose between purchasing a product at a fixed price--as they would in a store--and bidding. Offering a Buy It Now price allows buyers to purchase an item immediately if they don't want to bid or wait for a listing to end. But the option should be used wisely. "I've seen people start their biddings at $9.99 and then put a Buy It Now price at $10," says Guldner. "That's not going to inspire people to bid that item up." Guldner recommends offering Buy It Now prices on commodity items such as DVDs, which have a known value, and sticking with auction-style listings for in-demand and collectible items. Research will help you determine if your Buy It Now price is appropriate for the product.

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