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Start Your Engines!

On eBay, the highway to success is shorter than you think. Try these tips to supercharge your business.

When he first started out, Ryan Foley (eBay User ID: diskount-express) of Auburn, New York, was borrowing his friend's 2-megapixel camera to snap pictures of the products he sold on eBay. He'd take a shot of one of the shirts he was selling and post it in his listing. After a while, he could afford to purchase a higher quality digital camera of his own. That's when he started to notice something.

"It really cut down on customer questions," recalls Foley, 20. "I wasn't getting as many questions about the color or size, because it was self-explanatory. People could see from the photos themselves whether the shirt was light pink or dark pink." Foley realized that if adding higher quality photographs to his listings could cut down on the time he spent answering myriad buyer questions, there must be other secrets to more successful selling on eBay.

There are, and Katie Sween of eBay's Seller Development team is determined to make them common knowledge. Sween has been instrumental in relaunching eBay's Seller OnRamp program, where promising new sellers and those who want to grow their existing businesses can get coaching by phone about everything from their item listings to various eBay tools to boost sales.

"It's a short-term account management program where we will take high-potential sellers through a 90-day program, setting milestones that sellers accomplish to go on to the next portion of their course," she explains. Culled from the Seller OnRamp program as well as veteran eBay sellers, the following 10 ideas can make a big difference in how well you sell on eBay.

1. Be different. Successful selling starts before you even list an item. You're more likely to have success if you choose a product that isn't already abundantly available on eBay, says Foley, who spent a great deal of time researching the types of sportswear that were selling well on eBay. The Seller OnRamp program focuses on product demand in the first phone session. "We teach sellers how to do a Completed Item search so they can see how their items would convert on eBay to gauge their success at selling those items," says Sween.

In addition, eBay has a Seller Central section on its website. This area offers a wealth of information about best practices in selling, and it features the "Hot Categories Report." This monthly report categorizes various products as Hot, Very Hot and Super Hot, depending on how well they're selling.

2. Provide exceptional service. Buyers are becoming increasingly aware of return policies and demanding excellent customer service from eBay sellers. That includes being responsive and standing by your merchandise.

"To be a successful seller, you really need to offer a money-back guarantee," says Brad Schepp, co-author with his wife, Debra, of eBay PowerSeller Million-Dollar Ideas. "You need to build a certain amount of money into your business to make things right with customers."

The Schepps cite a seller who deals in used skis. Because it can be difficult to gauge how customers will react to the wear and tear on the skis--and because skis can be difficult to ship back and forth--the seller had a special box designed that can withstand up to three shipments, so sending the skis back is as easy as possible for the customer.

Foley adds that answering e-mails promptly and communicating quickly with buyers and prospective customers builds credibility, which will ultimately build your business and contribute to that all-important feedback score.

"This is even more important now that buyers can rate sellers on specific aspects of the transaction, like communication," says Sween. "We find that most times when buyers e-mail sellers with questions, they are actually just testing the seller's responsiveness and determining whether to transact with this seller."

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Gwen Moran is a freelance writer and co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010).

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