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How do you stack up?

If you've got something to sell, you're set. get started on ebay with these 5 tips.

If you're ready to launch your own retail business or start a little cottage industry to supplement your income, then you've come to the right place. eBay is a great place for entrepreneurs of all ambitions and mind-sets to sell whatever appeals to them without the hassle of having a brick-and-mortar facility, hundreds of thousands of dollars in inventory and a bunch of employees to sell it.

But it takes more than just a good product to be a successful seller on eBay. It's also important to have a basic understanding of this vast cyber marketplace and the tools that are available to help you make the most of the eBay experience. Here's a step-by-step primer on what you need to know to get started:

Understand your customer. Business schools teach students that they must understand every nuance of a sales market before ever launching a business. But when it comes to eBay, you can forget that sage bit of advice. "Everyone is the market on eBay; there is no single demographic to describe it," says Jim "Griff" Griffith, dean of eBay Education. "Your customers are women and men. They're young and old. They live in every country around the world, and they come from all economic backgrounds. So you don't have to worry about demographics as long as you use the right keywords and item specifics to describe your item."

Those keywords and specifics are especially important if you're planning to sell items in a particular category. "For example, if you're selling maternity clothes, you're not going to get a lot of 35-year-old men," Griff says. "So choose your words carefully to attract the right buyer segment."

One thing you can do that may be even more valuable is browsing the completed listings in your merchandise category. There you'll see how much merchandise has sold for, what items didn't sell and what is currently active. This information can provide great insight when it comes to setting the prices for your own merchandise.

Fire up the feedback. Want to know an easy way to build business? Simply offer exceptional customer service; then wait for the positive feedback to roll in.

Positive feedback is crucial for success on eBay because it signals to potential customers that you're a reliable and trusted seller. After someone has purchased an item from you, he or she has the opportunity to rate all aspects of the buying experience, from the product itself to the speed with which the transaction was handled to the way you communicated with the customer. However, by the same token, if the experience wasn't very good, the buyer can leave you a negative feedback rating, and too many of these can harm your chances of success on eBay.

Build a better listing. Your listing should have a descriptive title and an accurate, detailed product description, but it should be more than a simple rundown of product features. Your listing is an opportunity to promote both the item and your own business. "The goal in any business is to acquire and keep customers," says Griff. "There's a vast ocean of buyers on eBay and they form the foundation of your future business. So use your listing as an opportunity to instill loyalty in those buyers."

To that end, Griff recommends writing a short profile for your "About Me" page that's linked to your merchandise listing pages to let buyers know a little about you and your business. "It's like a commercial about yourself," Griff says. He also advises creating a logo to brand your business. The idea is to differentiate yourself from other sellers so that customers come to know you by your brand. Also, always make sure to cross-promote related items that you're selling. For instance, if you're selling dog sweaters in one listing, mention that you're selling matching dog collars in another listing. (For more ideas on creating listings that sell, see "Scene and Be Seen" on page 24.)

Maximize your sales. eBay offers a number of tools and features to help you maximize your sales. Pictures are one of the most important tools you can use. Buyers want to inspect all sides of the item to assure themselves your product is what they want, and you'll find that the more pictures you have in your listing, the more sales you'll generate. You automatically get one free Gallery picture (which appears next to the item on the search results page) with each listing, but you will want to add others.

An eBay Store can also be a valuable sales tool. By paying a monthly subscription fee, you can list many items for a longer period of time than you can with a standard listing. However, don't open a Store until you are ready to manage many active listings. "It's better to put up just an item or two and complete the entire transaction so you have a solid background and experience as a seller," says Griff. "The Store can come later, after you've been selling regularly for a while." (For more about eBay Stores, see "A Place to Call Your Own" on page 46.)

Other valuable eBay tools and features include highlighting devices--such as bold type and borders--that make listings stand out; multiple category listings, which allow the seller to list one item in two separate categories for extra exposure; Turbo Lister, which lets you list multiple items quickly; customized eBay blogs; and Selling Manager, a timesaving feature that allows you to manage all of your listings and sales activities in one place.

Promote safe selling practices. eBay has numerous tools and procedures designed to keep both sellers and buyers safe. But ultimately, the responsibility for ensuring your own safety as well as your customers' lies with you. Griff recommends offering PayPal as a payment option because it provides a high level of security for both the seller and the buyer, as well as buyer protection services that cover the buyer in case of loss. Both of these features have made PayPal the preferred payment method on eBay. "You really can't succeed on eBay without it," Griff stresses.

It's also important to make sure everything you sell is legitimate and genuine. Certain items are prohibited on eBay (firearms, medical marijuana and live animals, for instance) and listings for such items are terminated immediately. Counterfeit items, such as knockoff designer handbags and watches, are also verboten. "If something is of questionable origin, don't even think about listing it," says Griff. "Representatives from brand-name companies [work with eBay] and aggressively scan [listings] for fakes. Once they are reported to us, eBay takes those listings down and issues a warning. If it happens again, the seller is suspended."

No matter which tools and features you choose to use to launch and run your business on eBay, remember to take it slow and refer to eBay's considerable online bank of knowledge whenever you have any questions or concerns. "Don't jump in and immediately try to use every tool eBay has," Griff adds. "Have a plan for success and work your way up. You'll know when it's time to ramp up the business."

Eileen Figure Sandlin is an award-winning freelance writer and author who writes on business topics.
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