Explore Your Auctions

Testing the Waters

OK, you think you're ready to sell--what now? Instead of just throwing items up on eBay to see what sticks, research first to evaluate the competition, check pricing and popularity. "We do our due diligence," says Hortatsos. "We know the pricing points for each of the brands we carry, and we know the market." He checks current and closed eBay listings before he lays out money for overstock merchandise. In the rare case that you can't find your item listed, eBay can still provide a good barometer of customer interest. Try running an auction and see what kind of attention it generates. Adding a visitor counter to your listing will give you an idea of how many people stop by for a look. Where else can you test-market a product for under a buck?

EBay is a hotspot for shedding excess inventory that's haunted your shelves for too long. Price-conscious auction buyers love to snag overstock or last-generation items at bargain rates. "Where retail is good is an area we don't really focus on at eBay," says Herr. "Where retail has its pain points and difficult areas is what we're best at." He includes hard-to-find, unique, out-of-stock, returned, refurbished and excess items in that description. If a customer returns a Zip drive to your store with the box open, you can't restock it as new. Consider putting it on eBay instead.

Most entrepreneurs who have found large-scale success on eBay have worked the process deeply into the way they run their business. Clicking the "Sell Your Item" button will bog down any but the occasional user who has just a few auctions to track. If you use it too often, it'll suck your time away faster than a whirlpool. Dunlop keeps a handle on her auctions with a tight inventory-control system and uses AuctionWatch, a popular automated listing tool, to keep her time spent on eBay down to five hours a day. Prince urges entrepreneurs to create a system for the process. Many businesses even dedicate one or more employees solely to dealing with eBay.

Retailing doesn't have to be your main line of business for you to sell on eBay. Anytime you upgrade hardware or equipment, consider auctioning off your old gear. It's better than shoving it into the back of the supplies closet or liquidating it for pennies. This goes for everything from counter-sized hot dog warmers to PCs. Larger items like vending machines will make you think twice about dealing with shipping. One way to deal with this is to list regionally. That way, the transaction can be completed in person.

EBay knows a good thing when it sees it. With the amount of business-to-business sales happening on the site, they're unveiling a B2B auction portal this month. It will still be tied in with the rest of the site's listings, much like eBay Motors is. "We're going to make it easier and more prominent for businesses to find what they're looking for," says Jordan Glazier, director of B2B at eBay. The portal should help address some of the clutter complaints that eBay receives on both ends of the equation: Buyers will have access to an aggregated site of business supplies, and sellers will be able to better target their products.

The Art of Listing
Oh, no--not red text against a screaming green background and an out-of-focus jpeg that takes three minutes to load! There is an art to presenting an eBay listing, and auction-goers have refined their tolerance levels. If your listing isn't well-designed and well-aimed, you're going to lose business.

Rule One: It's all about the keywords. On such a gigantic and unwieldy site, keywords are how buyers find you. Exclamation points and words like "wow" in the auction title won't help. Also beware of abbreviations like "tix" instead of "tickets." Brand names, model numbers and solid descriptions are the way to go.

Rule Two: Keep it clean. You know a well-designed Web page when you see one. It has a clean interface, loads fast and lays out all the relevant (and none of the irrelevant) information in an easy-to-read manner. A concise, accurate description--including all of a product's flaws, minor or major--is a must. Your selling policies, from payment options and shipping to returns, should appear as well.

Rule Three: The picture must be worth the price. Buyers like to see what they're getting. A clear, fast-loading photo is a necessity. Go with multiple photos if they're called for.

A few miscellaneous tidbits: Be sure to list your items in relevant categories. There are a lot of options, so get as close as possible. When you list an auction is also important. Weekend auctions tend to close at higher prices. Don't forget to keep different time zones in mind. After all, few buyers will wait up until 3 a.m. to make that final high bid.

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This article was originally published in the January 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Explore Your Auctions.

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