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51 Secrets to eBay Success

Want to know how to sell like a pro, even if you're just starting out? eBay experts and PowerSellers share their top tips for super sales.
October 1, 2004
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/72800

Whether you're about to start a business on eBay or are ready to take your existing business to the next level, we've put together 51 tips for successful selling on eBay from a panel of experts:

Here are their secrets to eBay sales success.

Do Your Homework

1. Set aside a day to browse the entire ebay site. Use the eBay Navigation Bar as your anchor--it's located on the top of every eBay page. Make a note of the pages you'll need in the future, such as the "Services" page, which contains a treasure trove of tools and services. -J.G.

2. Get step-by-step guidance. Visit www.ebay.com/education. It teaches everything you need to know to sell on eBay and offers interactive audio tours that show you exactly how to create a listing. -C.S.

What to Sell?

3. Sell what you know first. If you're into fashion, sell that; if you're into golf, sell golf equipment, and so on. -M.C.

4. Be observant. Watch for opportunities to obtain items (in quantity if possible) at a low price for resale. Often, they're right under your nose, such as merchandise your local retailer would liquidate. Make an offer to clear out the re-tailer's old or damaged stock. -S.L.

5. Don't start out with just one product or product line. An effective way to build a customer base on eBay is to offer at least two separate types of items, between which you can cross promote and drive customers from one to the other. -J.G.

6. Spend time on ebay browsing outside your normal categories. Find out what's hot at www.ebay.com/sellercentral. -S.L.

7. Become a trading assistant and sell other people's items for a commission. As a Trading Assistant, you won't have the expense of building inventory, and you can build your business on eBay very quickly without having to spend a lot of capital. -C.S.

8. Take some calculated risks. Being too careful can cost you. Do a little research on eBay, and trust your gut when you find potentially salable items. -S.L.

9. If you're not familiar with the product you're trying to sell, educate yourself before you write the description. If you describe the item incorrectly, buyers may be leery of bidding. Even worse, buyers could decide not to bid on any of your future items if they're under the impression that you don't know what you're selling. The more correct information you have and use, the more credible you'll become in the buyers' eyes. -D.E.

Getting Set Up

10. Become a verified member of eBay through their ID verification process. Getting verified will help get you past a lot of the restrictions placed on new sellers. -C.S.

11. Choose your ebay user ID wisely. Pick a name that's descriptive, easy to remember and instantly identifiable with your niche. Your user ID will become your business identification--the name that people in the eBay universe will learn to search for when they want to buy your products. -D.E.

12. Create a second user ID for your eBay business. As long as each user ID you create is sent to a separate e-mail address, you can create as many user IDs as you want. So if you decide to start selling car accessories in addition to Hummel figurines, you might choose another user ID that would be more pertinent to your new product line, such as "Mustangsrock" or "Supeduphotrods." -D.E.

13. Organize. If you're selling from home, set up a dedicated space with areas for inventory storage, packing materials, photographing and, of course, a desk for your computer and printer. The best businesses are orderly and organized. -J.G.

14. Set up a designated area within your business location used only for photography. You can use household lighting and inexpensive cloth or paper backdrops. -J.G.

15. When taking pictures of the items you're selling, choose a camera with good macro-lens and auto-focus features, and make sure it easily interfaces with your computer. Get great lighting tips from eBay community boards. -C.S.

Tips 16 to 31

Create Your Listing

16. Listings formatted with HTML look more professional than plain, unformatted text. Use the HTML editor built in to both eBay's "Sell Your Item" form and eBay's free Turbo Lister. With the HTML editor, you can format description text quickly and easily. -J.G.

17. When you write your title, don't use all capital letters. Uppercase and lowercase letters are easier to read and will help people quickly see what you're selling. -M.C.

18. When creating your listings, provide a complete and specific item description with as many clear, detailed photos as possible. You cannot over-describe or overrepresent your item. Not sure what information to include along with your item description? See the next tip. -J.G.

19. Clearly list your terms and conditions, as well as shipping, returns, warranty and guarantee policies. You can use an existing template to help separate the terms and conditions into sections and highlight them with bullet points, so people can read them easily. -C.S.

20. Develop a listing schedule. Before you place a listing, consider the best times for starting and ending an auction for your particular product. For example, if you had American flags to sell, you would probably want the listing to end several days before the Fourth of July, rather than just after it--thus allowing you enough time to ship your product to your buyers in time for the holiday. If you're working in a niche area, pay attention to the days and times your items do the best, and start keeping a listing schedule. Then stick to it. Your clientele will learn when you list items, and you will get much better results from your listings. -D.E.

21. For advanced users, use seller's assistant pro. It will help you put your listings together offline, then load them onto the site using its bulk-loading feature. There's a free trial, then the service costs $24.99 per month. -C.S.

While You're Selling

22. Feed the frenzy. You can feed a bidding frenzy on your item by using a low opening bid price and no Reserve, which should attract more bidders at the outset. The more people bidding on your listing, the more likely that two or more of them will get drawn into a personal bidding war. At that point, winning the item becomes almost as important as the product they want to buy, and these bidders might eventually pay more than they intended to pay to beat out the competition. This can lead to you getting much more for your product than you expected. -D.E.

23. Don't get stuck in a rut. If an item isn't selling as well as it once did, take a look at your photos, title and description to see if they can be freshened up. -S.L.

24. Just because you're moving merchandise on eBay doesn't mean you're making a profit. If you can't sell an item with enough of a profit margin, it's probably not worth your time and effort to sell that item. -M.C.

25. Once you are notified of a sold item, you should promptly respond using the eBay check-out system. Give buyers an invoice with their total including shipping (which you can calculate using eBay's shipping rate calculator). -C.S.

Ship It

26. Once the buyer has paid, arrange for shipping as soon as possible. Make sure you pack the item securely. For more tips on packing and shipping, check out eBay's packing and shipping community help board. -C.S.

27. Be reasonable with shipping and handling costs. These costs often make the difference for buyers choosing between your listing and the competition's. One sure way to get buyers to move on to another listing is to bait them with a low price and then spring high shipping and handling costs on them. -S.L.

28. Have a regular shipping day or days. State those dates in your listings so people know when to expect their packages. -S.L.

29. Use the built-in postage service from PayPal, the eBay company that allows you to accept online payments from credit cards or bank accounts. The service allows you to purchase postage and print labels from both UPS and the USPS using your PayPal account; it's a big time-saver. -C.S.

30. Schedule courier pickups through the USPS web site--it's free, and your regular mail carrier will come to get your packages. All you have to do is pay the postage, and you won't have to wait in long lines at the post office. You can even insure the packages without having to go through a lot of hassles. -C.S.

31. Once the item is shipped out, track the package and make sure it has been delivered. Follow up with a quick e-mail to the buyer, asking for feedback and whether the item was satisfactory. -C.S.

Tips 32 to 51

Customers First

32. Provide prompt, punctual and courteous responses to any questions your customers might have. People will probably want to do business with you again if they receive a pleasant response from you. -C.S.

33. Never forget that the customer is king. When in doubt, always think like a buyer. If you do, you will be able to better anticipate what buyers want and plan your business accordingly. -J.G.

34. Treat your customers like you would treat guests in your home. Be kind and understanding. Be willing to help them when there are problems. -S.L.

35. Eliminate the roadblocks to selling your products. If a buyer wants to use PayPal to buy your product and you can't accept a PayPal payment, that's a problem. It's a roadblock to selling your item, making a profit and moving on to the next sale. Take down the roadblocks! This is my golden rule of retail: Make sure customers who come in the door have a way to pay, and customers who leave have a smile and a full shopping cart. The point is simple--sell your item, collect the money, and ship the product. -D.E.

36. Communicate as soon as possible with all buyers who e-mail you. If you make a mistake and something's not sent when it should have been, let the customer know the truth. Don't ignore questions or complaints. -S.L.

37. Schedule time once a week for posting feedback--no more than 15 minutes. You have to do it to be successful. Create a couple of generic feedback statements, such as "Great buyer, quick payment, great trans," check the spelling, then cut and paste these generic statements into your feedback submissions. People don't care what you say, as long as it's positive. -D.E.

38. Leave emotion out of feedback. Keep it strictly business. -S.L.

Money Matters

39. Use QuickBooks or other accounting software to help you keep your books in order for yourself and for your tax specialist. QuickBooks allows you to input your inventory and gives you reports telling you your average profit per item, as well as how many items you sell each week. The program also gives you statistics, your markup and a lot of other helpful data. -M.C.

40. Open a premier or business PayPal account. Many buyers limit their eBay shopping to those sellers who offer PayPal. Using PayPal makes tracking sales, invoicing and bookkeeping much easier. -J.G.

41. Pennies count. Keep track of expenses. The difference in listing fees between starting an item at $9.99 and at $10.00 is 25 cents. That adds up to $25 if you're listing 100 items per week. Also pay attention to hidden costs like shipping supplies and postage. -S.L.

Competitive Edge

42. Once you've settled on regular inventory, use eBay keywords, a pay-per-click banner advertising service, to draw people into your store. See https://ebay.admarketplace.net/ebay/servlet/ebay. -M.C.

43. Watch your competition. Search them out on eBay. Follow their sales. Determine their best business practices, and adopt them. For example, if your competition is offering goods similar to yours at about the same price, consider driving customers to your items by offering free shipping on some or all of them. -J.G.

44. Don't be afraid to put some items away and wait for your competition to sell out. Profits definitely rise when you're the only source of a popular item. -S.L.

45. Cultivate your customer database--it's a gold mine. You can use it to market any of your new items directly to qualified customers. For example, you could send a monthly newsletter to your database to describe your new products or to give these customers discounts. But before you proceed with any marketing campaign using your buyers' e-mail addresses, be sure you understand and comply with the national spam laws. -D.E.

46. Cross-promote with your e-mail signature. It should read something like "If you need additional products or services, please visit my Storefront at storefront.com." -D.E.

Growing Your Business

47. Don't open an eBay store until you've had a number of transactions on the site and you're comfortable with the way eBay works. -M.C.

48. When you do open an eBay store, be sure you take advantage of eBay's cross-promotion tools. These tools allow you to choose which merchandise is featured in your store, so you can choose items that might be of interest to somebody already buying one of your listed items. -M.C.

49. Once you become a PowerSeller, consider using a service like Endicia.com, which allows you to print your own postage and delivery confirmations on one label and gives you a separate expense line for your postage. -M.C.

50. Don't limit yourself to buyers in the United States. Many brands that are popular and easy to come by in the United States are practically impossible to get elsewhere. For example, a friend of mine bought some OshKosh B'Gosh baby clothes at a local garage sale and sold them on eBay to an eager mother in Australia for a nice profit. And I bought model airplane engines that are made in Germany at a local swap meet and was surprised to find my biggest demand for these engines came from buyers in Germany. -D.E.

51. Remember this simple rule for non-U.S. buyers: Don't accept foreign currency; specify that you'll accept U.S. dollars only. If a buyer sends you $20 Canadian and you were expecting $20 American, you just lost about $8, depending on the current rate of exchange. Always specify "U.S. funds only." And consider the additional shipping charges that may apply before you agree to ship the product outside of the country. -D.E.