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eBay 101

Need a one-stop guide to starting, running and growing a business on eBay? Then you've come to the right place.

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If you're ready to dive into the world of eBay but aren't sure where to start, you're in the right place. Our "eBay Essentials" will answer your most basic eBay questions: What types of listing formats does eBay offer? What are the rules for selling on eBay? What tools can I use to promote my product? What types of products can I list on eBay, and which are prohibited? Where can I find more information about starting my business on eBay? What terms do I need to know to understand the eBay process? Following are some terms and procedures you'll need to know to get your business on eBay started off right.

Types of Listings

Under the broad category of "listings" falls a variety of types, and you need to choose the one or ones that will get the best results for you and your particular products. Keep in mind that in addition to the type of listing you opt for, you'll also choose a 1-, 3-, 5-, 7- or 10-day duration for the listing.

  • Reserve price listings:A hidden minimum sale price for a listed item is known as a Reserve Price. Listings that have a hidden minimum price are known as Reserve Price listings. The Reserve Price is the lowest amount the seller is willing to accept for the item. Buyers are not shown what the Reserve Price is; they only see that there is one and whether or not it has been met. If the Reserve Price is not met, the seller is not obligated to sell the item.
  • Buy it now:You can add this feature to a traditional auction-style listing to give buyers the option to bid on your product or to buy it immediately. With Buy It Now (BIN), you set the price you're willing to sell for, and bidders can either place a bid for less than that amount (but at or above your starting price) or win the item instantly by paying the BIN amount. When a bidder agrees to the BIN price, the listing ends. Once a bid has been submitted, the BIN option disappears (unless you have a Reserve Price set).
  • Fixed-price listings:eBay's Fixed-Price format allows users to buy and sell items immediately at a set price, with no bidding or waiting. You can sell more than one item in a Fixed-Price listing, which saves you time and money.
  • Private listings:In most listing formats, anyone looking at the item can see the User IDs of people who are bidding on it. With the Private listing format, however, the bidders' User IDs are not seen on the item or bidding history screens. When the bidding has ended, only the seller and winning bidder are notified via e-mail, and the winner remains private.
  • Dutch auctions:When a seller offers two or more identical items for sale in the same listing, it's known as a Dutch (or Multiple Item) Auction. There can be many winners in this type of listing. For sellers, the power of a Dutch Auction is that it lets you sell large quantities of a single item in one listing. What makes Dutch Auctions interesting-and complicated-is that all winning bidders pay the same price per item, which is the lowest successful bid. Most commonly, all buyers pay the starting price. But if there are more bids than items, the items will go to the earliest successful bids when the listing ends. Bidders may bid on any quantity but have the right to refuse partial quantities.
  • Live auctions:This type of online auction is of more interest to an online buyer than a seller, but it's something you should know about. eBay's Live Auctions feature allows buyers to bid in real time on auctions that are happening on the floor of offline auction events. Buyers can place absentee bids, bid against the floor, or just watch the auction-all from the convenience of their homes or offices. For more information, go to

Types of Bids

For most listings, the bidding process is fairly straight-forward. You set your minimum bid, and people interested in buying your merchandise place successively higher bids until the listing ends. Beyond that, however, are some details about bidding you need to know.

  • Proxy bidding:eBay's Proxy Bidding system lets buyers enter the maximum amount they're willing to pay for an item, then sit back and relax while the computer handles the bidding. If another bidder has a higher maximum, the first bidder will be outbid and will receive an outbid notice via e-mail. At that point, the bidder can go back and rebid or choose to let the item go. Proxy Bidding does not apply to Dutch (Multiple Item) Auctions.
  • High-dollar bids:When placing a bid of $15,000 or more on eBay, users must provide a valid credit card or go through eBay's ID Verify process. This assures sellers the bidder is of legal age and serious about completing the transaction.

Rules for Selling on eBay

Complete details on current ebay policies can be found on eBay's Web site, so we won't go into all of them here. However, there are some you should know about before you begin selling on eBay.

  • Duplicate listings occur when a seller posts more than 10 listings for identical items. The best way to list identical items is through eBay's Storefront, Fixed-Price or Multiple Item listings formats. Although there are reasons to list identical items at the same time, enabling a single seller to list too many identical items at one time hurts the buying experience.

If a seller lists in more than one category, the categories must be relevant. Any additional identical listings will be ended by eBay. There are a few exceptions: Sellers who list general admission tickets in the Tickets category may list up to 20 identical listings, and sellers of vehicle light bulbs may list up to 25 listings simultaneously.

  • No kids allowed: eBay requires that all users be at least 18 years of age.
  • Unpaid items: Winning bidders or buyers who fail to follow through with the transaction face consequences. Nonpaying bidders receive two warnings from eBay before they are suspended. When a bidder doesn't pay, the seller may request a credit from eBay for their Final Value Fee by filing an Unpaid Item alert.
  • Nonperforming seller: Significantly misrepresenting an item by not meeting the terms and item description in the listing, or failing to deliver an item for which you accepted payment, is a violation of eBay policies and may also be considered criminal fraud.
  • Outages: When the eBay system experiences service outages, there is a structure in place to compensate users with credits on listing fees and/or listing extensions, based on the type and length of the outage.
  • Profanity: The use of language that is racist, hateful, sexual or obscene in nature in a public area is prohibited.
  • Prohibited and restricted items: As an eBay user, you are ultimately responsible for making sure that the items you sell on eBay are legal according to all applicable jurisdictions and permitted by eBay policies.
  • Soliciting off-site sales: You may not circumvent eBay fees by using contact information obtained from eBay or any eBay service to complete a sale outside of eBay.
  • Threats: eBay policies prohibit making threats of physical harm to another user.

If you violate an eBay policy by either your action or the content of your listings, you will typically receive an informational alert explaining the violation and detailing any further action to be taken on your part. When deemed appropriate, eBay will end the listing, and your listing fee will be refunded.

For serious or repeated violations of eBay rules, a user may be indefinitely suspended. Though indefinitely suspended users may be reinstated by eBay at its discretion, eBay also has the right to determine at any time that the suspension is permanent.

What You Can't Sell on eBay

The following items may not be listed on eBay:

  • Alcohol
  • Animals and wildlife products
  • Catalog and url sales
  • Counterfeit currency and stamps
  • Counterfeit items
  • Credit cards
  • Drugs and drug paraphernalia
  • Embargoed goods and items made in prohibited countries
  • Firearms
  • Fireworks
  • Government IDs and licenses
  • Human parts and remains
  • Links to other web sites (except as outlined in eBay's policies)
  • Lock-picking devices
  • Lottery tickets
  • Mailing lists and personal information
  • Plants and seeds
  • Postage meters
  • Prescription drugs and devices
  • Recalled items
  • Satellite and cable TV descramblers
  • Stocks and other securities
  • Stolen property
  • Surveillance equipment
  • Tobacco
  • Travel (except as outlined in eBay's policies)

These items may be listed under certain conditions. Do further research before listing items of this nature to be sure yours is allowed. To learn more, click on "Security Center" at the bottom of any eBay page, then click on "Market Place Rules and Policies." Questionable items include:

  • Artifacts
  • Autographed items
  • Batteries
  • Catalytic converters and test pipes
  • Compilation and information media
  • Contracts and travel-related tickets
  • Electronics equipment
  • Event tickets
  • Food
  • Freon and other refrigerants
  • Hazardous materials
  • Imported and emission-noncompliant vehicles
  • International trading in any category that violates current laws
  • Materials targeted to mature (adult) audiences
  • Medical devices
  • Offensive material
  • Pesticides
  • Police-related items
  • Pre-sale listings (items that are not in the control or possession of the seller at the time of the listing)
  • Slot machines
  • Used air bags
  • Used clothing
  • Warranties
  • Weapons and knives
  • Wine

Potentially Infringing
These items may be in violation of certain copyrights, trademarks or other rights. eBay prohibits some of these items, regardless of any particular item's legality, because they almost always violate copyright and trademark laws. As with questionable items, do your homework before posting your item. Potentially infringing items are:

  • Academic software
  • Beta software
  • Bootleg recordings
  • Downloadable media
  • Use of a person's likeness, name or signature
  • Games software
  • Items for which you disclaim knowledge of or responsibility for the authenticity or legality
  • Items or listings that misuse another product's brand name
  • Items that may violate a contract you have with another party
  • Mod chips
  • Movie prints
  • OEM software
  • Promotional items
  • Recordable media
  • Replica and counterfeit items
  • Software or hardware that would enable a user to circumvent copy-protection features on video games, software programs, CDs, CD-ROMs or DVDs
  • Tickets (travel)
  • Unauthorized copies


Insurance protects you and your customers by paying to replace or repair items that are damaged in transit. For high-end or very fragile merchandise, insist that buyers pay for insurance for the full value of the goods. For low-end or very sturdy merchandise, you may allow buyers to make the choice of whether to buy insurance. But stress that if they reject insurance, your responsibility ends when the product leaves your possession. Be sure you can prove that you shipped the merchandise, either by using a carrier (such as FedEx or UPS) that will provide you with a shipper's receipt or by using the U.S. Postal Service's delivery confirmation service. Also be sure to print a copy of the closed-item page.

Some carriers automatically provide coverage for loss or damage up to $100 per shipment at no extra charge; others charge for the first dollar of insurance coverage. Don't bother to buy insurance for more than you can prove the item is worth; the carrier will reimburse you only for the actual value, not for the amount of insurance you purchased. Documents that are generally accepted as proof of value include a current bill of sale, an invoice, or a statement from a certified appraiser.

Even when you purchase insurance, it's important that your items be properly packed for transit. If damage occurs and the carrier determines that the shipment was not appropriately packed, your claim (or the buyer's claim, in most cases) will likely be denied.

Under the eBay Umbrella

eBay actually offers buyers and sellers a collection of options and services. In addition to standard listings, the variety of other offerings includes the following:

  • Charity auctions, to help people raise money for various causes
  • eBay business marketplace, a category designed especially for business buyers and sellers
  • eBay motors, where vehicles, parts and accessories of all kinds are bought and sold
  • eBay stores, where sellers can easily showcase all their items like an online retailer
  • Live auctions, where buyers can bid on merchandise at a Live Auction as it's happening
  • PayPal, eBay's payment processing service, which allows sellers to accept online payments from buyers immediately
  • Wholesale lots, a special category to buy and sell in bulk

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