How to Sell: Handheld Electronics

A few tips to succeed in this competitive niche

by staff writer
- Mar 02, 2010

This is one in an occasional series of EDU articles exploring the nuances of selling in specific categories.

Electronics play a big part in our lives today, and as a result, they're very popular online. Just look around and you'll more than likely see someone talking on a cell phone, listening to their iPod or updating their Facebook status on a laptop. You may have even wished for one of these devices during the holidays, and if you did, you weren't alone.

According to eBay Pulse, iPhones, iPods, Wii consoles and laptop computers were popular searches in the days before Christmas. And while it's an understatement to say competition is fierce among merchants who sell these products, there's also plenty of profit to be made, if you spend the time necessary to research the market and hone your searchable keywords.

We'll help you get your feet wet by delving into two hot-selling items, cell phones and iPods, to see if personal electronics is a niche you'd like to get into.

Gain a competitive edge

First, it's critical to understand that when you sell handheld electronics, you are competing with the full spectrum of sellers, from small eBay merchants to the Amazons and Best Buys of the world. It's a fast-changing landscape and very price-competitive. That's not to say that having the lowest price or free shipping are the only keys to success; service and trust are also important to consumers.

It definitely pays to do your research and find out where your strengths might lie. If you're serious about selling personal electronics long-term, look into paid market research from companies like Terapeak and HammerTap. For insight into average selling prices and most popular brands or models, among other aspects, they can be well worth the subscription price. These tools might even help you discover a market niche that's still untapped. If you're not ready to go quite that far, eBay's closed listings are still one of the most valuable free resources for information on what sells, when and for how much.

It's also worthwhile to browse through similar active listings to see what type of information experienced sellers are including and how they're pricing goods.

Buyers want to know if phones are locked or not because this fact impacts their usage

The art of selling cell phones

Cell phones are good electronics to start out with because they're in high demand. Just think about the people in your own family: How many of them don't own a cell phone? Few, we bet. And companies continuously introduce new models, giving you the opportunity to snatch up recent—and still sought after—models at discounted rates.

However, there are a few things you need to get familiar with before you start. For instance, do you know what an unlocked phone is? Hint: It has nothing to do with a key. Actually, an unlocked phone is a phone that recognizes Subscriber Identity Module cards, or SIM cards, from any service carrier. If a phone is unlocked, you should be able to take your SIM card out of your current phone, put it into another unlocked device and—irrespective of the service carrier—that phone will ring when someone dials your number. You won't be able to do this with locked devices. A locked phone will only recognize the SIM card that came with it.

Buyers want to know if phones are locked or not because this fact impacts their usage, so include this detail in your listing. A locked phone is tethered to a given phone service provider. Unlocked phones are not, and buyers can use that phone with any provider. Buyers can unlock phones, but this may require paying an additional fee to the service provider.

Another important point regarding service providers: You can sell phones with their current service plans. For instance, if you have a year left on your service contract, you can put the phone up for sale with that contract; but before you do, contact the service provider to ensure the contract is transferable.

Find it

Now that we've covered the technical aspects, let the selling cycle begin. The first thing you'll need to do is look for inventory. A good place to start is in your circle of friends and family. Ask them if they have any cell phones they no longer use. This allows you to find low-cost, even free, inventory, and reduces e-waste at the same time.

Also check classified-ad sites such as Craigslist and Kijiji to see if you can find well-priced items. You might even find listings for phones sold in bulk. But if you're not ready to hand over cash before you test the waters, try working with a dropshipper.

Dropshippers reduce the risk of losing money because you don't pay for inventory until an item sells—something that can be very appealing to a seller in a new niche. Plus, dropshippers will ship products to your buyers for you, so you don't have to store massive amounts of inventory.

If you opt to sell your own phone, or any other second-hand device, ensure that all photos, video and other personal information has been deleted, and remove the personalized ringtone if your phone has one. The new owner may not be a fan of AC/DC, like you are.

List it

When you're ready to list, be specific. Include the brand, model number or name, the amount of memory the device has, the carrier (if your phone is locked) and the condition of the phone. Put as many of these details as you can in your title to catch shoppers' eyes. As you write out your description, expand on this information and tell customers exactly what you'll include in the shipment. Will they also get the wall charger, the car charger, both—or just the phone? What about other accessories, like a hands-free device, spare battery, or case?

Apple iPod Touch application downloads jumped 1,000 percent on Christmas Day

The sound of music

Let's move on to MP3 players, another device the world is crazy about. According to news reports, Apple iPod Touch application downloads jumped 1,000 percent on Christmas Day, indicating that this handheld device was indeed a hot item this holiday season.

Again, you can use a dropshipper like Doba or SaleHoo for new inventory, or you can look to family for used items. However, if you opt to sell used iPods, erase most of the songs stored in it, if not all of them. While it's not against eBay's policy to sell iPods containing songs, buyers will likely have different tastes in music. And odds are, they'll at least erase some of the songs on there, so do the work for them so they can download what they want. After all, they're interested in the MP3 player's memory capacity.

Sell your product

Memory capacity is huge in this niche. Buyers want to know if they can store 500 songs, which is the case with the 2 GB iPod Shuffle, or up to 40,000 songs with the iPod Classic, so tell them the model and memory capacity right away. You can get more details about iPods from Apple's site. Customers should be able to get all the information we just mentioned right from your listing.

Also note your iPod's generation to let customers know how old the model is. The first iPods to be introduced back in 2001 are "first generation," and newer models are "second generation," "third generation," etc. Some iPods are now up to "sixth generation." Ralph Graves, an editor for Crutchfield, has compiled an informative chart about the various iPod generations, you should check out.

The condition of the item is also a key selling feature for these devices so if your item has been in a protective cover during all of its days, let buyers know. And don't forget to tell buyers if you are—or aren't—including the headphones, USB cord, docking station, etc.

A few more tips

Competition for cell phone and iPod buyers will be stiff, so you may want to offer free shipping to catch buyers' attention and to get a boost in Best Match. Once you've done that, give buyers all the information they need and provide some good old-fashioned customer service so you can succeed in this tough market.

Make yourself available to your buyers. eBayers may be wary of buying electronics online, so when you have interested shoppers, respond quickly to their e-mails and answer all of their questions as thoroughly and pleasantly as possible. This kind of customer service will reassure them and make them more likely to buy from you in the future.

And when you're ready to take the all-important listing photos, remember to post as many as you need to really show it off the phone or MP3 player—and zoom in on any flaws or scratches your devices may have. Now start selling!

About the Author

Auctiva staff writers constantly monitor trends and best practices of those selling on eBay and elsewhere online. They attend relevant training seminars and trade shows and regularly discuss the market with PowerSellers and other market experts.

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