7 Deadly Sins of eBay Sellers

Avoid these common mistakes and watch your eBay business grow.

by Skip McGrath
- Jun 18, 2008

There are many ways to lose money trying to sell on eBay. If you want to build an eBay business and make money consistently on the auction site, you need to avoid the Seven Deadly Sins:

1. Not enough information

I'm continually amazed when I come across eBay listings that have descriptions comprising just one or two sentences. I also often see descriptions that go on for several paragraphs yet say very little about the product.

eBay bidders want information before they'll part with their hard-earned money. If you want to make money on eBay, a high percentage of your auctions have to succeed. After writing a keyword-rich auction title that gets hits, writing a complete attractive and easy-to-read description is the best way to increase your sell-through rate—and therefore increase your profits.

Here's a checklist for item descriptions:

  • State clearly what you are selling right at the beginning of the auction, before you say anything else.
  • List all important features such as color, size, included accessories, model names or numbers, whether it's new or used—and if used, its condition and age.
  • Now turn the features into benefits. For example, if an implement has a rubber handle, you want to turn it into a benefit by saying something like, "Soft molded rubber handles for a safe, sure comfortable grip while you're working."
  • List any other minor features, specifications or details (voltage, speed, materials, etc.). Clearly state your shipping method and cost right in the description; don't make the reader hunt for it.
  • Lastly, close the sale by asking for the order. Write something at the end of your description that asks for the bid. Example: "Don't lose out to a sniper—bid now!" or, "Place your best bid now so your child doesn't lose out on this darling Suzy Doll that she'll treasure for years."

If you want to make money on eBay, it's always better to provide too much information rather than too little. When I'm writing an auction description, I connect features to benefits and keep writing until I run out of features and benefits to write about. Some of the descriptions for my best selling products on eBay are 15 to 20 paragraphs long.

Finally, avoid the temptation to use overly large type, weird fonts, dancing dollar signs, and multicolored type. Keep your descriptions clean, simple and easy to read. Use several short paragraphs instead of one long one.

The ability to write good item descriptions is one of the real keys to making money on eBay. Not doing so will destroy your eBay profits.

2. Not accepting PayPal

Almost 90 percent of eBay's 125 million users have a PayPal account—and these people prefer to pay with PayPal

If you haven't looked, you might be amazed by all of the "I hate PayPal" Web sites and blogs out there. Over the years I've heard dozens of complaints about PayPal and received many e-mails from eBay sellers asking me what other payment methods they can use. I am the first to admit that PayPal has its problems and the company can seem a bit arrogant at times, but it is the payment system of choice for most on eBay.

We do about 100 transactions a week, and at least one or two of those will happen without any involvement from PayPal. But, when it comes to eBay, PayPal is the 800-lb. gorilla. You can't really build a successful eBay business without it.

PayPal now handles more merchant transactions in a day than Citibank. Almost 90 percent of eBay's 125 million users have a PayPal account—and these people prefer to pay with PayPal. If you don't take PayPal, you'll have a very hard time making money on eBay.

eBay now allows users to search for auctions by checking a "only show sellers who take PayPal" box. This feature is used by lots of eBay bidders (including me) as a way to screen out those who don't accept PayPal if they just don't want to be bothered mailing a check or logging onto some other payment system.

And, eBay recently tested a policy on eBay Australia that would have restricted payment methods to cash on delivery or PayPal. The plan was shot down by Australia's competition regulator, but I wouldn't be surprised to see eBay introduce more PayPal-centric policies in the near future.

So if you've been frustrated by PayPal in the past, you will have to get over it if you really want to build a profitable eBay business.

3. Poor or missing photos

Bad or missing photos can absolutely obliterate your bids. Conversely, really great photos can increase your bids and final values. Believe me; I know this from personal experience.

Taking good photos is a lot of work. You have to set up some type of uncluttered backdrop, set up lights, put your camera on a tripod, take some shots, upload them, crop them, see if they look good—and if they don't, take them again. And yes, on eBay—like everywhere else—time is money. But a little time spent taking a better photo will always pay off. If you want help taking better photos for eBay (and your Web site), click here to read about my book, "Online Auction Photo Secrets." In it I show you how to make more money on eBay by taking better digital photos and what kinds of photos to use in your auctions.

Not too long ago, eBay made the eBay gallery image free so there's no longer any reason not to use it. If you don't specify a gallery photo, eBay will automatically use the first photo you upload, so make sure your first photo is suitable for the gallery thumbnail.

4. Not checking your e-mail frequently

If you are really serious about your eBay business, failing to check your e-mail often can really hurt.

Answering e-mails quickly and completely—in a friendly manner—sends a message that you care, and will tend to earn you glowing feedback comments

I cannot tell you how many times I've found something interesting on eBay, sent an e-mail question to the seller (See Sin No. 1: If your descriptions are complete, you won't get as many e-mails.) and by the time the seller answered my e-mail, the auction was over. When someone sends you an e-mail question, no matter what they ask, that means they're really interested in what you're selling. This is a potential customer.

Part of frequently checking your e-mail is also checking your spam filter/junk e-mail folder. If someone sends you an e-mail informing you of a mailed money order and the message is sitting unchecked in your junk e-mail box, you might be tempted to file a nonpaying buyer complaint—and then you'll have one really upset buyer.

eBay is a business. If you are going to be in business, you have to be responsive to your customers and prospects. You'll get e-mail from both. Messages might be about payment, or shipping, or some other topic. Answering these e-mails quickly and completely—in a friendly manner—sends a message that you care, and will tend to earn you glowing feedback comments.

With the new Detailed Seller Ratings (DSR) star system, one of the things eBay buyers rate you on is communication. So checking your e-mail and getting back to people quickly can help build your rating.

One last thing related to e-mail: My wife Karen handles most of our customer e-mail. One of her biggest frustrations is buyers who have one e-mail address for eBay and another for PayPal. This can get really confusing when you get a payment notice from an address different from any eBay user you can identify. It only gets worse if the buyer rarely checks his PayPal e-mail. The same goes for sellers. People get confused if they get an e-mail from one address and a payment link from a different one. In fact, sometimes they're suspicious of a scam when this happens. You should always have different passwords for eBay and PayPal, but please use the same e-mail address.

5. Rigid or silly payment, return and shipping policies

"Rigid" is a polite way of saying some people write auction policies with all the grace and civility of a prison guard barking orders to inmates. I know you may believe there are some people on eBay who belong in prison, but most of them don't—and you need to treat the larger group with respect.

Whenever I see something really horrible or silly on eBay, I copy and paste it into a special file, because some people just don't believe how stupid some sellers can be. I now have more than 75 entries in that file. Here are a few of the best (or should I say worst) policy statements I have seen in actual auctions: (The spelling and grammar errors are purposely included)

  • If you are not going to pay then don't bid me. I will chase you down and find you if you win this auction and don't pay me.
  • Yes I am making money on the shipping. What did you expect me to do???, ship it at my cost.
  • I only take money order, cashiers check or Western Union transfer. PayPal is a screw job. They want to charge me a 3% fee on every deal. If you send a personal check I will just throw it away so please don't bother.
  • My Returns Policy: No returns for any reason except if I send you the wrong item and then you need to send me a photo of what you received so I can be sure before your return it.
  • Don't bid unless your feedback is at least 25. I don't deal with eBay cherries. I will cancel your bid if you have less than 25 feedbacks.
  • I only ship on Fridays. If you don't like that don't bid.

Rigid also means "not bending." We have clearly stated shipping, return and payment policies, but we always try and remain flexible and give the customer what they want—within reason.

6. High starting bids

eBay is a place where people come for bargains and fun. As a seller, I know it's not fun when an item sells for less than your cost, but if you set your starting bids too high, you won't get many—or even any bids.

An additional advantage of starting your listings at lower prices is that you save on eBay listing fees

I've found that if you're selling a product that's in reasonable demand, you take attractive photos, and you write a good description and a keyword-rich headline, your auction will attract more bids and a higher final value if you start it at a low price. And in the end, you'll make much more money.

An additional advantage of starting your listings at lower prices is that you save on eBay listing fees, which increase as your starting bid increases.

The other option is to use a Reserve Price Auction. Reserve auctions are somewhat controversial: Some eBay bidders don't like them, and will not bid on such listings. However, you may be selling a really valuable item on which you can't afford to lose a large sum of money. Or you may be selling a highly specialized item that only appeals to a narrow range of people and does not attract a lot of bidders. You'll see this in practice often on eBay Motors, where the vast majority of cars are sold using a reserve price. You also see reserves used for expensive art, antiques and jewelry. Despite the critics, there's a lot of business transacted on eBay using Reserve auctions.

When in such situations, I've tried it both ways: listing the item with a high starting bid, and listing with a low starting bid and a reserve. I've always done better with a low starting price and a reserve. The other advantage of using a reserve is that the Buy It Now price stays active until your reserve price has been met. In my experience, I actually get a lot of bidders who click Buy It Now, because they keep bidding and seeing the "Reserve Not Met" message and decide to buy it for the asking price rather than risk losing the item.

7. Slow or unprofessional shipping

The relatively new eBay Detailed Seller Rating system allows buyers to rate you on a system of one to five stars on how you do on communication, shipping and descriptions. If you're an eBay PowerSeller, having a good star rating can earn you fee discounts, and your listings will appear higher in the eBay search results than others.

So follow these rules to ensure high ratings on shipping:

  • Ship quickly. We ship the same or next business day after we receive payment.
  • Pack carefully. No one likes to receive their eBay treasure in an old cereal box.
  • Don't try and make money with shipping. It will come back to bite you.
  • E-mail your buyers. Let them know that you have shipped the item and give them tracking information.

Following these procedures will ensure higher DSRs and help you make more money on eBay.

Yes, there are more deadly sins than seven—and lots more mistakes you can make on eBay. But in my experience, those I've listed here are most common. eBay is a business where you have to do a lot of things right. They aren't really that hard to do, but a little extra effort and attention to detail will pay off in increased profits for the eBay seller.

About the Author

Skip McGrath is an eBay Gold PowerSeller who has been selling on eBay since 1999. He is the publisher of The eBay Seller's News and author of The Complete eBay Marketing System.

Opinions expressed here may not be shared by Auctiva Corp. and/or its principals.

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