On Your Mark, Get Set, Go!

Basic steps to help you get started selling on eBay

by Auctiva.com staff writer
- Apr 04, 2008

So your garage and hall closet are spilling over with bad purchasing decisions, unwanted gifts and other items you just don’t need anymore. You could give them charity, but you wouldn’t mind recouping some of the items’ value. There’s always a garage sale, but that sounds like a lot of hassle, and you’ve heard a lot about eBay. But how do you get started? Here’s a step-by-step guide to get you on your way.

Open an account

Registering on eBay is free and as simple as filling out a basic online form, but there are a few key things to keep in mind. One is choosing an eBay ID. It's a good idea to select a unique identity that reflects you or your merchandise in a positive light to potential bidders. For instance, you might choose a moniker that represents the type of products you sell, the region you live in, or your personality—CompUtrSellR or GoSFGiants, let's say. Remember, you're new to the eBay community, and your eBay ID is one of the only things potential bidders know about you. Wouldn't you rather buy a $600 computer from TechBargains4U than CutiePie74?

It's also important when filling out the registration form to provide a verifiable street address. This is a requirement for using PayPal and other online payment services, as well as the address winning bidders will expect to be sending payment to. You can always go back later and update your profile, but filling in the information accurately now will save headaches down the road.

If you plan to open an eBay store or sell a fair amount of goods online, you can register as a company, rather than as an individual. To do this, just click on the link on the main registration page that reads "Want to open an account for your company?" The rest of the process is pretty much the same.

Preparing your auction

Now that you've established an account, you might feel a rush to create your listing(s) and start raking in the bucks. Resist this urge. Jumping in with both feet before you know the lay of the land can lead to a disappointing sales result, or no sale at all. It pays to take time to research the market before you get into the online auction game to find out:

  • whether the items you're selling are in demand
  • how much competition you have
  • what price you can expect to get for your stuff
  • There are a several good resources available on the Web to help you in this quest. Probably the best place to start is on eBay itself. Use the site's Search feature to see what other similar items are out there right now, and gauge the level of supply. Then check out completed auctions using Advanced Search to get a feel for the range of prices that similar items have fetched. If these completed auctions' final winning bids vary greatly, try to determine why. Do some include additional items or "extras?" How do shipping rates compare? What condition are the products in?

    You may also want to determine what various retailers are selling the item for. Just plug in the manufacturer and model number into a search engine (e.g., Google) and you may be amazed how many results, complete with offered prices, are returned. Alternatively you can search an online supersite like Amazon.com or Buy.com that you're confident carries the item. Or, to compare what a bidder would expect to pay at a brick-and-mortar store, visit these retailers' sites (e.g., Target) or Best Buy. Finally, the manufacturer's site can also be a good source for pricing, technical data, product information, and other fodder for your listing.

    It's crucial when setting your price to understand all the costs you will incur—i.e., auction fees, packaging, shipping, etc.—and how these will affect your profit

    While you're in the research mode, take the opportunity to learn about the various shipping options and fees, and payment methods, and establish a set of seller's policies. For example, will you cover shipping costs or tack on a shipping fee, which would save you in eBay fees? Are you willing to take personal checks or money orders, or will you accept PayPal transactions only?

    You'll also need a good quality digital photo of the item you plan to post. Digital cameras make this step easy, but you could also scan a printed photo or take a picture with a film camera and have the photo processing lab provide your images on a CD. It may be tempting to capture a product image from the manufacturer's site or use another eBay seller's image. Don't. That's called copyright infringement. Although eBay is swimming with auctions that take this easy way out, it could land you in hot water.

    Ready, set, sell!

    Once you've got a good sense for what your merchandise is worth and how you want to market it, it's time to create your listing. eBay offers a wealth of tutorials on how to go about this. A good organizational tool can be found here.

    One of the more tricky aspects of online auctioning is establishing the minimum for an opening bid. This is why it pays to do some advance legwork. Setting a price too high can scare off buyers, and there is plenty of research that shows starting with a lower initial price draws in more bidders. You also have the options of setting a reserve price, which can also have a negative effect, or allowing shoppers to purchase an item on the spot by setting a "Buy It Now" price.

    A reserve price is the minimum price for which an item can be sold. If no bid meets the reserve, the item doesn't sell. Buy It Now allows customers to buy the item instantly for a set price, ending your auction.

    It's crucial when setting your price to understand all the costs you will incur—i.e., auction fees, packaging, shipping, etc.—and how these will affect your profit. eBay's fee schedule can be viewed here. Sellers also incur a charge for transactions using PayPal. Information about this can be found here here.

    While the auction is in process, it's important to continually check your email for questions from potential bidders, and provide prompt, professionally courteous responses.

    After the auction closes, be proactive and responsive in order to establish and maintain a solid reputation as a trustworthy eBay seller. Send an email message to the winning bidder, confirming the payment method and a verifiable address to send the item. Inform the buyer as soon as you receive payment, and let them know approximately when they can expect to receive the merchandise.

    Finally, send the item as soon as possible after confirming payment. You should already have the item packaged and ready to ship to minimize turn-around time. And remember to use a traceable shipping method, just in case.

    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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