Why 60% of eBay Auctions Don't End in Sales

And a two-pronged strategy to increase your sell-through

by Lynn Dralle
- Jun 13, 2008

When Robert Green, Auctiva's managing editor, asked me to write this article about why more things don't sell at online auction on eBay, I have to admit I was intrigued. He quoted a statistic I found very interesting: eBay reports that 60 percent of auctions on eBay do not end in a sale.

Wow! Knowing this made me feel much better about my own auction sell-through rate, which is about 30 percent, by the way.

I think the eBay national average of 40 percent sell-through is a wonderful percentage and one to strive for. But for the purposes of this article, let's address why the other 60 percent of auctions don't actually sell.

Remember that the 40 percent sell-through takes into consideration items from all types of vendors. As you know, on eBay there are sellers that sell new commodity items direct from the manufacturer, manufacturers who sell their own goods, crafters selling their wares and—finally—people like me who sell one-of-a-kind items that we find at garage and estate sales.

It's funny; even though my auction sell-through rate is just 30 percent, my sell-through rate from my eBay store, at 10 percent (with more than 6,000 items currently listed), can add an additional $7,000 to my monthly sales.

Great expectations

You should know that you cannot expect every single item you put up to auction each week to sell. In fact, I find that most things I list at auction don't sell. Because I sell unique items, this is the norm for me, not the exception. Don't be discouraged when things don't immediately sell. Why? Well, keep reading.

You have to have your store fully stocked on eBay so that when someone wants that slingshot you have it available for sale. I don't think the demand is great enough to support many sales of an item like this, but with eBay you never know.

Wrong timing

One reason not everything sells at eBay auction is poor timing. I know I only check eBay periodically. That can be any time I need a certain item, or get a wild idea about something I just must have. I bought a Sid Dickens tile for $46 at auction recently because I needed it for my family room. I was looking during the first week of February, but not the second, third and so on.

Wrong price

If an item isn't worth $10, I won't list it on eBay. I make my living selling about 1,000 $10 items each month

Perhaps the most common reason items don't sell at auction is because sellers price them unrealistically. Many new sellers think their items are worth a fortune, and they price auctions way too high to start. Of course they aren't going to sell. After about 10 years of selling on eBay and trying three different strategies, I have my pricing strategy down to a science.

For several years, I tried to start auctions at the price I thought the item was worth. This approach doesn't get any auction action (or bidding wars) going. Then I tried the 99-cent strategy, starting every single auction at 99 cents. Way too many items sold for 99 cents. It isn't worth my time or your time to sell 99-cent items on eBay. If an item isn't worth $10, I won't list it on eBay. I make my living selling about 1,000 $10 items each month. My pricing strategy is to start 90 percent of my auctions here at $9.99.

Wrong competition

Another reason your item may not sell is you have the wrong competition that week. Let's say you have a Studio Nova Early Morning dinner plate you are trying to sell for $9.99.

There is a competitor out there who has the same dinner plate but isn't really in the business and doesn't care what they get for theirs. They are just cleaning out their kitchen cupboards. So, they list their plate at $4.99 and there is only one person looking for that dinner plate during that week on eBay, so yours doesn't sell. This is no cause for worry or concern. I tell my students this is actually great news! Curious why? Read on.

The two-pronged attack

I consider that listing my items at auction is just research. I hardly research anything anymore, especially if it has a maker's mark or signature on it. It's already identified, so why would I waste any more time on research? eBay's bidders will let us know soon enough if our item is worth more than $9.99. One piece of American Indian art that I started at $9.99 got bid up to an incredible amount by those wonderful eBay bidders. It ended up selling for $123.50!

When something doesn't sell for the opening bid price of $9.99 or more, I am happy because I already have my second prong of attack in place—my eBay store.

The must-have eBay store

I love my eBay store. I have had one for about six years, but I initially only used it for commodity items—those things that I had more than one of. Things like my books, including The 100 Best Things I've Sold on eBay, and Royal Copenhagen Christmas plates.

Back then, when things didn't sell at online auction, I would list them one more time. If they still didn't sell, they got taken to charity or sold at a garage sale. Big mistake! About three years ago, we started listing everything that didn't sell at auction in our online eBay store and guess what? Those one-of-a-kind items started selling like crazy! I was so excited.

My eBay store now contributes at least 50 percent of my $100,000-plus in sales each year. And the best part—a lot of times I actually raise the price when I move it into my eBay store. An example is that Studio Nova dinner plate above. There are none listed on Replacements.com so I know they're hard to find. I will raise the price to $14.99 when I move it into my eBay store. Hey, I figure if the customer wasn't smart enough to buy it at auction for $9.99, they're going to pay more for it now! You get a ton of exposure in your eBay store and any item under $25 only costs you 3 cents a month to list. That is only 36 cents per year for 365 days of exposure.

Another great thing about your eBay store is all the work has been done getting your item ready to list when you listed it at auction. Now all you have to do is click a button to change the selling format, change your price and you're ready to go!

eBay for more than auctions

eBay is a valuable advertising vehicle—don't use it only for auction sales. I tell anyone in any business that they're foolish if they don't use eBay as part of their overall marketing plan. For example, just listing a few automobile parts at auction each week can drive an incredible amount of traffic to your auctions, and then you can make them a customer for life. Take advantage of this.

Bottom line

So don't worry if your auction sell-through rate is 40 percent or less (however, if your sell-through rate drops to 10 percent to 15 percent, you should probably try some different strategies because that is too low). I am perfectly happy with mine being 30 percent because of my eBay store and all the great advertising that comes with listing at eBay auctions.

Happy eBaying!

About the Author

Lynn Dralle is a third-generation antiques dealer and a PowerSeller who's been selling full-time on eBay since 1998. An award-winning author, she's lectured around the country on eBay and appeared on national television. Dralle is the author of iBuy and iSell, a two-part auction-tracking notebook system carried in The eBay Shop. She has built up a loyal following of thousands who subscribe to her weekly e-zine through her Web site.

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

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