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How to sell (anything) on eBay

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If you’re like me, the mere thought of participating in an auction conjures vivid images of a room full of pompous guests, each swiftly raising a numbered bidding flag as balding gentlemen rattles off a slew of prices in quick succession — spitting flying like a rabid dog hellbent on vengeance. Despite my severely-dated reservations however, selling your unwanted items and rag-and-bone wears on the Web looks nothing like the sort, thanks to the blazing-quick emergence of online auction sites like eBay during the dot-com boom of the late ’90s. And while mastering the subtle craft to selling on the aforementioned shopping giant might take a little trial-and-error in addition to a few veteran pointers, you need not be Catherine Keener a la the 40-Year-Old Virgin to make a bit of money.

Whereas the venerable Craigslist has become the undisputed king of online classifieds among those wishing to deal locally, eBay remains the go-to solution for selling all manner of new and used goods on an international scale — whether they be newfangled next-gen consoles, an autographed Bert Blyleven baseball card or hand-made, scale-male guinea pig armor. eBay seemingly knows no bounds, allowing users to post and edit listings for everything from fashion accessories to foreign cars, all within an easily-navigable Web interface and accompanying mobile app. However, there’s more to selling than merely pounding out some copy and posting a swatch of shoddy images at 3:30 a.m. on a Tuesday … or there ought to be anyway. A successful sale is a piece of art, one offered by a reputable seller and adorned with an excellent specifics to match.

Here’s our extensive guide on how to quickly, and efficiently, sell items on eBay. We can’t guarantee your 1976 Olympic stamps are going to net you a cool $142 million like Francis Bacon’s triptych Three Studies of Lucian Freud painting recently fetched at Christie’s, but at least you’ll have a little more in your wallet than before. Also, check out our comprehensive guide about how to sell on Craigslist and our hustler’s guide to selling used gear online.

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Getting up and running on eBay

While you may be able to peruse eBay listings without an eBay account, there are a few necessities and desirable actions you may want to take prior to selling those aforementioned stamps. Tasks such as creating an account and adding payment information are an absolute must, but even simple touches such as tailoring your profile page and boosting your rep with a hodgepodge of low-cost purchases can make you seem more eBay diligent than daft.

Step 1: Create an account

To begin, click the blue Sign in link in the upper-left corner while viewing any eBay homepage to access the account creation tool. Afterward, click the blue Register button the right-hand side of the page, enter the your personal information and select an eBay user ID prior to entering a password. Since your username is always visible when you bid, buy, and sell, choose something that is both professional and possibly speaks on behalf of what you intended to use your account for. Website names and email addresses are not allowed, along with most symbols and the word “ebay” to avoid confusion with official employees, but the possibilities are still essentially endless.

Review the User Agreement and Privacy Policy if desired, and click the blue Submit button at the bottom of the page once chosen. Again, user IDs such “babelicious420” and “spermcicle98”, although an entertaining throwback to your glory days on AOL Instant Messenger, are likely not overly appealing to buyers or indicative of serious or reputable sellers. 

eBay Signup

Step 2: Link your PayPal account

Anyone who’s anyone uses PayPal for their their transactions, and considering new sellers are required to offer either PayPal or a merchant account credit card as an accepted payment method, it’s really the only trusted way to go. PayPal is essentially an acquirer, overseeing electronic money transfers online and ensuring secure transactions between buyers and sellers. Users must possess a credit card or bank account in order to sign up for the service, but once done, it offers buyer and seller protection in addition to various options for printing shipping labels and packing slips. It’s quick, safe, and a far better alternative to many of eBay’s approved payment methods.

To set up a PayPal account, hover over your name in the top-left corner when viewing any page and click your blue Account settings link from the the resulting drop-down menu. Once there, select the PayPal Account option on the left-hand side and click the gray Sign Up button.

PayPal Sign up

Enter your personal information when prompted — i.e. your address, phone number and desired security question — and click the blue Continue button prior to filling out a variety of additional information on the main PayPal page. Click the yellow Agree & Create Account button when finished.

PayPal signup

Next, return to the eBay PayPal Account panel and click the gray Link My PayPal Account option on the right-hand side of the page, enter your PayPal login information on the resulting page and click the gray Link Your Account button in the bottom-right corner. Click the gray Return to eBay button when finished.

Link PayPal account

Once linked, add any bank accounts you’d like to utilize by clicking the Add your bank account link located on the right-hand side of the main PayPal interface, beneath the My Account tab. Enter the appropriate routing and account number for your bank account and confirm the two minor deposits the service places in your bank account to verify your PayPal account, thus passing key security checks and opening up additional payment options. Verifying your account is not required, but it’s a free way to boost your reputation as a merchant and help solidify your legitimacy. Keep in mind the first account you add will be set as your default account for carrying out transactions on eBay.

PayPal Account

Step 3: Spruce up your profile

Love it or hate, but eBay is a game of faith. When you bid or purchase an item on the site, you’re making the assumption the seller is a legitimate person, not one attempting to scam you from eastern Russia or the northern grasslands of the Serengeti. That being the case, it’s often best to bolster your account profile with a photo and bit of copy to make your profile appear more genuine and reassure potential buyers you’re a serious seller. It doesn’t need to be lengthy or overly-complex, but it should provide users with a little bit about yourself and your background — especially if you’re selling within a niche field such comics or taxidermied bear pelts.

To edit your profile, hover over your name in the top-left corner when viewing any page and click your blue eBay user ID from the the resulting drop-down menu. Afterward, click the Edit profile button near the top of the resulting page and add an image and additional copy by clicking the pencil icons in the upper-right corner of the portrait and text fields. Click the blue Done editing button when finished.

eBay profile

Step 4: Boost your reputation

I’d love to tell you can quickly create an account and immediately sell that lime-green ’72 Corvette with absolutely zero reputation, however, that is not the case. Reputation is king on eBay, and being such, it’s best to at least somewhat boost your standing on the site with a few simple purchases. Your feedback score, the number directly right of your user ID, is based on the sum of your feedback ratings and serves as a reflection of your interactions with other users. A positive feedback rating adds an additional point to your score, a negative subtracts from it, and a neutral rating has no impact.

Buyers are typically hesitant of purchasing items from sellers with no rating, so purchase a few items to build your credibility within the community and prove you’re trustworthiness — no matter how small a transaction it may be. Users typically operate under the Golden Rule, meaning they will leave you positive feedback when a transaction is complete and you should reciprocate with the same (assuming it was a positive experience). Check out the ratings breakdown below to see how the different star icons stack up against their respective rating numbers.

Star Color Number of ratings
iconYellowStar_25x25 Yellow 10 to 49
iconBlueStar_25x25 Blue 50 to 99
iconTealStar_25x25 Turquoise 100 to 499
iconPurpleStar_25x25 Purple 500 to 999
iconRedStar_25x25 Red 1,000 to 4,999
iconGreenStar_25x25 Green 5,000 to 9,999
stars-11 Yellow shooting star 10,000 to 24,999
stars-12 Turquoise shooting star 25,000 to 49,999
stars-13 Purple shooting star 50,000 to 99,999
stars-14 Red shooting star 100,000 to 499,999
iconShootGrn_25x25 Green shooting star 500,000 to 999,999
iconShootSlvr_25x25 Silver shooting star 1,000,000 or more

Next Page: Crafting the perfect eBay listing

Crafting the perfect eBay listing

While throwing together an eBay account, setting up payment options and increasing your feedback rating is necessary, it’s likely not the reason you’re here. When it boils down to it, eBay is an online commerce site like many others, one from which you hope to get the most bang for your buck when selling your used goods to the thirsty masses of online consumers. Putting the aforementioned steps in place will only benefit you, enticing more potential viewers and spurring higher transaction rates as a result. However, the content and hallmarks of a perfect listing will vary depending on what you’re trying to sell, when you’re trying to sell it and who you’re trying to sell it to. Much like a crackshot Craigslist post, well-crafted and successful eBay listings often meet a certain criteria that encourages buyers — whether you’re selling a bundled of used Xbox 360 games or a John Elway jersey from ’94. The criteria is not tough to meet, nor is it an overly strict set of guidelines, but incorporating the various facets is sure to help. Remember, the sale lies in the little things.

To create an eBay listing, click the Sell link in the top-left corner when viewing any page and enter the item you’re trying to sell in the resulting text field. You don’t need to be overly specific — the title can be tweaked in the following listing editor — but being somewhat detailed will help produce matching categories for your item. If you know the UPC or ISBN number for your item, typically found on the barcode, entering said code in the title box will pre-fill many of the specifications required down the line. The site’s database is brimming with information on most consumer goods, especially electronics, so try looking up the item’s proper code on the manufacturer’s website or Amazon if you don’t have it on hand. Click the blue Get started button once entered and proceed through the four listing panels prior to publishing.

eBay: Tell us what you're selling

Step 1: Writing the listing title

Eighty characters may not sound like ample space to describe an item, but it’s more than you might think. The listing title is one of the first things potential buyers see when perusing eBay listings, thus it needs to be compelling and clear enough for users to understand the item you’re trying to sell immediately. Be descriptive when crafting the title, noting the item’s brand or designer, and include additional words highlighting the color, size and condition when appropriate. Avoid excess use of acronyms, fluff adjectives like “awesome” and “sweet”, and omit lengthy lines of asterisks, exclamation points and other punctuation marks. Trust me, serious buyers aren’t going to flock to a listing for an iPhone that reads “***W@W SUPER DUPER IPHONE FIVE 15GB CHEAP MINT CONDITION WHITE***” — at least I hope not. The title is the first impression of your item, so ensure it’s both to-the-point and accurate.

eBay title 2

Step 2: Attaching photos

Unlike Craigslist, posting a listing on eBay without a photo isn’t even allowed. It’s an understandable — and entirely welcome — requirement given photos are one of the few methods of truly showcasing an item and any flaws it may possess. For most items, a few images snapped using a simple point-and-shoot or smartphone camera will suffice. Because each post allows users to add up to 12 photos for free (aside from those posted in eBay Motors), it’s best to capture images from a variety of angles, potentially highlighting different key components or flaws noted in the item’s description. Photos should be captured in a well-lit area, using natural light when possible, and be devoid of distracting or cluttered backdrops that might deter users from the product. It’s also best to avoid stock images found on the Web and those supplied directly from the manufacturer as it helps convince prospective buyers you actually possess the item in question. 

Obviously, a wide swath of photos isn’t necessary for many items on eBay given their simplicity or lack of features. Items such as a pair of tickets to see Arcade Fire at the Rose Garden or a bottle of Calvin Klein’s Eternity perfume don’t warrant 10 individual photos considering the product itself is not overly elaborate. Regardless, uploaded photos must be under 7MB in size and should be at least 1600 pixels on the longest side when possible, at least 500 pixels on the longest side when not. They also can’t contain text, borders and must be uploaded as a JPEG, PNG, TIFF, BMP or GIF. Typically, one photo showcasing the item you’re trying to sell and several other close-up shots is enough to give potential buyers are idea of what to expect. You can always add or replace photos after publishing if need be.

eBay photos 2

Step 3: Writing the listing description

There’s ample things that can make or break a purchase on eBay, but users are far more forgiving of terrible titles and shoddy photos than they are an inaccurate descriptions. Postings live and breathe in the minute details, such as cosmetic damage and bundled items, each of which should provide the buyer with an accurate sense of what they will be receiving. It’s also always far better to err on the side of caution when listing details, offering more information than is often deemed necessary to help ensure potential buyers you’ve thoroughly surveyed the listed items. Be honest when selecting the listed item’s condition, whether it remains factory-sealed or has been reduced to mere scrap metal, viewing what each of the six supplied conditions entail and which option best reflects the item in question.

eBay condition

Once you’ve chosen a condition for your listed item, you’ll need to supply the specifics. Although listings culled from the eBay catalog will automatically feature a product description outlining key components, most listings will require you to manually add the specifics from a list of supplied drop-down menus in addition to a short description of the item. Specifics will differ based on the product, encompassing everything from connectivity on a smartphone to the inseam on a pair of denim, but nearly all listings will contain options for selecting the manufacturer or brand, feature set and other product-specific traits. Whereas the specifics section houses the technical attributes of your item, the details portion of the listing offers backstory and additional background details that elaborate on the aforementioned condition of the product and specifics. 

Keep your item description as neat and concise as possible, using proper spelling and grammar while offering text that is both easy digest and relatively quick to read. Ordered bullet points summarizing key aspects of the product will suffice for most items, but you can always opt for short paragraphs if you prefer. Either way, make sure to avoid word-for-word item descriptions directly from the manufacturer and be upfront regarding the condition of the item you’re selling, detailing the various scuffs, scrapes and scratches the item has procured during the course of its lifetime. The buyer will most likely know if you lied about the item upon immediate inspection, so provide a blow-by-blow account of the item that doesn’t leave the buyer confounded or shocked when they receive the sale. It’s doesn’t need to be exhaustive — they can always email you if further clarification or questions are required — but don’t skimp on the details either. No one likes purchasing a supposed mint-condition iPod Touch to discover a crack running the entire length of the device.

eBay details

Step 4: Choosing the right asking price

Choosing an appropriate listing price for an item may be a multifaceted process in some respects, but it’s also one of the most crucial components of a sale. After all, the final selling price determines how much money you’ll receive from the buyer for the item in question. When it comes to eBay, there are two forms of listing prices: fixed-price and auction-style. Fixed-priced listings, or those offering a Buy It Now price, are strict listings that do not fluctuate in price, offering the item at a set amount which you determine in conjunction with the minimum amount outlined by eBay. Auction-style listings can offer a Buy It Now price as well, but they also allow buyers to bid on items, with the sale typically going to the highest bidder. Additionally, some eBay categories allow users to add a Best Offer feature to fixed-priced listings, urging buyers and sellers to negotiate the sale price through a series of initial offers and counteroffers. These offers are binding like an auction-style bid, but they add a greater level of flexibility to fixed-priced listings than is typically available.

Neither the set price or starting bid is a number you want to haphazardly throw out on a whim without a second thought though. Do your research before listing item, delving into current and closed listings for similar products, or research what the item is fetching elsewhere on the Web if eBay listings are particularly scarce for the item in question. Items are only worth what buyers are willing to pay for them, so knowing the current bids being offered and the final sale price of completed listings will give you a more accurate idea of what the item is selling for. However, eBay also abides by the law of supply in demand in many cases. A larger influx of the same item will generally drive down the final price, while the rarity of any one item may boost the going rate by absurd proportions.

If selling auction-style, keep a keen eye on the starting bids and condition of similar listings. A low starting price will often encourage bidding and listing views, a high one deter potential buyers, but you’ll also run the risk of selling an item lower than you would have hoped if you set the starting price of an item with limited appeal too low. You can also opt for a premium reserve price, one that functions as a hidden minimum price higher than the starting price, if you prefer, thus ensuring your listing will never sell below the price you want. It all boils down to knowing the market and the item your selling.

eBay selling price

Step 5: Choosing the shipping cost

Unlike Craigslist, dealing locally is not always an option on eBay (shame). While one-hour delivery service is beginning to pop up in places like San Francisco and New York, most sales will require sellers to ship the sale item to its respective buyer once payment has been received, whether it be nationally or internationally. Be fair and accurate when you select the shipping price, factoring in the item’s weight and shipping method in advance, while remaining mindful of other listings. The listed shipping cost doesn’t need to be narrowed down to the exact cent, but it should be in the ballpark of what it is actually going to cost to ship. It may seem incredibly slick to lower the item’s sale price and boost the shipping cost proportionately, but inflated shipping costs are incredibly off putting on eBay and will only discourage potential buyers from bidding on your listings. In fact, it’s even worthwhile to offer free postage and packaging if you can afford it. Doing so will always help give you an edge over the competition and help your listing stand out.

eBay shipping optionsStep 6: Choosing a post time

Timing isn’t everything on eBay, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t something. When creating your listing, you can set auctions to end after three, five, seven or ten days, with additional options for automatically re-listing items that don’t sell right away. The listing duration begins as soon as the listing goes live and ends at the exact same time after the specified length of time has elapsed, thus you want to consider the specific day and time your listing will end in addition to when it will begin. Whether you want to choose a three-day or ten-day duration is debatable, but three-day seems a better bet for most items given most consumers are impulse buyers to a certain degree. It’s understandable though, wouldn’t you rather have an item immediately than have to wait another week for the auction to finish? However, consider opting for a longer listing duration when selling high-cost vehicles, collectibles or any other product needing extended exposure time.

Like many online retail sites, eBay receives the most traffic during the weekend, with Sunday being the most popular. Being the case, you want to ensure your listing ends during peak traffic hours, around 11 p.m. EST on Saturday or Sunday. Avoid ending your auctions on holidays — people typically have other things going on — and further consider posting time when dealing with seasonal items like snowshoes, tank tops and any other product highly sought after during peak times of the year. Furthermore, eBay offers options for scheduling when a listing goes live, but the feature is also coupled with additional fees and remains unnecessary for the average seller.

eBay selling price

Next Page: Finalizing the transaction

Finalizing the transaction

Selling an item is one thing, following through on your binding commitment is another. There’s a plethora of things to do once you’ve sold your item, from shipping said item to leaving feedback, all of which should be done correctly in a timely manner to ensure a smooth transaction on behalf of both parties. It’s not a rigorous or demanding process, but following through until the end will help guarantee you’re paid appropriately and pave the way for future transactions on the site.

Step 1: Deliver item

Assuming the listing has ended and the buyer has paid successfully, it’s time to carry out the grunt work. The specific should have already been determined as you previously outlined the shipping conditions and any fees associated with them, so all you need to do is deliver accordingly. Sale items should be placed in a box slightly larger than the item itself, packaged neatly and securely using paper, bubble wrap or a similar packaging method, and properly labeled with both the buyer’s address and a return address. Irregularly-shaped and fragile items may require alternate shipping methods and include additional fees, but they should still be shipped within the previously-specified amount of time regardless. If issues arise for whatever reason, inform the buyer of the details and further discuss shipping means.

Step 2: Leave feedback

Seeing as the gap in which you can leave feedback is a full 60 days, there’s truly few reasons not to. The process for doing so is quick and easy, and though it’s also completely voluntary, leaving feedback builds trust within the eBay community and informs other users about potential buyers and sellers. Feedback is a permanent part of your eBay record and consists of a positive, negative, or neutral rating, along with a short comment detailing transactions between users. Although sellers can merely provide positive ratings and comments on their transactions, buyers can provide all three types of feedback, giving them greater control of your standing in the community. However, they can also revise previously-given feedback, making it best to contact the buyer and resolve any issues they may have to help safeguard your reputation as a seller. If you do leave feedback, be honest about it, only highlighting a positive experience with the buyer when the interaction is truly positive. Feel free to follow up on negative comments when warranted.

To access feedback options on a transaction, navigate to the Feedback Forum and click the blue Leave Feedback link on the right-hand side of the page, beneath the Feedback Tools section. Alternatively, hover over your name in the top-left corner when viewing any page, click your blue Account settings link from the the resulting drop-down menu, and select the Feedback option on the left-hand side.

Next Page: A few bonus tips and tricks for selling

A few bonus tips and tricks for selling

Being the thriving auction community eBay is, there’s no way to cover every facet of selling on the site within a mere three pages of copy. However, we do want to mention several other notable features and methods not previously highlighted in our quick-hit tutorial on selling. They may not be necessary, but they’ll surely aid you in your relentless quest for a buck. 

  • Download the mobile app — Being tethered to a desktop computer is no longer and issue with the free mobile eBay app for Android, iOS, Windows Phone and Blackberry devices. The app is streamlined and fully-featured, loaded with tools for buy and selling, while offering additional notification tools and bid alerts to keep you perpetually informed regarding any auction you’re involved with. The built-in, Redlaser barcode scanner is particularly great for sellers, allowing users to search and sell specific items without have to scour the Web for additional codes, but any user will find the listing navigation equally as intuitive.
eBay mobile
  • Accept returns — Buyers have more faith in their purchases when they offer a bit of piece of mind. Accepting returns, although not ideal, will encourage buyers on the fence about purchasing your item. It’s doubtful buyers will ever take you up on your offer if you’ve provided detailed photos and an accurate description to match, but the comfort is appealing nonetheless.
  • Become a PowerSeller — Achieving eBay PowerSeller status on any of the five tiers of the program is not the easiest thing to achieve — check out the lengthy list of requirements — but it does afford the user some additional bonus perks free of charge. In addition to item protection and UPS discounts, PowerSellers also gain access to various healthcare solutions, forums and one-on-one consulting. Not too shabby if you manage to keep your reputation up and sell a high volumes of items.
  • Keep sales within eBay — Don’t accept payments outside of eBay such as cash, checks, and money orders. Not only are they prohibited under the site payment policies, but they are incredibly unreliable and offer nothing in the way of proper assurance or seller protection.
  • Be polite — You’ll undoubtedly encounters buyers who seemingly make your life a live hell. However, remain polite, friendly, courteous and responsive when engaging with other users as you would face-to-face. If someone asks you a question or comments on some aspect of your listing, respond in a timely fashion with an appropriate response. Rude interactions will only spur negative feedback, which in turn, will likely impact your ability to successfully sell items. Good service and social skills can go a long way online.
  • Open an eBay Store — Individual listings and profile pages will suffice for most users, but they won’t offer you the kind of tools and customization available with an eBay Store subscription. Plans start at $16 per month and include a wealth of marketing, merchandising and discount tools for selling multiple listings. Plus, it showcases all your merchandise in a single location for easy viewing, complete with background information on you and your selling policies.