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I'm been playing Ebay now for a year or more, and have probably bought far too much and sold too little. Still it's been fun and I've learnt a lot.
I think I know the system pretty well now, to offer some advice, both to buyers and sellers. I am going to go into some detail here, so I recommend you at least understand the principle and basic workings of Ebay.
1. Take Paypal! They charge you 3.4%, plus 20p or thereabouts, but it seems that it attracts more bidders (particularly attractive to overseas buyers), so ultimately your final price may be higher. Doesn't mean you can't still take cheques/PO's, you can of course. You can see which items are payable by Paypal, by the little Paypal symbol in the listing - even before you view the entire item description. There are a few sellers who do accept paypal, but due to the somewhat confusing paypal signup, they may not in fact accept your payment - unless you already have money in your paypal account. Users who have signed up to the premier or business status, can accept all forms of credit and debit card payments.
2. Listing times. Use 7 day auctions rather than 10 day ones which are more expensive to list. The 7 day listing is about right, plenty of time to generate interest (and watchers), whilst not being too long for people to lose interest.
3. Time your auction so that it ends on a weekend or evening, rather than a morning or afternoon. This is the time more last minute bidders will be looking at items ending soon. It's best not to use the Ebay timed listing function, as this costs too. A good idea would be to use TurboLister, available free which will let you compile listings of your items, then upload them all whenever you want.
4. Listings with good photos, and more than one are likely to be more successful than ones with a single photo. Clean your item up! Show it at it's best! You may be limited to your camera here, but if you have a macro function, use it for closeups. Try to avoid flash if you can, the colours can look different (particularly clothing), and you can get unwanted reflections and so on. Displaying your items nicely, on some material will be an improvement over simply dumping it on the floor! Use a site such as www.auctionpix.co.uk as a photo host. They offer 2mb free, and you can link to your photos using the simple html, which you can simply cut and paste from there to your ebay listing. Ebay charge for multiple photos, but using this method you can avoid the charges. Keep your photos small in size though, resize to 500 pixels on longest side and filesize of around 30k is fine (use save for web from Photoshop Elements for instance).
5. Choose the category carefully. Pretty obvious, but look at if there is a more suitable category. Try not to be tempted to list in 2 categories (unless it's a high priced item), as this costs more - in fact the listing fee is double.
6. Make use of your title to the fullest. You have 54 characters, and what you put in here should be things people may be searching for. Use alternate words for the same thing if possible. Check your spelling!
7. Don't over clog your ads. Keep them simple, and do not make the terms and conditions so complex the average reader cannot understand them. Adding animations, fancy busy backgrounds and sound simply put people off - remember the prospective buyer has already clicked your listing, so all he/she wants to do now is read about it and see it, not listen to music!
8. Try and weigh your item before hand, and look up the postage (you can use www.royalmail.com) - add this to your listing. People like to know how much P&P will be before they bid, if you think your item has potential sales overseas, add international shipping to Europe and the rest of world too. If you are going to be selling a lot of different items, a good quality postal scales will be a good investment.
9. You might consider listing on ebay.com instead of .co.uk if you think American buyers might be more liable to buy your item, and you are able to take Paypal. Think about the end time of your auction if you do, as the US are well behind us in most states, and it's best not to finish your auctions early in the morning. Ebay.com isn't solely for US buyers, you may attract bidders from all over.
10. Before you list your item, do a search for similar items on sale now. How are they priced? Are there bids? More useful is to check out completed auctions, so you can see what prices things went for. If there are many similar items, which didn't sell, it's probably wise not to try selling yours at this time either. Use the watch list to see similar items which are selling too - be nosy!
11. Starting price. Although you may think it's daft to start your rare collectable at 99p, it is a very popular place to start the bidding. People are attracted to low opening bids, and the more people you attract, the more chance you have of selling your item. The listing fee is also lower, so you are saving money - and as long as the final price is reasonable to you, this is a good way of listing. It is possible of course that the item will actually sell for 99p, due to lack of interest in your item, but if you have already taken note of msot of my other advice, you should have done everything possible to ensure the highest sales is made.
12. Know what not to sell. Don't keep re-listing items that constantly fail to sell, as you are simply lining ebays' pockets! It's a fact that not everything will sell, no matter how cheaply you offer it. Heavy items (unless they can be locally collected) are unattractive to buyers due to high postal costs.
13. Keep an eye on your overall costs. The whole idea of selling is surely to make money, not lose it. It's easy for listing fees, final value fees and paypal fees to add up. You may even lose money by incorrectly charging for postage. Don't overuse Ebay add-on listing options, many of which, in my opinion, don't increase your chances of selling.
14. Don't be tempted to "shill". This is the practice of bidding on your own auctions, or those of your associates with the intention of raising the price, but not winning it. This is illegal, at any auction, either on or offline. Of course if your friends or family actually want to buy from you, they can of course bid!
15. Communicate with your buyers. Be prompt, (and honest) at answering questions, particularly near the end of the auction. Once an item is won, be prompt at providing payment and shipping information, not everyone knows or understands the ropes.
16. Pack well, the postal services aren't that careful, so anything they can be broken, in a badly packaged parcel, probably will be. It will save you time and money in the long run to get this right.
17. Be prompt with shipping. I'm not saying you should rush to the post office as soon as the payment has arrived, but don't leave things for days, or even weeks like some bad sellers do.
18. Enjoy it, and don't let it take over your real life. If you don't, and it is, do something else!
Tips for sucessful buying are somewhat less obvious, and everyone will have their own opinion. Here is mine for what it's worth.
1. Bid only once! Yes, once! Decide what the maximum you will pay is, and place your bid, preferably close to the end of the auction. Whilst at first this may seem odd to some, the alternative is a bidding war! Bidding wars are when 2 or more bidders constantly try to outbid each other, sometimes getting carried away. Whilst this is good for the seller, it's not good for the buyer. By placing your maximum bid, ebay proxy bidder will outbid any new bids from other people up to your final price.
2. Do your homework. The choice of items is immense. Don't just bid on the first thing you see! There maybe better, cheaper items elsewhere, and I don't just mean on ebay either. Check out prices of DVD's, Games and CD's on Amazon for instance. I've seen many people bidding over the odds - possibly get carried away in bidding wars, blind to the fact that other purchasing options are available. There is life outside Ebay!
3. Check the sellers feedback. All good sellers will have a generally good feedback, so you should be confident you will have a smooth and honest transaction. Avoid buying from anyone with a lot of bad feedback, particularly if it's recent. Be vary wary of sellers with zero feedback, offering too-good to be true offers, which may turn out to be non-existant items, misleading offers or with more surcharges and fees than you can mention.
4. Check payment options. Some sellers may only accept cheques, others just about every payment method under the sun! Make sure you can complete the transaction using the acceptable methods of payment, or the seller will not be best pleased.
5. Check postage. If no postage is specified, ask. If the postage seems confusing, ask. It's best to get these questions out of the way before you bid, rather than arguing afterwards. This of course can be a problem, especially if bidding in the last few minutes - as the seller will not have time to respond. In this case, don't let a seller overcharge you. You can see postal rates from the UK at www.royalmail.com, and if you can guess the rough weight, you can tell if the seller is trying it on or not. It is right of course for the seller to charge a little for packaging and handling, if they have specified this.
6. Pay promptly. If you are paying by paypal, there is no reason why you can't get payment to the seller shortly after you have the invoice email. The seller is more likely to be prompt with you if you are prompt with them.
7. Use a bidding sniper! If you have been outbid at the last moment on many occasions, it could be that the winner was using a bidding sniper. This is a piece of software, or a website where bids are placed in the last seconds, above yours. Items can simply be entered into a system, and the computer will bid for you, even if you are not around to do it yourself. Whilst you may feel this is cheating, the use of these systems is on the increase, and if you don't do it, someone else will! This is perfectly legal, according to ebay. I use http://www.bidnapper.com/ , there are of course many others.
I hope this has been of some use to somebody! Have fun now....