A few weeks ago I linked to Stephen Smith’s guide to selling stuff on eBay. Today I’ll share some tips of my own.

In February I sold $1500 of geek goods to raise money so that I could make accelerated debt payments. My auctions consistently fetched more money than concurrent auctions for similar items. Something about my method works. I recommend the following steps:

  1. Research the hell out of each item you post. Dig through eBay to find what similar items fetch (and how often they sell). Check other places (Amazon, abebooks.com, other forums) to see what they charge for the item.
  2. Use low starting bids. Low starting bids cost less to list, and they encourage participation. The more popular you expect an item to be, the lower you should set the starting bid. If you expect only a few bids, start bidding closer to your minimum desired sale point. For example, I sold some Tolkien videos on VHS that I thought would receive few bids, so I set my minimum bid at about $10. Do not use a reserve.
  3. Start your listings on Thursday afternoons and evenings. Run ten-day listings. Time your auctions to end on Sunday evening between seven and ten Eastern (four and seven Pacific). This gives two weekends to attract bids.
  4. If needed, pay the extra ten cents to prepare listings in advance and schedule them to start on Thursday evenings. Prepare a group of listings in advance, then schedule them to start within a couple of hours of each other. (Don’t have your listings end closer than within two minutes of each other.)
  5. Offer free shipping and delivery confirmation. You could charge for these, but free shipping builds goodwill. Delivery confirmation gives you peace of mind. Free insurance is of dubious value; I sometimes offer it, but generally only on expensive items. You might offer it as a customer-paid option.
  6. Offer a money-back guarantee, but only for when the item is not as described. (Not for when a person changes his mind or makes a mistake.)
  7. Craft your auction title with care. For example, I recently sold a book entitled The Hidden Game of Baseball by John Thorn and Pete Palmer. I could have put all that into my auction title, but it would have been a waste. My title was geared toward keywords that I believed interested buyers would use: HIDDEN GAME OF BASEBALL Thorn Palmer SABR Bill James. Bill James had nothing to do with the book, but fans of Bill James would be likely to purchase it. You want many people to see your items in their search results.
  8. Write a good description listing the strengths and flaws of your item. Write things like “I think this book is in great shape, but be aware that the cover has a small tear and the previous owner’s name is on the flyleaf”, etc. Try to place additional keywords in the description, but sprinkled into conversational sentences. For example, in my auction for the Tolkien animated films on VHS, I used the names of Peter Jackson, Liv Tyler, etc.
  9. Be thorough. Many people advocate short descriptions. I disagree. I think that long descriptions are best, especially if they use bold text and highlighting to emphasize the important aspects of your auction.
  10. Refuse to accept bids from headaches: people with negative feedback, people who haven’t been paying, foreign bidders. (Note: foreign bidders aren’t a headache for everyone; if you love ‘em, let ‘em bid!)
  11. Take photos and post them in the description. Use the 35-cent gallery feature so that your photo appears when people browse listings. If condition is a concern, use many photos to convey the state of the item.
  12. Answer questions. You will receive many questions about your items. Some of the questions will be stupid. Answer them anyhow. If it’s a question that many people are likely to have, post the your response publicly.
  13. Be amiable! A friendly, easy-going persona is going to receive better response than a brusque, business-like persona. Make jokes. Show enthusiasm.

These techniques have worked well for me, even though I do two things that defy conventional eBay wisdom: I use ten-day listings and I provide free shipping. I feel that both helped me get better prices. For more information about online auctions, check out A Beginner’s Guide to eBay: Confessions from an eBay Store Worker.

Like garage sales, eBay is a great way to simultaneously purge your life of stuff and make money while doing so. A little extra time and care in creating your listings can yield a huge increase in profits.