Over the last few months, I've spent countless hours researching the process of selling items online for a large project I've been compiling. It's taught me that as much as I thought I knew about selling online, there's so much more that I have no clue about!
For example, a family member recently asked for my help selling an unneeded car on the internet. “Sure!” was my first thought. “Heck, maybe I'll even use this as a case study!” However, there's one major problem with this situation: I'm completely ignorant when it comes to cars.
Actually, I shouldn't say completely ignorant. That's not correct. I'm inexcusably ignorant when it comes to cars.
As a younger member of the male population of American society, I feel like I've failed to inherit this basic knowledge that was supposed to written into my DNA. In fact, my inability to prioritize the maintenance and regular care of my own car is likely one of my biggest financial weaknesses. Maybe that's one reason I enjoyed our recent year without owning any vehicle at all!
Even with this blatant gap in knowledge, I actually have had some success selling cars online through Craigslist. Before we left for our year abroad, we sold both of our cars using their online classifieds. However, those were a couple of clunkers. If I remember correctly, we sold one for $1,000 and one for $2,000 after negotiations.
Because we were leaving, our priority was to just get our cars sold. We didn't want to give the cars away for free, but we weren't trying to squeeze out an extra 10% or additional $100. We were more concerned with not being stuck with a set of wheels parked in Indiana while our bodies were in New Zealand!
The situation with this car is different. The family member I'm assisting doesn't need to sell the car — he wants to sell the car. He has no delusions about getting top retail dollar, but is willing to take the time to obtain a fair private-party offer.
Plus, this isn't anything close to a clunker. It's a 2003 Honda Accord EX Coupe. It's been driven 150,000 miles, but still has only a few minor bumps, blemishes, or flaws. It runs very smoothly and has been taken care of by someone more responsible than me for the majority of its years!
Giving eBay Motors a fair shake
Normally, I'd take the same approach with this car as I have with the others I've sold. I'd take plenty of photos, research the competition, and write a detailed description. I'd present the price and the process for getting more information in a firm, but politely worded manner. I'd then upload the info to Craigslist and wait for the phone to ring!
In other words, normally I would never give eBay a passing glance. I know that for the last few years they've had some form of classified through what used to be Kijiji.com, but for one reason or another I never considered it a viable option. I've also heard stories of people buying and selling cars through traditional eBay auctions (non-classified formats), but that process seems too risky and intimidating.
Recently, however, eBay has started a huge push on its newly re-branded classified section, eBayClassifieds.com. They're heavily promoting this, and they seem to be incorporating the classified listings much more fluidly with the general automobile searches for the main site. Classified listings within a certain distance (200 miles by default) are now included alongside the national listing in searches when logged into your eBay account.
In addition, constructing a classified ad in eBay has several benefits over its competitors. It's a more guided process, with eBay providing reminders and recommendations along the way. For example, they supply a fantastic, printable Sell Your Car Checklist [219kb PDF] to help gather everything you'll need to create a detailed listing. Currently, your first six classified ads in the eBay Motors section are free during a 12-month period.
The process of creating a classified ad to sell a car is so smooth that, for the first time, I'm going to construct my classified ad in eBay first. I'll then take my description, pictures, and relevant details, and copy them into my trusty Craigslist format, as well. The more I research and tinker with eBay's classified section, the more I'm starting to view this as a necessary part of giving the car adequate online exposure.
Step it up with a national auction?
Selling via a classified ad isn't the only way you can list your car on eBay. You also have the option to list it through the eBay Motors site under a standard auction format. With classifieds, you list your contact information and have to work out the details of the transaction with potential buyers (just as if you were listing on Craigslist). However, using eBay's standard auction format, interested parties from all of the U.S. can view and place bids on your vehicle, just like they would any other item on eBay.
Currently, eBay is allowing you to post your first four automobile auctions of this type for free, too. As long as you pass on all the extra upgrades and add-ons, you can create a national listing at any starting price for free. With this format, you can eliminate a lot of the grunt work that accompanies a classified listing. (Grunt work includes answering phone calls, negotiating, showing the car, etc…)
So, I could simply list my car with a starting price equal to what I'd normally offer in my classified ads. It's unlikely that I'd get any bids, but as a free 7-day listing, it's hard to pass up taking a shot. I'll already be compiling the info for my classified ads, so it'd only take an extra 15 minutes or so to upload the data into a standard auction of this type.
Is the extra 15 minutes worth taking an unlikely shot at selling my car outside of my local market? I'm not sure. eBay will automatically compile and offer shipping options to someone who may want to have the car transported. These ranged from $300-$700 on some of the sample cars I looked through. Would someone actually pay that? Again, I'm not sure.
Edmunds.com featured an article about a couple that sold cars online to people from all around the country, people who would fly in to inspect the cars. I like to keep a fairly open mind, but I just can't imagine someone wanting to buy plane tickets to come check out a potential car from across the country. (In the story, the couple even picked them up from the airport and made breakfast!)
Deciding what to do…
Many times when I write a post, I explore a topic I'm experienced with. I look for areas where I've had either success or failure that may be valuable if I were to share it. This isn't one of those posts.
On this topic, I'm still clueless. I'd actually like to know what you think! Have any of you bought or sold vehicles using eBay (either classified or standard listing formats)? Do you know anyone who has? Am I missing any huge gaps in my thought process? If you were in my shoes, what would you do to maximize the exposure for your car online?
I love Craigslist, but I'm convinced I may be leaving money on the table if I don't seriously consider eBay for selling my car. If there's interest in this topic, I'll be sure to post a follow-up describing any successes or failures!
How to Sell Your Car on eBay Motors
A representative of eBay Motors e-mailed me to ask if I'd like to interview their Manager of Dealer Training, Clayton Stanfield. Stanfield spends his days educating and training automobile dealerships across the country how to better market their cars and trucks using eBay Motors.
Many of you commented that you'd love to see a follow-up with more specific tips on how to better use eBay Motors to sell a car. Since I'm going through the process for the first time, I jumped at the chance to chat with Stanfield about his top tips and tricks.
Create a great-looking listing
On the call, I asked Stanfield the primary question, “What are the top areas where the average consumer can have the biggest impact in improving their listings?” In other words, I was looking for Stanfield to show me the low-hanging fruit. I wanted to know the areas where you and I could get the biggest bang for our time and effort.
The first words out of Stanfield's mouth were: “You've got to create a great-looking listing.” He was the first to admit this is common advice, but reiterated that not enough people take it heart.
“Seventy percent of cars that sell, sell to a buyer outside of state lines,” Stanfield said. “Out-of-town buyers need to be able to visualize the car. Focus more on pictures than anything else.”
Stanfield suggested creating a “virtual test drive” for potential buyers. I've since fallen in love with that phrase. One of the first principles Stanfield teaches is that dealerships can do a better job of this by always including 24 high-quality images (eBay's maximum) with every listing. Thorough images help the buyer really get to know the vehicle, similar to being able to test drive it themselves in person.
Titles vs. subtitles
Another way to improve the average listing is through the smart use of titles and subtitles. When listing an everyday item on eBay, creating a subtitle costs extra money and isn't searchable by default. This means that when a potential buyer searches for an everyday item, the information you provide in the subtitle won't help them find your listing.
eBay Motors works differently. When listing your car or truck, eBay Motors generates a basic title for your listing automatically. Usually this includes the year, make, and model. For example, my car's automatic title is “2003 Honda Accord”. eBay Motors then provides a subtitle where you can fill in more specific information. In contrast, when selling an automobile the subtitle is free and is included in searches by potential buyers.
Stanfield says that one of the biggest mistakes people make is that they repeat information in the title (generated by eBay Motors) again in the subtitle. There is no need to repeat the information in the title! In other words, eBay has already provided me with 2003 Honda Accord. It makes no sense for me to repeat that information in the subtitle (which I actually did the first time!).
Instead, Stanfield urges customers to use every available character in the valuable subtitle to help your listing appear in more searches. He suggests thinking for terms that a buyer may search for, but that aren't already included in title. Some possibilities:
- “Chevy” – Most of the time the title will say Chevrolet XYZ, but buyers may search for “Chevy”.
According to Stanfield, appearing in more searches is the number one way to increase the final price you receive for the auction!
A personalized, friendly description
When it comes to creating a description, the most important factor is being thorough and including as much detail as possible. But if you want to maximize the amount of bidders, simply listing the facts isn't enough. Stanfield encourages dealers and individual sellers to personalize their descriptions by including background information on the car.
For example, you may include information such as when you bought the car, how long you've driven it, or why you are selling it. “You don't just have to list details and facts; try sharing the background and history of the automobile, if you can” Stanfield says. He points out that sharing details not only allows people to identify with the car, but also makes you seem more personable and down to earth.
Most importantly, Stanfield suggests being brutally honest in your descriptions. It's not only the ethical thing to do, but will result in better results and far less hassle. On one particular listing, Stanfield even went so far as to offer up this in bold: “This car is in worse shape than you think!” (I laughed out loud when he told that story on the phone!)
Reserve and starting price
At the end of the interview, I asked Stanfield for his suggestions on setting a reserve price and a starting price. Stanfield recommends setting the reserve at “the bare minimum you'd accept for the vehicle.” He notes that almost every listing sees an increase in activity and bidding once the reserve price is exceeded. Buyers are much more willing to bid on automobiles that are no longer protected by reserves. The quicker your reserve price is met, the more exposure your listing will get!
When it comes to starting price, Stanfield suggests starting low as well. “The most important bid is the very first one,” he says. “It gets the ball rolling and increases exposure in the search engine results.” He suggests starting the bidding at between 10-20% of your reserve price as a rule of thumb. For example, if you set a minimum reserve of $5,000, placing the starting bid at $500 would be a good idea. Most of the time, this will allow for bidding to initiate much earlier than a higher starting price!
Thanks to eBay Motors
I enjoyed interviewing Clayton Stanfield and appreciate him taking the time to share his expertise! Special thanks also goes to the eBay Motors team for reaching out to me on Twitter and making the introduction to Clayton.
As for me, I learned several specific tips during this interview that will help me spruce up my listing and try my hand at some national exposure. If there's anything you'd add, let me know below!