Saturday, July 06, 2013

How to make and lose money on eBay

I've been selling toys and other items from my childhood on eBay for the past month and have learned a few things, so here are my pointers.

First, a story: I sold a set of 16 GI Joe figures from 1989 and 1992 still in their original packages for $405 when I was expecting something like $25. I paid a little extra for shipping, including insurance since it was now valuable.
Then, I got it shipped back to me (at my expense) for some very minor manufacturing defect after the buyer filed a complaint. The old figures sometimes get a hairline fracture on the elbow joint (see picture. Mine were not that obvious).

These figures are tiny and this picture is very blown up.
When a collector asked me during the auction "are their cracks in the elbows? Are these figures just repackaged used figures?" I said "All figures are unopened and haven't been touched since the factory. No cracks in the elbows or obvious flaws." The ones I looked at certainly had nothing wrong. I wasn't aware that the 1989 figures had an endemic flaw until later (good luck finding one without cracks).

When I relisted them, I included in the listing which figures I saw elbow cracks on. My figures sold for $35 plus shipping. I basically broke even on the amount of shipping and insurance I paid and had a time-consuming hassle.

So, my advice:
1. List obscure items the same time you list well-known items. People click on "See seller's other listings" and it works for you. I listed a fairly random toy by itself and got 4 views and no watches during 7 days. I re-listed it while listing several other popular (but unrelated) toys and got several watches and two bids.

2. Any discrepancy between your listing and actual product can lead to time-consuming complaints and you not getting your money. So, either just say "items are as pictured" and leave the risk on the buyer to ask questions, or disclose the various details and expect a lower selling price either way.

3. Take the time to box up and weigh the package to let each bidder calculate his own shipping.  Doing that allows you to get free tracking on the package and print out your labels immediately--less hassle at the post office.

4. Listing at $0.99 ultimately leaves you with the most watchers and bidders.

5. Have all of your listings end on Sunday evening. That is when the most buyers will be home and available to compete for the product. Ending it on a weekday morning is a bad, bad mistake I've seen people make (to my benefit, I got some stuff cheap on an early Tuesday morning). 

6. Set up an automatic claim-filing process that begins 48 hours after bidding ends. About 20% of bidders on ebay aren't going to pay for the product if they win it, for whatever reason. Time wasted re-listing the product is valuable to you.

7. Tweet your listing out. Collectors of items are always scouring the web, they'll find your tweet and link.

8. Understand that eBay is set up to be slanted toward the buyer. You cannot negatively rate a buyer who does not pay you, all you can do is file a complaint (which no sellers will ever see). I have my listings set up with an option to block bidders who have more than 1 non-payment complaint in a month. That's going to lead to less bids, but hopefully more honest bids.

9. You need at least 25 positive seller ratings to get immediate access to your PayPal payments, so remind your buyers if they have not rated you and remember to rate them. My current listings:

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