Part 2 of our eBay feature looks at how to become a successful seller
Fortune favours the brave and this philosophy certainly applies to online auctions. When it comes to selling your wares on eBay, you won't get anywhere unless you make your item stand out from the crowd and grab the attention of browsing buyers.
While the prospect of competing successfully against the vendors of hundreds of similar items might seem a challenge, there's an art to successful selling and we're here to spill the eBay beans that will help you reap the benefits of online auctioning.
In this part of our feature we'll look at everything you need to know about selling goods on eBay, from the best ways to list an item to attract buyers and ensure a good price, to taking a payment and despatching sold goods to their new homes.
To sell an item quickly and profitably on eBay it's important to use the right words to make it stand out from the crowd. The most important element in an auction item's description is its title as this is the first thing that will catch a potential buyer's eye in a long list of search results.
For starters, take care to spell the words in the title correctly. It sounds obvious but if you spell 'kettle' as 'kettel' then the item won't show up in the results of a correctly spelt product search and you'll miss out on potential customers.
An item's title should contain as much information as possible about the item being offered for sale, while also encouraging further reading. This is not exactly an easy task, particularly since you only have one line of text at your disposal. A title line such as "nearly new notebook PC" is quite snappy but not very useful, while a description like "Dell Inspiron 8600/2GHz/40Gb HDD/nearly new" says a lot more about the item on offer and motivates any interested potential bidder to read on.
Use brand names, where appropriate, and try to think of the keywords that you might use if you were searching for such a product. Additionally, use the option for bold text formatting as, according to eBay, this makes the chances of a sale up to 38 per cent higher.
Next you'll need to keep the potential buyer interested when they click through to find out more about an item by offering a full, frank and enticing description. There's no limit on the number of characters or words here so start with a snappy first line to encourage further reading.
For example, if you're selling a notebook PC this might be "high-end Acer notebook" or "ideal PC for multimedia on the move". Better still are references to reviews and awards from specialist magazines or websites, as these increase the product's credibility and pique the reader's curiosity. You can add the web address of online reviews to your advert so that readers can simply click on them.
Ask yourself a few questions to help you write your description. What sort of product is on offer? When was it made? What is the manufacturer and model number? What sort of condition is it in? Where does it come from? What's so special about it?
Bear these questions in mind and try to work the answers into the description's text. Tedious descriptions with no obvious structure just put people off so choose your words carefully and lay out descriptions so they are as easy to read as possible.
A picture paints a thousand words and this is certainly true in the context of eBay auctions. A listing with a good accompanying photo can win over potential buyers at a glance. This is especially true for high-value products like designer label clothing, watches or jewellery, where you need to really impress the potential buyer instead of just giving a dry, text-only description.
Naturally, no one expects perfect product shots but the better the photo the higher the chances of making a sale so give some thought to the shots you use to promote your item. If you're using a digital camera with a macro function, think about taking close-up shots to capture some interesting details, such as a clothing designer's label, for example.
A neutral background will put the item being photographed into the foreground, which is why we'd suggest you use a white backdrop, such as a piece of white cardboard. Having your living room in the background of the shot just looks amateurish.
If you want to upload a number of images and store them indefinitely to add to a number of listings, you can use the eBay Picture Manager Subscription service, which costs £5 for 50Mb of photo storage space, £10 for 125Mb or £20 for 300Mb. Click here for more information on this service and other eBay photo tools.
Attracting potential buyers and making a sale is just the start of the selling process for a vendor. The first thing to do once the final hammer has come down is to get in contact with the highest bidder via email and confirm the order.
Information on the method of payment and shipping should also be provided in this email along with the total cost of the item, plus shipping and packing costs. If there are special arrangements such as insurance, they must also be listed explicitly.
Waiting to be paid
After initial contact has been made, it is possible that nothing will happen for several days while the seller waits for payment. If payment is made using PayPal, the transaction could be completed fairly quickly. Cheques, on the other hand, could take a couple of days or more to arrive in the post and even longer to clear once paid into a bank account (we'll be taking a closer look at payment options later on).
More often than not, sellers opt for payment in advance. This gives the seller maximum protection, since the seller only sends the goods when the payment has arrived. Do bear in mind that transfers can be cancelled by the buyer but only before the total amount is credited to the seller's account. As soon as the money has arrived, the buyer should be informed but always wait for funds to clear before sending off the goods.
If the buyer doesn't pay up promptly, don't jump to the conclusion that someone's trying to swindle you. There can be many reasons for a transfer not going through straight away. If this does happen, the first thing to do is to make contact with the purchaser.
If an exchange of emails doesn't have the desired result or the other party shows themselves to be uncooperative, contact eBay's customer service team. Often, intervention from eBay will do the trick.
If that doesn't work, then it might be time to bring in the heavy guns and we have already covered what your options are in situations such as these earlier in this feature.
Once the goods are on their way, the buyer will expect a message confirming this. If you are using a courier firm for delivery, it's a good idea to pass on the tracking number so that the buyer can check the package's status on the carrier's website.
Requesting confirmation of delivery from a buyer can't do any harm either, although you should consider this a courtesy rather than a compulsory measure. The seller's aim always ought to be to give customers a feeling of security. The easiest way of doing this is to keep them informed about any potential delays, as this may worry many buyers.
Asking for payment
To avoid nasty surprises, you should think about the best payment method when you are in the process of setting up an eBay auction, rather than at the end. It's up to the seller to choose the payment methods that will be accepted but it's a good idea to remain as flexible as possible.
If you don't offer PayPal as a payment option, for example, some buyers will simply move on to the next vendor.
In the UK there are three main ways of collecting money from buyers: PayPal, cheque or postal order. All of these are protected by eBay's Purchase Protection Programme and are traceable. There are, of course, other methods of making a transaction, such as banker's drafts, deposits, Western Union-style transfers and cash, but these come with stiff warnings from eBay as to the level of protection for both buyers and vendors.
Cash is, of course, possibly the worst payment method for all parties involved and any buyer or vendor who insists on it should be treated with extreme caution. Cash is rarely used for any transactions on eBay other than for items such as furniture and motors, which require the buyer to view the item in person before parting with any money. Click here for a full list of available payment options, along with details and recommendations for each one.
If you are really concerned about the security of a transaction, you might consider using an escrow payment service but these can be expensive. At the end of an auction the buyer transfers the amount payable to the escrow service, which in turn informs the vendor that the payment has been received.
The vendor then sends out the goods to the buyer, who notifies the escrow service once the goods have arrived. The escrow service then releases the funds to the seller. Assuming that the escrow service used is trustworthy, this is one of the safest ways to conduct a transaction on eBay but this peace of mind comes at a price.
Of course, even escrow is open to fraudsters. If you want to use an escrow service, check out eBay's own recommendations here or the eBay UK discussion forums here to see which UK escrow companies are recommended by other eBay users.
Once the goods have been sold, you need to clarify exactly how they will be transferred from the seller to the buyer, although this should clearly be stated in the item description to avoid confusion. In most cases, this will mean sending the item by first-class post, although there are several alternatives such as Special or Recorded Delivery and courier services.
Naturally, each method comes with its own pros and cons. First-class mail, for example, is cheap and usually only takes a day or so to reach its destination. Goods sent through the post in this way, however, are uninsured and untrackable, which makes it an unsuitable choice for sending high-value or delicate items such as jewellery and computer components.
If you need proof that an item has been despatched and signed for by the recipient, look into the Royal Mail's Special or Recorded Delivery services. For more information and pricing on these services, check the Royal Mail's website here.
Courier firms tend to be markedly more expensive than traditional delivery methods but it is possible to compare prices and options online at DHL, Fed Ex, Initial City Link and Parcelforce. Remember to enquire about insurance. Sometimes this may cost extra; in other cases you'll find that items over £100 are automatically covered. Insurance isn't compulsory but some buyers may insist on it.
The last word
The seller's last task is to give feedback on the buyer and you have 90 days to do this. Just remember not to dive in too soon as a buyer who seemed reliable at first might come back four weeks later with unjustified complaints. Feedback is, by and large, a good system that works well for most honest eBay users.
However, there are occasions when it is used incorrectly, and negative comments that are unjustified can be wrongly attributed to a profile. If both parties agree, it is possible to have certain comments 'withdrawn' from the Member Profile. It won't be deleted, but will have a note that the comment has been withdrawn. However, to do this, you must involve the eBay customer service team.
Once you've submitted your Feedback and received comments from your buyer in return, the transaction is complete. It may sound like an long-winded and convoluted process, but selling on eBay is actually very simple which is why millions of people are at it every day.
If you sell a lot of stuff on eBay, then you might find that it gets quite hard to keep track of it all. We've found it's a good idea to sell items in manageable batches of 10 or 20 items at a time. If you put them all up for sale at the same time, all the auctions will end at similar times and it will be easier to manage the post-auction processes at once.
Figuring out what works and what doesn't work so well on eBay in order to fine-tune your selling technique is a matter of trial and error and it's worth making notes on any new techniques you try. For example, you can experiment with the timing of auctions and the length you opt to have them run for.
Using a mixture of common sense, experimentation and the know-how you pick up along the way, you can dramatically increase your chances of getting the kind of cash you're after in exchange for the items you sell. You should find yourself reaping the financial rewards of online auctioning in no time.
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