From smartphones to designer shoes, action figures to antiques, sellers on eBay.com can turn the contents of their attics or basements into cold, hard cash, enabling billions of dollars in transactions each year. Millions of people use the website to earn extra money or in some cases, create a business out of their spare bedroom.
Here's a look at the strategies top eBay sellers use to make the most of the online marketplace.
Finding products: If you're new to selling on eBay, start with what you have lying around your house. "Do you have any clothes in your closet with the tags still on them?" asks Anastasia Andrzejewski, an eBay seller in New York who's turned the activity into a full-time job. "Look around your house, see what's collecting dust and list those items."
Andrzejewski's eBay store, George's Toy Chest, specializes in antiques and collectibles. In addition to garage sales, Andrzejewski goes to flea markets and auctions and keeps her eyes out for discarded sidewalk items. "One of my best finds yet were these really cool modern chairs that were just sitting outside," she says. "I have a big suburban, so I threw them in the back and will probably end up selling the set for a thousand dollars." She recommends downloading the eBay smartphone app so you can check prices on potential items before you buy something at a flea market or yard sale.
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Miriam Otto, a part-time eBay seller of clothing and accessories in Chico, Calif., and author of The eBay Life Blog, looks for items that photograph well. "If an item is name-brand, that's always good," she says. "I try to pick items that are lightweight and relatively easy to lift." Specializing in a particular product niche can help you develop an eye for those items and attract repeat customers, she adds.
Pricing: When eBay launched in 1995, its business model centered on online auctions where buyers bid on the items they wanted. Now, it also includes a buy-it-now option for buyers and sellers who want a simpler pricing model. While auctions last three, five or seven days, buy-it-now listings can stay online indefinitely so that when an interested buyer searches eBay, they'll find an item even after an auction ends.
If you're unsure of what buyers are willing to pay for an item, consider putting it up for auction to test the waters. Otto suggests researching similar items to get a benchmark on starting bids or buy-it-now prices. "Do a completed listing search [under advanced search] and sort the results highest to lowest," she says. "Did the item sell at auction or for a fixed price? What time of day did the auction end? What day of the week? Take a look at the titles of the listings that you're copying, and use those keywords in your titles."
Photos: Clear photos from multiple angles can help attract sales. "Don't use flash because it washes out the color," Andrzejewski says. "Use a plain background: a white sheet, a white towel, something that's clean."
EBay allows sellers to post up to 12 photos of each item, and she recommends using as close to 12 as you can. "Take photos of every angle," she says. "If there's a scratch, do a close-up of that scratch. Don't hide flaws; expose them. In order for people to keep buying from you, you need people to feel that you're a trustworthy seller."
Descriptions: Keep your product description brief, but mention any flaws or defects to prevent negative reviews from sellers who think the item they received doesn't appear like its advertisement. "They want something that looks nice and new," says Dan Tudesco, a part-time eBay seller in New York who specializes in video games and smartphones. "Prevent those situations from happening by making sure your description and pictures are as clear as possible. It reduces the angst that buyers have."
Shipping: When packing an item for shipping, Andrzejewski uses extra bubble wrap or tissue paper. "Not only will it protect the item, but it sends the message to the buyer, 'I'm not going to skimp on protecting what you just bought,'" she says. "I write 'fragile' all over my packages. Most postal workers don't follow that, but it gives a signal to the buyer that you care."