If you want to make money selling stuff online, you can choose from many niche marketplaces. There’s Etsy for arts and crafts, Poshmark for clothes and Swappa for cell phones and other electronics.
But eBay, with 171 million active buyers worldwide, is a giant. A women’s handbag sells on the site every six seconds, a cell phone every four seconds and a pair of shoes every two seconds, according to the company.
If you decide it’s the right place to sell your stuff, here’s what you need to do to make money on eBay.
Determine if a subscription is right for you
On eBay, you can be a standard seller or, if you’re willing to pay for it, you can opt for a store subscription. Your best and cheapest option depends on the type and number of products you plan to sell.
Those without a subscription can list up to 50 items per month for free. After that, each listing costs 30 cents. In most cases, eBay also charges those sellers a final value fee of 10% of the total sale price. It’s capped at $750.
There are three levels of subscriptions: basic, premium and anchor. Subscription fees cost between about $20 per month and $350 per month; subscribers can choose to pay month to month or commit to a year for a lower rate. These sellers can list thousands of items for free and pay a lower listing fee for additional items than standard sellers. They'll pay a final value fee of between 3.5% and 9.15%, and it's capped at $250 for most items.
If, for example, you sold five refurbished tablets for $500 total, you’d pay a flat $50 final value fee if you didn't have a store or about $40 if you had a basic yearly subscription. That extra $10 might not be a lot for the occasional seller, but over time, it could make a difference in an active seller's bank account.
Price items competitively
Before listing, research the current market for your items. That will help you set competitive prices and increase your chances of selling.
Start with an advanced search in eBay’s sold listings in the appropriate product category. Include all relevant keywords; otherwise, you’ll likely be sent to the general category page. To price those refurbished tablets, for example, you might search for “Samsung Galaxy Tab A tablet, refurbished, 7”, 8GB.” Review current “buy it now” listings, too.
You’ll also need to check prices regularly to ensure you stay competitive on the site.
"I have noticed over time that my competitors will list the same items as I have listed, at a penny less than my listing, so it is important for me to keep an eye on the price and the content on my listings so that my product stands out above the competitors," says Nicolaus Wolfrum, an automotive eBay store owner selected by eBay as a finalist for its SHINE Awards for Small Business.
You’ll also need to decide which listing type to use. EBay is known for its auctions, which can last from one to 10 days for most items. But fixed-price items account for 88% of the site’s listings, according to the company. It’s generally best to set a fixed price unless you’re selling items that are in demand or have an undefined value — think rare baseball cards or antiques. Potential buyers are more likely to try to outbid each other and drive up the sale price in these circumstances.
Once you’ve worked out those details, use this calculator to begin estimating your profits, after shipping and site fees. But you’ll need to factor in other costs to figure out your final earnings. For example, if you use PayPal to process payments, it will cost 2.9% of the final sale price plus 30 cents. You might also need to make estimated quarterly tax payments, depending on how much you make from the site.
Use high-quality photos
To create a listing, you need to provide at least one photo that has a minimum of 500 pixels on the longest side. But the site might already feature thousands of listings for similar products, so you'll want to take a few more high-quality photos to make your listing pop. Most listings let you post up to 12 photos free.
Photograph your items on a flat surface in front of a plain white background. Take pictures from multiple angles and showcase specific details. Aim for high-resolution photos, too. Those should be between 800 and 1,600 pixels on the longest side. These pictures will look clearer and have the zoom feature enabled.
Good lighting will also help you stand out in a sea of so-so photos. You don’t have to invest in professional equipment right now. Instead, try shooting in natural lighting, without the flash. If you’re selling small items, you can create your own lightbox for about $10 using white poster board, a cardboard box and a couple of lamps. You can always upgrade later.
Provide top-notch customer service
Customer service is the cornerstone of any online business. On eBay, that’s measured by reviews, which are featured on every seller's profile. Those cover your communication, product-description accuracy, shipping charges and delivery time. You’ll also receive an overall positive feedback score. That’s presented as a percentage and is prominently featured on product listings and your profile. Each sale is an opportunity to increase (or decrease) your score.
Start off right by providing an accurate title and detailed description of each product, noting any defects or variations in quality. This can help build buyers’ trust and land you sales.
Shipping plays an important role in customer service, too. Two-thirds of packages are delivered in three days or fewer, and most items ship for free, according to eBay. Those standards can be difficult for new sellers to meet. If you can't offer free shipping, focus on responding to questions quickly and providing delivery tracking and updates.
Even with proper planning, you might encounter issues with delivery or dissatisfied buyers, says Mike Mammone Jr., whose eBay store had a 99.5% positive feedback score at the time of publication. When problems arise, he says to “pretend every customer is your grandmother.” That might mean apologizing, sending a free sample or small gift and offering a discount.
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