Selling on eBay can be tough but lucrative
January 30, 2009
Richard Duncan isn’t a boxer, but his double-click has the same effect as the classic one-two punch.
Duncan spent 25 years as a computer programmer before he became a so-called ‘education specialist’ with eBay, one of the most trafficked online auction and shopping websites in the country. Like millions of buyers and sellers, Duncan started using the site to indulge his penchant for antiques and model trains, planes and automobiles: He could purchase rare knickknacks inexpensively.
But his fascination with the site didn’t stop there. Within a few years after first dialing up, he bought and flipped the inventory of a bike shop in central Utah, near his home in Ephraim, and hobby shops in Salt Lake City and Wyoming using eBay. What began as a trifle with Internet consignment blossomed into a second career with second-hand merchandise.
Today, Duncan and his adult son sell about five items a day, but they have shipped as many as a hundred in a week. When they stick with model parts, their expertise, it takes them just six minutes per item to take photographs, write descriptions and post merchandise for resale on the web. They can earn $70 an hour and don’t work for less than $15, Duncan said.
Duncan didn’t write the book on how to buy and sell on eBay, but he does teach a class on the topic at Snow College. He also takes his lessons on the road to show teenagers, adults and senior citizens how to use the site. He will be at the Kimball Junction branch of the Summit County Library today from 9 to 4 p.m. The class is free, except for an optional $20 instruction booklet.
What makes a successful closer on eBay?
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Understand the market
"Our approach is to understand the market for what you’re selling," he said. Before Duncan launches into a new niche, he compares prices from different online vendors to determine the market value and, as importantly, determines a fair cost for shipping. Coming up with a fair value is easy when the item, a model engine, for example, retains its original packaging. It’s trickier with used items that don’t have straightforward price points. If pricing gets subjective, begin at a low price and auction the item to let the market determine worth.
Be specific with your listing
The eBay site allows just 55 characters for the title of a product listing. One common mistake is to waste the space with phony pitches and specious superlatives. Instead, be specific. Rather than writing, "Wow! Lowest price on the web!!" describe the product in detail, including make, model and special features. In the body of the listing, avoid grammar mistakes and inaccuracies. Be journalistic. Don’t exaggerate. Be accurate. Beginning sellers often try to fudge the cost of shipping to make up for undercut Internet prices. Smart consumers know to look at the total cost of merchandise from warehouse to door. "Be respectful," Duncan recommended. "Think like the buyer. How would you like to be treated? If pricing is wrong or shipping is outrageous, you won’t close deals." A clear and descriptive photo of merchandise can increase a seller’s credibility.
Don’t get overwhelmed
Overwhelming is an apt word to describe how most of Duncan’s students feel when they start buying and selling on the web. (Some of his older clients, he said, begin class without having heard of email.) The best place to start for neophytes is as a buyer. Get comfortable with technology before trying to sell merchandise. For people trying to liquidate estates, start with high-priced items. Donate low-ticket items to charity for tax write-offs. Antiques are hard to price. Rather than guessing, consider submitting merchandise to an online appraisal. "The discouraging thing for people is to sort through a box of stuff and find out it’s worth $5," Duncan said. Group together items that don’t have much resale value, such as old Beanie Babies, and pluck out valuable items to auction individually. And if you’re unfamiliar with the market value of what you’re selling, watch out, Duncan warns.
Know when to sell
The busiest days on eBay are Thursday and Sunday evenings at 7 p.m. Duncan usually picks those days to close auctions. Saturday afternoon is a good day to post collectible books.