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Selling on eBay: 12 tips to help you earn more

If you're still hesitant about hawking your wares on the giant virtual garage sale that is eBay, our tips will steer you through the pitfalls.

eBay selling tips

Most Internet users are pretty familiar with buying things on eBay, often at a significant discount. On the selling side however, many people still hesitate to get involved. Don't be intimidated -- here are twelve tips that will help you get the most out of your eBay selling activities.

1. Do your research
It costs nothing to browse eBay, and that's part of the charm. But you can make that work for you as a seller: search for your item, not only to work out what to charge for it, but also to gauge interest. If an item is consistently listed with no bids, perhaps there's little demand, or sellers are asking too much. Can you undercut them and still make a profitable sale? It's also a good idea to see how different items are promoted; while it's a copyright infringement to steal someone else's listing description, there's nothing to stop you using the same basic ideas in yours.

2. Don't overspend on a listing
The first time you set up an eBay auction, you'll be met with a dazzling array of choices, all of which seem rather cheap. eBay will always charge you an insertion fee for listing your auction (currently starting at 30c for auctions with a starting reserve price under a dollar), as well as a final value fee, but everything else can look mighty tempting. Extra pictures for 25c each? Bold entry for $2 to really stand out? While there is nothing in principle wrong with extras, be wary of spending too much on them upfront. Bear in mind that eBay will charge you these fees even if your item fails to sell and, according to their current terms and conditions, this includes even if a buyer fails to pay you.

3. Choose your categories carefully
Again, this is a question of not overspending, especially if you're selling small items that aren't individually worth that much. Depending on how you initially describe it, eBay will, by default, suggest likely categories that your item may fit. The trap with category listings is that adding each additional one doubles your insertion fee. Note that it will also double your upgrade fees, for pictures and the like.

4. Use your own picture storage
Your first picture with eBay is free, but there's nothing stopping you using your own online picture storage instead. Why would you want to? Well, because eBay will charge you 25c for each additional picture. Hosting your own pictures will also give you absolute control over what's shown in a listing, including when you want to take photos down or change them. Don't use pictures hosted on sites out of your control, or you might receive a nasty surprise should someone change the content.

5. Buy it now?
The Buy It Now option lets you set a "price" for your goods, rather than relying on the auction price when the virtual hammer falls. It's a good way to quickly get exactly what you want for an item -- as long as you're realistic about its actual value. But it also adds a 10c premium to your listing, and it's a premium that vanishes the second anyone makes an actual bid on your item.

6. PayPal - How to get protected
PayPal Australia recently announced that sellers would, for the first time, enjoy some protection against dodgy buyers -- either those using stolen credit cards, or who claim goods were never sent. You do have to follow PayPal's guidelines very carefully to qualify, however. Specifically, you've got to send the goods using a completely trackable shipping method. Within Australia, this equates to registered post, and internationally, according to PayPal's service pages, this is "any international shipper that supports door-to-door tracking that is viewable online, such as UPS, FedEx or DHL". Of course, you'll have to get your buyer to agree to those shipping costs upfront, and make sure you keep your copies of the paperwork, too.

7. Ending auctions early
If you've got a desirable item, you're almost guaranteed to get one or more enquiries asking if you'll end the auction early and outside the eBay framework. Be very wary; while not every enquiry is going to be a scam, you're more than likely to be besieged by people trying to score a quick bargain if they sense you don't know the true value of an item, and, of course, you're dropping any kind of seller protection that eBay might offer you. Absolutely do NOT accept any kind of credit card payment or cheque for an out-of-eBay pitched auction like this -- they're too easily faked, stolen and/or reversed. We also suggest you refrain from shipping to Nigeria or other known scam hotspots where practical.

8. Hype, but don't overstate
In the business of selling, you want to make your goods as attractive as possible, and that means talking them up. Be wary, however, of over-hyping your item or deliberately leaving out any obvious functionality flaws that may come with second-hand goods. It's tempting to not mention the blue smoke that comes out of the back of your laptop if it's left on for more than ten seconds, but failure to accurately describe goods is a quick route to having a buyer dispute on your hands, especially where it's easily proven you were less than honest in your description.

9. Answer all questions, even the obvious ones
eBay's a global marketplace and while you may write the most stunningly clear auction descriptions in the world, be prepared for plenty of less-than-stunning questions about your goods. While it may be annoying answering the same questions endlessly -- and for some queries it's well worth publishing the answer on your auction page to save some pain -- it's still worth answering every single query. With its international nature, not every buyer will have the same native language as you, which can add to confusion. Moreover, whether or not the buyer understands your description makes no difference to the value of their money, and every answer you give could lead to more auction cash for you.

10. Sort out shipping costs
What to charge for shipping is a bone of contention for both buyers and sellers, but as a seller you can do a little homework upfront to make things easier. Pre-Package your item (where practical), measure it and weigh it. eBay provides simple shipping calculation tools, but you can also check these against Australia Post's own postage calculator.

11. Know your resolution steps upfront
It's worthwhile keeping track of eBay's resolution policies for disputes if you're planning to sell on a regular basis. These change from time to time and are region specific. Just because your aunt in Chicago gets a certain type of seller protection, doesn't mean that you will.

12. PayPal - Sell smartly, withdraw smartly
PayPal charges a premium for Credit Card payments (to recover costs that the providers charge them), and passes those costs on to you in the form of the premier and business accounts. If you're only selling off a few items, it's worth stating that you won't accept credit-card funded Paypal payments, as eBay/Paypal will take 30c plus between 1.1 and 2.4 percent for every transaction going through a premier account -- even if they weren't credit card funded to begin with. From a merchant's perspective that may well be a cost of doing business, but if you're just doing a virtual garage sale, it's effectively giving money away.

If you are selling lots of low-cost items and accepting money through PayPal, it's also well worth letting it accrue until you've got more than AU$150 in balance before withdrawing it. Paypal charges a $1 premium for transferring balances under $150 to Australian bank accounts.