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Just Make it Go Away! Selling and saving the ebay way.

What is Ebay?

In brief, Ebay is an auction house with a few quirks, and thousands upon thousands of items for sale. Everything is for sale on ebay. Timeshares, tools, Laura Ashley quilts, cashmere sweaters, knitting yarns, new home designs and plans, cars... you name it, and unless it is illegal, or alive, it is going to appear on ebay.

What does this mean to you? It means you can move excess inventory, be that inventory a hotel room or cases of whiggits, through ebay. You can list property for sale, your car, your boat... clothes you've never really worn, and art you never really liked. You can also buy on ebay. Need to redo a room? Designer fabrics and furnishings are on ebay, cheap. Need a set of those expensive wrenches? There's a good bet someone else doesn't need theirs, and has thrown them up on ebay to get rid of them.

I'm familiar with how an auction works, the auctioneer raises the bids until nobody wants to go any higher... how is Ebay different?

Under the Ebay system, there is no auctioneer. Bidders raise each other until the auction expires. Not for lack of bidders, the auctions are timed. So you run out of time to bid, even though you might have gone up on the item.

How does this change my bidding strategy?

You can win an auction the "Ebay way" or you can employ a service called a "sniper."

Under Ebay you place your bid at the maximum amount you are willing to pay for an item. Ebay will enter your bid at the lowest possible amount it will take to make you the high bidder, holding the rest of your bid in proxy against another bid. If someone raises the bid, Ebay will automatically enter your proxy bid against it, until your competition either gives up... or outbids you.

You can also nibble at a bid to see how high (and serious) someone else is about buying an item. Nibbling raises the item by the lowest possible amount, which may land you with the high bid, or it may just push the bid up.

As you can imagine, the "Ebay way" has some disadvantages. While you may be willing to pay $10 for an item, you want to pay less. Opening your bid with a proxy of $10 gives another bidder the opportunity to either nibble away at your bid until they've outbid you, or simply nibble your bid higher, forcing you to pay more for an item simply because they are curious to see if your bid is proxied, and push the item up a dollar or two to find out.

Under the "sniper" system you use a service to place your highest bid at the last possible moment... effectively entering your proxy bid so late in the game nobody has time to respond to it. Generally, with a snipe, you pay less for an item, and you win auctions. If you decide to open an Ebay account, either drop us an email, or follow this link to sign up for a sniper service and get three free snipes so you can try the service: Auction Sniper. Sellers, by the way, have a love/hate relationship with snipers. But the fact is that a snipe is the high bid... so they do realize more for their item when the item is sniped.

Signing up for Ebay

Let's begin by opening the sign-in page: Ebay's Sign In Page Click on the "Register Now" link. There are the usual, name, address, etc. You do need to fill in your birthday so they know you're not under age 18.

Either way, you'll need to choose an Ebay handle and a password. The password, obviously, should be something you can remember. The handle however can be anything you want.

If you are expecting to sell items on Ebay, try and make your handle descriptive "vt_antiques" for example, or "stowe_vt_inn." You'll notice some people simply use their email addresses. I think you should probably not use an email address. Ebay offers you protection from spamming (unsolicited email) and while it will forward a message from another seller, or Ebay user, to you, Ebay will hide your email address from the sender. So if you don't want to reply to them, you don't have to.

Ebay will be sending you an email, and you'll either be able to click on the link in the email to confirm your account, or have to highlight the link and paste it into your browser to confirm the account. And... you're done!

Things to know:

What do IBM, DELL and Victoria's Secret have in common? They all dump their overstocks (and in the case of the computer manufacturers reconditioned units) through Ebay. As do a number of other manufacturers.

Victoria's Secret sells their customer returns and overstocks to individuals, who sort them, then pump them out on Ebay. They may also, of course, have brick and mortar stores where they sell these items as well, but if you're looking for a Victoria's Secret overall for $20 instead of the catalog price of $42, you've come to the right place.

Spend some time plugging the zaniest things you can think of into the search engine to get a feel for Ebay. You'll quickly learn that "Laura Ashley" will bring up hundreds of unsorted listings. On the left side you'll see a list of the categories the listings are from, and a number which indicates how many of the listings are in that category. This helps to narrow things down a bit. You can also narrow your search by adding a limit to the generic "Laura Ashley" as in "Laura Ashley King" which will pull up all the king sized sheets by Laura Ashley currently being offered on Ebay. It is probably useful to know that NWT means New With Tags, and CR means Customer Return.

Want to see it live? This is a look at "today on ebay," the search was "Camilla Blue" under china:

What are those numbers after the buyers' and sellers' handles?

Ratings. Ebay allows buyers and sellers to rate each other at the end of every transaction. Positive ratings are good, neutral ratings make people nervous, bad ratings and you probably shouldn't be doing business with this person.

You start out at zero, and with dark glasses, because you are new, with no transactions in your history. This is going to make being a seller a little tricky. But before you sell anything on Ebay, you probably want to purchase at least 5 (a completely arbitrary number) or more items, and bid on at least 15 items, to get a feel for how the system works.

Selling items on Ebay is a matter of attracting buyers to your item.

Out of the thousands of items available, it is part science, part art, and some luck. If you don't have your own web site, and are simply going to be paring down that collection of antique flow blue pottery (or excess lodging inventory) by selling bits of it off on Ebay, you'll get a real feel for how to do it simply by observing what works, and what doesn't, for other sellers. Keywords are the key to attracting buyers. So if you're selling a Vermont landscape, your title should include "Vermont, watercolor, Blodgett, farm scene, rural landscape." Your item should be well photographed and documented, and you should be prepared to answer any email about it promptly.

Items which have the postage pre-calculated, or listed at a fixed price, get better bids than items that do not. But the real key to successful selling (or listinging in the Real Estate section) is a professional presentation, a prompt response to all questions, and an immediate delivery of the goods upon payment. From this is built your feedback score, and good feedback breeds confident buyers.

You can draw additional attention to your ebay auction through links on your own website. This is particularly valuable if you want to have a modest ecommerce presence, or blow some excess inventory out the door, but don't want to maintain a store online. For seven days you can be a store. Then the auction is over, you ship the merchandise (or take the room reservations) and its over. You can alert your regular customers to this one time opportunity through your newsletter, or a simple email announcement... with a link directly to your auction on ebay.

If you're new to ebay, find something to bid on that you'll be happy you've won... and get competitive (within reason). One day you'll check an auction and discover... you won! Now what?

I'm hoping you took the time to check the shipping charges before you placed that last bid? Good. When pricing an auction item, always factor in shipping, just like you do for a catalog site. Most smaller items are shipped USPS priority mail, because the boxes are free and it is convenient for the sellers.

Now you'll need to pay for your item. After an auction you'll usually receive an email from Ebay saying "Congratulations You Won!" and another from the seller stipulating how they'd like to be paid. Most sellers do not use the Ebay payment system, but use PayPal instead. However many sellers accept checks, money orders, billpay (another online service) and electronic checks. The information will be either in the auction, or in the email. Click on the button of the money transfer service they prefer and follow the directions. Most prefer PayPal because it is the cheapest and fastest method of transferring money, and once you've established a PayPal account you'll discover you can pay a fair number of your bills with a click of a mouse. No more stamps!

You'll receive a receipt for payment...and often a note from the seller telling you the item has shipped.

It is here... and I hate it. It isn't what I expected AT ALL.

Truthfully, this has happened to us only once in all the auctions we've won, and it happened because I wasn't sure if I was a medium in Victoria's Secret overalls, or a large. As it happens, I'm a medium. But I bid on a large, and won. Oh woe! So what did I do? Why, I sold them on Ebay, of course. For more than I paid for them too.

But let's say you bid on and won a piece of that flow blue pottery you love, and the auction claimed the piece was "perfect, in like new condition." When it arrives you discover it is, in fact, badly cracked.

First question: did it happen in shipping, and did you insure the item? For most fragile items, the dollar or two of insurance tacked onto the shipping is well worth the peace of mind.

If it did not happen in shipping, but was obviously damaged before shipping, contact the seller immediately and ask to return the item for the auction amount, and both shipping (make sure you insure the item going back!). Ebay is based on trust and I personally have had no cause to complain, even when there has been an error in the shipping. Occasionally you'll win something, and they'll accidentally ship someone else's order. She may have had two flow blue pieces up for sale, and mixed up the tags. Chances are she'll be horrified and make it right.

But if she doesn't you have not one, not two, but 3 lines of defense. Ebay's complaint department, PayPal's complaint department, and your credit card's fraud division. While there have been a couple of scandals in which real fraud artists managed to con people out of money on Ebay, the fact is that if you're being sensible, and pay for things with a credit card, you will, eventually, get your money back.

That said, NEVER purchase something from someone who contacts you outside of the Ebay system. If you buy something privately, Ebay's security systems do not apply. Which is how the last con artist managed to steal thousands and thousands of dollars, by contacting potential buyers and arranging private sales (of, as it happened, merchandise he had no intention of delivering).

Personal Question... what are your favorite Ebay searches or categories? Where are the real bargains?

Rugs Persian will bring up antique and modern persians, read your foundation and pile yarn contents and watch your KPI. Oriental Rug will bring up another raft of these things, simply listed differently. Think you can't afford the real deal? Think again. I've paved my house in these carpets for a fraction of the cost of either refinishing the floor (husband's first choice before the carpets started going down over the worst spots) or cheap orlon wall to wall. Watch your shipping fees on these though. The carpet may go for $50, but the shipping will likely add another $30-50. Still... when have you seen an Oriental carpet at a dealer for $100?

Art is a tough category to wade through. We've narrowed art down by artists we like, styles we like, and limited ourselves to oils or watercolors. All of which narrows the field considerably. You can also narrow the search down by limiting yourself to artists (or paintings) from certain periods. "Hudson River School" searched in both titles and descriptions will pull up a manageable couple of pages of Hudson River School art. Some will be simply awful, some will be very expensive from recognized artists, some will be affordable. Try searching on topics as well. "Vermont" brings up art by Vermont artists, and art featuring Vermont. "Barn" brings up rural scenes. "Seascape" brings up clipper ships.

Vermont (or anywhere) Lodging will bring up vacation packages or rooms for auction on Ebay.

Is there anything Ebay won't sell?!?

Ebay doesn't sell live animals, or anything illegal. They do sell "virtual" items, which means that people who play online games can buy "swords" or "points" which they need to get to the next level of the game, instead of spending their time "earning" them. Apparently there is quite a hot market in these virtual toys. Ebay will not knowingly allow someone to fence stolen merchandise, nor engage in other deceptive practices.

Is there anything you would NOT buy through Ebay?

We had a guest last week who bought an engagement ring on Ebay, but that is a little out of my comfort zone.

I would not buy anything on Ebay before checking to see what that same item retails for new. My husband frequently finds people bidding up router bits or other woodworking tools above and beyond what they could get them for new. When we were in the market for a piece of exercise equipment, we found a unit on Ebay bid up well beyond what the same unit, brand new, would have cost if ordered off the manufacturers web site. So... know your stuff, don't bid completely blind.

But that said, before we make any retail purchase these days, including, I should add, a car, we go and check Ebay. Last month we bought a 1957 Dodge truck on ebay... we'll buy pretty big ticket items on ebay because we have a good idea of what we're looking at, and we know a bargain when we see one. Always wanted a weathervane? There is someone who sells custom made ones very (very!) reasonably through Ebay. Motorized cat toy? Well, of course it is there!

I have a friend who bought her dining room table at an Ebay auction, and followed it up a month or so later by winning a set of mahogany chairs to go with it. A goodly amount of time is spent on Ebay thinking "who on earth would bid on this...?" only to discover at your next PTA meeting that at least someone you know did, in fact, bid on that!

But I am not comfortable with jewlery and my husband is less than comfortable with reconditioned power tools after several buyers began reporting that "reconditioned" was beginning to mean "used and abused." Beyond that, I'd pretty much bid on anything I wanted.

What about art and collectibles?

I personally don't buy art or collectibles for resale. I buy it because I intend to use it. This goes for carpets as well. I don't expect to resell a carpet, so all I ask is that it is as advertised, or at least so close to it that I won't care. If I cared, I'd go to our carpet dealer and plunk down $2500 for a carpet with a providence. Likewise "art." If I like the piece, I like the frame, I intend to put it on the wall, and I'm paying less than $100 for an original piece... do I care that the artist is an unknown?

No, I don't. A framed piece of original art from an unknown local artist will run $500. I'm not collecting art, I'm hanging pretty pictures on the wall. If you collect art, there are gallery sponsored pieces on Ebay which run to the $10,000 and up range, which will give you plenty of bragging rights!

That said, again, know your market. Antiques dealers HATE Ebay. It is tearing the guts out of the Antiques market, dropping prices for some items as much as 30%. If you love the piece, simply have to have that flow blue plate, have at it. If you are buying with an expectation of holding the item for resale, be careful.

What if I'm trying to sell my collection?

How you present your pieces, how you group them, when you offer them, and how you structure the auction (with a reserve, with a "buy it now") will have a lot to do with what you will get for the pieces. Spend some time in the category you expect to list in exploring what others are doing and get a feel for how to set up a professional page.

If you have a substantial collection for sale, contact us and we may be able to work with you to feature the auction on one of the Gateway websites.

Ebay's Sign In Page

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