Saturday, May 29, 2010

Some eBay tips

eBay can have great bargains and be a great place to sell, but there are subtle nuances to it.

Buying and selling things on eBay is not something that you can learn in five minutes. Most of the precautions are common sense, and others are just following your gut instincts. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

But here are some other hints that I have been recently thinking about:

1. Feedback less than 100%: bear in mind that anything less than 100% positive feedback is problematic. Anything less than 95% is dangerous. It is not like being graded in school, where a "C" was 70%, a "B" 80%, and an "A" anything over 90%.

No, on eBay, anything less than 100% is suspect, and anything less than 95% disastrous, as it means that more than one person has been pissed off by the buyer/seller.

READING feedback is important, as it tells you volumes. If someone leaves negative feedback and the other person doesn't respond, what does that say? Or if their response is a personal attack on the person leaving the negative feedback, what does that say?

Also, if someone is a "power seller" and has 5,000 transactions to their name, well, you have to expect that someone will be unreasonable and leave negative feedback. If you have 98% positive feedback after 5,000 transactions, well, you're doing something right.

2. Zero or low feedback: A bidder or seller with a (0) feedback is a newbie. We all have to start somewhere, right? Or, it means that they had horrible negative feedback and decided to start a new eBay ID to wipe the slate clean. Yes, eBay allows sellers to do this. You can block bidders on your auctions with (0) feedback. And as a buyer, you can simply not bid on (0) feedback auctions.

3. End the Auction Early, etc: I commented on this in an earlier post. You want to sell your late Grandma's collectible Hummel figurines. So you put them on eBay. Someone e-mails you asking for a "buy it now" price or to end the auction early. Don't fall for it. They want to buy from you for cheap, so they can re-sell at a profit. Plus, they are not playing by the rules, so you know right off the bat how honest they are. Remember what I said about "gut instinct"?

4. Endless Time-Wasting e-Mails: Along this line are people who send you endless number of time-wasting e-mails. They want difficult to obtain information or "more information" and of course, they are "serious about bidding". Often these are also the "end the auction early" people, and the purpose of their questions is to run down your item, so you feel lucky to sell it to them for half-price. People who send endless question e-mails rarely, if ever, bid on the actual item. Send short responses or no responses at all, particularly if the information they requested is already in the listing. This latter type of "question" is most annoying, as you list all the information, and they don't bother to read it. Or, perhaps, their "question" is an inroad to some sort of con, such as the "end the auction early and sell to me outside of eBay" gag.

3. Blocking Bidders: If someone gives you the heebie-jeebies, you can block them as a bidder. Simply click on the block bidder list (search eBay help, if necessary) and add their screen name to the list (the list comprises screen names, separated by commas). And you can configure your listing to block zero feedback bidders and low feedback bidders as well. Use these tools to your advantage and save yourself a lot of time.

4. Use PayPal: In the old days, PayPal was a PITA to use. But today, it is very easy to use and set up. Use it, as it is the easiest way to transfer money. Anyone can forge a cashier's check and personal checks are almost worthless. PayPal or Cash, those are my two options. Most people choose PayPal.

5. No Overseas Transactions: In some limited circumstances, it is worthwhile to buy from overseas. But in many cases, there is no savings in buying from China or Latvia, and your recourse, if the transaction is less than expected, is bubkis. Similarly, selling items overseas presents a royal PITA for you to pack and ship items and to deal with customs forms. Many overseas buyers want you to list the contents of your package as "gift" so they can avoid duty on an item. Hmmmm.... fraud. You know up-front how honest they are, so why expect things to improve? Leave the international transactions to the power sellers who don't mind dealing with that sort of thing. The whole point of selling on eBay is to avoid a hassle, not create one.

And as for buying from overseas, I've had a couple of positive experiences, but they were for small-dollar items where the risk was low. I'm not about to spend $1000 on a car stereo from Latvia. Probably stolen, anyway.

6. Prices too good to be True! eBay tries to police auctions to spot fraud. But you have to be vigilant, as they can't be everywhere. The typical fraud auction shows up with only hours left, selling a desirable consumer good for less than half its market value. Sounds too good to be true - and it is. The seller asks you to contact them directly, to 'buy it now' and when you do, you are treated to a convoluted story about how the product is overseas, but they will ship it air freight (ship a car by air freight? Sure, that makes sense) if you send them the money by Western Union.

Sounds stupid? Well thousands of people fall for it every year, and they also list on Craigslist and other outlets.

Know the market value of the goods you are bidding on. eBay has good deals, yes. But no one is selling a 2005 M5 for $5000 these days. If it sounds too good to be true, it is, period.

7. Sell items SEPARATELY: In many cases, if you are selling an item that has multiple parts, you can make more money selling the items separately. For example, I recently sold my tractor, which I sold with a six foot finish mower. Now there are people in the market for a tractor, and there are people in the market for a mower. But there are not many people in the market for a tractor AND a mower. So some bidders were bidding only on the tractor, and I was essentially giving the mower away.

If I had listed the mower separately, I could have gotten an additional $500 for it. Lesson learned.

Or, for example, I am selling a used CD-changer out of my car, which includes the cartridge. Someone wanting a replacement CD-changer to replace a broken one doesn't need the cartridge. Someone buying a used car where the cartridge missing doesn't need the CD-changer. You can make more selling them separately.

Similarly, with my convertibles, it makes much more sense to sell the hard top separately than to sell it with the car. In many cases, the person buying the car doesn't need or want the hard top, and will just sell it once you give it to them. While someone wanting the hard top might pay you $500 to $1000 for it. The sales price of the car without the hard top is about the same either way.

Similarly, a collection of coins, Hummel figurines, or whatever, will likely fetch more when sold as individual items than as a collection. People will pay more for an individual item to complete their collection. Collectors already have a collection, and would rather not buy yours. But they will buy an item or two (and bid fiercely) to complete the missing hole in their collection.

So, as much as it pains one to break up items, it is often better to sell things separately online, as each component will find a better market and also a better price.

However, don't take this to extremes - selling items that should not be broken up. People will just think you are being cheap.

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Those are just a few things that come to mind after a couple of recent auctions I ran. The "what do you want to end the auction now?" people are most annoying. I just ignore those folks or send a simple reply. It's an auction, if you want to bid, bid. But don't ask me to end the auction early.