My first batch of eBay sales is finished; the buyers are receiving their items, and feedback is being exchanged. Of the 24 items I posted, 22 sold. Bids totaled $1145.92, from which I earned $915.65 profit. (My expenses were: $32.80 listing fees, $44.30 closing fees, $39.12 PayPal fees, and $114.05 shipping fees.)
In my auctions, I’m doing two things that conventional wisdom frowns upon — using ten-day listings and providing free shipping — yet I feel that both of these are helping me get better prices. I know that when I buy things off eBay, I always bid more for free shipping. It’s just nice not to have to hassle with a shipping price. And though many people say ten-day auctions don’t produce higher sales prices, I’m not convinced. Especially on my more desirable items, the bidding rose a fraction every day. Might all the bidding have been compressed into seven days if I’d elected to host shorter auctions? Perhaps. But I’m comfortable paying forty cents for three days extra.
In true J.D.-fashion, I kept a detailed spreadsheet on each listing (condensed version). Before posting each auction, I determined a minimum desired sale price and a maximum expected sales price. Two items (both old Apple II computer games) did not sell. Two others — my precious Little Nemo book from 1972, and a Superman book from 1978 — sold for less than what I’d hoped. Everything else met my minimum desired sales price, and nine of the items sold for more than I expected. Two of the items sold for way more than I’d expected.
Cosmic Encounter, a board game I bought in the early nineties, sold for $232.50 — I had only expected it to reach $150. The biggest surprise, though, was a set of Bible commentaries. I’d spied this set of books in the Sellwood Stars antique mall soon after we moved to the new house. They were listed for $8, and I wanted to buy them, but Kris pooh-poohed the notion. I went back the next day and bought them anyhow. I liked that they were the same size as my Modern Library books. During last fall’s great book purge (for which this eBay stuff is one of the last steps), I decided I didn’t have room for the Bible commentaries. On a whim, I checked eBay and was shocked to see that complete sets sold for $150. My set wasn’t complete, but I figured it would go for $125 or so. It sold for $222.50.
Other items that sold for more than I had expected include my Star Wars VHS tapes (widescreen, THX, super-deluxe edition, the last prints before Lucas started tinkering with the original films) which sold for $51, and a Tintin popup book which sold for $43.
I have a second batch of auctions up at the moment. Aside from a couple of items, they’re not doing as well as I’d hoped. I had to take one item down because it wasn’t what I thought it was. Two of the nine remaining items don’t have bids yet (though Sunday is still several days away, and these items do have people watching). Still, bidding has reached $110 for these items, which isn’t far from my $150 minimum desired total. (My maximum expected is $265.)
I am now giving serious consideration to auctioning some larger ticket items, things such as:
- my film-based SLR camera — this would leave me committed to digital;
- lenses better suited for film work than digital work (such as my 20mm wide-angle lens, which has an effective focal length of 30mm in digital);
- my 700mhz iBook.
One problem I keep encountering is that I’m not expert enough about my various items to know how to describe them correctly. By this I mean, many of the items I have for sale are collectables, or items where the condition is important. I often don’t have a basis for using the right words (e.g. “mint”, “near-mint”, “very good”) to describe condition. Instead, I perform a sort of visual assessment and then try to convey this information via words. Turns out, I may be overstating the blemishes. One buyer wrote me in private e-mail: “The [books] arrived today, and my wife is very pleased, indeed. They are in much better condition than we even hoped…” I guess it’s better to under-promise and over-deliver than to do the opposite.
Finally, here is my eBay auction routine, which is based on much reading, and asking many questions in various forums:
- I start my listings on Thursday afternoons and evenings. I run ten-day listings. My goal is for them to end on Sunday evening between seven and ten Eastern (four and seven Pacific). This gives me two weekends to attract bids.
- If I need to, I pay the extra ten cents to prepare listings in advance and schedule them to start on Thursday evenings. This week, I don’t have any ready to go, so I’ll rush home after work and spend about three or four hours madly posting items in real-time.
- I offer free shipping, insurance, and delivery confirmation. (I’m considering nixing the insurance.) Sure, I could charge for these, but all of this money is gravy anyway, and I haven’t yet been burned by the free shipping, so I’m willing to keep doing this. I think it builds goodwill.
- I offer a money-back guarantee, but only if the item is not as described. (Not if a person changes his mind or made a mistake.)
- I post low starting bids. The more popular I think an item will be, the lower the starting bid. In the case of the Cosmic Encounter game, for example, I knew there would be plenty of interest, so I started bidding at 99 cents. If there probably will only be a couple bids, I start bidding near my minimum desired sale point. For example, I wanted to sell eight books at a minimum of $20 each, so I started bidding for them at $9.99 a piece.
- Which brings up something else: I research the hell out of each item I’m posting. I dig through eBay to find what similar items fetch. I also look to see how many bids they get. I check other places (Amazon, abebooks.com, other forums) to see what other places sell the item for.
- I craft my title with great care. For example, I’m currently selling a book entitled The Hidden Game of Baseball by John Thorn and Pete Palmer. I could put all that into my auction title, but it would be a waste. Instead my title is geared toward keywords that I think interested parties would use: HIDDEN GAME OF BASEBALL Thorn Palmer SABR Bill James. The last three terms have nothing directly to do with the book, but people interested in SABR or in the work of Bill James will be interested in this book. I want them to see it in their search results.
- I try to have a good description, listing the strengths and flaws of my offerings minutely. I generally say things like “I think this book is in great shape, but be aware that the cover has a small tear and the previous owner’s name is on the flyleaf”, etc. I also try to place additional keywords in the description, but sprinkled into conversational sentences. For example, in my auction for some Tolkien animated films on VHS, I’m using the names of Peter Jackson, Liv Tyler, etc.
- I refuse to accept bids from headaches: people with negative feedback, people who haven’t been paying, and people outside the U.S.
- I take photos and post them in the description. I use the 35-cent gallery feature so that my photo appears when people browse listings. If condition is a concern, I use many photos to convey the state of the item.
These techniques seem to be working well so far. I’m excited to go rummage around to find more stuff to sell. I have a stack of Flash Gordon comic strip compilations, old Apple II computer games (I’ve decided to sell these as a lot instead of individually), science fiction novels, and camera equipment that I’m hoping to post soon. I’d really like to find a couple additional big-ticket items like the game and the Bible commentaries. Maybe I should root through my Star Trek collection. I probably have some good stuff there…