Newsletter - sign up here
Search Webster
Webster's pieces from The Oldie
Webster's Webwatch

How to be a seller on eBay
April 2005

Last month I wrote about buying through, the huge auction site, and from your response it is clear that Oldie readers are beginning to get to grips with it. However, for every buyer there has to be a seller, and there is no reason why any of us should not step up and make a few bob that way.

eBay is a great leveller; we can all sell through it, from individuals to big companies, and each has identical prominence. The big distinction between sellers is their Feedback score. Every time you buy or sell, the other party can leave a comment about you, and these remain a permanent and public record of your dealings. If a potential purchaser sees that you have encouraged a string of negative comments, they may run away.

So, as in all business dealings, honesty and openness are the best policies; but then we would expect nothing less from Oldie readers.

Selling on eBay is harder than buying. They make it as easy as possible - as a seller, you pay their fees - but I would advise buying a few small things first to get the hang of it all. Then, take the plunge.

First, get a digital camera, so that you can include pictures of your items. People will accept not being able to handle the goods, but they do like to see them. If digital photography is a closed book to you, ask a friend to help.

Now register as a seller. Click on "Sell" at the top of any page and click "create a sellers account".

Decide what it is you are going to sell. I suggest that you look in your attic for something fairly light; remember that you are going to have to post it. The first thing I sold was a china moneybox that I was given years ago by a bank; to my astonishment, I got £5 for it. Let's assume you are going to sell a length of rope you found in the garage. After all, if you can get some money for old rope…

Check what price rope has achieved recently, and in which categories it has been listed. Click "Search" at the top the page, then "Advanced Search", enter "rope", and tick the "Completed Items Only" box. You will then see what rope has sold in the last fifteen days and the prices. Green prices indicate a sale, red prices mean the item did not sell.

Now, you must compose you listing. This is the most difficult bit, but you'll soon get the hang of it. Click the "Sell" button at the top of the page, then the "Sell you Item" button. Thereafter, the form will take you through the procedure. You will have to make a number of decisions, and write some descriptive text. Give that some careful thought; a good description should encourage bids. Please check your spelling, if you put "robe" rather than "rope" buyers will never find it.

I recommend that you allow your auction to run over at least one weekend. I usually set them to end on a Sunday evening, so that as many people as possible can be in at the kill, but some sellers say it makes little difference.

Consider the cost of postage carefully. Your purchaser will be irritated to be charged £15 and find only £5 in stamps on the packet when it arrives. But don't undercook it, either; there's no reason to lose money.

Specify just how you are prepared to accept payment. Many people use the Paypal system, which allows buyers to use credit cards, but you don't have to. If you are happy to accept a cheque, say that you will not post the item until the cheque has cleared - I stipulate ten working days.

Add your photo, too. I won't try and explain how to do that here, but it's not difficult once you are used to digital photography.

Throughout the process eBay will offer you all sorts of enhancements for various fees. Use all you want, but keep in mind the overall cost; there is little point in incurring a charge of £5 to sell something for £4.

You must also set a starting price, being the lowest bid you'll accept. The higher the starting price, the bigger the eBay insertion fee.

Click "preview" and if you are happy with what you see, submit the listing. Now sit back and watch the bids flood in (I hope). Don't be surprised if nothing happens for a few days; most bidders tend to hang back until the end.

Assuming it sells, eBay will email you and the buyer with full details. You should then quickly contact your buyer by email reminding them of the total amount due.

When they have paid, pack up your rope and send it off.

Finally, leave some appropriate feedback for your buyer, and congratulate yourself.

What can go wrong? Well, the worst that has happened to me is that a buyer didn't pay. He just ignored my (and eBay's) emails. eBay hate this, and they have a procedure which, if you follow it, blacklists the buyer and allows you to re-list the item for nothing. When I did that it sold for more the second time anyway, so I didn't mind at all.

Generally, the worst that can happen is that the item doesn't sell - in which case you have only lost the insertion fee.

So what does it all cost? eBay make their money by charging a percentage of any sale price and millions of little fees for listing the items. The sales commission starts at 5.25% and gets lower for more expensive items. Insertion fees run from 15p to £2 and there is a huge range of extra fees for this and that, all designed to enhance your listing. Only you can decide if they are worthwhile.

For a whole book of good advice on using eBay, I heartily recommend "The eBay Book" by David Belbin (Harriman House).