Selling Off Your Stuff – not just a job, it’s an adventure

Having been a collector, and married to one as well, for a good decade or two, I find myself with an overabundance of things I don’t need. Things I have been occupying space with for way too long. Naturally, when one has unnecessary fluff and flotsam floating around their living area, thoughts turn to getting rid of it. Hopes of enticing someone else to now possess your former possessions emerge, and, most especially when funds are low, we hope to transform said items into cash flow.

Enter eBay; that once original online auction site, now turned glorified flea market. The famous (infamous in some circles) eBay arena has been where we amassed some of our ‘precious collectibles’. So, it seemed second nature to become “a seller” on the site when some of these purchases became cumbersome. I am in actuality more of “a lister”  than a seller; I have gotten very adept at listing an item on eBay, but there was definitely a learning curve involved. I will try to share with you some of my knowledge and include a tip or two that I’ve learned along the way.

The mechanics of selling online

First, there’s the photo session, where I take digital pics in various lighting conditions and with improvised backgrounds to enhance the item’s appeal to the viewer. Next comes the uploading and “fixing”of the shots : cropping, adjusting exposure, and infrequently, enhancing the colors, but only when necessary to capture the true color of the object. When all is well with the photos, it’s time to write a title.

A good title is chosen first, keeping in mind keywords (often referred to as SEO or search engine optimizers) which help people find your listing among the multitudinous listings one can find on the internet. There is a limit to the number of spaces you are allowed in a title on eBay, though not on some other selling sites (etsy.com, for example, which relies more on such search engines as google). Avoiding unnecessary modifiers is important and eBay also has a tool that informs you about poorly crafted (in eBay’s opinion, which is often correct) titles, and helps you correct them.

Then begins the search for the category to list it in, using eBay’s automatic search optimizer. This is usually the way to go, and very quick. It also gives you the opportunity to see what is currently listed in the category, which can give you a decent idea of what you might hope to gain, dollar-wise, for your item. Here’s a hint you might not have thought of – if you check the ‘sold’ box in your category, it will show items that recently sold and for what amount. This is most helpful if you have no real idea what your item is worth at this point in time. Markets fluctuate, so what you recall spending for items originally, may not be a rule of thumb for setting current price tags. Now, having done your due diligence, you are ready to begin the listing proper.

How to describe accurately and succinctly

After checking off the descriptive boxes that eBay has added to many categories, and strongly encourages you to use, you can upload your photos. Once that is done, you are ready to begin describing your item. The best way to approach it is to think about what you would need to be told to decide whether or not the photos you are viewing that pertain to the item in the title are exactly what you think they are. What is the actual size of the item? Photos, unless you utilize an object of reference (common coin, ruler, etc.) are usually bad at relaying the size of an object. What is the object made of? Who was it made by? When was it made? All good questions that deserve an answer, if there is one. Sometimes a bit of research is helpful if you are not sure of the answers. Oh, you can skip those questions, but, if you really want to sell that plate or statue or piece of artwork, and get the best price for it, taking the time to provide a bit of informative discourse can be the difference in enticing someone to open their wallet and bring your collectible to their home to live. An online search with key words that describe your item will probably net you plenty of info in a flash. For example – the photo featured here can be described in this way: Two-piece place setting of Pyrex dinnerware, 9 pieces, milkglass with pyroglazed (meaning applying color over glass) turquoise colored decoration. 1960’s vintage dinnerware. Condition (always necessary) very good to excellent. No chips or cracks. Few scratch marks from use. No staining. Extra luncheon or bread plate in set. Two dinner plates (8″ diameter), two soup/salad bowls (6″ diameter, 2.5″ deep), three bread plates (6.25″ diameter) and 2 small bowls (4″ diameter, 1.25″ deep).

Yes, I did say to describe succinctly. Sometimes, less is more, but that’s normally when the item is easily recognizable and commonly known. For example, I list movie and comic book hero collectibles for my brother, who buys, displays, gets tired of, and sells pose-able action figures, statues, busts and more. Most of these don’t need a lot of description, just a lot of photos. Sometimes a size is good to include. Sometimes it is necessary to clarify that a certain accompanying piece is missing, if it is, in fact, missing. The title of the item will usually include all the info necessary for a buyer to find the piece he’s looking for, so when he clicks on your listing, he’s mainly interested in your price and the cost of shipping. Other times, being succinct becomes an art form in itself, especially if you are excited about the object. Be sure to re-read your listing before you post it, there may be blatant misspellings (which often are not a big deal, but you want to come across as an intelligent human, don’t you?) and, I find it best to move on to the pricing and shipping sections before going back and reading my description one last time.

Pricing and shipping

If you did what I previously suggested and perused the category for what items similar or identical to yours sold for recently, you will have a great idea of the price to set. Whether you choose the listing option of auction or ‘Buy it Now’ is a personal choice. eBay will often prompt you with suggested options and even pricing, but take that or leave it, it is simply a suggestion, no pressure. You can list an auction with a reserve price, which means you will go no lower than that, no matter what the auction’s starting price, but there are additional fees to do so (you really should familiarize yourself with eBay’s fee schedule before jumping into their world – or any site’s fee schedule, for that matter. No one likes surprise deductions after they sell their item – education is key!). You can start an auction for the lowest price you’ll take for an item and hope it goes higher by the time the listing ends. You can also opt to simply list an item for sale, no auction. This is called “Buy It Now” (BIN) on eBay. But – you can list a BIN with another option, that is, to allow a potential buyer to make an offer. There are several ways that eBay has come up with to enable that option: BIN with best offer, no parameters; BIN with best offer, high and low offer amounts parameters set, which keeps low offers off your radar or acceptably high offers to turn into an immediate sale. Plenty of ways to float your proverbial boat, so to speak.

Shipping costs can be tricky to figure out, but, familiarizing yourself with how the United States Postal Service (USPS) operates (or FedEx, DHS, UPS, or whatever your local delivery service may be), the options available and how to pack safely and as cheaply as possible, is another way to avoid surprise deductions and still enhance traffic flow to your listings. Many large sellers use the free shipping option on many of their listings. Often, the cost of shipping does not afford them a profit on certain listings, but they do this to bring their shop more traffic, and they feel that they come out ahead in the long run. Otherwise, sometimes shipping costs can be the difference in selling and not selling an item. There is always the option to sell with free shipping to certain areas. You just need to be sure that it is clear to your buyer within your listing. Be sure to state that you ship free only to continental US addresses, if you live in the USA and don’t want to pay an extra $20 to over $50 to ship internationally (costs to certain countries varies widely, so be sure to educate yourself), once a contract is made to buy or sell, you are beholden to complete the transaction or suffer displeasure and possible sanctions from buyers and eBay. There are ways to cancel a transaction, but frivolous reasons are not taken lightly and frowned upon, as is proper, in my opinion. You’ve taken a winning bid, or approved a sale price and that means you should honor it. You should expect your buyers to act the same way.

More complicated than it seems on the surface

So, before you list an item, know how much it is going to cost you to ship it and to where. Know how you are going to pack the item so that it will arrive safely to its destination (FYI – ‘bubble wrap’ is recommended by the USPS with breakable objects, so if you don’t pack securely and something arrives broken, the lack of bubble wrap could be a mitigating factor for collecting insurance on the item). Be sure you’ve checked all the right boxes on the shipping sections (eBay, for example, pretty much locks you in with shipping pricing, whereas other sales sites – etsy.com for one – allows you to set your own price or even tell the customer to message you for a price), so you don’t get caught listing something with “free shipping” when you did not really mean to – it has happened to me.

Be sure you haven’t made claims in your listing which are not completely true; avoid using words like “gold bracelet” if the item is not really made of gold. If it is a gold colored metal bracelet, say “gold tone” bracelet; if it is made of marked silver content but gold in color, describe it as “gold vermeil” or “gold over silver” to be correct. If a piece of pottery looks like a McCoy (well-known and highly collectible American pottery company) piece, but has no “McCoy” mark, it is likely not ‘the real McCoy’ and you need to say so. You can list it as “looks like McCoy cookie jar” , or, “McCoy style cookie jar”, but not “McCoy cookie jar” or you will get it back from an annoyed buyer who realizes, after they get it, that it’s not what you said it was. Bad news for both of you. Sometimes it’s just best to leave out certain descriptive terms simply because, nowadays, people don’t seem to be able to comprehend what they read very well. I recently sold a statue of a cowboy to a buyer.

 The listing was titled “12 tall Western cowboy statue cast resin weathered bronze look Remington style” , there were 9 good photos, and the description read thus: “Very detailed statue of a cowboy carrying his rifle and saddle  No markings on this to show who or where it was made. Feels like cast resin. Weighs about 1 3/4 lbs.  12 tall and about 6 inches wide and 4 inches deep (so you know how much space it occupies for displaying) Base itself is 5.5 by 4 inches.  Has 4 silicon or rubberized discs on the bottom to protect surfaces (see last photo) Color is dark with an old, bronze patina.”

The buyer, upon receipt of the item requested to return it and claimed it was “not authentic” and “not what I expected”.  Wanting only satisfied customers, I accepted the requested return but asked what there was about it that wasn’t what was expected? I never got an answer. I may end up refunding not only the price of the statue (understandable, if it’s returned in good condition) but the cost for shipping BOTH WAYS! That is, unless eBay concurs with my ascertain that the buyer did not do her due diligence in reading my description. If she expected an “authentic” Remington bronze statue, or even “expected” something besides what I described, I don’t think I should be held responsible. There is one factor that I will consider my own fault, that is the fact that the buyer was new to eBay having only two purchases prior to mine. Many sellers block buyers who have low feedback scores (given after a purchase is made from the buyer to seller and, also, seller to buyer that is available to anyone on eBay), I chose not to do so myself, but I may change my mind about that in the future. So, be careful, not only about how you list an item, but whose bid you accept for the item. Due diligence goes both ways. Not only buyer, but seller beware!

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