Why are all my eBay items selling for awful prices?
October 6, 2013 6:12 PM   Subscribe

This only really started to get on my nerves lately, but i realized that every sale i've made in the past few months are closing for mostly depressing prices. Occasionally i get a great price, but it's mostly crap...

To knock out all the obvious ones:

* I have a 100% positive feedback, and a decent amount of it for someone who isn't a super-duper-ultra-mega-powerseller. Around 100

* I've made plenty of sales, and my account is ancient by modern standards. It's from the mid 2000s

* I make a point of taking lots of good high quality photos, and on a glamorous looking desk at my work. I also clean everything really thoroughly and make a point just generally selling it as hard as i can with the photos, and writing proper descriptions.

* I list everything for 99 cents starting, but so do all the successful ones i see for similar/the same items.

* My shipping isn't high or unreasonable or anything, i ship stuff very economically.

I can go through the "recently sold" auctions and find tons of the same identical item, often in worse condition and/or just with awful photos(sometimes that are sideways too!) that sold for sometimes as much as 4-6x what mine did(for example, $30+ when mine went for $5. or $20 for something that regularly goes for $70-80)

For what it's worth, i sell almost entirely used tech stuff. I get lots of watches/views, and often a lot of bids... but they just peter out at a really tiresome level compared to the vast majority of other auctions out there i see for the same thing. I even see people with less feedback than me sell the same things for more.

Something i'm screwing up? Some glass ceiling of feedback i need to break through? Is it just luck of the draw?
posted by emptythought to Computers & Internet (27 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I think you need to look for every possible difference between their auctions and yours, including differences that you don't think are important. Are they offering free shipping? People, weirdly, will pay a higher overall price for something with free shipping because they feel like they're getting a better deal, even though they're not. Do you have a return policy, or disclaimers on your auctions (e.g., "sold as-is")? Are you using the same keywords as your competitors? Do they have more total open auctions than you do, such that people are buying a bunch of stuff from the same seller? Are you in the same country as your competitors and your buyers, so that people aren't deciding based on worries about customs or about compatibility with their current systems? Are your auctions starting and ending at the same times as theirs (day and time)? Any other differences you can see between their auctions and yours?
posted by decathecting at 6:20 PM on October 6, 2013 [7 favorites]

I haven't been a particularly active eBayer for several years but I had a spurt of activity last year and made sure that all of my auctions ended on Sunday evenings. Seems thats when the best prices are realized. That's the only tip I have.
posted by FlamingBore at 6:25 PM on October 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

I don't know why, but as a data point, I was recently looking for a very specific pair of pants in a very specific color and size. One auction closed for $35 and one the next day, which I won, closed for $21. Maybe demand is not smooth. Someone needs an item at the same time someone else does. Then a few days or weeks later, the demand is just not there.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:26 PM on October 6, 2013

Seconding trying free shipping.

Also, this is a bit of a long shot, but if you are using the automating shipping rate calculation from eBay, double check that it is accurate. Back before I gave up selling on eBay I was using their automated shipping cost calculator based on weight and buyer's ZIP code, and it was way off, to the detriment of the buyer (and indirectly the seller since people wouldn't bid when they saw the tremendous shipping costs). I informed eBay, but being a villainous organization, they told me they couldn't help. Fuckers.
posted by exogenous at 6:27 PM on October 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I gave up on auctions pretty much completely and started using minimum bids that were a bit lower than I wanted to get, and Buy-It-Nows that were pretty much 30% over the minimum, which is the smallest difference that Ebay allows now. It makes things a lot easier. If two people want your item, and one wants to pay a dollar, and one wants to pay ten dollars, auction at .99 will get you $1.05, whereas a BIN of $8 or $10 will get you that amount.
posted by Slinga at 6:28 PM on October 6, 2013 [6 favorites]

I use eBay infrequently, but when I do, I favor "buy it now" listings. This is because when I go to eBay, I'm looking for a Specific Thing at a FAIR price - not necessarily the cheapest price. I will pay more with BIN just so I don't have to wait through an auction.
posted by michellenoel at 6:33 PM on October 6, 2013 [22 favorites]

On preview, what Slinga said.
posted by michellenoel at 6:35 PM on October 6, 2013

I use Etsy so much more now, because eBay feels too overwhelming. But when I do eBay, I WAY prefer Buy It Now, also - I don't have to try to go up against other people swooping in at the last minute.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 6:39 PM on October 6, 2013

When I'm a buyer on eBay, I filter for "free shipping" and "Buy It Now." I much prefer a straight-forward transaction rather than the cat-and-mouse of an auction.
I feel the same way as a seller.
posted by BostonTerrier at 7:43 PM on October 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

Another difference could be the rating your have verses the other sellers. People tend to look for sellers with lots of items sold and with perfect ratings if possible. No one wants to have a hassle or worry about the seller being a scam.
posted by Jaelma24 at 7:50 PM on October 6, 2013

I always did much better ending my auctions around 4PM Pacific time on Sunday. I also offered a flat priority shipping rate (basically charged what the USPS charged me), and seemed to do ok with that. Also, if you charge the shipping through Paypal, you get a discount you can then pass on to your customer.
posted by RogueTech at 7:50 PM on October 6, 2013

Nthing free shipping, Buy It Now, and keywords suggestions. Last year I sold some jewelry pretty successfully on eBay, and I think the main factor in doing so was doing research -- looking to see what comparable items sold for, and setting a beginning price that I would consider a decent deal for both me and the buyer if the auction didn't get multiple bids. I also was willing to wait a few rounds of auctions to sell things, so I'd put the starting bid on the first auction at the higher end of what I thought I could get for the piece, and if it didn't sell, I'd adjust the price down by moderate increments in subsequent auctions until I started getting bites on it. This got me on people's watch lists too -- if someone liked the item but it was too rich for their blood at the first price, they'd get notified when it didn't sell and be primed to bid or buy when I relisted. Think of it like a negotiation: Ask for your preferred amount, then see how much you need to compromise.

I think starting your auctions at 99 cents is just a mistake -- if I were buying, it would make me instantly suspicious of the sale, no matter the seller's feedback. At the least, I would assume that the seller knew the thing would get insanely bid up from there. It'd be almost enough on its own to turn me off the sale completely. So in short, my advice would be to ask for closer to what you want for your items; if it appears you know their worth, buyers will be likelier to believe they are valuable too. Who knows, you might get what you ask for.
posted by Smells of Detroit at 8:11 PM on October 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Are your listings as well described and photographed as your competitors? It's possible that you aren't showing up for some searches that your competitors are, and so you're only getting the professional buyers instead of the amateur ones.

I mean, there's a proper description, and then there's a description that, in a fluid way, describes the item in ways that will match queries by interested users who don't know that, say, this part from an Audi whatchamacallit will also work in a BMW thingamajig.

Also, photos, are your photos really as good as the competition? Are you using a light box? A white background?

Finally, are your competitors possibly buying their own items back because the bids are too low, in effect setting a minimum bid?
posted by zippy at 9:18 PM on October 6, 2013

What day/time are these other auctions ending?
posted by user92371 at 12:55 AM on October 7, 2013

Lots of good advice here but just to clarify a few points so they don't come up more as questions.

* I'm in the US, selling to people in the US.

* I list a lot of stuff as no returns, but mostly because i've had absolutely satanic experiences with that(up to and including basically extortion on dumb technicalities). A lot of the successful sales i see at good prices are no returns also though.

* I know the shipping calculator is crap and borked, i only do flat rates anymore and low. I might start trying free shipping on everything but large/oddly shaped stuff(like monitors, which i occasionally flip one of) where that's just asking to get boinked

* The most recent ones actually ended sunday/yesterday at around 5pm, and were some of the worst i've yet seen.

* I've only ever had one thing sell on a buy it now, but i'll start trying that more. I set really generous buy it nows too, and no one ever goes for it. Like $70 for something there's tons of $90-100 ended auctions for. It seems like quite a lot of people just dream about getting a super deal even below that.

* The photos really are quite great. I have a very good place to take them with nice lighting and tons of space to really shoot from multiple angles and such that both looks nice and gives the item lots of contrast(giant marble table in a warehouse). It's not "lightbox and white background" but i seriously see a ton of shitty photos out there that seem to move stuff like crazy from everyone on the spectrum. Power seller with 2490232 feedback to some guy in idaho with 36. Still lapping me.

I'll wait for some other interesting advice, but thus far it seems like my main error here is not just setting the starting price a bit below what i want to get. I did notice that one of my very successful recent auctions i started at $50 hoping to get not much more than that, and it went for over $100. Free shipping seems like a decent call, and i might revisit accepting returns.

It's worth noting that for some categories of item now the only option is no returns. Especially in computers/tech/electronics stuff which is where most of my bread is buttered.
posted by emptythought at 1:27 AM on October 7, 2013

I can go through the "recently sold" auctions and find tons of the same identical item, often in worse condition and/or just with awful photos(sometimes that are sideways too!) that sold for sometimes as much as 4-6x what mine did(for example, $30+ when mine went for $5. or $20 for something that regularly goes for $70-80)

Just throwing an idea out here; can you go through the "recently sold" auctions and also find similar items that sold for less than what yours did (or failed to sell at all)? If so then maybe you're not doing anything wrong and there is simply a wide variance (likely due to somebody needing a particular item at a particular time) in sale prices.
posted by primer_dimer at 2:29 AM on October 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Nthing Buy It Now. I only bother with auctions when they're for hard-to-find things. You know the price you're paying, you're done with the transaction, and it ships right away.

Personally, I mistrust auctions with super-low starting prices, especially if other sellers list the exact same thing for a price closer to what I expect to pay. A 99¢ starting price is okay for something I'd pay $5 for, but if you're offering a $50 piece of equipment for 99¢, I assume either something's fishy or I'll get into a bidding war.

And this could be just me, but if the bid price is too close to the BIN price, I tend to look elsewhere. It's probably some error in logic on my part, but if I have the choice between bidding $8 or BINing for $10, I feel like my risk of buying it the "wrong" way is high, even though it's a measly $2 difference. I feel more confident with a $5 bid/$10 BIN decision.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:54 AM on October 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Memail your eBay handle and I'll take a look at some of your listings to see whether anything jumps out at me.

Generally, when you're selling something that's always available, the things that make buyers choose you are speed, trust and price. If you don't want to accept lower prices then you will need to find ways to improve speed and buyer confidence.

I've sold a bunch of stuff on eBay over the last 14 years, though not in make-a-living-at-it quantities. I consistently do really well on auction stuff, but I don't sell recently-manufactured tech stuff that is always available. If you're selling an iPhone 4s and there are 700 of them available on eBay at any given time then you're basically dealing in a commodity; the value of the phone is pretty much fixed at a market rate that is known to everyone, and auctions are kind of pointless; it's better to go buy-it-now with something like that because then the customer doesn't have to wait and wait and wait for a stupid auction to end, only to see the price they fantasized would stay low shoot up to that well-known market rate. With buy-it-now people will often pay a little extra for immediacy.

Even for non-commodity items, buy-it-now makes sense for things that people find themselves needing unexpectedly and in a hurry. If you've broken your phone or your computer monitor, you're probably not going to wait 5 days to bid on one that you might not get; you're going to place that order right freakin' away. The only people who are going to wait a few days to bid on that monitor are people who don't really need it, and they will bid accordingly.

And buy-it-now is best for things that are useful to a fairly limited number of potential buyers, like size 5.5 shoes, or part number 123-456-J for some machine. Like Slinga pointed out, the price you get from an auction is just one increment above the second-lowest bid, so if you can't count on several bidders then your auction will probably do poorly.

Auctions are great for relatively rare and widely coveted items. That's where you should use them.
posted by jon1270 at 3:54 AM on October 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

There's also phunniemee's famed Bowl of fruit, yo technique.
posted by Etrigan at 4:26 AM on October 7, 2013 [7 favorites]

Not every item you want to sell is equal in value so you can't have one way of doing things that works every time. Some things have a higher value and more bids because there is something about it that makes it more collectible for interested buyers. Other things that you expect to sell for $1 are barely worth all that extra time and effort and will get no interested bidders. Then you have to remember that not every potential bidder is obsessive about checking for items all of the time. If an item at a higher price does not sell, it doesn't necessarily mean that your price is too high, it could mean that, by coincidence, all of your potential buyers are on vacation at the same time.

Try bundling groups of things that are alike in a lot. Playing the game can sometimes mean throwing something valuable in with less valuable things.
posted by JJ86 at 5:36 AM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Dang. Missed the edit window.

Like Slinga pointed out, the price you get from an auction is just one increment above the second-lowest highest bid...
posted by jon1270 at 7:07 AM on October 7, 2013

I spent six months on ebay watching for a very good price on a specific camera lens. I saw many virtually identical lenses sell for between $250 and $375. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out why some auctions did better than others, but I didn't come up with anything. I think the market is just uneven.
posted by gregr at 7:15 AM on October 7, 2013

I have noticed that buyers too tend to prefer a seller with a 99.*% rating but lots of sales (think thousands or 10's of thousands) to a 100 % rating with only a 100 or so sales. I think it's because a seller that sells a lot tends to have practice and have procedures in place and sales usually just flow more easily. I know I have found all my problems have been with low number of review sellers with perfect scores.

Like others have said BINs are the way to go too, and also starting at 99c feels like shopping in the dollar store, ie if I go there I want a bargain and I'm not going to pay top dollar for anything there.
posted by wwax at 8:37 AM on October 7, 2013

It would help if you told us what type of items you tend to sell, but here are a couple of techniques that work very well for me for specific kinds of competitive auctions.

1) For common used mass-produced items (like a LogiTech Harmony remote control) that have fairly stable selling prices, the trick is being the one auction people decide to bid on. I try to personalize the description a little by including a line or two about why I don't need or use it. For the remote, I mentioned that I bought it for my mom but it ended up being more confusing than five different remotes. For a pricy, opened-but-unused filter for an air purifier I mentioned that I'd bought the wrong model but opened it before I noticed.

I think that, all things being equal, in a sea of stock photos/descriptions and all the drop-ship/storage container/whatever bulk sellers, my auctions feel more like one-on-transactions and it's always worked for me.

2) On preview, exactly what JJ86 said.

You can be creative with this, too. I did this with some Fiestaware that was retired, but fairly common; instead of doing the obvious and selling them as four separate, complete place settings I sold them in lots of four different colored plates, bowls, etc. Pit the completists against each other!

3) When I look up completed, sold auctions I also compare them to the unsold auctions to see if there's anything that made that auction stand out.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:02 AM on October 7, 2013

If you Metafilter-Mail me your eBay username, I'd be happy to take a peek and let you know if I see anything off-putting about your current or recently-ended listings.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 12:18 PM on October 7, 2013

Open your sales to international bidding. I did, and found that there are a lot of people in Japan and other faraway places with cash and a shortage of sellers willing to service them.
posted by PSB at 1:08 PM on October 7, 2013

I regularly buy vintage tech stuff I collect. Because I'm in Canada, I almost always end up paying a premium over US only items. Far fewer are offered for sale internationally and the bidding can get fierce, while US-only items languish.
posted by fimbulvetr at 1:58 PM on October 7, 2013

« Older What simple, self-hosted blogging platform do I...   |   What is Caribbean food and how do I cook it? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.