General advice for selling on eBay?
February 7, 2006 10:04 AM   Subscribe

So, I've just started selling stuff on eBay again for the first time in years. I'm purging some of my excess geekness. I find the experience much more daunting than it was five years ago. What do I need to know?

The last time I sold, PayPal was just coming into existence. What do I, as a seller, need to know? For example:
  • Should I wait to leave feedback until I'm sure the buyer isn't going to make a stink over trivialities, or should I leave it upon receipt of payment?
  • I'm offering free shipping and insurance. Is this dumb? Do people take this into account when bidding?
  • How do I learn to describe the condition of my items? (Mainly I take photos and try to give a general description: "this book is in good shape, but the price is written on the flyleaf and a few pages are dogeared", etc.)
  • Are there risks associated with Paypal? If I ship the day I receive Paypal payment, can the buyer conceivably cancel payment? If so, is this a common problem? Does Paypal charge sellers money over and beyond what eBay charges? (This one I should just look up on Paypal's site, I guess.)
  • What can I do to maximize my selling price? Are there good days/times to end auctions? Is a ten-day auction a waste of forty cents?
  • What about doubling categories? Do people actually browse by category instead of just searching by the item name?
I've looked at all the previous eBay questions, but most of them are "I got burned on eBay" type things. (Though this recent question was good, the discussion mainly involved how to price things (which I understand fine) and the merits of reserve auctions.) I'd love to hear general eBay selling advice.
posted by jdroth to Computers & Internet (40 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If you are selling anything with an ISBN or UPC, and you use the tool by which you just type in this code and the item's details appear, make sure that the listing matches the edition you are selling.

I recently wanted a very specific edition of a book, and I searched the listings until I found the right one. When it arrived, it was not even close to the edition I expected/that the seller had listed. (Different year, form factor, publisher.) When I asked the seller, she said "I just typed in the ISBN and the listing you saw was what appeared."

This makes buyers mad...make sure your listing is accurate!
posted by hsoltz at 10:13 AM on February 7, 2006

Whatever you do, don't talk about the form factor of a book.
posted by jon_kill at 10:17 AM on February 7, 2006

Eh, wait untill the buyer leaves feedback. Buyers have much more intrest in leaving feedback. Not that I actualy know anything.
posted by delmoi at 10:19 AM on February 7, 2006

Leave feedback when the transaction is completely over (ie after the buyer has received the goods). Offering free shipping and insurance is a kind gesture, but it ups the amount of money you pay in fees to eBay, and will lower the total price people pay you.
posted by cillit bang at 10:20 AM on February 7, 2006

be aware of your costs. ebay will charge you a listing fee, then a final value percentage, AND THEN you get a charge on the paypal payment. they really make you pay for the convenience. I've never seena payment cancelled or retracted. once it is in your account, get the item sent out.. and get it sent out fast. punters who pay quick love a quick delivery.

as for feedback, as a seller i only leave feedback when I have received it from the buyer.

try and get your listings to finish in the evening or at the weekend. I find this allows for more people to be involved at the end.

my advise on postage is get it right if your item is unique. if there are alot of similar items selling to yours, I would try and set your postage lower than the norm (but don't rip yourself off). I NEVER set a ludicrously high postage. I know people who do this and I think it boldly makes you look like a rip-off seller.

good luck.
posted by Frasermoo at 10:21 AM on February 7, 2006

  1. Yes, you should wait to leave feedback. The transaction is not complete until the buyer has received his item in satisfactory condition. If you leave feedback purely based on receipt of payment, you'll get burned. Let the buyer leave feedback first. It's ultimately his decision whether the transaction was a success.
  2. Free shipping will attract more bidders. However, building S&H charges into your starting price will raise that price; and lower bids attract more bidders, too. Whether it's a benefit or a wash depends largely on what type of stuff you're selling.
  3. Your approach to descriptions sounds fine. Read similar auctions and learn from them.
  4. There are lots of risks associated with PayPal, but not the ones you've identified. See here and similar sites. However, the risk is worthwhile for two reasons: (1) You can minimize it tremendously by moving money out of PayPal into your checking account daily; and if you accept a limit of $400 in transfers per month, you can set up your account so that PayPal can deposit into your checking account but never withdraw, not even with your permission; and (2) using PayPal reduces the number of deadbeat bidders. If you accept payment via mail, you will get deadbeat bidders.
  5. The best times to start/end auctions are weekend nights between eight and eleven (Eastern Time!). Yes, the 10-day auction is a waste of money.
  6. Yes, people browse by category. If you're selling big-ticket items, a second category might be worthwhile. If not, it's a waste of money.
PS — My personal eBay FAQ.
posted by cribcage at 10:23 AM on February 7, 2006

Here are my thoughts:

Should I wait to leave feedback until I'm sure the buyer isn't going to make a stink over trivialities, or should I leave it upon receipt of payment?
This is up to you, though in my buying experience, most sellers don't leave feedback until after the buyer does. There are still a fair number (i.e., it's not exactly rare) that leave feedback after successful payment.

I'm offering free shipping and insurance. Is this dumb? Do people take this into account when bidding?
Whether or not it's dumb depends on how much money you're making from the sale. If you've gotten above and beyond what you wanted for the item, then free shipping works out great because it isn't (effectively) costing you any money either. On low-cost or low-margin items, it means less profit or taking a loss.
As far as influencing bidding, I can't speak to other's thought processes, but my first thought on seeing free shipping (especially for computer stuff) is that the auction is one of those where someone is trying to sell "instructions" on how to get a "great deal" on something. For other people, I don't know; free shipping might get you more eyeballs (and bids), or it might turn people away thinking it's a scam. The best thing you can do (IMO) is to have a reasonable shipping cost; subsidize it from the sale price if you want. There are a lot of sellers on eBay who try to make up for low price sales with exorbinant shipping and "handling" charges.

How do I learn to describe the condition of my items?
Photos are important, and should be high-quality ones. If I come across an otherwise good-sounding item with a dark or blurry photo, I skip it. As far as describing goes, I think you're on the right track with your example. For any significant damage, or where something might be unclear, try to show it in a photo.

Are there risks associated with Paypal?
Most of the stories I've heard about Paypal are from buyers who have no recourse against sellers who've screwed them; I can only recall one story about a seller who had a buyer cancel a payment/do a chargeback after the item was shipped.

Does Paypal charge sellers money over and beyond what eBay charges?
Can't say for sure, but I believe they take a percent of each payment; if you upgraded to a merchant account (to be able to accept credit card payments through Paypal) there's a fee for that too.

What can I do to maximize my selling price?
A low opening bid seems to attract more bidders, though you do run the risk of ending up sellling an item for less than you might have wanted. Make sure the item is listed in the right places. Having a good title, description, and photo for an item goes a long way to garnering bids, I think. I know that I, as a buyer, am more likely to bid on something where the seller seems like they know what they're talking about (and aren't trying to hide anything with a bad photo). The title is especially important to me; it should make me want to click through to your auction to bid on it, not to figure out what it is you're selling.

Are there good days/times to end auctions?
For many auctions, most of the bidding activity comes near the end of the auction. You might want to try to get the auction to end around the time of day people are going to be at their computers at night after work (say, 8 or 9pm, keeping in mind other timezones).

Is a ten-day auction a waste of forty cents?
I think so. As I said, it seems that most of the bidding activity is near the end of the auction, and unless you have something that only appeals to a very limited number of people who might not check eBay frequently, seven days is generally more than enough time for interested bidders to find your item.

What about doubling categories? Do people actually browse by category instead of just searching by the item name?
If both categories are relevant to the item, then it might be worthwhile to do that. I often restrict searches by name to a particular category to eliminate things that I know I'm not looking for. I also sometimes pop into a category to check out the "ending soon" items for any good deals or items I may have missed (because of a typo or whatever).

Now, I've never sold anything on eBay, so all this is coming from a buyer's point of view, and I'm just one data point, so don't assume I'm necessarily representative of the majority of eBay buyers.

(Also, sorry it's kinda long; I've got nothing better to do at work but read Metafilter and browse eBay.)
posted by Godbert at 10:29 AM on February 7, 2006

Response by poster: Crib, I'd seen (and read) your FAQ a few weeks ago. It's part of what inspired me to sell some of my stuff. Your PayPal link eventually led me to the wikipedia article which led me to this handy PayPal fee calculator. Yikes. I'm selling lots of $10 stuff. Between my listing fees, the closing fee, PayPal, and shipping, I'm only going to be netting about 50%. I guess I should be charging for shipping!
posted by jdroth at 10:41 AM on February 7, 2006

Most of the stuff I've sold on eBay isn't really expensive and I've always had the buyer pay costs. Offering free shipping on an item that sells for $9 just isn't worth it (especially when adding eBay and Paypal fees into that).

For the spendier stuff, I've offered free shipping, but I factored that cost into my reserve payment. (Eating $7 shipping costs for an item that sold for $125 was an acceptable trade-off for me.)

I've also always offered a "Buy It Now" option. This has usually worked well. (Only once did I find out too late that my buy-it-now price was too low.)

Good luck!
posted by luneray at 11:12 AM on February 7, 2006

Response by poster: Offering free shipping on an item that sells for $9 just isn't worth it (especially when adding eBay and Paypal fees into that).

No kidding! After reading some of the advice here, I decided to poke around a little more, to do some more research. It would have been smart to have done this before I started my first round of auctions, but at least I have this info now for future listings.

I'm regretting having listed my auctions all with free shipping. I'm thinking some nominal fee would have been better. Also, I've finally looked at what PayPal charges, and it's disheartening. Let's look at a typical $9.99 book auction representative of several I have posted. (This is a worst-case scenario.)

A $9.99 auction costs me $1.10 to list (40 cents 10-day listing fee, 35 cents based on price, and 35 cents for the photo). If the book finishes at $9.99, I owe 53 cents as a closing fee. Also, Paypal will take 59 cents from me. That's $2.22 in fees on a $9.99 auction and that doesn't include shipping! Let's go see what it costs to ship a book to Delaware via media mail: $2.07 (based on a guess that the book weighs two pounds). Thus, if my books finish at $9.99, I'm going to have $4.29 (or 43%) in fees!

I hope my books don't finish at $9.99.

Now let's look at the more expensive stuff. One of my items currently has a bid of $102.50. Let's assume it finishes there. My listing fee was $1.45. My closing fee will be $3.44 and my Paypal fee will be $3.27. That's a total of $8.16 in fees before shipping. Shipping (based on four pounds as a guess) will be $8.29. That's a total of $16.45 or 16%!

No wonder eBay is so fucking rich. I've always said that there model was the first killer use of the internet, and I don't see anything here to change my mind.

How well does eBay's shipping calculator work? Does anyone have any experience with that? Maybe that would be a better way to go than fixed-cost shipping.
posted by jdroth at 11:18 AM on February 7, 2006

Most of the stories I've heard about Paypal are from buyers who have no recourse against sellers who've screwed them; I can only recall one story about a seller who had a buyer cancel a payment/do a chargeback after the item was shipped.

I've heard a few rumors that scamming from the buyer end has been increasing. The fact that it had always been bad sellers, and the charge-back system sort of geared to easily settle those type of problems has supposedly led to increasing numbers of scam buyers who claim the goods did not arrive and easily get a charge-back.

I have no idea how true this is, and I'm sure bad buyers are still vastly outnumbered by bad sellers, but still as a seller- make sure you keep your shipping receipts and be sure to offer insurance, package tracking, and signed delivery - just in case someone opens a paypal dispute to attempt a charge-back.
posted by p3t3 at 11:26 AM on February 7, 2006

Fixed cost shipping is good for two reasons. First, buyers like knowing exactly what to expect. (Don't you, as a buyer?) It discourages* them from disputing charges after the auction's close, and it helps to solve one facet of the transaction that often causes tension. Second, using a fixed cost allows you to better protect yourself. As you've discovered, most buyers don't realize how many costs are associated with selling on eBay. (You forgot the price of each padded envelope, by the way.) You don't want to price your S&H fees to strangle the buyer, but you do want to leave yourself some elbow room so that unexpected costs don't eat into your profits.

* Note that I'm using words like "discourage" and "reduce," not prevent. This auction ended last night, and within an hour I received an email from the high bidder asking if I'd accept a postal money order. You can do your best to be clear and simple, and you'll still have some of these problems.
posted by cribcage at 11:30 AM on February 7, 2006

If you post a link to one of your auctions, you might get additional specific feedback. You may prefer not to for privacy reasons, but I thought I'd suggest it.
posted by cribcage at 11:34 AM on February 7, 2006

USPS offers flat rate shipping. One cost for whatever fits in the box, regardless of weight. This might be an option for some of your bulkier items.
posted by luneray at 11:37 AM on February 7, 2006

Their shipping calculator is accurate (you can double-check on the USPS or UPS web sites), however I don't like how it only calculates by the whole pound.

I recommend flat cost shipping, as since now shipping charges show up in search results by default, people will be more apt to click on an auction that actually says the cost than one that says 'calculate.'

I have a postal scale (which I bought from eBay, of course), and I set a fixed shipping and handling cost by worst case (shipping from my location, Missouri, to Anchorage) plus what I believe is a fair value for the time and expense of shipping. I use tons of free USPS Priority Mail boxes, reuse boxes and packing peanuts from packages I recieve, and have several sources of free packing peanuts, so my shipping costs are rather low.
posted by zsazsa at 11:38 AM on February 7, 2006

jdroth writes "35 cents for the photo"

If you are doing any kind of serious selling get your own hosting and avoid paying eBay's hugely inflated cost for images. Serve medium sized thumb nails in your listing with links to larger images.
posted by Mitheral at 11:49 AM on February 7, 2006

I can't find the study offhand, but I seem to remember a few years back that somebody did a statistical study of eBay bids, and found that buyers do not fully factor in shipping costs when placing their bids.

That is, if somebody is buying a widget worth $10, you might expect them to bid $10 on an auction with free shipping, $8 on an auction with a $2 shipping charge, $7 on an auction with a $3 shipping charge, etc.

In fact, this is not the case. Irrational though it may sound, people might end up bidding nearly as much on the auction with the $3 shipping fee as with the $0 shipping fee.

As Frasermoo says, a ludicrously high postage risks making you look like a scammer--but don't be shy about charging your actual postage and handling costs.
posted by yankeefog at 11:49 AM on February 7, 2006

Response by poster: If you post a link to one of your auctions, you might get additional specific feedback. You may prefer not to for privacy reasons

Ha! Me concerned with privacy. That's a joke.

Here are some examples.

This first listing is for some books that I knew would go high, so I started them at 99 cents. I think the books are in great shape, but I worry what others would think, so I tried to describe their condition minutely and included links to high-res photos.

The second listing is for an item about which I have no idea of the actual value, having been unable to find a comparable. I don't need it and don't want it, so I started it at five bucks, but now I suspect this is one where I'll net zero dollars.

I have eight of these up. I started them all at $9.99 because though they generally sell for twice that, they sometimes sell with only one bid. I wasn't willing to risk 99 cents.

One thing I should mention: packaging costs aren't really an issue. I order a lot from the internet, so have plenty of boxes. Plus there's the fact that I own a box manufacturing company. That helps. (Still, for future googlers of this thread, packaging considerations should be discussed.)

I like this $4.05 flat rate shipping at the post office. That seems to take some of the guess work out of things. Are their flat-rate boxes free? Even if I pick them up in bulk?

Thanks for all the great advice so far. It's really helping me to re-evaluate how I'll work the next round of auctions.
posted by jdroth at 11:55 AM on February 7, 2006

If you use an automatic item describer thing, additionally take a photo of the actual item.

May increase buyer confidence and garner more bids. When I see a listing with stock pictures of the item, my wariness meter goes up a couple of notches.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 12:12 PM on February 7, 2006

For small, inexpensive items - and if you have the time - feel free to try Craigslist first. It's free, you can target local buyers, you can meet and exchange cash for the item.

On paypal buyer fraud, and item description accuracy:

A few months ago, my SO sold almost all of her CDs - around 250-300 of them.

We underestimated our shipping costs, and ended up eating a little bit of the sale price to compensate for it, rather then even thinking of trying to hassle with getting the buyer to pay the $15-20 more.

As the buyer strongly indicated he wanted them properly packed for shipping. We had them professionally packed at a UPS shipping store, and we indicated the increased shipping price to the buyer - but just for his information only, not as an extra charge.

Upon receiving the CDs, the buyer then froze the paypal funds and and disputed the transaction. We got sent to paypal arbitration hell.

Buyer claimed that the CDs were not as described and was foolish enough to then indicate he was a CD dealer, not an end user. He complained about a small number of CD-Rs in the collection - CD Rs that actually came from specific bands that were promo copies, handouts or concert purchases. He complained about the scratched condition of many of the CDs and the lack of artwork and jewel cases for some of the CDs.

However, this was all indicated in explicit detail in our auction description. That many of the CDs were used and/or scratched - but each was tested as playable in modern CD ROM drives and modern CD audio players. We indicated that this auction wasn't intended for resale or for dealers. Every single CD was itemized and listed. We also indicated in huge bold letters that the auction was provided AS IS.

We weren't looking to scam anyone. We described the items in detail. In no way were the items up for auction mis-described. The final auction price puts the price at less then a buck a CD, all told.

Meanwhile, the buyer is trying to get us to refund half the money, and he can then keep all the CDs. I don't know what he was on about with that one, but A for effort I guess.

So, I describe all this to the wrongfully minimal paypal dispute arbitration forms. It's like 750 characters or something ridiculous. I think I had to just boil it down to "Auction was described accurately. Auction was also indicated to be "AS IS"." with a link to the auction.

Months later, and I mean months, after having that money locked up that we needed terribly - else why would we even sell off CDs? - we "won".

We also got an inbox full of amusingly scathing hatemail from the buyer. Who turned out to be the class president of some Christian college. Looking at his feedback history, it turns out there was a history of him "disputing" paypal payments like this, all with bulk used CD purchases.

And I haven't used eBay to sell anything ever since. But I have used Craigslist.
posted by loquacious at 12:22 PM on February 7, 2006

You're doing fine. A couple of points:
  • You're wasting valuable characters by stating "FREE SHIP" in the title. You should maximize your 55 allowed characters to target search results; and if you've set your shipping price to $0.00 under Payment & Shipping, those search results will automatically display your auction with free shipping.
  • I don't offer a return policy. EBay is best when treated like a yard sale. As long as you're not ripping anyone off, you won't need a return policy, and having one is an open door for problem customers to walk through. All such doors that can be closed, should.
  • I offer shipping insurance as an option during checkout. No one buys it. You're probably wasting your money.
  • I wouldn't accept personal checks. Again, it's a common source of problems that's simply unnecessary. If you really want to accept payments through the mail, require a cashier's check or money order.
  • If you need multiple photos, you could save money by setting up a free gallery on Flickr and posting a link. Frankly, I think it's probably worth the 35¢ to paste the photos right onto the auction page rather than using a link. One alternative for free hosting would be to create a MySpace account, upload your photos there, grab the deep-link URL for each, and post those into your auction HTML — but if the auction requires multiple photos, it should sell for enough that it's worth the 35¢ for ease.
That's some feedback from a purposely critical eye. Honestly, though, your auctions look great. Ultimately, the most important thing for buyers to see is effort: If you took time to put together your auction, then you're probably not someone looking to rip them off.

Second to that, the most important advice is that buyers like knowing exactly what to expect. I try to deliver that experience even through the final stage of the transaction. Here's an email I sent to several buyers this afternoon:
Thanks for your payment! I mailed your CD this afternoon. You should receive it within 7–10 days.

If you are satisfied with your item when it arrives, please confirm receipt by posting Positive Feedback. You can check my profile to verify that I reciprocate *all* feedback — so you are guaranteed to receive a Positive Feedback from me.

If you have any questions, feel free to email me. I look forward to completing our transaction. Good luck on eBay!!
Most sellers don't bother with a follow-up email. It doesn't take me long, and buyers seem to appreciate it. I ship fast, and they're often pleasantly surprised by how quickly their items arrive; but the only thing consumers like better than pleasant surprises are no surprises.
posted by cribcage at 12:28 PM on February 7, 2006

for books, dvds, cds, and software, i find the best place to sell is on ebay's "" subsidiary. just enter the ISBN or UPC code and a brief description of the item condition. the site suggests a selling price based on the condition and number of similar items.

when a buyer chooses to purchase an item, automatically charges them a predefined shipping allowance. this is typically the cost of USPS Media Mail, plus a bit more to cover packaging. handles all the money collection and deposits your cut directly to your checking account every 2 weeks.

the best part is that the listings don't expire, and there's no charge until someone buys an item. so you can list hundreds of books for free and they'll stay listed until someone finds the listing and buys them. you lose the advantage of getting buyers to outbid each other, but on low-priced items in low demand, the benefits of a bidding war are typically minor.
posted by el-gregorio at 12:53 PM on February 7, 2006

To make listing easier, I'd suggest downloading Turbo Lister from eBay. Works great.
posted by gfrobe at 12:57 PM on February 7, 2006

loquacious: You didn't specify how you handled the payment, and I don't mean to second-guess your story. But PayPal is a payment-processing service, not a bank. You can transfer funds from your PayPal account into your checking account within 2–3 days (usually 2) and still ship promptly.

PayPal's problems have been well-publicized, and they all involve freezing funds left sitting in PayPal accounts. It's a bit like being eaten by a lion: It really sucks if it happens, but it's relatively simple to avoid.
posted by cribcage at 1:01 PM on February 7, 2006

Response by poster: Cribcage, your advice is great so far. I really appreciate it.

Regarding shipping: is it best to ship when the money is paid to PayPal, or ought I wait until I've transferred the money to my bank account? I'm guessing it's the latter.

I like the idea of sending out confirming e-mails. I'm a nervous buyer, having been burned once. I'm very happy when a seller keeps me updated every step of the way, and so I will try to do the same.

Now I just need to decide whether my next round of auctions should wait until this first round is complete, or whether I've learned enough here that I can make the second round slightly different to compare the results.

Locquacious, the craigslist idea is a good one. I may have to try it. I just always assume that there aren't enough craigslisters out there to really give me a fair offer on what I have to sell. (Most of it is collectible.) Also, though I've never had problems buying on craigslist (and I've done that dozens of times), the two times I tried to sell things I really got ripped off both time. (My fault, in both instances, for not taking time to verify what was happening, but still makes me wary.) Maybe I'll pick some stuff that's not good for eBay (like my heavy Star Trek collection) and try to sell it on craigslist.
posted by jdroth at 1:10 PM on February 7, 2006

more about paypal and getting scammed as a seller...

make sure that if its something valuable you get the shipping confirmation or some other way to verify that you did in fact ship the item. i had a buyer dispute that the item was received and get paypal to refund their money, since we foolishly did not get any sort of confirmation or tracking on the package, we had no real proof that it was sent and paypal sided with the buyer.

the minimum confirmation option at the USPS is i think 55 cents and its usually worth it because then you can't get scammed by a shady buyer through paypal.
posted by teishu at 1:19 PM on February 7, 2006

I have had MORE problems with stupid people from Craigslist. Flakes, losers, and deadbeats that show up and THEN try to haggle with your already set price.

"offer insurance, package tracking, and signed delivery" - I ship through the USPS and I make all 3 of those mandatory. I also make sure that I am *very clear* in the auctions, and I do not deal with eBay n00bs at all. Too many past problems.

As for doing the auctions themselves, you do know that eBay auctions can take HTML, right? I whip out Mozilla Composer and make a cute little web page for the item and then cut & paste the HTML into the auction description. I take my own photos (NEVER use stock photos - that's just lame) and I host them all on my own web server.

Same deal with feedback. If some slime leaves you fake negative feedback, you can respond to it with a URL. I write up web pages about what happened and simply put the URl into the feedback. Problem solved.
posted by drstein at 1:23 PM on February 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: As for doing the auctions themselves, you do know that eBay auctions can take HTML, right?

Oh, absolutely. I haven't mentioned this re: photo hosting in comments above, but I'm quite capable with HTML. I host all photos on my own webserver, and I create mini HTML pages (quite plain, admittedly) for all of my auctions. I take my own photos for everything. The 35 cents I mentioned that I get charged for photos is because I use gallery photos in each listing (gallery photos being the ones that show up in-line when you're just browsing search results).

I didn't know you could use a URL in feedback. I'll remember that should the need arise.
posted by jdroth at 1:32 PM on February 7, 2006

I usually ship as soon as I've received payment via PayPal, and initiate a transfer into my checking account the same day. If a buyer is going to scam you by disputing the transaction, he probably won't do it before the item is in his hands.

That said, most of my auctions are less than $10, so I'm not attractive bait for scam artists. If I were, I'd take the extra precaution. When I have sold more expensive items — my old camcorder, for example — I did wait until the funds reached my checking account before shipping.

The transfer is usually completed in two days, which is within the usual window for shipping delays. Same-day shipping is actually quite unusual for eBay. I only do it because my auctions are low-risk, because I take other precautions — and frankly, because I like to finish each transaction as quickly as possible.

Teishu is right. You can get a slip from the post office for 95¢ confirming that you sent mail from X_Address to Y_Address on N_Date. It's not certified or registered; it's just a postmarked receipt proving that you mailed something. It is a good idea for big-ticket items.

drstein: Can you provide a link so I can check out an example of your HTML feedback? EBay didn't used to allow HTML in feedback, and I didn't know that had changed. Do they permit a clickable link, or just the URL text?
posted by cribcage at 1:33 PM on February 7, 2006


I take issue with the seller waiting to leave feedback until after the buyer does.

There are two roles on ebay: Buyer and Seller.

It is the buyer's job to read the auction description thoroughly, understand and comply with the auctions terms and quickly pay for their winning bid after the auction end.

It is the Seller's job to accurately represent the item and terms of the auction and quickly ship the item to the buyer after receiving payment.

As a seller on Ebay, I always leave positive feedback for buyers as soon as I get cleared funds from them. They've completed their part of the contract and deserve positive feedback at that point.

Also gives me a little more impetus as a seller to make sure I get their item to them quickly.

I have yet to be burned feedback-wise doing this.


You don't pay ebay fees on shipping amounts, so the more of the item price you can shift into a "shipping and handling" fee, the less you pay to ebay.

I typically charge a shipping and handling amount (the "and handling" part gives you the leeway to pad the shipping) that easily covers shipping to anywhere in the US via particular method along with some padding to reduce the ebay fee.

Savvy buyers recognize and understand this tactic and adjust their bidding accordingly. I've never had a buyer have a problem with it as long as it is clearly stated and explained. Everyone wins, except Ebay.
posted by de void at 1:44 PM on February 7, 2006

I'm just gonna reiterate. Use craigslist.
posted by blueplasticfish at 2:36 PM on February 7, 2006

"Regarding shipping: is it best to ship when the money is paid to PayPal, or ought I wait until I've transferred the money to my bank account? I'm guessing it's the latter."

As a buyer, if I pay you today via PayPal, I am going to be annoyed if you wait four days until the money is transferred into your bank account before shipping. Ship when the money is in your PayPal account. It is not at all likely to disappear between that time and when it hits your bank account.

As a retail (and occasional eBay) seller who takes PayPal, I ship immediately unless they paid me by eCheck (eChecks do take a few days to clear, and PayPal warns you not to ship until they do).

(Incidentally, on my eBay sales I've always provided feedback immediately on receipt of the payment, and haven't been burned yet -- but I only have feedback in the 100+ range, so perhaps it will still happen.)

Regarding URLs in feedback -- that used to be instant justification for feedback removal. That is, if you posted a URL to tell your side of the story, eBay would remove the entire feedback post if the other party complained. (If they didn't notice it, or if the other party wasn't savvy enough to know they could complain about the URL, it might stay up.) If that has changed, I'm kind of surprised.
posted by litlnemo at 2:44 PM on February 7, 2006

the customer is king.
posted by Frasermoo at 5:23 PM on February 7, 2006

...and the deal aint done til they leave their feedback which shows they are 100% happy.
posted by Frasermoo at 5:30 PM on February 7, 2006

If you're worried about the time it takes to transfer money from PayPal to your bank account, get a free PayPal Mastercard and use it at a bank machine to withdraw as much of it as possible.
posted by jeffmik at 5:59 PM on February 7, 2006

I don't have too much to add, except to reiterate some points already made:

- charge a realistic rate for S&H

- make sure you list the right details for the item. I've bought a few bits of camera gear from ebay( and the few times when I've looked at a listing and the photo doesn't match the description have really turned me off

- email the buyer to let them know when you've dispatched (I don't understand why ebay doesn't do this automatically when you click 'mark as dispatched' next to the item you're selling. Anyone know?)
posted by primer_dimer at 5:06 AM on February 8, 2006

Response by poster: What is the best way to handle all of the dumb questions from buyers? I've received several in the last day. "The complete set contains seventeen books. Is this a complete set?" for an auction where I clearly enumerate the fifteen books I have and provide a photograph of each of them. "Are all the pieces included in this game?" for a game where I painstakingly counted and listed all the pieces included in the auction and noted which pieces were missing (to the best of my knowledge). Etc. Etc. So far I've just been politely answering the questions, but this makes me worry that somebody who hasn't read the auction is going to win and then leave me negative feedback saying, "There were only fifteen books, not seventeen."

Sorry. Just venting.
posted by jdroth at 5:15 PM on February 8, 2006

Sad to say, but the one thing I have learned over the years of online retailing:

People don't read.

All you can do is spell things out as clearly as possible and hope your buyers at least read enough of it.

One friend of mine was selling Ultima Online in-game items on eBay a few years back. One such item was a hammer, I think. The listing included a picture from the game (so, obviously a drawing), and the listing stated very clearly that it was for a hammer in the Ultima Online game.

The winner thought he was buying a real hammer. Seriously. Left negative feedback and raised hell. I saw the listing; there was no way anyone with even half a brain could have mistaken the game hammer for a real one. But there you go. It can happen; all you can do is keep a sense of humor about it and be professional.
posted by litlnemo at 12:27 AM on February 9, 2006

No. You'll never stop the stupid questions. And you're exactly right that the worst are the idiots who win your auction, then ask the stupid questions, and leave you negative feedback as a result.

Did you see Clerks? Remember the montage of pet-peeve customers — the girl asking the price of candy while standing beneath a giant sign that reads "99 Cents," or asking where the new-release videos are while standing beneath a giant sign that reads "New Releases." It's funny 'cause it's true.
posted by cribcage at 11:03 AM on February 9, 2006

Inspired by this thread, I've drafted a second FAQ, How To Sell On EBay. If anyone stumbles across this thread and reads the post, please feel free to offer comments. Feedback is welcome.
posted by cribcage at 8:32 PM on February 11, 2006

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