Better Ebay selling
May 31, 2008 4:11 AM   Subscribe

Imagine you're browsing ebay for an item you want to buy. Two sellers have exactly the same item. What is it that persuades you to buy from one seller as opposed to the other?

How can I enhance my ebay auctions, to make them more favourable to the purchaser, and therefore make them more likely to sell? If you're a buyer, what do you look for when purchasing an item? If you're a seller, what techniques have you found to work in your favour?

I already list an item with pictures, both in the search results and within the details of the auction, offer Paypal, and write a bit of blurb about the item itself. I'd rather avoid using techniques that cost money, unless they actually bring increased return on the item.
posted by Solomon to Shopping (28 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
1. The quality of the description. Does the seller just say "good condition," or does s/he actually list the book's dents, creases, and dings? If it's a magazine, does the seller give a detailed overview of the contents?

2. Shipping costs. There's charging for handling, and then there's making a massive profit. I don't mind the former, but I avoid people who are clearly doing the latter.

3. Small opening bid. Like a lot of people, I tend to pause when faced with an auction that opens at $85, unless that would be cheap for the item in question.
posted by thomas j wise at 4:18 AM on May 31, 2008

In the case you describe, I generally go for the seller whose location is closer to mine, in hopes of faster shipping.

If both locations were equidistant, and both sellers had equally good feedback history, there's not much left to do but flip a coin.
posted by tomboko at 4:23 AM on May 31, 2008

Send both sellers a question about the item, if there's a reasonable question to ask, and see which one respondes more quckly and helpfully.

Compare their feedback, both in terms of absolute score and relative percentage of positive results.
posted by tiamat at 4:29 AM on May 31, 2008

- Presentation - quality photos, well written description, no spelling errors.
- Your own photographs
- Engaging, informal and friendly description rather technical specifications copied and pasted from other websites
- Quick response to any query.
- Transparent and up front approach to terms and conditions, and a friendly guarantee of a no quibble return policy.
- Buy it now - If you're selling items of a fixed price it helps if the seller doesn't have to wait on an auction ending.
posted by fire&wings at 4:38 AM on May 31, 2008

Quality of description, feedback, previous items sold, current items, shipping costs.

Professional vs. amateur: sometimes you're more comfortable buying an item from someone who sells nothing but that item or related items. Sometimes the opposite applies, and you're looking for a casual seller. That depends on the type of item.

(Example: I'm currently looking for a remanufactured A/C compressor. I'm going to be more comfortable buying that from someone who sells lots of them, than Random Seller. But if I'm looking for an old, unlocked cellphone, I'm more inclined to look for someone who's just getting rid of an old, out-of-contract phone than a commercial operation.)

Does it look as if the listing was bespoke (custom photos, conversational tone) or cranked out from a template, with stock photos and generic, cut-and-paste description? Again, there's a place for both, but it depends on the item.

Reverse psychology can also apply: a clueless, threadbare listing can attract people who think they're getting a bargain from an underinformed seller. That's not something you can pull off easily, though, and carries risks: better to look clueful and attract buyers who appreciate sellers with clue.
posted by holgate at 4:42 AM on May 31, 2008

When buying I'm primarily interested in the shipping cost (including to Canada), USPS shipping option (UPS brokerage rates are extortion), seller rating (a few items sold vs several thousand), and whether there's negative feedback (although I seem to remember something about them getting rid of that), and lastly proximity which is related to shipping cost. A photo of the item is a must.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 5:10 AM on May 31, 2008

A BuyItNow option helps too when you want the item, but not the hassle and bidding uncertainty of the auction.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 5:18 AM on May 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

Feedback (they still do negatives, and neutrals are also sometimes a good indicator of a crappy seller), shipping (because they love to rob Canucks blind), and Buy it Now (because watching an auction is annoying).
posted by zarah at 5:35 AM on May 31, 2008

I've managed to avoid buying anything from Ebay so far, so maybe I'm not your target audience here. But if there were something I needed that could only be bought from Ebay, I would prefer to buy it from an auction:

-- with Buy it Now, because I just want to buy the thing, not play around with auctions;

-- not written IN ALL CAPS AND KINDA ILLITERIT; the text doesn't have to conform to Chicago Manual of Style standards, but clear declarative sentences would be nice;

-- photos of the actual thing you are selling, rather than stock photos you borrowed from somewhere;

-- a phone number to call to ask questions -- that lets me know that I'm not sending my money to Nigeria accidentally and lets me assess if you are someone with whom I will want to do business;

-- clear and simple shipping terms that any idiot can understand.

Basically, what I'm saying is that to get my business you would need an Ebay auction that comes really close to a regular online store -- clear, simple, straightforward, etc. If all the Ebay auctions looked like this, and the company showed any interest in eradicating scammers, I'd do my shopping there. But most Ebay auctions that I look at have a very distinct "Ebay" look, with odd writing, defensive terms and conditions, etc, that are probably effective within the current culture of Ebay but are not enticing to someone looking in from the outside. Whether you give any weight to my perspective, I think, should depend on who your audience is -- if it is fully within Ebay culture, you need to look at what the effective sellers are doing and copy them, no matter how weird it looks to someone like myself.
posted by Forktine at 6:04 AM on May 31, 2008

Free shipping. You can put what you would have charged for shipping into the opening bid, but there's something about free shipping that makes me happy.
posted by theichibun at 6:16 AM on May 31, 2008

Feedback, shipping costs, and a Buy it Now option.
posted by mewithoutyou at 6:51 AM on May 31, 2008

Would not buy:
- Not your own photos
- Rude text. (Threats to deadbeat bidders, insulting people who ask questions...)
- Majority of text is cut-and-pasted from somewhere else
- Less than 97% feedback (but a hazy number)
- New, or high-ticket, item from someone with no feedback
- Very high shipping

Makes me hesitate, consciously or not, rationally or not:
- Photo of an important item was taken with a webcam or camera phone, and/or only one photo was provided
- Very new to eBay (fewer than 5 feedback or so)
- Text in all caps, littered with misspellings, or uses no punctuation
- Pictures are slow to load (I'll lose interest and move onto the next one)
- Bulk listing of many of the same thing
- "Picture is not of the exact unit you're purchasing, but is representative of the unit," really just on used items which aren't homogeneous copies of each other. If I'm buying something used with some scrapes and scratches, I want to see them!

OMG you're the one to buy from:
- 100% feedback.
- Copious photographs, including every defect that I wouldn't have even noticed if I owned the item. Bonus points if the photographs are well-taken.
- Well-written text, with paragraphs.
- Auction is currently undervalued ($500 camera currently at $25, no reserve, from a reputable eBayer? I'm bidding!)
- Shipping is stated explicitly and isn't confusing.
- Including all the information. I buy a lot of two-way radios, where I need exact model information to determine whether it's worth buying. A lot of people don't provide this.
- Brutally honest: "I dropped this camera once, hence a small chip in the bottom right corner, shown below. The camera still works fine."

One word of caution... 95% of the time, if you start at 99 cents with no reserve, statistics show that the item is going to sell for more than if you set a reserve equal to a fair price. But I've been in the 5% before, where the item sells for half of what it's worth for no apparent reason. If you don't want to sell an item below a certain price, set a reserve, unless you like living on the edge.
posted by fogster at 7:05 AM on May 31, 2008

What fogster said. Photos are mandatory. Negative comments about bidders, past auctions, warnings, hassles, all that stuff is a real turn-off. Text in all caps. The only thing I think fogster does not mention is that I only buy from people who will accept Paypal.
posted by thomas144 at 7:38 AM on May 31, 2008

fogster didn't mention, positive:
Long-term eBay member.
Quick response to questions.

fdm, neg:
No feedback as a seller.
Recently-changed account name.
Cheap commodity item w/high shipping costs.
posted by box at 7:53 AM on May 31, 2008

I am always turned off by excessive efforts in the amateur copywriting department. "These shoes are sophisticated footwear for the sophisticated, modern, glamerous[sic] women[sic]!" Let the pictures do as much talking as possible.

I don't really shop on eBay anymore thanks to the already-mentioned ripping-off Canadians get.

I am irritated by people with a two-bit very part-time eBay business whose text gives off the impression they fancy themselves running a massive, important company. "B3eautifullFaerieWhings' Return Policy is [six paragraphs follow complete with fake legalese]..." No thanks.

Put up a pleasant little "about me" page that isn't a sales hustle but a "Hi, I'm a Dad of two from Oregon who started doing this in his spare time after accumulating too many yo-yos, etcetera" friendly introduction.
posted by kmennie at 8:05 AM on May 31, 2008

Your own HQ photos.
Low shipping fees
Low starting bid.
posted by unixrat at 8:06 AM on May 31, 2008

Unfortunately, there are now many more wannabe businesspeople on eBay now than average Joes trying to sell their stuff, and they have a completely different dynamic. It sounds like you're probably among the average Joe type, and for that I can give these tips:

* Definitely use your own photos, and take as many as you can with at least a decent-quality camera. Cell phone cameras say you don't care or you aren't serious about selling, and a single picture makes me think there's something that I can see in another angle that you don't want me to.
* I always look at previous feedback given by and given to sellers. It turns me off, of course, if feedback indicates they're a scammer, but it really really turns me off when a seller gives negative, seemingly retaliatory feedback to an unsatisfied seller.
* Try to be as accurate in your spelling and grammar as possible. I tend to avoid TYPING IN ALL CAPITALS with excessive punctuation!!!!!!!
* Conversational tone works wonders for auctions. It's how I do mine, and I have good success with them. It helps build rapport with the buyer and makes you seem like a real person who really has something to sell that I might care about.
* If it's something like an electronics item, provide model numbers, specifications from the manufacturer's website, and a link to the product on a reputable website.
* Honesty is the best policy. Don't sell your old cell phone in mint condition unless it really is. If you think the scratch is so small it's not worth mentioning, you're wrong. Mention it anyway, maybe take a picture to prove how trivial it is, and provide accurate details as to how it affects the performance of the object, if at all. I greatly respect someone who honestly says that there is a trivial scratch or whatnot on an item.
* Make your paying, shipping, and return policies clear and consistent. I dealt with a seller not too long ago who made it sound like they had a return policy for their item, but was extremely vague and decided not to take the item back just because he felt like it.
* Respond to feedback as quickly and helpfully as possible. Never underestimate the intelligence of the potential buyer.
posted by joshrholloway at 8:45 AM on May 31, 2008

Lately I've mostly been buying minitures for a table top wargame so this advice is most applicable to very small, relatively inexpensive commodity items.

Include shipping costs to Canada, preferably by USPS if the item is less than a $100. Brokerage costs for UPS/FedEX cost us $60-80 dollars. Guess what, I'm not buying a $12 miniature if it's going to cost me $120 to open the package.

Good photos you've taken, pictures from the manufacturer's site aren't useful unless the item is new in the sealed box. And at least a few pictures showing all sides. A single picture (almost always of poor quality and low resolution) is going to make me leery. If you are selling a set of multiple items make sure there are at least a couple shots of the whole group rather than just individual shots of a single item, even if they are all identical.

Give a discount for multiple items if they'll fit in the same box. I don't mind paying a modest handling fee but I hate paying the same fee 6 times for only 2 times the work/cost.

Things that will make me not buy from you:
Blanket statements that you won't answer questions about "foo" because you are just too busy. Cripes, if you can't answer questions before the sale how are you going to be with questions afterwords.

A huge disclaimer (both word count wise and because you are using a 24pt font plus bolding) about how eBay is screwing vendors over, threats against buyers, refusing to check email everyday (while implying anyone who does is freaky), and stating up front that it might be over a week before you ship stuff when you are a power seller. In fact, unless you are selling truely unique items at under value prices no screeds at all.

A multi item auction with both poor pictures and no detail of what exactly is included unless the price is so low that I buy the lot for the price of single item.
posted by Mitheral at 10:15 AM on May 31, 2008

I look at:

- How long the seller has been a member, a selling member
- Seller rating, especially within the last six months to a year assuming steady volume
- Buyer feedback, especially for patterns of problems or particularly good things
- A well-written, plain-spoken description, detailed enough but not overkill, written by a reasonable sounding person, that "sounds right" as in not scammy
- Original photos and descriptions rather than borrowed from the manufacturer
- No shipping charge surprises
- No ominous sounding warnings like "all sales final"
- Stupidly, "something personal". I'd rather buy from someone I would like than a cheezy hustler. It's stupid because anyone can fake it. But still.
posted by Askr at 10:32 AM on May 31, 2008

-pics (if it is a clothing item, or in used condition- if this is a standard item e.g. Eddie Bauer #9 hex wrench NIP pics don't matter to me)

-shipping price

posted by arnicae at 10:45 AM on May 31, 2008

-Try to anticipate questions a buyer would have and answer them in the description.
-If something is outside of your "field of expertise" say so in the description like "This is my dead grandpa's old widget. I don't know much about widgets but send me your questions and I'll do my best to answer them."
-Be up front about everything. Personally, I'll make a big point of mention the slightest flaw with an item, as I would rather lower the buyer's expectations and surprise them than raise them only to disappoint them.
-A huge turn off for me is anyone that is obviously trying to wring every last penny out of the seller. In theory, it's against ebay policy to charge extra for paypal/CC, and if you say you'll do it, I won't bid.
posted by drezdn at 12:27 PM on May 31, 2008

I like actually reading the negative feedback, and seeing what the seller responses are.

And what everyone else said about professional-looking listings, lots of detail, etc.
posted by trevyn at 1:38 PM on May 31, 2008

1. Seller history including quantity and feedback of recent items sold
2. Clear description of item including any flaws
3. Quality photos help but are not essential. I like to be able to see the item so tiny photos suck. I'd rather see a stock photo (or a link to the product page on the manufacturer's site) with an honest, detailed description about any flaws than a crappy photo or no photo with a poor description.
4. Proximity to me
5. Shipping costs, shipping options, insurance option
6. Must accept Paypal
7. Return policy (if it breaks because you packed it badly I want my money back)
8. I generally won't buy high priced items on eBay no matter what. Too risky.
posted by wherever, whatever at 5:20 PM on May 31, 2008

I will not buy from anyone on eBay (or craigslist for that matter) who won't communicate via email (or ebay's in-house message system).

Prefer simple auctions (default plain template) with clear text and lots of large photos of the item, taken by the seller. Really try to avoid super-fancy tawdry template auctions with huge disclaimers, animated GIF American flags, etc.

Really, really, really dislike people pasting in brochure copy from some other web site; don't mind at all people posting links in their auctions on where to learn more.

Super high shipping fees suck, though in some categories they're almost inescapable.

But my number one "try to find someone else" reason I avoid certain auctions? "I will leave positive feedback when I receive positive feedback." Screw that bullshit.
posted by maxwelton at 5:21 PM on May 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

Offer a significant combined-shipping discount, and specify what it is, so people who are already buying from you might be tempted to think "hmmm.... since the shipping will be almost free for any other item I buy from this person... I think I'll check if they're selling anything else that I might want"

Similarly, if I can buy two different items that I want from the same seller, that seller automatically wins out over the other sellers - I prefer combined purchases to buying things separately, as it keeps things simple (fewer transactions) and I usually save money on shipping.

n'thing BuyItNow

If colour is important (clothes, wood/furniture, etc), the photo needs to not use flash or artificial light, and have enough in the background that I can figure out what the real colour of the item is, as working out what hue and colour an item is from a photo being displayed on a monitor, can be very difficult.

If size is important, put something next to it for scale reference - ruler, coins, etc.

If condition is important, close-ups of the worst of the wear and tear are very reassuring - they make the purchase seem much less like a crapshoot, which in turns means I can safely bid higher.

As regards description, professional is good, yes, but can count against a seller if it gives the impression "this is lot #4923 that we acquired in a liquidation sale, no human in our organisation has looked at it, but if you like whatever is in the pictures, buy it and a robot will have it shipped it to you"
This is trumped by a seller who seems to have expertise on the item that they are selling. (Just don't give the impression that you're the kind of expert who knows the value of what you're selling and will ensure that the auction will not therefore result in a bargain. Ie you're not a trader or dealer, you just know your stuff).
posted by -harlequin- at 5:32 PM on May 31, 2008

I am solely a buyer, and I have experienced the scenario you mention often. As far as choosing between two (or more) sellers, it's really a combination of three things:

Professionalism: The presentation of the auction page doesn't have to be fancy; in fact, I find that when sellers try to use flashier presentations, it often detracts from the item for sale. Generally, I appreciate an intuitive descriptive blurb. I think that a seller can really anticipate any questions a potential buyer might have, and the more complete the description is, the more comfortable I feel about bidding. A picture or two helps, but I don't think you often need to go overboard with them. Not only should there be a description of the item for sale, but it's just as important to have a little listing of the seller's 'rules' accompanying each item for sale. The clearer you are about what you will and will not accept as far as payments, returns, etc., the more encouraged a legitimate buyer might feel about bidding (and it might even discourage some of the bad seeds).

Accountability: I recently purchased an item and needed to email the seller after the auction ended for an adjustment of the total price. I waited for over a week, and when I finally did get a response, it was rude and unprofessional. As if I were supposed to know ahead of time, the seller pointed out that he only checks his email once a week! Buyers want to know that they can send an email and, except in emergency situations, get a response within a reasonable amount of time. Encouraging buyers to email you with questions or concerns (and replying to them) is a surefire way to set yourself apart from other sellers!

Feedback: I ususally dig pretty far into a seller's feedback. I look at both the positive and the negative, but I specifically track down any negative feedback left to see what sort of complaints were made. Sometimes the negative feedback makes the seller look bad, but sometimes the negative feedback makes the buyer look worse. Even if there are complaints and negative feedback, if I see that a seller takes them seriously and makes an honest attempt to smooth everything over, I am more inclined to buy from them.

Of course, price (including shipping and handling fees) is the first thing I consider, but I'd rather pay a little more for a good experience.

I'm not a seller, but I see some of those additional options that are available for sellers to attract buyers in action. I've not been too impressed by a lot of them. The list above influences my bidding far more. Finally, going back to your scenario of two sellers with the exact same item, it's usually pretty easy to choose which seller to go with once I consider everything in my list above.
posted by Mael Oui at 9:29 PM on June 1, 2008

The short version is: No surprises -- make me confident that I know what I'm getting.

Detailed description/photos of the condition (e.g. "There are a few scratches on the top and some wear on the corners. You can see this in the second picture." is better than "It's in pretty good condition" -- what I imagine might be wrong with it, if you don't give the details, is probably worse than the actual condition)

I want to know exactly what shipping will cost. My bid is what I'm willing to pay in total, minus the shipping cost.

I'd like to see that you know what you're talking about. If you have expertise in using/fixing/evaluating this item, you can demonstrate that when you describe the item and the condition. If you don't have expertise then don't pretend to -- just describe what you see.

I've sold about 500 items on eBay, mostly CDs. I've always had a no-questions-asked, full refund (including shipping both ways) guarantee. This has never caused me a problem, and I believe that I get higher bids for identical items as a result. The few times that someone wanted a refund, it was an item where it wasn't worth paying for return shipping so I just refunded the money and told them to keep the item.
posted by winston at 8:27 PM on June 2, 2008

I haven't seen this one mentioned yet:

Either use eBay's image hosting, or just host your images yourself and embed them in the listing. Do not use those Flash-based or AJAX-based image presentation devices I see on some auctions (very popular for car listings). Nothing frustrates me more when browsing an auction, especially when things start sliding around, blinking, jumping, etc. on their own.

Before you post your auction, open it up, and click through every image. If this was in any way a hassle for you in any way, change it.
posted by qvtqht at 4:58 PM on June 6, 2008

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