eBay Auction Tips for Beginning Sellers

While eBay offers a useful platform for selling unique items, the auction system has a few traps and pitfalls. New users may be caught off guard by simple mistakes, especially if they have memories of the first few years of eBay. Running a successful auction isn't quite as easy as it once was. If you want to get top dollar for your grandmother's thimble collection or your vintage G.I. Joe figures, you'll need to guard against common errors and set your listing up for success.

Is an Auction Right for You?

This is the first question that you'll need to ask yourself. While eBay's reputation is forever linked with the early days of online auctions, in today's marketplace, some items simply aren't a good fit. More sellers are operating online, and you may be surprised to find that there are dozens of your exact floral thimble for sale. When the Internet enabled a more connected world, it also enabled dozens of professional thimble sellers to open up shop and compete with you.
Auctions thrive at assigning a value to items that are hard to price normally. Is your item unique? Is it in better condition than most on the market? Is it signed? Is it in collectible packaging? Is it part of a set that you'd like to keep together? If the answer is no, then you may need to choose a fixed price listing instead of an auction.
Online shopping has shifted toward on-demand sales. Any auction is going to last for at least three days and generally should last for seven. Each day is a day that your potential buyers can look at similar items that may be available for immediate purchase. While you can add Buy-It-Now options to your auction, creating a hybrid listing, it ultimately defeats the purpose. If you already know a reasonable price to expect, it's better to just start a standard fixed price listing. This will allow buyers to purchase without waiting for the listing to end. A fixed price listing is effectively just an online classified ad, which you may find easier to manage. Fixed price listings don't have the scheduling issues that you can encounter with an auction.

The Right Time

Scheduling your auction correctly is one of the most important steps to success. Unfortunately, it is easy to accidentally end your auction at a suboptimal time. If you stick to a standard listing, your auction will start immediately after you list it and run for the allotted time. For example, night owls will see their auctions end after midnight.
That's not good. While many bidders will submit pre-bids and ignore the close of the auction, or use tools to automatically submit “snipe” bids, some still wait until the closing minutes to put in their offer. Also, many users often search by auctions that are ending soonest. The last 24 hours usually see a spike in traffic as searchers rush in to check out your listing before it's too late.
The goal is generally to have an auction end on the weekend during the evening. Sunday can often be a good ending day because your listing will be in its crucial last 24 hours starting on Saturday when many people are free to browse. For the exact time, don't forget about time zones. California and Texas have a lot of buyers. 7 PM Eastern time is 4 PM Pacific time. Aiming for 8 or 9 PM Eastern time is a good idea, as it allows you to catch the entire country at a fairly convenient time.
To have your auction end at a good time, you need to start it on time. You can either choose to set up a scheduled listing (which will cost a flat fee of 10 cents), or you can choose to save your listing as a draft. Once you save a listing as a draft, it'll stay on your account. Then you simply have to log on at the right time and press the button. It's your personal decision whether it's worth 10 cents.

The Right Place

Just as grocery stores take the time to organize and group their produce, so too should you find the right place to slip in your item. Just because it's a virtual marketplace doesn't mean that it's a free-for-all. While bidders are often able to find a listing by simply searching for the words in the title, placing your item in the most relevant category is still a good use of your time.
eBay now utilizes a catalog system. Even unique items have “item specifics” that you can fill out when listing. These specifics are based on the category that you're using. This gives you an opportunity to add in relevant details, such as a condition grade, a manufacturer, a year of production, the series name, etc. Specifics help the search engine direct buyers to your exact item and give you an idea of what type of information buyers need in the description.
Thankfully, this is quite easy. While you can manually go through the category tree in your listing, it's faster to search for similar items and look for the option to “sell one like this” on the page. This will set up a draft filled with an appropriate category and some item specifics. Just be sure that you confirm that all the information is correct for your item. Don't let another seller's mistake spread to you.

The Right Price

We'll end on a fairly simple lesson. Sadly, the days of 99 cent auctions are over. While sellers were once able to truly let the market decide on the price, you'll just wind up disappointed if you do that now. There are generally too many sellers chasing too few buyers. Cheap starting prices won't necessarily draw in extra actual bidders, and you may end up giving someone the deal of the century.
To price your item, search eBay and try to find similar pieces. There's an option along the side search panel which will let you look at sold listings. Take a look at the range of prices over the last two months, and then decide how quickly you need it to sell. If you're looking to only run one auction, choose a starting price at around half of the average sale price. If you're willing to let the auction run a few times until it finds a few good bidders, start it at the average.

Going, Going...Gone

With these tips, you should be well on your way to starting a successful eBay auction. You know what items are suited for auctions. You know when and where to list. Most important, you know your starting price. All that you need now are your pictures and a short description, then it's just a matter of time and patience.
Good luck!
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