Modern Style Yard Sale: eBay

IMG_1181Reading  Junkyard Planet by Adam Minter, I was astounded at the amount of usable ‘stuff’ that leaves our recycling bins and Goodwill donations and ends up being shredded into bits (see Apple computer recycling program), or being wholesale sent to China and other developing nations where it can be disassembled into components and recycled. The concern is plastics: they are tested by people biting on them and chewing the plastics, then the plastics are melted down in open vats where toxic sludge is created, often in the homes of the recyclers. Yuck.

One antidote to this is to reuse as much as we can. If I personally can’t use something then I want to get it in the hands of someone who can use it. One of the best methods for people wanting something is when they pay for it! Selling an unwanted item on eBay is a great way to help the planet. If it’s truly unwanted by you then that’s even better; sell it at auction for a starting bid of 99 cents. Everyone wins – you get an unexpected amount of money (unless you’re trying to sell actual crap, bidders will flock to your auction), the item becomes useful, and presumably the buyer gets a great deal.

First Step: an eBay account with 5-10 positive feedbacks – If you don’t already have an account on eBay, sign up for one. It’s painless. Next, purchase some items on eBay to build up a reputation. Something like printer cartridges for your ink jet printer are a good start. Next Step: Set up a PayPal account. You don’t want to be negotiating checks or doing cash transactions in parking lots, so have money transferred via PayPal.


Ingredients for an eBay selling campaign:

  1. A digital camera or phone that can take pictures
  2. A computer to process pictures
  3. Eco-friendly packing materials – Save your Amazon and other packing material and reuse your bubble envelopes as packing materials
  4. Shipping containers (usually USPS priority mail boxes) – available delivered to your door by USPS.
  5. Shipping tape dispenser with transparent shipping tape

Before you start working on eBay’s site, clear a space on a table or desk and take pictures of the item you want to put on eBay. Take a front picture, a back picture, a side picture and a top and bottom picture, then try to focus on any defects and photograph them. Each auction lets you put 12 pictures up for free. Next, weigh the item on a postal scale, and note it.

Log into eBay with your user name. Type in a description of what you are selling and find some similar items for sale. Write down how the items are titled. Incorrectly titled items are a huge problem on eBay – I’ve seen creative searchers buying a $100 item for 99 cents because it was titled poorly  and no one else could find it. Search again on eBay for items with the title you wrote down. Then click ‘search completed items’ and look for auctions with multiple bids. If you find some, that should give you some clue as to the current eBay value of your item. Look at the items you selected – is yours better or worse than those? Why are we doing this? Many, many eBay purchases are IMPULSE purchases, so if you have a ‘Buy It Now’ price, it’s more likely to sell. However, since you’re selling your item at 99 cents you want to set a ‘Buy It Now’ price high enough to reward you, at least 10% more than the auction price you noted would be a good ‘Buy It Now’  price. One other advantage of ‘Buy It Now’  is you get your money immediately; auctions that go to their completion have to wait for the whims of the purchasers to complete the auction.

On any of these items like the one you’re trying to sell you’ll find a ‘SELL ONE LIKE THIS’. Click it and start the process.

Description: State up front that it’s used, if it is. Do you have the manual for the item? No? Put that in the description. Any accessories you don’t have? Any you have? Describe the defects in detail – having someone get exactly what they expect is part of what makes you a successful seller. Always say you only accept PayPal. If you’re putting a lot of items up for sale at once, you can say ‘will combine items purchased at the same time to reduce shipping costs’.

Price: An auction starting at $0.99 with a ‘Buy It Now’  10% above the auction value for eBay is perfect. If you don’t know the auction value, then just leave off the ‘Buy It Now’. Set the auction for 7 days. Never use a reserve price unless you have a REALLY good reason, as this is a guarantee lots of people will not bid.

Shipping: Your job is to avoid EVER standing in line at the post office. People have died standing in that line. The cardinal rule for me: I want an acknowledgment of Delivery! This avoids the ‘GEE I never received it’ claim. When I can I limit shipment to priority mail envelopes, or small, medium or large priority boxes from the post office. You can order these boxes online and they are shipped to your house (NO VISITING THE POST OFFICE!). So go on and order some free supplies: a few priority envelopes and a set of priority boxes (small, medium and large) and figure out what will fit your item. This is now the box it will ship in.

Disable the ‘Global Shipping Option’. At this time, people outside the US get a complicated menu that often confuses them, so it’s simpler to just keep the auction in the US unless you want to increase your headaches.

Pictures: Upload the pictures of the item.

Start the auction.

A few comments: Be in town for the next fourteen days. With ‘Buy It Now’, you might close an auction at any moment. You also might have to look at the item (does the telephone have a headset jack?) and respond to email questions. If the auction runs to completion, it may take up to a week or more after it closes for you to resolve any buyers who didn’t use ‘Buy It Now’.

At the end of the auction, you’ll need to print out a shipping label, package up the item and seal it in a box. If you have put more than one item up for sale,  PLEASE handle one item at a time from the start to the finish of packaging. Twice I have shipped the wrong people the right stuff and it is an unimaginable headache to undo. Completely assemble and package one item at a time!

Please give your buyers feedback. If they pay, regardless of how late, I always say ‘excellent eBayer!’ as my comment. Don’t delete this auction from your ‘sold’ list until either they’ve given you feedback, or you’ve asked them three times. I usually try to guilt them into feedback, by emailing: I left you positive feedback and I’d appreciate it if you could do the same for me.

What I find is that if I have low expectations (like 99 cents) things sell for way more than I expect.

What happens if there is a problem with an auction? I have found that eBay these days is very willing to work with sellers to terminate finished auctions if your buyer flakes out, so you don’t get blamed or charged. If your auction winner doesn’t pay, contact eBay and work with someone to terminate the auction without fees charged to you. Relist the item with a by-it-now of 80-90% of the previous purchase price. This works like a charm.

Through this process, I’ve had a number of successes and a few failures. For the most part I’m amazed at how much people spend on items I would otherwise have placed in the garbage or recycling bin or given to Goodwill. I once tried to give away a laserdisc player on Freecycle, and when no one responded, I put it on eBay for $100 ‘Buy It Now’  and 99 cents auction value. Some unsophisticated people drove the bidding up to $80 and when that happens the ‘Buy It Now’ option is removed. The laserdisc auction ended at over $700. You’d be surprised at the value of stuff in your house. My failures are usually in the form of frustration of dealing with people who don’t read the listing. Can I send you a check? NO. Will you reduce your shipping charges? NO. Once you realize that you can say No, these frustrations become minor annoyances….




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2 thoughts on “Modern Style Yard Sale: eBay”

  1. I am personally fed up of ebay , as a seller and a buyer , i feel neglected .

    I personally have started using , Bivver online auctions .
    Prices are cheaper , and i have sold a few things as well .

    1. Chris,

      Bivver looks interesting, but I need maximum number of viewers to execute a .99 cent strategy. I am no ebay shill, but this is a marketshare problem. When bivver has more marketshare than ebay I would be there in a heartbeat.

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