Tuesday, April 15, 2008

My Top 5 Tips for eBay Buyers

Simple strategies every buyer should have in their bag of

Buying on eBay has become
something of an art form. My casual eBaying friends complain to me that someone
else usually wins the auctions they bid on, for example. When I suggest sniping
software, they give me a blank look. But without sniping, it's become very tough
to get those in-demand items that attract multiple bidders.

And sniping is just one bidding strategy you should know about. Here are five
tools I think every eBay shopper should have in their arsenal to buy wisely:

1. Watch an item before you bid on it

More and more, I see eBay users watching my items before they bid on them.
Why? No doubt it's because as soon as an item gets even one bid, it's much more
likely to get more attention and other bids, driving up the price. So they
simply add it to their watch list until they're ready to place a bid.

Of course, watching is also a nice way to keep an item in your sights if you
haven't yet made up your mind whether to buy it or not, and eBay will send you a
nice little reminder when someone else bids on it.

In some cases, this means placing a bid at the last moment, which brings us

2. One word: Snipe

I think it's almost essential to snipe nowadays if you're bidding on an item
with more than one bidder. Take your pick of automatic sniping software
programs, such as AuctionSniper; just choose one, and make sure your bid is as
high as you are willing to pay, without overpaying. Of course, even sniping
won't guarantee you will win an auction. But I find that when I use sniping
software and reasonably high bids, I win about 90 percent of the time.

3. Ask the seller a question

As a buyer I often have questions about items, and I like to use eBay's "Ask
Seller a Question" feature. I've found that even if I don't have burning queries
about an item, using this feature to ask something general is an excellent way
to get a feel for the seller anyway. Do they respond quickly and politely? If
they are a day or two late responding, do they apologize? Do they use reasonably
good English (assuming they are in the U.S.)?

These kinds of things can give you an idea of the type of person you are
dealing with, which is especially important on a big-ticket purchase. I always
try to sound cheerful in my responses to prospective bidders, thank them for
their interest, and apologize if I am getting to their query a day or so

4. Use both browse and search, and eBay's visual shopping tools

eBay is so vast that knowing how to sift through the site takes real skill.
Many eBayers just use search queries to shop. But if you only do that, you may
be missing out on some real gems that weren't blessed with appropriate title

So don't forget to browse too. And while you're at it, if you're in the mood
for a treasure hunt, try to look sometimes at big lots and identify great stuff
lurking within them.

Use eBay's picture gallery and new "snapshot view" feature to give you lots
of visuals on one page and speed up your "window shopping."

And eBay's "saved search" feature is a real boon for shoppers who don't want
to remember to keep submitting the same query over and over.

5. Be careful with feedback

This may seem like something for sellers to worry about more than buyers, but
I think buyers should still be very careful about leaving bad feedback, and only
do so after exhausting all other possibilities. Not only will your eBay feedback
karma be better, you lessen the risk of some other unforeseen retaliatory
behavior that may lurk on the eBay horizon-whether it's the seller buying
something from you in the future and purposefully leaving bad feedback, or
something else.

Oh yes, and don't forget to pay for your items on time! Happy shopping.


My Top 5 Tips for eBay Sellers

My Top 5 Tips for eBay Sellers

Increasing your competitive advantage in the online auction


The eBay selling landscape is
never static, but never has it changed so much as in recent weeks. The new
policy of sellers not being able to leave negative feedback for buyers is a sea
change in the way eBay handles its ratings system. And the new fee structure
presents not only a challenge but also an opportunity in some tranches of final
sales price levels and eBay Store items.

In this new world of eBay selling, what are some of the most important things
for you to do as a seller to stay on top of the game�bearing in mind, of course,
that the rules may change again very soon?

Some are the same meat-and-potatoes customer service-oriented things that
were always true; others are tweaked for the recent changes.

1. Take a few ounces of prevention for bad feedback

With the new policy, it will be harder to avoid negative feedback now.
Feedback is also more important than ever, as eBay is including Detailed Seller
Ratings (DSRs) in the "Best Match" algorithm that is the new default for search.
You can't completely protect yourself from "negs," but there are a lot of things
you can do to lower your odds of getting them in the first place.

Make it very difficult for your buyers to be disappointed. Be up front about
shipping costs, any flaws in your items, and anything else that needs
disclosure. Go a little overboard if possible, while still stressing your
products' good points.

One thing I do is write, "Please contact me if there is any problem" on the
printed receipt I put in the box. Extra touches, like a thank you card, can go a
long way in creating buyer goodwill. You may not have time to hand-write one
out, but even a stock printed thank you is a nice plus.

If you do receive a bad feedback, you can still try to work it out with SquareTrade, according to
eBay. (eBay's own mutual feedback removal system "will remain in place until the
second half of 2008," according to the announcement Q&A). Also, the feedback
may now automatically be removed if the buyer who left it gets suspended by
eBay, or if he/she doesn't respond to the Unpaid Item process.

2. Shipping: Broaden your horizons

Shipping costs are a key factor for many buyers. They can see 'em now right
in the search results. Granted, some care more than others about them. But, it's
always nice to offer as many different shipping options as you can, in different
price points.

If you are selling a book or printed matter that does not contain
advertisements, be sure to offer the "media mail" or "book rate" option�it is
much cheaper than priority mail.

With the dollar in its current weak state, many foreign buyers are snapping
up bargains from our virtual stalls. Why not open yours up and offer worldwide
shipping? I know, you may not be crazy about that customs form and subsequent
epic post office wait, but some online services like Endicia can make that a lot

I've sold to every continent except Antarctica, and it's always fun to see
who buys an item�and sometimes even why.

And believe it or not, you can fit a lot of different types of things in the
U.S.P.S. Priority Mail flat rate envelope, which you can send pretty much
anywhere in the world for $11 (and only $9 to Canada and Mexico).

3. Optimize for search

Among the foofaraw about feedback 'n' fees, the dark horse that may
ultimately be a bigger influence on sellers' bottom lines is eBay's decision to
make the "Best Match" option the default in search results.


OK, so what are the factors that make your listings a "Best Match"? Like
Google's "secret sauce" search algorithm, which it keeps under wraps, eBay isn't
exactly saying. It does say that two factors going forward will be that sellers
with DSRs 4.6 and above and at least 95 percent customer satisfaction in the
last 30 days will have increased exposure in the search results; also, sellers
with low customer satisfaction or shipping & handling DSRs will have
decreased exposure.

As to the other factors, one blogger tracked down eBay's Best Match patent application and
found that most of it "describes the relationship between search terms, the text
in the auction title and how relevance and desirability are determined." In
other words, how well does your title match the buyer's search terms? Meaning:
Choose your title words wisely and include as many relevant words as you

If you have more descriptive words you want to add but they aren't essential
to the search, I suggest buying the subtitle feature and throwing them in there.
I think a nicely worded (and preferably typo-free) subtitle really sets your
listing apart.

The Best Match patent goes on to describe other factors that can influence
search result rankings including: pictures available, seller ratings, price
range, geographic proximity of searcher to seller, shipping prices, time left in
an auction, number of bids, and Buy it Now.

I like to include as much information about the listing as I have time to fit
in. For example, if I am listing a piece of art, I may put a bit about the
artist's life in the description. You can cut and paste this from other sources.
As long as you attribute it and it's relevant to the listing, eBay doesn't
consider it "keyword spamming."

4. Sell in multiple channels

That old saw, "don't put your eggs in one basket" still holds true. What
better time to explore your options in selling in multiple venues? This makes
sense even if eBay's policies don't change. There are many benefits to having
your own Web presence, such as creating your own mailing list of loyal
customers. It's also a good idea to explore specialty selling sites that match
up with your listings; for example, if you sell collectible books, you can also
sell on AbeBooks, alibris, or amazon.com.

eBay sellers have been closely watching one link that shows different auction
sites and their percentage changes in listings. Visit the page yourself here.

5. Sell the best stuff you can

This one may seem obvious. But with eBay's final value fees going up, does it
make sense to look at your business model and either sell fewer, more expensive
items, or group some inexpensive items into lots to make more money per
transaction? Obviously, not every product lends itself to selling in lots. But
as many bloggers and analysts are saying, it's the sellers with the tightest
profit margins that will be negatively affected the most by these changes�and
may stop selling on eBay altogether. If you had infinite time, and a crew of
trained monkeys, you could make millions with $9.99 items. But you have

If you don't have an eBay Store yet, it makes even more sense to get one now.
Not only because it's a good, inexpensive place to store your items until that
right buyer comes along, but insertion fees are even lower now: $0.03 down from
$0.05 in the $1.00-$24.99 price range, and $0.05 down from $0.10 in the
$25.00-$199.99 price range.

Moreover, with listing fees down overall, you can think about listing more
with less risk, depending on your sell-through rate and profit margin.

And lastly: Don't forget to have fun. Remember fun? It's what brought a lot
of us to eBay. The policies and fees have gotten ever more complicated, and the
days of laughing over a human kidney for sale may be gone, but look for those
simple joys. Who knows, maybe someday I'll even make a sale to Antarctica.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Prospecting at Yard Sales: How to find the best stuff and the best sales

 Ah, the yard sale. You never know what you'll
find, and that's part of the fun. Sometimes it's fabulous stuff, like the time
I came across a set of Wedgwood cups and saucers in the coveted black-and-gold
Florentine pattern for 20 bucks. Other
days, it's slim pickin�s.

But having the right yard sale strategies can increase your odds of finding
quality items to resell. Here are a few tips to get the most out of your yard
sale-ing adventures:

- Go early to get the best stuff.

This is probably the most obvious tip. But yard sale culture is an early one,
and the early bird

often gets the best dishware, pottery, art, books, and whatever else is sitting
out. In fact, many

people show up before the advertised sale time, which is why many sales specify
"no early birds"

in the ad.

However, this does not necessarily mean you can't find good stuff later in the
sale. Which brings us to...

- You can often still find good stuff late in the sale.

Sometimes, things in the nooks and crannies have been overlooked by other
people. Be sure to look all over the sale and look completely through any boxes
that are set out. Other times, there are
hidden gems lurking there of which other folks did not recognize the value.

And some people make a point of going late to sales so they are in a better
position to bargain

with the sellers. They'll make an offer for a whole box or group of things, and
often these are

accepted because the sellers are eager to get rid of the stuff at that point.

3) Ask what else is there.

How do you get your hands on stuff no one else has seen yet even when you get
late to a sale? Ask the seller if he has anything else he hasn't put out. It's
best to ask for something specific; so

if you specialize in an area, such as cameras or clocks, you can ask for those.

One records dealer I know, who co-wrote my Albums special report, asks sellers
at yard sales if

they have any records they haven't put out for sale. This strategy has worked
for him many times.

- Search listed and unlisted sales.

Of course, check your local newspaper classifieds for sales, as well as
craigslist. (Craigslist

has probably become the better source around my neck of the woods, as many
folks don't want to

shell out the $90 or so it takes to place an ad in the major metropolitan-area

And don't forget Kijiji.com, eBay's own classifieds service. I once found a yard
sale that was

advertised on there and nowhere else. It had great stuff and not too many
people. You just never


But my favorite kind of yard sale is the "unlisted" or unadvertised
sale -- they simply put up a

sign and start the show. These sales are great, because, of course, there's not
as much

competition. Often you can find them around the sales that did advertise in the
newspaper, because they are piggybacking off that ad. So keep your eyes peeled
for those signs while you are driving or walking.

I usually pick out the sales I want to go to the
night before and print out the mapquest maps for them so I�ll be ready to go in
the morning. And many people swear by their GPS systems for finding their

And what about actually buying stuff at these
sales? One expert dealer I know of goes by the 25% rule: buy it for no more
than 25% (or less) of the price for which you think you can resell it. Speaking
of which�

- Dicker down, but don't insult.

Negotiation is fine at these sales, but do it within reason. Personally, if I
see a great item priced at a quarter, I don't try to dicker down the price to
ten cents. Sometimes you can just anger the seller and you may even make them
less likely to make deals with you on other things.

But if prices seem too high for a "yard sale," by all means offer
what seems fair to you. The worst thing they can say is no. Do be polite, and
don't make negative comments about the stuff. If you need to point out a flaw
to get a better price, try to couple it with a compliment to soften

the blow: "This is a lovely lamp...I see it has a crack, though�would you
take $15 for it?"

Enjoy your yard sale travels. One of the best
things about yard sales in my mind is they get me out of the house, enjoying
the fresh air, and meeting people. Combine that with making money, and what�s not
to like?


Julia Wilkinson

Author, "The eBay Price Guide" (No Starch Press, 2006); "eBay
Top 100 Simplified Tips & Tricks" (Wiley, 2004-6); "What $ells on
eBay for What," www.yardsalers.net/bookstore.asp; "My Life at
AOL," www.booklocker.com; Publisher, Yard Salers, www.yardsalers.net

Blog: "bidbits," at http://juliawww.typepad.com/bidbits