eBay Made Easy

America's worst computer user proves that anyone can become an elite seller on eBay.

My seven-year-old son Grant can find a rare Star Wars Yoda figurine on the Internet faster than I can find and open my e-mails. My nine-year-old, Jimmy, makes me feel just plain stupid when it comes to using my computer. As a 40-something year old man, I just missed the age of personal computers and completely missed the boat on the birth of the Internet. After all, I was busy getting a degree in chemistry, something I thought would be really useful. Boy, was I wrong. Luckily I bought my first computer eight years ago and taught myself how to navigate through Microsoft Word and occasionally make the daring decision of buying a hard-to-find book on Amazon.com. I can now type articles like this with the use of two very strong forefingers and I can even save and title my documents. Once in a great while, I’m even lucky enough to find the document again. Most of the time, however, all of my hard work disappears into the hard drive abyss. I am no different than many of the 100 million Americans over the age of 40. That’s what made the challenge of mastering the art of selling on eBay one of the most difficult goals I have ever set for myself in my life.

With over one million people making a living on eBay, they couldn’t all be computer geniuses.

The decision was a simple one. I needed to learn what all the fuss was about. I was reading article after article about how much money was being made by small business owners on eBay. One magazine taught me that there were 299,000 stores on eBay and another informed me that 742,000 Americans were making their primary or secondary incomes through this online auction house. If I wanted to lead a small business association, I was clear that I would have to learn everything I could about this avenue of selling goods on the Internet. With that knowledge, I could teach all of the other 40-somethings how to do it. It was settled: I would start selling on eBay. My plan was to sell 100 items in 100 days and I was extremely confident that I could do it. As a matter of fact, I was so confident that I didn’t even start selling until day 20. Actually, I was scared. I knew nothing about eBay and wanted to gather advice from as many people as I could before I got started.

“Don’t ever make anyone mad at you,” one person told me. “If someone leaves you negative feedback, your eBay business will close faster than it opened,” he continued, “and be careful about the bad check writers ... and never ship an item without tracking information. Then people will just plain steal from you.”

What is feedback, I wondered, and how can feedback shut down my business? If I was scared before, I was terrified now. But I became more determined than ever. With over one million people making a living on eBay, they couldn’t all be computer geniuses. I resolved to learn everything I could by navigating through the eBay site and then I’d finally get started. Learning how to navigate eBay by following this article might not be very entertaining, but learning how to invite millions of new buy-ences of your life. Even if you’re not a retail store, you can learn how to sell anything from grandma’s old eyeglasses to that velvet Elvis painting in your basement by carefully reading and following this eBay guide.

It wasn’t a very difficult decision to decide what I personally would sell: as a lifelong fan of professional football, I have collected thousands of football cards since I was a child. I had many cards that I really didn’t care about keeping anymore, but I knew that other collectors might be interested in obtaining them. After all, the first item ever sold on eBay was a broken laser pointer for $14.30. When Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay, called the buyer to make sure that the person knew that the laser pointer was broken, the buyer responded that he “was a collector of broken laser pointers.” This just goes to show that there is a nut for every bolt and I knew that there would be a buyer for every one of my cards. I just never realized how many people would want to buy my stuff. My strongest piece of advice is to sell only items that you own or have some expertise in. It is way too tempting to jump into the latest craze thinking you will make a quick buck. Most people who try this end up filling their garage with thousands of worthless Beanie Babies.

Getting Started

My first step was to go to eBay.com and to click on the word “register” at the top of the page where it says “Welcome! Sign in or register.” After filling in my personal information, I needed to choose a user ID and password. The user ID I had chosen was not available, so eBay suggested “jamest4791.” At the time, that was fine with me. I later decided that I should have kept searching for a name that better described my store like “jimsfootballcards” or “footballcardsales,” but I got used to the one they assigned me. I recommend that you keep trying different user IDs until you find one that best describes your business. You must have an e-mail address to have an eBay account, so if you don’t have one, go to Gmail.com or Yahoo.com and you can register for a free e-mail account. You must also have a method for paying eBay for your listings. You can use credit cards or checks and they only bill you once per month, but I decided to open an account at PayPal.com. Registering for a PayPal account was just as simple as registering with eBay and it allowed me to pay my eBay invoices right out of the profits from my sales as most of my customers paid me through PayPal.

PayPal, a wholly owned subsidiary of eBay, is a payment medium that processes over 40 billion dollars per year in sales. There are multiple benefits to having a PayPal account, including faster payments from buyers and a 5 percent greater chance of selling your items and a 6 percent average ticket lift on the average item sold. PayPal allows you to accept credit cards and electronic checks for fees that are no greater than if you had your own merchant account. PayPal also offers security features for buyer and seller protection as well as numerous convenient features such as PayPal shipping, which offers tracking information and seamless interaction with eBay’s main site. Even better, it’s free to transfer money from your PayPal account to your checking account. Many headaches and countless hours of extra work were avoided by using this simple payment and shipping vehicle. The only drawback to PayPal is that it takes a day or two to verify a new account. Other than that, it’s a piece of cake. Also, please note that any money that you make on eBay is taxable income. Be sure to consult your tax advisor about your local tax laws.

Once those two small items were taken care of, I was ready to sell. I went to the eBay main site where this time I clicked on “Sign in” at the top of the page. After entering my user ID and password, I was sent to the “My eBay” page. This would become the center of my eBay universe. Everything I would ever buy or sell could be found by accessing this page. I could also leave or look at that all-important feedback through this page. Feedback, I had learned, was the key to all success on eBay. Buyers and sellers leave feedback for one another to tell each other how satisfied they were about their transactions. This information is made public so that everyone can see everyone else’s feedback. This is the genius of eBay. If every store or restaurant in America had a sign in front of it showing every visitor’s true feelings about making a purchase there, customers would always be treated with the highest amount of integrity and respect. If potential customers walked in with a shirt that advertised that they buy hundreds of items like yours every week and always pay on time, they would be treated differently as well. The eBay feedback system forces every business owner to be nice to every single customer because people won’t buy from a member of the eBay community with a poor feedback rating. I found myself looking at this page five to 10 times every single day.

Creating a Listing

At the top of the page is the “Sell” button. I clicked this button for the first time with thousands of butterflies dancing in my stomach—I was finally ready to sell some football cards. From the very beginning, I was impressed with the simplicity of creating my first listing. After looking at other football card listings by doing a simple search, I learned how to title and describe my items. The only place I felt intimidated was where it asked to “Add Pictures.” My wife and I have a digital camera, but in the past I was never even able to learn how to e-mail a photo of my boys to my sister in California. I took some photos of my football cards with my camera and placed the digital photo card in a port on the front of my computer. After the computer recognized the card, I then clicked “Save to My Computer” and entered a file name of “eBay Items” where it placed these photos in My Pictures. I am told that this is simple to do on any computer regardless of the manufacturer. I personally had no problem at all. After clicking “Add Pictures,” a new window popped up where I actually had to click it again. Like seeing a burning bush, my pictures popped up right in front of my eyes on my computer. All of them—even the ones of my kids that I tried to send to my sister three years ago! I just clicked on the first football card and it magically jumped from my computer to my eBay listing. I clicked upload on the screen and it jumped again and made that second window disappear. “Hallelujah” was the only word that came to mind.

My strongest piece of advice is to sell only items that you own or have some expertise in. It is way too tempting to jump into the latest craze thinking you will make a quick buck.

In my head, “I think I can, I think I can” was quickly changing to “I know I can, I know I can” while I sailed through describing my item and moved on to pricing it. From research and experience, I learned to set the starting price at the lowest price that I would accept for the item as that would keep my listing fees down and generate the maximum interest in my cards. There were also two options to set an immediate purchase price and to set a reserve price where I would be able to set a secret minimum bid before I would have to sell the item to a potential buyer. I only used these when absolutely necessary as they generate additional fees for listing an item. I used eBay’s automatic shipping calculation system to determine shipping costs. This gave buyers more options on speed of shipping and purchasing insurance to protect their purchase. “Keep it simple” quickly became my motto.

After clicking “Save and Continue,” I was sent to a page with numerous options for upgrading the listing of my item. I could make my listing stand out with borders and colors and a multitude of options, all of which raised the price of my listing. In fact, an eBay listing can run from about 50 cents to 80 dollars in addition to a final sale fee. I recommend that you start with a conservative approach. The value pack at 65 cents gives you the maximum bang for your buck and will keep most listings under two dollars. It gives you a photo of your item in search results and adds a subtitle line to your listing where you can better describe your product. I never created a listing without this option. The bottom of this page will show you the price as you add and subtract options. Each option is self-explanatory, so read each description carefully. Experiment with your listings and you will learn which options work best in your industry. In the center of this page, you can see a preview of what your item listing will look like in the search results on eBay. To see your entire listing, click on “Preview your listing.” To make any changes, click on “Edit Listing” and you will be sent back to the first listing page. Never—and I repeat—never click on the back button or backspace button on your computer when you want to make changes to your listing. You may be sent back to a previous page where you will be forced to create your listing all over again. Always use the “Edit Listing” and delete buttons to make any changes.

When you believe you have finished, click “List Your Item” and your item will be posted for sale. There is an option to “Save this listing as a template,” and you should always check this box if you believe that you will sell a similar item in the future. My first listing took me about 30 minutes and I saved the listing as a template. The second one took me about 20 minutes and the third one only 15 because I continued to use the same basic template. After about 10 listings, I was down to five or 10 minutes each. I created 25 listings my first day in about three hours with no help from the outside world. (OK, maybe just a little, but it was from my seven-year-old son.) Experience taught me that the best time to list items is on a Sunday or Monday evening, possibly because most people are at home these two nights of the week.

My eBay

It’s now time to get familiar with the “My eBay” page. Again, it is the center of your eBay universe. Every time you visit eBay, click on the “My eBay” icon at the top of the page. You will be required to log in using your eBay ID and password. This page summarizes all of your eBay activity including buying and selling reminders, current feedback status, items you are watching, messages or questions from buyers, account information, and—most importantly—the current status of everything you are currently selling. This is located at the bottom of the page just above a list of items you have already sold. In this section, you can view the number of people watching and bidding on each of the items that you currently have for sale. Watchers are people who are keeping an eye on your items. Ebay sends them reminders when your item is close to ending and your items are also listed on their own “My eBay” pages. At the bottom of the page, you will see “Sold Items.” These are the items you have sold with the final sales price. Next to each item, you will see a “Send Invoice” button. Click on this button to preview and then send an invoice to each of your buyers. If you have sold multiple items to a single buyer, the invoice system will allow you to group the items together and offer shipping discounts to these people. I highly recommend offering shipping discounts to winners of multiple items. The eBay universe will definitely ask you for it.

Once a buyer pays you through PayPal, the dollar sign next to the sold item will light up and you will see “Print Shipping Label” next to the item as well as reminders about shipping items at the top of the page. If you click on “Print Shipping Label,” you will be rerouted to PayPal’s shipping center. You should use this system if you’re now comfortable on your computer as it will allow you to choose the speed of shipping, see the price, get insurance up to $500 on your item, print multiple shipping labels at once, and to track all shipments. It offers an item called “delivery confirmation” which gives you a postal tracking number. Do not send any package without requiring delivery confirmation! It is typically an 18-cent option, but it is the best 18 cents that you can spend as this is your only protection against claims of goods not received. If you decide to ship through DHL or UPS or just want to go to the post office, make certain that you save the tracking numbers on every item you ship. I suggest you send this number to your buyer immediately so they can watch for the package as well. After they receive the item, the buyer should leave you feedback.

Not all buyers on eBay will leave you feedback, but most will since they know how important it is to this marketplace. Next to every single user ID on eBay is that person’s feedback score. You can click on that number to see all of that person’s feedback. Feedback can be positive, negative, or neutral. The score itself can range from zero to 300,000. The higher the number, the better the user’s reputation on eBay and the safer you can feel about having a transaction with this person. Beware of buyers or sellers with recent negative feedback. This often indicates that they are leaving the eBay community and want to hurt and steal from people on their way out. If you see people like this bidding on your items, you have the option of removing their bids and even blocking future bids on all of your goods. If you are concerned about fraud, eBay has an incredible customer support team that will help you with any questions by e-mail or telephone. Leave positive feedback for your customers only after they have done the same for you. Once feedback is left, it cannot be removed or altered in any way. If you leave positive feedback too early and your customer goes south on you, you will have no recourse or protection. Once both of you have left feedback, your work is done. It may seem like a lot, but I assure you that it’s worth the effort. Selling an item on eBay that would have ordinarily sat on a shelf gathering dust will be one of the most satisfying things that you will ever accomplish in your life.

Not long after selling my 100 items and after learning the ins and outs of eBay, I almost cried when I checked my eBay inbox and saw the words, “You are an eBay power seller.” Power sellers are the cream of the crop on eBay and they receive this status from their sales volume and positive feedback scores, which must remain above 98 percent. I have now reached power seller gold status, which places me among the top 1 percent of eBay sellers, and you can do the same by following all of the advice provided in this guide. Becoming a power seller has multiple benefits, but the biggest one is a significant increase in income. Many additional buyers will place bids and spend more money just because you have one of the best reputations on eBay where reputation is everything, just like it is in your community! Good selling!

More eBay Information

»Wacky sales and restricted eBay items.
»10 eBay Dos and Donts.
»PayPal: Using the Web's best billfold.

Is this topic relevant to your small business? Discover more for FREE through our print version.

Reader Comments

There are currently no comments. Be the first to leave a comment!

Copyright © 2009 - 2021 America's Best. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.