As I have said, my 2014 resolutions require some advance clearing. First up, space, both physical and mental. I have a few pieces of very nice clothing (not to mention 10 pairs of new-in-bag Freed pointe shoes from my daughters days as a dancer) that felt too nice for Goodwill, and too old to give away here. Our local consignment shop was still full from the crash of 2008. I considered eBay, but had absolutely no idea how to begin.
Enter Alicia Kan, an Internet buddy and excellent communicator, to explain the practicalities and unforeseen pleasures of selling on eBay. If you always thought you might give it a shot, but were to shy to start, this is for you. Alicia, take it away.
In 2009 I put up most of my wardrobe for sale on eBay.
I had left my corporate job and eBay was a fantastic place to make some modest return on investment while building a new wardrobe. More importantly I met women who shared my style sensibility and would continue to love my clothes.
That said, selling on eBay can be complex. Misunderstandings with buyers are common, and the site is not the easiest to navigate for help. There is no incidence-free formula but I found that for the occasional seller such as myself, doing the below before clicking the Sell button will make the process quicker and easier.
Research the competition and play with pricing
Your Goyard bag is undeniably special; not so on eBay if there are 300 other sellers offering the same model. An initial reconnaissance is necessary homework for strategic pricing. Before listing, find the answers to these questions:
How common or unique is your item relative to what’s on eBay?
Has anyone ever sold a similar item and at what price? eBay has a feature that allows you to search for past auctions or sales based on keyword.
What is the demand? You can gauge this roughly by bidding activity and number of watchers.
eBay charges listing fees and a final value fee (FVF). PayPal, eBay’s preferred payment method, will also take a commission on any payment processed through their platform. You can create a spreadsheet to play around with pricing, building in costs such as mailing supplies, or you can use my calculator as a guide. (ed. note: this is a Google doc, which you should be able to access if you have a Google account.)
Take lots of photographs
After the headline, the photo is the most critical sales tool. Bad pictures can’t sell even the most awesome item; conversely I’ve seen the most ordinary object get into a bidding war because it was photographed beautifully. Some recommendations:
Use natural light as much as possible; flash photos are seldom flattering.
Photograph your item against a severely plain background, devoid of distractions. You want all attention on your item and nothing else. Butcher’s paper works a treat.
Take as many pictures as you can from every angle you can think of. Have a mixture of full shots and close-ups, including labels. Buyers feast on pictures, and eBay gives you 12.
Crop, sharpen or adjust the contrast on your photos as necessary. You don’t have to have Photoshop; your computer’s image editing program is good enough.
Should clothes be photographed on a mannequin? Undoubtedly a wrap dress looks better on a dress form than on the carpet, but it’s not necessary. Just make sure garments are free of wrinkles, look good on a hanger and don’t compete with the background.
Currently, the trend on eBay is to be short on descriptions and have the pictures do all the talking – a smart way to head off the occasional abusive buyer who complains about misleading copy. Make sure yours are eloquent.
Measure and weigh
There is no hard standard on measurements but one thing is certain: Measurements are better indicators of fit rather than the confusing array of sizes we have today.
I normally measure garments flat, indicating in my listing that measurements are to be doubled. For shoes the insole, heel height and width are the bare minimum – you will always get questions whether they’re true to size, in which case refer buyers to the measurements rather than what’s on the box or sole. For boots where it’s hard to get to the insole, measure the length of the outer sole with the heel flush to a wall.
Why weigh? Because eBay’s postal options require mailing weights. Having this information on hand will speed up your listing. Invest in a simple scale that you can buy from Office Depot.
If you need a listing form for measurements and weights, here’s mine that you can adapt for your own purposes.
Create a template with your terms and conditions (T & C)
We’ve all seen eBay listings where T & Cs rival Apple’s 50-page user agreements. This is a reflection of the occasional abusive buyer I mentioned earlier. Having said that, it’s always good practice to spell out whether you’ll take returns, your shipping practices – overnight or only on weekends? – and whether you sell to overseas buyers.
Keep your T & Cs as factual as possible; resist the 18 point all-caps, vivid fonts and exclamation points. If you need a bare-bones list, here are some that you can borrow. You want a document that you can easily cut and paste.
Stock up on packing material and open an account with the US Postal Service (USPS)
You’ll need boxes, envelopes, packing tape, bubble wrap and/or tissue. USPS Priority Mail boxes are free if you sign up online. As an eBay seller you will be eligible for mailing discounts from the post office, and shipping Priority means you can print mailing labels at home and schedule pickups without leaving the house.
Should you offer free mailing? eBay’s research shows that likelihood to buy goes up when postage is free. You can build the cost of postage and mailing supplies into your prices.
Surprise, there’s a sixth step: Prepare for joy.
Last year the mother of a good friend passed away. Jan was a Texan housewife who had kept everything, often in their original boxes and packaging.
Through her clothes we were able to retrace the arc of Jan’s sartorial life. From a 1951 navy Balmain dress to the Taxco silver jewelry she collected in later years, Jan was drawn to intricacy and detail.
She wasn’t alone. When we put up her wardrobe on eBay, there were delighted notes from bidders who had all but given up in finding a particular Enid Collins bag or Ceil Chapman dress.
One woman was overwhelmed to find a fortune cookie necklace by Miriam Haskell. ‘My daughter had given the exact same one to me years ago,’ she wrote, ‘but my house was broken into and the necklace was lost. I can’t believe I have it again.’
And that I think is the ultimate reward of selling on eBay. More than the money you’ll make, it’s the gaps you will fill, the reunions you’ll unwittingly orchestrate. Perhaps our possessions have a divine destiny of journeying around. There is no better airport to see them off than eBay.
Alicia Kan is a marketer obsessed with vintage. Her startup Chiffon & Champagne, an online marketplace for gently used bridal wear, launches in 2014. Alicia, thank you very much. With any luck, my white cashmere Kiton suit will find a wearer at last.