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Birth of an Ebay Business – How It Happened Quite by Accident

Updated on August 15, 2019

My July 2019 eBay Seller Dashboard

The Memory

Today, when I handed my local USPS mail carrier four packages from the past weekend’s internet sales, I thought about how in the span of ten years, an accidental hobby became a real eCommerce business. How was it possible that in the midst of the 2008-2009 recession and economic meltdown, I happened upon and built a small successful eBay side business? Answer - quite by accident. Here’s how it all started...

The Journey - TJ Maxx's Mistake

My journey began after an unsuccessful attempt at returning a new, never worn, tags still attached garment WITH the original register receipt to a local TJ Maxx store. The store manager’s decision to refuse the return prompted me to decide to sell the item online. I don’t want to digress, but I’m sure you’re wondering why TJ Maxx refused to accept the return, and I admit now, I was in the wrong. But in short, it was outside of their return timeframe, way outside of their return timeframe. Looking back, I probably should have just thrown the receipt away and opted for a merchandise credit, but my path for this business required this precise experience, and I am grateful. I will save sharing my return experience with you for another article. Nonetheless, TJ Maxx’s return policy was the driving force for my decade long successful eBay business.

The Decision to Sell

Now for years, I had been an occasional eBay shopper, so I will not go into details about registering and setting up an account. If you need more specifics in that area, you can do a quick Google or Bing search for that information and you will see several search results with many stories, articles, and how-to’s for being an online retailer. My intent for this article is not to rehash common knowledge, but instead, to share some lessons aimed at preventing you from quitting your day job and slowly lead you to building a lucrative online side hustle.

Back to the story. When I left the TJ Maxx store and decided to sell the garment on online. My initial thoughts were, “Yeah right - fat chance. Out of the hundreds of thousands of items for sale on eBay, who’s going to buy my article?” At the time, it had not dawned on me that the item was pure, rare French luxury. I had a beautiful pair of discontinued lace French designer panties by Lise Charmel in size large! Now before you go “Yuck,” the panties had never been tried on or worn. My personal quest for finding the matching bra in a size 34D, was over. However, somewhere in the world, someone else was looking for this exact pair of panties in this exact size.

Selling for the First Time

Even though this was my first time selling an item on eBay, I had made a few purchases before and had a good feedback score. (And here is an important lesson, once upon a time, in order to sell on eBay, you had to have a minimum positive feedback score.) After removing the TJ Maxx price tag, I laid my panties on the table and I snapped a picture. In hindsight, it was an awful, blurry, grainy picture, but I downloaded it to my computer, and I uploaded it to my listing. (Lesson, pictures sell. Take quality pictures. Two to three good high-quality pictures are better than 12 blurry, grainy pictures.)

Next was the pricing. Remember, I was new to this and I had not done any pricing or availability research. (Lesson, do your homework first on what you are selling and price competitively.) I was naïve and only wanted what I had paid at TJ Maxx. My seven-day auction listing for the beautiful blue Lise Charmel lace bikini panties started at $9.99, plus a moderate shipping fee. In retrospect, at the time (2009), I should have sold the panties at a Buy It Now price in the area of $29.99 to $49.99. In addition to the panties, I also listed about eight other new, never worn or gently used items from my closet. Since I didn’t really know much about selling, and didn’t do any significant research, my starting auction prices were fire sale, house-burning low. Back then, my inexperience and ignorance caused me to lose money and make an inaccurate assumption that low auction prices get people to bid instantly. It doesn’t. My personal experience with auctions has been that the lower the auction price, the more watchers you accumulate and the longer it takes for bidding to begin. (Lesson – repeat, do your homework first and price competitively. Fairly priced items, in my experience, generate genuine upfront bidding.)

Quality Photographs Sell Merchandise

Good pictures sell your merchandise.  Quality photographs are a must.
Good pictures sell your merchandise. Quality photographs are a must.

Lesson #1

Potential buyers will trust you more if you have a positive feedback score.

Lesson #2

Pictures sell. Take quality pictures. Two to three good high-quality pictures are better than 12 blurry, grainy pictures.

Lesson #3

Do your homework first, and price your items competitively. Fairly priced items, in my experience, generate genuine upfront bidding.

The Auction Waiting Game

I was crestfallen after day six when no bids had been placed on any of my items. On the very last day of the auctions, between two to six hours before the items were to end, a bid came in for an Escada silk blouse I had listed at $19.99. Shortly thereafter, a bid came in for the Lise Charmel panties and just like that, a bidding war ensued over them up until the last second of the auction.

In the span of about six hours, the bids were poppin’ like popcorn. For those six or so hours, I could not move away from my computer. I was refreshing and reloading the webpage. Before the evening was over, all of my items received multiple bids and sold. The panties, my story catalyst, ended up selling for $19.99, double the price I had paid at TJ Maxx. And just like that – quite by accident, my misfortune at TJ Maxx had created a new eBay seller. In those hours, I became a new small-time online competitor. Upon this realization, I knew right then and there that an untapped and potentially lucrative business was inside my closet.

Shared Circumstances

In conclusion, my circumstances for starting this business were not unique. Most people have something of value in their closets, drawers, or garages, that is wanted and needed by someone else. For now, I want you to forget the yard sale and the curbside giveaways. Instead, take an inventory of the forgotten housewarming, baby shower, or wedding gifts you never used or waited too late to return. Go through your closet and pull out the new, unworn items. I’m sure you have some. Then, set aside some time to do simple shopping searches for these forgotten items. (Lesson, to make the research worth your while, sign up for Bing Rewards and receive rewards for doing daily searches.) Next, create a pricing list with the lowest and highest sale prices for each of these items. Chances are, you could easily sell those items at prices smack-dab in the middle.

I would love to share more lessons with the public and welcome feedback on areas in which you would want to learn. I’ve included a couple of dashboard screenshots, which hopefully, will incite some inspiration.

Lesson #4

To make the research worth your while, sign up for Bing Rewards and receive rewards for doing daily searches.

© 2011 KR Glenn

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