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Selling on eBay - What You Need to Know About Starting an eBay Business

Updated on March 6, 2015

Selling on eBay

I've been a successful seller on eBay for about 10 years. For two or three of those years, I made a full-time living for my entire family by selling on eBay. Now I sell part time and try to help others get a little financial freedom by selling items on eBay. I especially love to help people with an entrepreneurial spirit who dream of starting their own home business to learn the methods of real eBay selling.

Starting and running an eBay business isn't always easy, but it can earn you an unlimited income. It also has flexible hours and it can be a fun way to make money at home. Keep reading for more about what it really takes to sell on eBay

There are no magic formulas, but there is a heck of a lot to learn for sellers who want to get serious. It seems that the site gets more complicated every year with new rules, new marketing tools and new ways to keep it all organized. But, keeping on top of all the changes and the way the market ebbs and flows can make a huge difference on your bottom line.

The Fees You Pay

When you sell on eBay, the money you earn isn't really your profit. Your profit is the money you earn after you deduct the many fees and expenses that every eBay seller must pay in the course of doing business. Every time you list something, you must keep in mind the fees that you have to buy the item, pay to list the item and to accept the payment for it.

Some sellers decide they won't price their items to include some of the fees they owe. Guess what? Unless their items have a huge markup, they're not going to be terribly successful. You can actually sell a lot and make absolutely nothing. You can even ending owing money instead of making it. When listing, the temptation is often to make prices as low as possible in order to attract buyers, but to make any type of profit, you have to pass along your costs. You need to add a handling fee onto your shipping prices and price your item with your fees in mind. Here is what you're paying for each sale:

  • Inventory Costs
  • Listing Fees
  • Final Value Fees (eBay commission)
  • Postage Fees
  • Shipping Materials Costs
  • PayPal Fees

And remember, if you do use PayPal (and you should), you're paying a flat fee plus the 3 percent fee- and that's not just on the purchase price. You're paying a commission on the postage fees too. Still think a handling fee is unfair? It's unfair if you don't charge at least a small one.

What to Do in the Summer on eBay

Late spring and summer are the slowest times of the year on eBay. With the exception of a few specialty categories, and summer clothing, everything else on the site slows down to a crawl as the weather gets hotter.

There are a lot of theories as to why this is, but in the end, more people are simply outside. They take vacations, they do their spring cleaning, they go on outings with the kids, they do yard work, etc. They are not, on the whole, that interested in sitting indoors and looking at listings all afternoon. Sellers need to understand that reduced sales this time of year doesn't mean they aren't good sellers, and it doesn't have to be all bad.

Many, many sellers quit this time of year, deciding that they don't have what it takes to make it on eBay, when sales would have picked up significantly in a couple of months. This is also the time of year to do a couple of very important things. All sellers should use this time wisely.

Summer on eBay, is the very worst time of year for sales. So how do you turn this to your advantage? There are two things that make the summer deluge of sellers and lack of buyers a great place to be, at least for part of the year.

Because of these seller-buy rations, the prices in the summer are the best that can be found all year. This means you can 1. buy up everything you need for yourself- including winter items you anticipate needing later in the year, and 2. stock up on items for your own business. Many a smart seller has bought in the summer and sold in the fall, and there's no reason not to try it. With prices at their lowest in the summer and their highest in the late fall, you don't have to do much more than hold onto the item for a couple of months before selling it for a tidy profit. This works especially well for fall and winter items that no one is looking for this time of year.

Fall on eBay!

When the fall eBay season is upon us, seasoned sellers know how busy things can get. Labor Day kicks off the fall selling season, which will continue to build until Christmas. Some great sellers in the fall are winter clothing, books and craft supplies. I once thought that books would be a good summer seller. Hey, who doesn't read in the summer? But it's simply not the case. Summertime book sales are flat, but the fall, with it's back to school season and approaching cold weather, make people much more inclined to read.

In addition to the fall and winter items and projects people are buying for themselves, remember that this is the time that many people also start to stock up on Christmas supplies. Any Christmas-themed items will sell well from September through December, as well as anything new in the box that can be given as a gift. Just remember to be as honest as possible when describing your items. If it's a little frayed, never say it's in gift condition. Keep your feedback high and you will have as many sales as you can handle in the fall.

Springtime on eBay

Spring isn't one of the best times of year on eBay, but there are still a wealth of items that do well during this time of year.

Books are slow spring sellers online, but this is a good time of year for some types of clothing. If you have out of season stuff you don't think will sell in the springtime, get them listed! Even if it's 80 degrees where you are, there are folks in other parts of the country who are under two feet of snow. And, their stores are selling summer clothes just like everyone else's. I once sold a pair of sandals in the dead of winter- to a lady in Hawaii. She told me that even in Hawaii she couldn't buy sandals in the winter.

So, think outside the box for your clothing sales this spring. There are so many stores this time of year that sell off their out-of-season inventories. Buying up some extra winter inventory and selling them on eBay is a quick way to pick up some extra cash. And the more of it you do, the more money there will be in it.

Many department stores don't advertise their deep discounts on their out-of-season attire because there isn't any profit in it. They actually sell the clothing at a loss so that there are no extra costs incurred with storing it. So poke around, perhaps setting up a day to hit several department stores and discount stores that sell clothing all in one day. What you can buy in one day doing this can fund your sales for a month or more.

Craziest Stuff I've Seen on eBay

Researching items to sell and checking completed items means you end up seeing a heck of a lot of auctions. Some you just end up wishing you'd never seen. But, seeing the more unusual listings can get you thinking outside the box when it comes to your sales. Here are some truly strange listings that have sold well or that continue to sell well. You may just get an idea or two about what to sell on eBay:

  • The infamous cheese sandwich- and the "holy pan." After the famous grilled cheese sandwich with the Virgin Mary seared onto one side was sold, many people don't know that the lady came back and tried to sell the pan she cooked the sandwich in. She actually turned down a big of $10K because it didn't meet her reserve!
  • A bra that fell from a ceiling. Some lady was remodeling her lighting, dug into the ceiling to pull out some plaster and found an old bra stuffed in there. She got over a hundred bucks for that sucker.
  • A toddler briefcase. I'm not talking about a play briecase here- I'm talking a pricey leather briefcase just for toddlers. I supposed to carry their tax paperwork around in?
  • Sexy Halloween costumes. It doesn't matter what the costume is, if they throw the word "sexy" in front of it, it seems to sell. Sexy Raggedy Anne (no joke), sexy hurricane victim, sexy tape dispenser...
  • "Ugly" décor items. Some people really do search for the word "ugly" to find unique items for their homes. These may be paintings, figurines, collectibles, throw blankets, etc.

What to Sell on eBay?

If you want to start an eBay business, you have to have something to sell. There are so many options available that it can be hard to choose just one thing. The great thing is, you never have to. It's actually best to diversify your inventory to avoid losing your business with one change in the market.

To get a few ideas about what to sell, think about the items you enjoy. Selling something that you like and want to be around can make for a better selling experience than choosing something at random or choosing something that bores you to tears. Take a look around your house and start making a list of the things you'd like to sell. If your business is fun and interesting to you, you are more likely to put in more hours with it. A boring business is own that you'll come up with excuses to avoid.

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