Confessions of an eBay PowerSeller
What makes an eBay PowerSeller tick... and is it really for you?
Ever wonder if you could become an eBay PowerSeller - listing things for sale that people from all over the country or all over the world can buy? I did...
So let me tell you a little story, and along the way, I'll help you understand a bit more about selling on eBay, becoming a regular seller on eBay, and becoming a PowerSeller on eBay. A lot of folks make it sound so easy... just click, click, click and you're there! I'm here to give you the real scoop, the real deal, the details of how I got started, how I grew, and how I plan to keep growing.
Can you do it? That depends... on YOU!
(or How I Learned To Profit From My eBay Addiction)
I started on eBay much like everyone else, just looking at all the "stuff" people had listed for sale, not really interested in the whole buying/selling thing. Just window-shopping.. Then I found it! A cute little long-haired reminder of my youth! A Wish Nik! And it was only 50 cents!! Soon there were boxes arriving weekly... sometimes several times a week! I was hooked!! Hot Wheels cars... Wish Niks... Pepsi items... just all kinds of 'stuff' that I really really NEEDED!
But selling... well... that took a bit longer. It was when my buying got a bit more, uh, 'expensive' than it should have been that I started looking at selling. After all, buying is FUN... selling was WORK! Or so I thought...
Don't kid yourself - eBay is addicting! All those -things- you can buy!! It's a pack rat... er... collector's dream site! But sometimes it's not about the buying...
Early on (1997), my wife and I agreed that I would not spend any of the family income on eBay. If I wanted to buy things, I would have to first sell things I didn't need/want to earn the money. My wife felt this would be a good way to clear a lot of clutter from the house... after all, I'd have to sell 3... 4... maybe even 10 things to get enough free cash to pay for even one of the new 'toys' I was looking at.
That was her first mistake.
I had been buying and selling on the local BBS networks for a while by that time, buying new parts for the family PCs and selling off the older parts. When I moved to eBay, the market was so large that I found I needed more stuff to sell... and that's when I discovered consignment selling.
Selling stuff for other people means never having to spend your own money on stuff to sell! Now, this was back in 1999, mind you. eBay was just catching on, and while it had some name recognition, it still wasn't the behemoth we all know and love/hate today. Categories were fewer, listings were fewer, options were fewer, and while there were people doing consignment selling, there was no Trading Assistant moniker. We were doing it on our own.
A few years later, I was actually making pretty decent money working full time as an eBay Trading Assistant, selling excess inventory for local businesses. Enough that I had to rent storage space to move my business into. The 'office' stuff I did from home, but the inventory stayed in the rental space... 1200 sq ft in 5 units at one point! (Think 3 typical double-car garages...)
The journey was still not complete - not by a long shot - but the worst of it seemed to be over. Or so I thought.
They say a journey begins with a single step. In my case, my online business began with a single client - but not the clients I have today. Becoming a Power Seller was never really the goal - it was a welcome recognition of achievement. My growth, actions, and decisions were not focused on becoming a Power Seller -- they were focused on doing right for my customers and making a living at the same time. Being recognized as a Power Seller (and later as a Top-Rated Seller) was nice, but it didn't change the way I did business.
You have to be careful what your goals are, that they are -your- goals and not the goals of a supplier, client, or venue. Because in the end, it really is all about you. :)
Considerations for full-time eBay sales - (or Can I Really Do This Every Day?)
When considering whether to make eBay sales your full time profession, there are a few thing you need to consider... carefully consider. And I'm not talking about the easy stuff, like what to spend your money on (the IRS, your local and state governments, and your spouse and children will take care of that for you!)... I'm talking about things like how far you plan to take this 'eBay selling' thing... can you afford it (and I'm not talkin' just money)... the "little things" that keep you up at night and distracted during the day. :)
So read on... there's some tough questions you'll be needing to answer...
- What are my goals for my eBay Sales?Do I really want to make a full time job of this, or am I really just looking to supplement my partner's income, set aside funds for that long-awaited family vacation, or just earning some 'casino money'?
(My goal initially was just extra spending money. But goals can change over time - and while my full-time goal was to keep my bills paid and food on the table, I've since moved back to part-time sales personally. Mostly because I work full-time managing the sales of a local business!)
- How much time do I really have available?Your ability to commit time and effort will determine the degree of success in meeting your goals. If you only have an hour or so a day, perhaps full time income is not the correct goal for you.
(When I first started, eBay was strictly a hobby - maybe an hour a night and only a few nights a week. When I moved to full time seller, I would spend several hours a day online, and twice that working offline.)
- How much room do I have to commit to this project?While not directly influencing your decision to sell or not, available space will have an impact on what you decide to sell, and that decision will have an impact on your expected profits. Be honest, be fair, and plan for growth, if growth is what you want.
(I started out fitting easily into our dining room... which soon overflowed into the living room... and from there into the garage... and then into a series of rental spaces. At my peak I occupied several rooms in our home PLUS 1200sq ft of rental space!)
- Do you have the startup capital necessary?Don't bet the rent on being able to generate instant wealth on eBay. Be realistic about what you can bring to the startup table - perhaps a part-time-to-start strategy would be more feasible?
(My business was fully self-funded and self-funding. But it also took years to get to the point where I could make the leap to full-time. Don't overestimate your earnings potential -- there's nothing wrong with part time sales... extra cash is still cash!!)
- Can your relationship handle the strain?Don't kid yourself - starting ANY small business is a strain on a relationship - marriage, dating, or otherwise. Trying to split your time, attention, and commitment between work, kids, spouse, and a new business is cutting it very thin.... perhaps too thin. If your significant other is dead set against this new endeavor, perhaps starting as just a casual seller is a better plan, until you can show a proven record of success. You will need all the support you can muster, so don't just in head first before checking out the lifelines!
(My wife has the patience of a saint! This is a rare trait, and I've worked hard not to let her down. Having the support of your significant other can make all the difference in the world, especially at the very beginning. You'll need that support when things get rough, and they will get rough!)
eBay books on Amazon
Where Can I Find Stuff To Sell? - (or: How To Look At Things A Little Bit Differently)
Inventory (that stuff you sell on eBay) can be found in many places...
- Around The House. #1 suggestion for new sellers is to sell what you have laying around the house (and no, ladies, that does NOT include your spouse!). Reason being - it's paid for, you know all about it, and it's likely not being used (or it wouldn't be laying around). Great stuff to 'learn' about selling!
- Yard Sales/Garage Sales. Great source for inexpensive items. Some sellers will tell you to get their early and get the 'best stuff', others say wait and make an offer on everything that's left. You're the one with the cash and desire -- YOU decide which sounds best to you!
- Current Employer. This is not for everyone, but if you work for a small company (where you know the owner, his wife, kids, and dog), you might be able to help them out with clearing out excess inventory on eBay. Do your research first and keep the boss appraised, but this can work well as a source.
- Thrift/Outlet Stores. These can be a great source for new/like-new products at very low prices. Selection can be lean, infrequent, and gone quickly. You'll need to be very sure of your pricing and your product - you won't have time to do all the research and math, it will be more 'seat of the pants'. But when it's right, it can be great!
- Storage Unit Auctions. Know what happens to your 'stuff' in that self-lock storage unit if you don't pay your rent long enough? They auction it off to the highest bidder! And while I wouldn't recommend bidding on your own abandoned stuff, Storage Unit auctions can be an interesting way to get a lot of 'stuff' cheap.
- Buy bulk lots on eBay and resell individually. Also known as 'arbitrage', if you know what you are doing, this can work. If you are just guessing, you can lose your shirt. Watch your total incoming cost (purchase price, shipping, etc) and make sure you can reasonably resell. This doesn't always work, but it's always interesting! :)
- Use the eBay Discussion boards to learn more! eBay has many discussion boards, each focused on a particular topic. If you're interested in selling widgets, you could read more about it on the widget category board, or try the Building An eBay Business board (my favorite!), or just join some of the general discussion boards. There's even one for Part Time Sellers! I highly recommend reading first and jumping in after you get a feel for the board. Most are very friendly and inviting, but some can feel a bit like a private social club. Read, learn, then choose which boards are for you. :)
- Manufacturers. Found that widget at a local retailer and want to find out more about selling it online? Contact the manufacturer! They are usually listed somewhere on the package, or use Google to find out who makes your latest fave item. Then give them a call and ask about buying wholesale. Don't be surprised to find out any one of several things -- that they don't wholesale to just anyone, that they only wholesale by the semi-truck load, or that they have a minimum order amount in the mid-5 figures ($50,000). After all - you are talking to the company that manufactures these things for sale all over the country! So if you get any of these "No" answers, ask them to direct you to a distributor and repeat the process with them. And again. And again. And again. Until you find someone who -will- sell to you.
- Local businesses! Especially service businesses and local manufacturers. Let them know that you are willing to do the legwork to put their product on eBay, in exchange for a percentage of the net sales. Be prepared for a lot of "No Thanks" responses -- some businesses simply are not interested, others may already have a method for overstock or abandoned merchandise liquidation. But you won't know if you never ask!
So What Can I Do To Sell More Stuff? - (or: A Few Secrets That Aren't Really Secrets, Just Under-Used!)
There's really no big 'secret' to selling on eBay - it's the same as selling anywhere. You need to have what someone wants, at a price they are willing to pay, at the time they realize they want it and can pay for it! Simple, right? Not so fast....
eBay's a big place - and there are a lot of other sellers out there. So let's look at a few basic guidelines for getting the most from our listings....
- Keep It Clean! No, I'm not talking about 'cuss words', although that's a good point. What I'm talking about is getting rid of all the distractions that draw the buyer's attention away from what you are selling! Things like flashy graphics, super large text in bright, glaring colors, music that starts blaring the moment the listing page is loaded... anything that distracts the buyer. You want them focused on your product, not on whether or not anyone else in the office knows they're surfing eBay!
- Streamline for mobile. If you've never used the eBay app to shop on eBay, you should. Borrow a device from a friend if you must but take a look. Some listings display nothing but 'garbage' -- unformated html that is just a waste of display. Others appear in such small text as to be unreadable. A few display well on the screen, are well organized, and take advatange of the multi-page/view layout of eBay Mobile. Guess which ones make the most mobile-based sales?
- Images. The best images are ones you take yourself of the exact item being sold. They should be clear and in-focus, with minimal distractions in the background, and of 'reasonable' size. I personally take the biggest images my camera will capture and then crop and resize them as needed. Did you notice the neutral background on my images? Nothing else to see back there... just my product.
- Promote YourSelf! Did you notice the several places where I'm promoting my other listings? Mostly I do this thru my eBay Store, with the "Store Header" option eBay offers, but also thru the use of image and text links back to my Store home page. Let those shoppers know that you have other items available! You don't want to be 'in their face' about it... but a couple of well placed references to your Store or other listings won't hurt.
- Which brings up: Do I need a Store? "Conventional Wisdom" says a Store is best when you have 100 or more items to keep listed in it at all times. And selection does indeed make for the best Stores. But that shouldn't mean waiting for the product to pile up... if you know you can reach that level in 1-2 weeks, then I'd say go for it!
- Simplify Your Terms, And Keep It Positive! You don't want buyers to have to wade thru pages and pages of terms... because they won't. So keep it simply, easy to read, and upbeat.
"Know what you sell, sell what you know"
My Stuff Isn't Selling! Now What!! - (or: We All Have Those Days, And How To Survive Them!)
You found a great bunch of stuff. You bought it for a ridiculously low price. You've dusted it off and took some amazing images. You created the world's best listing template. You researched and found exactly the right posting time.
And it's still not selling!!
It's something we all have to face. There are going to be times when sales are slow (or non-existent!), and you need to be ready to face, and deal, with them.
Here's a quick list of a few things I try (note I say TRY) to do:
- Don't get too upset too fast! First and foremost, these downturns are quite probably just temporary. It's not a guarantee, but with time comes experience and with experience comes the ability to look back and realize that there were other slow times as well. "This too shall pass" is the phrase that pays - so first and foremost, just don't panic.
- Are you Mobile-Friendly? Listings that have made the few changes needed to be more mobile-friendly tend to have better overall sales. Both my personal sales and those of the business where I consult are showing 35-30% of total sales are coming from mobile devices! That's a lot of sales to overlook just because of a few template changes!
- How old is your research? I had a great product that I got very comfortable to selling for a decent profit on a regular basis. Until a new seller entered the market and undercut my prices. When sales of that item started slowing, it only took about 15 minutes of research to find out why... and to determine how to deal with it. So check/recheck your research - how current are your numbers. Over three months... might want to rerun them. Over six months... probably a good idea to update. Over a year... you are way past time to get back in touch!
- Is your item seasonal? Maybe, maybe not. I did a decent business in sandals even in the 'winter' months... cuz it's never winter in Hawaii, and most of the southern states do pretty well all year round as well. Bus I did have slow periods for various products. Research helps (are there fewer sandals selling, or just yours not selling), but time will tell when those are on eBay. Use a little common sense as well. Snowmobiles will have limited sales in July. :)
- Be On The Lookout For New Competition. This could be a new seller who's undercutting your prices, or it could be that there's a new model widget out and yours in last year's model. While this is really part of research in general, it bears repeating as a separate focus for your research. And don't sweat a new seller who's "making a killing" with 99 cent listings. Unless his selling price covers his costs, he probably can't afford to sell too cheap for too long. :)
- Has Your Niche Played Out? Again, another focus for your research. Over time, buyers just become disinterested in some products and quit buying them altogether. Think "hot fashion designers" and how often they go in and out of style -- when they are hot, you can't get enough of their product. When they are not, you can't give it away.
- Maybe It's Time To Start Advertising! As your niche matures on eBay, perhaps it's time to start advertising your products to generate a bit of traffic. This is a double-edged sword, since bringing buyers to eBay means bringing them to your competition as well.
- eBay Affiliate Program - Secondary Cash Stream? If you are going to be bringing shoppers to eBay, why not make the most of it? Sign up for eBay's Affiliate program and be sure to make use of it when creating your advertising or off-eBay websites. Sure, your advertising may not generate a sale for you... but if your affiliate link data is in place, maybe you can generate some cash from the sale anyway!
- Are You Sure You're Posting Enough, And In The Proper Mix? A recent slump of mine was found to be caused by a rather simple change in my business activities. In an effort to ensure my family life did not suffer, I stopped working weekends, which meant fewer postings over the weekends, which meant a lower level of listings overall. Once I noted this, I was able to arrange for scheduled listings to be posted thru the weekends (I love my automation!!), restoring my overall listing levels... and my sales returned to more acceptable levels. If it's not listed, they can't buy it... or know that you are selling!
- Watch Your Listing Type Mix! It used to be "Core vs Store", but today it's more "Auction vs Fixed Price". As mentioned above, my listings got out of whack for a while... meaning I had a lot of stock in my long term listings, but not enough core (auction and fixed price) listings running. "Not Enough" in that I wasn't generating the exposure and bringing the same number of shoppers into my Store, where the bulk of my merchandise can list for long periods of time for very low fees. Restoring my core listing count restored that exposure... and restored my sales.
Top-Rated Seller - what's this all about?
(or: should I worry?)
eBay has revamped their 'seller rewards' program yet again. First it was the simple Power Seller status. Then various levels of Power Seller were added, much as the Olympics have three levels (eBay went a few more, but the idea is the same). Then they added fee rebates for Power Sellers who also achieved certain DSR ratings. Now it's TRS - Top-Rated Seller.
The basic thread here is that eBay wants to reward their best sellers, those sellers who consistently provide great products, great service, and an overall great eBay experience. The problem is, and has always been -- how? How do you collect honest buyer opinions without also allowing scammers and unscrupulous competitors to 'game the system'. And the short answer is that you can't. Not today.
So I tell those who ask the same thing I told them when they got all in a panic about the overall Power Seller program -- it's nothing personal, so just do the best that you've always done, take basic precautions against scams, and don't let your supplier, client, or venue tell you how to run your business. Look for and implement eBay's "Best Practices" -- have a stated return policy, take great images (especially of any known defects), clearly and completely describe your item, package it well for safe arrive, insure it (if you are concerned) to protect -your- financial interests should it be damaged or lost (you, as seller, are legally responsible for delivery, not the carrier, not the buyer), and by all means use eBay Mail for communications (it's the only email eBay recognizes as 'legit'). Use online tracking or carriers who automatically provide the same - so you can prove shipment and delivery. And use signature-for-delivery options if the value is sufficient to warrant such -- if it's more than you care to lose.
The method of determining TRS is a hard on the new seller, and I'm sure eBay is aware of this. But it's the proverbial "rock and a hard place". No program will please everyone -- making it easier for new sellers to qualify would disadvantage seasoned sellers, and make it easier for scam sellers to abuse the system as well. IMHO, eBay has chosen to error on the side of protecting the buyer, which seems harsh until you realize that without buyers, not only would eBay close, but most sellers would also have nowhere to sell. Corporate Behemoth or not, eBay does generate traffic... traffic that it may cost individual sellers a lot more than eBay fees to generate on their own.
So look at TRS the same way most consider Power Seller status -- eBay's recognition of what you've always known. Take basic precautions, do the best you can for your clients, and if you really don't like eBay's rules... find another venue that makes you happier.
Check Out A Few Of My Other eBay-Related Lenses!
- Confessions of an eBay PowerSeller
Ever wonder if you could become an eBay PowerSeller - listing things for sale that people from all over the country or all over the world can buy? I did...So let me tell you a little story, and along the way, I'll help you understand a bit more...
- So You Want To Be An eBay Trading Assistant?
What does it really take to become an eBay Trading Assistant? Maybe not as much as you would think... or perhaps more than you are willing to commit. Come along with me as I relate my personal journey from buying collectibles to Trading Assistant.
- eBay Selling Basics
No one can GUARANTEE that you will make a fortune on eBay... - so let's forget that and concentrate on something more realistic: What can we do, you and I, do increase our chances of being SUCCESSFUL on eBay?For over a year, I've been learning more..
- My eBay ToolBox (2012 update)
eBay selling can be serious work, and serious work requires tools. If you are going to grow beyond just casual selling, you need a toolbox with tools you know, trust, and can count on. As an eBay PowerSeller and Trading Assistant, I have to...
- Using eBay Best Offer To Make The eBay Sale!
eBay's Best Offer feature is probably one of the best ways to increase interest in, and sales of, your fixed price core or Store listings. In a nutshell, it allows the buyer to 'haggle' with the seller, making an offer on an item that is less than th
- Using eBay's Saved Search Feature
We've all done it - searched on eBay for that 'just right' something, only to find we've spent a lot of time and not really found what we were looking for - except in the SOLD column!! Who's got the time to do that, day after day, week after week, tr
(or: What Do I Do Now!?!)
Some of you may have noticed that I have changed what and how much I'm listing on eBay since 09/01/2008 - and you'd be right!
Am I just taking some time off to enjoy the fruits of my labors? Not exactly.
Have I bailed out on eBay and plan to start my own site and make gazillions? Not hardly.
Am I off visiting a tropical nation, basking in the glow of the afternoon sun, with lovely ladies to tend to my every need? I wish!
So what's up? In short - the jig. As in "the jig is up".
Over the 2008 Labor Day weekend, my primary (and at the time, only) client determined to discontinue selling on eBay. They requested, under the terms of our contract, that I return their inventory to them. And with the exception of those items sold, awaiting payment, or waiting to ship, I did.
How can this happen? Quite easily, actually. No contract is permanent. All contracts will have exit clauses for both parties, and in this case, my client used their exit clause, as in their right.
What does this mean? Well... for a more established seller, likely nothing. By having multiple clients, you generate multiple sources of inventory. I, however, while well established, was still growing my business and had not invested the time needed in expanding beyond this single client. So when they pulled their inventory, my business was effectively closed.
Weren't there other options? Yes -- I would have preferred to have merged my operation into my client's company, becoming a sales department within their larger sales structure. And this may indeed happen at some point. But not right now. Not yet.
I would have also preferred to have renegotiated my contract with this client, to seek different terms that would allow both of us to continue the business relationship while meeting our financial goals. And this too may yet happen.
But for now, I have 'compressed' my business from 1200 sq ft of rented storage down to basically no rented space. I have sold off unused and unneeded equipment and liquidated stockpiles of inventory from long ago... inventory I had planned to sell 'someday'. Well... some day is here. :)
And I'm looking back at what went right and what went wrong - trying to find the lessons that I may have missed along the way. I'm still in communications with my client, and may still yet pull a different rabbit out of this same worn hat... but I'm also looking at alternate career opportunities, including returning to my IT career.
Losing one's business hurts - let's be honest about that. But it need not be fatal. I don't intend to let this setback deter me from doing what I really enjoy - spending time with my family (my wife, my kids, my grandkids). I survived my baby girl's wedding (Oct 19th 2008) and will survive this change too. After all, tomorrow is another day and with it comes the hope for new opportunities. My business has been but one chapter in a ever-expanding book of many many chapters.
And it won't be the last. :)
06/2009 Update: You may have noticed the US economy entered a dramatic and very noticeable "downturn" just about the same time I closed my business. Yeah... timing can be important! While waiting for something to 'break' (a new client, a programming contract, my leg or arm), I'm working a part-time job at the FedEx hub here in Memphis. Nothing fancy, but it generates the income I need to get by while I work on my next move. This is the part of running your own business they don't always tell you about -- that sometimes you do what you have to do (including taking a 'wage-slave job') to keep the bills paid: )
01/2012 Update: it's back to IT contracting for me. I've been asked back to a site I've worked at three times previously, so I'm familiar with the basics, but it will be interesting to see what the intervening 7 years have brought. It's contract, it's temporary, and it could run less than the agreed upon 6 months. But it's a good company to work for, excellent place to learn what's current in the environment I work in, and their checks are on time and never bounce.
06/2012 Update: contract complete. It was amazing to see the advances in software development and change control that have taken place with this client. I was very impressed and would have loved to stayed longer. And would have no problem to going back yet again, if requested, to continue to learn and share.
09/2012 Update: Been growing my eBay sales again - not back to a full-time business, but at least to the point where I can stretch my savings while I continue to look for more contract or full-time work in my field. I've elected to use "Free" (cost-included) shipping, I can manage a 1-day time-to-shipping, and I've adjusted to the 14 day returns now required. I satisfy eBay's "upload tracking info" requirement and hopefull will make TRS some day. Would like it more if eBay would expand their "50 Free Auctions per month" program to "500 Free Auctions". With the low-cost, low-margin products I sell now, listing fees are a restricting factor in how much I can profitably list each month. (Update: May 2014 - eBay updates the 'Free Listings' offering, allowing an additional 50 listings in a group of 12 categories. Since I'm selling in one of those categories, I can now list up to 100 auctions each month!)
06/2013 Update: Accepted a position as eBay Sales Manager for a local liquidation firm. The company sells via a retail outlet store, on Amazon, on eBay, on select smaller venues, wholesale to contractors in the Memphis area, and also via Facebook and Craigslist. The education potential is immense and the opportunities for personal growth are quite exciting. eBay sales are currently 1/10th those of Amazon, a number I hope to help turn around.
06/2014 Update: At the one year mark, several goals have been met and new ones set. eBay sales now match Amazon sales for the company, not fully thru my own efforts. Amazon sales, by choice, are down by 1/2 due to changes in the Amazon fee structure, making many products no longer profitable. eBay sales are 5X what they were just a year ago, but the effects of volume are starting to be felt. The coming year will be interesting as we move into more venues, centralize the product database, and strive to control/reduce the number of shipping errors and carrier damage claims. When one set of goals are reached, a new set is always waiting in the wings!!
02/2016 Update: Still doing liquidations, but have taken on much more 'management' activity while still supporting eBay sales activity. Over the past 18 months I've instituted some of the hard-learned inventory management lessons of my own business and they're having a very positive effect on our sales. Nothings perfect yet, but defects are down to almost nothing and it's been several quarters since we've 'sold' something that was no long in stock. The added controls slow listing activity a bit, but the improved customer satisfaction more than makes up for the extra work. :)
You can still read me on eBay's own "Starting An eBay Business" discussion board, as well as the commentary of those whose advice I continue to read, consider, adapt, and apply to this day. I may not be going back to full-time sales... but I can certainly go back to enjoyable sales!