As a wired gal, I admit that I have a fondness for all things “e.” I check my email on an hourly basis and admit that I haven’t purchased a newspaper in years, favoring the electronic version instead. I do most of my shopping online as well, preferring to peruse the wares of a dot com from the comfort of my laptop—bunny slippers included—rather than drive to a store and wander around aimlessly, almost certainly having forgotten my shopping list at home. Even so, I am a girl on the hunt for a bargain. I used to spend hours comparing prices and bemoaning the lack of Internet thrift and discount stores before carefully making a purchase.
A couple of years ago, however, my entire shopping stratosphere changed; enter my newest obsession: eBay. Upon my discovery of the online giant, shopping became an adventure, and bidding for something that I needed or wanted sometimes strangely resembled a piratical swordfight. After a few months of buying, I just had to try my hand at selling. After all, I’d amassed a good deal of booty from the thrust and parry of eBay bidding wars, and I was eager to pass my savings on to others. I started small—a book here, a pair of shoes there, picking my way carefully through the oceans of bidders and buyers. Eventually, I became savvier and more comfortable with the process, gradually creating an informal system to help me stay organized and on top of things. My system, in turn, helped me to be more successful with my auctions. Using this primer, you might begin to fancy yourself an eBay swashbuckler, too:
First, register at eBay.com. This part is easy—simply visit eBay’s homepage and click the blue “register now” button. If you’re planning on selling in the near future, you may want to go ahead and open a seller’s account, which can be accomplished by clicking the “sell” tab at the top of the homepage. To register for a seller’s account, you’ll need to have a major credit card handy.
Become familiar with eBay’s rules and policies for buying and selling. This might seem simple, but you’d be surprised at how many people skip this step and end up regretting it later. A simple trip to eBay’s Policies page can set you on the road to safe trading. Be sure to pay particular attention to the eBay User Agreement and Rules for sellers and buyers. Take note of correct bidding behavior; for instance, now is the time to realize that if you place the winning bid on an item, you have entered into a contract with the seller, so it’s best to have all of the necessary information beforehand.
[TIPS FOR BUYERS] Choose a product, decide on a high bid and stick with it. You perform a simple search using a keyword, and suddenly, the object of your desire pops up in many, many forms. You might be tempted to bid on as many things as possible—after all, the prices are low, and you really need that vintage Hotwheels collector case! However, these things can add up unexpectedly, so it pays to be careful. When bidding on an auction, your smartest bet is to find the exact item you want, decide on your highest bid and stick with it. Once your bid is placed, eBay will automatically bid on your behalf in increments up to your maximum bid. Unless it’s something you’re really keen to have, resist the impulse to engage in last minute bidding wars with other bidders. Chances are, you’ll be able to find something that you want just as much at a price much closer to what you were initially willing to pay. On the other hand, if it’s something really unique that you just can’t live without, a little skirmish can be fun—if the auction ends with you as the highest bidder.
Pay for your purchase as quickly as possible. Most sellers offer a 7-day grace period in which they expect to receive payment. If you are paying via check or money order, this means that you will need to get that payment in the mail within the first couple of days after the auction ends. If the seller accepts Paypal, and you don’t already have an account, you might want to obtain one. Recently acquired by eBay, Paypal provides a service that allows “any business or consumer with an email address to securely, conveniently and cost-effectively send and receive payments online.”
Most sellers gladly accept Paypal—in fact, some sellers choose it as their only method of payment, so it really is a good idea to sign up for an account if you can (a checking or savings account or a major credit card is required to sign up). A Paypal account will come in handy if you plan on selling too, allowing you to instantly accept payment from anyone with a credit card or Paypal account, which can keep your auctions moving along quickly. In any event, be sure to observe the seller’s accepted methods of payment before you bid. If they don’t work for you, move on until you find one that does.
Communicate with the seller and keep track of your item. It’s a good idea to send your seller an email immediately after receiving your “winning bidder” notification from eBay. Thank them for the opportunity to purchase the item, and let them know how you’re planning to pay. Communication is key—it lets the seller know that you’re a savvy bidder who plans to follow through with your purchase.
Keeping track of your item is equally important. After you’ve sent payment, make sure to alert the seller. They should respond in turn, letting you know when they plan to ship the item. If they do not notify you, or if they do send notification, but the item hasn’t arrived within a week or so (depending on the shipping date and originating location), send another email politely nudging them to respond. Unfortunately, a very small number of people may turn out to be deadbeat sellers.
Luckily, eBay has developed ways to protect you, the buyer. If the unthinkable happens and you never see the item, or the return of your money, you may utilize Square Trade or Safe Harbor, eBay’s conflict resolution centers. They can help you and the seller resolve the problem, and if needed, get you most or all of your money back.
Leave feedback for your seller. When your transaction has been completed, you will have the opportunity to leave feedback for your seller. In turn, the seller will most likely leave feedback for you. Feedback is an important part of the eBay experience, because it gives other buyers and sellers an indication of whether or not they want to do business with you. You can leave (and receive) positive, neutral or negative feedback, which correlates to a rating system—each positive feedback gets you one point, and after you’ve gained 10 points, you get a star! How ’bout that?
[TIPS FOR SELLERS]
Choose an item, write your description
Choose an item, write your descriptionand decide on your starting bid. First, look at the item honestly. What makes it salable? Does it have mass appeal, or is it unique? What condition is the item in? Is it new, or are there pieces missing? Once you have an idea of what you’d like to sell and the condition it’s in, search eBay for similar items to get an idea of where others are starting their bids and how they’re describing the item. Armed with that information, begin to write your item description. Be creative but honest, noting the condition of the item (new, barely used, missing pieces, perfect), and why it would make a good purchase. If you have or can borrow a digital camera to take pictures of the item, your chances of selling will increase exponentially. eBay has an option for placing photos to be displayed with the item in the auction, hosting the first photo for free. When you have finished writing your description, decide on a fair price to start with. You may want to base your starting bid amount on what you’ve noticed others charging for similar items, but ultimately the choice is yours, and you should charge the very least that you would be willing to accept if your auction only received one bid.
Keep it all together and reap the benefits of organization. Whether you’re selling one pair of boot-cut jeans or 20 of your old X-Men comics, one major key to a hassle-free auction is organization. Keep everything in one place, labeled and ready to ship out. Additionally, you may want to keep a small amount of shipping supplies handy, such as oversized mailing envelopes, boxes, packing tape and address labels. A disorganized, badly handled auction can leave you with bad feedback, so keep it together; after all, it only takes minutes to make your auction an enjoyable experience, and the more organized you are, the more appreciative your high bidder will be when the auction is complete and they have the spoils safely in hand.
Communication and feedback aren’t just for buyers! Email your high bidder as soon as possible after the auction ends to start an open line of communication. Keep it simple—usually an acknowledgement of the winning bid is enough. The buyer is responsible for choosing from your accepted methods of payment and letting you know how the auction will be settled. After you have received payment, inform the buyer and let him know when the item will be shipped, then make a trip to the post office as soon as possible to ship it out.
Next, leave good feedback for your buyer. When he receives the item and it is exactly as described, chances are he’ll leave good feedback for you too. At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to work and usually does. If, however, time has passed and you haven’t received payment or an email from the high bidder, then you have the option of contacting eBay’s Square Trade or Safe Harbor departments, which, if worse comes to worst, will help you to recoup your Final Value Fee (the fee associated with listing an item for sale on eBay).
Do think carefully and exhaust all other avenues before leaving negative feedback for the person, however. A little negativity goes a long way in impacting how they (and you) will do business with eBay in the future.
Be practical when buying and selling and use eBay to your advantage. Being conscientious in all transactions and sticking to the guidelines for buyers and sellers will keep your satisfaction and feedback rating high. If you familiarize yourself with eBay’s ins and outs and use the tips in our little primer, you’re almost sure to have a good auction experience. However, keep in mind that as in life, no one on eBay is perfect all the time, so if you do find yourself dealing with a non-paying bidder or in an otherwise unsavory transaction, remember to follow eBay’s guidelines for dealing with such circumstances and try not to let a few missteps keep you from trying again. The more you use eBay, the better—familiarity is your first goal toward having a fun and successful eBay experience.