Getting started as an eBay seller can be overwhelming. There’s a lot of advice out there to help you begin, but much of it focuses on either strategy or on technology.
As a result, how-to information for day-to-day struggles—particularly for sellers that handle their own inventory and do their own fulfillment—can get lost in the shuffle. Here are some key insider tips to help you to get started as an eBay seller.
Inventory management can be one of the most difficult parts of selling on eBay, and ironically it’s often the most difficult for part-time sellers with smaller inventories, who have to work eBay sales into their everyday lives and home environments.
Depending on your size and ambition, a few details about these tips might vary, but the principles apply to everyone.
Track your inventory. Tag items in your inventory with a numbered sticker, even if hand-written. Keep a spreadsheet showing your inventory along with sticker number, buy date, description, cost, whether it sold, and how much it sold for. This way you know what made money and whether you’re ahead or behind overall. You also know what’s still on hand and how long it’s been around—so that nothing falls through the cracks or becomes dead financial weight.
Organize your inventory. Keep your inventory on a dedicated shelf or shelves, or even a dedicated room or storage area if possible. Populate the shelves with bins or baskets for smaller items, and store like items together in them. Note the bin or basket numbers on your stickers and keep these in your spreadsheet as well, so that you know where items belong and where to find them.
Store your inventory with care. Use Ziploc bags or other similar products to protect your inventory; avoid letting smaller items simply bang around on shelves or in bins, as they’ll inevitably be marred by dust and damage, worsening your customer’s experience when they sell.
Reference stickers in your listings. Put your item number and your bin number somewhere in your listings, in an inconspicuous area. The last line of an item description is a common place for this. That way you’ll be able to immediately find any item that sells, and check it off in your records as well.
Photos and Listings
Creating listings is one of every new seller’s biggest headaches. Everyone advises that you make meticulous, high-quality listings, yet this takes forever to do, especially when you’re just starting out—and you can only make as many sales as you manage to create listings.
Invest your photo time early on, not after the fact. Great photos are important, yet nothing is more time-consuming than editing photos one-by-one after you’ve taken them. Take the time to set up either a lightbox or a well-lit area as a part of your start-up investment. Then, choose your camera settings carefully so that your photos are usable straight from the camera.
Don’t spend too much time on visual templates. The temptation to spend tons of time trying to create and fill your own custom templates can only cost you, especially early on. Use eBay-built templates or invest in a selling aid like GarageSale or CrazyLister to help you with templates. It’s money well spent in light of the time you’ll save. Then, keep your content simple. Spend your time on proper spelling, sentences, paragraphs, and bullets.
Do spend time on text templates. If you’re like most sellers, you’ll quickly find yourself typing the same paragraphs, phrases, and bullets over and over again. Copy these into a notes program like Evernote so that you can copy and paste them quickly, or set up keyboard substitutions to let you enter them very quickly.
Start with simple listing strategies. Early on, stay simple. Use Terapeak to find out how often your items sell. List items with frequent sales using fixed-price, good-until-cancelled listings. Consider listing items that sell rarely using auction-format listings (so that you don’t get stuck with stock) and run them for 10 days starting on a Thursday (so that your listings are live over two full weekends). Don’t worry if bids don’t happen right away; most come in during the last five minutes of an auction.
Fulfillment and Returns
Fulfillment is where a lot of starting sellers get either confused or stumble badly. Keep it simple and remove headaches proactive to ensure that your fulfillment process goes smoothly and doesn’t cost you more than you expect.
Use flat-rate services to start. To make things easy on yourself, start out with flat rate services like USPS Priority Mail. With Priority Mail, boxes are free, costs are predictable, and delivery times are, too. Incorporate the cost of shipping into your inventory sourcing and listing plans, costs, and pricing, then offer free shipping.
Don’t overthink shipping supplies. Go to the painting section of a home improvement store and buy a roll of brown contractor paper. It makes excellent, lightweight packing material and is cheap, takes little storage space, and is easily recycled. One $10-$15 roll lasts for dozens of shipments. If you have to get boxes, find a local “dollar store” discounter or a similar that opens dozens of shipment boxes a day. They’ll either offer these free or for very little money. Ship smaller items using padded envelopes, which are very inexpensive in bulk. Finally, get thin tape that comes in very long rolls—it’s far less expensive than the “heavy duty” stuff and works far better, too.
Print your own labels. Avoid the headache of hand-written labels and shipping counters. Get a food scale for a few dollars at your local department store, then use an eBay-connected shipping service and print your own labels. Print on standard paper, then fold each sheet in half (the label only covers half of each page) and tape them well to your packages. Don’t wait when dropping them at the local shipping counter; workers expect “drops” throughout the day. Approach an open area of the counter, say “I’m dropping these for shipment,” wait for a nod, then set them down and be on your way.
Keep cash reserves and go with the flow on returns. Returns keep new sellers up and night and get them into all kinds of trouble. Early on, keep 20-30% of last month’s revenue in reserve, so that returns don’t make you tear your hear out or lose momentum. Don’t quibble; if someone wants a refund, have them ship back and provide one. Be professional, fast, and easy to work with and you’ll get positive feedback out of the transaction anyway. And by being well-positioned for returns, you’ll avoid the early burnout and catastrophic risks that derail other starting sellers.
Walk Before You Run
If some of these tips seem to go against tips that you’ve read elsewhere, think of the difference as being a matter of walking before you run as a seller.
Sure, there is a time to go beyond each of these tips—but during your first year, your first month, or especially during your first week or two, keeping things simple, actionable, and clear is far more important than optimizing the stuffing out of every single phase of your selling business.
Those tweaks can come later, once you’re selling regularly, have some good feedback under your belt, and feel comfortable enough to take the next step.
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