Online Selling Basics: How to create a good listing
How to sell something online: Create a good title and write a clear and detailed description with condition notes. Research and set the perfect price. Take lots of clear and well lit photos. Avoid Scams and accept payment. Be positive, find success.
The first thing I sold online:
It was good luck that my career as a picker and dealer started at the same time as eBay was born. My father and I went to a flea market in Plainville Connecticut one Saturday morning. A shiny object caught my attention: It was a Lionstone whisky decanter in the shape of a Gamewell fire alarm box. I saw it from across the field. It was covered in gold plating and was so bright it was hard to look at. It even had the original box! Unfortunately the whiskey was already gone. I hurriedly paid the $15 asking price (I should have negotiated, but I was in love). I rushed over to show dad my new treasure and he laughed: “Those aren’t worth anything once they’re empty” I felt that I had something special, and I was going to prove it. eBay was still young in the fall of 1997 but they had already hosted more than two million auctions online and they were growing fast. It was the newest and hottest thing in the antiques business. I listed the decanter up for auction with a $9.99 starting price and crossed my fingers. A week later, Dad and I watched the listing close for a price of $141! After expenses and initial cost, I had a profit over $100, and bragging rights with my dad.
I’m sure that my photos and description of that first eBay item were terrible. The Fuji Finepix camera we used was around a megapixel and it cost a small fortune. And yes, we had a dial-up modem that tied up the phone in the house if you went online. Today, the options to sell an object online are mind-boggling. Buyers are scrolling past your listing at a blistering rate, but the basics still apply.
Here are some tips and tricks to save time and make more money with a better online listing.
Create a great title:
List the basics to grab attention. Start with the facts about the item, then use descriptive words that make it special or different. Include Make, Model, Size, Color, Type, and Special Features. Some platforms only search the title of a listing, so it is important to have the major search terms in the title. Some selling platforms allow the title and description to be searched, so additional keywords are important, but you can add those later. Resist the urge to fill the title with useless words that aren’t necessarily searchable: Collectible, Awesome, Neat, Rare, Etc.
Gold Lionstone 1852 Whisky Decanter: Gamewell Fire Alarm Box
Take clear, focused and well-lit photos. You don’t need a professional studio, but if you’re photographing something in your house, at least clean the room! Open the windows, let some light in or turn on the lights! Take photos from each side, and get the top and the bottom. I like to imagine that I am taking someone for a photo tour around the object: Here is the front, left side, Back side, etc. Photos can tell a story that words cannot. You don’t need a fancy camera, most cell phone cameras work fine. But, please take more than one photo! It’s important to review your work here and look at the final product: Would these photos make you want to buy this object, or would you scroll past this listing?
Expand upon the title and add any details you didn’t have room for in the title. The basic requirements are: Materials, measurements and details. Describe what it is made from: Is it porcelain or pottery?, is it bronze or iron? Take good measurements. If you are selling a mechanical item, comment on the functionality and how well it works. It is important to think like a buyer here. Try to answer a buyer’s questions before they ask, It will save you both time. Once you’ve satisfied the basics, use some salesmanship and write about how great it is! Where did it come from? Is there any special history?
Vintage Lionstone 1852 Porcelain Whiskey Decanter in the shape of a Gamewell Fire Alarm Box. Gamewell produced these in the 1980’s in red and gold finish. The gold finish is rare and desirable. The cork is still present, and it comes with the original box. The bottom is marked Union Made, IAFF, etc. It is 10” tall, 3” deep and 6” wide.
Honesty is the best policy when it comes to condition. Used items are rarely in perfect condition, and most buyers already understand this. You don’t have to point out every tiny flaw, but you should note any tears, rips, stains, cracks, fading, or function issues up front. Being honest about condition will save you time and build your reputation as an honest seller.
This whisky bottle is in excellent condition and free from cracks, chips, or defects. It is unfortunately empty. The original packaging has suffered some travel wear, but is present and usable for display.
Good photos, detailed descriptions, and honest condition reports will save time and streamline the transaction. Give the buyer as much information as possible, so that they can quickly make a buying decision. Often the decision to buy something is not a solo effort: I’m guilty of sending my wife Facebook Marketplace listings multiple times a day. We will sit down after dinner and look through our saved items and discuss whether or not we want to buy. We often breeze right past the items with two word descriptions and blurry photos.
Auction or Fixed price?
Auction websites like eBay allow you to set the start price for an auction, or set a fixed price and accept offers. Both methods are useful for arriving at fair market value, but each approach is different: A penny start auction allows buyers to bid against each other until the auction is over. Your item will sell for market price within the given time frame. This is useful if you already know that the item is marketable and there are enough interested bidders to drive the price. This is also the higher risk approach: you will be obligated to sell to the highest bidder regardless of price. It took me a long time to learn that not all of the interested buyers are watching every listing within the given time frame. Sometimes, listing your item for a longer time gives it more exposure and gets a better result. That’s when a fixed price or “Buy it now” could be your best option.
Set the perfect asking price:
I see ridiculous asking prices all the time. It is frustrating as a buyer and it makes a seller look bad. Setting an asking price or starting bid too high will scare away buyers, and they often don’t come back later when you lower the price. Sure people want to dicker a bit, but a lot of buyers are scared to negotiate, and they will often pay your asking price without even asking for a discount. Ultimately you want to price your item in the “Sweet Spot”: The intersection of a bargain and a fast sale. A small amount of research can help you determine the asking price for most common items. If you can’t figure out the value of an item on your own, then find a professional who can help.
Use real and true sold records: Search Completed listings on eBay and find out what it has sold for in the past. I don’t recommend using the “asking” price on ebay. The asking price is not a true reflection of what an item is actually worth. Items on eBay often sell far below the asking price. Instead scroll down and check the box for “completed listings” that should give you a more realistic price.
- Find live auction records: Sites like live auctioneers and Proxibid have large databases of auction sold prices.
- Look on retail websites: How much was this item new? Can I find it on a site like etsy or ruby lane? What is the price range for this item?
- Take condition into consideration: Is your item new, or used? Does it have wear or damage? Condition effects price.
If you can find similar items on craigslist or facebook marketplace, price your item slightly below market price in order to attract buyers. A lot of buyers want to haggle, so keep that in mind when pricing. I like to think of my pricing in currency denominations: If you think it’s worth $150, price it below market at $120, and expect to bargain down to $100. The right price is a compromise between the buyer and the seller.
Offering shipping to a buyer is a great way to expand your audience and potentially get a faster sale and a higher price. But let’s be honest, shipping is a pain in the ass. As an eBay seller, and a brick-and-mortar auctioneer, I’ve been shipping merchandise for decades. But those decades have been full of lessons from the school of hard knocks. Things get broken, things get lost, and it never seems to ship fast enough for some buyers. Keep this in mind: Big shipping companies are not your friend. They almost all have terrible customer service and for consumer level insurance, they pay less than 30% of claims.
If you know how to properly package and safely ship something, great. If you don’t have the materials or resources to ship properly, then be honest with your buyer. For a high value item, using a local “Pack and Ship” Store is an option. They might be expensive, but they do it right. your item arrives on time and intact. If you’re going to start a business selling online, make shipping a serious part of your plan and do your homework. If you’re just a casual seller, maybe skip the hassle of shipping and keep it local.
Some sellers are very comfortable having strangers come to your house, and some are not. I’m more a friendly neighbor-type and don’t mind someone coming to my house to look at something. Many times I make a new connection for my other businesses and it’s worth it to spend a few minutes chatting about business. If your item is portable and you want to meet at a location outside your house, many local police departments offer a safe zone for internet transactions. They are usually video monitored, and not far from the front desk. In Short, be smart and use the method that you’re comfortable with. Have an extra friend or family member on hand if a stranger is coming to your house, or meet at a place that you’re comfortable with.
Choosing a payment method is a personal decision. Use the methods that you are comfortable and familiar with. Cash is king. Who doesn’t love a buyer who arrives with green cash and is ready to make a deal? No matter which method you choose, state your payment methods in the listing so the buyer know what to expect (this will also save time by answering another question ahead of time)
Will you take a check? I always say “maybe”. In the state of CT, there are bad check laws that protect sellers. As long as you have good documentation, you can head down to the local Police Department and fill out a bad check report. Every town is slightly different, but here is a good overview. Remember, to get the buyers ID when taking a check, and fill out a bill of sale that is signed by both parties. You will need this paperwork if you ever hope to make a bad check claim.
Payment apps: Venmo and Paypal are very convenient if you are familiar with how they work. I’ve used PayPal since it was first introduced and I’m comfortable with the terms and conditions. Venmo is popular as well as a peer to peer money app with some free methods of transfer. Make sure you read the fine print for any money app you are using. Some charge fees and you should figure that fee into your bottom line. Also, online payment services are not banks. They don’t have to follow the same rules, and I have had some bad experiences with my funds being held up for long periods of time while an issue is being resolved.
Avoid Scams and Fraud:
Criminals and ne’er-do-wells are trolling the internet every day looking for opportunities. But remember the words printed on the cover of the Hitchhikers Guide to the galaxy: DON’T PANIC. If you keep your transaction simple (and follow your gut) you’ll do fine. Deal with a real person, who can actually look at the item in person, pay for it, and take possession. Use a bill of sale and don’t be afraid to ask for a Photo ID.
Most scams are made during the payment phase. There are a host of ways that a buyer can run an attempted scam on an unsuspecting seller, but here are just a few ways you protect yourself:
- Meet your buyer face to face.
- Do not use money transfer services with Western Union
- Do not accept an overpayment
Be positive and make a sale:
Your tone and attitude matters in an online listing. Pretend you are a customer service department, and it will help your sales. Stick to the facts, and keep it positive. I often see a listing with an unrealistic price, and some kind of statement like this: “The price is firm, so don’t ask!” or “don’t waste my time”. Or “Stupid offers will be ignored!” This is a good way to scare off a potential buyer. In this case, saying less is more. Let the buyer reach out and negotiate. Don’t be afraid to get in there and haggle a bit. When I’m using Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist, I often get a lot of buyers who ask for a lower price right away (before coming to see the item). It may seem frustrating at first, but it’s a good thing if buyers are contacting you. It means your listing is working and you have a chance to make a sale. If a potential buyer asks me to accept a lower price prior to looking at the item, I reply with a simple message: “ Would you like to set a time to come see it? I’m sure we can talk more about the price when you get here” This keeps the lines of communication open and lets you judge how interested they are. By the time that buyer comes to look at the item, you may have so much interest that you don’t have to drop the price!
Success in online selling starts with a good listing, and ends with good customer service. Write a good title and a detailed description with an honest condition report. Lots of clear, well-lit photos will help your sales. Be flexible with your shipping and pickup options. Use the payment method that you are most comfortable with, and beware of scams and scammers. Keep it positive and have fun.