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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the February 5, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Selling on eBay
Whether the question is what to do with the growing
pile of discarded sports equipment in the garage, how to get the best
price for the 1983 Camry in the driveway, or how to start a business
from the spare room, eBay may be the answer.
Sometime after retiring from 40 years in business, and starting a
new career as a teacher and consultant to small businesses,
Mosho discovered eBay. He now regularly sells on the online
as much for fun as for profit, and advises his students, some of whom
have been downsized and are sizing up new business opportunities,
that setting up a virtual store on eBay could be a smart alternative
to renting its bricks and mortar equivalent.
Mosho, who teaches marketing and other business courses at Mercer
County Community College and at Brookdale Community Collage, and who
teaches and offers one-on-one counseling through the Small Business
Development Center, speaks on "Buying and Selling on eBay"
on Monday, February 10, at 7:45 p.m. at the Princeton PC Users Group
at the Lawrence Public Library. Call 908-218-0778.
Mosho knows about sales, and has carried knowledge about essentials
such as integrity, reputation, optimum presentation of a product —
and, yes, savvy strategy — from his business career, Part I, into
his recent foray into online sales.
After starting out by selling ads in the New York Times, Mosho moved
on to advertising management positions at the New York Post, U.S.
News and World Report, and other publications. He also tried his hand
at operating a small business, a dry cleaning establishment in Red
Bank. "It made money," he says, "but I didn’t like
Retirement wasn’t much to his liking either. "I found myself
the house, and cooking," he says, his voice betraying little
for either pursuit. A post-retirement stint as a substitute teacher
was not fulfilling either, but in teaching adults he has found his
niche, and now is busy with classes in marketing and in the
of starting and running a small business.
In his spare time, Mosho is on eBay. There he finds a worldwide
for the antique cameras and Japanese swords he collects, as well as
for the occasional purchase he has reconsidered. "I bought a
really a small motorcycle," he recounts. "It was very
my wife never found out what I paid for it." Deciding he was
a tad beyond the age at which tooling around on the Italian-made
was prudent, he listed it on eBay.
He was pleased with the results of the sale of the scooter on the
online auction, has had mixed results with his camera and sword sales,
and is re-thinking his plan to sell funeral urns online. All the
he has traded tales of eBay sales with friends and neighbors. Here
is what he has learned about selling — and buying — on eBay:
on the shelves of your store. Mosho tells of an Ocean Grove store
owner who specializes in scented candles. By listing the candles on
eBay he turned a small neighborhood business into an international
Anyone thinking of starting a retail business could buy in bulk from
a distributor, and rather than renting a store, could sell on eBay.
As it has grown, the big online auction house has demanded a bigger
commission, but it also offers big-volume sellers a number of perks,
including participation in a health insurance plan. In Mosho’s
opening shop in cyberspace offers considerable advantages over going
out and renting a storefront.
If the objective is a little spending money rather than a livelihood,
potential eBay sellers need look no farther than their attics,
and neighborhood garage sales. No item should be overlooked.
ask me why anyone would buy a computer monitor on eBay, when shipping
will cost about $30, and when they could buy one on sale for $100
at CompUSA," says Mosho. The answer, he says, is that many people
in this country live an hour or more from a store of any size. Other
people, he adds, have cars too small to hold a large monitor or have
physical limitations that make it difficult to wrestle a large item
in and out of a car.
anything online or offering anything for sale. Mosho speaks of an
eBay seller who offered a Japanese bone sword for $1,000. He shot
off an E-mail to the seller telling him that his price was way out
of line, probably by a factor of four or more. That sword never sold.
There are any number of books on prices of collectibles, and forays
to antiques stores and flea markets offer clues. But one of the best
— and easiest — ways of determining an object’s value is to
look up prices recently paid in eBay auctions. To do so, just type
in the name of an object. By way of illustration, Mosho suggests
out "Kodak Pony," a camera. A page appears that lists all
of the Kodak Ponys currently for sale.
"Look to the left of the page," Mosho directs. "Click
on `completed sales.’" Doing so brings up a list of the prices
for which all Kodak Pony cameras recently sold on the site, along
with the number of people who placed a bid on each. The same list
exists for every sub-set of the tens of thousand of items sold on
the site. It does not supply all the information needed to price an
object, because, among other things, it makes no mention of condition,
but it does offer a useful ballpark range.
to illustrate eBay listings with photos, but Mosho stresses how
it is to do so. "People want to see what they’re buying,"
he says. Just seeing the object, however, is not enough. Providing
crystal clear images, possibly from several angles, not only improves
the chance that an item will fetch a good price, but also can be
in avoiding misunderstandings.
In the case of a collectible, for example, it is important to provide
close-ups of any flaws, so that they buyer knows exactly what he is
getting, and will be far less apt to complain that the cracks in the
plate or the nicks in the scythe go way beyond the "minor
mentioned in the listing. The same is true for large, expensive items
such as cars or boats.
Invest in a digital camera for ease in uploading photos, and choose
one with at least two megapixels and an optical — not a digital
— lens. A camera meeting these specifications produces an easily
uploadable image with enough clarity to give buyers a good look at
the object on which they are bidding.
says Mosho, "but I bought a piece of white silk, so it doesn’t
look like my kitchen table." A neutral background makes the object
stand out, and makes you look like a professional.
background, suggests that a listing not run more than one page. Write
a clear, simple description of the object, include all information
on any defects, add a photo or two, and that’s it. He has seen
that go on for half a dozen pages or more, and says the voluminous
information generally detracts from the appeal of the listing.
and third blenders you received as wedding gifts — just want them
out of the house — then sell them to the highest bidder, period.
But if you want to get at least $100 for the vintage camera you
for $70 with resale in mind, put in a $100 reserve. Your bidders will
not see this price, but the object will not be sold until at least
that amount has been offered.
time it takes him to post an item on eBay, Mosho says it takes him
10 to 15 minutes to shoot the photos, another 15 to 20 minutes to
select the best photos and to upload them, and about 15 to 20 minutes
to write the listing copy. That’s close to an hour, and he has not
answered a single E-mail. Add the time necessary to pack up the item
after it is sold, to drive to the post office, and to wait in line,
and the time commitment is not insignificant. Factor it in to the
price at which each item is offered.
listing giving the seller’s E-mail information and inviting potential
bidders to ask questions. Answer any and all questions promptly.
check my E-mail three times a day," says Mosho.
an auction to close is on a Sunday at 6 p.m or 7 p.m. "That’s
when everybody’s home," says Mosho. Keep in mind, he says, that
your customers are all over the country, and even those on the East
Coast like to sleep in a bit on the weekends, so plan to have your
auction close not earlier than late-morning Pacific time.
now owned by eBay, PayPal charges a purchase to the credit card a
buyer registers. The service takes a few percentage points of the
sale price, reducing the seller’s profit, but Mosho says the fee is
money well spent. "You want anything that makes it easier for
people to buy," he says, "just like in a store." Sellers
can stipulate the forms of payment they accept. When he started
on eBay, Mosho took only cash or money orders, but soon signed on
that under no circumstances would he ship it. The buyer had to pick
it up. "That took away 90 percent of my market," he
But he did not want the work, responsibility, or uncertainly
with packing up and shipping a large, heavy object. It turned out
that he drew a respectable number of local bidders willing to pick
the scooter up, and he is happy with the price he received.
For smaller items, Mosho charges buyers only what it actually costs
him for shipping. Other vendors, he notes, make money on shipping,
charging a flat fee of $5, when postage and packaging might come only
to $1 or so. He does not like this practice, but says it is not
he wants about 60 seconds before an auction closes. The idea is to
slide in at the last moment so that no one else has time to top your
offer. "Some people bid in the last 10 seconds," he says.
It is tricky to cut it so close, but some savvy buyers do pull it
off. "They’re called snipers," says Mosho.
of a flawless reputation again and again. eBay buyers leave feedback
on the people from whom they buy, and sellers often scrutinize these
comments. Fail to ship an item in a timely manner or sell something
that is not in the condition promised, and there is a good chance
that no one else will buy from you.
list, sell, and buy on eBay. The site walks users through the
and those looking for advanced tips can find them aplenty in books
such as Starting an eBay Business for Dummies, The Official eBay
Strike it Rich on eBay, The Perfect Store: Inside eBay, and Cliff
Notes: Buying and Selling on eBay. Amazon.com lists 38 eBay titles,
and a number of the books are available at bookstores.
While there is plenty of help in setting up shop on eBay, Mosho finds
that the company itself provides extremely poor customer service.
Before leaving for a trip last month, he ran into trouble while
to post a photo on one of his listings. He says he spent more than
an hour attempting to get a live eBay human on the phone before giving
up. "There’s just no way to contact them," he says.
matching sellers all over the world with those eager to buy exactly
what they are selling. He warns novices, though, that results of any
one sale are subject to forces that can only be described as
Sometimes an item draws multiple bids right away, while its twin
with nary a nibble. Says Mosho philosophically: "Who knows
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