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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, Martin

Mosho discovered eBay. He now regularly sells on the online

auction,

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

it."

Retirement wasn’t much to his liking either. "I found myself

cleaning

the house, and cooking," he says, his voice betraying little

enthusiasm

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

fundamentals

of starting and running a small business.

In his spare time, Mosho is on eBay. There he finds a worldwide

audience

for the antique cameras and Japanese swords he collects, as well as

for the occasional purchase he has reconsidered. "I bought a

scooter,

really a small motorcycle," he recounts. "It was very

expensive;

my wife never found out what I paid for it." Deciding he was

perhaps

a tad beyond the age at which tooling around on the Italian-made

Scarabeo

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

while,

he has traded tales of eBay sales with friends and neighbors. Here

is what he has learned about selling — and buying — on eBay:

Find items to sell. Your eBay business may be sitting

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

operation.

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

opinion,

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,

basements,

and neighborhood garage sales. No item should be overlooked.

"People

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.

Know what your goods are worth. Do research before buying

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

trying

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.

Provide photographic illustration. It is not necessary

to illustrate eBay listings with photos, but Mosho stresses how

important

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

invaluable

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

wear"

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.

Set up a studio. "I shoot pictures on my kitchen

table,"

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.

Create a succinct listing. Mosho, with a deep marketing

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

listings

that go on for half a dozen pages or more, and says the voluminous

information generally detracts from the appeal of the listing.

Add a reserve price. If you want to get rid of the second

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

purchased

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.

Consider all of your costs. Asked for a run-down of the

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.

Keep in touch with bidders. There is a section on each

listing giving the seller’s E-mail information and inviting potential

bidders to ask questions. Answer any and all questions promptly.

"I

check my E-mail three times a day," says Mosho.

Time your auction’s closing carefully. The best time for

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.

Consider using PayPal. A popular online payment system,

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

selling

on eBay, Mosho took only cash or money orders, but soon signed on

to PayPal.

Set shipping terms. When Mosho sold his scooter, he

stipulated

that under no circumstances would he ship it. The buyer had to pick

it up. "That took away 90 percent of my market," he

acknowledges.

But he did not want the work, responsibility, or uncertainly

associated

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

illegal

or unethical.

Be aware of snipers. Mosho aims to place bids for items

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.

Keep your reputation clean. Mosho emphasizes the

importance

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.

Beware of eBay’s limitations. It’s easy to learn how to

list, sell, and buy on eBay. The site walks users through the

procedure,

and those looking for advanced tips can find them aplenty in books

such as Starting an eBay Business for Dummies, The Official eBay

Bible,

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

attempting

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.

Still, overall, Mosho finds eBay to be an efficient market,

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

capricious.

Sometimes an item draws multiple bids right away, while its twin

languishes

with nary a nibble. Says Mosho philosophically: "Who knows

why?"


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