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The Seven Deadly Sins of eBay Sellers

by: Skip McGrath

There are many ways to lose money trying to sell on eBay. But if you want to build an eBay business and make money consistently on eBay, then you need to avoid the Seven Deadly Sins:

1. Don't Take PayPal - If you haven't looked you might be amazed by all of the "I hate PayPal" websites and blogs. Over the years I have received dozens of complaints about PayPal and gotten many emails from eBay sellers asking me what other payment methods they can use. I am the first to admit that PayPal has it problems and they can seem a bit arrogant at times, but they are the payment system of choice for most eBay buyers (about 90%).

We do about 60 transactions a week and at least one or two of those will happen without any notice from PayPal. But, when it comes to eBay, PayPal is the 800-pound gorilla in the room. You can't really build a successful eBay business without it.

PayPal now handles more merchant transactions in a day than Citibank. Over 90% of eBay's 100 million users have a PayPal account. If you don't take PayPal, you will have a very hard time making money on eBay.

A few years ago, eBay changed their policy so that eBay now requires all sellers to accept only electronic forms of payments. These include PayPal and Merchant Credit card accounts. eBay also allows certain other online payment systems such as ProPay. So if you have been frustrated by PayPal in the past you will have to get over it if you really want to build a profitable eBay business.

You can still use checks and money orders in certain situations such as selling a car on eBay Motors and certain products in the Business & Industrial categories, but all other transactions must be electronic.

In the final analysis, taking PayPal will increase your sales on eBay.

2. Not Enough Information - I am continually amazed when I look at eBay listings that have descriptions containing one or two sentences. Or, I see descriptions that go on for several paragraphs, yet say very little about the product.

People want information before they will part with their hard-earned money. If you want to make money on eBay, a high percentage of your listings have to succeed. After writing a keyword-rich auction title that gets hits, writing a complete attractive and easy-to-read description is the best way to increase your sell through rate on eBay.

Here is a checklist for item descriptions:

State clearly what you are selling right at the beginning of the auction before you say anything else. (Note: In addition to the title, eBay’s Best Match search engine also looks for keywords in the first 100 characters, not words, of your description).
List all important features such as color, size, accessories included, model names or numbers, whether it’s new or used and if used, its condition and age.
Turn the features into benefits. For example, if an implement has a rubber handle you want to turn it into a benefit by saying something like, “soft molded rubber handles for a safe, sure comfortable grip while you are working.”
List any other minor features, specifications or details. (voltage, speed, materials used, etc.)
State your shipping method and cost clearly right in the description in a prominent location –don’t make the reader hunt for it.
Use a slightly larger type size. This will make your listing easier to read.
Don't forget the return policy. eBay has a place for a return policy –but bidders have to look around and click to another page to find it. I put my return policy in a prominent place right in the description. (Note: My return policy is a no questions asked money-back guarantee if the buyer is not happy for any reason.)
Lastly close the sale by asking for the order. Write something at the end of your description that asks for the bid. Example: “Don’t lose out to a sniper –bid now” or “Place your best bid now so your child doesn’t lose out on this darling Suzy Doll that she will treasure for years.”

On eBay, it is always better to provide too much information rather than too little. When I am writing an auction description, I connect features to benefits and keep writing until I run out of features and benefits to write about. Some of the descriptions for my best selling products on eBay are up to 2000 words long. (I have personally tested this and longer descriptions outsell short ones.)

Another recent development is the advent of mobile buyers. It is unlikely someone on a mobile device will read a long description. Therefore, make sure you mention the most important information at or near the beginning of the description.

Lastly, avoid the temptation to use overly large type, weird fonts, dancing dollar signs, multicolored type and Words such as "Save $$$$" and "L@@K". I guarantee this will affect your trust and credibility with bidders and buyers.

Keep your descriptions clean, simple and easy to read. Use several short paragraphs instead of one long one.

The ability to write good item descriptions is one of the real keys to making money on eBay (or any online site for that matter) and not doing so will kill your profits. So this is where you should spend some time getting good at it. (I pre-write my descriptions in Microsoft Word and paste them in, so I can take advantage of spell-check and grammar-check).

3. Poor or Missing Photos - Bad (or missing) photos can absolutely kill your bids and, conversely, really great photos can increase your bids and final values. Believe me; I know this from personal experience.

Taking good photos is a lot of work. You have to set up some type of uncluttered backdrop, set up lights, put your camera on a tripod, take some shots, upload them, crop them, see if they look good -and if they don't, take them again.

And yes -on eBay like everywhere else, time is money. But a little time spent taking a better photo will always pay off. If you want help taking better photos for eBay (and your website), visit www.EZAuctionTools.com. There are several articles about taking better digital product photos and links to budget light tents.

4. Not Checking Your Email Frequently
- If you are really serious about your eBay business, not checking your email often, can be a killer.

I can not tell you how many times I have found something interesting on eBay, sent a question to the seller (see Sin #2 - If your descriptions are complete you will not get as many email questions) and by the time the seller answered my email, the auction was over.

When someone sends you an email question, no matter what they ask, that means they are really interested in what you have to sell. This is a potential customer.

These emails can come at all times of day. I check my eBay email first thing in the morning, several times a day and just before I go to bed.

Some of you eBay email will end up in your SPAM filter. If you check your email on your My eBay Page, you will not have to worry about that.

eBay is a business. If you are going to be in business you must be responsive to your prospects and customers. Besides prospective bidders, you will also get email from those who bought from you. It might be about payment or shipping, or some other question. Answering these emails quickly and completely in a friendly manner sends a message that you care and will earn you better feedback comments and scores.

One last thing related to email. My wife Karen handles most of our customer email. One thing that drives her crazy are buyers who have one email address for eBay, and a different one for PayPal.

This can get really confusing when you get a payment notice from one email but the member is using a different email for eBay and rarely checks their PayPal email.

The same goes for sellers. People get confused if they get an email from one address and a payment link from a different one. In fact, sometimes they are suspicious of a scam when this happens. You should always have different passwords for eBay and PayPal, but please use the same email address.

5. Rigid or Silly Payment, Return and Shipping Policies - Rigid is a polite way of saying there are some people who write their auction policies that appear to have been written by a prison guard giving instructions to inmates. I know you feel there are some people on eBay that belong in prison -but most of them don't and you need to treat that larger group with respect.

Whenever I see something really horrible or silly, I have a file where I copy paste it into because some people just don't believe how stupid some sellers can be.

I now have over 75 entries in that file. Here are a few of the best (or should I say worst) policy statements I have actually seen in auctions: (The spelling and grammar are theirs -not mine.)

If you are not going to pay then don't bid me. I will chase you down and find you if you win this auction and don't pay me.

Yes I am making money on the shipping. What did you expect me to do ???, ship it at my cost.

I only take money orders, cashiers check or Western Union transfer. PayPal is a screw job. They want to charge me a 3% fee on every deal. If you send a personal check I will just throw it away so, please don't bother. ( Note: eBay policy no longer allows Western Union or money orders on most transactions)

My Returns Policy: No returns for any reason except if I send you the wrong item and then you need to send me a photo of what you received so I can be sure before your return it.

Don't bid unless your feedback is at least 25. I don't deal with eBay cherries. I will cancel your bid if you have less than 25 feedbacks.

Rigid also means "not bending." We have clearly stated shipping, return and payment policies, but we always try and remain flexible and give the customer what they want within reason.

6. High Starting Bids - eBay is a place where people come for bargains and fun. As a seller I know it's not fun when an item sells for less than your cost, or at too little money to make a profit, but if you set your starting bids too high, you won't get many -or even any bids.

I have learned if you are selling a product that is in reasonable demand, take attractive photos, write a good description and a keyword rich headline, your auction will attract more bids and a higher final value if you start it at a low price.

Don't stress out if your auction sits there for several days without any bids. Fixed price items can sell at anytime, but most auctions do not get bids until the final day (or even hours).

The other option is to use a Reserve Price Auction (RPA). Reserve auctions are somewhat controversial -there are a percentage of eBay bidders who don't like them and will not bid on them. However, you may be selling a really valuable item that you cannot afford to lose a large sum of money, or you may be selling a highly specialized item that only appeals to a narrow range of people and does not attract a lot of bidders.

A good example of this is eBay motors where the vast majority of cars are sold using a reserve price. You also see reserves used for expensive art, antiques and jewelry. Despite the critics there is a lot of business transacted on eBay using RPAs.

When I have had this situation I have tried it both ways: listing the item with a high starting bid and listing with a low starting bid and a reserve. I have always done better with a low starting price and a reserve. The other advantage of using a reserve is that the Buy-It-Now price stays active until your reserve price has been met. In my experience I actually get a lot of bidders who buy-it-now, because they keep bidding and the seeing the Reserve Not Met message and decide to buy-it-now rather than risk losing the item.

7. Being Unreasonable with Feedback - A few years ago, eBay changed the rules so that sellers can only leave positive feedback -but buyers can still leave negatives.

Our policy is to leave positive feedback as soon as the seller sends their payment. If they send payment quickly and communicate with us, we always leave a glowing feedback comment. If they are slow to pay, but do, we still leave positive feedback but the comment may be more generic -such as "Thank you for your business." But we don't wait for them to leave feedback for us, before we leave feedback.

Whenever I see comments in an auction about feedback policy that says a seller will only leave feedback once the buyer does, I usually click away and look for another seller.

If you are honest, deliver what you say, ship your items quickly and professionally, communicate with the buyer and leave feedback quickly, your feedback score and reputation will grow.

We all know there is the occasional nutcase whom you can't satisfy no matter how hard you try, but these people end up getting high negatives themselves and usually don't last that long on eBay.

In fact, the last two negatives we received were removed by eBay because the member was suspended or kicked off of eBay within a few days or weeks of leaving the feedback. (When eBay cancels an account for cause, they adjust your feedback score to remove the offender).

Yes, there are more deadly sins than seven --and lots more mistakes you can make on eBay, but in my experience these are the ones I see most often. eBay is a business where you have to do a lot of things right. They aren't really that hard, but a little extra effort and attention to detail will pay off in increased profits for the eBay seller.

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