How to start an eBay business, find products to sell, and get good feedback.
- Can I make a living selling on eBay?
- How do I go about starting my eBay business?
- What should I sell?
- Where do I buy?
- Is selling a lot of work?
- How do I get good feedback?
- Where can I learn more?
First, give yourself a quick reality check: you will not get-rich-quick selling on eBay, or anywhere else for that matter. If anyone tells you differently, ask yourself "if it's so easy why isn't everyone doing it?".
But it is possible to make a living on eBay with a realistic business plan and hard work.
The first thing you need to do is get familiar with eBay, VERY familiar. Get some experience as a buyer - see the Buying FAQ for some tips. Spend a lot of time on the eBay site, paying particular attention to the help and community sections as well as the auction categories and keywords that interest you. Read relevant news, books and web sites as much as possible. There is a lot of information out there so do not try to become an expert overnight, take your time and test your knowledge by explaining what you have learnt to others or getting involved in discussion boards.
While you are educating yourself about eBay, start putting your business ideas together. What will you sell? How much time and money do you need? Do you need to set up a bank account, register with payment providers, or inform tax authorities?
Your starting point should be your own knowledge, contacts and belongings. An ideal way to start is by selling off your own unwanted property to get some first-hand experience and build up your feedback. Beyond what you already own, consider whether there are any auction categories you have experience of outside eBay, for example you may have hobbies or past occupations that have given you expertise in a particular area. It is easier to apply your existing knowledge to the eBay market than to start from scratch, and you are also less prone to make errors of judgment when you understand the subject matter.
Once you have identified one or more categories to focus on, increase the depth of your eBay research to methodically track your chosen categories and keywords (including any relevant wholesale categories) until you have a strong "feel" for the marketplace. Search completed items to find final sale prices. You should be able to predict the final price of common items to within 10% or so, and understand which variables affect the price and to what degree - for example condition, brand, rarity, and ad quality all have different impacts in different auctions. Check out the Market Analysis category for online auction software which automates research and analyses prices automatically. For some more information on the dynamics of buying see the Buying FAQ.
Finally, be aware that some items will never sell well on eBay. The items that sell best have a high value-to-weight ratio (because most eBay items are sent by mail), or are collectible or rare. This means most electronics and antiques are "eBayable", while white goods (refrigerators, microwaves etc.) and computer monitors are best avoided.
The other part of the "what to sell" puzzle is buying, not the bidding you hope to attract but the buying you must do yourself to acquire goods to sell on. Again, your knowledge is very important to help you spot a potential profit amongst many poor items (for example at a flea market) but also consider who you know - perhaps past involvement in the retail industry means you could have first refusal (the chance to buy before anyone else) when surplus stock comes onto the local market. Do not be afraid to leverage your contacts - you will need all the help you can get to maintain a steady stream of profitable merchandise.
You could also consider looking further afield (in your own country or abroad) for sources which other sellers have not found, or do not have the resources to access them. Be prepared to spend a lot of time researching and traveling, and never buy unless you are sure of all the facts.
Consider wholesale sources open to the general public very carefully — if everyone has access to an item you might find that there the eBay market is already saturated and profit margins are razor thin. Never assume that the "eBay price" is going to be higher than the wholesale price.
Try using Sourcing tools to find products.
In a word, yes. The breadth and volume of tasks you need to master is daunting, but achievable with some self-education and practice. You will probably find yourself doing research, buying, photography, image editing, copy writing, HTML coding, responding to questions, tracking payments, shipping, feedback, managing inventory, accounting and more.
Its good to try these tasks without software or other help to start with to see what is involved and determine what your software or education needs are. See the Listing FAQ for more information on ad design and listing. Check out the directory for tools which can automate most seller tasks.
In Don't pay for eBay selling tools! Sam Carson reviews free research, fee calculation, and listing services.
Feedback is the bedrock on which the entire eBay community is built. Low feedback should not slow you down for long (but you may achieve slightly lower prices as some buyers will be put off), but negative feedback, especially early on, will be disastrous for your business. Your must be focused on customer service right from the start.
Good customer service does not begin when the auction ends, but when you are composing your auction ad. List your policies on payment, shipping, refunds etc. clearly; make your auction description informative and complete, including any defects; respond quickly and professionally to questions; accept different payment methods; and above all send out items quickly and well packed.
We all have experience of good and bad customer service so keep your own standards as high as humanly possible. Read the positive and negative feedback given to other sellers in your category to see what buyers value - you will probably see constant communication, fast shipping and good packaging as the most frequently praised aspects of the buying experience. Follow the leaders and do what they do (more, if you can) to keep customers happy.
Article Added: 1 August 2003
Last Updated: 12 October 2007