… that is the question.
While I will readily hail eBay as one of the greatest advances of the modern world, it can be confusing and/or costly, as a seller, if you don’t know what you’re doing.
I’m not talking today about buying on eBay. Buyer beware, but that’s fairly easy to calculate on your own, I think. Today I want to talk about selling on eBay, and how to figure out if it’s for you.
Nevermind that by the time I finish this post, the fee structure and rules will probably change again….
Once upon a time, if you had something to sell, you could throw it up on eBay and sell it for a tidy profit. And it was good. And then the changes started happening.
Then the shipping costs started going up, both at the USPS and with major carriers like FedEx and UPS.
Then the rules about what you could sell and how started changing.
Then the fees for selling went up and up and up.
Then Paypal partnered with eBay and my least favorite rule in the history of ecommerce came into being (the “you cannot advertise you take Paypal unless you accept credit card payments—of which we get to take a cut—ha ha ha ha” rule).
This is no longer your grandmother’s eBay, in other words. So how does an average person figure out whether it’s “worth it” to sell on eBay?
There are a number of factors to consider.
How much time will this take, and what will the payoff be? If you’re a stay-at-home mom, maybe you feel like any profit (eBay or otherwise) is worth the time spent. Or maybe not. Me, I have an hourly rate I charge my clients, so it makes perfect sense to me to compare my eBay selling to that model. Am I going to make a profit that at least approximates my typical wage? Or am I going to spend half an hour writing up and posting my auction, field a dozen stupid questions via email for another hour of time, another half an hour packaging and mailing (and driving to the post office), for a net total of $5? I do a quick analysis before I list anything, to see if I anticipate clearing enough money to make it worth the time and aggravation.
Will the costs be worth it? eBay fees are higher than they used to be, and the new Paypal rules—although they drive me insane—do tend to make for more foolproof payments. However, taking all of these things into account means that a relatively low-cost item may net you considerably less than you might think. Be sure to figure in the fees when deciding how to price your item, and consider combining smaller items (like children’s clothing) into larger lots to maximize your profit. Other hidden costs: Packaging materials (you can get USPS boxes/tape for free, but they may be more expensive than FedEx Ground or UPS for the actual shipping, depending on the size of your item), transportation involved in shipping, and any special cleaning required before item is sellable.
Will shipping kill the deal? Are you selling a rare antique that’s in high demand? Your buyers may not blink at paying $30 in shipping (if, indeed, that’s what it costs to ship). Are you selling dishes? Dishes are heavy, and you neither want to end up eating the shipping cost (by underestimating) or with no bidders (because no one wants to pay more for shipping than for the item itself). Don’t auction heavy items unless they’re in demand and/or so expensive that shipping will seem doable in comparison.
Do you have lots of stuff to sell? It takes the same amount of gas to take 20 packages to the post office as it takes to take 1 package to the post office. Your net profits will always be higher if you sell a bunch of stuff at once than if you sell one item one week and another item another week.
Does the season matter? Pay attention to selling trends on eBay. Back-to-school clothing sells best in July and August. Christmas items sell best in October/November. Don’t auction a Halloween costume in June and then wonder why no one bids. Pay attention. Generally speaking, selling is hottest in October and November—people are doing their holiday shopping and buying more.
What are your other selling options? In general, you’ll make more money running your own auction on eBay than you’ll make, say, taking your items to a consignment shop. However, that’s not always true. Heavy items (see above) may sell for more, locally, because shipping isn’t an issue. In that case, although you may be giving 50% of the profit to your local shop, you’re also saving a ton of time and perhaps selling at a higher price point—resulting in a higher net, overall. Think about it.
There are also local one-to-one selling options like having a garage sale (gigantic hassle, in my opinion, and people will expect low prices) or utilizing Craig’s List (which allows potential crazies to come directly to your house!). I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with these things, I’m just saying that they have their own set of hassles to keep in mind.
I take most of my children’s outgrown clothing to a local consignment store where I tend to buy most of their wardrobes. It’s more convenient for me to have credit at the store (and save myself the selling hassles) than cash in my pocket. I only eBay their designer duds which I know will fetch top dollar from people who don’t know any better.
What did you pay for the item, originally? If I paid $30 for a dress and I’m only able to sell it for $20, plus I’ve invested time and hassle in doing so, I’m not likely to jump for joy. But if I happen to pick up a designer children’s item at a yard sale or Goodwill for under a buck and I’m able to net $20 from a quick auction, that’s pretty good. It’s all relative.
You cannot put a price on aggravation. You don’t have to pass an IQ test to get on the internet. People will email you all manner of stupid comments and questions. Is this going to whip you into a froth of frustration, or can you let it roll off your back? Sometimes people will win an auction and immediately fall off the face of the earth. Sometimes people will win an auction and promise to pay as soon as Great-Aunt Bertha gets out of the hospital but then their dog dies and the twister takes its toll on their trailer park and before you know it, a month has passed and you still don’t have your money. Sometimes things go off without a hitch, but you can’t count on it. Unless you’re selling Faberge eggs, over there, you have to decide if it’s worth it to you to deal with the dregs of humanity to make a few bucks. It may be. But if it isn’t, don’t do it. And applaud yourself for knowing your limits.
Best of luck to you in deciding whether or not to swim in the eBay pool. Don’t forget your floaties.