I’ve been married to my husband for six years and we lived together for a year before we tied the knot. When I moved in, I brought the important things from my mother’s apartment – my CDs, my books, my computer and a few pairs of jeans. I basically just bought anything else I needed as I needed it. It seemed like a good plan at the time but I’m reconsidering that now as I move the rest of my things from my mother’s apartment to my house. Why, you ask? Because my house is filled with junk! I don’t mean there are a few extra boxes lying around, I mean practically packed floor to ceiling with my stuff – very little of it of any use to either me or my husband. A solution was needed and I found a great one – online auctions.
Online auctions can be tricky business and for that reason, I felt this article was one that needed to be written. As someone who frequently buys things in online auctions – yes, the clutter but I’m a shopoholic and a sucker for a good deal – and someone who frequently sells things in online auctions, I’ve put together a quick list for buyers and sellers to help them get the most out of online auctions. Of course this list is nowhere near complete and is no substitute for good old fashioned experience. Everything on this list is something I’ve learned first hand. Enjoy and good luck with your auction!
For the Buyers
Tip #1: Consider local auction sites.
Websites like Ebay, Ubid and other large auction sites can be a great option if you are looking for a specific product but local auctions can be a great option too. The advantage local auctions have over bigger auction sites is, of course, the delivery time. If you see something you want on a local auction site, bid on it and win in the end, you arrange a meeting and pick up the item. That just isn’t an option on Ebay. Depending on where the item is located, you can wait up to a month for the item you’ve ordered to arrive. If you’re looking for something you need in a hurry, local auction sites are really your best option. There will often be a specific section of the site where you can post exactly what you are looking for. Worst case scenario? You don’t get a response. At least you can say you tried.
Tip #2: Safety first.
Whether you’re buying locally or on Ebay, always keep your safety in mind above your desire for a product. Ebay offers secure transactions so there is no need to provide credit card information or banking information to anyone other than Ebay. Ebay will not send you e-mail asking for credit card information so if you should receive an e-mail asking for such information, it’s a scam. Don’t reply and definitely don’t send your information. The same goes for anyone calling you and claiming to be from Ebay. Protect your personal information and only offer what is required on Ebay’s official website.
Safety is also important if you’re going with local auctions. While transactions tend to be cash only, you still want to make sure you meet in a public place if you don’t know the person you’re buying from. Sometimes you’ll be lucky enough to buy from a friend or a family member but you’ll often be buying from someone you don’t know. Meeting at a public spot is the best way to stay safe. If the item you purchase is larger and can only be picked up at the seller’s home, take a friend or two with you. It’s also a good idea to give someone that isn’t going with you the address of the seller’s home. Call that person before you leave for pickup and when you return so they know you’re safe. It sounds paranoid but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Tip #3: Treat any item you buy (whether new or used) like it is a used product.
No matter what you buy, make sure you clean it before you use it. Wash clothes in your normal detergent before you wear them. Clean jewelry before you wear it. Check any packages to see if they appear to have been tampered with. Buying food products in an online auction (unless we’re taking local baked goods from someone you know or who has a solid reputation) is a terrible idea. You just never know what could be in it. You also need to expect some wear and tear on the item you buy. It might arrive to you in pristine condition but if you haven’t paid much for an item and it has a few small imperfections, you should still be pretty happy. Read descriptions of items carefully to get an idea of what you can expect. Reputable sellers will indicate any damage to their items in the item description.
Tip #4: Pay attention to feedback.
Not all websites offer feedback on sellers but that doesn’t mean you have to avoid those auction sites. Instead browse around a little while and see what you can tell from the way people are bidding and interacting with the seller. If someone has a lot of nice looking items for sale at a decent price but no one is bidding, there’s a chance the seller has a bad reputation. You can generally tells by the terms of the sale. Strict terms typically mean the seller is serious about their auction and that’s definitely a positive. See if there are any complaints posted on the website about the seller in any comments areas. Comments areas are a great place to get information on sellers because they’re often uncensored and can give you a great idea of what kind of experience you can expect to have with the seller.
On Ebay, feedback is a little more straightforward and can be even more important than the feedback on other websites. Don’t just pay attention to the feedback rating. Click the link and read the comments. This gives you an excellent idea of what you can expect with any given seller. Look for feedback that specifically pertains to the item you purchased. I have gotten fooled by this before. I mostly buy jewelry and craft supplies which are entirely different from electric tools and things of that nature. This leads me to one final tip for buyers.
Tip #5: Avoid sellers that sell a little bit of everything.
Some exceptions apply here. I have a little bit of everything in most of my auctions because I’m trying to clean up the clutter in my home. That means my auctions often have shoes, jewelry, clothes, books and a whole host of other odds and ends no longer have a use for. It’s pretty obvious when someone is basically just having an online yard sale. On Ebay, things are a bit different. If the seller has a link to their store, check it out. First, you may be able to find other items in their store you’re interested in. Second, you can get an idea of whether or not they’re a “little bit of everything” seller. It’s hard to ensure quality when you’re dealing with such varied items. When I’m buying jewelry, I look for sellers that only offer jewelry, jewelry making items or women’s clothing and accessories. This way I have at least some indication they know their product.
For the Sellers
Tip #1: Carefully consider your minimum bid.
People typically go to auction sites because they’re looking for a deal. If your minimum bid is close to the original price of the item, you’re probably going to have a pretty hard time unloading it. If it’s just clutter lying around your house and you want it out, put a reasonable minimum bid on it. I often post items with no minimum bid (or open bid) so people can bid whatever they want. Sometimes that means letting an item for $1.00. Other times that same item goes for $20.00 or more. It really just depends on whether or not anyone is interested in owning it. There are other things that I don’t mind holding onto. I’ll set them at the lowest price I’d be happy letting them go for. For example, I recently posted a really cute pewter dolphin necklace I’d had since I was a teenager. I really don’t wear it anymore and it was awkward to store in my increasingly too-small jewelry box. I wasn’t excited about selling it so I decided if someone was willing to pay $3.00 for it, they could have it, so that was the minimum bid I put on it. It sold for $5.00 so on that gamble I won. On many others, I didn’t. Look at the other products in the auction and see if there is anything similar to what you’re selling. Base your minimum bid on that.
Tip #2: Be honest about your item.
Undamaged items are worth more than damaged ones which makes perfect sense but that doesn’t mean lying about the condition an item is in will get you anywhere. Inspect the item before you list it and make sure you take pictures of any damage if possible. I sold a ring not long ago that was missing a stone. I hadn’t noticed the stone was missing and only found out about it when I was contacted by the buyer. I had to do a refund and the buyer was left with an unfavorable impression of me, making it less likely that that buyer will buy from my future auctions. This leads us to tip #3.
Tip #3: Resolve any conflicts in a timely and polite fashion.
If you sold someone something and they’re not happy with it because of damage you either didn’t mention in your listing or didn’t notice during inspection, it is your obligation to make that right. It was your error. Of course there are unscrupulous buyers out there who will damage an item and then try to blame you. Protect yourself against that by carefully photographing your item from all angles and taking screen captures of your listings. The screen caps are especially important if you’ve noted any damage to an item. This way the buyer can’t claim you didn’t advise them of the defects. Very important stuff. With that said, if you receive a message from a buyer who has a legitimately damaged item who wants a refund, be polite and courteous in your response and make sure you know make yourself available for refunds.
Tip #4: Make sure you get high quality photos of your items.
This can be a time consuming process, especially if you aren’t great at taking photos. Regardless, if you want your auction to go well, you absolutely need to make sure you get the best pictures you can. Try taking the photos outside on a sunny day when you’ll have lots of natural light. Better pictures means more interest in your items which means the potential of more income. When I sell things like bath sets or other types of sets, I like to neatly arrange the items on a clean flat surface with a solid colored blanket or towel under the items. This makes the set look more appealing and allows people to see what is in the set.
Tip #5: Stay organized and take notes while your auction is running.
If your auction is successful, closing time is going to be hectic. Many online auction sites (especially auction run through Facebook) will require you to message whoever wins the items in your auction. Keep ahead of the game. Keep track on who bid on what and how much they bid. If someone falls through on their bid, you’ll have a record of the second highest bidder and can sell the item to that person. It’s also a good idea to keep all of the items in your auctions together. Keep them separated by bags so when the auction closes you can write the winner of each item on the bag and everything is ready for pick up!