Basics • Peter M. Lozzi • (707) 592-5570 • firstname.lastname@example.org
Welcome to eBay basics. In this class we cover the basics of buying and selling on eBay.
As you probably already know, eBay is the world’s largest online marketplace. To me, that
sounds really big and intimidating. I’m just a small-time guy looking to sell some junk I have
hanging around, what business do I have in the world’s largest online marketplace?
Well, the thing that makes eBay so accessible to all of us, is that novices and pros alike can pur-
chase items from sellers also ranging from novice to pro. With so many eyes a particular item,
you are sure to get what it is truly worth, as long as you follow some important guidelines, and
avoid some perilous pitfalls.
In this class, we talk in depth about those guidelines, and whether we’re looking to buy or sell...
“focus on the five.”
Buying items online from eBay is lots of fun! Especially when you’ve found that rare collectible
you’ve been looking for, or the part you need to put your lawn-mower back together. Chances
are, you’ve found a great bargain, too.
So why not just buy everything on eBay? Why get an iPod at CompUSA when I could get one
on eBay? There are some important things to consider before searching for and bidding on
that auction item.
Let’s look at my five tips for eBay buying…
1. Know the value of what you want to buy
Do a little research before you go bargain hunting. Sometimes this is simple. Let’s say you are
interested in a 30 GB iPod. A quick glance at Apple’s website will show that the MSRP (Manu-
facturer’s Suggested Retail Price) is $299.99. Since you have the current going retail price on
the item, there has to be a compelling reason to pay anywhere near that on eBay, since you could
just head over to CompUSA and pick one up. A few of the reasons you might pay the same
price or more on eBay as you would in a “brick-and-mortar” store are;
• Stores are sold out without an ETA for replenishment
This typically means supply has outstripped demand. This is the fastest driver of profit on
eBay. In case you didn’t hear, there was a craze in the holiday season of ’05. Microsoft re-
leased their new XBox 360 Gaming Console. Supply far outstripped demand, and those
interested in getting their hands on one knew that it would. So wouldn’t you know that
the day they were released you could get one on eBay for $2,000 while those lucky enough
to get one in a store paid the MSRP of $399.99.
• An item is recalled or no longer available
Sometimes, especially with collectibles, there
will be an item with unique characteristics. In
the world of Star Wars toys, Kenner made a mis-
take on the color of Luke Skywalker’s vest when
manufacturing a batch of action-figures. (They
made it brown while it was supposed to be
charcoal grey.) This variation created a demand
among those collectors who insist on having
the complete collection. So Luke in the brown
vest will fetch a cool $155 on eBay while retailers
sold him for $4.99.
• The item is not available it in your area
• The item is a custom item
The best way to learn the value of the item you are looking for, is to look at it on eBay today,
and see what it is going for. In most cases, whatever you are looking for is either for sale, or has
sold recently. I recommend you look in both current auctions and completed listings to find
out what other people have been paying for that Jewel-Tea Salt Shaker you are looking for.
2. If you’re not 110% sure, then ask questions or move on
I have purchased countless items on eBay. From Star Wars collectibles to Concert Tickets. One
time I bought the coolest looking Incredible Hulk Statue for my Superhero Collection. I was
very excited, and got hung up on the fact that someone was out-bidding me. I ended up win-
ning the auction, and paying just a bit more than I wanted to pay. I cleared a spot on my col-
lectible shelf for this monstrous statue, and when it arrived, it was only six inches tall. I looked
at the picture again, and it looked huge! The seller had listed the dimensions, but I had over-
looked them. I had no cause to complain, and promptly left positive feedback, as the seller had
done nothing wrong.
The point here is, if you know what you are buying, and it looks like a good deal, then go for it.
A good example would be a 1941 Quarter. There’s only one way to get a 1941 quarter. There’s
no ambiguity in the product reliability, nor do you need to worry that it won’t suit your needs
when it arrives. It’s a 1941 Quarter. If you need one, bid.
On the other hand, if you’re whimsically browsing for Elvis collectibles, and you see a life-sized
statue of the King complete with Blue Suede Shoes for $200, you might hesitate to click the
“Place Bid” button. This is the kind of item you want to look at, you know, get your hands on it
before you consider shelling out big money. Here are some things you can do to get a better
• Always look at the Seller’s feedback.
A NEGATIVE IS NOT A DEAL BREAKER. What’s more important is what the Negative Feed-
back is about. If it is a buyer saying that the seller misrepresented the product, and would
not consider a refund, then think twice.
• Look closely at the photos, then look again.
If there’s something in the photo that you can’t quite make out, ask the seller for a clearer
shot, or a close up. If they don’t respond, or tell you they can’t provide you with any more
photos, that’s a good indicator that this seller is not entirely cooperative, right? Probably
not someone you want to wire $200 to.
• Ask the seller some questions
“Is this item from a non-smoking home?”
“Is there any physical damage whatsoever?”
“Is this item in a factory sealed box?”
“Why are you selling this item?”
“How will you ship this item?”
3. Never accept an offer to conduct business outside of eBay
In addition to this practice being a violation of eBay’s rules, it’s very risky. I will often get mes-
sages from people who are interested in something I am selling, where they will offer a fixed
Messages from these people typically solicit you to cancel the auction and deal with them per-
sonally, outside of eBay. I have even had people offer me twice what the item is worth, but I
always politely reply that they should bid, and I am sure they will do well in the auction.
People have concocted many scams that are in some way twisted into eBay auctioning. I don’t
believe these grifters make eBay any less secure, it just puts more responsibility on you to avoid
them. “Just say no.”
4. Don’t settle for standard search results
Whenever I set out to find the bargain of a lifetime on eBay, I spend quite a bit of time search-
ing for the item. I use different methods of searching, and essentially “scour” eBay before I set-
tle on an auction to participate in.
Start simple. Let’s say we are looking for a First-Edition, Signed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s
Stone Book. I would start by simply searching “Harry Potter.” I know I will get tons of search
results, but I don’t mind browsing the results to see what I find, and maybe even get some good
leads. After I start with a very basic search, I will do a completely different search using another
part of the item description. For instance, this time I will search for, “Sorcerer’s Stone.” As with
any search engine, it is good to start vague and build on specifics.
eBay’s search engine, like many others has some tricks you can do to improve, organize or oth-
erwise make more precise your search criteria. Here are a few tricks...
You can put an asterisk (*) into a search phrase when you want to say ‘anything can go here'.
For example, if you wanted to search for a 1950s car, you could search for ‘car 195*'. 195* will
show results from any year in the 1950s.
In this order
If you put words in quotes ("") then the only results shown will be ones that have all of the
words between the quote marks. For example, searching for "Lord of the Rings" won't give you
any results that say, for example "Lord Robert Rings".
Put a minus, and then put any words in brackets that you don't want to appear in your search
results. For example: "Pulp Fiction" –(poster,photo) will find items related to Pulp Fiction but not
posters or photos.
If you want to search for lots of words at once, just put them in brackets. Searching for TV, for
example could become ‘(TV,television)', which would find items with either word.
5. Pay electronically
You are more likely to be able to recover any losses if you pay using a credit card instead of
sending out cheques and money orders – these low-tech payment methods can’t be tracked as
Paypal has proven to be a very reliable
service for me, with plenty of buyer and
seller protections built right in. Signing
up for a Paypal account is easy, and is, in
my opinion, essential for anyone plan-
ning to buy and sell regularly on eBay.
Paypal cards can be issued that work
exactly like ATM cards. When I am paid
for an item I have sold, the money goes
into my Paypal account, where it can be
used like a standard Debit Card or Visa
check card for purchases, just like the one that I got with my Washington Mutual account. It is
good anywhere a Visa is, including online purchases, gasoline, grocery stores, etc.
Let’s look at my five tips for eBay Selling…
1. Pictures, pictures, pictures.
Product companies spend a significant amount of their time and
money on shots of their products. “Hero shots” as they are often
called, are the best possible representation of the product that they
are selling. These product shots are never snapshots, and are always
carefully crafted to give the customer the most flattering image of
When you are selling something to someone who is on the other side
of the globe, details are important. Every detail, crack and scratch
should be documented in your photo for the best possible represen-
tation. Posting eBay auctions can be a lot of work, and your reputa-
tion is important. If you sell something that was poorly represented
in your photo, or perhaps even misleading, you run the risk of some-
one demanding a refund or leaving negative feedback, bringing you
back to square one with your item.
So, what makes a good picture? Light, composition and Macro Mode.
Let’s take a look at some case studies...
Here is a Darth Vader coin I bought on eBay, then resold. I bought it
for $2 + Shipping. The photos of the coin that were posted by the
seller are terrible, as you can see. I took some better photos of the
coin, and sold it, making $12 simply based on better photos and a
In the series of photos on the right, you see two pictures of the Darth
Vader coin as I bought it from the seller for $2. The three below are
pictures that I took of the coin, and resold it for $12.
When I take my pictures, I find a suitable place to photograph with
lots of good light. (Outdoors in the morning works best. Once I
have found a suitable location, I spread out a small throw blanket
that I bought for about $8. I chose maroon because it is a nice con-
trast to most of the items you might sell. Another cool thing about
my little blanket is, it has become kind of a trademark for my auc-
tions. Whenever you see that maroon background, you know it’s me
Once I get the background set up, I turn OFF the flash on my camera.
Flash is NOT your friend when it comes to detail photos. With the
flash off, I then turn on Macro Mode. Macro Mode is almost always
indicated by a tulip icon on your camera.
Now start snapping photos! Take many more than you will need,
then just pick the best ones for your auction.
2. Item Listing Details
Just as important as your photos is your item’s listing details. In fact, a bad item description or
category can end up costing you lots of money.
When you list something on eBay, your first task is to choose a category for your item. This is
important because many eBay shoppers browse categories to find items of interest. Listing
something in the wrong category can cost you lots of money, since so few people will even see
your item, the amount of exposure, and thus the number of bids, will be tiny compared to its
List items in the correct categories. In March last year, an item posted on eBay in one category
sold for $34. Three months later, an identical item was put up in a very different category with a
more informative description and it brought $1,700. List in multiple categories when in doubt.
Luckily, eBay has a “search for category” feature where you can tell eBay what you are selling,
and eBay will suggest possible categories, and what percentage of items matching that descrip-
tion have been sold in those categories. For instance, I typed in, “Batman figure” and got the
Now I’m able to choose a category from eBay’s suggestions. I can also browse categories to
find what I am looking for.
eBay gives you the opportunity to list your item in two categories. While your listing may get
double exposure, eBay charges you double the price.
Spelling counts. The success of any auction item relies almost entirely on the likelihood of its
being found in searches and—to a lesser extent—eBay's category listings. eBay searches are
seeded by the words you place in your auction titles, so include as many relevant keywords as
possible without wasting space with unnecessary punctuation, nonsense such as "@@ Look!
@@," or any other terms for which your customers won't be searching. Since eBay uses exact-
match (as opposed to fuzzy) searches, the words in your titles must be spelled correctly in order
to show up in search results. But if you have the space, be sure to include some intentional
misspellings (Delorean, Delorian, or Delorion, for example) to accommodate your more spelling-
challenged customers; just make sure the correct spelling is also there.
When you choose a title for the item you are selling. This is a very important step because, this
is where an eBay shopper’s searches will be looking. All searches on eBay are done within the
item’s description. You get exactly 55 characters to do the following:
• Use descriptive keywords that clearly announce what you are selling.
• Include your item's brand name, artist, or designer.
• State exactly what your item is, even if your title repeats the category name.
• Think of words buyers might use to search for your item, and include relevant terms and
• Keep in mind that buyers don't search for words like "wow" or "look," so use the limited
space of your title for more descriptive words.
• Browse similar items' closed listings to see which titles drew high prices in the past.
Read a few similar eBay listings before you post yours. A little research can pay off. Each hobby
has a vocabulary, a standard way of saying things. Learning the basics of that vocabulary can be
worth money to you. Wrong words can cost you money. For example, one seller sold his "scrap-
book of liners" on eBay for $137. Had he identified it as "Cigar Label Sample Catalog" he would
have attracted bidders who routinely pay $3,000 to $10,000 for them.
So, for my Batman figure, I used this description...
fifty cents more I can choose a subtitle. This gives the shopper another shot of detail to try to
get them to click on your auction.
The subtitle is searchable by eBay shoppers as well. For fifty cents, I always use a subtitle.
Buyers want to know about item features. List all the benefits, specifications, and parts in-
cluded in the item. More details help your buyer to make an informed purchase and will give
you an advantage over sellers who don't provide enough information. (Remember: eBay's poli-
cies prohibit mentioning unrelated keywords or references to brand names merely to lure buy-
ers. For example: "Prada look-alike!")
If you don’t include sufficient information, most buyers will just move on to the next item, and
your item will get less (or no) bids. Some may email you for a better description, but you
should work to cover these details in the original listing.
If you really want to sell, don't duck your responsibility to describe what you have by providing
one sentence asking for bidders to email their questions. By the time you answer my questions
two or three days after I email them, I've looked at hundreds of other items and you are no
longer timely. Chances of my bidding have dropped by half.
The Item Description field will accept HTML code. This can be used to decorate the auction
with pictures and varying text sizes. Since this is a basics course, we will skip the details of this
for the Advanced Class.
Your starting price is the price eBayers will see when they view your auction. This is a very im-
portant decision. This price should be one that encourages bids. This price is NOT what you
should expect to get for your item, but rather a starting point. I always make my starting prices
low, low, low.
Setting the starting price too high will discourage bidding.
Buy it Now Price
This is good for those items you know the value of, and there isn’t a good chance you will get
more or less than that value. This can be set at any number, and will not typically discourage
If you're considering a reserve price for your listings—don't. The reserve price is a secret dollar
amount below which you're under no obligation to sell, and it is useful only if you don't know
the value of your item. Reserves tend to scare away bidders and accomplish nothing more than
lowering the closing price unnecessarily. Even worse is the use of a Buy-It-Now price alongside
a reserve price, as bidders easily confuse the two and give up any hope of getting a bargain.
I only use this feature in extreme circumstances. Reserve Price auctions discourage bidders.
They are sometimes necessary, however. FOr instance, if someone gives you an item to sell for
them on eBay, and has indicated to you that they will not take less than $100 for it, then you
would set the “Reserve” at $100. Bidders cannot see the reserve price, so when they bid, they
get a message saying, “Your bid has been received, but does not meet the reserve price.” The
reason this discourages bids, is if I bid $99 on something I want, but the reserve is not met, I am
probably going to look elsewhere. But what if the reserve price was $100? I would have paid
that, but as a bidder, I would never know.
This one is simple. The longer your duration, the more exposure your item will have to eBay
bidders. You can also set your auction to start at a “Scheduled Time” instead of the moment
you create the auction. This is useful for when you are up late at night creating auctions, but
would rather they start and stop at a time when more people are likely to be on the site.
3. Avoid Negative Feedback
Do whatever you can to resolve any issues that might arise in an amicable way. You may have
to refund some or all of a buyer’s payment, or perhaps shipping costs. Take care of your buyers
so your feedback can be positive. Each negative feedback you receive could potentially hurt
the value you can expect to obtain from the items you are selling. Use the phone or email to
resolve any issues you might have, but promptly come up with an agreement that is a win for
4. Make paying easy for the bidder
Paypal is very popular, and easy to track electronically, but not everyone uses Paypal. Open up
your auction to different forms of Payment. Use whatever you are comfortable with, but re-
member, personal checks can be a headache.
5. Learn all about shipping
Shipping is under the control of the eBay seller, but some methods of shipping are better than
others when you're selling on eBay. You want to find the best method of shipping for your
product in terms of expense and reliability and then specify that shipping method in your eBay
listing. (And don’t forget to include the shipping cost in your shipping information for potential
I use Paypal/USPS shipping service. I print my labels at home, stick them to the packaging that
the USPS provides at no charge, and hand the packages to my mailman. Supplies are free at
the local Post Office.
Some common sense in closing...
Listing items that other sellers have currently listed and that are not selling is not good busi-
ness. Don't waste your time trying to sell things that nobody else seems able to sell.
Assume bidders are in a hurry. Make it easy for bidders to read about your offering and see your
picture. Keep it simple, direct, clean, and get to the point. Get our attention WITH YOUR ITEM
and its description. Only then is your Power Seller logo relevant, as are your terms, what credit
cards you take, ads for your shop, and pictures of your children. They belong AFTER your de-
scription and item photos.
Sellers who open their listings with page after page of giant type spelling out their terms dou-
bly inconvenience bidders who physically print out the descriptions and photos of everything
they bid on (print-outs make perfect inventory and tax documents). Give us title, description,
photos, then all that other junk. Incidental information does not make us want to buy; how you
display and describe your item makes us want to buy.
Avoid animation. Just because you CAN do something, doesn't mean you SHOULD do some-
thing. I'm sorry if it offends your love of cute, but winking flowers, flashing lights, and dancing
Santas are annoying. You don't need to attract my attention. I'm at your site to see your mer-
chandise, not to be entertained. I'm there to offer you money if you have something to sell.
Animation takes time to load and it doesn't help you sell. Serious bidders hate it!
Avoid large, slow loading graphics. Learn how to use your camera or scanner so you can make
modestly sized pictures. Low resolution jpeg images that load quickly are perfect for eBay un-
der most circumstances. If you're using scanned images, make sure to resize them so they load
fast, fit on smaller screens, and can be viewed in their entirety without scrolling. Thumbnails are
great, but if you use them, make certain the most informative picture is first.
Avoid color backgrounds. Base your listing on the needs of your customer, not those of your
interior decorator. The recent eBay trend toward dark or cluttered patterned backgrounds con-
stitutes customer abuse, especially for the colorblind or those still using monochrome screens
Avoid music. When music starts, I immediately back out without stopping to look at what's for
sale. That horrible tinnyness is bad enough on a bright sunny happy day, but to force it on me
at one a.m. when my senses are in low gear and the world is at peace is unforgivable. If you add
music to your site it is my wish that an elementary school marching band holds practice in your
bedroom every midnight.
Avoid describing something as "awesome" or "rare." If an item is in my field and rare, I'll know it.
If it's not in my field, the fact that some stranger claims his item is "rare" isn't going to make me
bid. In thousands of auction items I've looked at, I have yet to see an item described as "awe-
some" or "rare" that was either. Use of words like "awesome" or "rare" usually indicate amateur
sellers with limited abilities to accurately describe what they're selling.