This post is about how to list items on eBay: broadly, what you do before the auction closes. We learnt a lot listing so many items, and I thought I'd write it up in case it helps other people.
This is Part 2 of a series on selling an estate of 400+ books, games, DVDs, and electronics. We started with Part 1: Where to sell items in Australia.
The next post (Part 3) will be all about shipping: packaging, pricing, picking, and mailing, and generally what to do after the auction closes.
Inventory Management / Stocktake System
We had a few dozen moving boxes full of books, games, and electronics stacked in our garage. To sell items, we needed to know where they are, to find them. We needed a rudimentary inventory system.
We used a few tools. They weren't "pro" but they got the job done:
- Trello, for tracking where they are in the house, and per-box todo lists.
- Google Sheets, for tracking what's in which box.
For each box, we:
- Named the box with an ID ("Fantasy Books", "Sci-Fi DVDs #1") with a post-it note on the side
- Created a Trello card for the box
- Attached a picture of the contents
- Listed the items inside the box in a Google Sheet, linked from the Trello card
I like how in Trello shows pictures on the card; this made it easy to identify the box when you're looking for it.
The todo list per-box was usually:
- Go through the items in box
- Clean (wipe) the items
- Enter them in a Google Sheet showing the item's name and box ID
- Talk about if we want to keep the item or sell
- Draft the listing
- List the item
- Ship the item
We moved the Trello cards between different columns ("Garage", "Bedroom", "Lounge", "Done/Sold") to represent where the box is right now.
Start by registering an account. Simple, but we screwed it up.
We started with my account and my partner's account, thinking parallelising the work would make it easier. This was a big mistake, we lost a lot of economies of scale.
We couldn't use the bulk editor, we didn't have one view of what we needed to post, we couldn't combine shipping between accounts (discouraging some bidders), and we couldn't connect both accounts to the same Australia Post account. Make one account, not two!
eBay Tools for the Bulk Seller
The default eBay site is optimised for people selling one or two items. There's a single-item editor, and a bulk editor. You don't want to be stuck with only the single-item editor!
Opt into "Seller Hub", eBay's site optimised for people selling lots of items.
This unlocks the bulk listing editor, a spreadsheet-style listing editor UI, that lets you bulk apply properties to all your listings. It saved me a lot of time and mistakes, by allowing me to apply uniform attributes to my listings.
We settled into a workflow of creating items in the single-item flow on the phone, and then setting all common fields in the bulk listing editor before listing the items.
Taking Listing Photos
We made a mistake initially: taking pictures in bulk, then manually uploading them to eBay later at listing-creation time. It took a lot of time to merge the photos taken earlier with the eBay listings.
Easy Uploading: We found it was much faster to use the eBay app to create the listing, and at the same time, take photos from the app and attach directly to the listing. You have the item in front of you, so you can easily enter the item condition etc.
How many photos? eBay lets you take 12 photos per listing: try to make them count! Show as many angles as you can. Be sure to show any imperfections to avoid unhappy customers.
Save a slot: Sometimes we'd get questions asking for more photos; so later on we moved from taking 12 photos to taking 11, keeping the last photo slot clear in case someone requested another photo.
For books, we'd take photos of: front, back, spine, leaf sides (x3), corners, inside cover, publisher page. This made the condition obvious to buyers.
For DVDs and game discs, we'd take photos of: front, back, inside covers, front and back of disc. If we didn't take photos of the disc, we'd get many buyers ask if the disc was scratched.
Lighting: Take photos during the day for better light! Try to do it as soon as you get home from work while there's still light, or in the weekend. We set up a spare videoconferencing ring light at night time so we could take photos into the evening. This worked, but was much worse than taking photos during the day, particularly for items with glossy covers, the reflections were obvious.
Teamwork: We experimented with pipelined workflows where one person would create the listings and attach photos, and another would be on the computer typing in descriptions and information. This worked best when the photographer took pictures of the publisher page, so the other person can fill that information in on the eBay listing.
My best optimisation tip: process the items in one-pass if you can, because the time cost of fetching boxes and moving items in and out of boxes is relatively expensive. There are fun parallels here with optimising computer programs, when often the most important optimisation is accessing (slow) discs less often. Books in boxes are definitely slow to access, so try to just access them once. Avoid multi-pass algorithms.
I think you want to put as much relevant info in here as you can, it's often all anyone will see. We put in names, authors, publication year, series name, part 1 of x, model number, all sorts.
Titles have a character limit, so you have to get good at editing!
For example, "Star Wars: Tyrant's Test (1997) Michael P. Kube-McDowell BLACK FLEET CRISIS #3" manages to fit universe, title, year, author, and trilogy all in the character limit. Use punctuation creatively to distinguish different parts of the title without using another character!
Err on the side of a worse 'listing condition' if you're unsure. The photos mostly speak for themselves about the condition, but you don't want to give buyers a reason to complain if you said "like new" and they find a scratch.
Note any imperfections in the description. Mention any discolouring, folding, tearing, etc.
Beyond noting imperfections, I often wasn't sure what to put in descriptions. You have to put something, but often all the information is already in the title.
For books, I would use Apple's image-text-recognition to select the back blurb text and paste it into the listing. I don't know if this helped, maybe it increased some search terms, or baited some people with nostalgia into bidding?
Depending on which category you choose, eBay provides different fields you can fill in. Sometimes we weren't sure which category to use, so we searched what other people were using.
eBay supports many category-specific metadata fields, from the expected (Book Author, Book Title, Film Name) to very detailed (Director, Cast, ...)
I'd suggest entering some of these fields, whichever ones you think people might be using for custom eBay searches, but don't bother with the less-popular fields further down the list.
Coarse or Granular Listings?
I combined some series of books into one listing. Box sets of DVDs, or TV series, should sell together. We made the mistake of trying to sell a TV series individually, and ended up selling Season 6 and being stuck with Seasons 1-5 & 7.
I mostly chose a $1 starting price. Let the market figure it out. Draw people in with a lower price, get a bunch of watchers, and people usually bid at the last second.
Exceptions: I figured some items might have a pretty shallow market depth. For example, I listed a 'limited edition' numbered Star Trek box set starting at $100, and got only one bidder. I'm not sure if this was the right call (maybe I'd get more interest if I listed it cheaper?) but I figured not many people are investing in DVD box sets in 2022.
Sometimes we'd list items at a higher starting price, only to have no bids, and fall back to re-listing at a lower price next week, but without the opportunity for bidders to combine shipping with other items.
So overall I'm pretty happy with a mostly-$1-starting-price policy.
I once heard that "things that people pay you for are a resource, things you have to pay for people to take away are waste". If nobody bids at $1 + shipping, that's a pretty clear signal that the item is waste, that the market is uninterested, and you can toss it without guilt.
eBay supports auction lengths of 1, 3, 5, 7 and 10 days.
This is up to you. I usually went with 7 days or 10 days. Some of the items were fairly niche collectibles so I wanted a relatively long advertising time for people to be aware of them. We started with 10 days, and we'd time it so they close in the weekend, but this was a lot of work mid-week! Later we switched mostly to 7-day auctions so we could do the listing work in the weekend.
Sometimes I would list for a shorter time, to try to have the auctions close at the same day as some other auctions, allowing buyers to combine orders.
Auction Starting/Closing Time
eBay requires integer-day auction lengths, so if you start your auction at 7pm, it ends at 7pm.
eBay folklore says that the best time to close is when people are around their computers; that is, in the evening, maybe 6pm-10pm. I mostly followed this, trying to have auctions close 6-10pm Friday-Sunday. However, it seems like auction sniping is dominant on eBay, so I'm not sure how important that is any more?
Having a big batch of items close over the weekend allows for easy shipping combining, and you won't be expected to ship the items immediately (as AusPost is not open). Someone can bid on an item on Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday night, and you can post it all together at AusPost on Monday.
I was advised to space out my items a little in closing time, to allow bidders to increase their bid if they got sniped for the last auction. The bulk listing editor supports this easily, letting you stagger your listings to close a few minutes apart from each other. We set our listings apart by a few minutes.
I'm not sure in practice how effective "staggering" was at encouraging bidders who were sniped on one item to increase their bid for a later-closing item? You also can't stagger your items too much, or your items close very late at night.
eBay lets you specify "Shipping Time" and "Handling Time". It adds these together to show the time users should expect before receiving the item. eBay eventually sanctions accounts if they don't upload tracking numbers within the handling time.
I added a bit more handling time than I needed, to support waiting to batch orders together.
It generally doesn't hurt you to add more handling time: only some people might not bid if it'll take them a long time to ship the item. With the Auction format (vs fixed-price) people generally have to wait a few days for the auction to close anyway, and for niche items / collectibles the buyers are long-term, generally not looking for next-day delivery.
I chose 10 days handling time at first, being unsure about how long it'd take me to post. Then I decreased to 5 days once I learned a bit more, and ended up usually shipping next-day or 2nd-day-after closing. Buyers were happy with this, and I was happy to have the breathing room.
eBay lets you pay to promote listings in search results. I like the model: you pay a few more % in fees, get more clicks, but you only pay if the items sells to someone who clicked the ad. So your downside is limited.
I turned this on for some items. I don't really know how much of a difference it makes. I was mostly interested in just selling the items rather than saving money on fees, so I was fine with paying for the ads. eBay tells you when the item was purchased with a bid found through the ad, but it's hard to tell if they would might have found the item otherwise?
For niche items, I had a lot of success advertising them myself, posting to relevant Facebook interest groups. Many groups have rules about merchants posting only on one day a week, or not posting at all. I asked the admin of one group where's good to advertise my wares, and they were very helpful pointing me at other groups.
Start the listings as drafts, then in the bulk editor, select them all and choose a listing start time, and stagger the start times: e.g. start at 6pm, stagger by 2min.
Then wait, and your listings will start!
By default eBay will send your phone notifications for every bid.
This starts out fun, but rapidly becomes bad for your focus (and probably your mental health too), having your phone buzz and interrupt you all the time. I suggest turning them off.
People will send questions about listings. I tried to respond within a day.
You can't modify the listing description after bids, but you can append to the description. Try to do this in response to questions, so that other bidders have the same information.
You'll get a lot of people making buy-it-now offers on auctions. It's up to you if you want to accept these. I mostly declined, because I had no idea the value of the item, and let the auction run; sometimes I got a lot more money.
Some people will make offers to settle outside the eBay platform. I didn't want to get banned so I declined these.
Sometimes listings have such a big mistake that it's unfair to run the auction. You can cancel eBay listings in this case, just don't do it too often.
eBay lets people send you a message asking to cancel bids.
I think this is a bit dodgy (it lets people bid to see if there's any other bidders, then retract), but you're better off cancelling their bids than dealing with their non-payment later.
I had some frustrating listings: initially bid up to $30, then one bidder removed all their bids, and it sold for $1. Oh well.
Last-second bidding is huge at eBay. This was a bit of culture-shock for me, coming from New Zealand, where their dominant online auction site extends auctions for two minutes from every last-minute bid. But I think it's a defensible position for eBay: the terms of the auction are known, and it encourages putting in your maximum autobid.
So don't stress when it's a few minutes till closing and you still don't have a great price. The action mostly happens in the last few seconds.
For rare items, I saw products bid up hundreds of dollars in the final two seconds. It was a bloodbath.
What to do with listings that won't sell?
We had a bunch of things not sell. I'd usually relist them for another week.
Or, if they failed to sell again, and I really wanted to sell them, re-list them at fixed price "buy it now", possibly with free shipping. This was mostly an experiment, hard to say if it helped. Some things sold as 'buy it now', many didn't.
For some DVDs, nobody wanted to pay even shipping for them. I eventually put them up on Facebook marketplace as a lot, and someone picked up the whole box. Arguably I should have done this from the start, it would have saved a lot of time.
For electronics, I took them to e-waste.
Books can be recycled as paper.
Will be covered in the next post!