Secrets of Top eBay Sellers
What do eBay's top sellers know about making money on online auctions that the rest of us don't?
I recently had the chance to hear four Top Rated Sellers, all people who make their living selling merchandise on eBay and even hire employees to help them do so, share their secrets. They also shared some of the frustrations of a career that might look easy-peasy to the average working stiff. Here are the sellers who spoke at a recent eBay: On Location event in Chicago.
Elizabeth Bennett, Africadirect
An eBay member since 1997, Bennett sells African art and ethnographic items. She fights poverty by obtaining items from co-ops across the continent, and has also contributed more than $33,000 through eBay Giving Works. Besides sharing a name with Jane Austen's most beloved heroine, Bennett has also been honored by Fortune magazine as small business entrepreneur.
Cindy Shebley, Clovercity
Ten-year eBay veteran Shebley works as an eBay education consultant, helping people start up and improve their eBay businesses and is the author of two books about selling on eBay.
Lynn Dralle, TheQueenofAuctions
Dralle has written six books based on what she's learned in 12 years of selling on eBay, specializing in antiques and collectibles. She also writes a biweekly newsletter and blogs at The Queen of Auctions.
Jordan Insley, QuickShipElectronics
Insley started selling sports memorabilia on eBay in 2002, and now runs a successful refurbished electronics business, employing about 9 people and making millions of dollars in sales each year.
Here are some of the habits of these, as they say, highly effective sellers:
They block problem customers, and even shoppers who ask negative questions.
Shebley: "I think that it's the worst customer service ever, to say don't come in the door, (but) I can't take a chance because if I lose my top seller status, I'll lose my search engine rankings."
They streamline the listing and sale process to increase their hourly earnings.
Dralle: "Never clean anything. I say in every listing, not cleaned." Plus, don't waste much time on descriptions, because "nobody reads them." Finally, have an assembly line set up so you can photograph and list items in batches.
Bennett: Save time by estimating weights for shipping instead of weighing everything. "If you're a little wrong it comes out in the wash. The cost of accurate information as opposed to the value of quick information in profit is worth it."
They automate or delegate so they can focus on their passion.
Dralle: Going out and finding stuff is fun, and I pay someone else to do everything I don't like.
Insley: "I use a service called Hosted Support, for $20-$25 a month. It seems like a lot but” it cuts down on pre-sale questions because the button that buyers see is so small. (You read that right: He likes the service because the interface discourages shoppers from asking questions.)
They buy low, sell high.
All the power sellers said they constantly get asked where they get the stuff they sell. The answers: Garage sales, Craigslist, and businesses unloading unsold inventory.
Their business is their passion — or at least it saves them from putting on a suit or lifting heavy loads.
Dralle said she started after she inherited 80 boxes of merchandise from the antique shop her grandmother ran for five decades. However, the inherited merchandise was more of a motivation than the actual sales material: "I had 80 boxes that I inherited from her, they're still in my garage. Then I bought my mom's 80 boxes and my brother's 80 boxes. (And) I just go to garage sales and estate sales. It's a lot of fun, the treasure hunt."
For Insley, it was more his old career pushing him to find something new. "I was working (as a) waiter at one of the busiest restaurants in New York. After awhile I couldn't handle leaving on a Saturday night at 2:30 in the morning, and waking up to work brunch at 7 in the morning."
"It's just, figure out this is what I really want to do, and I don't want to wear a suit and tie every day or … (if you're a lady), dresses"
Bennett took a break from a corporate career to visit South Africa, then upon her return started selling artifacts she'd bought there at shows. Then she tried eBay and the success there convinced her to take her corporate skills and apply them to this new way of doing business. "From almost that week, eBay was the larger portion of our reveneues. A year or two later, we stopped doing shows and stopped doing (offline) wholesale."
Shebley transitioned from one small business to another: "I had a small garden store before I had eBay...My partner and I, we were getting older, and lifting 50 lb. bags of rock phosphate and lime doesn't get any easier. We were trying to decide what we wanted to do with our future, and eBay provided the opening for me to transition to a different business that was a little bit easier on the body."
For more eBay listing tips, see Amy Lin's post on the topic.