Secrets of Top eBay Sellers

Photo: Ryan Fanshaw

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.

Tagged: Extra Income, eBay
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Guest's picture

I recently decided to sell some (most?) of my sports memorabilia to pay off my student loans. But that's not all that's going to be for sale. This advice is pretty interesting. eBay is one of many places I'm considering to sell them. This looks more like advice for professional, almost full-time sellers, but the "don't waste time on descriptions" advice is good. I would have spent WAY too much time on my listings. Thanks!

Guest's picture

Never clean anything?? I really disagree with that.

Having pictures of a clean item over a dirty item can be the difference in earning top dollar or earning below value.

It's common sense in selling anything used to clean it if you want top dollar. When you have an open house the owners dont leave the house looking like a tornado disaster. Dealerships dont sell used cars with mud caked on and and old soda cans in the cup holders.

I've been selling on Ebay for 8 years now and my best tip in getting top dollar is to take many pictures. Take detailed pictures showing the condition of the item.

In the description dont worry about listing the features, in & outs, and details. People already know about the stuff they're searching on Ebay. Just describe the condition its in, if it comes with the original packaging, and if it comes with anything else.

Also dont get suckered into wholesalers and drop shippers. I've tried them and you'll be lucky to break even because all of the stuff they wholesale has already saturated Ebay. The hot brands and items dont just wholesale to everybody. Apple doesn't wholesell to individuals slinging on Ebay.

Finding stuff to sell and where to buy it is the real secret OF eBay success. Search garage sales, craigslist, and 2nd hand stores. If you think you've found a diamond in the rough check it on ebay completed listings first. You'll get an idea of how much it sells for.

Guest's picture

Good tips! I've sold on ebay for a long time and have a few to add. First, always use delivery confirmation and for breakable items, insure the package. I had an incident recently that even with very careful packaging, the item still broke in transit and the customer was able to get their money back from ebay.


Kentin Waits's picture

Great post -- after selling on eBay for 14 years, it's always good to hear of folks still being energized by the possibilities!

Guest's picture

eBay is an excellent way to supplement your income. Buying items at yard sales and re-selling is an easy way to double your money. Great Deals to be found as well!

Guest's picture

Its pretty safe to sell any stuff you want to on eBay as you get payment first before you send the item to the buyer. If you don’t get the money – you don’t send it..