How to Turn Your Used Items Into Cash, According to an eBay Insider

Updated 05/05/19
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Do you have a house filled with things you don’t need? Is it time for a major declutter? Besides the therapeutic effect of detoxing your home, there are also financial benefits. You could have a garage sale, but this is a huge undertaking—you don’t usually get the price you want, and without the proper signage, you could end up with a full carport at the end of the day. Or you could tap into the 159 million buyers on eBay instead.

The MyDomaine and Who What Wear editors use eBay all the time to sell their unwanted items when they need a bit of extra cash on the side. You don’t even have to leave the house. To help those of you who are new to selling on the site or just need a few extra tips to improve your sales success, we quizzed Vincent Payen, head of consumer selling at eBay, to share some insider tips and tools to help you sell your item to a worldwide market.

ebay selling tips
Chris Patey for MyDomaine

MYDOMAINE: What are some of the keywords to look out for and use when selling items?

VINCENT PAYEN: It really depends on what you’re selling, but usually when people over-engineer their keywords or try to cram too many in, it is less effective. The best title you can use is one that feels natural to you and reflects how you would personally search for that item. Our selling guides have lots of attributes you can use, but the most powerful way to list anything is by listing keywords based on search. If you create a Frankenstein-style title (a copy-and-paste style which includes as many words as possible), it is actually detrimental to your listing. We have millions of items on eBay, so really think about what you would search for when looking up that item, and add structured information into the listing to make sure the items are searchable.

You don’t want to have a title with lots of keywords that may be less relevant, so really describe the item clearly. What is the brand, color, size? Make sure that you have that information as structured data in the listing. Don’t add in brands or designers that aren’t relevant to your listing, either. It is actually against eBay policy to label an item with a brand or designer name that isn’t what you listed, so the item will be taken down, and you will be penalized.

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MD: How do you know what items are trending or selling well online and when?

VP: We have 159 million buyers. It’s such a big marketplace; there’s a buyer for anything at any time. So when people look around their house, there are lots of things they can filter out and say no one will want that, but in truth, you really can sell anything you want on the site, which is pretty fantastic. So I think there are seasons, for example, spring cleaning and moments of the year such as the Super Bowl, where you will see more activity in some categories than others. But for consumer sellers, if it’s an item that’s interesting and the price is right, it will sell on eBay.

If you know there are times where things are going to happen, then yes, absolutely sell at those times, but overall, anything you have in your house you will find a buyer for it. I recommend going around your house every month and really looking at the things you don’t use or need anymore; all of these things can be sold. There is real value in the frequency of your listings; people get to know you as a seller, so it pays to get into the habit of doing it often and selling off your old trash.

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MD: What is your number one tip for photographing images so the listing stands out in the gallery?

VP: Your images matter tremendously. More than half of the activity search on eBay is via mobile now, so when you think about how to create a good listing, always think about what it’s going to look like on a tiny screen. Those thumbnail pictures matter a lot, and it helps to include as many pictures as possible in your listing too. Obviously, the picture of the designer dress on a dirty kitchen table is not going to work, so think about shooting on a clear background, and include pictures of the details to add credibility to the listing. Having contrast is really important, so if you have a colorful item, be sure it has a clear background and the item is scaled properly. For example, if you have a cell phone, make sure it covers 80% of the image area; don’t have half of the image as your kitchen table or bedspread.

If it’s a new item, adding catalog or stock images absolutely helps, but when it is a used item, it’s very important that the buyer sees the real thing. You want to be straightforward and upfront about the quality of the item too. With some items, like tech for example, we will see that taking a picture of the phone turned on makes a huge difference. It is silly, but there are little things like that which make a big difference. Put yourself in the shoes of your prospective buyer: What do you care about? What do you want to see? What is going to give the seller credibility? If you take the time to describe an item, tell a story, and include a bright picture, it will really pay off.

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MD: What’s the best price to start your bidding at, and should sellers offer a buy-it-now option?

VP: The eBay marketplace is so big and so efficient that if your listing is photographed well and described correctly, then price doesn’t matter. The question you need to ask is What do you care about the most? Do you want to sell the item quickly, or do you care about getting the most money? Let’s say I have a Banana Republic skirt in a size 6. If I just want a quick sale and I really don’t care that much about price, then I can do an auction starting at $10 and see what happens. It will be sold within seven days. If you say No, I care about getting the most money for it, you might sit on it for longer to wait for the right buyer. There is someone out there who loves that skirt and is that size, but it might take a little longer for that specific buyer to come along. In this case, you might be better off doing a fixed-priced listing with a “best offer” option so you can entertain that lower offer if you want, but at least you’ll get the amount of money you want. With cell phones, however, this doesn’t matter, because there’s so much demand, but with fashion items where things are rare, you can choose between how quickly you want to sell to how much money you want for it.

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MD: What countries should sellers ship to?

VP: If you are selling an iPhone, there is no point in shipping to Russia, for example, but there is value in exposing niche items internationally, such as a vintage collectible or vintage poster, because you can reach more buyers. We have a global shipping program, which makes shipping internationally very easy. We will expose the item internationally for you, and if it sells throughout Europe, then you simply ship it to us in the U.S. and we will take care of customs and all the complications of shipping something overseas, then ship it to the buyer. This has really helped in making more of our items accessible to our 159 million buyers.

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MD: What’s an example of a good listing description?

VP: If the item is part of a catalog—for example, an iPhone—all of the information is already filled out on your behalf; you don’t need to say much. For other categories such as home décor, fashion, and general household items, putting in as many details as possible is always helpful, but my advice is to always tell a story. Why are you selling this item? Where did you get it? What are you going to do with the money? Make people relate to you and the item you’re selling; we’ve found this is a very powerful selling tool. Then you are selling a story, and it’s that authenticity and human element of the listing that are very powerful and make people engage.

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MD: Is seven days still the standard bidding length, or has that changed?

VP: Most of the activity happens in the last days or few hours anyway, but what really matters is when the auction ends. If your auction ends at 4 a.m. Pacific Time, then no matter what, you will get less money than if you had an auction end between 4 and 8 p.m. Sunday and Monday are very high-traffic days; we see a lot of activity here. Don’t get hung up on the duration. Try to make sure your listing ends on a Sunday or Monday, but no matter what, make sure it’s in the evening so you have the most buyer traffic. You can schedule the time your auction ends on eBay, so it is easy to do.

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MD: How much should a seller mark it down if it doesn’t sell the first time around?

VP: We actually give pricing recommendations from the beginning. When you put something up for sale, we will give you a recommended price to start the auction at and the price range we believe it will sell in. Most of the time, if people follow this format, the item will sell. If the item doesn’t sell the first time, it could be for a few reasons, and it doesn’t always mean the price is wrong. It could be that the item is so rare there isn’t a buyer who has seen it or is looking for this unique thing in a seven-day auction, so if it doesn’t sell, then change the format to a fixed price with a “best offer” option so you can always accept that if you are flexible on price.

If it doesn’t sell in 30 days, you will see our guidance of what the price should be, and then you can use that as a guide. But again, people really need to think about those two questions I mentioned earlier: Do I care about getting the most money, or selling it quickly? We really empower sellers to make that choice themselves. There is no wrong answer; it’s what matters to you.

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MD: How do you deal with negative customers?

VP: At least 99.999% of transactions between buyer and seller go perfectly, and it is a testament to the people who use the site and the good premise that eBay is based on; they know they can trust it. Sometimes bad things happen, and it isn’t always the fault of anyone in particular, so we encourage both buyer and seller to communicate and solve it, ask questions, be transparent and honest, never assume that person is out there to cheat you, always give them the benefit of the doubt.

If you cannot agree, there is a process where you can open a claim and eBay will intervene. We will arbitrate between buyer and seller, and if the seller was wrong, we will refund the buyer, or if the buyer is wrong, we won’t give the money back. If none of you were wrong, eBay will pay out of pocket to make it right. We need to be fair to both buyers and sellers; we do take very involved steps to make sure an item is right, even if it means paying for it ourselves.

How do you sell your unwanted items? What are your key tips selling tips? 

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