ebay_1.jpgFor over a decade, companies have hired us to help them understand how people buy online. In this same amount of time, I’ve spent a good chunk of each paycheck bidding, saving money, doing “market research” on eBay. And, throughout the years, it continues to amaze me how few eBay sellers get it right.

One little-known but poorly-kept secret out there in vendorland is that many big companies — the same ones who come to us for retail advice — use eBay to dispose of returned, open-box, or otherwise retail-disabled inventory. Did you know that?

So it dawned on me: Here I am, an experienced buyer — who better to ask than me about what makes me bid, bid, bid? Want to SellItNow™ your way to increased eBay sales? Here are some guidelines so you’ll be able to sell like the pros.

10 tips for persuasive eBay listings:

#1: A Sticky Headline

If you can’t write a strong headline, you might as well not bother. It’s your only hope for getting anyone to ever see what you’re selling. (Don’t forget to test your headlines.)

#2: Better Product Images

Having better-looking product images than other sellers will do wonders. In fact, 83 percent of eBay shoppers skip listings without images, while sites with galleries get 15% more activity and those with so-called super-size photos show a 24 percent spike in sales.The better photo wins every time. Consider this photo, for example. And remember that lighting control is essential, as well as these two other points about product photos on eBay:

  • Place a product image by the headline. It’s the best way to grab attention to your headline. Remember, you’re trying to slow the bidder’s eye as she cans hundreds of similar listings. It costs virtually nothing to add a photo by the headline, you’ll get way more click-throughs, and it simply looks more professional. If you don’t have $0.35 for this critical feature, you’ll never get my attention. Don’t be penny-wise and dollar-foolish!
  • Show multiple views with close-ups. This article makes the point, so we won’t repeat ourselves. It’s especially important to show multiple views and close-ups while exaggerating product flaws (see tip #5).

#3: Outstanding, Original Copy

If you’re tempted to just cut-and-paste your way into persuasive sales copy, forget it. Your words matter. First of all, it’s obvious when sellers just use the same boilerplate copy from the manufacturer’s website, which may not even be good to begin with, that everyone else is using. Besides, using the manufacturer’s copy implies to me that the product is brand new and untouched.

Show some personality. Showing personality helps potential buyers to see you as real; it builds trust. Why did you buy this product in the first place? Why are you selling it? Have you sold any of these items before? Different people buy in different ways, so the words you choose, and how you choose to dispense them, are everything. Start with spontaneous, emotional copy at the beginning, then get more methodical toward the end when listing product details. The second half of this article offers good advice on how to write for different personality types.

#4: So, What’s the Catch?

Why do you have such a good deal? Oftentimes, the most persuasive thing you can do is to be completely transparent about your business model. Are you making tons of money by selling digital cameras in bulk? Did you buy too much for your brick and mortar store, and you’re selling the overstock? Is your wife making you sell the XBox before you get a Nintendo Wii, so you’ve set a low reserve just to move it (this happens). I want to know. Sorry, but saying “Lowest price on eBay, guaranteed!” means nothing.

#5: Exaggerate Flaws

— This one may seem counterintuitive for the novice seller but it makes perfect sense and the best eBay sellers do it masterfully. If there’s a minor scratch on that DVD player you’re selling, zoom in on it enough in a separate photo to the point where it seems ridiculous that you’re apologizing for it in the first place. Overestimating flaws builds trust. Trust is what makes people bid.

#6: Accept PayPal

It’s been the eBay gold standard since 1998. If you don’t accept it, you’re not making things easy. I’m skeptical. In fact, offer as many payment options as possible. Get the cash (GTC)!

#7: Know How to Price

Hear about all those folks trying to sell iPhones on eBay for $1,000? How’s that working out? It’s not. In the world of eBay, your competitors are two clicks away, at most. Overestimate the market for your product, and you’ll never get that crucial first bid. Here’s how it’s done:

  • Be aware of what it’s selling for elsewhere. Find out how much similar products are selling for and you’ll have a good idea of what you should expect to get for it. Then…
  • Take the expected winning bid price and cut it in half. Shave off another 10% off, and you’ve got your reserve price. Think that’s crazy? Too low? Guess again. Studies have shown that bidding is what drives up the price. The more competition among bidders, the higher the winning bid. The only way to kick-start the bidding frenzy is by putting the floor well below the ceiling.
  • If you’re willing to accept a price that’s around or below where it’s selling elsewhere on eBay, list that price as the “Buy It Now” and throw in “free” shipping. Now you’ve killed two birds with one stone. You’ve created a compelling offer and you’ve avoided the stigma of “shipping rape” (see #10). Free shipping is often the #1 driver when it comes to online promotions.

#8: Link to the Owner’s Manual

(Where applicable) link to the owner’s/user’s manual/instructions for your product. Feel free to borrow product details from here, just don’t use the manufacturer’s boring words ;) Just don’t use this tip as a substitute for tip #3 above.

#9: Have a Star Rating Above 99%

If you have a star rating below 99%, that means you’ve upset too many people for me to feel comfortable buying. Sorry, but if you have a 100% rating and you’ve sold to less than 100 people, I’m still not confident; it’s not a true 100%. If you’ve sold to thousands of people and have a 98% rating, your “success rate” means nothing.

#10: No Shipping Extortion

Last, but not least, some eBay sellers lose their minds when it comes to shipping. Do you think we’re stupid? Um, no, it doesn’t cost $15 to ship from a one-pound package from Kansas to Brooklyn within 10 days. If it costs $5 to ship it from China, why must I pay $25 to ship it in “4-6 weeks” from California? And, by the way, I’m receiving the package, so I often how much you’ve paid the very moment I get it. Try this, and the only one you’ll fool is yourself.

eBay sellers: I’ve still got one last free corner of space in my apartment. Please help me fill it with stuff! The quicker it fills, the quicker I’ll clear it out by selling on eBay and then have all sorts of free space to fill up with new eBay purchases!

Do you have any tips to sell more effectively on ebay?

Update: Seth Godin reminds us people are irrational.

Top 10 Tips for Selling “it” on eBay

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