10 Things to Know Before Selling on eBay

Many online sellers and entrepreneurs use eBay as a gateway or stepping stone to a full ecommerce business. Selling on eBay lets you generate some income and start noticing which products and messages are popular, so you’ll be able to launch your online store armed with information. Still others run an ecommerce site and use platforms like eBay and Amazon to broaden their reach and create an omnichannel strategy. No matter which category you fall into, there are a few things to know about selling on eBay that will help you sell as much as possible.

The selling process as listed on the eBay Seller Center is fairly straightforward: list, ship, and get paid. However, there are a number of extra steps you can take to help with everything from boosting your SEO rankings offering the best customer service experience. Below, we’ve compiled a list of things to know to attract and convert more customers on eBay.

1. Think Like a Buyer

The key to setting up and maintaining a successful eBay store is to understand how the platform operates from the buyer's perspective. The easiest way to do that is to start using eBay as a casual shopper. Search for products throughout the site to get a feel for how eBay’s search/filtering features work. Make sure your searches are granular, focusing on similar products and categories to those you plan to sell in your own store. Note the successful sellers across different categories and see if you can pinpoint what they have in common.

Focus your research around the goal of making your own products stand out and building your brand, even if you are selling in a popular category. That said, you don't have to reinvent the wheel; it’s perfectly acceptable to adopt strategies that successful sellers in your category are using.

2. Search Top-Selling Items

At its inception, eBay was a marketplace for people to sell everything from the mundane to the outright weird. Since the early days, eBay’s millions of independent sellers have evolved to offer everything from luxury goods and services to top-shelf electronics.

If you want to open a store but are not sure what to sell, the top-selling items feature is a great resource that offers insight into trends in every category. If you've already chosen your inventory and seller niche, understanding the top-selling items can help you see where your store fits in and what top sellers are doing to get their products in front of millions of eBay's loyal customers.

3. Know Your Listing Fees

If you or someone you know was on eBay in the early days, chances are they spent a good amount of time perfecting their bidding game. But if auctions are not your thing, the “Buy It Now” option makes it possible for customers to purchase items from your store as a direct sale. (It's important to note that Buy It Now is a premium function that will cost more than listing items for auction).

eBay charges a number of fees depending on the type of store and the items you will be selling, which can get confusing when you’re trying to decide how to price your items. You'll pay a monthly subscription fee to keep your store open and operating, as well as an individual listing fee for each item you sell in your store (known as an insertion fee).

There are five main seller subscription categories:

  • Starter
  • Basic
  • Premium
  • Anchor
  • Enterprise

The monthly subscription fee is determined according to your subscription plan, but the insertion fees vary according to a number of factors, including listing type, whether it is a single or duplicate listing, and whether the item is relisted. Sellers are given a certain allocation of “zero insertion fee” listings, but you'll have to check the specifics of your account for your monthly allowance.

4. Price Your Items For Profit

If you’re selling your products elsewhere, re-crunch the numbers for eBay and adjust your prices to cover store and listing costs. Spend some time figuring out how the listing fees will affect the price, whether an auction or Buy It Now option is the way to go, and how to factor in shipping costs. Of course, this is on top of your operating expenses and cost of goods.

If this is the first time you’re pricing your products (as opposed to adjusting existing prices for eBay), consider:

  • Number crunching
  • Market research
  • Good old-fashioned psychology

The process can feel overwhelming when you're first getting started, but this is an area where research is your friend. See how other sellers are pricing and marketing similar items and determine your own revenue projections. The process will become more intuitive as you get a better understanding of your industry and customer base.

5. Create Images that Sell

Even an eBay store in the hottest market needs to be marketed well in order to attract (and hopefully retain) loyal customers and turn a profit. That's where your images come in. Investing in professional-looking, clear, accurate, and informative images will build trust with your customer base and ultimately convert more.

Here are a few easy-to-follow photography tips to help you showcase your products—professional photography skills optional:

  • Use a plain white backdrop and keep the image as minimal and uncluttered as possible. Let the product take center stage so your customer can clearly see what they're buying without distractions.
  • Use soft, gentle lighting that clearly shows the product, but doesn't include a harsh glare.
  • Make sure your images are high-resolution. Keep in mind that your listings will be viewed across multiple devices, so make sure your images are as clear on a smartphone as they are on a desktop or laptop.
  • Let the item fill as much of the frame as possible.
  • Take multiple shots from various angles to give the customer as many views of the item as possible.
  • Don’t use filters: let the product speak for itself. The devil can be in the details when it comes to selling products online, and two different shades of coral can be all it takes for a buyer to return the item and/or leave a negative review for the misrepresentation. The closer the product picture is to the real thing, the better.
  • Don't try to hide or lie about imperfections: Let potential buyers see what the product actually looks like, and be up front about issues like scratches or discoloration. Selling an item only to have it returned is not worth the trouble.

6. Write Stand-Out Product Description

Like your product listing photo, the product description is one of the most important parts of your listing.

Write a detailed, concise, and accurate description of your product, making sure to include relevant keywords to help your listings rank. eBay has its own search engine and mystery algorithms for ranking listings according to relevant keywords, so take a little time to familiarize yourself with their basic SEO guidelines. This will ensure that your listings are being indexed and ranked for the desired keywords, and thus reaching the customers who are searching for what you're selling.

When you're writing your description, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Keep it short, sweet, and skimmable.
  • Don't use duplicate content (your own or another seller's)—write unique product descriptions for each listing to avoid being penalized for duplicate content.
  • Break up your text using bullet points, lists, numbers, and short sentences.
  • Triple-check your spelling.
  • Give as much (relevant) detail as possible.
  • Write killer headings.

A quick note about writing for SEO: while you’ll want to use the right keywords and follow best practices for search when you create your store's product descriptions, remember that you're still writing for and marketing to humans. Use keywords naturally, writing the way you would speak so your descriptions don’t sound forced. Above all, use description to provide value to your customers by giving them all of the details they need to make an informed decision.

7. Give and Receive Feedback

In ancient times, merchants bought and sold from each other at caravans, bazaars, town squares, and village marketplaces, while operating on a currency of mutual trust and reciprocity. eBay stores operate in much the same way. Your store may have the best products at a great price, and your pictures and product descriptions may be on point. However, if your account doesn't have any feedback to vouch for your trustworthiness and professionalism, you may find that buyers are skipping you altogether.

For new sellers, ratings and feedback can be something of a “chicken or egg” situation; how can you get great feedback without selling to the customers who will leave that feedback? One solid workaround is to become a good buyer. Shop around and leave feedback on your purchases for other sellers, and actively encourage feedback on your sales when you’re starting out. The social proof will build trust and help your SEO rankings. Keep in mind that your rankings are about more than positive feedback; the more reviews you have, the better.

8. Promote Your eBay Store

For many sellers, the early stages of an ecommerce store's life are about finding footing and developing the brand and voice, which will naturally evolve over time. In the meantime, start promoting. Here are a few options for getting the word out about your products:

  • Social Media: Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest are tailor-made for the kind of visual content that makes up the lion's share of ecommerce businesses. Whether you're selling handmade candles, refurbished laptops, or designer jeans, social media is one of the most effective and affordable avenues to get your business in front of the people who are either actively looking for what you're selling or fit the target demographic for your ideal customer.
  • Promotion Boxes: eBay also offers a tool that allows you to promote your items within the listing. For example, if an item contains a special feature or attribute, or if you're offering a specific sale or promotion that you'd like to highlight to potential customers, you can make that visible. For additional listing fees, eBay also offers the option of upgrading or promoting listings to help give you a leg up on the competition.
  • Content Marketing: Providing your customers with relevant content is not just a good way to promote your ecommerce site; it’s also a great way to establish yourself as an authority in your industry. Use a blog, monthly newsletter, or free ebook to stay in touch with prospective customers who are interested in what you're selling, but may not be ready to buy yet.

9. Sell in Cycles

As you perform your market research, you'll probably find that sales in your given sector may be subject to peaks and valleys of demand. Consider cycling your inventory and designing your store around to seasonal ebbs and flows, holidays, and special events like graduations or the Super Bowl. An item that falls flat in November or December might be the hottest seller in your store in May or June.

10. Take a Long-Term View

Remember that Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither was a single successful and profitable business. Make a list of short- and long-term goals to build momentum and stay motivated as you learn the quirks of your vertical and this platform. Experiment with different methods and tools in the short term, striving to build your customer base slowly and steadily over time.

Final Thoughts

Selling on eBay may seem intimidating at first, but by following these steps, you can set your eBay store up for success. Don’t be discouraged if you’re having trouble gaining momentum in the beginning—sometimes it just takes a little bit of time to build up an effective strategy.