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A guide to selling your gear online — part 2

eBay Selling Tips for Musicians

In the first installment of this series, we talked about the relative advantages and disadvantages of sites like eBay and Craigslist for selling your gear online. This time around, we’ll focus on eBay, and offer tips for how to sell more successfully on the massive online auction site.

Be prepared

To make your product photos more attractive, choose a simple, uncluttered background, and don't use a flash.

Before you list your item, take careful photos of it. You don’t need a fancy camera, a smartphone camera should do fine, but setting and lighting are critical. For the former, you want an uncluttered, simple setting to show off the item. The surface you put the item on if you’re shooting from above — or the background if you’re shooting it on a table or stand — to be as simple and uncluttered as possible. I’ve had good luck using the pavement of my driveway or a simple wooden or carpeted floor, with a minimal or no pattern.

Since you probably don't have a professional photo lighting setup, consider using natural light for your product pictures. If you have a room in your house that gets good light, shoot in there during the daytime, or even shoot outside. The one thing you don’t want to do is use a flash. If you’ve ever seen eBay ads with photos of hardware with a lot of reflected flash, you know bad that looks.

You want to have pictures of your item from the front, back, and sides, if possible. Take a look some listings for similar items, and see how they were photographed. If your instrument or hardware has any cosmetic damage, you need to disclose that and show it in one of your pictures. You don’t want to keep quiet about that, because the buyer will see it when the item arrives, and you’ll not only get bad Feedback (see “Keeping your feedback score high”), but probably have to refund their money, because eBay has a lot of buyer protection built into their system.

You also need to write a clear and concise description of your item and a title that will attract the reader’s eye. For the latter, instead of saying, for example, “Røde NT1A,” say something like“Røde NT1A Condenser Microphone with Clip and Soft Shell Case.” Or “Røde NT-1A Condenser Microphone in Mint Condition.” Although a low price is the best way to make what you’re selling stand out from other listings for that item, a compelling description can help, too.

Pricing strategy

Before you actually list your item, you should decide on a pricing strategy. It’s been my experience that the best way to proceed is to opt for an auction style sale, and set a minimum price (known on eBay as the "Starting Price") that’s as low as is acceptable to you. If your instrument or hardware is something that’s in demand (for example Yamaha NS-10Ms in good condition generally get a lot of bids when priced well), your low price will spur a lot of bidding, and it’s likely to go much higher by the end of the auction. A lot of buyers use apps that automatically raise their bids, so a lot of appreciation from your original price is definitely possible.

Conversely, if your item is not one that’s particularly in demand, having a low price will help you get a buyer where someone with a similar item but a higher price won’t.

When researching what price to sell your item for, check the Sold Listings filter (circled here in red) so that you see what similar items actually sold for and how many bidders there were.

Another option is to pay a little extra for the "Reserve Price" option. You'd use this to protect yourself if you want to list your item at a ridiculously low starting price (like 99 cents). If you use a Reserve Price, you're only obligated to sell if that price is met by the time the auction ends. The buyers don't get to see what it is, but they do know that it's a Reserved Price auction. The idea behind this method, instead of just setting the starting price to the minimum you're comfortable with, is that by having that extremely low starting price, you might spur a lot of competitive bidding. I haven't tried this approach, but some use it a lot. That's why on some eBay auctions, you see "Reserve price not met" or "Reserve price met."

If you’re not sure how much potential demand there might be for your time, go back to the sold listings for the same item you’re selling and see how many bids there were. That should give you a good clue as to whether or not there will be a lot of bidding on your item. Also, look at how many of the same item are currently listed for sale. If there are a lot, it may be harder to sell.

Typically, seven days is a good amount of time to set your auction for. It’s tempting to make it shorter, but you want to have it up there enough to get decent exposure.

You've probably seen "Buy it Now" buttons on gear on eBay. This option allows you to sell your item at a fixed price in an auction. So if a buyer wants it bad enough, they can get it right away without having to win the auction. You have to set the Buy it Now price to be at least 30% higher than the starting price. You can also list an item as a Buy it Now sale without the auction option, but to me it makes more sense to have both. If somebody wants to pay you 30% over your starting price, you'll probably be happy, but if they don't you still have the chance that the auction will cause the price to go way up.

There are even more selling possibilities, including eBay's Classified and Best Offer options, click here to find out more.

Shipping strategy

An area where sellers sometimes get burned is on the shipping. The best way to go about it is to use eBay’s Calculated Shipping option. You have to come up with the package dimensions and weight in advance (another bit of important preparation), and then you enter that info into the Calculated Shipping interface. If you’re in the U.S., you'll probably want to specify no international sales, otherwise it could complicate the shipping and any complaint or return issues.

Whether you’re selling domestically or internationally, eBay requires that you specify a return policy. If you accept returns, then buyers can return items for a refund within a time frame designated by you, for whatever reason, as long as the item is in good condition. According to eBay, you’re better off allowing returns, but I’ve found it simpler to just choose “no returns accepted.” That being said, the eBay Buyer Protection plan allows buyers to return an item for a full refund if it’s defective. 

No free lunch

As mentioned in the previous installment, you have to expect to pay about 13% in commissions as a seller, between eBay’s cut and PayPal’s cut. It’s expensive, but you’re paying for a service: a popular auction site with protections and systems in place that allow you to sell without having to bring strangers into your home like with Craigslist.

If you want to pay a higher percentage, eBay has instituted a new “Valet” service, which will sell selected types of items for you. According to eBay, you get to keep 60 to 80% of the sale price, so you’re paying 20-40% commission, which is high. However, if you’re not into doing the necessary work to sell your items yourself, it might be worth checking into the Valet option.

The good kind of feedback

When you finish a deal on eBay, you’re asked to leave “Feedback” on your counterpart in the deal.  You can choose Positive, Negative, or Neutral, and you're encouraged to leave a comment. A key to being a successful eBay seller is to have a good feedback score. In particular, people will look at your Feedback Percentage, which is based on the number of positives you got divided into the the total number of deals you made. If it’s under 100%, it may engender some hesitation on the part of buyers. They’ll wonder why you didn’t always get good Feedback, and they might opt to order from somebody else with the same item but a higher score.

So, both from a moral and a business standpoint, it pays to be totally honest, to answer your buyers' questions (which come through the eBay site), to ship promptly once the item is sold, and to leave Feedback in a timely manner. I’ve completed somewhere between 20 and 30 deals on eBay, both as a buyer and seller, and I’ve kept my feedback score at 100%, which really helps me, especially when I sell.

In all of your eBay dealings, it pays to be honest and forthright. You’ll make a lot more money that way.

In the next installment, we'll look at selling gear on Craigslist and offer advice on how to avoid getting burned.