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Selling Tools on eBay

In another article, I discussed buying items on eBay. Here, I will describe the process of selling tools there. Selling tools on eBay is quick, inexpensive, and fairly simple once you have the process down. It is so easy, in fact, that many former tool show dealers have begun to operate just out of their homes. They cut down significantly on travel expenses and can still sell just as many, if not more, items. On the surface, it looks like a miracle, but over time a number of the dealers who have tried selling on eBay realize they miss the face-to-face interaction with their buyers. It is hard to keep a pulse on the marketplace sitting at home and interacting only with a glowing tube and a keyboard. I think that many of the dealers who have retreated to eBay will surface again in the future as they seek out the camaraderie of other tool afficionados.

Before we get into the eBay selling process, you should know that the best selling results are obtained when there are one or more clear and close pictures of the tool, preferably from different angles or showing the important details of the tool. Without at least one picture, you will likely not reach the full price potential of the tool, and not showing details will turn buyers off. To provide a picture(s) to your eBay buyers, you need a place to store your picture(s) for the duration of the auction. Ebay does not store your pictures for you. There are really only three ways to do this:

  1. the Internet. Most ISPs will do this. Make sure you get the directions for adding and deleting files from your space. The costs of this approach range from $5 to $20 or more per month. An advantage of this is you can maintain a permanent web site if you choose to create one. Some ISPs offer free web space, but often their advertising goes on eBay with your picture.
  2. Get a friend with an ISP to lend you some space. Cost is dependent on your relationship with your friend.
  3. Use one of the free or low-cost image "hosting" sites to temporarily store your picture. (Again, free means advertising.). These sites use e-mail or another system to upload an image from your computer to their site. There is a charge for these image-hosting services, which can range from about 50 cents to 2 dollars (depending on the image size and time they will host the image) for each picture. A good starting point is this site.
You will also need a way to create a digital picture. You can do this with a scanner, a digital camera, or a video capture device (like Snappy). You can also pay someone else to create a digital picture for you, but if you are going to do this often you will likely find it is much more efficient and convenient to create the digital pictures yourself. While almost any digital camera will do the job, if you're thinking of buying one consider that you will want to take good close-up pictures of your tools. And, consider how you will get your pictures into your computer. Some cameras come with a floppy so you can read directly from the floppy using your computer's 3.5 inch drive. I use Sandisk, an smaller-format input device, which reads the storage cards from my camera directly into my computer. CompactFlash (digital camera) storage cards can hold more images than a floppy.

So, with the prerequisites out of the way, let's get down to the eBay selling process.


Listing a New Item

When you've decided what you want to sell (I know, it can be difficult) go to eBay's Sell page. This "Sell Your Item" page is used to describe your item and its selling properties to buyers. This page is fairly self-explanatory, just fill out all the required information such as item description, ad title, seller's location, selling category, minimum bid, shipping and payment information, and the web address(es) of the item's image(s). Also complete optional items of your choice such as reserve price. Be Complete in Your Descriptions Try to anticipate questions people may have, and be complete in your description of your item. This will save you the trouble of answering e-mail questions from potential bidders. Assigning a category for your item is required. There is now a category "Tools" under "Collectibles" in addition to the "Tools,Hand" under "Miscellaneous."


Edit Your Pictures(s)

Your eBay presentation will be more attractive, and will come up on the buyer's screen faster if you edit your images before storing them. Again, poor quality pictures or pictures that download slowly will turn buyers off. If you do not have photo-editing software, this may be a good investment. Edit so that your tool occupies the entire image. Also edit for optimum image file size, display size, image quality, and compression. Editing tutorials by eBay or the hosting services will help you with this.


Add Your Picture(s)

Show off your item with one or more pictures so that potential buyers can see your item with more detail, especially maker's marks or patent dates. Check out the eBay photo tutorial for helpful tips for how to add you picture(s) to your eBay item description. If you have more than one picture for an item, each must have its own URL. Ebay's "Sell Your Item" page has only one field for an image URL. So, to include additional images, add an eBay HTML image line in the description field (e.g. "IMG SRC=").

Provide Terms for Sale

To help insure that you receive proper payment for the items you sell, include the methods of payment you will accept (e.g. money orders, personal checks, credit cards) and shipping terms in your listing. Further, you may want to insure the item before shipping, and you may want to accept more secure forms of payment (such as credit cards), where you are able to verify the buyer. Finally, if you are unsure about a buyer, you may want to hold the item until payment has cleared, or you may want to use an escrow service for valuable items.

Don't Use Private Auctions

Although private auctions are appropriate for items not intended for mass public viewing (for example, adult material), they are not very popular with bidders because keeping track of the high bidder is often difficult.

Don't End Your Auction Early

One of the things I've noticed is that many experienced eBay bidders wait until the very last minute to place a bid, so that they are ensured of winning an auction. Because of this, you may be missing out on some additional bids if you end your auction early. Remember that your item is placed on the Ending Today page for its final 24 hours and on the Going, Going, Gone page for its final 3 hours!

Watch for Dirty Tricks

Recently some unethical eBay bidders have devised ways to take advantage of the eBay process for their own gain. Tricks I have seen or heard of include:
  • After receiving a tool the buyer will email you saying it is not as described. When it comes back, you find the buyer has swapped inferior parts for those you sent out. It helps to keep pictures of the tool so you can check for this. I've even heard of cases where a totally different tool from the one sold is returned!
  • Two bidders can work together to disrupt normal bidding, usually by using the Bid Cancellation feature eBay provides. Anytime anyone cancels a bid in one of your auctions you should be suspicious. There are different variations on how this works, but they all have in common a cancelled bid.

Be Courteous to Bidders

Remember that, as a seller, you have additional responsibility in any transaction, since you are advertising a particular item for sale, and are receiving money for that item when you make the sale. Also, please remember that your actions reflect directly on eBay.

A little bit of courtesy goes a long way, especially via e-mail. Simply taking the time to write in complete sentences, with a salutation and closing, can make a big difference in how you are viewed by buyers. Be sure to treat everyone with the same courtesy that you would expect to receive.

Satisfied tool buyers will return to your future auctions using the "Seller's Search."

Check the Bidder's Reputation

If you see a number in parentheses next to a bidder's e-mail address, that number is the bidder's feedback rating. This rating is the number of comments that other users have made about this bidder. You can click on that number to take you to the actual comments people have made about this bidder. Conversely, buyers can check your feedback rating as a seller to determine if they want to do business with you. It is a good idea to get to know a person's reputation before you close a deal. Some sellers state that they will not accept bids from a buyer who has any unfavorable feedback.

Contact the Buyer

Be sure you take the time to talk on the phone with the buyer, especially if you have any discomfort about your e-mail exchanges with this person. E-mail communication is sometimes awkward, and it may be difficult to judge another person's personality, honesty, etc., without having an actual conversation person-to-person. Also, many people don't read their e-mail every day, so you shouldn't assume someone is ignoring you just because you haven't heard from them in a while. Pick up the phone and give them a call. A quick call is a great way to resolve misunderstandings. This is particularly true if a problem arises after the buyer receives his item.

Closing the Auction

Once an auction has ended, buyer and seller have the responsibility to close the sale between themselves. Contact the buyer confirming the winning bid, the amount to be added for shipping, and the address to which payment will be sent. Some sellers confirm the subsequent receipt of payment and the shipping date. A good closing leaves seller and buyer feeling good about the sale.