A while back, I made $1,000 selling an old broken laptop on eBay.
That got me thinking:
How can I show you how to make money on eBay too?
So I got the help of my friend and entrepreneur extraordinaire Susan Su for this guide. We surveyed readers who made more than $1,000 / month using eBay (including one who earned $50,000 in a year)
We also interviewed a senior executive at eBay to get insider tips on how to make money selling stuff on eBay.
6 steps to make money on eBay
Susan decided to put what we learned to the test. When she did, she was able to make money within 37 minutes after signing up for eBay.
Here are the six exact steps she used:
- Sign up for an eBay account (2 min)
- Find something to sell (2 min)
- Research the product and the price (5 min)
- Market your eBay listing (15 min)
- List your first item on eBay! (5 min)
- Fulfill your eBay sale (8 min)
Now, I’ll let her explain what she did in her own words. Take it away, Susan.
Step 1: Sign up for an eBay account
Time taken: 2 min
This was very straightforward.
Go to the eBay website, click on the “My eBay” button at the top. From there you’ll have the option to register for a profile. Follow the instructions and sign up.
Step 2: Find something to sell
Time taken: 2 min
Almost everyone has something lying around for eBay.
A while back, for example, Ramit sold his broken laptop (the one he ruined with a latte, of all things) for $661. He even used an assistant to do the market research, write the eBay page, and ship it. Now THAT’S a Rich Life.
Apparently, someone out there knew how to fix it though. This highlights one of the greatest things about eBay: Its wide reach means that you’re likely to find a buyer for almost anything that you have to sell.
While most people don’t have tons of spare high-value electronics laying around, you probably do have something else. As for me, I had these too-big shoes in my closet that I’d never worn.
Step 3: Research the product and the price
Time taken: 5 min
I didn’t want to make the mistake of setting an arbitrary price based on emotions, or not knowing what the hot keywords are for describing these shoes.
Here’s how I researched:
- Searched for the product name with Google Product Search
- Looked at the top 5 e-commerce sites selling the product. This gave me the price, AND more importantly, lots of details about the shoe and the brand to put in the description to make it look super professional.
- Saw the item I have has one major distinction — a hard-to-find color. I’ll highlight this in the description.
Note: It’s hard to Google “value of broken laptop,” but in this case, Ramit’s damaged computer was making $0 sitting on his shelf. Remember the tip about pricing at $0.99 we heard from our power seller — It’s always better to make some money from your item than to get all emotionally attached to it and not make any at all.
Step 4: Market your eBay listing
Time taken: 15 min
Since I already did the research, this was the easy part. I took photos and then determined the title and description copy from the other sites I saw that were selling this product, making sure to highlight the major distinction (its color) along with the standard brand distinction.
I took the reader tip and decided to list on a Thursday, for a 10-day auction to get in two weekends’ worth of eyeballs.
Here’s what I did:
- Borrowed the title and best descriptions from the other sites I saw. (5 min)
- Took photos and did some minor editing. (10 min)
When Ramit was trying to sell off his broken laptop, he used brand identification (Apple MacBook), photos of the actual item being sold, and added an honest, thorough description:
“This laptop has some damage, but it’s definitely repairable and it’s a steal if you know how.”
The brand name draws in lots of viewers, and the honest, thorough description targets the listing to just the right person who’ll end up loving the purchase.
Step 5: List your first item on eBay!
Time taken: 5 min
eBay makes this really easy. I chose to offer free shipping because this attracts more buyers. I bundled the estimated shipping cost into the price of the item.
Step 6: Fulfill your eBay sale
Time taken: 8 min
It’s really, really important to get those good seller ratings, even if you’re not quitting your day job. Fulfillment means being a reliable seller, packager, and shipper, and getting the item to your buyer ASAP.
Total time taken: 37 min
5 expert tips for selling on eBay
It’s easy to be skeptical about something like this — I know we were.
Susan and I are both fans of Big Wins. That means aggressively cutting costs, optimizing our spending, and earning more.
But does earning more apply to eBay?
How much can you really make on the site anyway? Isn’t this the same place where people regularly try and sell stuff like “the most expensive GIF”?
Most importantly: Is it worth it … or am I just going to get screwed by selling all of my stuff way below market value.
That’s why Susan and I asked IWT readers who’ve made more than $1,000 on eBay to share how they did it. We took our learnings and distilled it down to five key insights that’ll help you earn thousands on the website.
Here’s the 5 best tips to make money on eBay in order of importance:
- Use really good pictures (and a lot of them)
- Write mouthwatering product descriptions
- Time your listing right
- Avoid reserve prices
- Find your niche and own it
Tip 1. Use really good pictures (and a lot of them)
Like establishing a good relationship, first impressions are crucial.
That’s why you need to make sure your photos are great. Photos are going to be the very first thing people look at when they click on your product listing. So make sure they look as good as possible.
When taking photos of your product, make sure you keep these two things in mind:
The best-sellers use really good pictures — not blurry and not like you’re selling from a house from the show Hoarders.
To do this, photograph your product on a flat neutral-colored surface and background (ideally white so your product will pop). Make sure it’s well lit so you can actually see the product.
The photos don’t have to be perfect, but should accurately reflect the quality of the item.
PRO TIP: You can build your own lightbox for cheap to really make your photos look professional.
As one reader put it, her secret was “LOTS of pictures.” As of writing this, eBay allows you to post 12 photos for free — so posting a lot of photos might not be an issue for you.
However, if you want to add more, you can leverage third-party tools to help.
“Use an outside app to manage listings and to upload photos to your own server so you don’t have to pay eBay’s prices for extra photos,” they said. “I use GarageSale myself.”
Tip 2. Write mouthwatering product descriptions
A good product description is the perfect marriage of copywriting and selling.
Because it’s not enough to just describe your product (which you should also do), you need to sell the reader on why your product is perfect for your potential customer.
To do that, keep one thing in mind: Sell benefits, not features.
There’s an old marketing maxim that sums this up nicely:
The bed, springs, box frame — those are all just features. They’re not what the buyer’s looking for. The buyer wants comfort. They want a good night’s sleep.
A few other examples:
So ask yourself, “What is my buyer looking for? What are they struggling with? How does my product service those needs?”
A few other things to keep in mind:
- Completeness. Fill out all the fields in your listing, and make sure your textual description gives a LOT of information about the item. Think like your buyer: If I’m dropping $200 for a rare book on eBay, I want to know EVERY detail about it. I don’t care how mundane or even repetitive it is, I want every reason to have faith that my $200 will be well spent.
- Search optimization. Use targeted keywords in your item title and description. The more closely your description matches that search query, the more visible your products will be. If it’s a brand name thing, then people will probably be typing in the brand, not just the name of the item itself, so make sure to include the brand (e.g., “Pottery Barn queen duvet” versus “queen duvet”).
Bad eBay listing title – this is NOT how to make money on eBay.
Good eBay listing title – THIS is how to make money on eBay!
Tip 3. Time your listing right
There are typically two schools of thought when it comes to your list timing:
- Shorter duration. A listing of three or five days provides a sense of urgency. This is why you’ll see a lot of businesses with sales “only lasting X days!!!”
- Longer duration. Logic is simple: The longer your listing is up, the more opportunities it’ll have for buyers to bid on it.
Our suggestion: Go with the longer duration. More specifically, choose a 10-day listing and optimize it for the most views.
“Use the 10-day listing starting on a Thursday,” suggests one reader. “That gives you two full weekends of eyeballs. Weekends typically have the highest traffic.”
Tip 4. Avoid reserve prices
This same seller told us even more about reserve pricing.
This is a price minimum a seller can set on their product. If an auction ends without any bids at that price or higher, the seller doesn’t have to sell the product.
Here’s what they had to say on the topic:
“99.999% of the time I never use a reserve price. My goal is to make as much money as I can, so I reduce the amount of upfront money I have to pay. I also do this by using a low starting price of $0.99. This keeps me competitive with everyone. I would rather get little for it than have it sit on my shelf and have it costing me money.”
Tip 5. Find your niche and own it
The survey respondent who made the most money off of eBay ($50k+ in the past 12 months) gave us an interesting tip on what to sell:
“Find a niche market, and go deep. Do you have a hobby? If so, can you sell supplies for it? If selling hobby supplies, make sure your customer has purchased everything necessary for a successful project such as providing fantastic customer support.”
Many people think that choosing a niche limits the amount of customers you have — which isn’t the case. Choosing a niche allows you to focus your offers on a specific group.
Let’s take fitness coaches for example. Who do you think will do better?
- The coach who promises everyone that working out will make them healthier.
- The coach who promises 30-something women they’ll get a flat stomach in three months?
The second one, of course. That’s the paradox of niching down your offering. The more specific your niche, the easier it is to sell and the more you can charge.
If you need help finding a target market and niching down your offerings, be sure to check out my best articles on the topic below:
- Case Study: How niching down helped this entrepreneur double her clients
- How to stand out from the competition (this is from IWT’s sister site GrowthLab)
Bonus: Susan’s interview with Jim Griffith, from eBay University
When I asked Griff for any secrets on the best items to sell on eBay, he told me, “think local.”
Instead of thinking only about how to sell YOUR stuff on eBay (like your old stereo, computer, designer jeans), think about how to make a micro business selling OTHER stuff on eBay, that you obtain locally, such as….
- Stuff that’s on major sale at retail discount stores (TJ Maxx, etc., may be selling stuff for really cheap that’s actually going for full price in other marketplaces, like eBay. Griff has a great, real-life example of this.)
- Undervalued things you find at garage sales, swap meets, thrift stores
- Brand name stuff or items with a certain following that are being discontinued
- Items already listed on eBay that are undervalued (either badly marketed and not using any of the tactics discussed above, or just priced wrong). Ok this one is not local, but it’s a similar idea.
Audio excerpt from my interview with Jim Griffith
[ Running Time: 2:48 | Download File (Right-click, choose “Save as…”) ]