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eBay Selling Strategy: Auction versus Buy It Now

eBay Selling Strategy: Auction versus Buy It Now

Should I sell my items as an auction on eBay? Or as a Buy It Now listing? This is the most common question I am asked routinely by both new and longtime resellers alike. It may seem like a very simple question with an easy answer, but that, unfortunately, is not the case.

Some items will always sell best as an auction, while others will do far better as a Buy It Now format or a fixed price listing, as eBay calls them. There are, of course, other factors that must be considered, such as the value, scarcity, and overall demand of the items in question. Both formats have their own usefulness and can be effective tools when used properly. It will all come down to what you are selling, more so than anything else.

Prior to a decade or so ago, the only option that was available was an auction format. For the first ten or fifteen years of my reselling life, auctions ruled the reseller world. The Buy It Now format, or BIN for short, is a relatively new feature in reselling. When eBay first introduced the BIN format, many people were very reluctant to dive in, having seen so much success from running auctions for so long.

Auctions were also entertaining and a thrill for both the buyer and seller back in those days. Everyone loved watching the prices climb over the life of the auction. The potential buyer would be watching the auction all week long in anticipation, and in hopes of being the winner.

The seller, alike, would be fixated on their computer screens watching its progress throughout the week, but it was the last 30 seconds of the auction that was the most exciting. That is when all the action would start to happen. The last ten seconds of most auctions was purely exhilarating (most of the time) with many items shooting up hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in just those last few seconds.

But times have drastically changed and so has the want and need to get your purchased items more quickly. Most buyers want their items now and not later. Waiting a week or more for an auction to end is just far too long to wait for most potential buyers.

So it all will come down to what you are selling. No one wants to wait a week for a hand-towel auction to end just to know if you won it or not, and then being forced to wait another week for it to show up in the mail. The reason someone is buying those items online is usually to save money, but they also want them right away. The buyer must weigh his savings versus the length of time it will take to get the item.

I would suggest you ask yourself a simple question when deciding on a format: Can I buy this item easily right now, locally? If the answer is yes, then I will almost always list that item as a BIN. Most household items, such as pots, pans, kitchen utensils, towels, socks, and batteries are good examples of those sorts of items.

I personally use the BIN format for the vast majority of my more common and lesser valued items. You can easily determine which option is best by digging through Terapeak, which is now a free tool available to all resellers on eBay. As eBay describes it, “Terapeak Product Research uses recent eBay supply, demand, and pricing data to help you determine what to sell, when to sell it, and at what price” and is available under the “Research” tab in Seller Hub.

With Terapeak, you can sort by format, and easily see which option has the best success rate. You can also see which option will give you the highest return on your item.

In most cases, I have found that the items we routinely sell will almost always sell higher as a BIN than as an auction listing. Many times, a BIN listing can sell for 20%, 30% or even more than what an auction listing may sell for. The data also shows that BINs are the vast majority of all sold listings in most categories on eBay, even though both options can be freely used equally.

You can also add a Best Offer option to you BIN listings, which gives a potential buyer an option to make the seller an offer on that item. A large portion of all items I have sold were sold with the Best Offer option, either as an offer from a potential buyer or as an offer I sent out to watcher on one of my listed items.

Another factor is the length of time a BIN runs versus how long an auction can run for. A BIN will automatically run for 30 days, and will automatically renew until it sells, or you end the listing. An auction, on the other hand, will only run for up to 10 days at a time, and would need to be manually relisted by the seller.

So, the length of time a listing is up can play a big part in how much you sell an item for. If you list an item as a seven-day auction, only those potential buyers who happen to see your item in those seven days can bid on the item. But, if you run the item as a BIN, it will be visible to everyone until it is sold. A BIN listing can be live for years, while an auction is very limited, but both take the same amount of effort and time to photograph, and list.

On the other hand, auctions can be a great tool to sell rare or scarce items for the highest ROI (Return On your Investment). If the supply of an item is very low but there is a large group of people wanting that specific item, many times it will sell far higher running it as an auction rather than a BIN.

A signed first edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein from 1818 would be a good example of this. It is so rare and sought after that, even if you were to list it for a one-day auction, it would still sell for a phenomenal price, due to the demand of the book in the collectors’ market.

Besides the rare and in-demand items, I also use the auction format to liquidate some items that have been up for a very long time, and that aren’t worth a lot of money to begin with. I have found that the auction format works for these items because it creates a sense of urgency for the buyer. The buyer will only have a limited time to bid on the item. These sorts of items are usually priced to liquidate as well, which gives me a higher sell through rate when using the auction format in this manner.

While the Buy It Now option is by far my favorite, and what I recommend most of the time, I do still routinely use and recommend the auction format for many specific types of items. But, as long as you are doing your research, you should be able to effectively use both formats to advance your business, and to maximize your profits.

Don Heiden on InstagramDon Heiden on Youtube
Don Heiden
Don Heiden
Don Heiden is a 30-year veteran of online reselling going back to the days of Yahoo Auctions. He runs The Auction Professor YouTube channel posting videos and content about various reselling platforms and topics, and he is a member of the eBay, Amazon, Hip, and other affiliate programs where he may earn a commission when linking to products on those sites. He can also be found on most social networks under the same name, including Instagram. He is also a published professional artist which includes works produced for The Walt Disney Company. He holds an Associate Degree in Database Design, Construction, and Network Administration. He also holds a Bachelor Degree and Master Degree of Research & Communications from The University of Toledo.

8 thoughts on “eBay Selling Strategy: Auction versus Buy It Now”

  1. In the stamp marketplace high quality stamps sell for more, sometimes a lot more, as fixed price listings but patience is required. A fixed price stamp listing offered at the Scott valuing guide price based on centering (grade) may sell immediately. If not, best offer can speed sales. Stamps that do not sell may eventually sell if the price is gradually lowered until someone notices it. High quality scans and accurate descriptions are a must. Item condition is missing in the Stamps category, but condition description can be made visible by setting Item Condition to “used”. Item specifics required by eBay are generally useless. Filter descriptions and abbreviations are not consistent with the wider stamp market and many sellers cannot accurately grade or describe stamps. The most important item specific would be the Scott catalog in the United States, but it is missing. The result is that buyers have some difficulty finding some stamps and a lot of difficulty finding other stamps. Auctions sometimes work well for lower quality stamps, especially in group lots. But the market remains glutted. Best offer limits above auction start prices can give impatient buyers a way to buy before bidding starts. How many potential buyers and sellers understand how auction best offer works?

    Sellers in collectible categories like railroad color slides may achieve better results with auctions if the slides are high quality, older, and well presented.

  2. Auctions began to die after ebay decided to cloak bidders. Call me cynical but a bidder you can’t identify could be a shill bidder.

  3. First of all, there was no auction in history before eBay where the auction ends while there are active bidders. Stupidity. That said, here are the only good reasons for listing an auction rather than fixed price:
    1) You have a rare item with multiple buyers wanting it.
    2) You have a rare item and can’t find any active or sold listings for it so you have no idea what it’s worth (pick a high starting point and see what happens).
    3) you have something you want to get rid of and will accept whatever you can for it.
    4) You are low on your allocation of fixed price listings for your eBay store and have plenty of ‘free’ auctions listing left. Use them and start the bidding at what you would have listed them for fixed price. When you get a bid, end the auction early making the bidder the winner. You might even mention you will do that in the listing.

  4. I have been on eBay 23 years and generally sell unique rare items often only one of eBay. I had used auctions exclusively for 20 years but have not gone to 95% Buy It Now as I was often getting killed on the final auction price. I would not be surprised if auctions are less than 10% of the total listings.
    But another major issue that killed eBay auctions is many people no longer trust them. For example, a HUGE seller of antiques are artwork based from Rhode Island is using shills to raise the prices and has been doing it for years. When you see the underbidders have 300 bids past 30 days but 90% of bids are for this same seller you know it ain’t kosher. I have reported this to eBay over 100 times but nothing has ever been done.

  5. Maybe it was an oversight, but the author stated there were only two options on eBay: Auction listing or Buy It Now. In fact, there is a third option: auction listing with an option to Buy It Now.

    Apart from that, when eBay moved Buy It Now to 30-Day GTC effectively killed my business. Previously, I could put up 25-30 items with a 7 day BIN and I would sell a fair number of items. Not now. Recent experience with auction listing / BIN option is promising.

  6. Auctions are all but dead, ebay no longer regulates duplicate listings. So you can list 20 of the same items, flood the market and kill prices. Only auctions that do good are one of a kind item or a rare color, once in a while I’ll do good if a bidding war takes place. The sad part is I started with auctions years ago when it was fun, lets see how this item does but now its hoping I even get a bid on it

  7. AS A BUYER – For me, there is absolutely NOTHING more frustrating than a BuyItNow listing that someone else finds and buys before I do. There often is only a short window of time for a buyer to find a BIN listing – unlike an auction, which eBay runs for several days (usually a week). It is HEARTWRENCHING to search for something for years (I have) and then AT LAST, one appears but it is BIN and POOF it is gone before I have a chance at it.

    This happens often enough that there is now at least one company you can subscribe to, that constantly searches eBay listings for BINs meeting the search words you register, and sends those listings to your phone as soon as they appear (if you want; you can tailor notifications as you like).

    AS A SELLER – An unbelievable win for me was listing a poor old beaten up silver plated coffee pot that ordinarily would bring $50 or so, with similar ones proving that price. It sold for OVER $500 ….!!!! (I thought it was a scam, but no, it turned out to be a legitimate sale and honest buyer – he just wanted it.) And earlier I sold a $30 book for $106. My $10 pharmacy bottle sold for over $50 because the winner’s mother in law had the same name as the embossed druggist’s name on the bottle….

    My big problem selling BIN is that it limits what I can sell the item for. So what I tend to do is list with Auction format but with the starting price being the minimum I am willing to sell the item for.

    All the above being said, I think it is VERY encouraging to have the option of listing in an AUCTION format, but with a BUY IT NOW option for the bidder to choose. THAT is flexibility but it is hard to believe eBay would cook up such a useful selling option.

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