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Sat Apr 11 2009 12:01:19

Where to Begin When Selling Online

By: Ina Steiner

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Many AuctionBytes readers have been selling online for a long time (many got their start on eBay and have branched out), but it's interesting to think about what it would be like if you were starting out today.

What would you tell a newbie about selling on eBay and other sites? How do you get started? Are there useful resources for beginners?

Books are great for the principles of online selling (check your library or look for used copies online), though the specifics can change rapidly in terms of fees and policies. Discussion boards can be extremely useful, as long as you look to see if your question has already been answered before posting it.

Etsy has a guide to selling on its site that can be applied to other sites as sell, and there are likely some tips that experienced sellers could benefit from as well. (Have you ever noticed what great photos Etsy sellers take?)

Naturally, I'd advise people to subscribe to both of AuctionBytes free email newsletters for product and website reviews and news, as well as advising them to peruse the resources listed in the left navigation column on the website. What other websites would you tell Newbies to read? And does it make a difference depending on what you sell? (And feel free to toot your own horn here.)

Comments (18) | Permalink

Readers Comments

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Sat Apr 11 13:09:39 2009

We sold for 10 years on eBay under the user id claypipe. For the most part it was fine until John Donahoe took office.
From the summer of 2008 things starting going downhill for many small sellers rather quickly. I would NEVER recommend a new Mom or Pop to try selling on eBay now. If you are cleaning house and have a larger inventory of collectible items to sell I would recommend the following 2 options. Build your own website or do your homework and consign out to local auction halls in and around your town.

Secondary sites that have sprouted up in answer to the policy changes of eBay are slow to implement new ideas, and most haven't even considered developing a workable auction format for small sellers in the collectibles market. Search is another problem on the internet. Until the big search engine companies decide to change the search format making more traffic flow to these secondary sites change will continue to remain slow. Same goes for your personal website. At least with a personal website you are not accountable to biased policy by eBay. This is just MHO which I am sure many disagree with.

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by: ke6hts

Sat Apr 11 13:27:33 2009

Ebay provided a wonderful education about how to sell online until they became legends in their own mind :(.

My first questions would be why they want to sell online ... experience, make money, get rid of stuff, fun, something to do, etc. since those questions would determine the appropriate response.

I think the online world has grown too much to try and give even general advice to newbies without their input and at least some idea of their abilities.

That said, I would advise them to find someone who is already *successfully* doing what they want to do, and see if they are willing to act as a mentor.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Ina

Sat Apr 11 14:07:43 2009

I've enjoyed reading the "First Item Sold Online" feature where people have shared their stories of how they got started. Sometimes it was just a lark that led to either a hobby or a business.

The column also reveals that there have always been challenges, but the fun of selling online made the effort worth it.

We publish the First Item Sold column in every issue, you can use the search box above to find some archives by typing in: First Item Sold Online

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by: Not on Ebay

Sat Apr 11 14:20:27 2009

Cool, Claypipe, I've read your posts on Ebay's boards:) Yes Ebay is nothing but a headache for a newbie, until you get 100 feedbacks, everytime Paypal needs money or you sell a big $$ item they will give you bogus fund holds. Even worse, the SNAD fraudsters pick on Noobs. Start your own site, sell unique not dropshipped items, focus on content & social marketing. My website comes up higher in google natural search then Ebay in my category, and the first Ebay result was a guide I created on my niche. When I saw that, I pulled the guide & reinstalled it at my site, where it's gotten 500 reads since January.

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by: jay

Sat Apr 11 16:53:49 2009

I tell people who want to unload vintage to start on Etsy.  I try to discourage them from using Ebay to start a business.  I know a few people who woke up one morning determined to start selling on Ebay, and they all wish they hadn't now.

Etsy has great tutorials on starting to sell. There are many blogs about cameras and photos.  Etsy is very supportive of it's sellers, and a great way to build confidence selling.

I wish there was an alternative auction site, but I am selling multiple fixed price vintage items on Etsy daily and it is working for me.

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by: On Lies and Secrets

Sat Apr 11 21:26:35 2009

I think there are too many variables involved to give good advice to such an abstract question.  A lot about  online selling is true for sales in general, so having experience in any kind of sales is helpful and there is no substitute for knowing about your product and your buyers. I do not think ebay is a good place for a new seller who does not already have signifcant experience with the site; IMO ebay is too complicated to the uninitiated seller.  I think in general, for a small-scale, part time seller, Craigslist is a good place to try and learn how to sell online if there is a demand for the items being sold locally.  For most categories Craigslist is free to use and there are all sorts of learning experiences to be had on the site, but the risk of loss is fairly low and the site is very simple to use.

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by: Patricia

Sat Apr 11 21:38:48 2009

Ebay was always a pain to new sellers.  I remember sitting in the Ebay cafe day after day just answering questions from frustrated newbies.  Instructions on setting up an auction were never clear - many didn't even know how to upload pictures.  I think more than anything else...sellers taught new sellers how to list on that site.

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by: Daisy

Sun Apr 12 06:57:25 2009

My father-in-law had a bunch of good stuff to sell and asked me for help. No way was I going to use Ebay (it was expensive stuff). I listed it all on Craigs List and he sold a ton, for good prices (cash). He's thrilled and no fees were paid to scummy Ebay.

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by: selling ? try...

Sun Apr 12 07:25:27 2009

1. I would stay clear of ebay.
2. Try your local Craig's list.
3. Then try these sites in this order:, Bonanzle, Biblio, Alibris, Gemm.
4. I would state money orders and checks ok, and of course cash.
5. I would state that shipping & handling is a fixed amount and too mnay questions voids the buyer to purchase anytime.

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Sun Apr 12 13:26:08 2009

Heres a list of a few places, notice Ebay is not on the list:


  http: / /

handmade sales masks or crafts

payment svc


list where sell


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by: longtimeseller

Mon Apr 13 12:06:23 2009

Have sold on ebay since 1999, mostly antiques and collectibles but often other items. When all the changes were announced last Jan, I took basically a month and moved all of my backstocked inventory to:

then added

I am planning on adding Bonanzle, Ecrater and Etsy in the near future.  I found Ruby Lane to be too costly.  

I have been happy with the sales that I have realized on both Tias and GoAntiques.  I have sold many things on both sites that sat on ebay, got the price the I wanted and the customers are super friendly.  Really reminds me of how ebay used to be.

Tias has started advertising in select markets on Antique Roadshow and GoAntiques since merging with Worthpoint is making a lot of good changes.  GoAntiques transferred my inventory from Tias for me so opening up on there was a breeze.

I do carry a fairly large inventory about 1400 items at this point and have found the more often I add inventory the more sales I make and most of the time is it is not the new items, I am also starting to get a lot of repeat customers.  Have not figured why but guess it has something to do with the way the search engines rank you when there is a flow of new items added.

Also when I search on Google I often find my items right at the top of the list!  If you carry a large amount items I would highly recommend both of these sites.  I do still sell on ebay, on a small basis, but have to research before listing to see if it is worth the time to put it on there.  Also both of these sites offer listing services to ebay, one at no charge.

Also one other comment I would like to add, over the month, when out and about town I have heard more angry and negative comments about ebay then ever before.  And these comments are from CUSTOMERS!, with just a couple from sellers.  They are frustrated with the search and just go elsewhere, have been ripped off on ebay or know someone else who has, say that all that is on there is a bunch of Chinese junk, prices are too high they can buy locally for less, know sellers who have been hurt badly by the silly changes over the last year. In general the amount of hate and disgust with EBay is overwhelming!  Having been in retail management for years in the past what comes to mind is ''Word of mouth is your best or worst advertising''.

Sadly what was once a wonderful place to buy and sell is now a place that is quickly becoming a big nothing! The customers and sales are still out there you just have to make a bit more effort to get them to your items. So to all who are trying to stick it out on Ebay, look elsewhere and put the effort in, it takes some time to build your customer base, but the effort will pay off!

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by: anonymous

Mon Apr 13 12:27:03 2009


I received an email from Worthpoint last Monday.
They want to charge me to shop there? In these hard economic times I hardly think having to pay dues to shop on a site is the right course of action.
Here's a snipet of the text.

with a

14 day free trial WorthPoint membership!

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by: Theresa

Mon Apr 13 13:45:00 2009

I have been an eBay Education Specialist since the US program started.  I taught at our local university, community colleges, small business development center and held classes at our consignment store location.  I was passionate about teaching others how to sell on ebay as I truly believed it was the best place for the casual seller to make a few extra bucks and for the serious seller to start building an online presence.  

I have taught hundreds of people, but not anymore.  I no longer believe ebay offers an opportunity for newbies - it is way too expensive and far too diffcult to reach the level where buyers might actually find your products with their useless serach function.

And of course with the US economy tanking, my consignment business has grown astronomically, but my sale through rate can only be described as dismal.  I find myself working harder and harder to make less and less. Shame on ebay management for ruining what was once a great company and a great buying/selling opportunity for all.

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by: longtimeseller

Mon Apr 13 13:54:58 2009


Worthpoint is a different site then GoAntiques, more of a social network and is extremely popular with many people.  GoAntiques is free to shop, Worthpoint provides a price guide and classified ads with membership, have some other perks too.

GoAntiques charges a flat rate of $49 a month to sell with no commission.  Once I list an item I never have to pay fees to relist or waste time relisting.

You also get a free subscription to with your GoAntiques store along with some other perks.

The more places you get your items on the more you will make.  Ebay is not the place it used to be for antiques and collectibles, they have driven away the sellers as well as the buyers.  Many of us have taken our buyers with us and have found new customers as well!

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by: Karma for Dharma, Ebay's no Nirvana

Mon Apr 13 16:42:44 2009

My local post office sales crew asked me to run a seminar on selling on Ebay. I told her the only way I would come is as a rebuttal witness to show them the many ways you can get boned now, with specific examples. After about 10 minutes she was like "you aren't going to convince anyone to sell there" The truth hurts, I guess.

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by: Ebay's Slow Death

Mon Apr 13 21:35:29 2009

Actually, I don't see how anybody CAN sell anything on Ebay anymore! I've been selling off and on since 1997. The last several weeks I've been listing books in lots, according to author.  My auction listings rarely get more then ten Views, if that. My SLR is dismal, and keeps getting worse. My beginning price, BIN and shipping are very reasonable, with hardly any profit.  

I just can't afford to sell there anymore. It has gotten that bad.

We have a retail antiques store and this weekend I got into a discussion with some customers. Everybody, including Buyers, hate Ebay, but love Amazon.

I'm not holding any hope out for the future of Ebay.  I have no idea who is buying there anymore.

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by: Daddy Bear Guff, Seller's friend

Tue Apr 14 01:35:00 2009

Only truly rare, one of a kind items bring the bids anymore, but once you factor in the gigantic risk you are taking in losing SNAD, it's not worth it.

Top 10 Frustrations for eBay Sellers October 25, 2008

Sellers have spoken, and these are the issues they have with eBay. 1. Management I'm going to place management above all because, ultimately, it is where the rest of the frustrations stem from. Many of the negative comments I have read (and about 98% of those have been negative) have pointed the finger squarely at eBay CEO John Donahoe who took office shortly before these changes came about. Some noted a significant decrease in stock since he stepped in as well. In fact, a BusinessWeek reader even pointed to a petition that has been created, calling for Donahoe's termination.

2. Feedback Policy This is really the one that is getting most eBay sellers fired up. Buyers can leave feedback on sellers, but sellers can't leave feedback on buyers. Out of the sellers that I personally contacted (that got back to me), all but one of them agreed that eBay's feedback policy, which changed in May, is their biggest frustration. One seller responded, "Allowing buyers to give neg feedback w/o recourse. Without leverage i.e. return Negative feedback. This keeps ignorant buyers from learning how [to] work out differences - 'expressing how they feel'. Mistakes are made. Some 'new' buyers just give Neg FB w/o contacting [the] seller about exchange[s], returns or refunds." I have also seen people cite buyers' lack of understanding about shipping costs leading to negative feedback.

Another respondent said: "The most frustrating thing about sellingon ebay is the complete disregard of SELLER's RIGHTS." He then directed me to this site, which is dedicated to creating awareness about eBay's policy changes, and illustrates the DSR system . "The FEEDBACK SYSTEM Penalizes Sellers who do not have at least a 4.6 Rating in ALL 4 areas," that seller noted. "I have been selling on ebay since 2002 and have NEVER had so much trouble with them!!!" I have an excellent record & I still get LOWERED SEARCH STANDING & HIGHER FEES!! THE SYSTEM IS NOT FAIR FOR SELLERS AT ALL ANYMORE!!!"

3. Small Businesses Get Shut Out BusinessWeek's article was about this very topic. It looked at a few small businesses that lost their ability to sell on eBay, in large part due to the feedback issue, but that is not the only thing affecting the little guys.

Another part of this is eBay's deal with, which some people indicate is prioritizing merchandise from that site over their own. Combine that with the charges that small businesses must incur for selling through eBay, and profitability slides. There seems to be a common theme resonating among sellers, saying that eBay has basically sold out. They've gone too corporate and are no longer appealing to the little guys.

4. Lack of Communication Another common gripe is that the company will not communicate with sellers to their liking. If sellers have problems, they get the runaround. They get impersonal automated responses via email, or low-level employees if they make a phone call. They can't get through to management. They can't appeal their suspensions (which are often considered unjustified). Another communication flaw some have cited is that once their account is suspended, they can't even communicate with customers who may have already placed orders. This is not good for the buyer or the seller.

5. Payment Policy Last month, eBay announced that they would no longer allow sellers to accept checks or money orders as payment. Well, sellers were not happy about this either. Most felt like that decision should be up to each individual seller. Many have chalked this up to the company simply wanting people to use eBay-owned PayPal. Taking away options for payment can alienate some customers, and sellers know that and found the new policy unfair. eBay said they would accept PayPal, credit or debit card payments to the seller, ProPay, or "payment upon pickup" as possible payment methods. They claimed to update this policy to provide users with a more "secure checkout experience." 6. Fees/Lack of Profitability As I said, there is a lot of overlap in these and this ties into the small businesses getting shut out problem. But many users are having a hard time justifying paying the fees they must pay to use eBay as their selling platform. Fees cut into the profits they could otherwise be making by selling directly from their own store, or from another platform that doesn't charge as much.

7. Unwarranted Account Suspensions Apart from those who are seeing their accounts suspended based on their DSR, I have seen many claims that their accounts are deemed "security concerns" and suspended as a result, without any justification for this assessment. One person claimed their account was suspended for this reason when they had not even bought or sold anything through the site yet. They went to try to sell something, but their account was already suspended.

8. The Buyers Themselves There seems to have been an increase in tension between buyers and sellers on eBay since their policy changes took effect. Buyers have been accused of lying to get away with cheating sellers by not paying for items while eBay does little to combat the problem. Others just don't think they can reach the right audience with eBay. They consider eBay buyers to be the type that are looking for bargains, and for those looking to sell quality products at prices that aren't necessarily discounted, will have a harder time selling those products.

9. Glitches Some complain about technical glitches at eBay. A BusinessWeek reader mentioned a variety of them including store glitches, PayPal glitches, search glitches, DSR glitches, etc. Any company is bound to experience some hiccups from time to time, but those hiccups are going to be frustrating to users, and there's not much that can be done about that other than trying to catch such glitches before customers do.

10. Lack of Innovation Finally, some just don't feel like eBay is doing much innovation anymore. There seems to be a general consensus that in eBay's earlier years, the company was somewhat revolutionary and appealing to anybody who wanted to get rid of some "old junk." As time has progressed, many sellers have become less impressed. eBay has made some acquisitions over the years like Skype and StumbleUpon, but these have had little if any impact on eBay the site. In the End... Not all eBay sellers are sitting idly by while they vent their frustrations. There have been a number of sites started dedicated to catering to those who feel cheated by eBay. Sites like Shopify, Wigix, SeeAuctions, EveryPlaceISell, and I'm sure many more. Sellers know that they have other options. Many have turned to Amazon for example, or have opened up their own eCommerce sites to sell directly.

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by: Brenda

Tue Apr 14 08:44:47 2009

I would recommend Etsy as a good starting site for a number of reasons. The one restriction of Etsy is that a seller does need to be able to fit within the product range that is allowed within this site. Etsy is geared for handcrafted items. The site also allows vintage, which by Etsy's definition is any item older than 20 years, and art/craft supplies.

What I find very appealing about Etsy:

Super low pay as you go cost. There is no monthly "shop fee". It costs 20 cents to list an item and for this price you are allowed 5 pictures and your item is listed for 4 months time. They also have a very resonable FVF of 3.5%.
You have the freedom to incorporate the payment systems that you are comfortable with.
The site is non-techy friendly. you can function within the site with a bare minimal of computer skills
Google base and analytics is available to all members without additional fees.
If writing support, you will get responces written by real people, usually within a day.
And if you live in the greater New York area and are involved with crafting Etsy also runs ongoing classes for a nominal fee
Lastly, one of my favorite Etsy features is the Etsy mini. This feature allows the member to put together a self renewing widget that can be added to blogs and other social networking sites to create a "sample shop" with live links back to the individual shops and to Etsy. the mini has a capacity of up to 25 pictures.

Etsy has organized "teams" that are comprised of members based upon product catagory, locale  or I guess whatever criteria a group would define themselves by. ( I'm just not a team type of person and don't know all that much about this) The teams are useful as a support to the members, I believe that a team is eligible to apply for grants from etsy and they can also utilize "their team name" as one of their items tags for potential better visibility within the search.

Between the Storque, Etsy's official blog and the forums, there are a ton of educational opportunities for the new seller.

It is also possible to research past sales by poking around the various shops to see that people ARE selling.
It's a fixed price platform making it easier to set up a budget.

I would like to see improvements made in the search and would like to see ALOT more done to allow members the proper tools to run sales and have a means to make a sale known. Lastly, I would like to see the site be more upfront about the existance of the supplies and vintage product lines.

My second choice was Bonanzle.

Oh and as I write this I am a relative newbie, actively selling less than a year, and very tech challenged. I am giving my "Newbie" rationales for MY choices.

Bonanzle is a general merchandise site and has been compared to "What Ebay USED to be."

I am very impressed with Bonanzle's home page! The entirety fits within a computer screen, eliminating the need to scroll anywhere and ensuring that a buyer sees everything. I think that this is HUGE!!!

Bonanzle's membership is very upbeat; a positive vibe flows through the site. It is also essentually a pay as you go opportunity. Shop set up and listing are free and there is a very reasonable FVF. The site does have 2 optional memberships that will provide a member additional perks, but again it is OPTIONAL.

Google Base is available for all members and also google attributes. Bonanzle has a plethera of features that can be tailored to each sellers needs. There is the capability of live chat within each seller's booth. This feature allows a customer the opportunity to discuss things with a seller.

OBO- or best offer is a feature that allows for a touch of haggling just like if you were at a show or fleamarket, and I believe that there are sellers who have incorporated live chat and OBO together in order to conduct live auctions.

Bear in mind, I'm tech challenged and still need to figure out how to work with some of the features, but I find that it has been set up to be able to communicate within the site and with a customer in a very fluid and flexible manner.

The membership is very helpful and supportive. If you are stuck on something, a quick question within the forums will get an answer in record time!

There are quirky little commentaries within the functions such as odd word and definitions shown during wait times, while doing a listing that I happen to find entertaining and the forums also have a wonderful sprinkling of humor provided by the members.

The founders have a hands on approach that I find very refreshing. Any question of mine that has been sent to support has been answered rapidly and by Mark. This impresses me!

Lastly, I find the entire membership and site to be very pro marketing, with an abundance of ideas geared toward getting your presence known. I'm tech feeble, but the site is very geared toward creating tools to help both the seller and the buyer.

Shipping can be set up in either a flat rate or calculated. Payments can be Paypal, Google, or the traditional check or money order.

I would like to advise anyone who is looking into selling to take some time to properly research any site. Try to base your decisions on fact and site transparency and try to not get caught up in the emotional hype that I find accompanying each new start up. Poke around, ask questions within the forums, ask questions directly to support to help guage the worthiness of any given site. It takes time to establish yourself. Is the site's monthly fee going to benefit you or the site? $25.00, $35.00, $49.00 adds up quickly, especially as you wait to gain sales and adds potentially wasted dollars if outside advertising is added on top of a rent.

Decisions need to be based upon business and unfortunately the almighty dollar. Dig a little and ask questions, questions and more questions in order to find a site that suits YOUR needs.

I don't know if this is allowed, but you can find me at Etsy and Bonanzle at the following:

will try to help anyone with questions to the best of my ability.

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