Complete Small Business
Free Advice & Tips > Online Auctions
Auctions - What NOT to Do
Everyone and their brother have written a book about how to sell on online
tips and advice from the experienced and professional. I
have been selling on eBay, Amazon, and Yahoo auctions for 7 years, and
honestly, I have not read any of these books. However, I am sure that
they have a number of great tips and helps. I, on the other hand, simply
did the one thing that can give you all the hands-on training you could
I did LOTS of shopping on these sites. After spending hundreds
of dollars, I realized that I had things sitting around the house that
people might want. And they did! Then I started scouring yard and estate
sales for treasures to sell. That lead to selling items for businesses
to clear out parts and inventory that was not moving. Which lead to teaching
auction selling classes at the local community college. Now, I am just
back to shopping. I still do some selling, but it is infrequent, as I
simply do not have the time to invest anymore.
Online auctions still amaze me. If I list a group of items, the sell
through rate is consistently 90%
no matter the category of item.
Obviously, some types of items sell better than others, but it is still
amazing to think that someone somewhere wants that 70's wool coat, and
is willing to pay $75 for it! I considered finding a niche of items that
I personally have trouble finding online, because if I cannot find it,
chances are there are others that also cannot find it
if they do
not have a Wal-Mart down the street. (I live in a rural area, so if I
cannot find it online, I cannot get it.)
Back to my previous statement though, if you are considering using online
auctions to get rid of excess inventory or parts, the best teaching tool
is to buy items off these sites. Besides building up your feedback, which
is extremely important for high-ticket items, you will also see how other
sellers operate. By finding out what you like and do not like, you know
how to better treat your customers. Even though it is an online auction,
many sellers do not treat the buyers like customers
they seem to
think the rules of business do not apply. Based on my own buying experiences,
here are some of the things I do NOT do when I sell on auction
- Ignore potential buyers pre-sale questions - How irritating!?
I am interested in a product and ask a question, and either I never
hear back, or it takes 3 days for a response. I live in a "high-tech"
society, and I expect a response within 24 hours, or I will go elsewhere.
Personally, I try to respond within 4 hours on my own auctions, though
sometimes meetings and other business prevents that. But never longer
than 24 hours. As a buyer, I only get a timely response 60% of the time.
- Poor ads - There are chapters written on how to submit an online
auction ad that attracts buyers, but after viewing thousands of ads,
and writing hundreds, the advice is pretty straight forward
or Keep It Simple Stupid. I am not trying to be crass, but please do
not bog down your ad with pages of words to scroll through, 10 photos
at different angles (which are HUGE files and take forever to load),
and tons of cutesy gifs waving at me. The number of photos required
varies with the item being sold. For example, antique buyers want to
see the item at every angle, but the file size can be reduced to make
loading faster. Remember, in some areas like mine, we still have only
dial-up available, and we get tired of waiting 20 minutes to catch a
glimpse of the item. So, we move on. And we do not want to read 3 pages
of terms. One scroll page is more than sufficient for a succinct description
of the item, terms and photos. A paragraph break every so often and
maybe the heading in another color are all that is required to allow
me to easily read the text. And if you have been on the Internet at
all, you know that WRITING IN ALL CAPS IS LIKE SHOUTING AND IS NOT RECOMMENDED.
PLUS, IT MAKES THE TEXT DIFFICULT TO READ. I experience nice, clean,
descriptive ads about 50% of the time
the others I just pass over.
- Use the Reserve Price feature - I do not have time as a buyer
to guess what the reserve price. Every time, I will pass over a reserve
auction starting at 99¢ for an identical item starting at $20.
If $20 is the least you are willing to take, then start there. Do not
make the bidder submit 10 bids to try to figure out the reserve price.
About 90% of the auctions I run across realize this and do not use reserve
they must have been a frustrated bidder and vowed never
to use it.
- Keep the shipping cost a secret - I have been overcharged for
shipping numerous times, as many sellers feel that padding the shipping
is their prerogative. So, they make their money on the shipping, not
on the actual item. I personally do not feel that it is the honest way
to make a profit, and have posted such on online seller boards
started heated arguments from other sellers. So it is a personal decision
on how much of a handling fee to charge. Nevertheless, if the seller
states his shipping costs in the ad, I have nothing to complain about
as a buyer, as I was warned up front. What is frustrating as a buyer,
especially with the convenient shipping calculator tool on the eBay
site, is no mention of the cost for shipping. And I have found that
if they do not state it, it is probably a whopper! So, I have to contact
the seller, and hope they will respond before the end of the auction
with the shipping cost. But, I learned the hard way, that not to ask
is asking for trouble. It would save tons of time to simply state the
shipping and avoid the emails back and forth. Thankfully, only 10% of
the ads fail to mention shipping cost, and I generally pass right on
- Do not send after auction "congratulations" email -
"Hello? Anyone there?" Sometimes I pay for an item before
I get an email from the seller, but many buyers will not pay until some
person somewhere has contacted them. Just a simple note that says "Thanks!
Here is how to complete the transaction
" That is all it takes,
and it lets the buyer know we are alive and kicking. Plus, it gives
them more confidence to fork over their payment. eBay makes it even
easier, as they have an invoice that can be sent with a click of a button.
I get an after-sale email from a seller about 30% of the time.
- Fail to send an after-payment email - I sent my money, and
nothing! Did you get it? Did I just send my money to a scammer? There
is no excuse for this one
You received payment, and did not take
a moment to ease the buyers peace-of-mind. Sure, I got a payment confirmation
from PayPal or Amazon, but what if I send a check or money order? A
simple "I received payment, and will mail you item on <date>"
is all that is required, and lets the buyer know you are on top of things.
I leave much better feedback for sellers that do this, though, unfortunately,
it only occurs about 60% of the time in my buying experience. The other
times, I sit around waiting for a reasonable amount of delivery time,
then I start pestering the seller.
- Do not leave feedback upon receiving payment - Many sellers
participate in feedback hostage. Hey! I did what I was supposed to do.
I sent prompt payment, now the fair and honest thing to do is have positive
feedback left immediately. However, 75% of sellers do not leave feedback
until they see what I have to say about the delivered item. And if I
leave negative feedback for poor seller performance or product misrepresentation,
guess what? I get negative feedback back. Now, I do not leave such feedback
until I try to work things out with the seller, but the whole point
of the feedback system is to inform other buyers of problems with a
seller. And if you are worried about leaving representative feedback
because the seller will retaliate, how reliable is the system? Leave
the appropriate feedback after receiving payment, and if you follow
basic customer service rules, the buyer will be more than happy to leave
positive feedback in return.
- Poor packaging - How dense does one have to be to send a computer
monitor in a single cardboard box with 5 pieces of wadded newspaper
inside to pad it. Do not laugh. It happened to me. An hour spent on
the USPS or UPS web site gives you all the information you need to know
about proper packing. It does not mean that items will never get destroyed
in shipping, as a 100-year-old scale I shipped did. However, because
of the layers of peanuts, Styrofoam, and bubble-wrap, after USPS examined
the packaging, they honored the repair claim. The buyer saw the care
I put into making sure I wrapped the item carefully, and even left positive
feedback in the end. It does not cost a lot to wrap properly, because
if you do any online shopping, you will collect more packing material
than you can find room to store! Thankfully, 80% of seller package properly.
- Fail to send the package in a timely manner
or not at all!
- I have only had one package in which I paid for the item, and the
seller ran away with my money. Not bad for all the shopping I have done.
However, why does it take 5 days to get the package out? Typically,
the response for online auction sellers is much faster than large online
store sites. This is because there are not 5 departments for the order
to go through before it gets out the door. Conversely, with an online
auction, there are only 1-5 people behind the scenes. Some list 100's
of items per week, but even then, getting a package out within 48 hours
is do-able. Most of the time, this is the reason I shop on the auction
sites. I am in a time crunch, and it will take 3 days to process an
order at a brick-and-mortar store's site, plus 7-10 delivery time, and
I do not have that long. So, I go to the auctions, and do a buy-it-now,
and expect to receive the item in 3 days using USPS Priority Mail service.
After a week, I start to get anxious. Of course, if the seller had told
me in their "payment received" email when they were shipping
the item and via which carrier, I would have a better idea. Even better
if they mention this information in their terms of the auction ad itself,
so I know whether it fits in my time schedule. Anyway, thankfully, about
70% of my purchases are shipped timely and arrive when expected. I love
those sellers that send a tracking number so I can watch the package
myself without bugging them. (FYI - I always purchase delivery confirmation
when I send out packages
after one dishonest buyer, I found that
they were invaluable. Since then, I have never had someone state they
did not receive their item, and that was 6 years ago
not bad USPS!)
- Do not respond to buyer questions or concerns - Fortunately
95% of the purchases I make online are exactly as expected, either because
the ad description and/or photos were sufficiently detailed, or I asked
enough questions of the seller. However, for the other 5% where I am
disappointed, these are the sellers that think that online auctions
are above customer service guidelines. They got their money, got rid
of a product, and are happy
but that is why I use a credit card
and PayPal for my online purchases. If the seller ignores me or shrugs
responsibility, their PayPal account gets frozen as I initiate a claim
to return the item for a full refund. Not only does this jeopardize
future sales, but also more than 3 and you run the risk of having your
auction id and PayPal account shutdown. It does not prevent the unscrupulous
from changing ids and opening another account, but I am not wasting
my breath sharing these ideas with those types of sellers anyway.
Obviously, this is not an exhaustive lesson on how to sell on online
auctions, but it lets you know some of the key ideas of what not to do.
I encourage students in the online auction classes to spend lots of time
on the sites to research items similar to what they plan to sell. Look
closely at which ones sold at the highest prices. What is the title? What
was the starting bid? What does the ad look like? What are they charging
for shipping? Spend a little time in research and you will be sure to
reap the rewards in a higher selling price. If you have any questions,
do not hesitate to contact me.
Until next issue...Best wishes in your endevours!
Home | Advice
| About | Services
| Products | Portfolio
| Site Map | Privacy