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Online Auctions 101

As Published In Getting Organized Magazine —
Online Auctions 101

Every so often while cleaning out, you’re bound to come across an item that’s just too good to toss in the “donate” box or chuck onto your lawn at the next yard sale — something of real value, for which a buyer would pay top dollar. You might trip over a rare book you have no interest in reading again, discover an expensive item of never-worn clothing lurking in the back of your closet, or decide that a particular high-end piece of sports equipment will be much happier sweated-upon by someone else. However, you can’t find any place to consign these treasures locally — what do you do? If you’re ready to enter the brave not-so-new world of virtual sales, here’s some advice for a smooth transaction process.

The Electronic Option

Publicity -- Getting Organized -- Online Auctions LargeParticipating in an online auction might initially feel intimidating — too “high tech,” complex (and possibly even risky) for your taste. But lowest-common-denominator sites like Ebay have made it easy for even the net-stupidest of us to earn money while getting rid of unwanted junk, right from the comfort of our own living rooms. If you can use the interwebz, you can sell your discards online!

It’s like placing a newspaper ad — but instead of having to talk with dozens of people via the phone (dickering about the price of your product over and over and over again), it all takes place auto-electronically. And the process is simple — post a description, set a bidding time-limit, wait to see what happens. Any questions are handled with a quick e-mail — then when the listing ends, you receive payment and mail your shipment. Done correctly, it’s as easy as pie!

Your Title And Description

When a potential bidder searches for a specific item or scans through a category (like “sports equipment” or “household goods”), your product only shows up as a title hyperlinking to the larger description — since you’re generally limited to a single line, make it count! If a product is new, say so — emphasizing the acronym NWT (new with tags) for something that’s never been used. Include recognizable brand names like “Whirlpool” or “Donna Karan,” as well as the size and color — and with clothing, indicate whether you’re talking men’s, women’s, or kid’s. While this isn’t the time or place for a lengthy sales pitch, you want to include enough information to grab a customer’s attention on that first pass.

You’ll also want to make sure you choose an appropriate category for your merchandise. Try to place your goodies where other similar items can be found — you’ll benefit from the fact that shoppers are already searching in that same spot for related products. If you’re having a hard time deciding on a location, ask yourself, “Where would I look for this thing-a-ma-bob if I were trying to buy one?”

Make sure your expanded description is as detailed as possible. In most instances, you won’t have a space limit — and the general rule of thumb is the more information, the better. People don’t want to have to contact you to find out what size something is or if the attachments come with it or if it has any scuff marks. You’ll save yourself a lot time/effort (and receive fewer “clarification” e-mails from potential bidders) over the long run by being thorough up front. Remember, the goal in an online auction is not just making money or getting rid of unwanted clutter — it’s creating as automated a process as possible. The less you have to be involved after the auction starts, the better!

Another important factor impacting your success with virtual sales is honesty. In today’s scam-tastic climate, folks are leery of incomplete product descriptions — because it feels as though the vendor may be trying to pull something over on them. Be as forthright and matter-of-fact as you can about the age of the item, its features, and any flaws or defects. You may be able to pawn a shabby piece of crap off on someone the first time — but they’ll burn you down the road by ruining your credibility and reputation as a merchant with negative feedback.

Get Visual

When you sell something at a consignment store or in a yard sale, potential customers have the benefit of personal interaction with that object — they can see it up close, examine it thoroughly, touch it, handle it, try it out. But the internet keeps buyers at a distance — the only method bidders have to evaluate a piece of merchandise is through your description and any photos you post online. So be sure to take pictures from several different angles, including close-ups of any important features or small parts. If you’re selling a product with “minor damage” (such as a teeny scuff or insignificant stain), shoot a zoomed-in snapshot of the damage to show exactly how minor it is. And try use a neutral color background (a white bed sheet will suffice) so the focus is on your stuff.

I know, I know, what a pain in the ass! I can see you — rolling your eyes and whining about how much time it will take to upload (and already planning on skipping this step). But leaving the photo out because it seems like too much work is a GIGANTIC mistake. Think about it — when searching for a food processor, if you find one with a picture and one without, which are you more likely to buy? Many shoppers won’t even bother with a product description unless it says “photo attached.” So taking a few extra minutes to snap a camera-phone shutter or scan a print can mean the difference between a sale and a waste of time.

Pricing And Payment

Publicity -- Getting Organized -- Online Auctions 2 Large

Web auctions usually offer a couple of different options for pricing your stuff. Let’s begin with the traditional format — where you choose a starting amount, allow shoppers to increase that sum in discrete increments ($1, $5, $10), then ship to the biggest spender when the listing ends.

If your merch is considerably valuable, you could also indicate a minimum “reserve” amount you’re willing to accept. (Good for you in an “if-they-ain’t-got-the-quan-you-ain’t-obliged-to-sell” way — but annoying for potential customers when they have no clue what your threshold dollar amount is).

Or you can offer bidders a “buy now” alternative. You’re essentially telling them “either go through the normal auction process (and risk losing out on this fine and fabulous whatever-the-hell-it-is-you’re-selling) — or straight-up purchase my amazing product for a pre-set dollar amount.” Great for impatient consumers who know what they want, and are willing to forgo a potential bargain to get it.

Shipping

Unless you specify “local pick-up” as your only delivery option, you’ll also need to think about how you’re going to mail your junque. Whenever possible, look for a flat-rate shipping method — to anywhere from anywhere in the country for one price. If that’s not feasible (and real-time calculations aren’t available), find out how much delivery to the farthest point from you within national mainland boundaries costs — so a vendor in New York would get a quote on shipping to California or Washington. Then you can list the method and mail-to price in your description (indicating that charges may be higher outside this area) and know that you’re covered — regardless of where the winning bidder lives.

Also be clear about whether insurance is included in the final tally, or the buyers’s expected to pay extra for it. Quite often, vendors make this kind of protection optional — but it’s a nice “I-do-actually-give-a-crap-what-happens-to-your-package” customer service to throw it in for free. It’ll also save you untold headaches later on, if your shipment fails to arrive at its intended destination or is damaged in transit.

One Final Note

Publicity -- Getting Organized -- Online Auctions 3 LargeSelling online isn’t a guaranteed proposition — just as holding a yard sale or listing your items in the newspaper is never 100% for sure. But there are things you can do to improve your profitability odds. For starters, check up front with the auction service to see if you’ll be charged for simply listing your item, regardless of the outcome. Also, investigate any commissions charged by the site — find out if those fees are based on your earnings or are applicable even if your merchandise doesn’t sell. (Neither of which is my favorite choice for you!) And be sure to ask what protections you’re offered in the case of a dishonest buyer. Know your rights and responsibilities before you sign on.

Finally, start off small. Don’t invest a lot of time and money “collecting” items you think will sell online — just use this as a way to get rid of your own unwanted junk. Then if it turns out to be a successful venture, you may have a home-based business on your hands!

(this article has been edited/expanded for the web — click here to download the original PDF as published by Getting Organized Magazine)

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Copyright 2015 RamonaCreel.com

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Ramona Creel is an award-winning 15-year veteran organizer and member of the National Association Of Professional Organizers. As well as having birthed “The A-To-Z Of Getting Organized,” Ramona is also the author of “The Professional Organizer’s Bible: A Slightly Irreverent And Completely Unorthodox Guide For Turning Clutter Into A Career”—and the creator of more than 200 “quick-start” business tools and templates for use by productivity professionals. She writes seven different blogs, has worked with hundreds of clients, and has delivered scores of presentations on getting organized. Ramona resides on the roads of America as a full-time RVer—living and working in a 29-foot Airstream. Learn more at and RamonaCreel.com.

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