How to Start Selling On eBay

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There are many different reasons why people sell things on Some people have rare products or collectibles, and want to see how much money they can sell those items for. Others are looking to simply get rid of stuff lying around the house that they don’t need, as if they were having a yard sale. Still others have made a living through eBay by making their own items – or buying them from low-cost sources – and then selling them to others.

​eBay is one of the oldest and biggest online marketplaces, and its flexible transaction formats allow buyers and sellers to get deals done in ways that best suit their mutual needs. Naturally, this means that it might serve YOUR needs if you want to sell off stuff you no longer want, or make a business out of selling things that you source in some way. That’s why we’ve developed this course: to teach you all of the basic things that you need to know in order to start selling things on eBay!

eBay homepage

So what exactly is eBay, and where did it come from?

eBay is an e-commerce website that was launched by Pierre Omidyar in 1995 to help him auction off various belongings over the Internet. Eventually, users were allowed to put their own items up for auction. Over time, eBay has added other ways to buy and sell items, such as fixed prices or price offers.

How does e-commerce on eBay work?

As we’ve mentioned, eBay has built (and retained) its popularity by offering its users various options for how they can sell or buy merchandise. It offers three main selling styles:

  • Auctions are how eBay got its start, and they are still as popular as ever on the website. Basically, a seller picks a starting price for their item, as well as a duration for the auction. Then, buyers place bids on the item until the auction ends, where the highest bidder buys the item for the next-highest bid (plus one bid increment).
  • Buy It Now is a relatively new selling format, but it works similarly to the systems on many non-auction online marketplaces. A buyer simply pays a fixed price, set by the seller, in order to purchase an item immediately without having to bid against other prospective buyers.
  • Best Offer is another recent addition. It lets a seller allow a potential buyer to name their own price for a certain item. The seller can then choose to sell the item at the named price, reject the offer, or propose to sell the item at a different price. For more on the ins and outs of how this works, see our lesson on eBay Best Offers.
Item listing on eBay

How can I get started selling on eBay?

Selling things through an online marketplace like eBay is usually a lot easier and more convenient than starting your own brick-and-mortar store. However, there is still quite a bit of preparation and work that goes into it. Here’s a summary of the five key things you will need to do in order to become a competent seller.

1. Make key decisions about your inventory.

Before you even set up shop, you’ll need to think about the actual items that you’ll be selling. What category or categories are you going to sell merchandise for? How many unique items are you going to have for sale at once? Where is your supply of items for sale going to come from? And how much will you charge for your items in order to balance having them actually sell and making a profit off them?

A good place to start is to learn how eBay’s selling fees and selling formats work. This will help you get an idea of what your overhead costs will be when selling specific types of items in certain ways, so you can adjust your profit margins accordingly. It also wouldn’t be a bad idea to research the prices and practices of successful online sellers, both on eBay and elsewhere. This helps you build guidelines on what types of items sell frequently, how much they usually sell for, and what selling formats usually net you the highest sale prices for them.

2. Create a seller account, and (optionally) open an eBay Store.

In order to sell items, you must first create an eBay buyer’s account and then convert it into a selling account (you can still use it for buying, though). This involves providing verifiable information about yourself, setting up how you will pay your seller fees, and linking your account to PayPal (so that eBay can securely send you money when buyers pay you for your items). We can teach you how to set up an eBay seller account, which includes instructions for how to make a PayPal account, if you don’t have one beforehand.

Once your seller’s account is ready, you may want to consider opening a Store. This involves purchasing a monthly or yearly subscription to a suite of selling tools. While it isn’t required in order to sell on eBay, opening a Store can help you sell more items while lowering the cost of doing business. If you’re interested, we have a lesson on how to open and design a Store.

3. Create listings for the products/items that you want to sell.

Once you can officially sell on eBay, you have to let potential buyers know what you’re offering for sale. You can do this by creating “listings,” or advertisements that tell buyers everything they need to know about what they can buy from you. Listings also contain all of the necessary functions that buyers need in order to purchase, bid on, or make price offers for your items.

If you want your items to sell, you’re going to need to make sure that potential buyers know exactly what they’re getting from you. Here are some of the important kinds of information that you will need to include in your listings:

  • What category of merchandise the item you’re selling falls under
  • A title that briefly but accurately describes the item
  • Photos clearly showing the condition of the item
  • A detailed description of the item
  • What format(s) you will use to sell the item
  • The item’s (starting) price
  • How long your listing will last
  • The type and price of shipping options available to the item’s buyer
  • Where you are shipping the item from
  • How long handling the item (prior to shipping) will take
  • Whether or not you will accept a return of the item

Our tutorial on how to list items for sale on eBay will give you full instructions for how to set up a listing, if you want more information.

4. Organize and plan your shipping logistics in advance.

If your items sell (which, hopefully, they will), then you’ll need to figure out how to get them to their buyers. Ideally, some parts of this process should be done before you even list items for sale. For example, you should make sure that:

  • You have enough packaging supplies on-hand.
  • You can securely pack each item you’re putting up for sale.
  • You know how much it will cost to ship each of your items once they sell.

Once a buyer makes a purchase from you, you will need to pack the item (or items) and attach a shipping label to the order. Shipping labels can be printed on eBay itself (for free!), or on the websites of common courier services (e.g. U.S. Postal Service, FedEx, or U.P.S.). Then, you will need to drop the package off at your local post office (or other shipping station). Finally, it would be a really good idea to go back to eBay and add tracking information to the package, or at least indicate to the buyer that their order is on its way.

Our lesson for how to ship on eBay will walk you through getting items that you’ve sold ready for send-off.

5. Manage your reputation with customer service and buyer relations.

After buyers purchase your items, they can leave comments and assessments on how buyer-friendly your selling practices were. As such, there are several things that you need to consider in order to rack up positive feedback and increase your seller rating score. These include:

  • Were items exactly as they were described in the listing?
  • Were your prices fair?
  • Did you offer free shipping or multiple shipping options?
  • Were items delivered promptly?
  • Were your return policies flexible?
  • Were you reasonable in trying to resolve any problems that a buyer had with their order?

There are a couple of other things that you can do to build and protect your reputation as a seller. For example, you can leave “positive” feedback for buyers who purchase your items frequently and/or exhibit other good buying behaviours, such as asking questions about you and your items, paying promptly, and not being overly demanding if they have an issue with their order. Expressing your appreciation like this makes buyers more likely to purchase from you, whether they’re repeat customers showing their loyalty or new buyers looking for a seller they can trust.

You can also ask a buyer to change their feedback if you feel that it was unwarranted. For example, the buyer may have left feedback for the wrong item, or you may have helped them solve the issue that they were having with their purchase. eBay may also delete feedback that you get if they determine that someone who bought from you broke the website’s rules. They may do this after you report a buyer for a policy violation, or at their own discretion.

Our tutorial on eBay feedback and ratings explains more about how the reputation and review system works. We recommend that you give it a read if you’re serious about becoming a seller on eBay, as it can really help you learn how to become trusted on the website, and in turn, find success with your eBay store.

eBay store front

Selling items on eBay takes planning, patience, vigilance, skill, and a little bit of luck. But if you’re up for the challenge, it can be a flexible and fun way to make some money on the side by selling things you don’t need anymore. Who knows… you might be able to turn your little venture into a full-blown enterprise that you can make a living from!

Everyone has to start somewhere, though, and our eBay seller’s course can be your starting point. Throughout this course, we’ll go through the basic things that you need to consider and do in order to start hawking your wares on eBay. We have you covered from deciding what you want to sell right through to getting paid for your first sale. Check out our next tutorial to get started!