Take Two #42: Selling Online for the Individual

By Kyra-lin Hom

I thought I would take things in a different direction this week. I seem to recall my initial Take Two column mentioning something about me including 'How To's' every once in a while, and I've been a bit remiss in that department. Wracking my mind for something more universal than how to alter a dress or quickly resize a ring, I decided to skip the little things and go for the whole shebang. Instead of how to make, repair or acquire things how about we focus on something that frustrates or intimidates nearly everyone: how to effectively sell your things online.

I know you can probably find many an article or tutorial on the subject with just a quick google search. That's in fact where I looked when I first entered this business. I just didn't find them all that helpful. So if you've heard it before, I apologize. But I suggest you stick around, as I might just think of something google hasn't. Learning by trial and error tends to have its eventual advantages that way.

To start off, what website you should use depends on what it is you're selling. If it's big and bulky and you just want it gone, Craigslist is your go to. You won't get the best prices, but you have the advantage of no transaction fees and location. In other words, you don't have to worry about shipping – the one major factor that can burn an unexpected hole in your profit. Smaller items, particularly the random assortment of things you might find around your house, are best on Ebay (or a similar auction-type website). Amazon is best for whole or easily identifiable products. And finally, for selling carefully restored vintage or home made items, I recommend Etsy.

Let's break that down. If you are going to sell on Craigslist repeat after me: anonymous, anonymous, anonymous. Craigslist can be a little sketchy so don't provide any personal information in your post. Just give the product information with pictures, the price and your general neighborhood. That's it. Craigslist provides you a temporary email address that automatically forwards all inquiries to you directly. That's when you can contact the interested party, establish a brief repertoire, and then once all the details are squared away exchange contact and pick up information. Maybe I'm just paranoid, but that's how I like to do it. It's completely unnecessary to give your phone number and address out to a bunch of someone's before you're positive who the buyer is going to be.

Ebay has a few selling options. The fastest and cheapest method is to just throw pictures and a brief description up in a listing for a seven-day, no minimum bid auction. I tend to find the extra expense of adding a “Buy It Now” price a waste of money for these quickies. If you know exactly what your item is worth and you won't accept less than that, you can include a minimum bid requirement, but I would recommend skipping the seven-day auction entirely in that case. Instead opt for paying for a multi-week long auction with a “Buy It Now” option or a “Fixed Price” listing, which is just what it sounds.

Amazon has steeper seller fees than Ebay overall, but it is a more secure medium to use. There's less a chance of buyers swindling you by claiming they never received the package (etc., etc.). The kicker is that you can only sell items on Amazon that are already being sold by the big time vendors unless you pay to bump yourself up into their league. It's not worth it if you're just clearing out your garage. Also, Amazon isn't an auction house. Selling can take a while.

Etsy is a website for crafters or vintage dealers only (though obviously anyone can make purchases). So far it's my favorite of the like. It has a friendly community feel to it, and I feel completely comfortable interacting with buyers and sellers throughout the whole site. It can be difficult to make your shop stand out, however. The best way I've found to do that is to to find your niche, pay for a few ads here and there, and have excellent customer service. Etsy, like Amazon for small time sellers, only takes a fee when you actually sell something. Artfire is a similar crafters' website that charges monthly fees instead of taking a percentage of your sales. I make enough off my shop that I would probably save money using Artfire instead of Etsy, but I personally can't stand Artfire's website. To each their own.

I have enough to say about Etsy that it will probably earn its own column in the future, but for now let's move on to shipping and payment. For shipping all I can say is be careful and know your costs. Unexpected shipping expenses can bury you if you aren't careful, especially if you want to offer anything overseas. As for payment, get yourself a paypal account stat. It's an online bank accepted by almost every major transaction website. It also allows you to take credit card payments without having to do any fancy finagling on your end.

Good luck and happy selling!

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