a Small Business Guide to Selling Successfully

eBay is the world’s largest online marketplace, with around 181 million customers. 43% of all internet users in the UK visit the site every month, with an average user spending almost two hours on eBay every single month.

It’s no wonder that a lot of small businesses look at eBay as a way of getting into online sales. It’s not all plain sailing though, and many businesses have found that it can be time consuming and unprofitable.

There are some pointers that can make trading on eBay profitable, interesting and fun. Have you noticed how some sellers can get significantly more bids and higher prices, whilst other sellers offer the same items at lower prices and get little or no interest?

It isn’t down to luck. But put in a effort and planning, and you too can become a successful and profitable eBay trader.

I’ve written this article with an English audience in mind. The legal implications of selling on eBay are from an English perspective. However, most of the concepts will be the same around the world.

Know the Law

If you sell products to consumers, you need to be aware of the Distance Selling Regulations and the E-Commerce Regulations which give protection to consumers who shop via the Internet.

These regulations provide protection to consumers in the following ways:

  1. Consumers have the right to receive information about goods and services, in writing, before deciding to buy;
  2. A cooling off period of seven working days in which the consumer can withdraw from the contract;
  3. Protection from credit card fraud.

Get using eBay

If you haven’t registered on eBay, get yourself a user name and start trading. Give yourself a sensible sounding user name that will add credibility to whatever it is you are going to be selling. Register yourself as a business user as this will give you easier access to more business functions within eBay later on, and register yourself as a Seller as well as a Buyer.

Browse some of the listings, notice how different people list their items. If you see a listing that you like – because of the description, the detail, the photographs, the layout – print a copy off. You may well want to do something similar yourself when it is time for listing your own items.

Get yourself a PayPal account and register yourself as a seller, so that you can receive payments.

Buy a few small items on eBay. Get comfortable with the process. Bid on items in auctions, and buy items using the ‘Buy It Now’ facility.

When you have received your goods, promptly leave good feedback for the seller. They should reciprocate and give you good feedback in return. The more positive feedback you get the better, as this will help your credibility when you start to sell yourself.

Sell a few bits and bobs on eBay as well. It’s a great time to clear the decks of jumble that you’ve picked up over the years.

Research Your Product, Research Your Market Place

Do you know what you want to sell? Who else is selling a similar product? What price are people paying for similar goods? Is your product easy to deliver?

If you have no idea of what products you want to sell, get a copy of The Trader and Exchange and Mart. It will provide you with a whole list of suppliers and could spawn off some other ideas of what you want to sell.

Consider your product. It isn’t always necessary to pick a product you know about, but there are a few things that you should consider.

Firstly, how are you going to get it to your customer? If it is a big, bulky package, or if it weighs more than 25kg, it is going to cost a lot to get it delivered. It is also going to be difficult to collect it from a customer if there is a fault with the product. Is the package fragile? If so, expect problems with deliveries – no matter how well you think you can package it up.

If your item is too big or bulky to post, phone up a couple of parcel carriers to get some quotes. Use a reputable parcel carrier like ByBox, Initial City Link or Amtrak. If your item isn’t so fragile, consider carriers such as DHL and ParcelForce.

Consider how you will resolve warranty problems. Do you have a supplier who has the facilities and resources to help you, or are you on your own?

The next step is to research your market and find out who is selling something similar on eBay. This is fairly easy as eBay itself provides some useful tools to help you get going, with the Advanced Search function.

Once you click on the Advanced Search function, you can start specifying what you are looking for in much more detail. You can exclude words from your search, you can specify a minimum and a maximum price, you can specify business or private sellers, whether the items should be new or used, and you can specify a range of how many bids the item should have in order to be included in the search.

More interestingly, from a viewpoint of someone wanting to research a specific product on eBay, you can specify Completed Listings only. This means you can see how many similar products to yours have been offered on eBay over the past month, what they sold for, if they sold and the number of people who bid on them.

I recently wanted to sell a car on eBay, and wanted to see what similar cars had sold for over the past few weeks. Using the eBay Advanced Search option, I requested a search for cars similar to mine, within a similar price range.

Very quickly, I was able to ascertain what other cars had been offered, how many bids each auction got and whether the cars sold or not.

It’s a great tool – you can identify if your particular marketplace is saturated or if you are one of only a few sellers.

Now look at these auctions in more detail to find out clues as to why some sold for more than others. You’ll soon notice a pattern:

  1. Lots of photographs and well written information with prominent contact details do well, with lots of interest, lots of bids and a good sale price.
  2. Listings lacking one or more of the above attract less interest.
  3. Animated cartoons, musical effects, difficult to read fonts, or a poor description in two or three lines and typed ENTIRELY IN CAPITAL LETTERS do worst of all.

This is a big eBay secret: spend time on your listing, make yourself look professional. You’ll reap the rewards.

If you now know your product, your market and your competition, you’re a big step along the way. But can you make money? It’s time to…


Forecast your sales to ensure you can make a profit. Take into account:

– Delivery Costs – to the customer, and to you in the first place

– Warranty Failure Costs

– The time it takes to manage the sale and after sale

Then you can identify your break even price. Compare this with the average price of bids on eBay for the products you are planning to sell and see what the difference is.

Test, Test, Test

Before you buy a huge bulk of product, try and test the market with a small sample. This may mean you having to buy your product at a higher price, but it’s an awful lot cheaper than importing containers of product in from China – only to find you can’t sell it!

Get some really good quality photographs and then put your small sample of products on eBay.

How to make the most of your eBay listing

We’ve already discovered a few things about what makes a good listing and what makes a bad one. Now it’s your turn to create your own sales pitch.

Start with an attention grabbing headline and subtitle. In eBay, headlines and subtitles are important. When you search for items on eBay, eBay searches the headlines and subtitles for matching words and phrases, so you need to make sure that all the relevant search words are included.

Here are some examples of good and bad headlines:

Good: Compact, lightweight folding bike/bicycle

Bad: Folding Bike

‘Folding Bike’ is bad because it doesn’t pick up on anyone looking for ‘folding bicycle’. If people are looking for a folding bike, they also want something that is compact and lightweight, so if your folding bike is compact and lightweight, put this in the headline as well, so that you get picked up on people looking for ‘compact bike’, ‘lightweight folding bicycle’ and so on.

Good: Smoothie/Smoothy Maker and Juicer with Recipes
Bad: Smoothie Maker

‘Smoothie Maker’ doesn’t say very much – there is nothing to differentiate your product from hundreds of others. But smoothies can make juice, so add that in. The handbook from a smoothie maker includes recipes, so add that too. And as for the the alternative spelling of smoothie? ‘Smoothie’ is an easy word to mis-spell, so if you include the most likely alternative, you’ll get picked up if someone searches for ‘Smoothy Maker’. None of your competitors will, dramatically increasing your chances of a sale.

Once you’ve worked out a headline, write your description. Don’t start writing it on the eBay web site – use Word to start with – then cut and paste your description onto eBay.

There are some ‘magic words’ which work well on eBay. If yo