Thousands of home-based entrepreneurs have discovered the joys and benefits that online auctions can bring. Terri Cook, a stay-at-home mom discovered online auctions, and got hooked. Learn how Terri got started and her tips on how to succeed on eBay.
How long have you been selling at auctions?
I started selling on eBay and Amazon.com auctions in 1999.
How did you start selling at auctions? What enticed you?
Several years ago I resigned from my management position in a large corporation… to stay home with my kids. Motherhood has its rewards, but it certainly doesn’t pay well! Aside from wanting some extra spending money, I was getting the “entrepreneurial itch.” My sister-in-law introduced me to eBay and I was hooked instantly! I love the flexibility that online auctions offer…. I can work when my kids are sleeping or busy with something else. I can take vacations at any time… by choosing not to list or relist any auctions during those days. It is a stay-at-home mother’s dream!
What online auctions do you participate in? If several, what auction gives you the best return?
I currently sell on eBay and Half.com. I’ve tried other auction sites, but found that the returns didn’t justify the extra time spent managing multiple sites and allocating my inventory across the various sites. I’d have to say that the best returns definitely come from eBay.
Are you doing this full-time?
Now that my kids are both school-age, I work full-time when they are in school. I decrease my listings and the number of hours I work when the kids are home on vacation. Even when I’m working full-time, I only spend about 5-10 hours per week following up on my auctions and shipping products. The rest of the time I spend developing and implementing my plan to grow this business.
Do you consider selling at auctions a business? How do you compare selling at auctions to starting your own e-business?
This started out as a fun “hobby,” but it has definitely evolved into a business. My auction sales have generated hundreds of loyal customers… many of whom come to me directly for future purchases. I have a mailing list and e-newsletter that I use to communicate new products, discounts and specials to my customers. I generate a significant portion of my sales through this channel… and I obtained all of those customers from my prior auction sales. The business is growing quickly and we incorporated earlier this year.
What items do you normally sell? Do you suggest that would-be sellers focus on a particular category/item?
I currently specialize in low-cost educational software. I recently expanded into more home and business applications, because there has been an increasing demand for those products. I do have plans to expand beyond software, but I would suggest that new sellers start out by focusing on a category or item that they know well. If you’re a book-lover, sell books. If you’re into baskets, or pottery, or model trains… sell those. With auction sites like eBay, you have access to nearly 50 million potential customers.
Even if you have an obscure hobby… you’re going to find others who share your interest and are looking for just what you have to offer. Specialization helps you focus, enabling you to find and adequately describe the products you sell. It also helps you to better serve your potential customers when they contact you with questions. Great service and product knowledge will give you an edge over the competitor who picked up an item at a yard sale and can’t tell you anything more about it than what you see in the picture.
Do you have a web site where you also sell your items? Do people need to have a web site when they sell at auctions?
I have an “eBay Store” which is like my own web site within eBay. It is a unique destination for all of my listings, provides a customized URL, and my own search engine. My corporation does have a domain name but the web site is still under construction.
You don’t need to have your own web site when you sell at auctions… it all depends upon your specific business plan. If you already have a web site, then auctions can be used as leverage to promote your products and direct a steady flow of interested potential customers to your web site. A one-time customer from an auction can become a repeat customer at your web site… thereby eliminating the auction site’s fees. The key is in effective post-sale follow-up.
Were you able to sell your items immediately, or did it take some time before the auction buyers warmed up to you?
In the very beginning I was successful, which was why I got hooked so quickly. The first item I sold was a book that I purchased at a garage sale for 25 cents. (It sold for over $38!) I sold about a dozen items like that and thought that I’d found a gold mine. I immediately rushed out and picked up every used book I could get my hands on. Two weeks passed and nothing more sold. Looking back now, I can see that I just got lucky with my first few items… they happened to be exceptional. The problem was that I didn’t “know” books and therefore didn’t know which ones were good finds… rare and in demand or valuable for other reasons. I learned my lesson about “selling what you know.”
What are the keys to successful selling at auctions?
Marketing is so important. Listings need to have the right title… so that your item will show up in a potential customer’s search results. Don’t waste space with words like L@@K or WOW! in the title… I guarantee you that nobody will be searching on WOW… nor is anybody going to look at your listing just because you tell them to L@@K!
- Provide pictures of your item whenever possible.
- Provide a detailed, easy-to-read description of your product.
- Sell what you know.
- Be organized.
- Exceptional customer service and a personal touch!
- Do your homework before listing an item…. search current and completed auctions to see how much competition there is, how much demand for the product there is, and what the selling price of the item has been.
- Accept credit card payments using online services such as PayPal and eBay Payments (Billpoint).
- Think about future sales and maximizing value for your customers… don’t concentrate just on the immediate sale.
- Automate as many aspects of the selling process as possible.
You’re an eBay PowerSeller. How are you able to sell that much in a month, and maintain it month after month? Can you share with us your auction success secrets?
I do all ten of the items listed above, which results in many repeat buyers and referrals from satisfied customers. I offer combined shipping discounts, making it very attractive for customers to purchase 3 or more items from me at a time. Some sellers entice buyers with a low price for their item, but then gauge you with high shipping costs. My shipping charges are modest… enough to cover the postage and packing materials. I believe the goodwill generated by not ripping people off has paid off. I have a reputation for offering quality products at a reasonable price.
I spend very little time each week managing my auctions. Since I have many copies of each software program, when one sells I can relist it in a matter of seconds. My end-of-auction email messages are sent out automatically on my behalf, so no time is required there. I do follow-up personally after receiving payment, but I have dozens of template email messages that I reuse as appropriate. Most of my time is spent finding and listing new products. Maintaining my current inventory on eBay is quick and easy. I sell only software, so every item either comes in a sleeve, a jewel case, or a retail box. I ship the same type of “stuff” each day, so my packing and shipping process is streamlined. It literally takes me 10 hours per week or less to make a very nice living. All of the rest of my time is spent seeking out additional products that can make me even more money… or developing new strategies to grow my business.
Good reputation is crucial to any seller at auctions. How do you work on maintaining good feedback from your customers?
Customer service is very important… before, during, and after the sale. I guarantee my products, which most software sellers are not willing to do. I have allowed customers to return software for a full refund, even after it has been opened. You can’t do that at any computer retailer that I know of! I have found that most people are basically honest and are not going to exploit my return policy. Because I have a technical background and extensive computer experience, I am able to help customers troubleshoot problems they may be having with the software… resulting in very few returns. (Another reason to “sell what you know!”)
Other aspects of good customer service, which lead to positive feedback, involve prompt, friendly correspondence, fast shipping, and neat, professional packaging.
Do you think people can make a living from selling at auctions?
Absolutely! I’m doing it right now.
What are your best (and worst) experience in selling at auctions?
My best experiences are when a parent or a teacher writes and tells me how much a product they’ve purchased from me has helped their children or students.
My worst experience actually evolved into a good experience. I shipped a CDROM to a customer, but he never received it. (I’ve shipped thousands of packages over the years… and this is the only one that was “lost” in the mail.) He posted negative feedback and sent me a very nasty email accusing me of stealing his money and being dishonest. It so happened that the item he purchased from me was my last copy… so I couldn’t send him another copy. I refunded his money, but it bothered me for quite some time because I had no way of proving that I did mail the software. All of my follow-up correspondence could not convince him that I was not trying to cheat him.
Four months later I received another email from him. The package eventually arrived and the postmark proved that I shipped it the same day I received his payment. He apologized profusely and felt so bad that he purchased additional software from me so that he could offset the negative feedback with a positive one! He went way out of his way to make it up to me. It’s one more reason that I love this business so much. This man did not even have to write back to me, but he did. There are so many good people out there and this business gives me a chance to interact with them!
Any other advice or tips you want to share in how others can make money from selling at auctions?
Use the enormous amount of free marketing data available via eBay! You can search on current and completed auctions to see what is selling, how many people are bidding on an item, and how much they are willing to pay. Check out the eBay PowerSellers and learn from them… what are they doing to effectively market their products? What are they doing differently that makes them more successful than their competition? I would even suggest buying from them to see what they are also doing after the sale.
Capture the name and contact information of every single winning bidder on your auctions. Every once in a while send them a coupon for free shipping or $5 off their next auction win. Many people will come back to your auctions rather than throw away $5!
Recommended Books on How to Succeed on eBay:
- eBay Unleashed: A Beginners Guide To Selling On eBay
- eBay 2014: Why You’re Not Selling Anything on eBay, and What You Can Do About It
- eBay 101: Selling on eBay For Part-time or Full-time Income
- eBay PowerSeller Secrets: Insider Tips from eBay’s Most Successful Sellers (2nd Edition) (v. 2)
- How To Sell Used And New Items On eBay And Amazon: Insider Secrets Top Online Sellers Don’t Want You To Know
(Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on October 11, 2003).