Ben’s Challenge, Week 4: Can I Make Money on eBay?

The other day, I found myself asking this question: can I make money on eBay? It’s not something I usually think about, but ever since I took on my challenge to pay off my credit card debt, I’ve been learning a lot about personal finance first-hand. (For example, last week, I wrote about the process of checking my credit score and how I plan to improve it)

To help with my challenge, I’ve been using our 9-week Action Plan – and I was ready for Week 4 , which teaches you ways of generating extra income using three specific methods honed by our friends at MoneyCrashers:

1) Maximize current income potential

2) Utilize your current assets

3) Sell your old stuff online

(If you want to try our tips for each of these methods, you can sign-up here)

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After looking at the three options above, I decided to start with the third one: selling my old stuff online. As I planned out my strategy in advance, I was hoping to see some quick results. That’s when I asked myself “Can I make money on eBay?” All I had to do was find an item laying around my house, then list it on eBay and hope that someone placed a bid…

Finding an item to sell

In some ways, finding an item was the easiest part. These days we all seem to have more stuff than we really need, and as I looked around my apartment, my eyes settled on a couple of possibilities (as seen in the photo above):

1) My old snowboarding boots

2) A lightly worn 49ers jersey

3) An almost brand new electric grill

Quickly, I went through the pros and cons for each of these potential money-makers: I hadn’t used the snowboarding boots for over a year, and I figured I could probably get a pretty good price for them – but only if the right buyer found the eBay listing (after all, the shoe size would have to be correct). I also worried about whether I’d miss the boots over the next month and a half, especially if I got a sudden urge to hit the slopes. More importantly, I realized that the boots would be difficult to pack up and ship, due to their size, shape, and weight.

As for the 49ers jersey, a quick search of eBay’s completed listings showed a few used jerseys similar to mine that didn’t sell for very much. However, the electric grill presented a better option. I knew I would not need it anytime soon (it had been in my closet for several months), and when I looked at eBay’s completed listings, I saw that recent buyers had paid anywhere from $25 to $60 for models very similar to mine. That seemed promising. Another advantage was that I still had the original box – so it would be fairly simple to ship it.

Selling the item on eBay

Once I had decided to sell my Hamilton Beach Indoor/Outdoor Grill, I went through the following steps to create the eBay listing.

Step 1: Find your category and product type

The first thing eBay asks you to do when creating a new listing is to identify the category of product you’re selling. That helps them provide relevant information to potential buyers. In this case, I first typed in “grills” and, after looking at the categories listed, I eventually selected the category called “Small Kitchen Appliances: Indoor Grills.”

Step 2: Add a photo

Including a photo is one of the most important things you can do to increase your success when selling on eBay. I took a picture of my grill (in its original box) and added it to the listing.

Step 3: Create a title and description

You want your title and text description of the item to be very detailed and to include the right words. This article describes the importance of using the right keywords to get the attention of buyers. The title I chose was:

Hamilton Beach Gourmet Indoor/Outdoor Electric Grill 31603 – Dishwasher safe!

For the text description, I copied down all the features mentioned on the box:

–Variable Heat Dial
–Dishwasher Safe
–Heat resistant handles
–Family size

I was hoping all of these terms would be enough to draw some buyers to look at my listing. In general, it’s important to use good descriptive words in your listing – words that people would be likely to search for.

Step 4: Set your price and auction length

Obviously, setting the price is one of the most important and difficult parts of listing an item. If you set the price too low, you risk losing money. If you set the price too high, you might not receive any bids. I decided to set the price for the grill at $24.50 – just below the range of $25 to $60 that I had seen similar items priced at on eBay. I also added a “Buy It Now” option at $49.95, meaning someone could end the auction immediately if they agreed to pay that price to buy the item.

The length of the auction must play into your price calculation as well, because a longer auction generally gives more people a chance to see the listing and and place bids – meaning a higher sale price. Since it was my first time selling something on eBay, I was excited to see if my item would sell (and to share the experience with you!) so I chose a 1-day auction. As you’ll see in a moment, this was probably a mistake. However, I did pick a good time to have my auction end: 7:00 p.m. PST (10:00 EST), which meant that it would be getting views from both coasts during the crucial final minutes of the auction.

Step 5: Watch and wait


About 10 minutes before the auction was scheduled to end, I checked up on it. My eBay seller’s page informed me that during the course of the day, the listing had gotten 5 views. And yet… no one had bid. There were still 10 minutes left, so I waited hopefully, wondering if perhaps someone was going to leap into action right before the auction closed to place the winning bid. Soon there were 3 minutes left… then 1… then 20 seconds… and then… it was over. No bids, no glory, no sale.

Lessons Learned

An example of a successful eBay sale

Despite the fact that my humble electric grill did not attract any buyers, I’m still really excited by the experience of selling something on eBay for the first time. That’s because I learned the following lessons:

1) It’s really simple to list an item

2) You don’t have to pay if your item doesn’t sell

3) Longer auctions really are better

4) If you need money fast, you can’t set your opening price too high

I’m going to take these lessons and give it another shot. Based on my initial experience, generating some extra cash from unused belongings found around the house is definitely possible. We can answer the question “Can I make money on eBay” with a “Yes.”

What about you? Have you ever had success selling items on eBay? If so, what did you sell?

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  • Zack Jones

    I have bought and sold a TON of things on eBay over the years. With rare exception I start the auction at 99 cents and no reserve and let it run for a full 7 days. I figure if I’m willing to sell something on eBay then I’m willing to take whatever I can get for it. It’s not unusual for for an item to not get any activity until the final few minutes of the auction. What I like to look at are the number of watchers a particular item has. That gives me some clue as to how much interest there is in the item.

    Also post pictures of the actual product, in your case the grill. No one cares about the box :).  You can make money on eBay but don’t forget about eBay’s fees, PayPal fees, etc those will eat into your profit.

    Just because you think no one would be interested in an item list it anyway. You just never know who wants the item you have and eBay allows you to list 50 auctions per month without paying a listing fee.

    Consider shipping internationally. Yes it’s very expensive but if the buyer is willing to pay the fee then why not. I have shipped stuff all over the world and only have had trouble once and that was with a package that was (and still is) stuck in customs in Italy.

    Don’t forget half.com as well. Like you I’m trying to raise money to pay down debt (Currently in Dave Ramsey’s Baby Step 2). I started listing books on half.com and was able to sell 4 right away to people that had put in pre-orders for the book. Over the weekend I sold an additional book so with very little effort I’ve made $50 – $60 on books that were collecting dust on the shelf.

    Good luck with your future auctions!

    • http://www.twitter.com/bwfeldman Benjamin Feldman

      Thanks for the insightful comments, Zack! Next time I will follow your advice and try a longer listing with a lower starting bid. I think you’re right that by selling on eBay you need to be open to whatever price the item sells for. And I’ll make sure to post a good picture of the item itself next time, too.

      By the way, I’m curious what product got flagged by the Italian customs officials? Sounds like an interesting story!

      • Zack Jones

        It was a model car. It was part of the collection of cars my father collected before he passed away. After his death mom told my brother and me to get rid of all of the cars that neither of us wanted to keep for our own collections.

  • http://carefulcents.com Carrie Smith

    I used to be a PowerSeller on eBay (selling over $1,000 a month in sales) and I love using it to sell or resell items for extra cash. I think it was a great first try.

    Lots of factors can depend if/how much your item sells for. I think the biggest thing is the description, and photos, like you talked about. The next thing is the seller feedback and score. Lots of buyers don’t want to purchase anything if the seller isn’t well established on eBay.

    Next I agree with @google-2008ddf9aecc5fbd2aba240ba6881981:disqus and I too almost exclusively list my items for a starting bid of $0.99 with no reserve. I only put them for 3-5 days since 7 days seems too long and buyers might forget about the item. Of course you run the risk of selling the item for a couple dollars. But most of the time I just want to get rid of some stuff and make a little extra $$.

    Good luck in the future!

    • http://www.twitter.com/bwfeldman Benjamin Feldman

      Wow, I didn’t realize you were making that much just from eBay! That’s impressive. I didn’t consider whether my feedback score might affect the outcome. I have 100% positive feedback, but only as a buyer – since this was my first attempt at selling, I don’t have any feedback as a seller yet.

      By the way, we linked to your article on eBay selling in our Action Plan because we found it so useful:

      http://mintingnickels.com/2011/11/nickel-notes-buying-stuff-cheap-selling-profit/

      Thanks again for the suggestions! I’ll let you know how the next attempt goes.

      • http://carefulcents.com Carrie Smith

        I’m glad my article was helpful! Thanks for linking to it.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=571117492 Matthew Larkin Bishop

    You CAN make a lot of money selling on Ebay… if you know what to sell. I figured it out and started making $1,000s in profit, week after week.

    • http://www.twitter.com/bwfeldman Benjamin Feldman

      Sounds like you’ve got some great strategies to share. If you want to do a future guest post on this topic, let me know!