Curious about starting up your own online business? If you’re passionate and know a lot about a particular type of item, be it kitchenware, purses, jewelry, old toys, collectibles, or even 80s punk fashion, you could make a decent amount of money running an eBay store.
It’s easy to set up and start selling through an eBay store. The resale market is growing, with many other sites popping up allowing for online sales, but eBay has the distinct advantage of being the most well-known.
Since the site has been around since 1995, ever-evolving and working out kinks, it offers more fail-safes and more oversight than you will get just about anywhere else. Plus, eBay is a household name and offers the chance to market your items to 149 million buyers around the world.
Here’s how to start an eBay store and build it into a successful business.
Mother and eBay shopkeeper Michelle Henry starts her day in her local thrift shop. She makes a beeline for the purses and carefully examines each one, looking for name brands, specialty features and limited editions. When she happens upon a bag she knows will have resale value, she looks for signs of wear and tear, mentally documenting any flaw from use by the previous owner.
Satisfied with her haul, she rings out and heads home, where it’s time for photoshoots and uploading, and suddenly her new stock is on her virtual shelves. Henry is more of a hobbyist than a full-time shopkeeper, but says when she was taking it more seriously, she made about $600 a week for 20 hours’ worth of work running her eBay store.
“I’m confident I could have turned it into a living wage if I devoted the time to it,” Henry says. “I wasn't really concerned with how much I was making because I was lucky enough not to have to be. All I needed to know was that I was profitable, and I was.”
Lauren Walsh’s business is also profitable -- so much so that she quit her day job in 2012 to run her online bead and jewelry store full time. The former bead representative for another company says she hasn’t looked back. She makes up to 60% profit on her sales now. While eBay has its downfalls, such as having to rely on third parties for shipping and dealing with customer service issues via computer, she says the positives far outweigh the negatives.
“I don't have employees or a lease,” says Walsh. “I don't have to pay for utilities or phone costs on a separate space. I can just work from home, which I love.”
Henry and Walsh shared their best tips for running a successful eBay store, as well as lessons from their early days in business. Ready to learn how to start and run a successful eBay store? Here’s what you need to know.
Having an eBay storefront is not like holding a perpetual garage sale. While the site has its roots in an auction-like mentality, eBay stores normally operate on fixed prices and the merchandise is presented all together so buyers can peruse your entire stock, should they choose.
Because of the way each store shares its entire inventory in one place, you must be focused. Select the type of merchandise you want to sell through your store, and stick to it.
For instance, if you sell glassware, eventually it might make sense to expand to plates and other dinnerware or decorative items. If you want to start selling pillowcases, though, the contrast of the items will confuse your customers and make it look as if your glassware isn’t doing well enough on its own.
If it looks like you’re not fully invested in your category of goods, customers will likely move on to a store they feel is a better fit. In addition, a random assortment of wares with no discernible common link (like a commitment to 1950s kitsch) could give your store a rummage-sale feel and make customers less willing to pay premium prices for your items.
Don’t look at this decision as a limiting factor. You can sell myriad items in any given category, so use your imagination. And sell what you like -- your audience will be able to tell if you’re passionate about what you’re selling.
“You can seriously sell anything on eBay if you know the market,” Henry says. “There are some things I see sold, and it blows my mind because I can't figure out how to make a profit on them. Then there are some thing that I find ridiculously easy to sell. But those things are things that I like so that really does seem to be key.”
For example, Carl Forrest loved comic books and knew a fair amount about them, so when he needed to raise funds for his startup, he bought and sold rare comics on eBay.
Before you can open a store on eBay, you must register as a seller. This is simple to do, and there’s a quick tour on how to get started running your store.
You’ll then need to decide how much you plan to sell and choose a store “subscription” based on your projected sales volume and customer base.
This is one of the crucial differences between running an eBay store and simply listing items on the site: Once you’ve subscribed, you no longer have to pay a fee for each listing. These fees vary from $.05 to $.30 per item, plus the final value fee, which is around 10% of the sale price. Without one of these packages, you can list 50 items a month for free, but if you’re planning to make your eBay store anything more than a very part-time business, you’ll be looking to list many more than 50 items.
Choose from packages available for various levels of selling, from $19.95 a month for a Basic Store that includes 150 fee-free monthly listings, to $199.95 a month for an Anchor Store where you can list 2,500 items every month without paying fees.
The more items you plan on selling, the better deal you’ll get from eBay, but Jim Griffith, eBay's senior manager of seller advocacy, says it’s better to start out slow so you can work out the bugs in your process without becoming overwhelmed. It takes a little math, so sit down and figure out which route is best for you.
Once you’ve selected a package, design your storefront. The site allows for various headers, photo placements, blurbs and interactive tools to help you frame your store in user-friendly and visually appealing ways. Design is king online, and if you create a welcoming environment, your customers are likely to come back.
Make sure you optimize your store name and all item descriptions for search engines. Google searches often turn up eBay stores and products, but search engine users won’t be able to find you if your name is whimsical or unrelated to your inventory. If you’re selling action figures, don’t name your store “Bill’s Fantasyland”; a name like “Best Action Figures, Period” will drive more traffic to your store.
Walsh’s bead shop, Laurel Moon Beads, says what she is selling and sports a sharp image of natural-looking beads up top complete with her logo and social media links. She wastes no time getting to pictures of her featured items, which are highlighted above the rest of her inventory. Each shot is precise and evocative of a certain mood. This is the atmosphere you want to create when planning your store.
Ready to start adding items to your store? Make sure each item’s listing is detailed and complete by including lots of information, keywords and photos. Use keywords in your descriptions so that prospective customers browsing the web for a specific type of item can easily come across your store from their search engines.
In each item’s listing, you can include 12 pictures. Make sure to use all of them to give your buyers a complete look at the product. “Buyers can't pick up the item, hold it, or look closely at it in person,” says Walsh. “They must have pictures from multiple angles to help them understand exactly what they're buying.”
Images can also help illustrate an item’s size or color. “Buyers often get confused about how big an item, is so show the item next to something like a ruler or common item for scale,” explains Walsh. Listings function as legal contracts between a buyer and seller, so she advised including clear details, descriptions and measurements in your product descriptions.
In addition, if you’re selling second-hand goods, don’t glaze over the flaws in the merchandise.
“I think sometimes people skip the flaws worried that buyers won't buy,” says Henry, “but there's no quicker way to have a claim opened against you than leaving out faults.”
If your items have stains, holes or other imperfections, make sure to note these in the description and include an image. Holding a coin or other standard item next to the imperfection for scale can help show its true size, so buyers can judge whether that small snag or stain is a deal-breaker or not.
“I’ve made huge profits on non-working items,” says Henry. “Not everyone is looking for mint in the box, or even functioning.”
Decide on your shipping and return policies, and spell them out thoroughly. Communication with your buyers is key, since you’re not necessarily working with them in real time.
“Shipping policies need to be very clear and well-researched,” says Walsh. “For oversize items or heavy items, shipping costs can vary wildly from coast to coast, so be prepared to check pricing beforehand or you can lose your shirt on some sales.”
Should you separate shipping costs or include them in the item’s price? According to our sellers, the verdict is mixed. Walsh prefers to separate the costs so that her clients know exactly what they are paying for and why. Henry likes to include the shipping in the price of the item and list it as “free shipping.” She says more people are interested in this option, particularly with sites like Amazon making free shipping a commonplace idea. Either way, use eBay’s shipping calculator to estimate costs based on item weight and box dimensions.
As far as returns go, new store owners are automatically enrolled in eBay’s hassle-free return program, so look into their structure and understand your role. Returns and non-deliverables remain an online seller’s hardest battle.
Since eBay’s existence depends on happy customers, the site takes pains to ensure the buyers’ experiences are good ones. Should items arrive damaged or not arrive at all, the buyer is insured by a money-back guarantee. Good sellers take care of this before eBay has to step in.
However, if eBay has to mediate issues between your customers and your store, you may find yourself with negative feedback, limited access to your store’s Paypal account or other funds, or even a shuttered store. The key is to deal with customer dissatisfaction immediately and without the site’s help, as much as possible.
While many of your consumers will be new buyers looking for something specific, your most treasured audience will be your repeat customers. To meet their needs, you must go beyond your eBay page.
Email lists can be invaluable. Your main customers will be interested in hearing from you and curious about your new deals and offerings when they become available. Depending on which subscription package you chose, eBay allows for different tiers of email marketing. A Basic Store package includes up to 5,000 promotional emails or newsletters each month; Anchor Store owners can send up to 10,000. Once you hit these limits, you’ll need to pay an additional $0.01 per recipient, per message.
Social media can also be crucial to your marketing success. Start a Facebook page, a Twitter feed and an Instagram account for your store, and regularly update them with new content.
“I have a Facebook following of 12,000 people, and it’s important to keep them engaged,” Walsh says. “I like putting up pictures of my work desk, even if it's messy. I also share pictures of half-finished jewelry and ask for opinions. Occasionally I create a macro or meme that is relevant to their interests.”
Walsh also posts more serious content like necklace length ideas and jewelry polishing tips. She’ll share anything that might be of interest to her prospective buyers.
When it comes to how and where you promote your eBay store, the sky’s the limit -- eBay allows you to drive traffic back to your store in any way that’s legal. The site also offers its own item-specific cross-promotion tools, so that while a customer looks at one of your items, they’ll also see a list of others they might be interested in.
To truly succeed at the business of online selling, you have to treat it like a business. For Henry, it was enough to peruse purses in her free time and put up inventory when she got around to it.
This strategy is great when you want to make a few extra bucks here and there, but if you’re using eBay to earn your main income, your day will look a little different. Make sure you give it structure to help stay on top of everything you need to manage. Walsh sticks to a daily plan that breaks up her day and keeps her on top of things.
“As an eBay store owner, my day starts when I get up and sit down at the computer,” Walsh says. “First I check my emails: I respond to buyer inquiries, and I print out all the new orders. Then I photograph a new round of items. I do my shipping at around 10 a.m. or so, and head to the post office before noon. Then I eat lunch. I work on editing the photos after lunch, and spend the rest of the day working on new listings, figuring out which merchandise needs to be listed, and what needs to be restocked. I answer customer inquiries as they come in.”
It’s not exactly a day lounging in front of the television in your pajamas, but if you follow the advice from our successful sellers, running an eBay store can be a fun and profitable business.
Your Turn: Have you tried running an eBay store? If you started your own store, what would you sell?
Darlena Cunha is a former television producer turned freelance journalist. She writes for TIME Magazine, The Washington Post and The Atlantic, amid others. You can find her on Twitter @parentwin.