Too much stuff in your house? Of course there is. Need some extra cash? Who doesn’t. The solution: convert that extra stuff into cash on eBay. It is not difficult to accomplish once everything is set up.

In my post “The Joy of Downsizing,” I shared our process of eliminating clutter by dividing the contents of a room into five piles with one of those piles named “Inventory.” Inventory includes items that you no longer want, that might be easy to sell, and that may fetch a selling price of $5 or more. Why $5? In my opinion, it is not worth investing the time to list an item for sale if you cannot sell it for at least $5. Reasonably small and lightweight items work best on eBay. Due to high shipping costs, bulky and heavy items, such as furniture, are best disposed of through Craigslist.

Now that you have identified your eBay inventory, it is time to turn that inventory into cash! Here are the steps you need to follow:

Setup Your eBay Account

Don’t have an eBay user account? Really? Well, it is very simple to set one up. Since eBay has 150 million users, the most difficult part will be coming up with a unique user name. In the end, you will need to register with eBay, setup a sellers account with eBay, setup an account with PayPal, get a bank account verified with PayPal, and link your PayPal account with your eBay seller’s account.

As a gift to my editor, I have decided not to list all of the detailed steps here. Instead, you can click here which will take you to a really nice web site that has already done all of the heaving lifting.

Now would be a good time to talk about the fees and charges you will incur for using these accounts. Since eBay will get you coming and going and PayPal will take a piece at the end, it is important to be aware of the charges going in so that you are not caught off guard. Two fees charged by eBay are the Insertion Fee and the Final Value Fee. There is an ever-changing variety of “specials” on eBay Insertion Fees, but generally your first 20 listings per month are free and then cost $0.30 per listing after that. The Final Value Fee is 10% of the total proceeds of the sale, including the shipping cost, which is a good motivator to keep those shipping costs low. While PayPal is free for the buyer to make payments, the seller will be charged 2.9% plus $0.30 of the transaction.

Example: You sell an item that is your 21st listing of the month for $5 that will ship USPS First Class for $4.53 in a box you obtained free.

Final Value = $9.53
Insertion Fee = $0.30
Final Value Fee = $0.95
PayPal Fee = ($9.53 x .029) + .30 = $0.58
Postage Cost = $4.53
Total Cost = $6.36
Net Proceeds = $3.17 or roughly 63% of your $5.

Now do you see why I do not recommend selling anything with a selling price of less than $5? This is the worst-case scenario because shipping costs are nearly equal to the value of the item. As the item value increases in proportion to the shipping cost, the percentage of the sale price that you get to keep increases.

Gather Shipping Material

In order to create your listing, you must have an accurate shipping weight along with accurate dimensions of your package. To get this, you need to prepackage (not seal) your item and weigh it on an accurate postage scale. The object here is to protect your item adequately so that the buyer receives it intact, and to accomplish this with the least amount of packaging weight. The lower your shipping cost, the more competitive you will be against other sellers selling the same or similar item.

Clothing and other items that are not easily damaged during shipment should be mailed using lightweight polyethylene or “poly” mailers. These mailers are strong, durable, and reasonably inexpensive. To get the correct size, measure the item you are mailing and add the width of the item, the thickness, and half an inch to get the minimum width of the mailer.  To get the minimum length for the mailer, add the length of the item, the thickness, and two and a half inches.  Then select a mailer that is bigger than this calculated minimum value in both dimensions. The best source for poly mailers is either an Amazon Prime account or an eBay free shipping seller.

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Other items that need protection require a box. To get the correct size, measure the item that you are shipping and add 2 inches to each dimension to get the minimum size of box that you can use. Boxes can get very expensive, so here are the best sources in order from least to most expensive.

• Corporate Offices – Large corporate offices typically receive their office supplies in a variety of box sizes. Businesses have to pay to dispose of this cardboard, making this a great source of free boxes just for asking. The only requirement is that you will need to remove all the previous shipping labels, so test to make sure that they peel easily without tearing the box.

• Local Shipping and Warehouse Supply Companies – These businesses may not have as wide an assortment of box sizes as other sources. However, they usually provide the lowest prices and, since you are picking them up, shipping is free! As a bonus, your money is staying in the local economy.

• Amazon and eBay – There are many “Stores” on both sites that specialize in packing and shipping materials. Just compare prices to find out what is best for you. If you already have a Prime membership at Amazon, that may give Amazon the shipping edge, but there are some very aggressive “Free Shipping” deals on eBay as well.

• Uline, Office Depot, Wal-Mart – These are your retailers of last resort. If they are your only source of shipping materials, you will take a serious hit to your bottom line.

• USPS Priority Mail Fixed Rate – While this route provides convenient “free” boxes and a fixed postage rate, unless you are shipping gold bars to Alaska (which I don’t recommend), this will almost always be more expensive than shipping Priority Mail using your own boxes.

In addition to boxes, you will need some sort of void fill to protect your item from damage inside the box. Here are the most popular choices:

• Packing paper or old newspaper – This is your cheapest option, but also your heaviest.
• Bubble wrap – Lightweight, but expensive and difficult to work with.
• Packing Peanuts (expanded polystyrene) – Expensive, but extremely lightweight and easy to use.

The best sources for void fill are the same as for boxes.

Finally, you will also need a postage scale (I recommend digital) and a good supply of packing tape.

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Prepare Your Listing

To increase your odds of selling your items on eBay, there are four critical components of your listings that you have to have perfectly correct; photographs, titles, descriptions, and pricing/shipping.

Photographs

There is no doubt that pictures sell your merchandise. You need eye-catching pictures of every angle of your item that are sharp and have a neutral background. I cannot count how many times I have seen a listing on eBay with an out-of-focus picture taken of the item sitting on the dining room table (with the kitchen in the background). Just keep scrolling. Each eBay listing allows you to attach twelve photos at no additional charge, but that many pictures are probably not necessary.

You don’t need an expensive camera to take these photos, but you do need nice diffused lighting and a tripod. Diffused lighting allows you to take pictures that eliminate shadows and bring out the details of your item and a tripod will make your pictures sharp by eliminating camera shake. Good sources of natural diffused lighting are outdoors in the shade or on an overcast day and indoors near a window not exposed directly to the sun. You can also use artificial indoor lighting, but make sure to adjust the white balance settings on your camera to match the type of lighting you use.

For smaller items, a light-box is the ideal approach. Here is an interesting article by Lifehacker that offers some suggestions and links for doing this on the cheap (be sure to scroll to the end of the article to see their recommendation to wear clothing while taking photos). If you intend to sell many items on eBay, you should invest around $50 in a light-box setup similar to the one below.

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Titles

Most buyers on eBay look for items by searching on “titles only.” That makes the title the most important 80 characters in your listing. Use descriptive keywords to convey what you are selling in a clear and concise manner. Think about what you would search if you were looking for the item you are selling. After you have written your item description, check it multiple times for spelling errors. If you misspell a keyword, it will not show up in a search and your item will not sell. Click here for an excellent article on writing titles for eBay listings.

Descriptions

Now is your opportunity to flesh out your listing with additional information about the item you are selling. Be brutally honest about the condition of your item and clearly point out any flaws or defects. This is also where you want to include your “Terms & Conditions” such as payment options, shipping options, and return policies. I highly recommend that you request immediate payment through PayPal only and use the eBay “No Hassel” returns policy. Here is what the eBay help page has to say about writing descriptions:

Writing an informative description

The description is your opportunity to provide buyers with more information about the item. Be sure to use complete sentences and correct spelling and grammar.

  • Organize information in paragraphs with similar information grouped together.
  • Start with the most important details that buyers need first, such as additional details about your item.
  • Include specific information like size, shape, color, age, manufacture date, country of origin, company/artist/author, and notable features or markings.
  • Clearly state the item’s condition, such as new, used, or still under warranty.
  • Be sure to mention any flaws or repairs.
  • Be clear about what’s included and the type of packaging.
  • Make the description as readable as possible.
  • Include your return shipping policy for international returns, if it’s different from your return policy for buyers located in your country.
  • In a separate short paragraph, consider including a story about the item, or why the item is appealing. Many sellers have found that adding a creative, human approach to their descriptions boosts bids and sales.
Pricing

There are two ways to sell your items on eBay. The first way is the “auction” method. You set your listing to last a set number of days, determine a low starting bid price, and pray that the value of your item is determined through a “bidding war.” This method works best for very rare and unique items. The other way is the “Buy It Now” method. You set the price for the item, then list it for 30 days and wait for someone to search for and find your item. This method works best for common items. As difficult as it might be to accept, 99% of the items that ended up in your “inventory stuff” pile are common items.

So how do you find a price that will entice a buyer to purchase your item when they search for it and find it? Through research! Search for items on eBay like the item you want to sell, but search for “Completed Auctions Only.” This will give you the prices that buyers actually paid for the item as opposed to the asking prices. Now price your item slightly lower than the lowest price you found (considering condition and shipping).

Shipping

Having spent hours analyzing shipping rate charts and trying to understand the minutiae of shipping rules, I will now pass on to you what I have learned and save you the trouble (and the headache).

If your packaged item weighs 13 oz or less and fits into a box dimension of 12 x 12 x 12 inches or less, ship it USPS First Class. Since First Class Postage is a flat rate to anywhere in the USA (and I recommend that you limit your sales to the USA) you should add that flat rate cost to what you want for your item and list it as “Free Shipping.” The results will amaze you.

Any item that exceeds the weight or dimensions above should be shipped UPS Ground. UPS Ground is considerably less expensive than USPS Parcel Post, and since the buyer pays for shipping this will make your total pricing more competitive. On eBay, this is considered “economy shipping.”

Some buyers want to get their hands on your old stuff so quickly that they will pay more for expedited shipping. So offer them an expedited method and use USPS Priority Mail.

Print your mailing labels and buy your USPS postage through eBay. Set up a UPS account and link it through PayPal so that you can print labels and pay for UPS there. By processing your shipping this way, you will pay the commercial rate for shipping while your buyer will pay the retail rate. The difference between the commercial and retail rate will often pay for your boxes.

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List and Sell Your Items on eBay

Now that you have painstakingly setup your accounts, gathered all of your shipping materials, and carefully prepared your listing information, the fun can begin. You could manually upload each individual listing, but if you have many items to list (and you will if you were diligent in your downsizing efforts), eBay offers a free tool called Turbo Lister to assist you. Turbo Lister is a downloadable, standalone software program that allows you to develop your listings offline and then upload them in bulk. The program has a dated and clunky user interface, but after you learn to work around the programs idiosyncrasies, it will get the job done.

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Create your listings in Turbo Lister and upload them to your eBay account. When a buyer purchases an item, you will receive an email to alert you to the purchase and another email confirming payment through PayPal. Go to your eBay seller’s account and print a packing list along with the shipping label. You will be automatically directed to the correct shipping account based on the shipping method chosen by the buyer. Place the packing slip and a “Thank You” note in the prepackaged box, seal the box, attach the mailing label and take it to USPS or UPS as appropriate. Strive for a same day or next day turnaround, and watch the good feedback accolades start rolling in.

I know this entire process may seem a bit overwhelming, but once everything is set to go the only real time consumer is taking pictures and creating listings. You will gain a great feeling of accomplishment from turning the stuff you enjoyed into the stuff that someone else will enjoy while adding a little cash to your bank account. Happy selling!

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the comment section below.