Apr 15, 2005

Selling Your Used Photo Equipment On ebay

By Scott Bourne

According to a recent article published by Photo.net, Ebay is the number one camera store in the world in terms of volume. Since the Internet auction company added a photo category, it is one of their busiest sections.

I figured out that Ebay was quickly becoming the place to buy or sell camera gear when I noticed that Shutterbug Magazine was getting skinnier all the time. I also observed a steep decline in the number of cameras for sale in the local newspaper.

So I gave it a try, and it worked. I sold more than 150 pieces of photo gear on eBay in the last 24 months. On average, I got about 40% more than my local camera store would offer to pay for the equipment. In fact, I usually got more than I expected from each item.

But as with anything that is new, cool and exciting. There are pitfalls. In this article, I will give tips on how to successfully sell on eBay.

GETTING STARTED

When selling camera gear on eBay, the first thing you need to do is register an eBay user name. This requires a credit card so that they can verify your existence and have a way to bill you for the commission and listing fees charged on each sale. I suggest picking a user name that makes you easily identifiable.

If you want to add a level of comfort for buyers, (and subsequently get more bids) you should also pay to get "ID Verified." This puts a little "ID" icon next to your name and shows buyers that eBay has made extra effort to confirm your identity and location. The fee for this is a few dollars, and I saw an immediate increase in bidders after completing the verification process. If you are hard-core, you will want to join eBay's Square Trade group. This means that you guarantee a certain level of customer satisfaction to each buyer. Once again, when I joined this group, (extra monthly fee) I saw a further increase in bidders.

Next you will want to develop some policies for dealing with bidders. In order to do this, you need to understand eBay's feedback system. Each transaction offers both the buyer and the seller the chance to rate the other's performance. Did the seller describe the item correctly? Did the buyer pay promptly as agreed? Once this system is in place, each buyer and seller is awarded a point score. You get plus one point for a good transaction, no points for a neutral transaction and negative one point for a bad transaction. Remember; the higher someone's eBay feedback score, the more likely that they are trustworthy.

As a seller, I suggest that you do not accept bids from users with zero or negative feedback. They tend to be more trouble than they are worth. I also suggest that you don't sell or ship to persons outside your own country. Most fraud happens when you deal with foreign bidders. As a seller, be sure to get your money up front. I accept Postal Money orders from the USPS and PayPal. This allows people to pay me electronically or via the mail. Could I attract more bidders if I accepted personal checks? Yes, but after a few bounced, I decided to accept only a US Postal Money Order. I can present it at any US Post Office and get cash.

PayPal (www.paypal.com) is an electronic payment system that deposits the money directly into your bank. While this may present some risk, since you have to hope they will be in business long enough to make the agreed upon deposits, you have to trust someone in this world so for now, I trust them. Since eBay bought them I don't worry about their solvency.

CREATING YOUR AD

After you know how you will get paid and whom you will sell to, you need to post your ad and description. Be accurate here. Do not exaggerate the condition of your item. If you do, it will cause trouble for you later. Is it really in mint condition? Would you notice that scuff on the lens barrel if you were the buyer? Tell the whole truth and let the chips fall where they may. I also advise that you use as many photos as you can to show the item's condition. On expensive items, you should plan on posting at least four or five images if you want to be successful. eBay charges a small fee for using more than one photo, but it is worth it. Bids go WAY up if you have clear, accurate and detailed photos.

Also be sure to list all model and serial numbers. List EVERYTHING that comes with the item. If something you are selling is missing a lens cap or strap, say so up front. I do not think that you should group items for sale on eBay. While it may be more convenient to sell the body and lens together, my research tells me that you reduce the number of interested parties when you do this. Also, searching completed auctions, I have found you receive an average of 10% more money for items that you list separately then you would if bundled.

PUTTING YOUR AD ONLINE

eBay uses a forms-based model for you to input your ad. While you can use standard HTML tags in your ad if you know them, avoid getting too fancy. People are not interested in your programming prowess. They just want the basic facts in a clear manner.

Fill out the form and post the ad so that it starts on a weekday at around 6PM Eastern time. This is when eBay has the most traffic and your auction will end at the time you start some number of days in the future. If you start at 6PM on Monday for three days, then the auction ends at 6PM on Thursday. You want as many users as possible to have access to the auction when it is winding down. eBay always gives a higher profile to the items that end first in any search query. You can select one, three, five, seven or 10 days. If you are in a real hurry for the money, select one or three days. There are arguments for and against selecting the longer sales periods. I usually select five days since that is a happy medium.

GETTING PAID

After the auction ends, eBay will send you an e-mail notifying you of the winner. I don't wait for that e-mail. I go online as the auction is ending and immediately send an e-mail to the winner congratulating them on winning. I remind them of how they can reach me with payment and shipping information. In my ads, I note that the buyer is required to contact me within three days and to pay within seven.

Most people will pay promptly. Occasionally, you will have to push someone to honor his or her bid. In rare cases, bidders don't pay and then eBay will give you a refund of your commission fees but NOT your listing fees. (For this reason I suggest you do not pay for things like bold lettering or high placement because you won't get this money back if you someone fails to follow through.) eBay will also warn non-paying bidders. If they give any one bidder three warnings, the bidder is kicked off eBay for good.

Be sure to collect the money up front. Don't trust COD's because there are too many scammers that can beat that system. If you get paid via money order or cashier's check, make sure that it is not the kind that can suffer from a stop payment order. Make sure all checks clear before you ship. Some buyers will want you to put items in escrow. I don't do this because of the fees involved, the length of time it takes to get paid and because the escrow company may go out of business before you collect.

Also remember that even Cashier's Checks can bounce or be forged so I don't accept them.

DELIVERING

Be sure to package your item well. Include everything you agreed to sell in the package and send it as soon as possible. Use a shipping method that can be tracked. This way you can prove that your buyer got the item. I prefer to use the US Postal Service since priority mail with delivery confirmation is usually very convenient and inexpensive. I also like to use UPS when the bidder pays with PayPal since there is an automatic link to UPS that creates a shipping label and bills it to your PayPal account.

Consider insuring your package if it is worth more than $100. But be warned, UPS, FedEx and Airborne have routinely denied my insurance claims for any reason other than a lost package. In my experience, the Post Office is more likely to make good on those types of claims. Also, only agree to ship to the buyer's registered eBay or PayPal address. This will go a long way to beating fraud. In fact, if you use PayPal, you should not accept a bid from someone who does not have a confirmed PayPal address. That's the only way you can qualify for PayPal's seller protection plan.

FEEDBACK

When the transaction is complete, ask the buyer to leave you positive feedback. You should do the same for the buyer if he/she performed as agreed. Getting a good feedback rating will make it easier to sell your next piece of equipment.

PITFALLS

Do not sell to bidders outside the USA. This is where 98% of the eBay fraud takes place. If you disregard this advice I almost guarantee that you will get burned. Also, I advise people not to sell to bidders with zero feedback. They usually are more trouble than they are worth and since their trustworthiness has not been tested or verified, you run a greater risk when you deal with them.

CONCLUSION

eBay is a huge marketplace. No matter what kind of equipment you have to sell, there is almost certainly a buyer on eBay.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Scott Bourne is the author of "88 Secrets to Selling & Publishing Your Photography" and "88 Secrets to Photoshop for Photographers." Both are available from Olympic Mountain School Press, http://www.mountainschoolpress.com His work has also appeared in books, magazines, galleries, calendars, on greeting cards, web sites and on posters.

Scott is a professional photographer, author, teacher and pioneer in the digital imaging field. His career started in the early 70s as a stringer covering motor sports for Associated Press in Indiana. Since then, he has shot commercial, portrait, wedding, magazine and fine art assignments. His new passion is wildlife photography.

Scott regularly lectures on a variety of photo and media-related subjects. He's appeared on national television and radio programs and has written columns for several national magazines. He is the publisher of Photofocus.com, an online magazine for serious photographers and also serves as the executive director of the Olympic Mountain School of Photography in Gig Harbor, WA.