The Advantages and Disadvantages of Selling on eBay today

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Beyond Amazon, eBay, and Etsy: free and low cost alternative marketplaces, shopping cart solutions and e-commerce storefronts

by Hillary "The Whine Seller" DePiano

eBay is the elephant in the room in any e-commerce conversation. The beauty of eBay has long been the fact that anyone can sign up and start selling without any experience or complicated storefront set-up. Sellers without stores even get 100 free listings a month under the newest fee structure. This a la carte selling has attracted many smaller scale sellers over the years but rising fees and increasing feedback and customer service requirements have alienated many.

When it comes to the eBay of today, what challenges can a new seller expect to face?

Image representing eBay as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

Disadvantages of selling on eBay

  • Expensive. Fees are some of the highest (and most complicated) around and can cut into your profits
  • Less flexibility. eBay policies dictate and require you to take only certain kinds of payments, limit what keywords you can use, put only certain text in your listings and prevent you from cross marketing to other platforms
  • Restrictions on what you can sell. Inability to sell digital goods (for instance, you are not permitted to sell electronic artwork or eBooks outside of Classified Ads).
  • Lots of hoops to jump through. There are a large number of complicated programs and policies that sellers have to contort their businesses to fit through or risk limited exposure for their items, higher fees or other penalties. Sellers can waste a lot of time worrying about things like Detailed Seller Ratings when they could be focusing on selling.
  • Built in prejudices against the platform. You’ll see the exact opposite of this in the next section because prejudices go both ways. Some people hate eBay because they’ve been burned in the past and are now convinced that all sellers are crooks; others have their own personal reasons for disliking the platform. Whatever the reason, listing an item only on eBay can push away some buyers who would otherwise bid or buy were the item listed somewhere else.
  • It’s harder to sell items that aren’t keyword driven or already of interest. Artists, crafters and authors will especially find that, unless the item they are selling is something well known and often searched for or related to a popular keyword, it will be hard to attract buyers on eBay. It’s a keyword driven marketplace so items have difficulty standing out without a connection buyers might already be searching for.

But eBay has remained a powerful force for several big reasons and it’s important to remember what you’d be opting out of.

Advantages to selling on eBay

  • eBay’s built in buyers make for less marketing. One of the best things about eBay is that you can list an item and, as long as your keywords are solid, price is fair and your listing clear, it will sell even if you do literally nothing else to market it. eBay has its fans and regular buyers who watch categories and keywords and, for most items, this means a sale with no additional work. This applies especially to items like collectibles or anything with a pop culture or known brand connection. As we look at the other marketplaces, you’ll find this is the biggest thing you’ll miss about eBay.
  • eBay’s auctions are still the best place to sell rare items or items for which you aren’t sure of the value. Let’s say you find a collectible item that no one in the fan community has ever seen before. People want to get their hands on this thing and interest is high. You could just name a price but how can you know if you’re selling yourself short on value? An auction would let all the interested parties bid the price up to make sure you get the maximum price for it. In the same way, if you have something of uncertain value, say a large lot, an auction lets the market determine its value. Sure, there are other auction platforms but because eBay is already a destination for the unusual and has the built in buyers we mentioned above it’s always going to net you the highest price. (This is me speaking from over a decade of personal experience with other auction platforms.)
  • eBay has brand recognition and built in trust. Obviously, when you buy something from eBay, you aren’t really buying it from eBay. You’re buying it from an individual seller. But many buyers don’t think of it that way and, however subliminally, they feel more comfortable buying from a company they are familiar with (in this case, eBay) then a company they’ve never heard of (you). This gives you an extra edge in making the sale because they are more likely to purchase through eBay then if they saw the item elsewhere.
  • There is seller and buyer protection. This goes both ways. Protection for the seller and mediation through eBay is a big plus for you as it offers some safety in the event of a problem buyer, but it’s also a selling point on the other end. Buyers are more likely to purchase if there is less of a risk of their being cheated, scammed or otherwise left without money or item.

For those of you that have sold on eBay in the past, what do you see as the pluses and minuses of the platform? Please feel free to share at least one of each below.

Author: Hillary DePiano

Selling online since 1997, Hillary is the author of several books and eBooks about ecommerce and publishing including Beyond Amazon, eBay, and Etsy and Sell Their Stuff. She also writes fiction and is a bestselling playwright when you aren't looking. For a complete list of books, plays and projects, visit HillaryDePiano.com.

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  • john dounuthole

    Really there are NO advantages to selling on Ebay. As many sellers are finding out.Bye Bye Ebay & Paypal.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6ZPXB5DBFDYKX36DEYLTOH6XM4 Space Vegetable

    I think the biggest advantage eBay has is name recognition. People know it and so it gets far more traffic than most alternative sites.  The disadvantage is the increased costs and the increase in low-quality buyers. The risks to selling higher-priced items have increased substantially due to eBay’s (and Paypal’s) one-sided protection policies. The lack of multiple payment options — basically being forced to use Paypal — makes it hard to avoid those policies that can harm a business. In my own case, I take advantage of the 50 free auction listings, but don’t put any of my higher-value items there.

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